Expanding My Reading Horizons in 2022

Hello, friends. Seeing as we are almost two months into the new year, I really wanted to sit down and make a plan when it comes to expanding my reading horizons in 2022. I feel like I read a wide variety of books. I enjoy middle grade, read a lot of YA, but am also a fan of picking up adult fiction as well. Still, there are specific genres and mediums that I rarely pick up and I want to make an effort to tackle a few this year. These goals have been floating around in my head for a while and I am hoping that you can help me out with your recommendations. Covers are linked to Goodreads

1. ISO – Adult Romance Recommendations

I haven’t read a ton of romance novels, but the ones that I have have delivered on the swoons and that dash of serotonin I crave. I am open to almost anything, but definitely lean more toward contemporary romance. I also want to add more queer romance to my TBR specially by authors of color. Click here for a list of the most recent romance novels I’ve added to my TBR to see what interests me. And here are a few romance novels that I’ve loved to give you an idea of what appeals to me:

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  1. Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
  2. Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
  3. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
  4. The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

2. ISO – Adult Horror Recommendations

I definitely explored this genre more in 2021 and want to continue to do so in 2022. The only thing I don’t do horror-wise is alien abductions. I realize this is incredibly specific, but there is just something about horror-abduction scenarios that give me way too many heebie-jeebies. Other than that, I am open to almost anything from demons to slashers. For this category I am looking for more backlists books. I have quite a long list of 2022 horror novels on my TBR (post coming soon), so I think I’m good with new releases. Here are recent adult horror novels that I’ve really enjoyed:

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  1. Ring Shout by P. Djéli Clark
  2. The Twisted Ones by R. Kingfisher
  3. My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
  4. Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw

3. ISO – Manga Recommendations

I am pretty much a blank slate when it comes to manga. I am up for anything and everything, but to keep in line with the previous two genres I want to explore more, I would love some romance and horror manga recs. A very tiny sample size of manga I enjoyed:

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Here is where you come in! I’d love to hear all your romance, horror and manga recommendations in the comments. Drop me a rec or two and I’ll be sure to look into them. Thank you so much!

Mini-Reviews: White Smoke + Small Town Monsters

I meant to take care of any outstanding reviews I had from October/November before the year ended, but ended up only posting one review in December and just kind of forgot I had these in my drafts. As a result, these are both horror books. It may be early in the new year, but who says horror is only good during Halloween season? Certainly not I.

Title: White Smoke Author: Tiffany D. Jackson Series: N/A Pages: 384 Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books Release Date: September 14th 2021

TW: anxiety, drug addiction, drug overdose, death of a child, ableism

"The Haunting of Hill House meets Get Out in this chilling YA psychological thriller and modern take on the classic haunted house story from New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson! Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper. The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone. But 'running from ghosts' is just a metaphor, right? As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks."

Mari and her new mixed family are given the opportunity to move to Cedarville when her mother is given a residency in an up-and-coming neighbor. But when they arrive, their neighborhood is nothing like they imagined. Dilapidated homes are the norm and their neighbors look at them with suspicion. If that wasn’t bad enough, their new house has come with a few surprises of its own. As Mari tries to reestablish herself in this new world, to erase her own questionable history, she begins to learn more about her new town’s nefarious origins. One thing I love about Tiffany D. Jackson’s novels is how layered her stories are. You can approach any of her books from several different angles and White Smoke is no different. On its surface, White Smoke is a haunted house story. It has all the classic elements like unexplained paranormal activity. Doors open and close on their own, objects go missing, furniture is moved, shadows move about at night. All this sets the lead character, Mari, on edge as well as the reader. But Jackson always has readers delving deeper as Mari begins to investigate why the town of Cedarville is so run down, why the Sterling Foundation seems to have its hands in every corner of the Town’s renovation, and why their neighbors aren’t the most welcoming to her and her family. It soon becomes clear that a haunted house is not the only thing Mari needs to worry about. From gentrification to the prison-industrial complex, White Smoke weaves a myriad of nefarious real world issues into an unforgettable horror story.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Small Town Monsters Author: Diana Rodriguez Wallach Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Underlined Release Date: September 7th 2021

TW: death of a parent, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide

"Vera Martinez wants nothing more than to escape Roaring Creek and her parents' reputation as demonologists. Not to mention she's the family outcast, lacking her parents' innate abilities, and is terrified of the occult things lurking in their basement. Maxwell Oliver is supposed to be enjoying the summer before his senior year, spending his days thinking about parties and friends. Instead he's taking care of his little sister while his mom slowly becomes someone he doesn't recognize. Soon he suspects that what he thought was grief over his father's death might be something more...sinister. When Maxwell and Vera join forces, they come face to face with deeply disturbing true stories of cults, death worship, and the very nature that drives people to evil."

Diana Rodriguez Wallach’s Small Town Monsters delivers plenty of scares with a death-worshipping cult at its center, bent on taking over a town. Vera Martinez has always been the odd girl out. Her parents’ unconventional vocation as demonologists have made her and her family the target of gossip. But when popular jock, Maxwell, begins noticing his mother’s strange behavior, he seeks out the one person who won’t turn him away if he suggests his mother might be possessed. With dual POVs, Rodriguez Wallach ramps up tension as Max’s mother slowly becomes unrecognizable while Vera begins to realize getting too close may put her in the same kind of danger. Max is at the end of his rope. He is trying to make sense of his mother’s behavior including her late night strolls through the house and her incoherent ramblings involving death. But at the top of his priority list is keeping his little sister safe. Vera is dealing with complex feelings of isolation. On one hand, her parents are the reason why her classmates whisper about her, but on the other, she secretly wishes she could share their gifts. It’s a desire built out of loneliness and the need to be closer to her often absent parents. Because of this, I wish Vera’s parents had been a bigger presence in the book. Their absence is needed in order to drive the storyline forward, but as a result Vera’s character development suffers. There are a few hackneyed tropes in this one and if you can forgive the cliché romance, Small Town Monsters is an enjoyable horror novel that at its core is a story about grief. Many of the characters who fall prey to the cult’s influence have lost loved ones and are just looking for a way to ease the pain. In the end, this pain is a necessary step in the grieving and ultimately healing process.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

Mini-Reviews: We Are Not From Here + The Taking of Jake Livingston

I am still sharing reviews from my reads from Latinx Heritage Month if you can believe it. I read a lot and reviewed almost everything I picked up. I believe I have one full length review left to post for that month. It always feels weird pairing very different books when I do mini-reviews, but this really is a good representation of what my October was like. I read for Latinx Heritage Month during the first half of the month and then transitioned to horror the last two weeks of October. I got through a good amount of horror last month even though I split my attention between that and LHM. Next year I might have to start horror reads earlier because even though I read a good amount, Halloween came and I was still in need of the genre. You should see at least one set of mini-reviews dedicated to horror, hopefully by the end of the month.

Title: We Are Not From Here Author: Jenny Torres Sanchez Series: N/A Pages: 326 Publisher: Philomel Books Release Date: May 19th 2020

TW: death of a parent, abuse, suicide attempt, sexual assault (forced kissing and rape)

"A ripped-from-the-headlines novel of desperation, escape, and survival across the U.S.-Mexico border. Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña have no false illusions about the town they've grown up in and the dangers that surround them. Though their families--both biological and found--create a warm community for them, threats lurk around every corner. And when those threats become all too real, the three teens know they have no choice but to run: for the border, for the hope of freedom, and for their very lives. Crossing from Guatemala through Mexico with their eyes on the U.S. border, they follow the route of La Bestia, a system of trains that promise the hope of freedom--if they are lucky enough to survive the harrowing journey. With nothing but the bags on their backs and the desperation that courses through their very veins, Pulga, Chico, and Pequeña know that there's no turning back, dangerous though the road ahead might be. In this story inspired by real--and current--events, the plight at our southern border is brought to life."

Jenny Torres Sanchez’s We Are Not From Here tracks three migrants’ desperate and heart-shattering journey from Guatemala to the US. Pulga has spent his life trying to be tough because he knows that the world would eat him up and spit him out in a second. His dream of following in his father’s footsteps as a musician is the only thing that has kept him going. Chico lost his mother at a young age and Pulga became his family. His tender-heartedness often gets him into trouble and unlike Pulga, he has never taught himself to shut off the part of his heart that cares too much. Pequeña has been drowning in her own despair for months. Her mother is constantly reminding her that her pregnancy is a blessing, but to Pequena it’s a reminder of all the things she’s kept secret. When the violence from the only place they’ve ever called home threatens to swallow them whole, the three teens have no choice but to run. There is nothing easy about their journey, ever step forward demands more and more from them. After the money, the tears, and the sweat have run out, it slowly begins to take their hope too. The trek is traumatizing to all who must take is on and even for those who survive, it’s impossible to be the same person you were at the beginning. You pay with parts of yourself. Told in dual POVs, We Are Not From Here is beautifully written and brutally honest. One of the single most impactful reads I’ve read in my entire life.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)


Title: The Taking of Jake Livingston Author: Ryan Douglass Series: N/A Pages: 244 Publisher: Putnam Release Date: July 13th 2021

TW: school shooting, suicide, child abuse, attempted rape, depression, bullying, domestic violence

"Get Out meets Danielle Vega in this YA horror where survival is not a guarantee. Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at St. Clair Prep, one of the others being his infinitely more popular older brother. It’s hard enough fitting in but to make matters worse and definitely more complicated, Jake can see the dead. In fact he sees the dead around him all the time. Most are harmless. Stuck in their death loops as they relive their deaths over and over again, they don’t interact often with people. But then Jake meets Sawyer. A troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life. Now a powerful, vengeful ghost, he has plans for his afterlife–plans that include Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about ghosts and the rules to life itself go out the window as Sawyer begins haunting him and bodies turn up in his neighborhood. High school soon becomes a survival game–one Jake is not sure he’s going to win"

Ryan Douglass’s The Taking of Jake Livingston has its fair share of unsettling scenes, but falts in its development of certain relationships. Jake has been able to see ghosts for as long as he can remember. Being an outsider comes with the territory of being a medium, but Jake is also gay and not exactly out to his friends or family. He is also one of very few Black students at his private school. When Jake crosses paths with a vengeful ghost, all the things he thought he knew about the dead realm go out the window. Sawyer is able to manipulate objects in the real world and he has his sights set on Jake. Most people see Jake as absent-minded, prone to zone out when the truth is Jake’s mind is always engaged, just not necessarily focused on the world in front of him. Dealing with homophobic and racist teachers and peers, school is more of a nightmare than a refuge. At home, there is a lot of tension between him and his brother as well as unresolved issues with his mother, stemming from the abuse he endured from his father. Jake doesn’t have too many places that make him feel safe and wanted which makes him vulnerable to nefarious influences. One of the most interesting elements of The Taking of Jake Livingston is its dual POV. Not only do we get inside Jake’s head, but inside Sawyer’s. We see Jake trying to balance two sides of his life and then we jump back in time to witness the unraveling of Sawyer, as his journey catapults to a violent end. Both of these characters are vividly drawn; however, I wanted more from the side characters. Jake makes new friends and gains a potential love interest in a new student, but neither Fiona nor Allister really felt developed enough. It was so important to Jake’s arc to find his own people, but we spend very little time with them and when we did, their relationships felt accelerated. Still, if you’re looking for a quick horror read that delves into what pushes individuals to violence, The Taking of Jake Livingston might be the book for you.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

Mini-Reviews (ARC Edition): The Last Cuentista + Nothing But Blackened Teeth

Today I have a couple of mini-reviews for ARCs I recently finished. It feels kind of odd to pair these two together as they could not be more different. One is a middle-grade sci-fi and the other is an adult horror novella. But both were amazing reads and if either of these are your genre, I highly recommend them.

Title: The Last Cuentista Author: Donna Barba Higuera Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Levine Querido Release Date: October 12th 2021

TW: death of a parent, eugenics

**Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review.**

"Había una vez . . . There lived a girl named Petra Peña, who wanted nothing more than to be a storyteller, like her abuelita. But Petra's world is ending. Earth has been destroyed by a comet, and only a few hundred scientists and their children – among them Petra and her family – have been chosen to journey to a new planet. They are the ones who must carry on the human race. Hundreds of years later, Petra wakes to this new planet – and the discovery that she is the only person who remembers Earth. A sinister Collective has taken over the ship during its journey, bent on erasing the sins of humanity's past. They have systematically purged the memories of all aboard – or purged them altogether. Petra alone now carries the stories of our past, and with them, any hope for our future. Can she make them live again? Pura Belpré Honor-winning author Donna Barba Higuera presents us with a brilliant journey through the stars, to the very heart of what makes us human."

Donna Barba Higuera’s second middle grade novel, The Last Cuentista, is as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. Petra Peña and her family are part of the few who have been selected to board a space ship bound for the distant planet of Sagan. With Halley’s Comet on a collision course with Earth, humanity’s only hope is to find a new home. While Petra and those like are incubated for the 380-year journey, the Monitors are tasked with watching over them. When Petra eventually wakes, she quickly discovers that something has gone terribly awry. The Collective, descendants of the Monitors, is now in control and are bent on eradicating conflict by any means necessary. In their quest to save humanity, they have become inhumane. Differences in appearance or opinion have been eliminated. Every person must serve the Collective. Petra is a strong girl with strong opinions. Molded by her grandmother’s stories, all she’s ever wanted is to be a great storyteller. It is these stories that provide her comfort as she faces off against a foe far more powerful than herself. And it is ultimately the tales she shapes herself that help lead her and others toward a better future. The Last Cuentista is a unique sci-fi, spellbinding and unforgettable. A must read for any middle grade fan.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Nothing But Blackened Teeth Author: Cassandra Khaw Series: N/A Pages: 128 Publisher: Nightfire Release Date: October 19th 2021

TW: gore, panic attacks **Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review.**

"Cassandra Khaw's Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a gorgeously creepy haunted house tale, steeped in Japanese folklore and full of devastating twists. A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company. It’s the perfect wedding venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends. But a night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare. For lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart. And she gets lonely down there in the dirt."

Cassandra Khaw’s Nothing But Blackened Teeth simmers with tension on multiple levels beginning with its cast of characters. Cat and her friends have known each other since they were teens and have made a game out of chasing ghosts. As years have passed, however, and relationships have evolved, there is both spoken and unspoken tension between them. The ghost of relationships past is always there, along with resentment and hate, boiling just below the surface. When things begin to go awry, all bets are off and polite facades disappear, giving way to anger and chaos. The mansion the characters find themselves in is steeped in horrid tales of women buried alive year after year. Their bones have become a different kind of foundation for this mansion. The residence sits empty, waiting and wanting. As trepidation builds, the mansion feels almost sentient. It relishes the animosity building between these friends. Khaw’s writing is lyrical and descriptive, raw and haunting. Nothing But Blackened Teeth is a deliciously unnerving novella infused with Japanese folklore, in which its characters and house slowly begin to unravel, revealing the enmity underneath.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)