Mini-Reviews: Lakelore + My Mechanical Romance

Please excuse these very late reviews. I am currently trying to draft all my reviews, so I’m not in a frenzy trying to put them together. Though I enjoy writing my reviews on various apps and sometimes on paper, when it comes time to draft them, I easily forget where I wrote them.

Title: Lakelore Author: Anna-Marie McLemore Series: N/A Pages: 304 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Release Date: March 8th 2022

TW: transphobia, misgendering, bullying, sexual harassment, ableism

"In this young adult novel by award-winning author Anna-Marie McLemore, two non-binary teens are pulled into a magical world under a lake - but can they keep their worlds above water intact? Everyone who lives near the lake knows the stories about the world underneath it, an ethereal landscape rumored to be half-air, half-water. But Bastián Silvano and Lore Garcia are the only ones who’ve been there. Bastián grew up both above the lake and in the otherworldly space beneath it. Lore’s only seen the world under the lake once, but that one encounter changed their life and their fate. Then the lines between air and water begin to blur. The world under the lake drifts above the surface. If Bastián and Lore don’t want it bringing their secrets to the surface with it, they have to stop it, and to do that, they have to work together. There’s just one problem: Bastián and Lore haven’t spoken in seven years, and working together means trusting each other with the very things they’re trying to hide."

In Lakelore, Anna-Maria McLemore takes readers on an unforgettable journey of acceptance and love. Bastián is a transmasculine nonbinary teen with ADHD who has found many ways to deal with their often demanding brain. One such way is making alebrijes and sending them into the world beneath a local lake where they come alive. It is their way of dealing with days when the thoughts in their head become unbearable. Lore is a genderfluid and nonbinary new kid in town. They want very much to leave behind the events that led their family to make the move, but there are some things that will follow you no matter how far you go. As Bastián and Lore grow closer, they discover that something is causing the world under the lake to spill over into the real world. They must reckon with truths about themselves they would rather stay hidden in order to stop it. Both Bastián and Lore have dealt with transphobia and ableism in their lives. But having similar experiences doesn’t mean either are quite ready to share their wounds with the other. Bastián immediately finds a connection with Lore not just because they are both trans, but because they both have disabilities that make them navigate the world differently. For Bastián, it’s their ADHD, for Lore, it’s their dyslexia. McLemore always treats their characters with tenderness and care. One of my favorite things about their writing is how vulnerable they allow their character to be while also allowing them to explore parts of themselves that might hurt to do so. McLemore takes a lot of care walking readers through each of these disabilities and taking the time to explain how both characters struggle with them in a world that doesn’t often make room for them. Anna-Marie McLemore’s Lakelore is a tender novel that highlights both the beauty and fear of being known, of finding someone willing to wait while you peel back your layers, and gives its characters space to make mistakes and stumble.

★ ★ ★ ★

Title: My Mechanical Heart Author: Alexene Farol Follmuth Series: N/A Pages: 272 Publisher: Holiday House Release Date: May 31st 2022 TW: misogyny

"Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn't seem to like her either. Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they've made more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made each other and the team better. Because girls do belong in STEM. In her YA debut, Alexene Farol Follmuth, author of The Atlas Six (under the penname Olivie Blake), explores both the challenges girls of color face in STEM and the vulnerability of first love with unfailing wit and honesty. With an adorable, opposites-attract romance at its center and lines that beg to be read aloud, My Mechanical Romance is swoonworthy perfection."

My Mechanical Romance, Alexene Farol Follmuth’s YA debut contemporary, is a charming contemporary with flawed but lovable characters. Bel Maier doesn’t like thinking about the future. She’s isn’t ready to figure out where to go to college or what to do with the rest of her life. She’d rather live in the now, but when new opportunities arise at her new school, Bel discovers a love for robotics. Teo Luna is the golden boy at Essex Academy for Art, Science, and Technology. He is captain of the soccer and robotics teams with the road to MIT pretty much set in stone. When the unpredictable Bel joins the robotics team, it throws both of their lives into a whirlwind and has them both questioning their futures. My Mechanical Romance features two great lead characters whose flaws make them feel more real. They are both bright and tenacious which also makes you want to root for them. I loved how different Bel and Teo are from one another. Their differences cause a bit of tension in the beginning, but having somebody challenge them is actually a good thing. Both Bel and Teo have a lot to learn and they each bring something to the table that the other needs. Bel lacks direction and Teo pushes her to imagine more for herself. Teo has put an unbelievable amount of pressure on himself and his relationship with Bel gives him a chance to be himself without outside pressure telling him he has to be the best. The novel also explores how difficult it is for girls to navigate male-dominated spaces. Bel and the other female members of the robotics team are often looked down upon, not given enough credit, and have to work twice as hard to get any kind of recognition. I also really loved how much the novel focused on both characters’ familial relationships. These relationships are not always easy and contribute to the way both characters see themselves and their place in the world. Alexene Farol Follmuth’s My Mechanical Romance is a smart romance with off-the-charts chemistry and playful banter between its leads.

★ ★ ★ ★

Mini-Reviews (ARC edition): The Charmed List + The Daughter of Doctor Moreau

Alright, friends, this is my last post before officially announcing my hiatus. I stuck around longer than I planned just so I could post these reviews. I had two very different experiences with these books, but that’s perfectly okay, not every book is for every reader. I am actually really looking forward to returning to mood reading after picking these up. I love ARCs, but sometimes I’m just craving something else.

Title: The Charmed List Author: Julie Abe Series: N/A Pages: 304 Publisher: Wednesday Books Release Date: July 5th 2022

TW: parental death, cancer **Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.**

"After spending most of high school as the quiet girl, Ellie Kobata is ready to take some risks and have a life-changing summer, starting with her Anti-Wallflower List—thirteen items she’s going to check off one by one. She’s looking forward to riding rollercoasters, making her art Instagram public (maybe), and going on an epic road-trip with her best friend Lia. But when number four on Ellie’s list goes horribly wrong—revenge on Jack Yasuda—she’s certain her summer has gone from charmed to cursed. Instead of a road trip with Lia, Ellie finds herself stuck in a car with Jack driving to a magical convention. But as Ellie and Jack travel down the coast of California, number thirteen on her list—fall in love—may be happening without her realizing it. In The Charmed List, Julie Abe sweeps readers away to a secret magical world, complete with cupcakes and tea with added sparks of joy, and an enchanted cottage where you can dance under the stars."

Julie Abe builds an interesting magical world with The Charmed list that didn’t quite mesh with its main storyline, making the novel feel off-balance. Ellie Kobata has big plans for summer, including taking a road trip with her best friend, Lia, and checking off items from her “Anti-Wallflower List.” Ellie is determined to be more outgoing and less of a background character. When a prank on Jack, her mortal enemy and former best friend, goes wrong, all of Ellie’s plans go down the drain. As punishment, she is forced to go on the road trip for her family’s tea shop with Jack. Ellie is part of a small community of sorcerers who use their magic to put a little good into the world. On its surface this magical world had its charm, but I never felt like it really enhanced the plot. Take magic out of this story and unfortunately nothing would have been lost. Ellie is also a hard character to sympathize with. Ellie hates Jack and never misses an opportunity to say so. This began to get really repetitive and when given context, still didn’t feel justified. Ellie often comes across as very mean and while mild annoyance would make sense, her vitriol is grating. I was deeply disturbed by a particular scene in which Ellie decides to torment Jack with fake mice, knowing how scared he is of them. This felt particularly cruel when it’s further explained that the reason Jack is afraid of them is because of stories told to him by his great-grandmother about being imprisoned in an internment camp and being overrun by mice every night. So many characters in this one have these over-the-top reactions that only made sense in the shallowest of ways. For the most part, these reactions felt forced and a way to drive the plot forward without feeling like they actually made sense. Even when these characters did reach an understanding of each other, it felt compulsory rather than earned. Less to do with character development and more to do with steering these characters toward a desirable ending. Overall, Julie Abe’s The Charmed List didn’t have any real emotional payoff and felt very unsatisfying.

★ ★

Title: The Daughter of Doctor Moreau Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Series: N/A Pages: 320 Publisher: Del Rey Release Date: July 19th 2022

TW: racism, colorism, suicide, alcoholism, abuse **Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley, which does not influence my review.**

"From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic and Velvet Was the Night comes a dreamy reimagining of The Island of Doctor Moreau set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century Mexico. Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman. Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers. The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities. All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite. THE DAUGHTER OF DOCTOR MOREAU is both a dazzling historical novel and a daring science fiction journey."

Silvia Moreno-Garcia weaves science-fiction and historical fiction seamlessly with her newest novel, The Daughter of Doctor Moreau. Carlota Moreau has only known the world of Yaxaktun, a ranch deep in the forest of the Yucatán Peninsula. Her father has found a way to keep her childhood sickness at bay, but in order to do so, he has taken on an impossible feat. Dr. Moreau has dedicated himself to researching how the genetics of animals can help cure human illnesses. In exchange for funding, Moreau has learned how to create animal-human hybrids in order to provide workers for his patron, Hernando Lizalde. When an outsider arrives, the neatly cultivated world of Yaxaktun begins to crack. Carlota must confront the facade she’s been holding on to about her father, her home, and about herself. Carlota loves her home and can’t imagine living beyond its borders. She has been raised to show deference to her father, to always show respect and never to challenge him. At the beginning of the novel she is young and naive. She has very little understanding of how the outside world works and is unable to see that her father has essentially trapped her at Yaxaktun as he is the only one who is able to treat her illness. Slowly Carlota begins to recognize that her world is not as perfect as she once thought. Surrounded by men with power, Carlota must find the strength within herself and forge her own path forward or be someone else’s pawn for the rest of her life. Aside from Carlota, we are also provided with Montgomery’s POV. As Yaxaktun’s mayordomo, Montgomery is essentially in charge of running the ranch. Montgomery had been aimless for years, racking up debt and falling deeper into alcoholism before falling even deeper into debt to Lizalde, Yaxaktun’s patron. In order to work off his debt, he agrees to work for Dr. Moreau. Life has robbed Montgomery of hope and enthusiasm. He sees in Carlota the parts of himself that have been snuffed out. Self-pity and jealousy rage inside him, making him bitter. He is plagued by his own inaction and cowardice, but when Carlota and the hybrids are threatened, he begins to find something to fight for. Moreau rules over Yaxaktun with little empathy. He is more interested in perfecting his hybrids than recognizing their personhood. He has fashioned himself into a god, using religion to keep those under him in check. Unlike Dr. Moreau, both Carlota and Montgomery have spent more personal time with the hybrids. They have become friends and even family. They worry for their well-being, putting them in direct conflict with Moreau and those even more powerful than he. Though Yaxaktun feels like its own little world, a familiar place meant to be preserved, it is also a kind of prison to many of the characters and each must decide exactly how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to escape. Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s The Daughter of Doctor Moreau tells an evocative and dangerous tale, with a vivid historical backdrop and fully-fleshed out characters.

★ ★ ★ ★