ARC Review: Blanca and Roja

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Title: Blanca and Roja

Author: Anna-Marie McLemore

Release Date: October 9, 2018

Publisher: Macmillan- Feiwel and Friends

Pages: 384

My Rating: ★★★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

The biggest lie of all is the story you think you already know.

The del Cisne girls have never just been sisters; they’re also rivals, Blanca as obedient and graceful as Roja is vicious and manipulative. They know that, because of a generations-old spell, their family is bound to a bevy of swans deep in the woods. They know that, one day, the swans will pull them into a dangerous game that will leave one of them a girl, and trap the other in the body of a swan.

But when two local boys become drawn into the game, the swans’ spell intertwines with the strange and unpredictable magic lacing the woods, and all four of their fates depend on facing truths that could either save or destroy them. Blanca & Roja is the captivating story of sisters, friendship, love, hatred, and the price we pay to protect our hearts.

My Review:

ARC provided by Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.

“There will always be two daughters. But we will always take one back.

What would you do if you knew, from the day you were born, that it was always going to be you or your sister? That one day, the swans – los cisnes – will take one of you as their own, to live the rest of your days with wings and away from everyone you love?

Blanca y Roja follows the story of two sisters who, for generations, have always had to surrender one of their daughters to a group of swans that live in their woods. The daughter is chosen by the swans after their 15th birthday, and the threat of losing everything usually pits the sisters against each other. Blanca and Roja decide to try it differently: they try to become so alike that the swans cannot choose, and remain close and each other’s best friends. They thought they’ve won – until one day the swans appear. As the girls fight to save each other and themselves, their story twines with that of two boys who’ve experienced the strange magic of the woods.

This book is about so many things – family, friendship, love, betrayal, bravery, acceptance, identity. And it is complete and utter perfection. I loved this book completely and with my whole soul from start to finish. There is not a single thing I did not enjoy. This is easily one of my top 5 books of 2018, and may be #1.

Let me touch first on the writing. I’ve never read any of Anna-Marie McLemore’s other books – but I sure as hell will now. The writing in this book was so haunting and gorgeous. I felt so completely transported into the woods right alongside the sisters and the boys. It was so vivid and descriptive, I could picture everything exactly. The writing itself was magical, and weaved it’s own sort of spell right alongside the swans.

I also fell completely in love with the four main characters.

Blanca: Blanca is the sister who everyone expects to remain human. She is gentle, sweet, and as pure as her name. She loves Roja and will do anything to save her, even if it means sacrificing herself. My favorite part about Blanca is how she grows throughout the story. She finds her own sort of courage, her own way of fighting, and she never wavers in her mission to save Roja.

Good girls had their own ways of hitting back.

Roja: Roja is the daughter everyone expects to be taken, even herself. She is all sharp edges and wild anger. She’s difficult and fierce and tries her hardest not to resent her sister for being everything that she isn’t.

I wasn’t just fighting her to survive the swans. I had been fighting her my whole life to be seen.

Page: Page is easily my favorite character. Page is gender fluid, identifies as a boy but also likes to be called she/her pronouns – but not girl or young lady. He’s been fighting gender constraints her whole life and feels like he doesn’t really fit in anywhere. His parents love him but can’t understand him, and he’s never met anyone who’s accepted him unconditionally – before Barclay, who becomes his best friend. Page is kind, loyal, and ultimately I want to put him in my pocket and keep him safe forever and ever.

There was no room for me to ask to be called both him and her. There were already too many people who thought I was just a failure as a girl. They wouldn’t listen long enough for me to say that I had never been one. I was a boy who had to bear the same assumption so many girls endured, that I was simply the wrong kind of girl.

Barclay: Barclay comes from an affluent family that doesn’t always feel like a family – his mom is something of a socialite who only cares about appearance, and his father is aggressive who encourages brawls between Barclay and his cousin, Liam (who I hate). Barclay escapes into the wood to lose his own name, and when he meets Blanca and Roja he goes by Yearling in an effort to cast off all he knows and hates about his family. As the story develops, he learns that becoming someone new doesn’t always help you escape what’s chasing you.

This was the thing I knew, the thing I’d been trying to tell Barclay for so long: even if there is no retracing your path, no unbreaking what has been broken, the heart of you, the heart of everything, can still knit back together.

The representation and diversity of this book is incredible. Beyond the Latina sisters, their family, and the bits of their heritage and culture that peak through, there’s a Lesbian relationship and a gender fluid/trans character. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better mix.

This book is so important, and touches on so many hard things. It’s about friendship, and what that really means. It’s about family, and the love and sacrifice that comes with it, but it’s also about making your own family – the people who will love and accept you for everything you are and everything you aren’t. It’s about deciding who you are for yourself, not letting anyone else tell you what you should be, and giving yourself that same unconditional love that your family does. It’s about discovering what first love is, with all it’s sharp edges and soft, stollen moments. Ultimately, this book is the deepest love story I have ever read, and I mean every kind of love under the sun.

I’ll leave you all with my very favorite quote from this book – and it didn’t come from the story. It came from the Author’s Note.

For me, the point where fairy tales and magical realism intersect is this: We find what is beautiful in what is broken. We find what is heartening in what is terrifying. We find the stars in the woods’ deepest shadows…My hope for you, reader, for all of us, is two sides of the same wish: that the world gives us each the space to write our own story, and that we leave room for each other’s stories. They are where our heart survives.

Blanca y Roja releases on October 9. Go buy this book. I promise you will not regret it.

xoxo

Jen

I buddy read this with Amy @ A Court of Crowns and Quills and Melanie @ Meltotheany and if you haven’t checked out their blogs, you are missing out! Go now!

Any quotes are taken from an ARC and may be altered by pub date.

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September Pick: Book of the Month

Hello everybody!

It’s been a couple months since I’ve done one of these – I actually skipped August for Book of the Month. BUT I made on pick in September, and I almost added a second but decided not to at the last minute. Here’s the pick I went with this month:

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#FashionVictim by Amina Akhtar

Goodreads Synopsis:

A thrilling take on the fashion world, #FashionVictim is Dextermeets The Devil Wears Prada.

Fashion editor Anya St. Clair is on the verge of greatness. Her wardrobe is to die for. Her social media is killer. And her career path is littered with the bodies of anyone who got in her way. She’s worked hard to get where she is, but she doesn’t have everything.

Not like Sarah Taft. Anya’s obsession sits one desk away. Beautiful, stylish, and rich, she was born to be a fashion world icon. From her beach-wave blonde hair to her on-trend nail art, she’s a walking editorial spread. And Anya wants to be her friend. Her best friend. Her only friend.

But when Sarah becomes her top competition for a promotion, Anya’s plan to win her friendship goes into overdrive. In order to beat Sarah…she’ll have to become her. Friendly competition may turn fatal, but as they say in fashion: One day you’re in, and the next day you’re dead.

WHY I PICKED IT:

Ok, truth time: I have actually forbidden myself from getting ANY more mystery/thriller books from Book of the Month. I have SO MANY still sitting on my shelf, waiting to be read. But I couldn’t resist with this one, plus it sounds so different than anything else I own!

That being said, I also picked it as I narrowed down from the other options. I don’t care for most historical fiction, and I have so many thrillers and crime books sitting on my shelf that I bypassed November Road and Cross her HeartThe Silence of the Other Girls almost got me, but I still have Circe from a previous BOTM sitting on my shelf, so I was unsure how I’d like something along the same lines. #FashionVictim definitely stood out as something unique and intriguing!

If you haven’t tried Book of the Month yet, I highly recommend it! You can use my referral link here, and I believe you get a free book when you sign up!

Happy reading!

xoxo

Jen

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. Check out her blog for more info!

This week’s topic is so perfect, because I was just sitting down and planning this earlier today! The topic is “books on my fall TBR”. I absolutely love fall, and have been looking forward to my fall reading for the past couple of months already. Most of the books listed are going to be for October, since that’s what I have mapped out most concretely. Let me know if we have any of the same ones on our list, I love buddy reads!

These first 4 I’m not going to say much about, but keep an eye out for more info soon!

ONE: I’ll be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

TWO: The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

THREE: If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

FOUR: The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

FIVE: The Spite Game by Anna Snoekstra

This is an ARC that I received that comes out ON Halloween, so it seems perfect for October reading. It sounds a little bit like a YA revenge story, which makes it the perfect level of creepy.

SIX: You by Caroline Kepnes

I’ve heard such good things about this book, and with the Lifetime show starting up, I’m dying to dive into this one. I refuse to watch the show until I’ve read it, though!

SEVEN: Vicious by V. E. Schwab

Ok I bought this book AGES ago, and also preordered Vengeful, and still haven’t gotten around to picking it up. But I WILL get to it in October, if it’s the last thing I do!

EIGHT: The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

Again, a book I bought eons ago, but I’ve been sneakily holding onto this one waiting for Halloween! I will definitely be getting to this one in October.

NINE: Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas

This is on every single person’s list ever. Wouldn’t be surprised if I stay up until midnight to download and start it immediately.

TEN: Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

Strange the Dreamer is one of my top 5 books of this year, and Muse of Nightmares is up there with my most anticipated release. I have already preordered two (yes, two) copies of this book and cannot wait to jump into it.

After looking over this list I realized I want to read every single one of these just in the month of October – which is slightly unrealistic. Ah well, we all need goals, right?

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Ok, these aren’t books that are on my TBR – because I already read them – but I think they should be on yours! If you’re looking for some great spooky or fall themed books to read this year, I cannot recommend these two enough. They easily make my top 5 of 2018 list, I 5 starred them both, and I already have preordered finished copies of them.

  • Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton [see review here]
  • Blanca and Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore [review to come]

Are any of these on your fall TBR?? Maybe we can read them together! Happy fall, bookworms!

xoxo

Jen

Contemporaryathon 2018

Hello bookworms! This post is going up a little late, BUT happy ContemporaryAthon! Contemporary-A-Thon runs from September 17 – September 23. The idea is to read one contemporary books, trying to fit each of the prompts (listed below). There are 7 challenges in total, and let’s be real – I will not be reading 7 books in one week. I’m double-dipping on some of these challenges, and hoping to get through at least 3 books. I think I’m actually completely missing one of the challenges at this point.

This will be my first time officially participating in a readathon, so I’m pretty excited about it! Here’s some more info:

The Hosts:

Julie @PagesandPens

Chelsea @ChelseaDollingReads

Natasha @MyReadingIsOdd

The Challenges:

  1. Read a contemporary with orange on the cover
  2. Read a contemporary that’s dark, spooky, or about taboo topics
  3. Read a diverse contemporary
  4. Read a contemporary in a non-traditional format
  5. Read a contemporary that has your initials somewhere on the cover
  6. Read a contemporary from a new-to-you author
  7. Read a contemporary that is a 5 star prediction

My TBR, in order I’ll be reading them: 

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  • Fence Volume One by C.S. Pacat (Illustrator), Johanna the Mad (Illustrator), and Joana Lafuente (Colorist): This will be my first graphic novel ever and it comes so highly recommended by people I love and trust! This definitely is a non-traditional format for me, but also is diverse and is a new-to-me author.
    • Challenges: 3, 4, 6
  • Mammoth by Jill Baguchinsky: Mammoth is an ARC I received from Turner Publishing and is being released on November 8th. I’m so excited to get to this one! Unfortunately, my initials after getting married are now JZ, which I have been unable to find, so I reverted to my maiden name (L) to hit challenge #5.
    • Challenges: 5, 6
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han: Ok, I’m like the rest of the planet and watched the Netflix movie, but I hadn’t read the book yet! I almost never do that, so I’m determined to read the book now to make up for it.
    • Challenges: 3, 6
  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: If any of the books on this list get ditched, it’ll be this one, even though it’s been on my shelf the longest. Hopefully I can make it through all of these, and if not, I’m hoping to get to this one before the end of the year.
    • Challenges: 2, 6, 7

Somehow I ended up with books that are all new-to-me authors and none with orange on the cover! Let me know if you have any suggestions for books that have JZ on the cover and have some orange on them, I’ll happily swap it into my rotation!

Happy reading, bookworms!

xoxo

Jen

ARC Review: Words We Don’t Say

Words We Don't Say

Title: Words We Don’t Say

Author: K. J. Reilly

Release Date: October 2

Publisher: Disney Book Group

Pages: 288

My Rating: ★★★.5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Joel Higgins has 901 unsent text messages saved on his phone.

Ever since the thing that happened, there are certain people he hasn’t been able to talk to in person. Sure, he shows up at school, does his mandatory volunteer hours at the soup kitchen, and spends pretty much every moment thinking about Eli, the most amazing girl in the world. But that doesn’t mean he’s keeping it together, or even that he has any friends.

So instead of hanging out with people in real life, he drafts text messages. But he never presses send.

As dismal as sophomore year was for Joel, he doesn’t see how junior year will be any better. For starters, Eli doesn’t know how he feels about her, his best friend Andy’s gone, and he basically bombed the SATs. But as Joel spends more time at the soup kitchen with Eli and Benj, the new kid whose mouth seems to be unconnected to his brain, he forms bonds with the people they serve there-including a veteran they call Rooster-and begins to understand that the world is bigger than his own pain.

Review:

ARC provided by the publisher, Disney Book Group, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’m honestly sitting here staring at this blank screen and I’m not even sure what I want to rate this book. There were so many great things about this book, and a lot of them I didn’t even see coming. It was way more of a heartbreaking book than I thought it would be, and I definitely did not prepare myself.

WHAT I LOVED:

  • The main characters. This is a no-brainer. All three of these characters were so relatable in their own way, and were so endearing throughout the story.
    • Joel: an 11th grade boy with over 900 saved texts on his phone. These texts go to his crush Eli, his best friend Andy (who’s no longer around, you find out why as the story develops), and his principal. He types out what he’s feeling and then saves them as a draft, never to be sent. The thing I love most about Joel is how much he contemplates the world around him. When he sees a problem for others (and I mean BIG problems: world hunger, life for veterans after they return from the war, homelessness) it sticks with him for days and days. Throughout the book we see him question everything – why things are the way they are, if they have to stay that way, and if he has the power to affect change. He also adores his brother, but throughout the book shows a moderate level of loathing for himself.
      • “Joel Higgins doesn’t have to follow the rules…He’s mad at the whole world.”

    • Eli: a pretty girl in Joel’s class. Joel has had a crush on Eli for years, and he describes her as someone who’s great at making lists and fixing things. Eli is also very religious, which results in some very interesting conversations between her and Joel, who is constantly questioning the afterlife. Eli is kind, compassionate, and volunteers at the soup kitchen with Joel once a week after school. Eli feels like she can do anything to change the world if she just wants it bad enough.
      • “Eli picked the soup kitchen because she liked feeding people. And I picked the soup kitchen because I liked watching Eli do just about anything at all.”

    • Our third MC is Benj, who’s the new boy at school. There’s a rumor going around about him that he poisoned his parents, and he has a terrible habit of blurting out whatever he’s thinking at the most inopportune moments. Both of these things combined means he has no friends. As the story goes on you learn a little bit more about Benj’s past, and he and Joel grow into something resembling a friendship.
  • I loved how Joel typed out texts but never sent them. Confession time: WE HAVE ALL DONE THIS. These unsent texts turn into something of a diary for him, and a way to sort through everything he’s feeling. I also love how they give us a peek at his friendship with Andy, who’s such a pivotal character in this book even though he’s no longer in the picture.

“Joel, at some point you are going to have to stop going backward and put the vehicle in drive and move forward.”

  • I don’t typically list one particular scene as something that I loved about a book, but I’m doing it here. I honestly highlighted this entire page on my iPad. If you don’t want mild spoilers, skip this part, but I promise it doesn’t reveal anything about the path the characters take or what happens to them at the end. There’s a scene in English class where Benj asks why they’re reading so many “gay books” – as in books with gay characters. As Benj digs himself into a deeper and deeper hole, the teacher points out that perhaps he meant to ask why they were reading so many books with gay characters in them. He then proceeds to point out that they should because they CAN. And then lists – I am not kidding – every single country in which you can be arrested or put to death for reading a book with gay themes or characters. ALL. THE. FEELS. I really wanted to stand up and applaud at this point. Having to turn the page three times before I got to the end of that list was so powerful, and ultimately reminded me how lucky I am to live in this country and have freedom of speech.

WHAT I DIDN’T:

  • I have a couple pet peeves with writing, and one of them is run-on sentences. I understand that these run-ons were for a purpose: The author wrote Joel’s rambling internal monologues without much punctuation at all, and I’ll admit it did add to your understanding of Joel’s character and what he was thinking. But ultimately I ended up skimming through most of these, and I feel like it took away from the reading experience.
  • While I loved how in-your-face this book was, and how it didn’t pull any punches when it came to the tough conversations, I felt like it tried to tackle TOO many things. It was also pretty heavy-handed, which made it feel a little preachy at times. Here are some, but not all, of the topics this book made a point to include: calling objects “gay”/discrimination, free speech, God/death/the afterlife, homelessness, world hunger, veterans, childhood loss, and some fleeting thoughts of suicide. At times I felt like I could’t turn the page without the author trying to sneak in some big meaningful topic. Don’t get me wrong – THESE DISCUSSIONS ARE SO IMPORTANT. I just felt like they were so heavy-handed and so numerous that it took away from what the author was trying to say. The messages would have been so much more powerful if they had picked half the topics but packed twice the punch.
  • I also feel like I should mention there was one scene where the English teacher makes a couple remarks making fun of “trigger words” or “trigger warnings” which honestly made me feel a little icky – this alone led me to drop half a star, actually.

Ultimately, I ended up giving this book 3.5 stars. Despite my struggles with the run-on sentences and my irritation at the trigger word scene, this book tackled so many important topics. It was in your face, so relatable, and so so brave. I loved the insight it gave to a teenage boy struggling through enormous issues, in addition to everything that surviving high school brings to the table. If everyone gave these issues half the thought that Joel did, the world would be a better place.

Words We Don’t Say releases on October 2nd.

xoxo

Jen

**all quotes are taking from an eARC prior to publication and are subject to change by release date.

Down the TBR #5

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Down the TBR Hole was created by Lost in a Story. Its purpose is to help narrow down your TBR list on Goodreads by selecting 5 titles each week and deciding if you want to keep it on your TBR or get rid of it! I was inspired by Melanie @ Meltotheany and Amy @ A Court of Crowns and Quills to start this series. If you haven’t checked out any of these lovely blogs, do it NOW!

How it works:

  • Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

ONE: What Happened to Cats McBride? by Gail Giles

I honestly could not remember a THING about this book, so I read the synopsis, and holy cow! The description still grabs me and I kind of wanted to buy it right away. I think I’ll keep this one for now.

VERDICT: KEEP

TWO: Clariel by Garth Nix

I can’t believe I haven’t gotten to this book yet. The Sabriel series by Garth Nix was one of my favorites growing up, and probably one of the first series (besides Tamora Pierce’s Alanna series) to really pull me into reading. This is a no-brainer.

VERDICT: KEEP

THREE: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

I don’t even have to re-read the synopsis of this book to know I want to read it. I’m not doing a very good job of cleansing my TBR this week…

VERDICT: KEEP

FOUR: I Was Here by Gayle Foramen

I’m a little indecisive about this one, but the synopsis still sounds interesting. Apparently I went through a huge contemporary phase when I added all of these. I feel like I’m just having FOMO and that’s why I’m keeping all these books…

VERDICT: KEEP

FIVE: All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This is literally sitting on my shelf right now, and I have put it on a hopeful TBR list for Contemporary-Athon next week! Hopefully it will be moved to my “read” shelf this month!

VERDICT: KEEP

Well, that was a great fail. I didn’t delete ANY books this week. Help! I don’t think that’s the point of this series…

Would you have ditched any of these reads? Let me know!

xoxo

Jen

BLOG TOUR: I Do Not Trust You

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for I Do Not Trust You by Laura J Burns and Melinda Metz! Thank you so much to St Martin’s Press and Wednesday Books for asking me to participate, and to NetGalley for the eARC.

I Do Not Trust YouTitle: I Do Not Trust You

Author: Laura J Burns and Melinda Metz

Publisher: St Martin’s Press – Wednesday Books

Pages: 320

Release Date: September 11, 2018

My Rating: ★★★★

Goodreads Synopsis:

Memphis “M” Engle is stubborn to a fault, graced with an almost absurd knowledge of long lost languages and cultures, and a heck of an opponent in a fight. In short: she’s awesome.

Ashwin Sood is a little too posh for her tastes, a member of an ancient cult (which she’s pretty sure counts for more than one strike against him), and has just informed Memphis that her father who she thought was dead isn’t and needs her help.

From the catacombs of Paris to lost temples in the sacred forests, together they crisscross the globe, searching for the pieces of the one thing that might save her father. But the closer they come to saving him—and the more they fall for one another—the closer they get to destroying the world.

Review:

I have a bad habit for reading the synopsis and then forgetting it by the time I get around to actually reading the book. Which is what happened in this case. Based on the title and the cover, I was expecting kind of a YA thriller or mystery. That is NOT what this book is. There are minor twists and turns, a few questions that get raised. But this book is more like a YA Indiana Jones – which is awesome! I ended up thinking this book was super cute and gave it 4/5 stars.

WHAT I LOVED:

  • The main character! Memphis (M for short) is an awesome rep for girls in STEM! She’s so smart and resourceful, and so knowledgable about archeology, history and mythology. Did I mention she also speaks several languages and knows martial arts? She’s sarcastic and witty, which I love in an MC. Beyond that, she is fiercely loyal to her father, and willing to do anything to get him back.
  • Ash and M together. I really enjoyed Ash and Memphis feeling each other out and testing each other. They’re both pretty intelligent characters, with interesting back stories and (mostly Ash’s part) painful pasts. They create witty dialogue scenes together, streaked with sarcasm and little jokes, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Neither is inclined to trust the other at first, and the author does a good job of their trust (and friendship) growing so slowly that both M and the reader are surprised to find it exists towards the end. This character development, and the development of their friendship, was very well done.
  • The detail and myth building. This was my favorite part of this book. The details of each of the archeological places described, and the little hints and clues that went along with it, were so captivating to me. I loved learning about each temple, and about the Egyptian myth that this story is based around. I would have loved to have seen drawings of the heiroglyphics included!
  • The minor plot twists. Like I mentioned above, this is more of an adventure story as opposed to a mystery/thriller, but there are some little plot twists along the way that I did not see coming, and I feel like that always adds a little bit of fun to the read!
  • The readability! I flew through this book and enjoyed every minute. This was an action-packed, fun and unique story, with two mixed-race MC’s. What more could you ask for?

WHAT I DIDN’T:

I did have a few minor complaints with the book. There are few little plot holes, and a few things that I found slightly unrealistic, even with the suspension of disbelief required by an adventure book like this. There were definitely eye roll-worthy lines from both M and Ash, and some portions of their dialogue felt stilted and unnatural, which is a little bit of a pet peeve for me. I also wanted a little bit more out of Ash and M’s budding tension – I feel like the authors stopped just short when they had brought it to the edge, and didn’t really follow through.

Despite these minor complaints, I really did enjoy this book! It was a quick read and I loved the adventure feel. Make sure you check out I Do Not Trust You, which released YESTERDAY on September 11, 2018!

xoxo

Jen