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Books Reviews

A Timeless Sort of Story: Review of The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

The People We Keep
Image: Cover of The People We Keep by Allison Larkin

Synopsis

Little River, New York, 1994: April Sawicki is living in a motorless motorhome that her father won in a poker game. Failing out of school, picking up shifts at Margo’s diner, she’s left fending for herself in a town where she’s never quite felt at home. When she “borrows” her neighbor’s car to perform at an open mic night, she realizes her life could be much bigger than where she came from. After a fight with her dad, April packs her stuff and leaves for good, setting off on a journey to find a life that’s all hers.

As April moves through the world, meeting people who feel like home, she chronicles her life in the songs she writes and discovers that where she came from doesn’t dictate who she has to be. 

This lyrical, unflinching tale is for anyone who has ever yearned for the fierce power of found family or to grasp the profound beauty of choosing to belong.

Review

An E-ARC was provided by Gallery Books through NetGalley in exchange for review.

There was something simplistic and yet utterly fulfilling about this book. The People We Keep is a timeless sort of story about growing up and trying to find your space in the world. It’s a narrative that opens a few windows into the life of April Sawicki, a teenage girl from a small town in New York. She’s restless and has a longing for a life that would take her away from her tiny town and the path she thinks life is eventually going to lead her down. People don’t tend to leave her hometown and she saw life pulling her towards settling down with her high school boyfriend and essentially living life from there. Then a confrontation with her father pushes her over the edge and she leaves in an attempt to do something to save herself and change her future.

I’m not sure I realized how much of an emotional impact this book would have on me when I first started reading it. The writing style is simplistic but in my opinion that makes it more accessible since sometimes lyrical, prose heavy works keep people from picking them up. Since it was so easy to immerse myself into the story I flew through it and finished the book in one sitting. From the get go it could have been like any other book where a small town girl leaves to find her way but this was a lot different than I expected it to be. I plan on passing it on to as many people as I can. Honestly, it was profound to see April get so caught up in her negative experiences that she believes the only way to save herself is to run away again and again. It’s a self defense mechanism that I know all too well and I know other people may see it in themselves too. After I set the book down I ended up doing a lot of self reflection about my own life and all of the people that have walked through it over the years.

This book isn’t a romance. Yes, some romantic relationships did occur throughout and I honestly thought that in the end, April would settle down and be “happy” with whatever circumstances she ended up in. The more I read and the more that came to pass I realized that this was so much more than a romance. The title really says it all.

As characters were introduced throughout the book I ended up being surprised how they came and went and which ones ended up being the ones that April “kept”. By the end of the book everything began to tie itself together as April was forced to reconnect with people she had run away from. This was where everything began to hit me and I saw the full message of the story. Too often I think we focus on the people who we’ve lost. Personally I know I’ve spent plenty of time grieving for friendships and relationships that have ended. I also know that when I would run away from the negative experiences and places I always eventually come back to thinking about the people I left behind because I always wondered if they would have held out for me. This is a story that answers a question like that. April had such a unique found family and despite the fact that each person came from vastly different walks of life I adored seeing them come together to support her. This part of the story might not sit well with everyone because April was a messy person and she was dealing with a lot of trauma and not everyone will think that she deserves this type of love and forgiveness. But it was a surprising take on a coming of age story where a girl leaves her tiny hometown and I appreciated it.

To me, this was a reminder that we might not all get the love and acceptance we deserve. Especially when we make our own messes and run away because we’re too scared to fix them. But there are people that we have encountered that we will keep with us whether they stay by our side or they simply teach us lessons that we carry with us that sustain us through life. Sometimes we have to stop running away and I hope that if you do, you have your own people to remind you that you are loved and cared for.

This book was a five star read for me and if I were you, I’d add it to your must read list.

The People We Keep is a brand new release, it came out earlier this month and I’ll link below some places you can purchase it if you’re interested in getting your own copy!

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Indiebound (If you want to find a local store to buy through!)

Or add the book on Goodreads here!

You can also find me at the following:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

For review requests, etc.: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

You can add me on Goodreads or follow my reviews here.

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is here.

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Books Reviews

Again, But Better: Rereading Christine Riccio’s First Book & Reading Better Together Too

It’s so weird to think that it was back in 2019 that I got sucked into book blogging. I had recently gotten back into reading after a years long slump and the book that pulled me fully into the reading community again was Again, but Better by Christine Riccio. I reread my original review and it was a bit of a mess but it was a book that I was honestly incredibly excited to read and I can tell how caught up in my feelings I was about it. I remember when I started to get views on that post and then likes and even a comment I was shocked! My blog has always felt so small and insignificant that I still tend to forget that actual people read my posts and I’m not just shouting into the void.

For this post, I wanted to reflect upon that original reading of Christine’s first book and then review it a second time with some updated thoughts. After that I’ll dive into my review of Better Together which is her second novel and I’ll finish with a small wrap up on this experience.

Just a note before I begin, this post will contain spoilers.

Again, But Not Better

Again, but Better
Image: Cover of Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

I read Again, But Better at exactly the time I needed to read it. It made me sad and nostalgic for people that I no longer had and life opportunities that either passed me by or that I wish I could experience again. Reading it in such an emotional mindset I think I chose to overlook a lot of things that bothered me more this second time around.

One of the first things I noticed while rereading this was that there were constant references to Harry Potter. Not only did these age very poorly, I don’t think they were necessary in the first place. When it comes to contemporary books I know that there will be pop culture references but authors need to tread carefully because the more specific they get, the easier it is for the book to lack a timeless nature. In terms of the writing itself after years of watching videos from Christine it was obvious that she wrote this. It was enthusiastic and awkward with a sprinkling of quotable lines throughout. This book was also a self insert to the extreme. With the recognizable writing style coupled with the FrenchWatermelon19 blog name of the main character I was shocked that Christine was okay with this book going out into the world… I can only hope that if Pilot was based off of a real person that he did not read this book. Pilot was such a weird character for me because I actually liked him more than Shane at times because he was subdued compared to her but he also had seemingly no autonomy and I don’t want to speculate on things simply because of the self insert nature but it seems to me like Pilot was a 20-something who wasn’t interested in something serious and the do-over put him in a tight spot that ended up causing people a lot of pain. As a person who heavily romanticized relationships because of books and “happily ever after” I just have to wonder.

Overall, a lot of the issues I mentioned in my original review remain the same. I disliked Shane’s family. The fact that her father threw a hissy fit in front of an entire restaurant of people and promptly disowned her was appalling. Families are messy but there’s a fine line between a messy family and abuse and I think that Again, but Better lacked the nuance to have been written about an abusive family. In the end I did appreciate that Shane had something of a self discovery journey over the course of the plot and it was nice to see her make her own decisions. In terms of the romance in this book, the codependent nature of Shane and Pilot’s relationship upon getting their do-over was annoying and I actually enjoyed when they broke up. I don’t think either of them had enough self awareness to do the right thing and during this reread I thought that there was a lot less chemistry between the two than the first time I read the book. I’m also still incredibly uncomfortable with the cheating aspects of the story.

Again, But Better was an awkward debut novel and despite being a book I read at the right time, the second time around revealed a lot more flaws after realizing this was rated 4 stars on my Goodreads I changed my rating to 2.

Please Stop Vomiting: My Review On Better Together

Better Together
Image: Cover of Better Together by Christine Riccio

I’m not going to do it. Like really I will not go back and count how many times the characters threw up on page…

Okay, I think it actually only happened 5.5 times (the half time being a spit take and not actual vomit) but I still think this is too much vomit for this book!

Anyways, the quickest way to sum up Better Together would be Parent Trap but with significantly more trauma.

Like really, sisters Siri and Jamie were separated by their parents messy divorce at the ages of 4 and 6. They both end up attending the same self help retreat over a decade later and with the help of some more unexplained magic they swap places. Here’s the kicker though, Siri thought that Jamie was an imaginary friend. Seriously, their mother told Siri that Jamie wasn’t real and sent her to therapy in order to FORGET HER SISTER. So this ended up leading to a very dramatic scene at the retreat where Siri panicked over her “imaginary friend” appearing in front of her.

I’ll admit that Better Together, while not amazing, ended up impressing me more than I thought it would. It was obvious to me that Christine had grown slightly as a writer although it still had much of the same enthusiastic and awkward nature that Again, but Better had. I thought that Siri and Jamie ended up feeling like much more realistic characters than Shane did, however that doesn’t mean huge improvement since I really didn’t find Shane to be a well written character. With that being said I thought that Jamie was frustrating as hell and without the anger I felt while reading her chapters I’m unsure I would have been able to distinguish between the two narratives.

The main issue that I had with Better Together (other than the whole traumatic imaginary friend thing) is that there was so much conflict and so much angst that could have been played into but Christine barely scratched the surface. Both Jamie and Siri had personal struggles that they were trying to deal with and I wish that we could have seen more of how their switch allowed them to cope with and work through what was going on in their real lives. For this to be a standalone it didn’t give me the resolution that I was hoping for by the time I had reached the ending. Though I will say I appreciated that Christine had both girls attend therapy throughout the course of the book. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start.

I’ve gone back and forth a few times now about how I wanted to rate this and I think I’ve settled on 2 stars. It was okay and while it did have improvements from Again, but Better it wasn’t great. I was uncomfortable with how the divorce was handled by the parents and I felt like a lot of aspects to this book felt underdeveloped. I’ve watched most of Christine’s videos about her writing process and I know that she overdrafts when it comes to word counts. That being said I have to wonder what she ends up cutting out.

But Will Her Next Book Have Better in the Title

Christine’s books seem geared towards a younger audience and I think that they could be good transitional books as young adult readers look for adult books to pick up. That’s kind of the path that I took with them anyways. They are very surface level in terms of conflict and overall character growth and I think that younger readers would find them enjoyable. However, I would just hope as these readers grow up and read more that they could look back on these two books and eye them a bit more critically. They’re not great examples for how families and relationships should work and while no family or relationship is going to be perfect I just don’t want young readers to end up being set on a path where they normalize things they shouldn’t.

And one last random point… Something that I’ve noticed with both of Christine’s books is that she isn’t consistent with the things that she changes about the real world or the characters. In Again, but Better Shane didn’t seem to swear and instead used things like “fudge” instead of “fuck” but then there were moments when she did swear and there wasn’t necessarily a rhyme or reason to it. Then in Better Together with the changes about the real world there were numerous references to things and people that were unchanged, like Timothee Chalamet just randomly being included in the plot, but then in other instances Christine would do something like change a dating app name from “Hinge” to “Hunge”. The inconsistency was a bit confusing at times. Siri was also another character that “didn’t swear” so there were even more nonsense words in her chapters. Seriously, authors either use actual swear words or refrain from using any at all.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of either of these books, I thought that this was actually an enjoyable experience in the end. It was interesting reading the two books back to back because I was better able to see how Christine grew as a writer. At this point, I’m unsure if I’ll pick up her next book outside of potentially using it for blog content. Or just to see what outrageous unexplained magic she decides to throw into that plot.

The biggest thing that I have to think about though is, will Christine end up having the word better in the title of her third book??

And with that I’m signing off. I’ll talk to y’all in my next post, though if you’re interested in connecting with me before then you can find me at the following:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

For review inquiries, etc: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

My Goodreads profile is linked here. You can add me as a friend or follow my reviews over there.

If you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

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Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: A Uniquely Crafted Graphic Novel, The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

If you’re looking for a fun and entertaining graphic novel that should keep any youngster hooked then I’ve got the book for you!

The Cardboard Kingdom is a collection of short stories compiled into a graphic novel that follows a group of kids in their neighborhood throughout the course of one summer. Each story is written by a different collaborator and the whole book is illustrated by Chad Sell.

The Cardboard Kingdom
Image: Cover of The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell

It’s colorful and with the short story element this book is easy to read in small sittings or all at once depending on the reader. I appreciated this because I often struggle with feeling like I should be able to read a graphic novel in one sitting and this one allowed me to set it down multiple times and come back to it when I had more time to dedicate to this world! Each story begins with a title page that has more of a sketch style of art and interwoven in the stories are also pieces of art that bring to life the make believe aspects. Some are more concept art style while others are built into the panels as you find the children living the stories they’ve created. I found myself immersed in the storytelling and enjoyed seeing how each character was brought to life as the play acting became interwoven with the immense fantasy world this neighborhood made.

The characters within these stories are diverse and I appreciated seeing how many of the kids connected things that were going on in their real lives with their characters and storylines in the fantasy world. There was a variety of home lives represented. Kids with married parents, divorced parents, fighting parents, single parents, grandparents. And while nothing was expressly stated I could pick out characters that seemed neurodivergent or LGBT+. One notable character for this is that of The Sorceress, or Jack. Another thing I’ll note is that I would have appreciated seeing a physically disabled character, I think that’s one aspect where this lacked. I know it’s hard to fit every form of representation into a book but there could have been a lot of interesting storylines surrounding something like creating a costume for a wheelchair user, etc.

The Cardboard Kingdom celebrates creativity and imagination. It allowed children to choose characters they resonated with and bring them to life. And even as heroes squared off with villains and tensions ran high there were plenty of softer moments where it warmed my heart to see how this neighborhood of kids accepted one another. I think that kids will love the colorful and easy to read style of the comics. There’s a wide variety of characters that just about anybody would be able to find themselves relating to at least one. It’s an accessible short story style and I highly recommend this! I also think that older readers would find themselves enjoying this too. I know I for one felt nostalgic for the summers when I was younger and spent most of my days running around outside creating these dramatic scenarios with my younger sister.

And to add, on Chad Sell’s website there are free coloring pages as well as paper craft designs that can be downloaded and used to create costumes based on those in the book! You can find these at chadsellcomics.com

You can add The Cardboard Kingdom on Goodreads here.

And if you’re interested in purchasing your own copy you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (if you’re interested in finding a local store to shop through!)

I’d also like to note that the sequel to The Cardboard Kingdom was released in June of this year. I haven’t read it yet but I’m definitely planning on picking it up so I thought I’d add the links for that book here as well.

Add Roar of the Beasts on Goodreads here.

And here are the purchase links (I didn’t include the IndieBound link because it’s the same as up above):

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop

And with that, I’m signing off! If you’ve read this book, what did you think of it? I really can’t wait to pick up the sequel.

I’ll talk to you all in my next post though if you’re interested in connecting with me before then, here are my links!

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

For review inquiries, etc. my email is: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

You can add me on Goodreads or follow my reviews my profile is linked here.

And if you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is linked here.

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Books Reviews

A Twisted & Beautiful Folkloric Fantasy Debut: Review of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

I swear, this post did not want to be published! I have been working on this for weeks now because every time I’ve saved it as a draft as soon as I come back to it all I get are error messages so I have to start all over again! This time I’m just going to try and get it all done in one sitting, including images and links, so that I can finally post this.

The Wolf and the Woodsman
Image: Cover of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all.

Reid provided content warnings for her book which will be included at the end of my review

First off, I wanted to thank William Morrow through NetGalley for the e-ARC of this book as well as Danielle at William Morrow for sending me a finished copy!

The Wolf and the Woodsman was everything I hoped for and more. This folkloric fantasy debut from Ava Reid follows Évike, a pagan woman who has been treated as an outcast in her village of “Wolf Girls”. Évike has not only been scorned because of the man who fathered her, but also because she’s the only girl in her village without any magic powers. When the Woodsmen come to take away yet another girl, it’s Évike who gets taken. A sacrifice for the protection of someone else in her village. As the plot unfolded and twisted itself down grim and harsh paths I read with bated breath and finished this in two sittings.

This book was whimsically dark as Reid knit together Jewish mythology and Hungarian history. I’m not Jewish though I ended up picking up on a number of references that were made throughout the book. I really enjoyed seeing how Reid tied everything together. The writing was absolutely beautiful. Rich descriptions of the world woven throughout fantastical stories and Évike’s own stinging inner dialogue. I was so immersed in the story that I didn’t want to drag myself back out until I was finished reading. I’d like to note that the body horror and gore described throughout are not for the faint of heart. The Wolf and the Woodsman is an adult novel and I would heed that warning. If you’re a person who is sensitive to graphic descriptions this might be a book that needs to be passed on. It was all pertinent to the story itself and added to the dark nature. This was a dark story and it was unexpected because I find that many fantasy stories I’ve read tend to lean towards a “happily ever after” ending. And obviously I love those too but I appreciated that this book felt so realistic in terms of characterization and life consequences of horrific events.

The grim fairytale-esque sheen that covered the surface of the story revealed thought provoking horrors once peeled back. A corrupt kingdom, filled with impoverished peasants who stood atop the backs of the pagans and the Yehuli because they believed themselves to be more worthy of an upward climb. An impending war that has caused a turning tide in the kings own men. It was fascinating and terrifying to read it all unfold because I was so invested in Évike and her survival. Over the course of the book, Évike put every ounce into protecting such fragile relationships that developed over the course of the story. As she interacted with her peers and eventually her father I couldn’t help but hope that these characters would hope for the best for Évike just as I was. For her to want to save anyone but herself was heartbreaking because even after years of being treated as less than and fighting for her survival she still revealed a caring nature in these moments.

Now, not only was Évike caring but she was powerful in her own way. The self discovery journey she went on through the course of the book proved to be beneficial in numerous ways. Her power in bringing men to their knees was hands down one of my favorite parts of this book. She intimidated a king but her enemies-to-lovers relationship with Prince Gaspar was perfection. They were never meant to be and yet as their banter and curses turned to something more I couldn’t stop reading. As I reached the end of the novel I couldn’t help but see all the beginnings that could unspool from it.

This was a standout read and will definitely be one of my favorites for the year. Hands down a 5/5 star read! Links to purchase the book for yourself will be included underneath the content warnings.

CONTENT WARNINGS (as provided by the author)
– Gore, including graphic descriptions of dismemberment, amputation, mutilation, and immolation
– Torture, including whipping
– Self-harm, including self-amputation 
– Animal death (graphic; the animals are not pets)
– Antisemitism
– Cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing
– Physical abuse by parents and parental figures
– Graphic descriptions of vomiting

If you’d like to pick up your own copy of The Wolf and the Woodsman you can find it at any of the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Indiebound (you can find a local indie to purchase through there!)

And as of writing this post, Sierra Elmore has a book box available for preorder for September. You can find that here!

And if you’d like to connect with me elsewhere:
I’m on Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

Readerly: @/sideofadventure

For review inquiries, etc my email is adventuresandespresso@gmail.com.

You can follow my reviews or add me as a friend on Goodreads here.

And if you’d like to buy me a coffee, my Ko-fi is here.

I’ll talk to y’all in my next post!

Categories
Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Song for a Whale
Image: Cover of Lynne Kelly’s Song For A Whale

The story of a deaf girl’s connection to a whale whose song can’t be heard by his species, and the journey she takes to help him.

From fixing the class computer to repairing old radios, twelve-year-old Iris is a tech genius. But she’s the only deaf person in her school, so people often treat her like she’s not very smart. If you’ve ever felt like no one was listening to you, then you know how hard that can be.

When she learns about Blue 55, a real whale who is unable to speak to other whales, Iris understands how he must feel. Then she has an idea: she should invent a way to “sing” to him! But he’s three thousand miles away. How will she play her song for him?

Lynne Kelly’s Song For A Whale was a beautiful book about a young girl’s need to belong and her determined journey to help a whale also find a place to belong. Iris is deaf. Her grandparents are deaf and she has a friend, Wendell, who is also deaf but she attends a hearing school. On top of all this, while her mom and older brother have learned sign language to easily communicate with Iris, her father has never put in the effort instead relying on her lip reading skills and other people to translate. This book centers on her discovery of a whale called Blue 55 who sings in a frequency that other whales can’t understand. Iris immediately relates to Blue 55 and she sets out on a journey to give him a song that might finally make him feel heard.

In both high school and my first round of college I took ASL classes. I spent three years learning it in high school and was actually planning on minoring in it in college. For a really long time I was interested in becoming an interpreter and while my career goals have ultimately changed since then I think that learning sign language is something that everyone should do if presented the opportunity. The Deaf community is wonderful and I’ve met a lot of great people over the years that have pulled me out of my shell from my time learning ASL. It’s an incredibly expressive language and it taught me a lot about communication so I was excited to pick up a book featuring a deaf main character! I feel like if I let myself talk about it too much I would take up the entire post but I’ll just say that while communication and school and everything surrounding that is up for individual families to decide it is incredibly important for deaf children to be able to communicate. ASL has its own structure and grammar but it is a language and it opens the world up so much more than relying on lip reading and speaking.

Song For A Whale was emotional. Iris feels misunderstood and often floats through life feeling like an outsider. At school she has to rely on an interpreter and with interactions with Deaf (uppercase D means individuals who identify with the larger Deaf community) people she feels like she’s getting left behind because she isn’t around fluent signers all the time. My heart hurt for her because she had so much passion that I wanted everyone else in her life to see that too. So when she begins to create a song for Blue 55 after learning about the whale in science class I couldn’t help but cheer her on as she began to make unlikely friends along her journey. I think that this book is a perfect one to help young readers begin to step into the shoes of those that have different abilities to their own. Being deaf does not define a person and I really enjoyed that Kelly fully made Iris her own person because that will help readers understand that too.

One of my favorite things about this book was that not only was it a story of belonging but it was also one of healing. Before the events of this story took place, Iris lost her grandfather. So on top of everything she was navigating her grief for one of the few people that fully accepted her as she was. Her grandmother was grieving the loss of her husband and life long companion and I loved seeing the support and hope she had for Iris. She stepped up for her granddaughter and ended up beginning to move with her grief as well. As they both opened up to each other and the outside world I was really proud of both characters for being so strong.

This is a very character driven book. Interspersed between a few of Iris’s chapters were some written from the perspective of Blue 55. They were moving and brought me hope that the two would be able to interact in some way before the story ended. I loved how Kelly tied the passion Iris felt for radios to this mission to create a song for a whale. It was unique and I think it added so much to the importance for everyone to be able to communicate with those around them. I also thought that it was cool to find so many educational tidbits sprinkled throughout about whales and whale song. It was well worth the read and whether you’re hearing or deaf I couldn’t recommend this book more.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy you can find it at the following links:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (to find a local indie to shop through!)

And with that, I’m signing off for the day. I’ll talk to you all in my next post!

You can also connect with me more by following the blog or at the following:

Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

Readerly: @/sideofespresso

You can add me as a friend or follow my reviews on Goodreads here.

For review inquiries, etc. you can email me at adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

If you’d like to support the blog financially, my Ko-fi is linked here.

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Books Reviews

This Is a Bit of a Rant Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

I rarely preorder books. Recently I have started to do it more often but I still try to limit myself because I’m always nervous I may not like a book enough to own it. One Last Stop is Casey McQuiston’s, author of Red White & Royal Blue, sophomore novel. This was one of my most anticipated books of 2021 and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it so it was one of the few books that I’ve preordered for this year. When I initially read RWRB I really liked it and while my opinion on it has changed a bit I have reread it four times. So upon hearing the synopsis of OLS I was incredibly excited for a sapphic contemporary novel mixed with a unique sci-fi element. Unfortunately though I found the story to be lackluster and the main twist of the plot was poorly executed.

With that being said this is going to be a bit of a rant review. I’m going to split it into a few different sections to try and keep my thoughts together and I’ll also make a disclaimer now that there will be some spoilers. I will note the sections that contain major spoilers in case you want to skip them!

One Last Stop

Synopsis

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Things I Liked

I’ll start with the things that I liked about the book because I do think that McQuiston shows a lot of promise as an author. I did enjoy OLS enough to finish it and the main reason for that is the colorful cast of characters. The way that McQuiston crafts their side characters is something that I love, it’s one of the things that has brought me back to RWRB and would also bring me back to OLS someday too. I’ll be honest when I say that both books also featured romances between side characters that I was more invested in than the main ones at times.

Another thing that I adore about McQuiston’s books are the friendships that are formed in both. I appreciate these friendships so much because they end up giving me so many warm fuzzy feelings and have me wishing for my own group of friends I could be that close to. I think that McQuiston writes fun stories and I’m a bit unsure of whether or not I’ll be picking up more of their work in the future though I’m just waiting it out at this point.

So now onto some of the things that I didn’t like about the book…

Writing

I’m a big fan of a casual writing style! Sometimes I think it’s fun to pick up books that feel more conversational than wordy and prose filled. I don’t mind swearing in books (usually). With OLS, though, I was honestly thrown off over how much the word “fucking” was used. And I swear A LOT so I’m all for using it as emphasis and frequently do but it genuinely started to get to me the more I read. And I’m aware that this is a very tiny critique but that’s mainly why I put it first. I just think that without this aspect I would have been able to stay immersed in the story instead of taking as long as I did to read it.

Plot

***THIS SECTION WILL CONTAIN MAJOR SPOILERS***

One of the main things that I think I had an issue with in terms of the plot was the pacing. I went into OLS expecting the overarching plot line of helping Jane get back to the 70’s to be woven throughout. McQuiston writes really fun side scenes and side stories within their books but I think in this story it ended up detracting from the time travel portion. I’m going to be honest, I think that this could have just as easily been written without the light sci-fi and almost everything about the story could have stayed the way it was. It was just a convenient way to make Jane be “unavailable” to August in her “real” world. This also was obviously the only way that August or her mom would have ended up getting closure about August’s uncle.

Now this smaller plot line about August’s missing uncle felt like it should have been given a bigger space within the story. I was immediately intrigued by this once it was introduced into the book and I understood why August didn’t bring it up but it took so long for it to be really mentioned or explained that it felt rushed. In part, I also felt like while the confrontation August had with her mother had spent years being built up it didn’t have the same sort of emotional response in me that I had expected. Jane wasn’t a big part of the narration outside of her small flashbacks but I really wish that McQuiston would have given her a bigger role. I would have adored to read about her time with Augie in Louisiana. And I especially would have appreciated to learn more about Jane’s past.

To speak more on the sci-fi aspect of the plot. Jane and August have a run in on the subway and it was lust at first sight. Okay, I’ll go with it probably being more insta-love but I digress. August makes it her sole purpose/goal to rescue Jane from this time trap. And again, this intrigued me from the minute McQuiston started talking about it. I was pumped! But the plot ended up being boiled down to August romanticizing what she has with Jane and acting in an almost white savior role. There was little to no development of the relationship between Jane and August and it was hard for me to understand the motivation and overall need for the sci-fi. I just felt like there was a lack of insight into why August singlehandedly had to save Jane. It went from meet-cute to 100 and I wasn’t a fan of that.

I also wanted to make a small comment on the sexual aspect of August and Jane’s relationship. I’m on the ace spectrum so I try to avoid commenting on things like this when reading because I know these scenes aren’t written for someone like me in mind. With that being said, you may be wondering, “Isn’t Jane stuck on the subway? How do they have sex if she can’t leave the subway?” They do it on the subway…… And again, this type of sex interests people, I know that, I’ve read a lot of kinky fanfiction (and some romance books) over the years however it made me so uncomfortable that I had to skip these scenes and couldn’t read them. Other people can’t consent to seeing you doing the deed in public spaces so one of the scenes in here really overstepped that boundary in my opinion. Also I’m just thinking of how gross subways are and I want to take a shower on behalf of August and Jane. Alright, I’ll wrap this up now and move on.

Characters/Setting

***THIS SECTION WILL CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS****

As I mentioned in the previous section, August ended up feeling like she was placed in a white savior role. For the most part she felt realistically flawed and I could relate to her a decent amount but when she became so focused on saving Jane that she neglected the rest of her life I got frustrated. It didn’t help that at one point August went to meet with an academic advisor because she was majorly slacking off at school and instead of having to grovel or anything like that she was informed that she was mere credits away from graduating. Like shit if only that’s how it worked for me when I neglected school.

This was a big piece of evidence as to how everything was just incredibly convenient for August. Sure, she had pitfalls here and there but overall she didn’t struggle with anything. And with the lack of development on Jane’s side of the story I was unimpressed. Again, this is why I ended up liking the side characters in this book more than the main ones.

Also, on a slightly different note but still relating to the convenience of everything for August, this whole book romanticized being a young adult as well as the entire city of New York. At the end of everything August starts to formulate an idea of using the skills learned from her mother in trying to find Augie that she would try to pursue something like people finding as a career. I understand that being in your twenties is difficult and trying to decide what you’re going to do with your future can be near impossible (speaking from personal experience and current existential dread) but all of the characters in this book just floated around seemingly without a care in the world for rent, groceries, insurance or anything related to living on your own. It romanticized everything about living in New York without really accounting for reality. I’m linking a Goodreads review from another user here that I think adds a lot more to my thoughts on this.

And finally, a line that deserved the conclusion of my post

This section will contain spoilers

This interaction occurred between Jane and August in Chapter 12. August gets on the subway and finds Jane with a split lip and a ripped shirt, when questioned Jane says:

“Some guy called me some shit I’d rather not repeat,” she finally says. “That old racist-homophobic combo. Always a winner.”

Page 292, One Last Stop

There’s more conversation during which August asks if anyone had called the cops and when Jane begins to get defensive August says:

“I know- it’s, it’s fucked up,” August tells her. She’s thinking about the fire, the things that drove Jane from city to city. “But I promise, most people aren’t like that anymore. If you could go out, you’d see.”

Page 292, One Last Stop

This interaction was almost enough to make me put the book down because it felt so insensitive. Not only was August insensitive to the very real things that Jane had experienced before she was stuck on the subway it felt biased to a white queer experience. Jane watched her friends dying of AIDS. She thought she lost her closest companion, August’s uncle, in a fire that was set in a space that gay men frequented and since we find out by the end of the book that he has died then we know that Jane truly did have reason to grieve for him. The comment was so flippant, so casual, like Jane hadn’t literally just experienced this interaction. Strides have been made for the LGBT+ community but by saying “most people aren’t like that” is a dismissal of the fact that there are people out there who will not hesitate to harm a person in the LGBT+ community.

From the Human Rights Campaign Foundation I’m linking their “Dismantling a Culture of Violence” report. I found it to be a highly informative and heartbreaking read about how anti-transgender stigma has created a culture of violence. I also want to highlight the fact that BIPOC who are in the LGBT+ community are disproportionately targeted. Last year there were 44 trans or gender nonconforming people who were murdered in the US. Half of this number were women of color, a majority Black. This year alone there have been 28 murders of trans or gender nonconforming individuals, almost all of these being BIPOC. On top of this there are numerous states that have introduced or passed anti-LGBT legislature.

I also wanted to add to this that Jane is Chinese. With the current abhorrent racism towards Asians in America this is another reason this scene left a bitter taste in my mouth. It was upsetting to see how August dismissed Jane’s trauma and romanticized the world they lived in.

I felt like it was important to include this section of the post because privileged one off comments like the one August made, the one McQuiston included in the book, only add to the struggles that marginalized people face. It’s important to acknowledge that the white queer experience isn’t universal. And August barely internalized that. After reading this section in OLS I almost put the book down because it frustrated me so much but I wanted to write this post so I ended up finishing it. Before I sign off I just wanted to leave y’all with some suggestions of action steps you can take based off of the things I wrote earlier in this section.

If you live in the United States, I encourage you to contact your representatives about anti-LGBT legislation. I was really nervous about doing this at first but there are a lot of handy scripts out there for both emails and phone calls. Now whenever I see something I want to make a statement on I fire off an email. Google is really helpful for finding your reps and all that jazz but if you want any help feel free to reach out (you can email me at adventuresandespresso@gmail.com).

Educate other people in your lives. Seriously, this one can be a lot easier than you might think. I understand if you’re not in a place where you are able or safe enough to educate those around you but if you are just talking about issues and how they hurt people can be a big influence. I used to rant about political stuff constantly to my former coworker and on more than one occasion she told me that I had taught her a lot.

Lastly, I know that there are plenty of big name organizations that you can donate to but I wanted to emphasize the importance and benefit of mutual aid. There are so many people that need financial help. People who need to get out of unsafe living situations, trans individuals who need help affording to transition, the list is endless. When I’m on Twitter and have a bit of extra money I try to find people who are asking for help. It may not seem like a lot if you only have a few dollars to spare but it could mean everything to that person seeking help. If you or someone you know has a need for financial help feel free to reach out if you’re comfortable letting me add the information to this post and I will!

With that, I’m going to sign off for the day. I’m really disappointed that this ended up not being the book I was hoping it would be but I’ve got a list of sapphic contemporary books to pick up next so on to the next one! If you’d like to connect with me elsewhere you can find me:

On Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

On Readerly: @/sideofadventure

My email for review inquiries, etc is adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

You can add me on Goodreads or follow my reviews here.

And my Ko-fi in case you’re interested in financially supporting the blog.

Categories
Books Tags

Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag 2021 + Some Blog Goals

Hey y’all! I’m back today with a tag, it’s July so technically still the middle of the year so here’s the Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag. And then at the end of the post I’m going to throw in some blog goals I have for the rest of the year too!

Best book you’ve read so far?

The Wolf and the Woodsman
Image: Cover of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

Seriously this book was absolutely amazing. If you haven’t read it yet or added it to you TBR you should. I have a post coming for it soon but I do have a review of it on Goodreads right now. It’s twisted and dark but beautifully written and knits together Jewish folklore and Hungarian history to create a standout fantasy novel. And it’s Reid’s debut!

Best sequel you’ve read so far?

Girl Gone Viral (Modern Love, #2)
Image: Cover of Alisha Rai’s Girl Gone Viral

Alisha Rai’s Girl Gone Viral (and First Comes Like gets an honorable mention).

The Right Swipe was one of my favorite books of 2019 then after going through a reading slump that lasted for the majority of 2020 I was surprised to find I had two Alisha Rai books to read! The Modern Love series makes my heart melt and I adore the characters in them. Girl Gone Viral was such a cute read, I loved it!

New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

Oh gosh… Y’all should see the stack of books that I have on my dresser.

Take Me Home Tonight
Image: Cover of Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson

I’m going to have to go with Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson. Morgan Matson is one of my auto-buy authors. Has been ever since I picked up Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour years ago. So when I got my hands on Take Me Home Tonight I had the (not so) smart idea to reread all of her books out so far and then make a post with mini reviews for all of them. I haven’t gotten around to it yet which is the main reason I haven’t read this one but I always seem to pick up contemporary books in the summer so hopefully I’ll get around to it soon!

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

A Lesson in Vengeance
Image: Cover of A Lesson In Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Without looking at Goodreads or anything like that the one book that came to mind was A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee. Honestly I get pumped for a lot of books that I can’t wait to read but then end up reading them long after they’ve been released because I never pay close enough attention to release days. Seriously I see people posting on Twitter about book birthdays and I’m always going “Wait, that’s out today??? Since when???” A Lesson in Vengeance may or may not be the one book I know the release month for! (It’s August lol).

Biggest disappointment

One Last Stop
Image: Cover of One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Sigh… It’s One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston. My post for this will be out soon! I’ll link it here once I get it published. It has taken me a lot longer to finish the post because of some extra research I needed to do for it but I have a pretty long post about why this was disappointing. Long story short I felt like the pacing of the plot was weird and I had issues with some of the characterization. I also have a more concise review on Goodreads for this right now though if you don’t want to wait for the blog post.

Biggest surprise

Black Sun (Between Earth and Sky, #1)
Image: Cover of Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

So I decided to pick this as my answer because of the absolute mind boggling ending this had. It wasn’t surprising like I went into it expecting not to enjoy it or anything like that but the twisting of everything at the end absolutely blew my mind and I’m so upset I have to wait for the second book!!! I read through this in a day and by the time I got to the end I whispered “No” (it was like 2 in the morning) because I needed to know what happened to the characters.

Also!! This book is out in paperback now and it’s one of Barnes & Noble’s July Monthly Picks which means it’s part of their buy 1 get 1 50% deal! And the e-book is currently on sale too in case you’re interested in picking up a hard copy or an e copy!

Favorite new author (debut or new to you)

Emily Henry! I read People We Meet On Vacation a few weeks ago and I’m devouring Beach Read right now. She only has the two books out currently but I’m really looking forward to picking up anything else she publishes.

Newest fictional crush & Newest Favorite Character

I decided to combine these two because I’ll be real here… I don’t think I have an answer for either of these. I haven’t read a ton of new books this year and while I connected to and enjoyed reading about a lot of the characters I just don’t have strong enough feelings about any of them. Onto the next one…

Book that made you cry

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted
Image: Cover of Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

Memoirs are almost guaranteed to make me cry and this was no exception. I have a whole post on this book and I’m really glad that I was able to read it. It was a beautifully written book about grieving a future that is no longer there because life has sent you down a different path. There was so much honesty and healing and I highly recommend picking this up if you have ever experienced trauma of any kind. Suleika battled cancer but I found a lot of parallels with her story and my own in regards to mental health.

Book that made you happy

Song for a Whale
Image: Cover of Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Oh this book warmed my heart so much. I adored it and while I did also cry while reading it I was so happy by the time I finished reading. The main character, Iris, is so sweet and smart and her journey to finding a connection to a whale named Blue 55 was everything I hoped it would be. (Spoiler, this is going to be my next Middle Grade Monday post!)

Most beautiful book you’ve bought or received so far this year

The Nature of Witches
Image: Cover of The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

If I still had a Bookstagram The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin would be all over my page. I am very behind in terms of writing posts for the blog but I plan on doing some sort of photoshoot with this book outside for the review post I eventually make!

But seriously just look at the cover under the dust jacket of this. I’m in love!

What books do you need to read by the end of the year?

I’m going to go with the simplest answer. Try and read more ARCs and also just whatever books I feel like reading before the end of the year 🙂

Now that the tag questions are all done I figured I’d wrap this up with some blog goals for the remainder of the year. And since I am oh so consistent /s with my blogging I do want to preface with I have no idea if any of these goals will end up working out for me but we’ll see!

I know that I had previously mentioned that I would be going back to school. I’ve been working full time for the last 2.5 years so I knew that I would have to leave my job and to my surprise I ended up being without a job about 3 weeks sooner than originally planned. Which basically just means i have more free time on my hands than expected before classes start in August.

So some goals I have for the rest of the year with my blog include:

  1. Getting to 250 followers (I’m at 223 right now!). It would also be nice to increase my follower count on Twitter but that’s less important.
  2. Post twice a week, doesn’t matter the content but just getting two posts out a week, not even going to stick to a schedule
  3. Revamp my categories and possibly the look of my blog. Depending on how things go, I’d really like to find someone to help me revamp the appearance of my blog. I’ve redone it a couple times on my own but it’s all been pretty basic. I also really need to rewrite my About page and add some other info. I spent some time setting some older blog posts to private that I didn’t think were well written anymore and it made me realize I could definitely focus some energy on fixing up the entire thing.
  4. In possibly revamping things I also would like to work on making my blog as accessible as possible. I’m going to look into ways to go about that in the coming weeks but if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them!

I think that about sums up what I’m hoping to accomplish this year. So if you haven’t done this tag yet, I tag you! Otherwise feel free to answer any of these questions in the comments if you’re interested in doing so!

If you want to find me elsewhere:

Im on Twitter @/nihilistcactus

I’m on Readerly: @/sideofadventure

You can add me on Goodreads (or follow my reviews) here.

You can email me at adventuresandespresso@gmail.com for review inquiries, etc.

And if you’re interested in supporting the blog financially my ko-fi is here.

Categories
Books nonfiction

A Memoir For a Quarter Life Crisis: Reviewing Between Two Kingdoms by Suleika Jaouad

I’m always thankful for books that manage to find their way to me at the perfect time. I’ve been an avid reader since I first learned and the universe never seems to fail me when I need a story to find its way to me. At 24, I’ve spent most of my life shifting between crisis mode and terrifying periods of time where things feel okay which obviously means that everything is about to fall apart. Right now I’m battling with another terrifying period of time because I’m taking major steps forward but am waiting for the little bad things to take over my life once more.

Living with and learning to cope with the effects of trauma is overwhelming. It takes a lot of work and oftentimes it can make you feel completely hopeless. When your life gets turned upside down and you spend your entire existence simply finding a way to survive to see another day by the time you’re back to a point where you could even attempt to find “normalcy” it may feel impossible. Between Two Kingdoms is a heart wrenching look into this exact type of journey.

At 22, Suleika Jaouad’s world turned upside down after being diagnosed with leukemia. Over the years she used her writing to cope with her battle with cancer as well as her battle to find a way to understand where her life had taken her when she went into remission and no longer has to spend all of her time focusing on survival. The memoir that she crafted about her journey was not only beautifully written but also heartbreakingly honest and relatable. Though our experiences with trauma are quite different I felt like Suleika had pulled things from my own thoughts and journals as she relayed her own.

Suleika has a powerful voice and it was clear to me that she poured her emotions into the pages of Between Two Kingdoms. Trauma is a beast and reading about how she fell apart and slowly began putting herself back together was incredibly relatable. The inspiration for the title comes from how the world seemed to be split between the kingdom of the “sick” and the kingdom of the “well”. Despite ending up in remission, Suleika struggled with making her way back to the kingdom of the well which is what ultimately sent her on her road trip to try and heal.

She was marooned between these two kingdoms because she was grieving both the life she would never live as well as the people she lost along the way. While it was heartbreaking to see her become aware of how her illness effected everyone in her life I appreciated the self awareness throughout the latter portion of the book. When we are suffering it’s hard to understand that our illnesses be they physical or mental have consequences. Personally I’m still trying to cope with how my struggles over the years have changed every aspect of my life.

Overall I couldn’t recommend this memoir more. Through a heartbreakingly honest portrayal of healing Suleika gave readers a message of hope. We currently exist in a world where too many people have experienced trauma, grief, and illness. Especially now as we all still navigate what has happened with COVID I think this book could be a benefit to many. Now more than ever it’s important to realize that we are not suffering alone. Our lives have changed and if you’re still in a period of just making sure you survive another day know I’m proud of you for fighting.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy of Between Two Kingdoms you can find it at the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // Or find a local indie shop at IndieBound

Other places you can find me:

Twitter: nihilisticactus

Readerly: sideofadventure

Add me on Goodreads here

Email for review requests: adventuresandespresso@gmail.com

Categories
Books In Medias Res Reviews

Grammar, Cosmic Coincidences, and a Different Kind of Hope: Reading Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

To start this post, we need to go back to 8th grade. Middle school. An absolute hellscape of memories some good, a lot bad. One day my best friend at the time started making jokes about a blog post that her language arts teacher had shared with her class for a grammar lesson. I find it really funny looking back now because while I still struggle with grammar and writing it doesn’t compare in the slightest to how atrocious some of my mistakes were back in the day.

The blog post in question was the Alot post from Hyperbole and a Half (laughing at the fact that I had to circumvent autocorrect to even type a lot incorrectly!) This post was (and probably still is) a perfect way to teach a grammar lesson to middle schoolers. It was an instant classic and many of my classmates joked about it for years to come. I’m actually pretty sure we referenced this all the way up to our senior year. Since I wasn’t in the same language arts class as my best friend, I decided to look up the blog when I got home. I think I read every published post that night. It became a favorite of mine and I realize now how deeply Hyperbole and a Half influenced my life.

I’m not sure I remember what my first blog was and I can’t even remember what site I published it on but I know that I was inspired by Hyperbole and a Half to start my own. I know that I posted a lot of angsty poetry on it and am honestly kind of glad I don’t have access to that content, my journals from that time are content enough. This blog was created in 2015 when I was really into lifestyle influencers. I wasn’t able to make YouTube videos so I decided to blog instead. The Tumblr account that I used religiously just wasn’t cutting it for what I wanted to use it for. I kind of fell into a zone of wanting to monetize blogging after seeing other people my age do it and it all went from there. Over the years I’ve realized that I’m not great at blogging, sometimes I consider starting a podcast simply because I have so many big ideas that don’t seem like they’d fit into one blog post. It’s interesting how content evolves over time and what we can choose to do with our platforms.

When Allie’s posts started becoming less frequent I would still check in on her blog. It was a little haven on the internet for me and I was always so grateful for how open she was about her mental health struggles. The blog was the perfect balance of humorous and real. Even when she “disappeared” from the internet I would always wonder how she was doing, couldn’t help but reminisce every time I typed the words “a lot”. Hyperbole and a Half was central to a period of my adolescence and I think I’ll always feel connected to that blog.

In the past few years, I’ve struggled with the idea of a “purpose” and have sunk deeper and deeper into this pit where all I can think about is the meaningless of life. It’s a big change from 19 year old me who cried about taking a Philosophy of Person class because I had to think about mortality. Now I think about it constantly.

I was at a crossroads when this article popped up on my newsfeed. I dropped everything I was doing and read it. By the time I had scrolled to the end I was crying. I ordered Solutions and Other Problems immediately.

Image: Cover of Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

The night that my preorder came in the mail I stayed up too late reading it. I cried a lot but I also laughed… A lot. It might have been one of the most cathartic reading experiences I have ever had. Solutions and Other Problems was raw and real and it was everything I needed in that moment.

It was comforting to read from the perspective of someone who has the same mindset on existence as I do. Too often I get existential and people try to be hopeful. And don’t get me wrong, there are moments when I appreciate it but most of the time, I don’t want to be hopeful. I don’t want motivating stories because it feels like pity. Sometimes it even feels judgmental and I can’t bring myself to think the way that these well meaning individuals want me to think.

Allie took the words out of my brain and wrote them out. She made me feel okay about the way I see the world. I don’t think that everything happens for a reason and I honestly curse the universe quite a bit for having had to endure so many of the things I’ve had to endure. Sometimes I feel trapped because other people tell me that I need to live for me but in the end, I don’t want to do anything because I don’t get the point. The more that I think about the title, “Solutions and Other Problems” I can’t help but love it more and more. Trying to find the solution to life is probably the biggest problem I’ll ever have.

This book is probably going to have divided opinions not only because of how long it took to be published, but also because of the content within. It felt like a pivot point for Brosh and was similar to how it felt like her blog content shifted after her first depression post. I gave this book five stars and am already ready to reread it but I could see that some people might find the overall message to be too negative or something along those lines.

I’m a pessimist at heart but this book gave me a small seed of hope. It reminded me that there are still things worth sticking around for. Just knowing I was here long enough to read more content from Allie made me proud for a moment. It’s the same thing I felt when I realized I got to see more Taylor Swift albums get released. It’s a different kind of hope but it’s worth being here for.

I know this wasn’t much of an actual review but I’ll link my official Goodreads review here once I finally write it. I just wanted to share the cosmic coincidence of finding hope in content that I’ve held close for 10 years now. I’m going to sign off now and I’ll talk to you in my next post.

You can get your own copy of Solutions and Other Problems from the following:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (where you can find your local indie to shop from)

You can also find me in these places:

Twitter: @/nihilisticactus

You can add me or follow my reviews on Goodreads here.

Readerly: @/sideofadventure

If you’re interested in supporting the blog my Ko-fi is here.

Categories
Books Middle Grade Monday

Middle Grade Monday: Front Desk by Kelly Yang

I’m really excited about today’s post because I’m finally back with another Middle Grade Monday installment!

One of the main reasons I wanted to create a specific post series focused on middle grade books was because I hoped to find more books that I could share with my younger brothers. Unfortunately for me, my brothers aren’t huge readers (yet) but fortunately for you all I have loved reading middle grade books and I need somewhere to share my thoughts on them! These may not be weekly posts but I’m hoping to get one up as often as I can.

So as I’ve been seeking out new middle grade books for my brothers and myself I’ve talked to my mom quite a bit about what kind of content she wants me to look for. During one conversation I mentioned rereading a book that I had read in elementary school and finding problematic language in it. My mom said that when reading with my brothers, finding something like that in a book is an opportunity to teach them why it may not be appropriate. In the same vein, when a book contains a tough topic that also allows for educational moments while reading.

When I was in elementary school I gravitated more towards historical fiction and fantasy books. While these remain my favorite genres today I’ve also enjoyed picking up realistic fiction middle grades. There are so many unique stories and my TBR keeps getting longer and longer. I do also want to note that my Middle Grade Monday posts will contain some spoilers on the books I discuss because I want adults who may be looking for reviews to know what they may see before passing the book on to kids!

Now with that out of the way, let’s get into the book discussion! One book I had been hoping to read for a while now was Front Desk by Kelly Yang. My library has a pretty extensive e-book selection and when I saw they had a copy available I immediately checked it out. This book is a semi autobiographical story that touches on numerous big topics but is filled with determination and optimism and I adored it.

Image Description: Cover of Front Desk by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang has a lot of secrets.

Number 1: She lives in a motel, not a big house. Every day, while her immigrant parents clean the rooms, ten-year-old Mia manages the front desk of the Calivista Motel and tends to its guests.

Number 2: Her parents hide immigrants. And if the mean motel owner, Mr. Yao, finds out they’ve been letting them stay in the empty rooms for free, the Tangs will be doomed.

Number 3: She wants to be a writer. But how can she when her mom thinks she should stick to math because English is not her first language?

It will take all of Mia’s courage, kindness, and hard work to get through this year. Will she be able to hold on to her job, help the immigrants and guests, escape Mr. Yao, and go for her dreams?

Front Desk takes place in the early 90’s but the relevance of the topics within was powerful. Yang touches on immigration, racism, police brutality/prejudice, bullying, employee mistreatment, and poverty. I’ll also note that there is a description of physical assault during a robbery and then a hospital visit. As I previously mentioned, Front Desk is semi autobiographical. At the end of the book she included an author’s note in which she spoke about how she helped her parents run various motels after they moved to the United States. Her family helped numerous Chinese immigrants during a time when economic hardship allowed for gross exploitation. Yang states that by sharing their stories in Front Desk she hopes these “immigrants’ struggles and sacrifices will not be forgotten. They will not be forgotten.”

So as the synopsis says, this story follows a girl named Mia. She has so much determination and compassion and it was really interesting seeing the ideas she came up with to try and help others. I haven’t read the other books in this series yet but I can only imagine what Mia might get into in those. Her interest in writing leads to using letters in order to help those around her. This reminded me of when I was in elementary school and made more than one petition for the pettiest things now looking back. Kids should know that they always have a voice, they can have opinions, and they can help.

Now does Mia also get into situations that weren’t really great? Yes. Like at one point she was trying to help solve where a stolen car went because the main suspect was a black woman and Mia wanted to prove her innocence. In doing so, she goes to a man’s house to see about the car and almost gets into a dangerous situation with her friend. That part was kind of stressful and also a great lesson not to go into stranger’s houses.

Using the letters, Mia helps countless others but also gains confidence in herself. Even with her growing confidence though, she struggles with what her mother wants from her. Mia loves writing but continually gets discouraged because her mom wants her to focus on math. This ends up leading to a really emotional scene where Mia finally learns that her mom wants to be able to help her but if English is Mia’s passion then she knows she can’t help her daughter. It was a really powerful realization showing how much Mia’s mom cared for her daughter. Mia’s mom was embarrassed that she struggled with her English and she was discouraged with her family’s misfortune in the United States and I was really glad to see how much this family cared for one another.

In the end, they also gained something of a found family with the immigrants who passed through as well as the “weeklies” from the motel. The friends that Mia made helped her learn so much about the world around her and while some of the realizations she made, especially those about racism, were tough to read they were important things that kids do need to learn about. Mia was so bright and it was heartwarming to see how she worked through the discouraging moments throughout the story. I think that Front Desk is a great book for showing kids not only that they have a voice that they can use to help others but also that it’s important to learn how certain situations may affect people differently. I highly recommend this book and look forward to picking up the next book in the series when I can!

Before I sign off I also wanted to say that I loved reading the About the Author section to realize what writing has done for Yang as it was beginning to do for Mia. Yang actually went to college at the age of thirteen and graduated from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law. Though she was one of the youngest women to graduate from Harvard Law, Yang decided to pursue writing instead. This lead to her founding The Kelly Yang Project which is “a leading writing and debating program for children in Asia and the United States.” I thought it was amazing that she created this and I hope the kids who have gotten involved find their voices through writing.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Front Desk you can find it in these places:

Barnes & Noble // Bookshop // IndieBound (which you can use to find an indie store near you!)

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Thanks so much for reading and I’ll talk to you in my next post!