Book Review: We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding

*** ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for honest review ***

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years it’s that relationships end. Romances, friendships, even acquaintances will fizzle, fade, or sometimes unluckily go out with an explosion.

Click the cover to head to the Goodreads page!

I’m not great with relationships of any kind and when I first read the synopsis for We Used to be Friends by Amy Spalding my heart hurt. It follows James and Kat, a best friend duo that met in kindergarten, as their friendship changes (and fizzles) over the course of their senior year of high school.

The pair are personality opposites but they’ve made it work. They’ve navigated life changes and growing up together and it seems like nothing could have broken them apart. The book opens with a chapter from James as she leaves for college and then the story unfolds in alternating chapters and storylines. James narrates her senior year from end to beginning and Kat from beginning to end. If you’ve ever seen the movie or musical The Last Five Years this book has the same sort of format!!

This was an easy five stars for me and I genuinely wish I had this story back in high school. It was extremely cathartic and had me reflecting quite a bit about a friendship that I had back in high school that reminded me a bit of Kat and James. I felt broken at times while reading this but I honestly appreciated being able to read a story from two perspectives because it reminded me that no friendship is one-sided and an ending friendship doesn’t necessarily stem from solely the faults of one person.

As a high schooler, especially a senior, you can feel on top of the world. Your future is bright and everything seems possible. Being a teenager is one of the easiest and hardest things to be because you can have your whole life laid out ahead of you and be none the wiser to all the changes that are going to occur. Growing up is intense and navigating the transition between high school and college can throw many obstacles in one’s path. James is a planner and thought nothing would change her 15 year plan and unexpected events in her family end up throwing her into a new mindset that she’s never had to deal with before. As her life falls apart she turns inward and begins to catastrophize the choices that she’s made and wants to make. In contrast, Kat is a bit of an eternal optimist, especially in regards to the people in her own life. She’s hesitant and anxious when it comes to changes but in the end all she wants is the best for anyone.

Despite being inexplicably linked, Kat and James were quite unique. Their approaches to navigating obstacles and changes were not only realistic but helped to illustrate how easy it is to allow differences to get in the way of friendships. Over the course of the book, Kat sees things falling together while James sees things in her life falling apart. The choices and events occurring in each of their lives caused a schism and the pair grew apart as neither girl truly acknowledged that they were both changing. Growing up is different for everyone and without realizing it, you can find yourself growing quickly apart from those “best friends for life”.

Kat and James are a bit of personality opposites, similar enough to make it work but when outside circumstances begin to come in between them it begins to cause a schism that ultimately changes their relationship entirely. Kat is a bit of an eternal optimist, using this to compete with anxiety about changes she experiences. James, on the other hand, experiences unexpected changes and ends up catastrophizing the events which leads to even more unexpected changes. As a teenager it’s easy to wish the best for life and to think that you have everything figured out. Being a senior can give you that invincible high on life feeling and having to accept the open endedness of the future is a struggle. It doesn’t help that high schoolers are immature, even those seniors that think they have it all figured out! When you begin to get caught up in your own issues, you can lose sight of what’s going on around you, often to the point of neglecting things you shouldn’t. I could see how people might look at Kat and James and see two immature girls and a very mismatched pair but friendship when you’re young is as easy as spending all your time together. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of effort if you’re lucky enough to go to the same school or live nearby. But being mismatched is what ended up leading to issues and that’s something that happens in many high school friendships.

Having a friendship end at any age is hard but when you’re in high school when things change with a “best friend for life” it can be absolutely heartbreaking. One of my favorite things about We Used to Be Friends was how open ended so many aspects of it were. Reminiscent of life itself it drove home for me the fact that there are no guarantees and there is always a chance for things to change. We want happy endings, we want things to turn out perfect, we want all of our plans to work out but that’s not something that we’re promised. This was a touching and realistic novel about growing up. It navigates those relationship changes and allows the reader to reflect on the choices that each character made. Friendships are a two way street and when you accumulate so many years with someone it’s easy to assume that nothing will ever get in the way of many more years. We might not all get the chance to reconcile or have the ability to make different choices. To put it frankly, losing friends SUCKS and this book illustrated an almost grieving process between a best friend duo. This is one of my new favorites and an easy five star rating at that. A highly cathartic read for anyone who has found themselves in a changing friendship I couldn’t recommend this more!

Spoiler-Free Review and Spoiler Filled Rave: White Ivy by Susie Yang

*** This post will contain spoilers for White Ivy, readers will be warned at the end of the spoiler free section***

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!

Click the cover to be taken to the Goodreads page!

White Ivy is a spectacular debut novel from Susie Yang following Ivy Lin, a young Chinese girl growing up in the United States as she does whatever it takes to find status in a world in which she feels she never quite fits into. It’s a narrative of an adolescent wrestling with her identity and I was immediately struck by how engrossing this book was.

I grew up reading books that were usually outside of my age range and as soon as I started reading White Ivy it reminded me of some of the adult books I had picked up over my late elementary and middle school years. The writing fit the time period encapsulated in the book perfectly. I think the writing style was one of my main draws for this because it took me back to the early 2000’s and completely sucked me in.

It’s hit or miss how I end up feeling about novels with main characters like Ivy. She’s conniving and selfish and I continuously cycled between hating her and having a smidgen of hope for her. There were moments where I related to her and moments I pitied her and even more where I was in absolute disbelief of who Ivy was becoming as a person. The other characters in this book both infuriated and intrigued me and I was amazed at how easily Ivy molded herself to fit into the situations she was placed into. As her past and present begin to overlap and intermingle the emotional arc I went through had me reading as quickly as I could. Ivy was so filled with disdain for her past and her own family that made drastic choices to fulfill goals that she felt she had to reach. The inner wrestling she had to do made me want to reach through the book pages and shake her.

The plot was slow moving but as I read this in one sitting I felt so many emotions. It burned to read and while I tried to predict where the story arc was going multiple times when I finally did flip to the last page I was speechless. Each of the characters so clearly had their own motivations that even after finishing this book I can’t help but imagine what else might have been revealed if other characters had their own perspectives. Ivy was so biased and so consumed with her own need for success that her neglect towards pieces of her life outside of her romantic relationship was painful. I wanted so much more for Ivy but her ultimate decisions led to a shocking ending that I still can’t stop thinking about. This book was so different from any thriller I’ve read in a long time and while it wasn’t a flashy shocking book, it was uniquely shocking it it’s own way.

If you’re looking for a book that encapsulates a troubled girl who just wants success and in turn will do anything she can to reach her goals, I highly recommend this.

SPOILERS INCLUDED STARTING NOW, EXIT POST IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THOSE 🙂

Okay, wow. This book!!! Like I had mentioned earlier the plot was slow going. I’m not good with literary terms so I don’t know if she’d be considered an unreliable narrator but she was so indecisive that I have to believe that in the end her mind was reeling.

As Ivy developed her relationship with Gideon I was so surprised by how the past came back into her life with her childhood friend. When they started up their affair I honestly was not surprised in the slightest. The more I thought about the way Ivy was living her life, the more I saw the comparison between the path that she took versus the one that her mother took. They both married the “safe” option after the untimely deaths of their more spicy flings (that was the worst way to describe this but I can’t think of anything else to say right now).

Ivy worked so hard to fit this “perfect” version of herself that she began to curate after coming home from China. The years passed by and yet she couldn’t move on from her childhood. The constant disdain for her family was exactly what led to her marriage and future which she resigned herself to after realizing that Gideon was gay. The murder part of the plot was not quite as shocking as it could have been, I knew that Ivy was going to do whatever it took to make sure Gideon didn’t find out about her affair. The realization about Gideon though actually made me gasp.

This book was so good at layering both the issues surrounding being out of place growing up but also the conniving nature of someone who will do anything to be successful. It was an amazing debut and I look forward to reading more by Yang!

Graphic Novel Review: Eat, and Love Yourself by Sweeney Boo

*This post may contain spoilers*

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC of this graphic novel. Eat, and Love Yourself is out today for purchase 🙂

Eat, and Love Yourself

Synopsis:

A story about Mindy, a woman living with an eating disorder who has to learn how to love herself again.

In pursuit of the perfect body, Mindy buys the low-fat diet products and the glossy magazines which promise the secret to losing weight. One night, while perusing the aisles of the neighborhood convenience store for a midnight snack, she finds a new product. A chocolate bar called “Eat and Love Yourself”. On a whim, Mindy buys the curious candy, not knowing that with every piece of chocolate she eats, she will be brought back to a specific moment of her past — helping her to look at herself honestly, learn to love her body the way it is, and accepting love. Perhaps, she will even realize that her long lost high school best friend, Elliot, was more than just a friend…

Rating:

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Review:

TW: Depression, Bulimia, Body Dysmorphia, Eating Disorders

I was intrigued by this graphic novel from the get go. I stumbled across it on NetGalley and wanted to read it right away and while I absolutely loved the artwork, the story itself fell somewhat flat.

Body image and eating disorders and anything that falls in that realm is incredibly nuanced and complex and I think that one aspect of this story that missed the mark was the length. I think that anyone would say that 160 pages would be difficult to tell a complete story in, especially one that contains the topics that this one does and I feel as if this could have benefitted from more content. The synopsis (which I didn’t read until after I had finished reading it) tells the story entirely. While normally I wouldn’t mind, as it does a great job of summing up the story, it made me realize that I really felt like the story was too short. There wasn’t enough explanation, inner thought, or conclusion. I ended my time reading only wanting more, but not in terms of a sequel, just more from what I was given. The ending was abrupt and everything else really only breached the surface of the topic at hand.

From the story that we were given I feel wishy washy in terms of my opinion. Again, I loved the artwork but because nothing related to the plot was fleshed out I was left with more questions than answers. I loved the arc of self acceptance and was overall pleased with the story in general but I constantly felt like I was reading the highlights or a sneak peek of this graphic novel rather than an almost finished product. I know that this book was about self love but I couldn’t help but wonder where the interpersonal relationships were, why the characters interacted the way that they did, why certain conversations led to others. The flashback scenes only provided so much context.

I think if the author was going for a broad, more universally understandable story about a woman’s journey to self love she hit that mark. But this story held so much potential that just wasn’t there. It has the important messages of looking back at oneself and finding contentment and self love in the midst of disordered eating and thoughts but it was all surface level. As someone who has spent much of their life struggling with self image and disordered eating I loved the memories that Mindy was given that allowed her to step back and look at how she ended up in the spot that she was in. The book did open up the line of self reflection which I know is something that a lot of people struggle with.

This is the type of book to spark conversations and again, I cannot praise the artwork more, and if you’re looking for a graphic novel that ties in body positivity and relearning how to love yourself in the midst of personal struggles I would recommend it.

 

Middle Grade Monday: The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia

I was super excited when I was granted access to an eARC to The Memory Keeper by Jennifer Camiccia. It follows a girl named Lulu who has a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. This is an incredibly uncommon phenomenon but it was such a fascinating concept to center the story around. If you don’t know what HSAM is, it essentially means that Lulu remembers every second of her life.

Lulu lives with her parents, little brother, and grandmother. She had a younger sister who I think passed away from SIDs but it wasn’t explicitly stated. Her parents have struggled immensely with this and on top of that her mother is dealing with postpartum depression as well. So Lulu leans on her grandmother heavily, which makes it even scarier when her grandma starts having problems with her memory. When Lulu realizes the scope of her own memory, she tries to collect her grandmother’s in order to help her in day to day life. Lulu wonders if the reason that her grandmother is losing her memory is because of a traumatic event, just as a traumatic event can trigger HSAM, she reads that it could also trigger memory loss. So Lulu goes in search of her grandmother’s past in order to save her memory and save her family.

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So I loved this book. Absolutely loved it. Was it super realistic? No, but it was emotional and heartfelt and deep while at the same time balanced with lighthearted jokes and fun friendship moments. Memory issues are a hard topic for me and I couldn’t help but get emotional a lot throughout this book. I know a few people that have dealt with or are dealing with Alzheimers and I myself have dealt with a great deal of memory loss due to mental health problems. It was painful to see how much Lulu was scared of losing her grandma if anyone found out what she was struggling with.

There was also quite a candid discussion of postpartum depression and grief and it was hard to see how Lulu struggled with her relationship with her parents but eye opening to read from the side of a child in a situation like this.

The side “quest” I guess is what I would call it that followed Lulu and her friends, Max and Olivia, in trying to also uncover Lulu’s grandma’s past was too funny. They took their roles of detectives so seriously and I really enjoyed seeing how their relationships developed and changed as the book progressed. I genuinely loved each of the characters in this book and it warmed my heart to see them heal even just a little by the time the book ended.

Another thing that I really loved about this book was that each chapter opened with a short description of some part of the brain and how it functions. Considering the book centered around a story in which the brain and memory was a central feature, I thought this was really interesting! It was educational and easy to understand and I really liked that.

This book felt reminiscent of The Ghost Collector  in that both main characters are dealing with something really difficult and are doing everything in their power to fix what they are struggling with. I highly recommend both.

 

Middle Grade Monday: The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills

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I have a Middle Grade Monday post ready for next week about a few books with spooky storylines and ghosts but I felt that there was no way that I could group this book into that post so it’s getting one of it’s own. Today I’ll be discussing and reviewing The Ghost Collector by Allison Mills.

After losing her mother unexpectedly, Shelly begins to hoard ghosts. A gift that has been passed down through generations of women in her family, Shelly has the ability to see ghosts, catch them, and help them move on. When she realizes that her mother has not come back as a ghost, she can’t let the other ghosts go.

Rooted in a Cree worldview, Shelly and her grandmother use their long hair to catch ghosts and then help to guide them onward to whatever comes after death. I thought that The Ghost Collector was a really deep story of a young, grieving girl who has to learn how to let go. It was so interesting to see how different ghosts could be, anywhere from the old, the young, animals, happy, sad, angry… The list goes on.

It was heartbreaking to see what Shelley was going through, just wanting to see her mom one more time. I think this was a unique and beautiful story about death, grief, and learning to let go. It is so important to share stories like this with young readers, to give them a more broad perspective of the topic of death, dying, and more. I really enjoyed reading a “ghost story” that wasn’t scary. I feel like what is often the case is that ghosts are made out to be malevolent and while those stories are definitely fun, it’s good to see stories where ghosts are just existing too.

In terms of reviewing this book, I gave it three stars. I would highly recommend it to anyone but I personally felt that parts of the story were underdeveloped. The origins of a few characters felt unexplained as did the backstory as to why Shelley and her grandmother were able to see ghosts and catch them in their hair. I would have loved more explanation and a bit of world building in that regard… I did try to do some internet research on the topic of ghosts and Cree beliefs but came up with nothing! Regardless of these qualms that I had, I thought this book was spectacular and have definitely thought about this story a lot since originally reading it.

If you are interested in a book that handles grief well and provides a new view on ghosts and death, this might be the book you’re looking for! Definitely worth checking out.

**I received an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**

 

 

Review: Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn

Resurrection Girls by Ava Morgyn is all about grief and healing. Telling the story of a girl named Olivia, three years after the death of her younger brother. A new girl named Kara Hallas moves in across the street with her grandma and mother and Olivia is immediately drawn to them.

While hanging out with Kara, Olivia begins to pull herself out of the hole that her brother’s death left her in. The two of them form an unlikely bond while writing letters to death row inmates and Olivia tries to learn who exactly the Hallas family is.

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I received an ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This was beautifully written and utterly heartbreaking. It’s all about grief and healing and it felt so personal to look into the lives of the people within this book. At times I felt like it was too much, like I was reading about the lives of real people and I felt almost bad reading it. Although it was really hard to read I ended up reading it all in one sitting while I was doing some work at the library a few weeks ago.

The prose within this was beautiful and I think that Morgyn did a fantastic job writing her first novel. I thought that the different portrayals of grief added a lot of depth and I appreciated that Olivia and her parents all dealt with the loss of her brother in vastly different ways.

The actual Resurrection Girls subplot in which Olivia and Kara wrote letters to death row inmates was very minor, at least in my opinion. I thought it was interesting but it didn’t lend itself to the plot as much as the descriptions of this book make it out to be. I think in general this book is more about healing and relationships than anything else. There is a bit of a romance subplot as well and I thought it was okay. I loved the overall arc of the book and while I wasn’t so invested in the subplots I did enjoy them for the most part.

In terms of characters, Olivia is the only one that felt fully fleshed out. Every once in a while we got into the depths of the other characters but throughout the whole story Olivia is the sole focus. I appreciated the depth we got from her parents towards the end, it felt right, but I would have loved to know more about Kara and Prescott. Prescott had so much potential to be a really great character and in the end, he lacked depth. I talk more about what I wanted from Kara in my spoilery section later in the post.

Due to the dark nature of this book I’m including content warnings here, and then the next section contains spoilers so if you want to skip them, scroll down to the next picture.

 

 

Content warnings for: death of a child, suicide, overdose, addiction, serial killers, death

This next section contains spoilers:

So this book, I assume, is considered magical realism but I honestly think that the whole subplot of the Hallas family having some sort of “curse” could have been done away with… Or this book could’ve been 50-100 pages longer in order to fully develop what was going on with them. I felt that the ending was extremely rushed and it didn’t really add anything to the story. Kara and her family could have just as easily been a normal family with how little I learned about who they really were. It was easy to imply some of the gaps in the story but I wanted more from that storyline. That was really my main issue with the book.

I am also a tad uncomfortable with the part of this book in which Olivia overdosed. Not saying that this was bad, but I will say it felt unrealistic. Like from what I remember they didn’t even place a psychiatric hold on her? They just let her go home with her mom… The same mom that she got these pills she overdosed on from? I’m probably just being nitpicky here but this is an area where I have a ton of personal knowledge and it felt really brushed over and reduced to something really simple. Definitely not saying it was bad, just that this also could have been expanded on and written differently.

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Resurrection Girls was incredibly dark, hypnotic, moving, and deep. It was fantastic and I highly recommend it. I ended up giving it a rating of 4/5 stars and am looking forward to whatever Ava Morgyn comes up with next.

If you’re interested in picking up your own copy you can find links to the book here:

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository

Middle Grade Monday: Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt

So in today’s Middle Grade Monday post, I’m going to be talking about a book that’s release tomorrow called Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt. I received an ARC of this from Netgalley in order to review.

This book is about Tam and Kate, two girls who have found their stereotyped places to fit in within their middle school but develop an unlikely friendship… And maybe a little more.

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Redwood and Ponytail is all about two girls who are growing up and learning more about who they are every day. It’s a book about identity and acceptance and I loved it.

I grew up reading books in verse, I devoured every one that I could get my hands on, but every single one was far outside of the range of what I should have been reading at that age. Like I was in seventh grade reading Ellen Hopkins (I was definitely a mature reader but those were some heavy, heavy books). If I could go back in time with this book, I would have loved to hand younger me this to read.

There really needs to be more books out there like this. Even with the world becoming more and more accepting, sometimes it’s still so incredibly hard to accept that you might be different. I mean, I’m 23 and I’m still trying to figure out who I am. Books like these are ones that make it easier to be a young girl and say “hey, maybe I like girls too” or a boy who likes boys or anybody who just doesn’t really like anybody like that.

In terms of books written in verse, I found this to be pretty good. There were some parts that really flowed and other parts that really didn’t. But if you were using this to introduce a younger reader to a book in verse I think this could be a good choice.

One of the things that made me love this book so much was that the author got those first crush feelings so spot on. It was so relatable and I think that anyone could appreciate that. The aspects of this that fell flat for me were the other characters, I think that this story focused so much on Tam and Kate that the development of the other characters was completely neglected. I would have loved to hear more backstory about literally any of the other characters, it was a long book so something could’ve been squeezed in. However, I would definitely pass this on to middle schoolers, it’s a good viewpoint to read from, a nice introduction to books in verse, and in the end I rated it 4/5 stars.

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Before I end this post, I will say that people added the trigger warning of homophobia to their reviews and while I could understand where they’re coming from I think it’s important to add that it is very light (if that’s even a thing). The parts that I’m assuming they’re referring to are definitely hard to read in seeing a mom not really know how to react to what her daughter is telling her, but I don’t want to say that it’s the most painful thing to read. In the end everything turns to a “I just want you to be happy with yourself” type of situation. So yes, very minor homophobia but don’t let that deter you from giving this to kids to read or even reading it yourself!

If you’re interested in getting your own copy you can grab one tomorrow from these links:

Amazon // Barnes & Noble // Book Depository

Review: Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff

PSA: If you can’t write a book without using a character’s mental illness to advance the plot (when that isn’t the central theme of the book) then maybe that isn’t the book you should be writing 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

Mother Knows Best by Kira Peikoff is categorized as a medical suspense/thriller about “a mother’s worst nightmare, a chance at redemption, and a deadly secret that haunts a family across the generations.” I was provided a digital review copy of this by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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First off, this really isn’t a thriller. The entire plot is laid out in the synopsis and nothing was incredibly shocking or thrilling. It was definitely suspenseful at times but wasn’t that gripping in that sense. The book started off really strong and I was greatly enjoying my reading. I love it when people decide to fuck with Mother Nature and then ultimately get screwed (probably why Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies). The ethical aspects of this and the medical stuff was interesting enough but I definitely felt like I had to suspend my disbelief for a lot of what happened. I felt like the characters were all stereotypes and while it definitely wasn’t the worst thing, it just made it even more predictable and a little boring. The ending wrapped everything up with a nice tight bow and I just felt like it was rushed to make it to the conclusion.

This book was short (288 pages) and read really quickly and I would have probably rated it 4 stars had the choice not been made to use Claire’s (the main character) mental illness in order to advance the plot. Like I already wasn’t a fan of it in the beginning but I was going to chalk it up to her just being anxious and still grieving the loss of her first child. But then she got “bad” again and the whole thing culminated in her ending up in a mental health facility which I think had absolutely no relevance to the plot. Literally anything else could have been written for her to be doing in order for her to be away from the house long enough for Jillian to infiltrate and do her dirty work. But no… Also if authors can’t learn the difference between “delusions” and “hallucinations” I’m going to file a complaint and start a riot. These are not the same things. A delusion is a thought, it’s a very strong and unshakeable belief in something that is not true or is completely impossible. A hallucination, in very brief description, is experiencing something that isn’t there and can affect any of the senses. I feel like I should start an entire series on mental health representation in books because I’ve encountered some really, really bad takes recently.

Anyways, I just wanted to share a few quotes from the portion of the book where Claire was in the hospital:

“The schizophrenics are the noisiest; they jabber the most, in different tones. The psychotics are the quietest, but the scariest.”

I notice she’s backed up two steps, in case I try to grab the pen and stab her. The staff never get too close to a wild animal in a cage.”

Pretty soon after that, she’s also apprehended by “guards” and then injected with medication in order to knock her out. Like way to just bring all the mental hospital stereotypes into play right here! This is so unrealistic, like in all my times in hospitals I’ve only ever seen one person get a shot and that’s because they needed a stronger dose than a pill could provide. As is the fact that she was released from the hospital that she was “voluntarily” staying at after her episode in which she was taken down by the guards. That’s not how that works. That’s not how any of that works. Shit, I get that Claire didn’t think she was “crazy” but don’t take down everyone else. Patients are people too. We’re people too. And the fact that the author wrote this section like this was incredibly insensitive and it really hurt me. This is why I don’t share my own mental health and hospital history with people because that’s the kind of representation we get in books.

Please, authors, I beg of you, stop writing mentally ill characters as a means of driving your plot. Stop writing us as crazy. Stop making us the villains. Just stop. It hurts. It makes me sad. It’s not fair. You can do better.

So after reading that part of the book I felt really disheartened. I finished the book because it was easy reading but it never redeemed itself. I ultimately rated it 2 stars and will not be recommending this.

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Review: A Fire Sparkling by Julianne MacLean

I am a sucker for a good World War II historical novel. I love learning about any part of history but I’ve always found my biggest interests in WWII. So when I saw a new WWII based novel on NetGalley, I requested an ARC right away and they graciously provided me with one. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a huge historical fiction mood when I got it so I only just now got around to reading it (shame on me 😦 ).

But once I did sit down to read A Fire Sparkling by Julianne MacLean I ended up completing it in two sittings (probably would’ve been one if I hadn’t had to train someone at work). I think my favorite thing about historical fiction books are when they do capture your attention to the point of not wanting to put the book down. Many historical fiction books are dense and poetic and not that easy to get into at first but gradually pick up speed and intensity as it goes on.

Most of this review is going to contain spoilers because I don’t feel like I can adequately discuss my thoughts without spoiling the book… So I’ll do a quick nonspoiler review now before I dive further into my thoughts on this book.

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Here’s a quick summary:

A Fire Sparkling follow dual timelines during “present day” 2011 and Europe in World War II. Gillian returns home after heartbreak to spend time with her father and grandmother and discovers that her grandmother has been hiding a huge secret from her family for most of her life.

That’s a really bad summary but that’s essentially all the story is.

This book was a very easy read, it was not full of complicated prose or very poetic at all. So if you are new to the historical fiction genre, I would recommend this. If you are a fan of the trope where an old person reveals a huge life secret in their old age, I would recommend this. If you want a very (in my opinion) light historical fiction novel that is full of twists and turns, I recommend this.

If you have extensive knowledge of World War II and are well versed in historical fiction and want a really deep and realistic story… Don’t pick this up. This story just seemed so unrealistic and the twists and turns that the plot took made me dizzy. The characters all felt pretty flat to me as well and I wasn’t a fan of Gillian whatsoever and I rated the book 3/5 stars.

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You are about to enter a spoiler zone, leave now if you don’t want to get spoiled!!!

Y’all… I have no idea what to think of this book. It felt like the author had like a checklist of historical fiction World War novels and just checked off every item as she added them to the plot. Spies, lost loves, resistance infiltrating enemy forces, an old person revealing their entire lives in their old age… It was exhausting. There were so many twists that this book took that it straight up gave me whiplash!!

Now, I saw it coming that the Nazi was Gillian’s true grandfather. The author literally said that the earl that was the supposed grandfather had dark hair and eyes while Edward had blond hair and blue eyes (and look I know it was possible, but was highly unlikely, I do understand basic biology) and I just figured that Vivian had had another miscarriage and April gave up the baby due to one situation or another. I definitely didn’t see the twist coming that Vivian was April but in the end, okay, super dramatic but it works.

In terms of the actual historical story in this. It was decent, that was the part of the book that I actually liked. It gave me whiplash but it kept me interested and in the end, that’s what mattered. For the most part, it just felt very generic and typical of a World War II historical fiction novel. Pretty much all of the characters were flat and I wasn’t particularly attached to any of them. I would have loved more development with Jack especially considering he was the “great love” the grandmother’s life.

The “present day” timeline was annoying. I hated Gillian as a character. She clearly was supposed to have some big healing story arc by accepting her mother’s death from a decade before but I felt like she was an entirely pointless character and her story was atrocious? Like, okay, let’s have a character heal from a past trauma… But was it really necessary to this book? NOPE! Her story could have easily just been “oh, I’ve been through a breakup (or even been single this whole time) and just decided to come home and visit” and then BAM there’s grandma’s story. Her story with the cheating just added to the plot soup. Literally so many storylines and none of them were 100% developed. This could have been 3-4 books with the amount of stuff that was going on. Like I said earlier, I wasn’t attached to any of the characters and I felt absolutely no sympathy or empathy for Gillian which to me, clearly shows that these characters weren’t well written.

One little gripe before I get to my last point… OMG the amount of times the author described an emotion being felt in the belly. I should’ve kept a tally. It was like once a chapter. Drove me crazy. Use other descriptors, please and thank you.

There was one thing that really made me mad, like steaming mad, and that was the ending. I’m sorry but making the Nazi a part of the resistance? No. Just honestly why? That’s a total copout to make the guy look “good”. Sorry, no, I don’t care that he was part of the resistance. You don’t get that high up in the ranks without doing atrocious things. It’s unforgiving. The author really tried to redeem this guy and I absolutely hated that. I could probably rant for a good hour about how frustrated this made me feel but I’m just going to say that this was a poor choice and I would have preferred for it to have ended differently.

I went with 3 stars for my rating because while it was plot soup and had a bad ending and not so great writing, I did enjoy it overall. And maybe I could hyper analyze and change my rating but there’s not really a point. I think this would be a fine book for people who want to read historical fiction but can’t handle the super dense and heavy books that usually flood this genre.

Now, if you’ve stuck around this far, thanks for reading and I hope you all have a great weekend!

Review: Rebel Girls by Elizabeth Keenan

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I recently received an ARC of Rebel Girls by Elizabeth Keenan from NetGalley in order to review.

Before I get into my thoughts, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

It’s 1992, and there’s a rumor spreading in Baton Rouge…

When it comes to being social, Athena Graves is far more comfortable creating a mixtape playlist than she is talking to cute boys—or anyone, for that matter. Plus her staunchly feminist views and love of punk rock aren’t exactly mainstream at St. Ann’s, her conservative Catholic high school.

Then a malicious rumor starts spreading through the halls…a rumor that her popular, pretty, pro-life sister had an abortion over the summer. A rumor that has the power to not only hurt Helen, but possibly see her expelled.

Despite their wildly contrasting views, Athena, Helen and their friends must find a way to convince the student body and the administration that it doesn’t matter what Helen did or didn’t do…even if their riot grrrl protests result in the expulsion of their entire rebel girl gang.

In this day and age, this book and the topics within it are just as important as they would have been back in 1992 when this book takes place. However, I found that the way this book was executed fell very short of any expectations I had of this book. I am very aware that I am not the target audience of this book. I’ve recently turned 23 and very much don’t fit in to the young adult age range anymore but I still feel like this book was bad. From my own context of reading this, I could understand why it might appeal to a younger audience however I personally could not find it in myself to appreciate any part of it.

I’m also going to preface this by saying that in my review I will not be talking about the actual debate of pro choice or pro life. Just the way that this book handles it.

I’ve decided to rate this book 1 star.

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***This review contains minor spoilers***

The feminist aspects of this book did not come across the way that I feel like they were intended to solely because the main character, Athena, did not seem to convey why she felt the need to believe the things that she did other than the fact that her Riot Grrl heroes felt that way. This can easily be explained away by her being a teenager because teenagers very easily blindly believe things (I mean I know I did!) but she has the ability to explain why the people she trusts feel the way that they do. So much of Athena’s inner dialogue was her saying sexist things and then backtracking because she “shouldn’t think like that”. There’s no real motivation to her beliefs, she’s still very much sucked into the popularity contests of high school and she falls on the “not like other girls” spectrum at her Catholic school.

The entire book dealt with issues that Athena’s sister, Helen, was encountering but was all told from Athena’s perspective I’m assuming because Helen didn’t have the same beliefs as Athena did so that’s why Athena was chosen to force feed us her thoughts. I really felt like that this book should have been from Helen’s perspective, even if she was pro life. I think that it could have been an interesting character arc for her to go from being strictly pro life to seeing the reasons why people might be pro choice and possibly even changing her beliefs.

I think all of the characters in this book were flat. They were all stereotypes that played into a dramatic high school story. The mean girls, the jocks, the cute boys, the outcasts, etc. It played at being diverse but things like the fact that Sean (Athena’s best friend) was a star football player but hid his love of comics really played into the “everyone must fit their stereotype” line. Sister Catherine was my favorite character in this whole book and she hardly played a big role at all which was really disappointing. I felt like she was also the most realistically portrayed. The guidance counselor character literally made me want to scream. I cannot believe that there was a character that demeaning and malicious written in to this book… Same with the lady that worked at the “fake abortion” clinic. I am well aware of how much fear mongering goes in to pro life campaigns but I can’t imagine why the pro life characters in this book needed to be so graphically rude. Or the locker scene, oh my dear lord the locker scene literally made me sick to my stomach with rage.

Before I can get too angry, like I’m trying really hard to keep my thoughts straight here… But I just think this book lacked empathy. Athena was one of the most unempathetic characters ever. I understand that she’s a teenager but if this book is supposed to center around her younger sister being bullied because of rumors surrounding an alleged abortion I just think it’s in poor taste that the first 100 pages of this book revolve around a crush. I felt like Helen was the only character who really “grew” throughout the book and I wish that she would have been the main character instead of Athena.

In the end, I feel like the message in this book had the potential to be something really good but I spent the entire book getting more and more frustrated over everything. The overall plot wasn’t even revealed until 100+ pages into the book because the first quarter was filled with fluff about crushes and typical school drama. This also had an incredible lack of empathy towards any character. There was so much cruelness from multiple characters that it physically hurt to read. And if that was the point to try and bring shock value into getting teenagers to believe in being pro choice, well, then I guess this book did that? I wish I could say that I wanted to recommend this but I can’t.