I’ve got four reviews for you today: a YA contemp, a YA fantasy, a MG contemp and a YA graphic novel. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!
Birthday by Meredith Russo
Published by Flatiron Books on May 21, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ+
Cover Artist: Michael Frost
My content rating: YA (Attempted suicide; some bullying and violence; homophobia; one of the main characters has sex, but nothing is shown)
Two best friends. A shared birthday. Six years...
ERIC: There was the day we were born. There was the minute Morgan and I decided we were best friends for life. The years where we stuck by each other’s side—as Morgan’s mom died, as he moved across town, as I joined the football team, as my parents started fighting. But sometimes I worry that Morgan and I won’t be best friends forever. That there’ll be a day, a minute, a second, where it all falls apart and there’s no turning back the clock.
MORGAN: I know that every birthday should feel like a new beginning, but I’m trapped in this mixed-up body, in this wrong life, in Nowheresville, Tennessee, on repeat. With a dad who cares about his football team more than me, a mom I miss more than anything, and a best friend who can never know my biggest secret. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to become the person I am inside. To become her. To tell the world. To tell Eric. But when?
Six years of birthdays reveal Eric and Morgan’s destiny as they come together, drift apart, fall in love, and discover who they’re meant to be—and if they’re meant to be together. From the award-winning author of If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo, comes a heart-wrenching and universal story of identity, first love, and fate.
This book!! This book made my heart hurt and also made it incredibly happy. I have to warn you, there were tears shed. If you’ve ever wanted to understand how someone could feel a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth, you need to read this book. (Obviously this book can’t represent every transgender person’s experience, but it does a great job of portraying one person’s experience.) Being inside Morgan’s head makes it so clear—the struggle to fit in when you just feel wrong somehow, the fears of how others will react, the painful process of coming to terms with a reality you might not want to face at first. The book chronicles four birthdays, shared by Morgan and her best friend Eric, and it shows how Morgan and Eric’s relationship transforms over those years. It’s definitely a character-driven book—don’t expect a fast-moving plot (the plot basically centers on events that bring Morgan closer to accepting her transition). But DO expect a heartrending portrayal of coming to terms with being transgender. One other small critique is that the romance aspect of the book all happened a little easily (it’s clear from the beginning that Eric already sees Morgan as female in a lot of ways—I’m not sure how many transgender people have someone who sees them so clearly from the outset), but that’s a small detail, and honestly, everyone deserves to see the possibility of a happy, easy relationship in their future.
This book is powerful and eye-opening. I think everyone should read it!
Soul of the Sword by Julie Kagawa
Series: Shadow of the Fox,
Also in this series: Shadow of The Fox
Published by Harlequin Audio on June 18, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Narrator: Brian Nishii, Joy Osmanksi, Emily Woo Zeller
Length: 15 hours and 43 minutes
Source: NetGalley, Library
My content rating: YA (Some relatively graphic violence; Nothing more than kissing)
One thousand years ago, a wish was made to the Harbinger of Change and a sword of rage and lightning was forged. Kamigoroshi. The Godslayer. It had one task: to seal away the powerful demon Hakaimono.
Now he has broken free.
Kitsune shapeshifter Yumeko has one task: to take her piece of the ancient and powerful scroll to the Steel Feather temple in order to prevent the summoning of the Harbinger of Change, the great Kami Dragon who will grant one wish to whomever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. But she has a new enemy now. The demon Hakaimono, who for centuries was trapped in a cursed sword, has escaped and possessed the boy she thought would protect her, Kage Tatsumi of the Shadow Clan.
Hakaimono has done the unthinkable and joined forces with the Master of Demons in order to break the curse of the sword and set himself free. To overthrow the empire and cover the land in darkness, they need one thing: the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers. As the paths of Yumeko and the possessed Tatsumi cross once again, the entire empire will be thrown into chaos.
I love this series, but I’ll confess that it took me a little while to get into this book. I started reading it, but I kept putting it down. I think it was mostly due to Hakaimono’s POV chapters—they were all death and destruction and demonic plotting, which are generally my least favorite aspects of fantasy (actually, once we got to the actual plotting, I was more engaged—it’s just all the demon beheading that bores me. I’m weird, I know). I eventually decided that this is the type of book that would work better for me via audiobook—and that was a fantastic decision!
The book really started to pick up for me once Yumeko made a decision about how she was going to handle Hakaimono. I obviously can’t share what that decision was, but I felt much more engaged with the story once I knew that goal—and I was definitely looking forward to how it would all play out. And the end of the book definitely did not disappoint. It all went in a direction I was not expecting at all—which I absolutely loved. And the book left me eager to find out what will happen next!
As far as the audiobook goes, all three narrators (Brian Nishii, Joy Osmanksi, and Emily Woo Zeller) were fantastic—I felt that they all captured the action of this series incredibly well, and Brian Nishii did an excellent job differentiating between Tatsumi and Hakaimono/Tatsumi.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review (though I ended up listening to the audiobook from the library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
My Fate According to the Butterfly by Gail D. Villanueva
Published by Scholastic Press on July 30, 2019
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary
Cover Artist: Oriol Vidal, Bailey Crawford
My content rating: MG (Topics of drug use and death)
Light and deep, smart and funny, crushing and hopeful all at the same time, My Fate According to the Butterfly will open your eyes to both the world's potential for magic, and to its harsh realities.
* "Villanueva's debut is a beautiful #ownvoices middle-grade novel. Tough topics -- the brutal war on drugs in the Philippines, family reconciliation, and recovery -- are addressed, but warmth and humor... bring lightness to Sab's story. This immersive novel bursts with life." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review
When superstitious Sab sees a giant black butterfly, an omen of death, she knows that she's doomed! According to legend, she has one week before her fate catches up with her -- on her 11th birthday. With her time running out, all she wants is to celebrate her birthday with her entire family. But her sister, Ate Nadine, stopped speaking to their father one year ago, and Sab doesn't even know why.
If Sab's going to get Ate Nadine and their father to reconcile, she'll have to overcome her fears -- of her sister's anger, of leaving the bubble of her sheltered community, of her upcoming doom -- and figure out the cause of their rift.
So Sab and her best friend Pepper start spying on Nadine and digging into their family's past to determine why, exactly, Nadine won't speak to their father. But Sab's adventures across Manila reveal truths about her family more difficult -- and dangerous -- than she ever anticipated.
Was the Butterfly right? Perhaps Sab is doomed after all!
I went into this story blind, so I’d completely forgotten that it was going to tackle some very serious subjects, especially the topic of drug addiction. The book doesn’t deal with the issue 100% head-on, which might make it a little easier for a MG audience: Sab spends most of the book in the dark about a certain family member’s ties to the Philippine war on drugs. but she learns as the book goes on how it has affected her all her life without her even fully knowing it. Since the book takes place in Manila, we get a fantastic sense of the culture there, from the food to the train systems, to etiquette. And, of course, we learn a lot about the superstitions surrounding a black butterfly: Sab is sure that spotting one means she’s going to die! I appreciated all of that background, and the mysteries surrounding Sab’s family kept me turning the pages.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
Teen Titans: Raven by Kami Garcia
Illustrator: Gabriel Picolo
Series: Teen Titans #1
Published by DC Ink on July 2, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Graphic Novel, Paranormal
My content rating: YA (Nothing more than kissing; some violence)
When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth's foster mom--and Raven's memory--she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school.
Starting over isn't easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can't remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before.
But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she's ready to face what's buried in the past...and the darkness building inside her.
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia and first-time graphic novel artist Gabriel Picolo comes this riveting tale of finding the strength to face who you are and learning to trust others--and yourself.
I’m not a huge superhero fan, so I went into this graphic novel with absolutely zero background knowledge on Teen Titans or Raven. That didn’t seem to affect my enjoyment of the book at all, though: I was immediately wrapped up in the story, eager to figure out what the forces behind Raven’s mysterious abilities were. The story starts when Raven is in an accident and loses her memory, so she’s thrown into a situation where she has no idea that she has powers or where they come from. I spent much of the graphic novel trying to figure out if there was something truly sinister going on and if Raven (and her friends) were in danger. I won’t spoil the answer to that, of course.
I found the artwork to be inviting and engaging, and the story was exciting—I easily read it in one sitting. I’m eager to see the next installment!
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
I’m so glad you enjoyed My Fate According to Butterfly. I just can’t do drugs. I just can’t read about it. The Raven GN looks cute. I love when a spinoff works no matter who is reading it. I agree that the second half of Soul of the Sword really saved it! I liked reading the demon’s POV for sure. And I take your recommendation of Birthday really seriously. Glad it was so moving! ❤️
For a split second I read, “I just can’t do drugs,” and thought, “Um… good?” LOL! Then I read the next sentence. 🙂 I definitely get that some people have triggers or things that they just can’t read about—very understandable.
Soul of the Sword sounds like my kind of book. I’ve seen some of her books on other blogs and they usually sound pretty good.
I hope you have a chance to read them!
you do tackle some interesting books. i haven’t read any of them.
These were all great books!
I loved Teen Titans growing up, so I’m excited for Raven’s book. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed it!
I still need to read Shadow of the Fox, and I’ve been hearing great things about My Fate According to the Butterfly. It’s great to hear that it builds a sense of the culture 🙂
Hope this lives up to your memories of Teen Titans!
I’m glad you liked Soul of the Sword too! I wasn’t as much a fan of Hakaimono’s chapters either, tbh. That’s awesome that the audiobook has multiple narrators though!
I’m never as much of a fan of pure battle scenes, and that’s what a lot of Hakaimono’s seemed to be.
I’m glad to know you enjoyed My Fate According to the Butterfly! It was an easier read compared to Patron Saints of Nothing. I loved how it portrayed the Philippines superstitious beliefs and even the street foods mentioned! Yum!
I’ve heard of Patron Saints but didn’t know anything about it. I’ll have to give it a look.
I’m so interested in Soul of the Sword! Glad you loved it! I feel like Birthday would break my heart. I’d have to read it when I’m in the correct mindset or it will set me back completely. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂
Birthday definitely might break your heart, but it will also uplift it!
Luckily, Birthday is the one I have been most excited to read!! I didn’t think I’d be at all interested in Raven, because like you, I have no idea what it is or what it’s about, but now you have me second guessing that decision- especially since I really want to read more graphic novels! Great reviews!
I’ve been enjoying graphic novels lately. I’ve realized that I just love art, so artwork in books is perfect for me!
I’ve been meaning to read Soul of the Sword since it came out, but I keep on pushing it off ? For me I didn’t enjoy Teen Titans: Raven so much, and I think it’s mostly because I have background knowledge on the story. I’ve seen so many origin stories, Raven’s I’ve seen a few times, that it just felt a little bit boring and predictable plotwise since I felt like I had read the story before. I will say that I absolutely adored the art though.
Ah, it probably helped me, then, that I was totally new to Raven. Makes sense.
My Fate According to the Butterfly and Birthday are both on my TBR! I was happy to see Russo has another book out. Sounds like one I will need tissues for. I recently read another MG set in the Philippines that dealt with gambling addiction and homelessness – sounds like My Fate would be another heavy read.
I still need to read Russo’s first book. I own it, but haven’t managed to read it yet. I’ll definitely be fixing that soon.