Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

5 out of 5 stars

THIS WAS SUCH A BEAUTIFUL BOOK! I loved this SO MUCH. Here we follow Yadriel, a trans teen in East LA, tries to prove he is a brujo, not a bruja, to his family once and for all by completing his coming of age ritual by himself, but ends up summoning the wrong ghost during the ritual instead. The setting, the characters, and the plot were all just so well thought out and so vivid. I love the Day of the Dead tradition, which was at the front and center of this book. Yadriel is a Latinx hero you can rely on; he is so fearless and strong in both standing up for himself and his friends. This story will tear your heart to shreds, I swear. I ended up sobbing in my car listening to the last couple chapters. FYI: the audiobook is narrated by a hispanic trans voice actor, who did an amazing job capturing all the voices in the book. There is a lot of Spanish in this without translation and I found myself trying to translate in my head as I went along, drawing on my high school Spanish classes. I also got an opportunity to here Aiden speak at a virtual event recently, and he is just the SWEETEST PERSON. Please pick this up if you haven’t already. It’s easily going to make my list of my favorite books of this year.

Warnings: ghosts, violence, blood/gore, major character death, dead naming, gun/knife violence.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

4 out of 5 stars

This book was WAY better than I had originally anticipated. I knew I was going to enjoy it, I just wasn’t prepared for all the cool things that happened once I started reading. This book went back and forth between the present and the past as the main character, Tea, recounts her life story for a visitor in her present. I love this way of storytelling because it makes me curious about what happened during the in-between periods. There was a mystery element to the plot that I wasn’t expecting, but made the ending that much better. There was also a fair amount of representation in this book; Likh is transgender and one of the shopkeepers is openly gay. I loved that this was just part of the narrative and not made a big deal out of. I also loved the relationships Tea had with all the side characters, especially Likh and Fox, both of whom I absolutely LOVED. I really want to know what happens next, so I will definitely be picking up the second book in this series at some point.

Warnings: raising the dead, corpses, skeletons, battle sequences, bullying, prejudice, blood

Trials of Apollo: Tower of Nero by Rick Riordan

4.5 out of 5 stars

GUYS. IT’S OVER. IT’S DONE. I haven’t been this satisfied by the ending of a series in a long time. This was SUCH a nice conclusion to the series and to the Percy-verse as a whole. I didn’t cry as much as I thought I would, but it was still emotional. I don’t even know where to start with what happened and I don’t want to give anything away for those of you who still haven’t read these yet, so I’ll just say that I’m content with how things were left and I’m sure Apollo/Lester is as well. There were at least three things mentioned in this book that Uncle Rick could expand upon if he so chooses, one of which being a Solangelo spin off quest (REJOICE!!). He’s said that he might explore the futures of other characters besides Percy, who is sitting comfortably in a college dorm room right now probably gorging himself on copious amounts of ramen and Mountain Dew while studying to become a marine biologist at New Rome University. Now I have to go back to reading normal YA…

Warnings: Large battle sequence, siege warfare, sword violence, character death, welcome back to Tartarus

Blood & Honey by Shelby Mahurin

4 out of 5 stars

*This is the sequel to Serpent & Dove, so read that first before continuing with this review!

WOW. That ending though. I am thoroughly shook. This book starts directly after the end of Serpent & Dove and we find our crew trudging through the forrest forlornly, looking for possible allies in their fight against the Dames Blanches. This is basically just one giant cringe-fest, between Reid and Lou pining after each other, the incessant blood baths, and lack of support (or hygiene) on the road, it’s not looking good. We get an inside look at the blood witches in this book as well as more information about how their magic system works. The highlights are when they encounter the traveling performers; they are all very bard-like and adorable, so it was a pleasure to read about their lives and travels. My favorite character was probably Beau, the leader of the troupe. I also really liked the werewolves because…I just really like werewolves (please see all other posts mentioning my obsession with TJ Klune’s Green Creek series). Overall, this book is not a fun time. It’s depressing and will definitely leave you craving the third and final installment of this series, especially after that hideously awful ending/cliffhanger. I had to read it three times myself to understand what happened and I’m still not 100% convinced.

Warnings: Main character death, blood, murder, battle sequences, genuine heartbreak

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust

3.5 out of 5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect going into this book, but I was pleasantly surprised! First of all, LOOK AT THAT COVER ART Y’ALL. Snakes were apparently very dust jacket fashion forward this year. I love reading from different perspectives in mythology from other cultures, so this was really cool. The plot of this was well thought out and had a lot of elements from Persian mythology. I had to look up a lot of words reading this book, but it was worth it to understand what I was trying to picture in my head. I liked Soraya as the main character, but I felt more drawn to Azad. I’m a sucker for morally ambiguous characters; ones who can’t really be lumped in with good or evil. I also really loved the depiction of the demons in this book; they felt way more flushed out and vivid than other depictions I’ve read before, having factions and more complex hierarchies. Definitely recommended for those of you who live and breath folklore and mythology from other countries or civilizations.

Warnings: Battle sequences, murder, blood, body mutilation.

The Lost Book of the White (The Eldest Curses, Book 2) by Cassandra Clare and Wesley Chu

4.5 out of 5 stars

Much like the first one, this was a fun read! The books in this series take place in and around other events happening in the Shadowhunter universe; I believe the first book, The Red Scrolls of Magic, takes place sometime soon after City of Heavenly Fire while this one takes place right before Lady Midnight. I really liked that we saw Jace, Clary and everyone tagging along for this one. I also really love seeing other institutes around the world, so going to China and the Shanghai Institute where Jem used to live was a huge plus for me. If I’ve learned one thing from reading all these Shadowhunter books, it’s that there’s always a way to tie back to something, somewhere, or someone else in lore. Malec will always be one of my favorite couples, so it was nice to see Magnus and Alec work through some of their issues together in this book. That cliffhanger in the epilogue though…that might be problematic for everyone. There’s a special bonus scene at the end involving two of my favorite characters from the other books that had be SOBBING, it was SO BEAUTIFUL. Seriously, if you haven’t already started reading the Shadowhunter books, GO FOR IT.

Warnings: Torture, descriptions of violent death, demonic hellscapes

*If you’d like an in-depth Shadowhunter reading list that tells you which order to read them in, please email me at alapierre@thomas.lib.me.us. It can get pretty confusing.

Trials of Apollo: The Tyrant’s Tomb by Rick Riordan

4 out of 5 stars

Much like the last one, I really enjoyed this! We spend a lot of time with the Roman Legion in this one as the team preps for their confrontation with the Emperors. Frank Zhang is a GIFT and too good for this world and I love him so much. Hazel is a BEAST in this and I’m glad she has a chance to really shine in this series. I’m not going to lie, I was a little scared reading this, especially towards the end. There were some light-hearted and funny bits scattered throughout, but there are also large-scale battle sequences and, shocker, MORE people die, which is always difficult to read. It gets even more difficult with the addition of a zombie king. I have a feeling the last book is going to be ROUGH if the last two were any indication, so prepare yourselves for Tower of Nero people. It’s going to be a bumpy and emotional ride.

Warnings: Large battle sequences, undead, minor character deaths

Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan

4 out of 5 stars

This book RUINED me. I was absolutely GUTTED by the end of this (fair warning for those of you who tend to get emotional while reading). I was straight up SOBBING in my car (because audio books) by the time I finished. That being said, this is probably one of my favorite books in this series so far. Caligula is definitely a worthy opponent for our heroes and it’s only going to get worse from here, because that’s how Uncle Rick likes to torture us I guess. My favorite part was actually while they were trying to solve the crossword-style riddles in the maze, which was different that any other challenge I’ve seen so far; it reminded me a little of the puzzles you might see in Dungeons and Dragons (because I’m a huge nerd BTW). Just brace yourself; this is not a happy book at all. Apollo even warns you in the beginning that this is going to end terribly, so just remember that going in. Hopefully it’ll be worth the emotional rollercoaster to get to the end. Two more books left! I’m currently reading The Tyrant’s Tomb in preparation for Tower of Nero, which comes out this October. Definitely a high-paced adventure with plenty of action and emotional upheaval.

Warnings: MAJOR character death, description of death/dead body, battle sequences, blood.

 

Alyssa’s Summer Reading Review  (June-August 2020)

The Selection, by Kiera CassThe Selection by Kiera Cass
3 out of 5 stars
I understand that this is a popular series in young adult fiction and that a lot of you may have already read this, but as it’s my first time diving into this series, here are my thoughts: This was very predictable, but also strangely addicting. I blame this on the Bachelor element, considering how addicting that show is. The similarities to The Hunger Games are undeniable, but without the death and urgency of survival, which honestly would have made it more interesting and added to the high stakes for me. I enjoyed the court politics and the inner workings of the castle, including the mystery surrounding the war, the most. Also, can we please give these ladies some weapons? There are a few characters I will not name whom I would not have been upset about them dying under suspicious circumstances. And give me a Dark Brooding Male, for the love of Pete; I need some variety in my love interests, thanks. I’d recommend this to teens who have thought about reading Hunger Games, but might think it’s a bit too hard-core for them. Just try not to go into it comparing it to one of the best dystopian novels of all time, or you’ll be a tad disappointed like I was.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
4.5 out of 5 stars
This is actually an adult book, but I think it’s a good transitional book for teens (or you can use the term “New Adult”). This was also a DELIGHT to read! I would describe this book as a nice mix of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, The Umbrella Academy, and Good Omens. It’s not the first time I’ve read one of Klune’s books (ask me about the Green Creek series, I dare you), and I fell in love with his writing style, his humor, and his ability to sneak overwhelming emotion into his storylines. Klune has the ability to write characters you can’t help but fall in love with, including the Antichrist. I got weepy over a stupid button. Klune’s writing style, humor and character development stunned me yet again and I couldn’t be happier that this book exists. This isn’t even the only T.J. Klune book on this list, so stay tuned for my review of his YA debut (seriously, I’m OBSESSED).

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
4 out of 5 stars
Wow, this book was incredible! Definitely worth the hype. Felix is a great protagonist to read from as he tries to juggle his identity with this blatant and personal attack on his sexuality at school, which he assumes is a safe place for him. I feel like I understand more about transexual identities after reading Felix’s story and I think it’s a perspective everyone needs to read more from. This book explored a lot of different queer identities while also discussing other issues, such as parental drama, bullying of both the in-person and cyber variety, and drug use. Probably the best choice to read during Pride Month for sure! And LOOK. AT. THAT. COVER. Absolutely stunning in every way.

Warnings: Bullying, dead naming, mild drug use.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper
4 out of 5 stars
So, you absolutely don’t need to know anything about NASA before reading this because I certainly didn’t. I liked how the move to Texas played into Cal’s narrative as a vlogger, which I was happy to see represented in teen fiction. I think the story took a unique spin on meet-cute for sure. Both boys have issues regarding their mental health, which I wish they had delved into more in depth. Once both boys start hanging out, there’s this mysterious situation regarding NASA’s TMZ-esq network, which Cal took it upon himself to uncover, that had me on the edge of my couch trying to figure out who was behind everything. That, coupled with how absolutely gosh darn adorable these boys were had me rooting for everyone’s happiness by the end. Definitely a romantic, feel-good summer read!

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
4 out of 5 stars
I feel so bad for sleeping on this book for so long! Yes, you heard that right; I JUST read this book for the FIRST TIME in June. It’s not even my first Becky Albertalli book, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read this before now. It was well worth the wait! I liked how we get right into the thick of it right when you start reading; you’re immediately thrown into conflict, which kept me engaged, where other books would fill the first few chapters with boring (but otherwise necessary) background and descriptive info. This book was cute in all the right ways and had enough believable angst to go around. Albertalli is known for her honest and relatable portrayal of teen experiences, attitudes, and behaviors in her books, and this one is no exception, being her most well-known novel. The mystery surrounding Blue’s identity will keep you guessing until at least the middle of the book. If everyone else who’s read it hasn’t convinced you to read it, I honestly don’t know what to tell you. Just don’t watch the movie first if you value your reading experience.

Warnings: Bullying, blackmail, outing.

Reverie by Ryan La Sala
4.5 out of 5 stars
This book surprised me in the best way. It was way more intense than I thought it would be, but in a good way. I read this book in 48 hours and I was nervous for our main characters almost the entire time. The writing is incredible; I actually had to look and see if the author had any other published books and was sad to find out that this was his debut. The plot was very similar to Inception, if you can believe that, but with a focus on other people’s dreams. Kane is such a relatable main character and I couldn’t help feeling a little bad for him at times. There was also an element of mystery in here that I liked a lot, which mixed well with the magical realism, surprisingly. Loved Dean, would die for him, etc. (even though he was only in the book for a total of like 5 chapters). I’ve held onto an Advanced Reader Copy of this book since last year and I’m glad I finally picked it up!

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
4 out of 5 stars
Wow, this was stunning! The verse in this was so captivating, I couldn’t put it down; this is another book I read in about 24 hours. This was written from such a unique perspective, I was glad to learn more about this side of drag culture and the LGBTQ community. A very impactful and timely read about gender, race, and acceptance. Even if you tell yourself you don’t like or can’t read verse (like me), this is still definitely a must-read.

Warnings: Homophobia.

 

 

The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg
3.5 out of 5 stars
Honestly, I just decided to breeze through our Cloud Library collection of LGBTQ teen fiction over the summer, so this one was next on my list, although I had been eyeing it for awhile. There’s food trucks, there’s an idiots-to-lovers storyline, and there’s a dog! I didn’t expect it to get so dark at times (there’s a situation where a parent has a gambling addiction), but I loved the evolution of both main characters from reluctant business partners to friendship to affection. Some of the crass things their friends said to and about them made me cringe a little, since teens can be tactless sometimes (don’t worry, I don’t hold it against you guys). I think that this book could have maybe used an epilogue of sorts just for some extra closure, but overall this book was a quintessential summer read.

Warnings: Gambling addiction, homophobia, mental illness, rape.

Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
4 out of 5 stars
When I first heard about this book, I saw it described as a gay version of Grease and I was immediately sold. Now that I’ve finally read it, I can say that it did it justice, especially from a more modern perspective. I also loved all the side stories for the rest of the characters and the way everyone played off each other. I felt for Ollie throughout the book, trying to deal with the blatant rejection from his summer fling while also coming to terms with his obvious attraction and willingness to give Will a second chance. Not gonna lie, I wanted to punch Will a few times for being a complete idiot, but I came around to him once I read his story. Don’t worry, no boys were clothed in leather or lycra for the duration of this book. This was a great homage to an iconic musical, but with way more representation and less singing.

Warnings: Homophobia, underage drinking.

We Are Lost and Found by Helene Dunbar
3.5 out of 5 stars
Apparently I have a thing for 1980s AIDS crisis teen dramas, because this is the 2nd one that I’ve read and absolutely loved. The author made sure we could see everything vividly from her descriptions, from what Michael’s friends were wearing to the scenery of Manhattan to the house he lived in. The 1980s were really epic times for fashion and music, especially in the LGBTQ community. The music really drove this story, although we only get an inkling of how music inspires Michael until the end. Each of the main characters is going through something and, like teens tend to do, they don’t like talking about it. The entire time I was reading this I wanted to give those poor sweet children a hug. Beautiful, heartbreaking, and powerful. The only thing that bothered me about this book was the author’s choice to go without quotations for speech, so it was a bit confusing trying to figure out who was still talking in each paragraph.

Warnings: Mature content, homophobia, mild drug use.
*Note: If you read this book and find that you enjoyed it, check out Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazmian, which is also about teens struggling through the 1980s AIDS epidemic in NYC.

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
2.5 out of 5 stars
Oh boy, where do I even start. I wasn’t expecting this book to hit me so hard, and I’m not easily crushed (emotionally), but this book definitely crushed me. Adam Silvera is known for his emotional and poignant books dealing with difficult topics, and this one is his first. The part of this book that was hard to swallow was the memory-altering institute and the effect it had on everyone’s lives in their burrow of New York. The ending was one of the saddest things I’ve read in a long time and I was emotionally drained afterwards. If you’ve read Silvera’s books before, you’ll know this already. It’s not like it wasn’t a good book, I just didn’t like the way it made me feel after reading it. I’m hesitant to pick up his other books after reading this one, but I’d be more than willing to take recommendations from any of you who could convince me otherwise. Ugh, sorry to be such a downer about this one, but I just couldn’t get past the emotional upheaval Silvera put me through, which I guess was the point and a testament to how great of a writer he is. Just be prepared to cry ugly tears and question your life choices.

Warnings: Homophobia, attempted suicide, parental suicide, violence, drug use.

The Extraordinaries by T.J. Klune
5 out of 5 stars
OMG HE DID IT AGAIN!! This book has everything: fanfiction, angst, superheroes, ADHD rep, beautiful queer love, and the perfect mic drop at the end. This book is so meta about superhero stereotypes, I was dying half the time. The relationship between Nick and his dad is somewhat strained at times, but when they’re working together they’re just trying to work through the same thing in different ways. I know nothing about ADHD and the effect it can have on a person, but Nick’s seems heightened to the point where it can impede his judgment and day-to-day life. The BANTER between all the characters was amazing, as always, because it’s T.J. Klune and that’s what he does best. Seth is a precious cinnamon roll that needs to be protected at all costs. Gibby and Jazz are lesbian icons. The fanfiction portions of the book were actually done in what appears to be Archive of Our Own (AO3) format, which I loved for its authenticity. If I keep going with how much I loved this book I’d never shut up. You could say I loved it. I’m already eagerly anticipating the sequel.

Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

3.5 out of 5 stars
I’m going to come clean about this right now: I had no intention of reading this series until I found out Nico Di’Angelo and Will Solace would be playing an important role towards the end of the series, so here I am. Yes, I am Solangelo trash, but who isn’t, honestly? Anyway, I actually really enjoyed this, surprisingly enough. I thought reading from Apollo’s POV would be awful, but he’s actually more interesting than anyone else. Uncle Rick is back at it again with the witty banter and the pop culture references that I love so much. I’m reading these in audiobook format, and the narrator is definitely helping me enjoy this more; his voice acting is awesome. I highly recommend continuing this series if you were on the fence before.

 

Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

4 out of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this one; even better than the first one, but I expected that to some extent. Uncle Rick’s books have gotten better as the years have gone by and I honestly think his most recent series (Heroes of Olympus series aside) have been some of his best work. That being said, Apollo and his gang are stuck at The Way Station in Indianapolis during this one and I LOVED Apollo’s character development in this. I also love Thalia, so I’m glad we got to see her again. Towards the end I actually got emotional in my car (because I’m reading these in audio form while I drive to work) and cried a little because of a character death I wasn’t expecting. These emperors are NO joke kids. I’m actually dreading reading the next one because I know something Big that happens to one of the main characters and I AM NOT READY. Really anxious to see if the Trials of Apollo can match Heroes of Olympus for traumatizing events. Update: I’m currently in the middle of Burning Maze and I’m not handling any of my emotions like an adult should at this point.

Warnings: Violence, minor character death