Review: How To Make A Wish by Ashley Herring Blake

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: How To Make A Wish

Author: Ashley Herring Blake

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: HMH Books For Young Readers/2 May 2017

Edition: Hardcover

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26626118-how-to-make-a-wish

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Make-Wish-Ashley-Herring-Blake/dp/054481519X/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/how-to-make-a-wish-ashley-herring-blake/1124079723?ean=9780544815193#/

All seventeen year-old Grace Glasser wants is her own life. A normal life in which she sleeps in the same bed for longer than three months and doesn’t have to scrounge for spare change to make sure the electric bill is paid. Emotionally trapped by her unreliable mother, Maggie, and the tiny cape on which she lives, she focuses on her best friend, her upcoming audition for a top music school in New York, and surviving Maggie’s latest boyfriend—who happens to be Grace’s own ex-boyfriend’s father.

Her attempts to lay low until she graduates are disrupted when she meets Eva, a girl with her own share of ghosts she’s trying to outrun. Grief-stricken and lonely, Eva pulls Grace into midnight adventures and feelings Grace never planned on. When Eva tells Grace she likes girls, both of their worlds open up. But, united by loss, Eva also shares a connection with Maggie. As Grace’s mother spirals downward, both girls must figure out how to love and how to move on.

I received this book from the publisher as a prize for the 24 in 48 Readathon last summer. Thank you! This book has content warnings for death, car accidents, child neglect/abuse, and sexual harassment.

I loved this book! I especially loved the relationships and the friendships in this book — they were not perfect, but they were supportive and caring when few support systems were available for Grace and Eva. There was effort, although often misguided, and I really appreciated the direction in which those relationships went.

Grace and Eva were lovely. Grace is bi and Eva is a Black lesbian, and I absolutely adored the way they interacted with each other. It was clear from the start that they had chemistry, and their interactions were really touching and sweet and progressed in a nice manner.

For as difficult a character as Grace’s mom is, I think Blake managed to pull her off quite well. She’s a person who is very self-absorbed and doesn’t take the time to see how her actions affect those around her, but it’s also clear that she genuinely believes that her actions are fine and that she’s acting for the best. She’s not intentionally malicious and it’s easy to tell that she does care about Grace, but she isn’t showing it by giving Grace what she actually needs. She is into the idea of giving Grace what she needs and makes promises, but when opportunities arise that sound better to her, she writes off Grace’s needs as things that maybe weren’t so important to begin with regardless of how important they actually are. It’s really frustrating, but I really like how her attractive side also shows through with her interactions with Grace, who doesn’t want to abandon her mom, and with Eva, who is getting sucked up in her tales.

I also really loved the musical passions of the girls! Grace is a gifted piano player and Eva is a ballerina, and I loved how those identities played out in the book as they struggled with each of them — Grace through the prospect of having to give up her dreams, and Eva through her struggling with the loss of her mom. Their hobbies and talents weren’t surface-level — they were deeply ingrained in their characters, and that’s something that I really appreciated seeing.

This book was darker than I expected it to be when I picked it up, but I still really loved it! It’s a very touching romance with some sadder elements and some scenes that will frustrate you, and it’s very much worth reading. The writing and pacing are fantastic, and the story sucks you in. I highly recommend this one.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Author: Emily M. Danforth

Category: YA Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Balzer + Bray/7 February 2012

Edition: ebook

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11595276-the-miseducation-of-cameron-post

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Miseducation-Cameron-Post-emily-danforth/dp/0062020579/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-miseducation-of-cameron-post-emily-m-danforth/1103168077#/

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship — one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to ‘fix’ her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self — even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a stunning and unforgettable literary debut about discovering who you are and finding the courage to live life according to your own rules.

This book has content warnings for homomisia, conversion camps, abuse of minors, ableism, self harm (brief but graphic imagery), familial death, a car crash, drugs, and sexual content.

I understand why this is an important book and it has a lot going for it, but there were a lot of things about the book that really put me off. Starting with the positives, I really appreciated the authenticity that I felt from the depiction of the conversion camp and the different perspectives that come from places like that. Conversion camps are incredibly manipulative and scary, and I felt that both the abuse taking place there and the either conceding or rebelling from the program felt real to me. This is a perspective that we really need in the world, and for that I really appreciate it.

With that being said, there were several things I didn’t like about the book. I didn’t like Cameron as a character very much because I didn’t feel like I got a good sense of her as a person; I felt that throughout the entire book I was watching her react to things, kind of, but she wasn’t doing much of anything herself. The only time she didn’t feel completely passive was when she started yelling at her aunt, and she did that to get a reaction out of her. Her emotions were so muted that I really couldn’t get myself to identify with her at all, and that made it difficult for me to care about her personally. I was invested enough to want her to get out of the conversion camp because that place is awful, and that was about it.

The pacing of this book was also extremely slow, and it frustrated me. This might have been because the voice of the book felt so bland to me and so it felt like it was dragging on for a while, but it seemed like a lot of this book could have been cut out without doing much to the story.

One other thing that really bothered me was the presence of a disabled character who had a prosthetic leg; the only purpose she served was to hide drugs within her prosthesis at the camp, and this felt really uncomfortable to me because this was the only physical disability rep we got in this book and it wasn’t great. I don’t really know anything else about that character except she used her disability to hide and sell drugs at the camp. Not great.

I had a hard time rating this book because I do think it’s important, but it also really wasn’t the book for me. I recommend reading it because of its importance, but it’s not something I’d want to read again because it’s a bit boring and monotone.

Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Review: The Girl With The Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: The Girl With The Red Balloon (The Balloonmakers #1)

Author: Katherine Locke

Category: YA Historical Fantasy

Publisher/Date: Albert Whitman Company/1 September 2017

Edition: ebook

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34448522-the-girl-with-the-red-balloon

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Girl-Red-Balloon-Balloonmakers/dp/0807529370/

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/girl-with-the-red-balloon-katherine-locke/1125796622?ean=9780807529379#/

When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.

This book has content warnings for war themes, concentration camps/death camps, martial law, suicidal ideation, racism, use of g*psy slur (not condoned; done for historical reasons in certain chapters), homomisia, building fire/arson, and murder.

I absolutely loved The Girl With The Red Balloon. At first I had a little trouble understanding the time/POV jumps between chapters, but that’s something I have trouble with frequently. I really loved seeing the different points of view; Ellie and Ellie’s younger grandfather were particularly fascinating to me. The book was solidly rooted in the history of the two time periods, and I felt that worked really well when paired with the fantastical elements of the story.

I loved Ellie as a character, and I really felt her struggle and terror at different parts of the book because she knew that she was in a very real danger that could leave her dead in a time period that wasn’t her own. She does consider suicide a couple of times in the book, which may be important for some readers to know — it was largely portrayed as something that could prevent her from being tortured by those who wanted to harm her, and while it popped up a few times it wasn’t a pervasive theme throughout the entire novel. I also really loved the connection to her grandfather and her Jewish heritage; I felt like I got a really good sense of her as a person.

I also really loved having a lesbian character (Mitzi) and a Romani character (Kai) who were central to the story; both faced oppression regularly (It was 1988 East Berlin), and yet they were both comfortable with themselves. It’s worth noting that Ellie’s grandfather uses the g*psy slur during his chapters; Locke explains in the afterward that this was because that was the word that was used in the 1940s and that there wasn’t a historically accurate alternative. The only other time it has been used in the story was when it was used in a derogatory manner against Kai in 1988, and it is explained in-text that the word is a slur.

I also really liked the romance between Ellie and Kai. It was quick, but it wasn’t forced and it felt like a natural progression. I really liked how they interacted and how they complemented each other as people.

Overall, I thought this was a wonderful book. If you’re looking for a really good historical fantasy, you should give this one a try.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: A Night At The Mall by M. Hollis

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: A Night At The Mall

Author: M. Hollis

Category: Adult Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Date: 16 November 2017

Edition: ARC/eBook

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36488175-a-night-at-the-mall?

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Night-at-Mall-M-Hollis-ebook/dp/B076XXBVKP/

Meeting a girl on a dating app isn’t Grace Anderson’s idea of a fairy tale romance, but after a year of disappointment, a date is still a date. She puts on her best clothes from her crowded wardrobe and walks confidently into the mall, ready to fall in love.
But her date never turns up. Disenchanted and alone, Grace indulges in her favorite guilty pleasure… shopping. Trying not to piss off the staff right before the store closes, Grace hurries to try on a red dress she’s been dying to buy for a while.
What she doesn’t expect is the lights to go out when she’s still trying to decide what shoes would go best with the outfit.
And that she may not be the only girl left behind in the dark.

I received an ARC from the author.

I just adored this short story. I felt Grace’s excitement about her date from the first page, and I felt the sting of the late date’s cancellation even deeper. Retail therapy may not always be the best idea, but it sure does feel good in the moment, and there’s no doubt in my mind that if it were me, I would have grabbed that dress off the rack as well. Grace’s emotions are very well-handed and easy to identify with.

The accidental meeting of Grace and Sol was adorable. It’s late, everything goes dark, you’re freaking out in the middle of a locked store, and yet there’s still a spark with the person you happen to get locked inside with. It’s not a situation you’d usually want to be in, and yet at the same time you’re so glad it happened because you’ve found the perfect person to spend that time with.

This is a quick-paced short story with a lot of feel-good moments, and is perfect quick f/f read if you’re looking for some excellent lesbian/bisexual rep. Sol is also Mexican, so there is Mexican rep here as well. If you’re looking for something light and sweet and cute, this is the story for you!

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Echo After Echo by Amy Rose Capetta

Image of book cover from Goodreads
Image of book cover from Goodreads

Title: Echo After Echo

Author: Amy Rose Capetta

Category: YA Mystery/Contemporary (LGBTQIAP+)

Publisher/Date: Candlewick Press/10 October 2017

Edition: ARC

Pages: 421

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27258116-echo-after-echo?

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/076369164X/ref=x_gr_w_glide_bb?

Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/echo-after-echo-amy-rose-capetta/1125580196#/

Debuting on the New York stage, Zara is unprepared—for Eli, the girl who makes the world glow; for Leopold, the director who wants perfection; and for death in the theater.

Zara Evans has come to the Aurelia Theater, home to the visionary director Leopold Henneman, to play her dream role in Echo and Ariston, the Greek tragedy that taught her everything she knows about love. When the director asks Zara to promise that she will have no outside commitments, no distractions, it’s easy to say yes. But it’s hard not to be distracted when there’s a death at the theater—and then another—especially when Zara doesn’t know if they’re accidents, or murder, or a curse that always comes in threes. It’s hard not to be distracted when assistant lighting director Eli Vasquez, a girl made of tattoos and abrupt laughs and every form of light, looks at Zara. It’s hard not to fall in love. In heart-achingly beautiful prose, Amy Rose Capetta has spun a mystery and a love story into an impossible, inevitable whole—and cast lantern light on two girls, finding each other on a stage set for tragedy. 

I received an ARC from the Publisher via LibraryThing in exchange for a review. This book has content warnings for sexual harassment and detailed depictions of attempted murder.

So, I somehow managed to get my ARC of this book in the mail literally the day after the book released, which was cool but also kind of a bummer because I’d been hoping to write my review for it before it came out. Either way, it came, I read it, and I absolutely adored it.

There was so much about this book to love. I just adored Zara and Eli and how they interacted with each other. Zara is making it in theater as a chubby bisexual Jewish girl, which is fantastic, and Eli is a Puerto Rican lesbian who works on the technical side of the theater. The creepy director guy tells Zara not to have any distractions while the show is going on, and so the two of them have to keep their relationship quiet as it goes on. It’s nice that keeping it a secret didn’t actually seem to bother either of them by itself; they didn’t mind the secret. They just worried someone else would blow it for them. They weren’t a perfect couple, but they had wonderful chemistry and their relationship was beautifully written. I should note that there was one point where Eli was freaking out about Zara and her male co-lead and Eli’s internal commentary came off as borderline bimisic because she’d thought that maybe Zara was faking being gay and hadn’t acknowledged that she could like more than one gender, but that disappeared pretty quickly and once she knew that Zara was bi she was okay with it. It threw me out of the book for that one small paragraph, but it wasn’t a pervasive issue.

This book is definitely a slow burn, but it’s so engaging that it’s still a pretty quick read. The balance between the romance, the mystery, and the play is incredibly nuanced and well done, and the multiple points of view pull you in with each of the characters and their own stories. While the book is ultimately about Zara, it’s still left a lot of room to flesh out the rest of the characters, and it worked beautifully.

The theater was the perfect location for a novel like this — it has a flair for the dramatic, and the different genres it’s comprised of complement the setting well. The ending had me on my toes, and it left me breathless as I turned to the last page. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one — definitely a favorite of the year.

Final rating: 5 of 5 stars

ARC Review: Ripped Pages by M. Hollis

Image of book cover from GoodReads
Image of book cover from GoodReads

Title: Ripped Pages

Author: M. Hollis

Category: YA Fantasy (LGBTQIAP+)

Date: 22 September 2017

Edition: eBook (ARC from author)

Pages: 60

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35423342-ripped-pages?

Amazon: https://smile.amazon.com/Ripped-Pages-M-Hollis-ebook/dp/B075FH6RFN/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1509609162&sr=1-1&keywords=ripped+pages+m+hollis

Princess Valentina lives a reasonably comfortable life, but after her mother’s death, her father gets tired of taking care of her and locks her in a tower. She spends years on her own, talking to the birds on her windowsill, and reading books with adventures she will never experience. Her plans of running away are usually left for another day because she knows the vast forest surrounding her tower is too dangerous to cross alone.
Until one day, another girl passes by on her horse and Valentina wonders if she’s finally brave enough to seize her chance of freedom.

Ripped Pages is a Rapunzel F/F retelling in the format of a novelette.

 

I received an ARC from the author in exchange for a review.

There are so, so many things that I just adored about this novelette. The author’s included trigger warnings (which were appreciated) were helpful as it did delve pretty deep into those themes, but it worked in a way that was still heartwarming and sweet while still visiting those dark places. This felt like something I wish I could have read when I was fifteen, as I was a lot like Val myself and really would have appreciated the validation of different genders and sexualities that this story contained.

First off, I really appreciated that despite Val’s dad being a terrible person, the relationship he had with his daughter wasn’t described as “bad,” but “complicated.” Despite his behavior, Val as a child was still hoping that he would give her a chance. He wasn’t bad for the sake of being bad, but at the same time Val acknowledged that why he behaved as he did was a complete mystery to her. The complexity of this relationship felt so real to me, and it made an otherwise flat villain feel like a more rounded person.

I also appreciated that despite that this is primarily a book for gay/lesbian/bi/pan girls, it took the time to acknowledge nonbinary, asexual, and aromantic identities as valid as well. This was a very small part of the book, but in a book about validating the sexuality of a teenage girl it was very effective at acknowledging and validating the sexualities of other teenagers who read this whose sexualities and genders may not line up exactly with Val’s.

The depiction of families in this book was also very refreshing. I just loved how the “evil stepmother” trope, so commonly depicted in fairy tales, was turned on its head here to where the stepmother was one of the best parents in the book. The rest of Agnes’ family is large and supportive of each other, and the combined family automatically integrating Val into their lives was just so sweet.

I also really loved that the book acknowledged that the effects of child abuse don’t end when the child escapes from the abusive parent. After escaping from the tower, Val is still afraid because she knows that getting caught and put back in the tower (or worse) is still a very real possibility, and she shows some signs of PTSD after relocating to Agnes’ home. This added a significant amount of depth to Val’s character that I really empathized with, and I think that this kind of representation is really important to acknowledge.

And, of course, there’s the relationship between Val and Agnes. I loved how this relationship progressed. Val’s initial crush on Agnes was acknowledged almost immediately, but there was nothing forced about the relationship between them. They weren’t interested in each other’s company solely because of romantic interest – they wanted to get to know each other as people. I loved how slow-building the relationship was and how the two of them supported each other regardless of whether romantic interest was involved. This was a very sweet relationship, and the pacing and chemistry both worked very well.

I think what makes this novelette so great to me is that so much about what makes it feel real to me came from a lot of subtlety and carefully-crafted writing. This is an absolute delight to read, and I think it’s a story that queer teens (and others!) should definitely read.

Final rating: 5 out of 5 stars