Bite-Sized Reviews of Pet; Scars Like Wings; Paul, Big, and Small; and Serious Moonlight

October 18, 2019 Reviews 14 ★★★★½

I’ve got four reviews for you today: a YA fantasy and three YA contemps. I hope these bite-sized reviews will be enough to feed your fiction addiction!


Bite-Sized Reviews of Pet; Scars Like Wings; Paul, Big, and Small; and Serious MoonlightPet by Akwaeke Emezi
Published by Make Me a World on September 10, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 208
Source: NetGalley
Cover Artist: Shyama Golden
My content rating: YA (Some violence, Themes of sexual abuse---though it's more implied than told directly)
My rating:
4.5 Stars

A thought-provoking and haunting novel about a creature that escapes from an artist's canvas, whose talent is sniffing out monsters in a world that claims they don't exist anymore. Perfect for fans of Akata Witch and Shadowshaper.

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother's paintings and a drop of Jam's blood, she must reconsider what she's been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster--and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption's house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also uncover the truth, and the answer to the question How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?

In their riveting and timely young adult debut, acclaimed novelist Akwaeke Emezi asks difficult questions about what choices you can make when the society around you is in denial.

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This book is wild and strange and sort of brilliant. I honestly had no idea what to expect when I started reading, and I’ll confess that at first I was confused about the worldbuilding. The book is set in a utopian society where all of the evil people in the world (or “monsters”) were eliminated by a group that’s referred to as angels. Everyone knows that monsters no longer exist, so when Jam accidentally releases a creature from her mother’s painting that says it’s there to hunt them, her parents say she needs to send it back before it causes unnecessary pain and suffering. The book holds a lens to the world and how easy it is to pretend that problems (even very serious ones) don’t exist. Of course, not admitting that they’re there doesn’t actually make them go away—it just lets them fester. There’s lots of talk about how the angels might look like monsters and vice versa—at first, Jam doesn’t see how there could be any issues in her best friend’s family because they seem so very perfect.

I should also mention the diversity here: not only is Jam black, but she is also transgender (a fact that is mentioned but isn’t dwelled on in any way except to say it was accepted).

The story is haunting and beautifully written, though it does seem like there might be a bit of a disconnect between the somewhat simplistic thinking of a younger YA character and the complexity of the storytelling. Still, I hope this isn’t an issue that deters readers, because it’s a fabulous read!

***Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


Bite-Sized Reviews of Pet; Scars Like Wings; Paul, Big, and Small; and Serious MoonlightScars Like Wings by Erin Stewart
Published by Delacorte on October 3, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 352
Source: The Publisher
Cover Artist: Jennifer Heuer
My content rating: YA (Themes of depression and suicide; death of a loved one)
My rating:
5 Stars

Relatable, heartbreaking, and real, this is a story of resilience--the perfect novel for readers of powerful contemporary fiction like Girl in Pieces and Every Last Word.

Before, I was a million things. Now I'm only one. The Burned Girl.

Ava Lee has lost everything there is to lose: Her parents. Her best friend. Her home. Even her face. She doesn't need a mirror to know what she looks like--she can see her reflection in the eyes of everyone around her.

A year after the fire that destroyed her world, her aunt and uncle have decided she should go back to high school. Be "normal" again. Whatever that is. Ava knows better. There is no normal for someone like her. And forget making friends--no one wants to be seen with the Burned Girl, now or ever.
But when Ava meets a fellow survivor named Piper, she begins to feel like maybe she doesn't have to face the nightmare alone. Sarcastic and blunt, Piper isn't afraid to push Ava out of her comfort zone. Piper introduces Ava to Asad, a boy who loves theater just as much as she does, and slowly, Ava tries to create a life again. Yet Piper is fighting her own battle, and soon Ava must decide if she's going to fade back into her scars . . . or let the people by her side help her fly.

"A heartfelt and unflinching look at the reality of being a burn survivor and at the scars we all carry. This book is for everyone, burned or not, who has ever searched for a light in the darkness." --Stephanie Nielson, New York Times bestselling author of Heaven Is Here and a burn survivor

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This book is so engrossing and emotionally compelling that I read it in one evening! I was immediately drawn in by the concept: Ava is the sole survivor of a house fire that claimed the lives of her parents and her cousin—she’s now recovering from burns that covered over 60% of her body and living with her aunt and uncle, who are also trying to hold it together after the loss of their daughter in the very fire that almost claimed Ava’s life. Right there, you can see why the emotional stakes of the story are so incredibly high. Not only is Ava struggling to adapt to her “new normal” after being disfigured in the fire, but she’s dealing with the loss of her parents and the guilt of surviving when her cousin didn’t.

The cast of characters is wonderful. Asad is a hilariously geeky guy (in a theater-geek sort of way), and you can understand how Ava starts to fall for him, especially when he doesn’t seem to see her for only her scars. And, though at first it seems that Piper might be the stereotypical peppy best friend—she sees to handle her own scars and injuries due to a car accident with cheery optimism and a get-yourself-out-there attitude—as the book progresses you start to suspect there might be more to her story than she’s letting on. Throughout the book, the stories of the accidents that caused Piper’s and Ava’s injuries unspool, and you don’t find out all the details until almost the end—a touch of mystery that keeps you turning the pages. The friendships in the story are realistic and complex and not without their difficult moments, which makes them feel that much more “earned” in the end. 

Basically, I loved this book. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me want to keep reading until the very last page!

***Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***

(I’m also adding this review to my GIVEAWAY post for the blog tour, which is still going on!)


Bite-Sized Reviews of Pet; Scars Like Wings; Paul, Big, and Small; and Serious MoonlightPaul, Big, and Small by David Glen Robb
Published by Shadow Mountain on October 1, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 336
Source: NetGalley
My content rating: YA (Themes of bullying; death of a loved one; mental health issues; suicide)
My rating:
4 Stars

A trio of high school outcasts--Paul, Big, and Small--face the complicated world of predators and prey in high school and come to realize that overcoming life's challenges will take more than perseverance.

Paul Adams is the shortest kid at his high school, and the school bullies relentlessly pick on him. He spends the entire day wishing school would end so he can escape to his favorite sport of rock climbing. This is the only place where he feels in control, competent, and free, despite the inherent fear.

Lily Small is athletic, attractive, and, despite her last name, is actually very tall. Another kid, who looks almost like a grown man, introduces himself with a long Polynesian name, but says everyone calls him "Big," and he seems to like the nickname! As they get to know each other, Paul, Big, and Small discover they have a lot in common as outsiders in their high school. As the trio's friendship forms, their unique personalities are no longer those of misfits, but complement each other.

Paul and Lily decide to enter a local competition for climbers, but their plans are abruptly halted by Lily's diagnosis of leukemia. Paul is terrified of what lies ahead in Lily's medical treatment, knowing what happened to his mother who died of cancer a few short years before. He retreats back to rabbit mode and can't even visit her in the hospital. But Lily really wants Paul to go ahead with the competition and advises him to team up with Conor, the student who bullies Paul the most. Reluctantly, Paul agrees to move ahead with Lily's wish, knowing that Conor is a strong climber and their best chance at winning.

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This book is about an unlikely trio of friends who face down bullies and their own fears. It’s told from the perspective of Paul, a freshman in high school who’s so short he’s often mistaken for a 10-year-old. When he’s put in a group project with Lily Small (the tallest girl in his class) and Big (a kid who’s as cheerful as he is large), Paul just knows it’s going to be a social disaster. He doesn’t want to do anything that’s going to draw attention. Paul isn’t always the most likable character, to be honest (though that’s juxtaposed with Big, who is just about the nicest guy in the entire universe!). Paul’s used to getting pushed around, so he tends to hide at the least chance of trouble. Of course, you can sort of understand his knee-jerk reaction—staying under the radar has saved him on many occasions. He also makes a lot of snap judgments and assumptions about other people (especially Lily). It was encouraging to see Paul grow in this throughout the book and finally start to make some changes in his thinking (and his actions). Since Paul is a rock climber, climbing is a big focus of the plot and it acts as a metaphor for his growth as well. It’s obvious that the author is a climber himself since there are lots of details about climbing included. This book tackles some difficult topics like bullying, mental health, View Spoiler », but it doesn’t feel like a book that’s overwhelmed by its issues. In the end, it puts the spotlight on kindness and taking the time to see the world from someone else’s perspective—both worthy themes.

***Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


Bite-Sized Reviews of Pet; Scars Like Wings; Paul, Big, and Small; and Serious MoonlightSerious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett
Published by Simon Pulse on April 16, 2019
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 426
Narrator: Devon Sorvari
Length: 12 hours and 4 minutes
Source: NetGalley, Library
My content rating: YA (Characters have sex)
My rating:
4 Stars

After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that the most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.

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Jenn Bennet’s romances always shine, and this is no exception. Birdie and Daniel are such an adorable pair—and their banter had me laughing right from the get-go. I fell in love with sweet, geekily magical Daniel right along with Birdie, and I really did want to see them together. The mystery aspect of the book is also fun—Birdie is a huge mystery aficionado, so it worked out perfectly that there was a true mystery right under their noses. And while it’s the romance that kept me turning the pages, the way the central mystery ends up playing out is unexpected and interesting! I absolutely LOVE the family dynamics in this story, especially when it comes to Daniel’s family and Birdie’s grandpa. The only character I’m not absolutely head-over-heels for is Birdie’s “Aunt” Mona, who feels a little bit like a too-quirky-cool caricature for me. Plus, I was worried at first at her response to Birdie’s uneasiness over the circumstances of losing her virginity (Mona seems far too cavalier and unhelpful about it—I think her character is supposed to be really sex-positive, but she comes off as a bit too flighty and wacky to take any of her advice very seriously). But, this was redeemed for me in the end because I think the topic of sex was handled well overall. (Everything isn’t perfect and magical between Birdie and Daniel right away! They both acknowledge that the circumstances of their first encounter weren’t ideal and may have even been a mistake. Daniel and Birdie have real conversations about sex!) Oh, and this book does include the stereotype of a homeschooled teen who’s socially awkward and is forced into homeschooling by an overly-strict parental figure (in this case, her Christian grandma)—as you may know, this is a personal pet peeve of mine. But the good far outweighs the bad! And, as usual, Bennet explores themes of mental and physical health with care and without over-dramatizing. That can be a feat in itself. Highly recommend this book!

NARRATION: I listened to the audiobook version of this book from the library, and I thought that Devon Sorvari did a fabulous job with the narration. Her depiction of the banter between Daniel and Birdie was especially fun!

***Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley (but I ended up listening to the audiobook from my local library). No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***


That’s it for now! Have you read any of these? What did you think?

14 Responses to “Bite-Sized Reviews of Pet; Scars Like Wings; Paul, Big, and Small; and Serious Moonlight”

  1. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Gosh I very much need Scars Like Wings! I keep hearing great things about it, but your review sealed the deal, especially since we’re twins but also I love when books make me cry! I am glad you liked Serious Moonlight, I thought it was fabulous! Pet sounds pretty cool too- I had no idea that it was even YA, I am definitely interested! Great reviews as always!!

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: Musings on Living with Depression by C.J. Listro
  2. Sam@wlabb

    Like you, I adored Scars Like Wings. It was just a wonderful testament to the human spirit.

    Bennett is an auto-read for me. She never fails to create these fabulous characters, who I want to know better, and Birdie and Daniel as two great examples. I especially adored Daniel. He had the best quirks, and was just an all around great guy.

  3. Suzanne @ The Bookish Libra

    I keep seeing so many great reviews for Scars Like Wings. I really need to make sure I read that one. I also really enjoyed Serious Moonlight. Bennett’s books just always leave me with a smile on my face.

  4. Olivia Roach

    I haven’t read or heard of Pet before but it intrigues me. I feel utopian books are so interesting and should definitely be explored more in books. Because what is utopia for one person is not the same for someone else. And yay for the rep! I so need to read Scars Like Wings because I am all for high emotional stakes. I really like the sound of the secondary character friend being so involved in the story and having their own storyline as well. And I need to read Serious Moonlight as well. I always need Jenn Bennett!

    Olivia Roach recently posted: Some Places More Than Others [Book Review]
  5. El

    I’m glad you enjoyed serious moonlight!
    I liked the romance parts but the mystery just didn’t do it for me & I don’t think the wrap-up was very well handled. I did actually like Mona but I can see your point about her being a little too eccentric…
    Anyway, I really have to get around to reading Alex, Approximately sometime soon!

  6. Dani @ Perspective of a Writer

    I understand from your review why so many love Scars Like Wings. I can see how powerful her journey would be. I love the idea of Pet too. How intriguing of a world and to have a monster come into it. Fascinating! ❤️

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