[Book Review] The House in the Cerulean Sea

Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: TJ Klune
Genre: LGBT; fiction; fantasy/magic; romance; contemporary; found family
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Review: 5 Stars (spoilers)

I truly enjoyed this one, as evidenced by the 5 star review. For me, I think this is because of the found family aspects of the book. The main lead, Linus, isn’t the main character of his own story for the first 30 years or so of his life. He’s just kind of letting life pass him by. I like that about this book. He’s normal, average, an every man. There’s nothing exciting about Linus Baker. He’s written as a perfectly ordinary man doing nothing but his routine every single day. He is in a day-in-day-out job that he seemingly does because he enjoys it until he’s thrust into something new. It isn’t until then that he becomes the main character in his own story.

There are these brilliantly funny passages of dialogue where he is so deadpan and other people around him are just like, “Oh, you’re serious?” and he’s just kind of like, “What else would I be?” It’s written so well that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. All of this happens before the REAL story actually begins. Before he gets to the titular house in the cerulean sea.

From there, your heart will melt right along with Linus Baker’s as you meet the children, and the man who runs the orphanage, Arthur. It gives off a little Miss Peregrin’s, a little X-Men, but really, it’s all it’s own because the children just want to be children, and Arthur just wants them to be free. It’s really all sweet and so so cute.

About 100 pages in, Linus joins the rest of the crew for their first dinner together and I swear to you, the banter back and forth between the children (there are 6 of them) is so funny I couldn’t stop giggling when I read it.

(CW: character with unhealthy body image, dieting)

Linus is described as rather round in the middle, and previously in the book, this has been a major concern for him. At this first dinner with the children, he doesn’t attempt to eat more than a salad, and the kids all have something to say, but they don’t make a joke of him being round, instead, they’re quite encouraging, and then the conversation shifts in about 5 more directions in rapid succession, as children tend to do.

(CW: child abuse)

The lessons of this book are quite profound. One of the children is a victim of a lot of abuse in previous orphanages, and is very easily scared. As such, he’s the last to warm up to Linus Baker (newcomer). Linus is patient and regularly tells him that it’s okay to be scared and to hide away, as long as he know to come back out again. That’s pretty cool advice for everyone. Don’t get so scared that we shut ourselves out of the world.

At one point, the group encounters bigots who don’t like magical people. Linus (nonmagical, totally ordinary, right?) reminds one of the children, “Hate is loud, but I think you’ll learn it’s because it’s only a few people shouting, desperate to be heart. You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as you remember you’re not alone, you will overcome” (Klune 276).

When I read that, I immediately took a picture of that page so that I could remember it myself, because damn right, hate IS loud, but so many people lead with love, and I have to remember that.

Each one of the children is written so uniquely. They all have something special and individualized. There’s no laziness in the writing there at all. A gnome, a wyvern, something they can’t explain that wants to be a bellhop, a forest sprite, a shape shifter, and the anti-christ. They’re all perfectly hilarious and full of different personalities, desires, and worries. They all have a different background and Linus throws out the RULES AND REGULATIONS for each and every one of them.

The man in charge of all of them cares for each of them like a father, cares for the island they live on, and has this air of mystery about him that intrigues and frustrates Linus to no end. All of the above makes him, again, throw out the RULES AND REGULATIONS. This slow burn romance is so cute because they’re both so dumb about it. The island is owned by Zoe Whitechapel, a forest sprite (it’s her territory) who even says something to the effect of “Men are idiots” – girl, same.

This book has originality, beautiful scene descriptions, sweet and heart-warming character interactions, and a slow burn romance that doesn’t have any kind of triangle or romance drama.

I highly recommend this book!

[Book Review] Between Wild & Ruin

Between Wild & Ruin book cover

Title: Between Wild & Ruin

Author: Jennifer G. Edelson

Genre: YA; paranormal; mystery; fantasy; romance; mythology

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Seventeen-year-old Ruby Brooks has never had a boyfriend. After moving to small-town La Luna, New Mexico following her mother’s untimely death, boys aren’t even on her radar. Ruby just wants to forget the last horrible year and blend in. But when she discovers an ancient pueblo ruin in the forest behind her house, and meets Ezra, a bitter recluse whose once-perfect face was destroyed in an accident he won’t talk about; Angel, La Luna’s handsome sheriff’s deputy, and Leo, a stranger who only appears near the ruin, Ruby finds herself teetering between love, mystery, and other worlds. What happened to Ezra’s face? And why is she so attracted to the one boy in town everyone despises? As Ruby unravels her own connections to both Ezra and the pueblo ruin, she’ll learn surfaces are deceiving. Especially in the heart of New Mexico, where spirits and legends aren’t always just campfire stories.

Review: 3 Stars

I enjoyed this book quite a bit! I loved the mythology and mystery behind the plot and how it unraveled over time. I thought the author did a great job keeping the main plot points a secret until just the right moment. There was a fine line between providing just the right amount of detail to keep me reading to see what would happen next.

I liked the way Ruby explained her motivations over the course of the book. She didn’t seem to grow much, so I’m hoping to see more development here in boom 2, but the way she seemed to see things differently from the rest of La Luna was unique. It was a little Bella Swan vibes, but overall, I enjoyed the “I see beneath the surface” stuff.

There were points where I thought her character went a little too far with the anti-vanity plot line, almost to the point where it got into fetishization with Ezra’s facial scarring, and that weirded me out. Almost like she had a point to prove. (Kind of like, “I don’t care about looks SO much that I’m not sure I like you if you don’t have a scar” if you understand what I’m saying.)

That said, all characters are flawed in this novel (in all novels in some way?) from the aunt to the side character friends. But overall, they’re developed just enough to make them relatively relatable in some way.

Angel vs Ezra vs Leo is a plot device I generally just do not like, and it’s no different here. Ruby doesn’t handle the multiple crushes well, and it still somehow turns out okay? In what world??? Anyway; lucky girl I guess!

All of the interpersonal stuff aside, I truly enjoyed reading about the Ancients, the True of Heart, and the Watchers, and would definitely read book 2 in order to learn more.

I got an ARC of this from BookSirens for an honest review.

[Book Review] The Greenhollow Duology

Titles: Silver in the Wood (#1) and Drowned Country (#2)
Author: Emily Tesh
Genre: fantasy; short stories / novella; LGBTQ; romance; fiction
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) There is a Wild Man who lives in the deep quiet of Greenhollow, and he listens to the wood. Tobias, tethered to the forest, does not dwell on his past life, but he lives a perfectly unremarkable existence with his cottage, his cat, and his dryads.

When Greenhollow Hall acquires a handsome, intensely curious new owner in Henry Silver, everything changes. Old secrets better left buried are dug up, and Tobias is forced to reckon with his troubled past—both the green magic of the woods, and the dark things that rest in its heart. 

The second volume of the Greenhollow duology once again invites readers to lose themselves in the story of Henry and Tobias, and the magic of a myth they’ve always known.

Even the Wild Man of Greenhollow can’t ignore a summons from his mother, when that mother is the indomitable Adela Silver, practical folklorist. Henry Silver does not relish what he’ll find in the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where once the ancient wood extended before it was drowned beneath the sea—a missing girl, a monster on the loose, or, worst of all, Tobias Finch, who loves him. 

Review: 5 Stars

This duology was 1. sweet 2. kind 3. engaging 4. magical 5. the embodiment of green magic 6. a little bit wicked. I loved it. Book 1 (Silver in the Wood) started with this amazing legend of the Wild Man in the forest, who we learn to be real, and a man named Henry Silver who has absolutely no business being in the woods at all. A story of is built on their dynamic and it is a beautiful thing. Their companionship is fantastic and the lengths the two go to for each other in book one is so, so good.

In book two (Drowned Country), we meet two more characters who are, without a doubt, such a fantastic addition to Henry and Tobias’ dynamic. ADELA is the GOAT. She’s got so much spirit and life and all things badass. And when the story continues, and the myth of the Wild Man and his domain is explained and evolves — it is so believable.

Tesh’s world and her work is so good. This duology was a fast read — I wish there was more of, honestly. It was so beautiful and so fresh. I would pick up anything else she writes in a heartbeat.

[Book Review] The Singing Hills Cycle Series (2)

Book Covers for The Singing Hills Cycle Series

Titles: The Empress of Salt and Fortune (#1) & When the Tiger Came Down from the Mountain (#2)
Author: Nghi Vo
Genre: fantasy; novella/short stories; LGBTQ; women’s fiction; romance; feminism
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) #1 – A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy. 

#2 – The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Review: 5 Stars

I truly enjoyed these two books. I’m unsure if there will be more, but so far there are only two. Both were wonderful. They were well-crafted, intricate stories about women, about families, about life, and about love. Both of the Singing Hills Cycle books featured Chih, a cleric who wants to record history as it was. On their journey, Chih finds that what they think they know isn’t exactly real, but a version that has been warped by others. They aim to correct it and write the narratives of those they run into.

In The Empress of Salt and Fortune, Chih is told this beautiful, tragic, and powerful tale about the exiled empress who is cunning, wild, and lovely through the eyes of a former maid, who is also cunning and wild. Chih learns from her that history isn’t always what was written from Rabbit, the maid. As the story continues, there are moments of the supernatural blended in so beautifully with the realistic. Animals, humans, spirits — it’s all so perfectly woven together so that Chih can write the the true history of empress of salt and fortune.

In book 2, Chih is hoping to get to their destination on the back of a mammoth, but ends up getting caught up in a storm and detained by tigers threatening to eat them. It’s here that they learn again that the history they have written back at the temple isn’t quite the truth. This time, the tigers tell Chih the truth, a beautiful love story where once there was just a history of violence and gore that painted the tigers like vicious monsters.

Again, Vo creates these beautiful characters, this compelling story, and this amazing moral where we’re sitting right there with Chih – remembering that we have to think critically about the histories we learn.

I loved these stories and sincerely hope there are more.

[Book Review] Dead Djinn Universe Series (0.5 & 0.7)

Book Covers for A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Titles: 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo & 0.7 — The Haunting of Tram Car 015

Author: P Djèlí Clark

Genre: fantasy; short stories; steam punk; mystery; historical fiction; novella; sci fi

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) In an alternate Cairo infused with the otherworldly, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigate disturbances between the mortal and the (possibly) divine.

Entries in this series can be read as standalones in any order.

Review: 4 Stars

Around the end of 2020 I was looking for shorter texts to reach my goodreads challenge for the year and I stumbled on P. Djèlí Clark’s work and started reading it all as quick as I could. I am INTO it. In this series, he’s created this very realistic version of 1910’s Cairo with a twist… it’s kinda magical.

In 0.5 — A Dead Djinn in Cairo, he goes into the background a little, there or magical beings of all sorts in the world, both good and bad, and a group meant to help sort one from the other. This group is the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. In both 0.5 and 0.7, the main characters are investigators in the Ministry and have a mystery to solve that is more than meets the eye.

In 0.5, the lead investigator is a woman, a badass woman who wears trousers and sleek coat and takes no shit from men who are still afraid of women with a brain.

In 0.7, the investigators are men, and work to solve the mystery together (but need help from women all along the way). Along the way, a women’s liberation movement is going on, fighting for women’s rights. It’s pretty cool.

My favorite parts of these stories are how seamless the integration of magic is in the mundane. Every single element has been thought of, but it all feels authentic. I think that’s a major credit to the fact that the author is a historian and does ample research before writing.

There are two more books in this series and I’m looking forward to getting into both!

[Book Review] Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

Mary Poppins cover image

Title: Mary Poppins

Author: P. L. Travers

Genre: classics; middle grade; fantasy; fiction; adventure

Synopsis: (from Goodreads) From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed.

It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house. She becomes a most unusual nanny to Jane, Michael, and the twins. Who else but Mary Poppins can slide up banisters, pull an entire armchair out of an empty carpetbag, and make a dose of medicine taste like delicious lime-juice cordial? A day with Mary Poppins is a day of magic and make-believe come to life!

Review: 3 stars

I grew up with this movie but hadn’t read this book until now. Honestly, I was overall pretty disappointed when I finished the book. I legit cried. But then, you ask, why three stars? Because it still had all of the magic and heart of the film.

I wholeheartedly believe the film is better than the source material in this case — I don’t want to start a fight with any purists, but like, Michael’s character alone… and like? Bert! they did my boy DIRTY.

I loved reading about the additional adventures in the book and getting more depth into the Banks family on Cherry-Tree Lane, but overall, I had 25 years of the movie to compare it to, and that won out. (Which I suppose isn’t quite fair.)

Mary is downright mean and not at all caring and loving, except to the twins.

Michael is a spoiled brat in much of the book, and while that could be said for both children in the movie, they learn and grow— in the book, the characters are static. All of them. And then poof, Mary leaves.

My love for the movie will never fade, but I won’t be reading book 2.

[Book Review] The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Title: The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek

Authors: Rhett McLaughlin & Link Neal

Genre: YA; fiction; mystery; horror/ thriller; paranormal fantasy

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

Review: 4 stars

As far as mysteries go, this one had me until the end. I wasn’t expecting some of the twists that came about and I was genuinely surprised at some of the more paranormal elements that McLaughlin and Neal incorporated into their storytelling.

That said, I enjoyed the mystery and storytelling overall but some of the writing was clunky. Pieces of the story could have gotten a little more developed (Janine for instance, considering she’s part of the storytelling instrument), but for a debut into YA and into this genre, it was fun.

Rex and Leif are really cute characters. They’re boys going through the heat of summer, puppy love and also a paranormal mystery in an ultra conservative small town where everyone knows everyone. What could go wrong? I love the way the friendship builds and grows over the course of the book too. Their boundaries are tested but in the end, they know they can rely on each other.

As I was reading this, honestly, the townsfolk just gave me the creeps. No small towns for me… thanks Bleak Creek.

[Book Review] The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

The Lost Apothecary cover image

Title: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Genre: fiction; historical fiction; mystery; fantasy; contemporary

Synopsis: (from Goodreads)

A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them—setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose—selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

Review: 5 Stars

I really enjoyed Sarah Penner’s multi-POV novel even though this is something that usually turns me off when reading. Traditionally, I find them to be annoying and I get lost in the story because I’m trying to keep track of too many plot points. I thought that would be especially true in this because I was going to have to navigate multiple points of view that spanned multiple centuries. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how easily these perspectives overlapped.

This book was multiple things; a mystery, a woman’s journey to find herself — a few actually, a coming of age, an Indiana Jones-esque quest for the historical truth that is also a Holmesy crime solving novel.

There are three perspectives 1. Nella the 18th century apothecary, 2. Twelve-year-old maid servant Eliza Fanning, and 3. Caroline, a woman alone in London in the 21st century. The way these three perspectives weave together is straight up magical. Where Nella and Eliza come together makes sense — same time line, but the way Penner fits Caroline (200 years later) into the narrative is brilliant.

Each chapter alternates perspective, but the story connects and picks up like they’re all together. London becomes the fourth major character in a way that is so interesting and fantastic. The power of the history, the past, and preservation is a huge component to this story.

All of this story feels like a love letter to the power of women. Their power to persevere. Their power to create. Their power to find, discover, help, save, come together, and their power to destroy. In all story lines, Penner reminds us time and time again that Nella, Eliza, and Caroline have all of these and more in so many ways.

This was my Book of the Month selection, it had a beautiful cover and an interesting tag line, and I’m very glad I selected it.

[Book Review] The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor

The Body is Not an Apology Cover Image

Title: The Body is Not an Apology
Author: Sonya Renee Taylor
Genre: nonfiction; self-love; self-help; workbook; feminism; social movements – social justice
Synopsis: [from Goodreads] Humans are a varied and divergent bunch with all manner of beliefs, morals, and bodies. Systems of oppression thrive off our inability to make peace with difference and injure the relationship we have with our own bodies.

The Body Is Not an Apology offers radical self-love as the balm to heal the wounds inflicted by these violent systems. World-renowned activist and poet Sonya Renee Taylor invites us to reconnect with the radical origins of our minds and bodies and celebrate our collective, enduring strength. As we awaken to our own indoctrinated body shame, we feel inspired to awaken others and to interrupt the systems that perpetuate body shame and oppression against all bodies. When we act from this truth on a global scale, we usher in the transformative opportunity of radical self-love, which is the opportunity for a more just, equitable, and compassionate world–for us all. 

Review: 5 Stars

This book was recommended to me by a friend of mine. It had never come up on my radar before, I’d never seen it on my timeline, heard quotes from it, or heard of the author, Sonya Renee Taylor before.

I’m so glad I have now. This book is one I will, as my friend did with me, recommend to everyone. It is worth your time, and your work.

This isn’t a body positivity book, but it does have aspects of that. This is a present day and historical account of straight up body terrorism and how we are all both steeped in it and accountable for it. Taylor walks us through a journey to self-awareness using the body. We all have one, and it makes the messaging digestible for all.

The endgame: radical self-love in the face of white supremacy, capitalism, and our own implicit bias.

[Book Review] I Can Make This Promise by Christine Day

I Can Make You this Promise Cover Image

Title: I Can Make this Promise
Author: Christine Day
Genre: MG; realistic fiction; contemporary fiction; family adoption
Synopsis: [from Goodreads] All her life, Edie has known that her mom was adopted by a white couple. So, no matter how curious she might be about her Native American heritage, Edie is sure her family doesn’t have any answers.

Until the day when she and her friends discover a box hidden in the attic—a box full of letters signed “Love, Edith,” and photos of a woman who looks just like her.

Suddenly, Edie has a flurry of new questions about this woman who shares her name. Could she belong to the Native family that Edie never knew about? But if her mom and dad have kept this secret from her all her life, how can she trust them to tell her the truth now? 

Review: 4 Stars

This was a really sweet book about family and friendship and determining who you are and what shapes you. Edie is a great middle grade lead and has a really wonderful narrative presence.

The relationships she has with Amelia and Serenity are authentic and honest. They reflect just how it feels to be a preteen / teenager growing up and learning what it means to be a true friend to someone else.

Her family dynamic is lovely. The whole story revolves around her family’s past and her heritage and why it’s a secret for her and as she uncovers the truth, how she and her family come to grips with it is truly wonderful.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick, but great read.