Brief Thoughts: Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore

Wild Beauty coverFor nearly a century, the Nomeolvides women have tended the grounds of La Pradera, the lush estate gardens that enchant guests from around the world. They’ve also hidden a tragic legacy: if they fall in love too deeply, their lovers vanish. But then, after generations of vanishings, a strange boy appears in the gardens.

The boy is a mystery to Estrella, the Nomeolvides girl who finds him, and to her family, but he’s even more a mystery to himself; he knows nothing more about who he is or where he came from than his first name. As Estrella tries to help Fel piece together his unknown past, La Pradera leads them to secrets as dangerous as they are magical in this stunning exploration of love, loss, and family.

  • #OwnVoices for Latinx representation, also features bisexuality representation, which was one of my favourite aspects of the story – I love how McLemore describes the Nomeolvides girls’ feelings and how they are and aren’t influenced by their family’s history.
  • My early impression of Wild Beauty was that it is lovely but slow, especially the first 100 pages or so. The story is very introspective, more so than When the Moon Was OursI felt.
    • (I read Moon earlier this summer. That was one of my best reads of 2017, so I can’t help but compare Wild Beauty to it.)
  • I didn’t connect with Estrella until about 150 pages in and overall, I didn’t feel much regarding her romantic story line, certainly not like I felt about Miel and Sam in Moon. Fel I found a bit dull, though his role in the story and his relationship with the Nomeovildes was different from anything I’ve read before.
  • A key part of the story focus on identity – my favourite parts were about personal identity, about defining and shaping your own identity and about not rendering someone invisible by imagining them as you want them to be, rather than as they are.
  • The writing is just as lush and evocative as in Moon, but I personally preferred the imagery in Moon. The concept of flower magic is gorgeous, though my knowledge of flowers is lacking so I felt I wasn’t able to fully visualize what McLemore was describing.
  • The Bottom Line: A different reader may connect more with this story than I did. Even without that connection, Wild Beauty is still worth your time if you’re a fan of magical realism.

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #5

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Founded by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Read and Enjoyed: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

If I Was Your GirlAmanda Hardy is the new girl in school. Like anyone else, all she wants is to make friends and fit in. But Amanda is keeping a secret, and she’s determined not to get too close to anyone.

But when she meets sweet, easygoing Grant, Amanda can’t help but start to let him into her life. As they spend more time together, she realizes just how much she is losing by guarding her heart. She finds herself yearning to share with Grant everything about herself, including her past. But Amanda’s terrified that once she tells him the truth, he won’t be able to see past it.

Because the secret that Amanda’s been keeping? It’s that at her old school, she used to be Andrew. Will the truth cost Amanda her new life, and her new love?

Add to Goodreads button Own voices for transwoman representation. I read both If I Was Your Girl and Brie Spangler’s Beast earlier this year. If I Was Your Girl features Amanda telling her story, in first person. Beast is the story of Dylan, who crushes on Jamie before realizing she is trans. This is not the place where I’m going to debate the trans representation in Beast. The reason I’m bringing it up is to highlight how important books like If I Was Your Girl are – books that center trans people’s voices and tell their own stories, as they wish to share them. Beast is Dylan’s story, not Jamie’s, and her role is little different from other love interests. If I Was Your Girl is wholly Amanda’s story, and for that alone I can recommend this book.

Side note: I had heard If I Was Your Girl was a pretty straightforward romance, but there were more painful and cringe-worthy moments than I anticipated. This is not an entirely light read.

Released but Not Yet Read: I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosín

I Lived on Butterfly HillCeleste Marconi is a dreamer. She lives peacefully among friends and neighbors and family in the idyllic town of Valparaiso, Chile—until one day when warships are spotted in the harbor and schoolmates start disappearing from class without a word. Celeste doesn’t quite know what is happening, but one thing is clear: no one is safe, not anymore.

The country has been taken over by a government that declares artists, protestors, and anyone who helps the needy to be considered “subversive” and dangerous to Chile’s future. So Celeste’s parents—her educated, generous, kind parents—must go into hiding before they, too, “disappear.” Before they do, however, they send Celeste to America to protect her.

As Celeste adapts to her new life in Maine, she never stops dreaming of Chile. But even after democracy is restored to her home country, questions remain: Will her parents reemerge from hiding? Will she ever be truly safe again?

Add to Goodreads buttonOwn voices for Latin American representation (the author was raised in Chile and moved to the US after the coup. The book is translated from Spanish.) When I Lived on Butterfly Hill tackles a subject I know little about. The cover caught my eye and the description prompted me to add it to my TBR.

Not Yet Released: Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice

Why Indigenous Literatures MatterPart survey of the field of Indigenous literary studies, part cultural history, and part literary polemic, Why Indigenous Literatures Matter asserts the vital significance of literary expression to the political, creative, and intellectual efforts of Indigenous peoples today. In considering the connections between literature and lived experience, this book contemplates four key questions at the heart of Indigenous kinship traditions: How do we learn to be human? How do we become good relatives? How do we become good ancestors? How do we learn to live together? Blending personal narrative and broader historical and cultural analysis with close readings of key creative and critical texts, Justice argues that Indigenous writers engage with these questions in part to challenge settler-colonial policies and practices that have targeted Indigenous connections to land, history, family, and self. More importantly, Indigenous writers imaginatively engage the many ways that communities and individuals have sought to nurture these relationships and project them into the future.

This provocative volume challenges readers to critically consider and rethink their assumptions about Indigenous literature, history, and politics while never forgetting the emotional connections of our shared humanity and the power of story to effect personal and social change. Written with a generalist reader firmly in mind, but addressing issues of interest to specialists in the field, this book welcomes new audiences to Indigenous literary studies while offering more seasoned readers a renewed appreciation for these transformative literary traditions.

Add to Goodreads button Own voices for Indigenous writer representation. Non-fiction represent! I’m very curious about this book; it sounds like an excellent topic.

What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Diversity Spotlight Thursday #4

Diversity Spotlight Thursday
Hosted by Aimal @ Bookshelves and Paperbacks

Read and Enjoyed: The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutsie

The Abyss Surrounds UsFor Cassandra Leung, bossing around sea monsters is just the family business. She’s been a Reckoner trainer-in-training ever since she could walk, raising the genetically-engineered beasts to defend ships as they cross the pirate-infested NeoPacific. But when the pirate queen Santa Elena swoops in on Cas’s first solo mission and snatches her from the bloodstained decks, Cas’s dream of being a full-time trainer seems dead in the water.

There’s no time to mourn. Waiting for her on the pirate ship is an unhatched Reckoner pup. Santa Elena wants to take back the seas with a monster of her own, and she needs a proper trainer to do it. She orders Cas to raise the pup, make sure he imprints on her ship, and, when the time comes, teach him to fight for the pirates. If Cas fails, her blood will be the next to paint the sea.

Goodreads | While The Abyss Surrounds Us didn’t have the vivid world building that I was hoping for, I’d recommend it for the human relationships. I expected Santa Elena to be Cas’s love interest (which may have been a bit Stockholm syndrome-y), but that role goes to another female crew member. I liked how Cas’s crush develops subtly and naturally. There is also some interesting exploration of us vs. them mentalities (good guys vs bad guys, rich people vs poor people). As far as I can tell, this is not an own voices novel (please let me know if you can confirm otherwise).

Released but Not Yet Read: One Half From the East by Nadia Hashimi

One Half from the EastObayda’s family is in need of some good fortune. Her father lost one of his legs in a bomb explosion, forcing the family to move from their home city of Kabul to a small village, where life is very different and Obayda’s father almost never leaves his room. One day, Obayda’s aunt has an idea to bring the family luck—dress Obayda, the youngest of her sisters, as a boy, a bacha posh. Now Obayda is Obayd. Life in this in-between place is confusing, but once Obayda meets another bacha posh, everything changes. The two of them can explore the village on their own, climbing trees, playing sports, and more. But their transformation won’t last forever—unless the two best friends can figure out a way to make it stick and make their newfound freedoms endure.

Goodreads | My sister brought this book home from a HarperCollins event. The setting caught my eye. Not own voices – Hashimi was born and raised in America to first-generation Afghani immigrants. Her website states she was “surrounded by a large family of aunts, uncles and cousins, keeping the Afghan culture an integral part of their daily lives”.

Not Yet Released: Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi

Beasts Made of NightIn the walled city of Kos, corrupt mages can magically call forth sin from a sinner in the form of sin-beasts – lethal creatures spawned from feelings of guilt.

Taj is the most talented of the aki, young sin-eaters indentured by the mages to slay the sin-beasts. But Taj’s livelihood comes at a terrible cost. When he kills a sin-beast, a tattoo of the beast appears on his skin while the guilt of committing the sin appears on his mind. Most aki are driven mad by the process, but 17-year-old Taj is cocky and desperate to provide for his family.

When Taj is called to eat a sin of a royal, he’s suddenly thrust into the center of a dark conspiracy to destroy Kos. Now Taj must fight to save the princess that he loves – and his own life.

Goodreads | Look at the cover! Then read that description! Are you sold on this one now? 😛 This debut comes from a Black American author.

What books would you select for Diversity Spotlight Thursday? Leave a link in the comment if you’ve already written about it!
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!

Family Reads: A List of Cages by Robin Roe

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Born out of a desire to get a family of book lovers to connect more over what they’re reading, Family Reads is an occasional feature where my mom, dad or sister and I read and discuss a book.

Why we chose Robin Roe’s A List of Cages

A List of Cages

Somehow, this book ended up on Dad’s to-be-read shelf. We picked it because it was readily available at the library and because we had previously talked about reading more YA together.

When Adam Blake lands the best elective ever in his senior year, serving as an aide to the school psychologist, he thinks he’s got it made. Sure, it means a lot of sitting around, which isn’t easy for a guy with ADHD, but he can’t complain, since he gets to spend the period texting all his friends. Then the doctor asks him to track down the troubled freshman who keeps dodging her, and Adam discovers that the boy is Julian—the foster brother he hasn’t seen in five years.

Adam is ecstatic to be reunited. At first, Julian seems like the boy he once knew. He’s still kindhearted. He still writes stories and loves picture books meant for little kids. But as they spend more time together, Adam realizes that Julian is keeping secrets, like where he hides during the middle of the day, and what’s really going on inside his house. Adam is determined to help him, but his involvement could cost both boys their lives…

Our Discussion

Vague spoilers about the conclusion ahead.

What we liked best about A List of Cages is Adam and his friends – a bunch of good eggs. They reminded me more of my high school experience than most YA books I’ve read. I asked Dad if it was strange reading about a modern high school. Was it much different from his experience? He said not really – particular the cafeteria scenes felt familiar.

Adam and Julian narrate the story in alternating first person sections. Unlike other books we’ve read that take this approach, we found the voice of each character was well-distinguished from the other.

Reading about Julian’s experience was certainly heartbreaking at times – especially when we considered that there are real kids who are experiencing abuse like he does. I choked up at the parts where Julian tries to justify Russell’s behaviour, showing he doesn’t know how he’s been manipulated. Roe does an excellent job at showing how kids can come to feel like they deserve what their experiencing, how they can get trapped in an abusive situation.

The ending felt a little abrupt – suddenly, the story became very dramatic. There were tense and painful moments throughout the story, but the conclusion has a lot of fast action.

Final Thoughts

Dad has only read a couple YA novels in general and I had never read a book about a child abused by their guardian, so A List of Cages was a new reading experience for both of us. I wouldn’t have elected to read this book on my own – the subject matter is too sad – but the positive characters and support from friends that Julian receives makes it a good read.  Have you read A List of Cages?  What do you think about reading YA that tackles such real and painful subjects?

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Spring 2017 Diverse Reads

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  • March (disability – club foot) – Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell
  • April (mental health – depression) – More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
  • June (sexuality and gender identity – transboy) When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell

Handbook for Dragon Slayer'sThirteen-year-old Princess Matilda, whose lame foot brings fear of the evil eye, has never given much thought to dragons, attending instead to her endless duties and wishing herself free of a princess’s responsibilities.

When a greedy cousin steals Tilda’s lands, the young princess goes on the run with two would-be dragon slayers. Before long she is facing down the Wild Hunt, befriending magical horses, and battling flame-spouting dragons. On the adventure of a lifetime, and caught between dreams of freedom and the people who need her, Tilda learns more about dragons—and herself—than she ever imagined.

 

  • First book I read by Merrie Haskell, though I have already read another!
  • This book received a positive own voices review at Disability in Kid Lit, which led me to select it for the March topic. Aimee Louw writes far more eloquently about Tilda’s club foot than I could, so be sure to check out her post. I especially agree with her observation that the “dichotomy between the desire to improve or better oneself and the perceived need to overcompensate for the lower expectations placed on oneself because of disability was portrayed exceptionally well.”
  • One aspect of the book I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did was the setting. Handbook for Dragonslayers takes place in a more realistic medieval setting than I’ve encountered in most children’s literature. The presence of religion plays a significant role in that. I love that Tilda wanted to join a cloister so she could copy books. The concept of sin influences Tilda’s actions; she celebrates Christmas Day. Other details that added realism for me included Tilda’s duties as a princess and the design of the castle.
  • I found it a little heartbreaking that part of the reason Tilda wants to become a grand writer is to disprove the cruel things people believe about her. I don’t have the direct quote, but there was a line about how Tilda wanted to be free of people who thought they knew her (pg. 52). That’s a feeling I think many readers have experienced at one time or the other. It gives able-bodied readers like myself a better insight into what Tilda experiences.
  • Although not much else about the plot or characters stands out for me now, fans of the genre will likely enjoy Handbook for Dragon Slayers  (as long as they don’t expect too much of the dragons!).

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

More Happy Than NotIn the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

 

  • Finally read a book by Adam Silvera! He’s a popular author in my Twittersphere. If it weren’t for this challenge, I wouldn’t have read any of his books as I’m generally not a fan of the genre (contemporary) or the type of stories (mostly dark, romance-centric) he writes. That’s the main reason for my low rating. More Happy Than Not just isn’t the my thing.
  • That being said, I thought the story picked up when the Leteo Institute started to play a role, and I enjoyed the later part of the novel far more than the earlier part.
  • A lot of things about the book didn’t suite my tastes; that doesn’t mean they were poorly written or objectively bad. Own voices reviewers have highlighted how important the story is to them and how realistic it is (1 | 2 | 3 ; thanks to Taryn for bringing some of these to my attention). However, I found Aaron’s stubborn opinion on Thomas’ sexuality frustrating and wish it could have been identified as problematic within the story. And I’m not even talking about bierasure – I was thinking about making assumptions about other people and taking that as truth with no truth from the person themself.

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

When the Moon Was OursTo everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

 

  • Thanks to Monika @ The Lovely Bookshelf, from whom I won a copy of this book in a giveaway! You can read her review here.
  • Ooh, what to say about this one? When the Moon Was Ours exemplifies why I love magical realism (it can make me fall in love with a YA novel!). All those wonderful things you’ve heard about it are true.
  • McLemore’s prose elevates this book to a high rating for me. In crafting a magical realism tale, she takes the opportunity to describe wonderous sights and miraculous happenings. Her descriptions of the colour of pumpkins and roses, the relationship between the Bonner girls, and the glows of Sam’s moons are just a few examples that come to mind.
  • McLemore’s prose creates not only beautiful imagery; she also builds her characters through evocative descriptions. One example that stood out to me: “Because together they had so much shared gravity they pulled toward that navy blue houses anything they wanted. Because they were four brilliant red lynxes, and she could not run” (pg. 44).
  • I was totally into the romantic relationship. Gasp, a romance I can get behind?! I liked that Sam and Miel already had a strong relationship at the start of the novel and were essentially ready to proceed to a romantic relationship. There are some steamy scenes in this book, which I credit entirely to McLemore’s evocative and creative writing. She addresses physical interaction without being too explicit – i.e. it’s still beautiful prose without turning to clunky descriptions of physical movement, yet it is also specific enough to clearly portray the interactions (and the complexity of those interactions) between Miel and Sam.
  • Even the afterword I found touching. It sounds like McLemore drew a lot of inspiration from her and her husband (who is trans)’s relationship in writing this novel.
  • Highly recommended. Will likely be in my top ten reads of the year.

These last three books are pretty diverse in their genres, let alone their characters. Have you read any of them? Which one would you be most interested in reading?
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Read Diverse 2017
This post counts towards the Read Diverse 2017 reviewing challenge!