Mini-Reviews: Where The Rhythm Takes You + Now That I’ve Found You

How far behind am I posting reviews? Both of these are reviews of books I read way back in February! One of these was my first five-star read of the year and while I’ve had a few since then, this one renewed my need for more Jane Austen retellings by BIPOC (if you have any recs, I will gladly accept them in the comments).

Title: Where the Rhythm Takes You Author: Sarah Dass Series: N/A Pages: 352 Publisher: Balzer + Bray Release Date: May 11th 2021

TW: death of a parent, cancer diagnosis, grief

"Seventeen-year-old Reyna has spent most of her life at her family’s gorgeous seaside resort in Tobago, the Plumeria. But what once seemed like paradise is starting to feel more like purgatory. It’s been two years since Reyna’s mother passed away, two years since Aiden – her childhood best friend, first kiss, first love, first everything – left the island to pursue his music dreams. Reyna’s friends are all planning their futures and heading abroad. Even Daddy seems to want to move on, leaving her to try to keep the Plumeria running. And that's when Aiden comes roaring back into her life – as a VIP guest at the resort. Aiden is now one-third of DJ Bacchanal – the latest, hottest music group on the scene. While Reyna has stayed exactly where he left her, Aiden has returned to Tobago with his Grammy-nominated band and two gorgeous LA socialites. And he may (or may not be) dating one of them… Inspired by Jane Austen's Persuasion, Where the Rhythm Takes You is a romantic, mesmerizing novel of first love and second chances."

Sarah Dass debuts with an engaging YA romance about second-chances and learning to let yourself be happy. Where the Rhythm Takes You is a Persuasion-inspired novel that takes place in Tobago. On the cusp of adulthood, Reyna is grappling with her past and the uncertainty of her future. Her best friend is bound for London while Reyna stays behind, trying to keep her mother’s hotel afloat. Her father seems content to hand over the reins of the hotel to someone else, but Reyna can’t quite let go of the last thing she has of her mother’s. When Reyna’s first love returns unexpectedly, his presence throws her carefully curated world into disarray. She is forced to come to terms with her own life decisions and how she has let grief steer her away from her dreams. Easily in my top five Jane Austen retellings, Where the Rhythm Takes You is perfect for fans of second-chance romance. Reyna tries to keep old feelings at bay, but the more time she spends around Aiden, her old flame, the harder it becomes to deny those feelings. But she is also angry and hurt and it isn’t always easy to untangle all these emotions. Mutual pining and tension make this a compulsory read. I also really loved exploring Reyna’s relationship with her mother who passed away two years prior. A lot of the responsibility Reyna places on her own shoulders is tied to this relationship in particular. Reyna hasn’t allowed herself to dream beyond the hotel for so long and she isn’t sure she can when its fate feels so tightly wound to her mother’s memory, even if some of those memories are painful. Love, grief, and second chances each have their turn in this one and will keep romance fans engaged throughout.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)


Title: Now That I've Found You Author: Kristina Forest Series: N/A Pages: 336 Publisher: Roaring Brook Press Release Date: August 25th 2020

"Now That I've Found You is a YA novel about searching for answers, love, and your eccentric grandma in all the wrong places. Following in the footsteps of her überfamous grandma, eighteen-year-old Evie Jones is poised to be Hollywood’s next big star. That is until a close friend’s betrayal leads to her being blacklisted . . . Fortunately, Evie knows just the thing to save her floundering career: a public appearance with America’s most beloved actress—her grandma Gigi, aka the Evelyn Conaway. The only problem? Gigi is a recluse who’s been out of the limelight for almost twenty years. Days before Evie plans to present her grandma with an honorary award in front of Hollywood’s elite, Gigi does the unthinkable: she disappears. With time running out and her comeback on the line, Evie reluctantly enlists the help of the last person to see Gigi before she vanished: Milo Williams, a cute musician Evie isn’t sure she can trust. As Evie and Milo conduct a wild manhunt across New York City, romance and adventure abound while Evie makes some surprising discoveries about her grandma—and herself."

Kristina Forest delivers a winning sophomore novel with Now That I’ve Found You, a YA contemporary with a focus on a grandmother-granddaughter relationship. Evie Conoway has big dreams for herself. She wants to follow in the footsteps of her grandmother, Gigi, a legendary Hollywood starlet. After a video leaks of Evie mocking a famous director, her career is completely derailed. Unsure of her next step, Evie reaches out to one of her only constants, her grandmother, who she is hoping can help revitalize her career. But before Evie can find the courage to ask for her assistance, Gigi disappears. Now, with the help of Milo, a young musician who has befriended her grandmother, Evie embarks on a search to find her and save the tattered remains of her career. Now That I’ve Found You is a journey of self-discovery. Evie is forced to examine her own motivations and to reevaluate who she has become in recent years. The more she learns about her grandmother, the more she begins to realize that the loneliness she’s been feeling is reflected in her grandmother as well. This novel also deals with a friendship breakup and how a betrayal of a friend makes it harder to open up and trust again. Evie’s relationship with Milo is unexpected and sweet, even with its ups and downs. I really enjoyed getting to know Milo’s band and how it gave Evie a taste of what having a supportive friend group is like, something she has never had. Now That I’ve Found You really stands out amongst YA contemporaries as a novel that focuses largely on the main character’s relationship with her grandmother. Kristina Forest’s second novel is a must read for those looking for a coming of age YA that centers familial relationships.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Mini-Reviews: Race to the Sun + Black Sun

Hello, friends! I have another set of backlog reviews for you. I really need to sit down and edit all these reviews I have sitting in my drafts. The only good thing about this is I haven’t been writing a ton of new reviews lately, so it’s nice to know I won’t run out of reviews to post anytime soon. Today, I am bringing you reviews for two books both by Rebecca Roanhorse. I picked up her middle grade, Race to the Sun, when I couldn’t get a hold of the audiobook for Black Sun, but I finally managed to pick up the latter as well. Both of these were stellar reads and I just love when writers can write for multiple audiences so well.

Title: Race to the Sun Author: Rebecca Roanhorse Series: N/A Pages: 306 Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents Release Date: January 14th 2020

TW: racism, bullying, homophobia

"Lately, seventh grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like that man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he's Mr. Charles, her dad's new boss at the oil and gas company, and he's alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he's a threat, but her father won't believe her. When Dad disappears the next day, leaving behind a message that says "Run!", the siblings and Nizhoni's best friend, Davery, are thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, all disguised as quirky characters. Their aid will come at a price: the kids must pass a series of trials in which it seems like nature itself is out to kill them. If Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery can reach the House of the Sun, they will be outfitted with what they need to defeat the ancient monsters Mr. Charles has unleashed. But it will take more than weapons for Nizhoni to become the hero she was destined to be . . ."

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun is a daring thrill ride whose heart lies in a family-centered story. Nizhony Begay is your normal seventh grader with one exception. She isn’t the best at sports or school, but longs for some sort of recognition. She can also see monsters, but it’s not a secret she likes to share. When her father is taken by a wily monster, Nizhony, along with her brother Mac and best friend, Davery, must go on an epic quest to not only save him but also the world. Nizhony has a great youthful and humorous voice. She longs to be special, but is unsure if she has what it takes to be an actual hero and monster slayer. With help from various beings, Nizhony and company are faced with almost impossible odds. But Nizhony is far braver and selfless than she gives herself credit for. One storyline that particularly had me enthralled was Nizhony having to deal with her mother’s abandonment. It’s heartbreaking, but also full of hope. Nizhony must deal with her anger and sadness while also trying to understand that sometimes people are faced with impossible decisions, but this doesn’t negate their love for you. Race to the Sun, with its page-turning action and Navajo-inspired storyline, is sure to delight readers of all ages.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Black Sun Author: Rebecca Roanhorse Series: Between Earth and Sky, #1 Pages: 454 Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers Release Date: October 13th 2020

TW: forced prostitution, suicide, homophobia, racism

"The first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic. A god will return When the earth and sky converge Under the black sun In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world. Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain."

Rebecca Roanhorse builds a world like no other with her latest high fantasy series. Inspired by pre-Columbian times, Black Sun, her first book in the Between Earth and Sky series, follows the ascent and descent of several characters as they approach the day known as Convergence. In Tova, the Watchers, priests of different orders, are revered and paid homage. But there is plenty of distrust of their governance. The Carrion Crow clan in particular has clashed with the Watchers on numerous occasions. Carrion once held fast to the old religion but its followers were deemed blasphemous and hunted down and slaughtered on the Night of Knives. But there remains a small, devout group, still loyal to the Crow God, who hopes to see their God return and exact revenge. Serapio has known his fate since he was a boy, the first moment his mother gave him his first hatah, a tattoo symbolizing who his body belongs to. Now he must fulfill his destiny and return to Tova to confront the priests who slaughtered his people. Roanhorse’s fantasy novels are so enriching, always painting a vivid and lush story. The characters always feel like products of their worlds, each with their own desires and motivations. I love that we are introduced to several different characters and loved seeing how they interact and how each of their paths are destined to collide. Religion plays a vital role in this world, but it is often mixed with politics. Truth is often snuffed by those in power in an effort to hold on to said power. There is also really interesting mythological elements as one character is introduces as Teek, beings with strong ties to the sea. They are powerful, but are often discriminated against because of the mythos that surround them. With Black Sun Rebecca Roanhorse has risen as a powerhouse fantasy writer and if you are not reading her work, you are missing out on some of the most intricate and groundbreaking fantasy publishing has to offer.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

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: Running + Punching the Air

I have quite the backlog of reviews in my drafts right now. I am actually still formatting reviews for the month of October. And while I actually like having at least one or two reviews in my drafts (I always like having them for rainy days if I don’t have any other posts planned) having more than four makes me feel very behind. One day I will learn to go with the flow, but for now, I will stress about this little thing.

Title: Running Author: Natalia Sylvester Series: N/A Pages: 328 Publisher: Clarion Books Release Date: July 14th 2020

TW: sexual harassment

"When fifteen-year-old Cuban American Mariana Ruiz’s father runs for president, Mari starts to see him with new eyes. A novel about waking up and standing up, and what happens when you stop seeing your dad as your hero—while the whole country is watching. In this thoughtful, authentic, humorous, and gorgeously written novel about privacy, waking up, and speaking up, Senator Anthony Ruiz is running for president. Throughout his successful political career he has always had his daughter’s vote, but a presidential campaign brings a whole new level of scrutiny to sheltered fifteen-year-old Mariana and the rest of her Cuban American family, from a 60 Minutes–style tour of their house to tabloids doctoring photos and inventing scandals. As tensions rise within the Ruiz family, Mari begins to learn about the details of her father’s political positions, and she realizes that her father is not the man she thought he was. But how do you find your voice when everyone’s watching? When it means disagreeing with your father—publicly? What do you do when your dad stops being your hero? Will Mari get a chance to confront her father? If she does, will she have the courage to seize it?"

Natalia Sylvester delivers a pertinent novel for our time with her newest YA, Running. Cuban-American teen, Mariana Ruiz, has her world irrevocably altered when her father decides to run for president. Though her father has been involved in politics for as long as she can remember, now that she is older, Mariana is beginning to understand the toll his career has been taking on his family. More than this, Mariana’s own views of the world are beginning to take shape and many of them stand in direct opposition to her father’s. She must decide if she is willing to use her voice and newfound platform to speak up for what she believes. Mariana is a fairly young teen. At fifteen her view of the world is changing and with it, her view of her father. Mariana begins to realize the inconsistency in what her father says versus what he does. When she meets Jackie, an activist and classmate, she is further challenged to confront her ignorance. Speaking up is equal parts empowering as it is terrifying, especially for someone who has stage fright and has spent the majority of her father’s campaign wishing she could stay out of the spotlight. Running is perfect for teen readers who are just beginning to discover the power of their voices in shaping the political world.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: Punching the Air Author: Ibi Zoboi Series: N/A Pages: 400 Publisher: Balzer + Bray Release Date: September 1st 2020

TW: racism including slurs, assault, incarceration

"From award-winning, bestselling author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five comes a powerful YA novel in verse about a boy who is wrongfully incarcerated. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds, Walter Dean Myers, and Elizabeth Acevedo. The story that I thought was my life didn’t start on the day I was born Amal Shahid has always been an artist and a poet. But even in a diverse art school, he’s seen as disruptive and unmotivated by a biased system. Then one fateful night, an altercation in a gentrifying neighborhood escalates into tragedy. “Boys just being boys” turns out to be true only when those boys are white. The story that I think will be my life starts today Suddenly, at just sixteen years old, Amal’s bright future is upended: he is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison. Despair and rage almost sink him until he turns to the refuge of his words, his art. This never should have been his story. But can he change it? With spellbinding lyricism, award-winning author Ibi Zoboi and prison reform activist Yusef Salaam tell a moving and deeply profound story about how one boy is able to maintain his humanity and fight for the truth, in a system designed to strip him of both."

Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam’s Punching the Air tells the story of how hope survives even in the most dire of circumstances. When Amal Shahid is wrongfully convicted of the brutal beating of a white boy, his world is shattered. Sent to a juvenile detention center, Amal’s spirit is crushed again and again. His only refuge is a poetry class, a place where the words that have been simmering inside him can finally break free. As a Black teen, Amal has spent his whole life boxed in. Though labeled disruptive in school, Amal is a sponge, desperately craving knowledge. He is an artist who wants nothing more than to express himself and be seen. His incarceration is a cruelty that he can barely endure, the dehumanization just another reminder that the world does not see him. Despite this, Amal finds a tiny sliver of hope, claws his way to it, and grabs hold. Punching the Air is an emotional journey, gut-wrenching but beautifully written, haunting and hopeful all at once.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)