ARC Review – Jack’s on Fire

Hello, everyone! Today I am reviewing Jack’s on Fire by Owen Lach, which was just published last week. As the cover suggests, it is a cute YA romance. So, if that’s your cup of tea, be sure to check it out!

What if you were a queer teenage musician outed by his vengeful ex-boyfriend and not a fairy tale princess trapped in a castle tower? What if your wicked stepmother was your ordinary, thoughtless, uncaring mother? What if your fairy godmother was your older brother? What if your Prince Charming was captain of the JV soccer team? Maybe you’d be forgiven for not realizing you were living in a sort of fairy tale.

Faced with the impossible choice of staying home to risk being sent away to Father Sullivan’s special school for exceptionally happy boys or moving in with his older brother in California, 16-yr-old Jack Martin leaves behind everything he knows in Minneapolis to go to San Francisco. He finds himself at a new school with new friends and the freedom to be himself. Then sparks fly when Jack meets Damon, his Geometry tutor (and captain of the JV soccer team.) But Jack wonders if Damon feels those sparks, too. And does their budding friendship have a chance to become something more?

Jack’s On Fire is a heartwarming, modern, queer fairy tale about friendship, chosen family, and young, queer love perfect for fans of Heartstopper. Sure, there aren’t any fairies or wands. But what else would you call it when everything starts magically going your way?

***Thank you to Jetspace Studio for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

This book is exactly what the cover and synopsis suggest: a delightful queer fairy tale focused on found family and the healing power of acceptance. Jack was such a great protagonist, and I appreciated the realistic portrayal of anxiety his character represented. He experienced so much growth, both in managing his anxiety and learning to trust and be open with others. I felt so much joy watching him realize that people could not only accept him but also love him for who he was.

His relationships with others, especially his brother and Damon, were the highlights of the story for me. He had a fun, easygoing relationship with his brother despite the circumstances of the two of them being thrown together, and I just loved the honesty and mutual support they shared. The friendship, and eventual romance, between Jack and Damon was sickeningly sweet and an absolute delight to read. The slow burn friends to lovers romance created a will-they-or-won’t-they tension that was fun, even though it was fairly obvious they’d end up together. This was a fairy tale after all.

On that note, this was largely a low angst story about the queer kid getting everything he had ever wanted after being moved from a hostile environment to a supportive one. There were moments of despair, but the general vibe of the book was very positive and devoted to giving Jack the perfect healing experience. That being said, sometimes I wished things wouldn’t have gone quite so easily for him. What can I say? I love drama. lol. However, I did enjoy the book for the positive vibes, and seeing Jack live the dream so many queer kids have of unconditional love and acceptance was a cathartic experience.

Now I’m going to be a bit picky. There was one character who seemed to exist only to create the conditions needed for the final climax. Their arc felt removed from the rest of the narrative, and I found the eventual outcome obvious despite also feeling a bit blindsided by it because it seemed like it should have been part of another story. Despite this pickiness about a relatively small detail, I loved this book and think it would be perfect for fans of Heartstopper because of its focus on queer joy and an absolutely adorable friends to lovers high school romance. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars!

ARC Mini Review – Never Ever Getting Back Together

Hello, everyone! This evening I’m sharing my last review of Bi Visibility Week, Never Ever Getting Back Together by Sophie Gonzales. Sophie is an auto-buy author for me, and I was super stoked to be offered this ARC.

When their now famous ex-boyfriend asks them to participate in a teen reality show, two eighteen year old girls—one bent on revenge, the other open to rekindling romance—get tangled up in an unexpected twist when they fall for each other instead in Never Ever Getting Back Together by nationally and internationally-bestselling and Indie Next Pick author Sophie Gonzales.

“Wickedly funny [and] searingly sexy.” —Kelly Quindlen, author of She Drives Me Crazy

It’s been two years since Maya’s ex-boyfriend cheated on her, and she still can’t escape him: his sister married the crown prince of a minor European country and he captured hearts as her charming younger brother. If the world only knew the real Jordy, the manipulative liar who broke Maya’s heart.

Skye Kaplan was always cautious with her heart until Jordy said all the right things and earned her trust. Now his face is all over the media and Skye is still wondering why he stopped calling.

When Maya and Skye are invited to star on the reality dating show Second-Chance Romance, they’re whisked away to a beautiful mansion—along with four more of Jordy’s exes— to compete for his affections while the whole world watches. Skye wonders if she and Jordy can recapture the spark she knows they had, but Maya has other plans: exposing Jordy and getting revenge. As they navigate the competition, Skye and Maya discover that their real happily ever after is nothing they could have scripted.

***Thank you to Wednesday Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I DEVOURED this book in one sitting. It took staying up until 3 AM to finish, but it was totally worth it. I laughed so much while reading, and the drama of it all kept me engaged despite the premise being pretty straightforward. The enemy was easy to hate almost from the start, and I was definitely on board with Team Fuck Up the Fuckboy the whole way through the story. He really was the epitome of fuckboyness in all the worst ways. The sapphic love story between the bi main characters had good chemistry and utilized common tropes well, including forced proximity and enemy to lovers. I always appreciate Gonzales’s ability to weave fantastic bi rep into the narrative, and this book was no exception. Maya was bent on getting revenge and had built her entire life around proving Jordy wrong for leaving her. Whereas, Skye had major abandonment issues. The combination of the two created some serious drama that felt realistic given both of their issues. The premise (two contestants on a reality dating show falling in love with each other instead of the person they are competing over) was a lot of fun, but it was a bit weird that all of them were teenagers. I kept aging them up in my head to just be reminded over and over by the text that they were all teens. It was just strange, and I think this would have worked better as an adult book rather than YA. That being said, this was a funny sapphic romance with a great premise. If you like reality TV or have ever wondered what it would be like for contestants of The Bachelor to end up together, this is the romcom for you. I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ALC Audiobook Review – The Sunbearer Trials

Today I’m so excited to be reviewing one of my most anticipated releases of the year, The Sunbearer Trials by Aiden Thomas.

Welcome to The Sunbearer Trials, where teen semidioses compete in a series of challenges with the highest of stakes, in this electric new Mexican-inspired fantasy from Aiden Thomas, the New York Times bestselling author of Cemetery Boys.

“Only the most powerful and honorable semidioses get chosen. I’m just a Jade. I’m not a real hero.”

As each new decade begins, the Sun’s power must be replenished so that Sol can keep traveling along the sky and keep the evil Obsidian gods at bay. Ten semidioses between the ages of thirteen and eighteen are selected by Sol himself as the most worthy to compete in The Sunbearer Trials. The winner carries light and life to all the temples of Reino del Sol, but the loser has the greatest honor of all―they will be sacrificed to Sol, their body used to fuel the Sun Stones that will protect the people of Reino del Sol for the next ten years.

Teo, a 17-year-old Jade semidiós and the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds, has never worried about the Trials…or rather, he’s only worried for others. His best friend Niya―daughter of Tierra, the god of earth―is one of the strongest heroes of their generation and is much too likely to be chosen this year. He also can’t help but worry (reluctantly, and under protest) for Aurelio, a powerful Gold semidiós and Teo’s friend-turned-rival who is a shoo-in for the Trials. Teo wouldn’t mind taking Aurelio down a notch or two, but a one-in-ten chance of death is a bit too close for Teo’s taste.

But then, for the first time in over a century, Sol chooses a semidiós who isn’t a Gold. In fact, he chooses two: Xio, the 13-year-old child of Mala Suerte, god of bad luck, and…Teo. Now they must compete in five mysterious trials, against opponents who are both more powerful and better trained, for fame, glory, and their own survival.

***Thank you to Macmillan Audio for providing a copy of the audiobook via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my listening experience.***

I’m a huge fan of this author, and this book was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. I was so excited to get the advanced listening copy at the last minute and started listening to it right away. I immediately fell in love with the narrator and the way he brought the characters to life. The story was a fun mix of contemporary elements and Mexican mythology with quite a bit of humor that kept me chuckling at all the antics. I enjoyed getting to know all of the different settings, powers, and creatures that the characters encountered throughout their journey.

The characters were an absolute treat to read with vibrant personalities and compelling arcs. I particularly loved Teo and Aurelio. They both had to deal with their inferiority complexes, and the vibes of their friend to rival to friend relationship were perfection. The trans rep in the book was great, as well, and it was incorporated seamlessly with the story while also providing moving insight into what it is like being a trans person.

The pace of the story plowed forward at breakneck speed as the characters progressed from one trial to the next. It managed to keep the action flowing without sacrificing character development, and each of the five trials amped up the stakes. Despite the ever-growing risks to the characters, I never really feared for any of them. Oddly enough, I found the tone of the book to be surprisingly upbeat despite all the hardships and constant threat of death. I’m not sure if it was the writing or the narrator that set the tone, but I never believed the characters were in any real danger. I didn’t mind it, though, because I loved the characters and thought the adventure was fun regardless.

I saw most aspects of the end coming a mile away, but there were a couple things that took me by surprise. Personally, I didn’t like the ending because the proposed solution to the problem of how the trials finished came too quickly and left me wondering why the sacrifices of the trials ever needed to happen in the first place. Overall, though, this audiobook was a fun and fascinating ride with great trans rep and compelling characters I couldn’t help but love, and I’ll definitely be back for the conclusion of the duology when it releases. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Review – The Spear Cuts Through Water

book review

Hello, everyone! Today I am reviewing The Spear Cuts Through Water by Simon Jimenez. This stunning fantasy adventure will be published on Tuesday, August 30. It was kind of a wild ride and unlike anything else I’ve read before, and I hope you will consider picking it up anywhere books are sold once it is released.

goodreads synopsis

Two warriors shepherd an ancient god across a broken land to end the tyrannical reign of a royal family in this new epic fantasy from the author of The Vanished Birds.

ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Tordotcom, BookPage, LitHub

The people suffer under the centuries-long rule of the Moon Throne. The royal family—the despotic emperor and his monstrous sons, the Three Terrors—hold the countryside in their choking grip. They bleed the land and oppress the citizens with the frightful powers they inherited from the god locked under their palace.

But that god cannot be contained forever.

With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom—and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Both a sweeping adventure story and an intimate exploration of identity, legacy, and belonging, The Spear Cuts Through Water is an ambitious and profound saga that will transport and transform you—and is like nothing you’ve ever read before.

my review

***Thank you to Del Rey for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

I’m honestly at a loss for words when thinking about how to describe this book and my experience reading it. So, I guess I’ll just start at the beginning. For the first quarter or so, I did not like this book AT ALL. I considered DNFing it multiple times because I had no idea what was happening. The story has a very unique structure that utilizes first, second, and third person narration without much to mark the different voices apart. It took me forever to realize the story (told in third person) was being watched by someone (the second person narrator) in a theater during a dream with occasional narrative input from people the characters met along the way (first person). Knowing this going in would have greatly reduced my confusion and improved my reading experience of the first part of the book. So, you’re welcome. 🙂 I was probably just too dense to figure it out, but in case you’re dense too, I saved you the effort. lol.

Once I discerned what was going on, I quickly fell in love with the story. The prose was stunning and had a lyrical quality that kept me glued to the pages. The world came alive and seemed to leap into being as if I was the one in the dream. The plot consistently surprised me, and I was incredibly impressed with the author’s ability to create a complex, moving story with so many different parts and voices. The pace also picked up considerably once everything got under way at approximately the 25% mark, and it became relentlessly more intense with a wide assortment of adventures filled with violence, magic, mind-reading, and a bit of humor. There was even a good deal of cannibalism, which seriously made my skin crawl. By the end, I was in awe of how it all came together, with even seemingly small details from earlier in the narrative being tied together in ways I never expected.

I became very attached to the characters, which was probably a bad idea given the intense levels of violence in this book. They were all vibrant and multi-faceted, and I especially loved how the author managed to make even the minor side characters seem well-rounded and deep despite some of them only having a few scenes. I enjoyed following the main duo on their adventure and began rooting for them pretty early on in the story. Their slow-burn romance was one of my favorite things about the book, and it led to some pretty hilarious scenes involving mind-reading. My other favorite character was the tortoise. I’m not going to say too much about him because of spoilers, but I absolutely adored him. He made me smile every time he spoke despite his unfortunate circumstances.

One of the main themes about the book was acceptance/belonging. Most of the characters were outcasts in their own way and were driven to some extent by their longing for connection and inclusion. So many of the stories were absolutely heart-breaking, especially the Third Terror. On a related note, most of this narrative revolved around a love story, and I don’t just mean the central slow-burn romance of Jun and Keema. Almost every character was motivated by love (not necessarily romantic), either the desire to obtain it or the anger from being spurned. It beautifully highlighted both the redeeming and destructive powers of love.

This book was an absolutely stunning work of art. I’ve never read anything quite like it before. It used common tropes in unique ways to tell a story that felt simultaneously familiar and fresh. It felt profound while reading it even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, and the more I think about it now, the more lessons and themes jump out at me. The story was beautiful, and it is one I will think about for a while to come. Therefore, I rate it 5 out of 5 stars.

5 stars