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!

Book Review – Star Wars: Padawan

Hello there! Today I’m reviewing Padawan by Kiersten White, the most recent addition to the canon Star Wars books published by Disney.

Obi-Wan Kenobi struggles with his place in the Force as a young Padawan in this coming-of-age adventure!

Obi-Wan Kenobi really wants to be a good Padawan. The best Padawan, even. But that’s feeling more and more impossible with his new master, Qui-Gon Jinn. All of Obi-Wan’s friends are off training to be real Jedi, getting mission experience, while he’s still on Coruscant, practicing his forms and sitting in silent contemplation. Ever since Qui-Gon’s former master, Dooku, left the Order, it feels like Qui-Gon has been too busy trying to connect with the Force or arguing with the Jedi Council to properly train his Padawan.

When Obi-Wan finally convinces Qui-Gon to take him on a mission to a remote planet once explored by an ancient Jedi, his master doesn’t show up the morning they are to leave—so Obi-Wan impulsively takes off by himself. Upon arriving on the mysterious, lush planet, he encounters a group of teenagers with no adult supervision—and who all seem to have some connection to the Force. Free from the constraints of the Order, Obi-Wan joins them in their daring adventures, but the Padawan side of him keeps questioning the teens’ strange relationship to the Force, and to the verdant planet around them, and what all of it might mean to his future. Obi-Wan will test the limits of his relationship to the Jedi and to the Force in this exciting, yet soulful exploration of one of Star Wars’ most enduring heroes.

This book had some huge shoes to fill because I loved the Jedi Apprentice series as a child. So, the replacement of those stories with something new was always going to be a hard sell for me given the nostalgia factor of that series. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this book and enjoyed it quite a bit more than I anticipated.

Overall, it was a fun coming-of-age story for Obi-Wan. I was surprised at first by how anxious and afraid of failure this portrayal made him, but it worked really well for his age at the time and the scenario he experienced over the course of the story. He struggled to find his place within the Jedi order and overcompensated for his fear of failure by sticking rigidly to rules and trying to control everything. This unexpected adventure helped him learn to be present in the moment and trust in the force. There were interesting parallels between him and Anakin, and I could definitely see how some of Kenobi’s personality in the future could be rooted in the lessons he learned from his experiences in this story.

I really loved the setting for the story, as well. The ecosystem of the planet was fascinating and worked really well as a metaphor for the balance necessary for nature to thrive and the threat that uncontrolled human consumption has on that balance. Other relevant and timely themes were also explored in the story, including the potentially harmful effects of reliance upon tradition despite evidence to the contrary and the destructive nature of fear, greed, and lust for power. I also really liked the queer rep in the book and thought it was incorporated in a way that was perfect for these characters and their unique situation.

There was only one thing I wish this book had more of: Qui-Gon. He’s in a few scenes, and there was a ton of Obi-Wan contemplating the rocky start to his relationship with his master. However, Qui-Gon was missing from most of the book. I’m not gonna lie. I was a bit disappointed that the two of them didn’t go on this adventure together, but I’m not sure it would have worked out the same way or had the necessary impact on Obi-Wan if they had been together. So, I get why he was absent, but now I really want another story of the two of them together.

In conclusion, this was a fun coming-of-age romp where Obi-Wan had to find the balance within himself to overcome his fear of failing at the Jedi path. It had an interesting setting and compelling themes, but it didn’t quite give me everything I wanted from an Obi-Wan padawan story. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Mini Review – My Mechanical Romance

Hello, everyone! Today I’m reviewing My Mechanical Romance by Alexene Farol Follmuth, which is a YA Romance that will be released on Tuesday. I didn’t plan to review this one until its release day, but I flew through it much quicker than expected. So, I figured…why not?

Opposites attract in this battle-robot-building YA romance from the NYT best-selling author of The Atlas Six.

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.

***Thank you to NetGalley and Holiday House Publishing for a copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

This was a cute, quick YA read. I finished it in less than a day (mostly in one sitting) because I didn’t really want to put it down. The writing was very contemporary with lots of fun pop culture references, which I enjoyed. I was honestly a bit surprised by how complex the characters and themes were in this book. Through the POVs of the two main characters, it tackled the effects of divorce on children, the hardships faced by girls and people of color in STEM, how others’ expectations can shape who we think we should be, and the negative effects that high-stress academic environments can have on children, among other issues. Both of the main characters kept me engaged with the story, and I liked that the story came from a combination of their two very opposite POVs. However, my favorite character was Dash, the funny, friendly best friend who needs to be protected at all costs. These types of secondary characters are often my favorites, and while reading, I found myself really wanting a book with that type of character as the star. So, if anyone has any recommendations, let me know! Although I enjoyed the depth and personal growth of Bel and Teo and think the messages in this book are important and well-delivered, I couldn’t help but feel like their romance was a little lackluster. It didn’t begin until pretty late in the book, and I didn’t find there to be a ton of nail-biting build up to it either. The relationship felt like it took a back seat as the catalyst to the characters’ personal journeys, which was fine but just wasn’t what I expected from a book with romance in the title. Overall, this was an enjoyable YA novel with powerful themes and an important message about the importance of working hard to make your life what you want it to be regardless of others’ expectations. I enjoyed it quite a bit despite my reservations about the romance element. Therefore, I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

ARC Review – If You Change Your Mind

Hello, everyone! Today I am reviewing If You Change Your Mind by Robby Weber. This was another ARC that I’ve been looking forward to a lot but just didn’t get to read before the publication date. On the bright side, that means it is out now, and you should go buy it if you are looking for a gay summer romcom!

In this hilarious and heartfelt debut novel, an aspiring screenwriter learns sometimes love has its own script.

Harry wants nothing more than to write Hollywood screenplays. He knows the first step toward achieving that goal is winning a screenwriting competition that will seal his admission into the college of his dreams, so he’s determined to spend his summer free of distractions—also known as boys—and finish his script. After last year, Harry is certain love only exists in the movies anyway.
 
But then the cause of his first heartbreak, Grant, returns with a secret that could change everything—not to mention, there’s a new boy in town, Logan, who is so charming and sweet, he’s making Harry question everything he knows about romance. As he tries to keep his emotions in check and stick to his perfect plan for the future, Harry’s about to learn that life doesn’t always follow a script.

***Thank you to NetGalley and Inkyard Press for the copy of the book. My review contains my honest thoughts about my reading experience.***

This was a wonderful ode to the romcom with delightful summer vibes. In general, the book felt like a relaxing day at the beach. It had its emotional and tense moments, which definitely had me in my feelings, but it was all so easy to read and felt familiar and comfortable. I also just really like books with writing and bookish themes. This book had both with the main character being a writer (of screenplays) and a bookstore employee. I liked the inclusion of Harry’s screenplay and thought it provided an interesting window into his psyche. However, I think it would have worked better if it had been included in fewer, longer interludes and wasn’t after every chapter. It just made the story feel too choppy and got annoying at certain points where I just wanted to read the next part of the main narrative.

Harry was such a great protagonist. He was a bit of a mess, but let’s be honest. Weren’t we all as teenagers? Or if we’re being REALLY honest… aren’t we all still a bit of a mess? Maybe I’m just speaking for myself, but I definitely found it to be relatable. lol. I think the author did a great job of using the character of Harry to tap into that quintessential teenage (and human) struggle of trying to figure out your path in life. Harry starts out his journey like a bulldozer intent on sticking to his master plan no matter what gets in his way, but he learns an important life lesson: there’s more than one path to reaching one’s dreams, and the path you choose to take can make all the difference. He also learned the significance of being present in one’s life and enjoying the things and people right in front of you.

The love interests and other characters were all great too. Grant had tons of charisma, and Logan was just absolutely adorable. I also really loved Foster and wish the author had played up the character and the relationship between him and Harry a bit more. I liked that Harry had three very different guys who were into him because it kept things from feeling like the run of the mill love triangle. However, Foster got so much less time compared to the other two that it did feel a little like he was the fourth wheel in an otherwise super passionate threesome (Important Note: This story doesn’t have polyamory or threesomes, but I wouldn’t have been mad if it did. lol.). Harry’s relationship with his best friend was also a highlight for me. I loved how close they were, but their relationship also added lots of drama to the story while putting Harry in a tight spot that I definitely didn’t envy. I didn’t agree with his choice, but I can understand why he made it. I just kept waiting for it all to blow up in his face. I do think his friend got over the situation a bit too fast, but it also illustrated how conflict can be resolved through honest, open communication. So, I can live with it.

Overall, this was a fantastic romcom and the perfect summer read. The characters were relatable, and I just really enjoyed seeing Harry grow over the course of the story. Therefore, I rate this book 4 out of 5 stars.