If You Change Your Mind book review

Mind
If You Change Your Mind by Robby Weber
400 pages
published May 3rd, 2022

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.

ROM! COM! Set before the summer of senior year! Surfboards! Cotton candy! Carnivals!

It’s functionally a ‘cozy’ romance! It’s like Grease but with less singing! (And also only the song “Summer Lovin”. Okay I have never actually seen Grease so maybe don’t listen to that.)

Sometimes also we are reading Harry’s superhero screenplay and it’s supposed to be thematic but I skipped those parts (and was fine with reading the rest of the book) so if you don’t like them, just skip them.)

It’s fun! It’s funny! It’s a great beach read! It’s a fun little romance! Pick it up! (Four stars.) Bookshop link here.

Portrait of a Thief book review

Thief
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
384 pages
published April 5th, 2022

Ocean’s Eleven meets The Farewell in Portrait of a Thief, a lush, lyrical heist novel inspired by the true story of Chinese art vanishing from Western museums; about diaspora, the colonization of art, and the complexity of the Chinese American identity. 

History is told by the conquerors. Across the Western world, museums display the spoils of war, of conquest, of colonialism: priceless pieces of art looted from other countries, kept even now. 

Will Chen plans to steal them back. 

A senior at Harvard, Will fits comfortably in his carefully curated roles: a perfect student, an art history major and sometimes artist, the eldest son who has always been his parents’ American Dream. But when a mysterious Chinese benefactor reaches out with an impossible–and illegal–job offer, Will finds himself something else as well: the leader of a heist to steal back five priceless Chinese sculptures, looted from Beijing centuries ago. 

His crew is every heist archetype one can imag­ine–or at least, the closest he can get. A con artist: Irene Chen, a public policy major at Duke who can talk her way out of anything. A thief: Daniel Liang, a premed student with steady hands just as capable of lockpicking as suturing. A getaway driver: Lily Wu, an engineering major who races cars in her free time. A hacker: Alex Huang, an MIT dropout turned Silicon Valley software engineer. Each member of his crew has their own complicated relationship with China and the identity they’ve cultivated as Chinese Americans, but when Will asks, none of them can turn him down. 

Because if they succeed? They earn fifty million dollars–and a chance to make history. But if they fail, it will mean not just the loss of everything they’ve dreamed for themselves but yet another thwarted at­tempt to take back what colonialism has stolen. 

Equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, and thrilling, Portrait of a Thief is a cultural heist and an examination of Chinese American identity, as well as a necessary cri­tique of the lingering effects of colonialism.

Literally everybody else has said amazing things about this book and they were all correct. You should read it. I actually got this eARC to write a paper about it for a class and it delivers in every way possible. I want to own ten hardcovers of this book. Also it reminds me a lot of the Raven Cycle series of books with that really intense friendship. I mean this in a very good way. I would die for Irene Chen. Five stars and also in my top 10 books of the year. Bookshop link here.

Siren Queen book review

Siren
Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
288 pages
publishes May 10th, 2022

From award-winning author Nghi Vo comes a dazzling new novel where immortality is just a casting call away

It was magic. In every world, it was a kind of magic. 

“No maids, no funny talking, no fainting flowers.” Luli Wei is beautiful, talented, and desperate to be a star. Coming of age in pre-Code Hollywood, she knows how dangerous the movie business is and how limited the roles are for a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill–but she doesn’t care. She’d rather play a monster than a maid. 

But in Luli’s world, the worst monsters in Hollywood are not the ones on screen. The studios want to own everything from her face to her name to the women she loves, and they run on a system of bargains made in blood and ancient magic, powered by the endless sacrifice of unlucky starlets like her. For those who do survive to earn their fame, success comes with a steep price. Luli is willing to do whatever it takes–even if that means becoming the monster herself. 

Siren Queen offers up an enthralling exploration of an outsider achieving stardom on her own terms, in a fantastical Hollywood where the monsters are real and the magic of the silver screen illuminates every page.

Obligatory I don’t usually read historical novels etc etc but also this book stalked me on the internet for months until I requested it from NetGalley. Also I was not persuaded to read more historical novels by this book! Great writing! Great magical realism! Great book! Incredible intense look into names and ownership of names and what names are, etc. I don’t know maybe I’ll read this one again. I think if you’re into historical fiction, this would be a great book for you. Just not necessarily for me!

This really feels like one of those “this was a great book but I personally did not like it” reviews, which it is! And that’s why the star system should be abolished. Three stars! At great personal cost.

Bookshop link here.

This Rebel Heart book review

Rebel
This Rebel Heart by Katherine Locke
448 pages
published April 5th, 2022

The Fountains of Silence meets Spinning Silver in this rollicking tale set amid the 1956 Hungarian revolution in post-WWII Communist Budapest from Sydney Taylor Honor winner Katherine Locke. 

In the middle of Budapest, there is a river. Csilla knows the river is magic. During WWII, the river kept her family safe when they needed it most–safe from the Holocaust. But that was before the Communists seized power. Before her parents were murdered by the Soviet police. Before Csilla knew things about her father’s legacy that she wishes she could forget. 

Now Csilla keeps her head down, planning her escape from this country that has never loved her the way she loves it. But her carefully laid plans fall to pieces when her parents are unexpectedly, publicly exonerated. As the protests in other countries spur talk of a larger revolution in Hungary, Csilla must decide if she believes in the promise and magic of her deeply flawed country enough to risk her life to help save it, or if she should let it burn to the ground. 

With queer representation, fabulist elements, and a pivotal but little-known historical moment, This Rebel Heart is Katherine Locke’s tour de force.

Once Again, I Do Not Read Historical Fantasy Usually but also I literally picked this one up for the cover because it’s a REALLY NICE cover. Look at it! This is set after World War 2 and it is about a Holocaust survivor, Csilla, and magic, and Jewish folklore, and the Hungarian uprising, and magical realism that is also fantasy. And I think it’s really good, actually? Very sad in parts and very intense and very slow at the beginning. Also, polyamory!

Five stars.

Bookshop link here.

The Romantic Agenda book review

Romantic
The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann
336 pages
published April 12th, 2022

Joy is in love with Malcolm.
But Malcolm really likes Summer.
Summer is in love with love.
And Fox is Summer’s ex-boyfriend. 

Thirty, flirty, and asexual Joy is secretly in love with her best friend Malcolm, but she’s never been brave enough to say so. When he unexpectedly announces that he’s met the love of his life–and no, it’s not Joy–she’s heartbroken. Malcolm invites her on a weekend getaway, and Joy decides it’s her last chance to show him exactly what he’s overlooking. But maybe Joy is the one missing something…or someone…and his name is Fox. 

Fox sees a kindred spirit in Joy–and decides to help her. He proposes they pretend to fall for each other on the weekend trip to make Malcolm jealous. But spending time with Fox shows Joy what it’s like to not be the third wheel, and there’s no mistaking the way he makes her feel. Could Fox be the romantic partner she’s always deserved?

CLAIRE KANN BACK AT IT AGAIN WITH AN INCREDIBLE ASEXUAL ROMANTIC COMEDY. It’s Claire Kann! What did you expect? A flop? YOU THOUGHT WRONG. Claire Kann will never disappoint me. Are you asexual? Do you love romance books? You should buy this one. Keep it on your shelf. In hardcover and paperback. Will 100% cheer you up after a rough day. Five stars.

Edited to add: This is probably like, the most useless review I have ever written in my life. Everything’s been rough lately! I really liked this book. I recommend it. You should read it. I love Claire Kann and everything and anything she chooses to do. Bookshop link here.

Dig Two Graves review

Graves
Dig Two Graves by Gretchen McNeil
352 pages
published April 26th, 2022

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy!

One of Us is Lying meets Hitchcock in this novel from celebrated author of the #MurderTrending series, Gretchen McNeil. 

I did my part, BFF. Now it’s your turn. 

Seventeen-year-old film noir fan Neve Lanier is a girl who just wants to be seen, but doesn’t really fit in anywhere. When Neve is betrayed by her best friend, Yasmin, at the end of the school year, she heads off to a girl’s empowerment camp feeling like no one will ever love her again. So when she grabs the attention of the beautiful, charismatic Diane, she falls right under her spell, and may accidentally promise to murder Diane’s predatory step-brother, Javier, in exchange for Diane murdering Yasmin. But that was just a joke…right? 

Wrong. When Yasmin turns up dead, Diane comes calling, attempting to blackmail Neve into murdering Javier. Stalling for time, Neve pretends to go along with Diane’s plan until she can find a way out that doesn’t involve homicide. But as she gets to know Javier – and falls for him – she realizes that everything Diane told her is a lie. Even worse, she discovers that Yasmin probably wasn’t Diane’s first victim. And unless Neve can stop her, she won’t be the last. 

In this twisted game of cat and mouse, the reader never quite knows who’s telling the truth, who’s playing games, and who is going to end up dead.

This book was WILD and NOTHING MADE SENSE, even on a reread. However, it was a great ride! And it’s sapphic! What’s not to love? Well, there’s the writing, the dialogue, and the major plot holes. But other than that! I would have loved reading this at my middle school library. Three stars. 

The Mapmakers book review

Mapmakers
The Mapmakers by Tamzin Merchant and illustrated by Paola Escobar
384 pages
published May 3rd, 2022

Cordelia Hatmaker has saved England from war. She stopped Lord Whitloof’s sinister plans, rescued the King and Princess, and restored the Makers Guild. But she still hasn’t found her missing father. Ever since Cordelia discovered the hidden map in her father’s telescope, she’s been searching the streets of London by starlight, trying to uncover its secrets.

She never expects to stumble upon a secret society of Mapmakers–or to learn that magic isn’t limited to the few Maker families, but instead is all around, if you know where to look. But danger is lurking around every corner, and Cordelia must convince the rival Maker families to work together for once–not only to bring her father home, but to save the very essence of magic itself. . . .

With exceptional and inventive storytelling and a lionhearted heroine, Tamzin Merchant once again draws readers into her captivating London and takes them on a breathless new adventure full of wildness, wit, warmth–and magic.

Once again this is the second book in a series and I did not read the first! The first is called The Hatmakers, and I had enough “backstory” in this one to get up to speed. This is a fantastic little fantasy novel that really reminded me a lot of my own favorite book series, the Fly by Night books by Frances Hardinge. (Weird to call them a series but there are only two. Possibly more eventually??) I love Cordelia, the main character of this book, and it’s an excellent middle grade. Five stars. Would recommend to any middle-grader. Bookshop link.

Drew LeClair Gets a Clue book review

Drew
Drew LeClair Gets A Clue by Katryn Bury
288 pages
published March 1st, 2022

In this modern take on Harriet the Spy, twelve-year-old Drew uses her true crime expertise to catch the cyberbully in her school–only to discover that family, friendship, and identity are the hardest mysteries to solve.

Drew Leclair knows what it takes to be a great detective. She’s pored over the cases solved by her hero, criminal profiler Lita Miyamoto. She tracked down the graffiti artist at school, and even solved the mystery of her neighbor’s missing rabbit. But when her mother runs off to Hawaii with the school guidance counselor, Drew is shocked. How did she miss all of the clues?

Drew is determined to keep her family life a secret, even from her best friend. But when a cyberbully starts posting embarrassing rumors about other students at school, it’s only a matter of time before Drew’s secret is out.

Armed with her notebooks full of observations about her classmates, Drew knows what she has to do: profile all of the bullies in her grade to find the culprit. But being a detective is more complicated when the suspects can be your friends. Will Drew crack the case if it means losing the people she cares about most?

Drew is such a fantastic main character, and she’s what really sells this book. There have been a lot of parallels drawn to Harriet the Spy, and they’re definitely warranted – this book kind of updates that story and takes a new twist on it. Fantastic middle grade mystery novel for kids who are so inclined to mysteries. Five stars.

When You Call My Name book review

My name
When You Call My Name by Tucker Shaw
368 pages
published May 3rd, 2022

Film fanatic Adam is seventeen and being asked out on his first date–and the guy is cute. Heart racing, Adam accepts, quickly falling in love with Callum like the movies always promised.

Fashion-obsessed Ben is eighteen and has just left his home upstate after his mother discovers his hidden stash of gay magazines. When he comes to New York City, Ben’s sexuality begins to feel less like a secret and more like a badge of honor. 

Then Callum disappears, leaving Adam heartbroken, and Ben finds out his new world is more closed-minded than he thought. When Adam finally tracks Callum down, he learns the guy he loves is very ill. And in a chance meeting near the hospital where Callum is being treated, Ben and Adam meet, forever changing each other’s lives. As both begin to open their eyes to the possibilities of queer love and life, they realize sometimes the only people who can help you are the people who can really see you–in all your messy glory. 

A love letter to New York and the liberating power of queer friendship, When You Call My Name is a hopeful novel about the pivotal moments of our youth that break our hearts and the people who help us put them back together. 

This book is set during the height of the AIDS epidemic and it’s about two gay teenagers (17 and 18, I think), coming of age. It’s technically a romance between these two gay teenagers, but their coming of age is more at the forefront, I think? You kind of know that they’re eventually going to get together, and I didn’t really feel one way or another about it. The pop culture references in this book are also kind of rough, especially because for a lot of them, I Simply Didn’t Get Them, I Am Too Young.

And it’s really sad, and really slow in some places, and I think maybe I’d like to read it slowly, over the course of a summer instead of fairly rapidly for a review. (Honestly I was approved for this in December so that one’s on me.) Four and a half stars, rounded down for NetGalley.

The Queen of Junk Island book review

The queen
The Queen of Junk Island by Alexandra Mae Jones
400 pages exactly
published May 3rd, 2022

From debut author Alexandra Mae Jones comes a compelling, nuanced exploration of bi identity and body image with a ghostly backdrop–perfect for fans of Nina Lacour.

Still reeling from a recent trauma, sixteen-year-old Dell is relieved when her mom suggests a stay at the family cabin. But the much-needed escape quickly turns into a disaster. The lake and woods are awash in trash left by a previous tenant. And worse, Dell’s mom has invited her boyfriend’s daughter to stay with them. Confident, irreverent Ivy presses all of Dell’s buttons–somehow making Dell’s shame and self-consciousness feel even more acute. Yet Dell is drawn to Ivy in a way she doesn’t fully understand. As Dell uncovers secrets in the wreckage of her family’s past–secrets hinted at through troubling dreams and strange apparitions–Ivy leads her toward thrilling, if confusing, revelations about her sexuality and identity.

Set during a humid summer in the mid-2000s, The Queen of Junk Island simmers with the intensity of a teenage girl navigating the suffocating expectations of everyone around her.

This is the book you need for your mom trauma, your identity issues, your coming of age around generational trauma. It’s that Rory Power novel from last year (burn our bodies down) with less horror elements. It’s like reading your own journal written by someone else. It’s incredible, It’s affective (and also effective). It takes place before 2015 probably which is NOT clear anywhere in the marketing but Whatever (some things feel dated or weird). If you like the cover, the description, or my review, you should pick it up.

Bookshop link.