Hello fellow bookworms 💖 Today I’m introducing a new feature to my blog! Back in the day, I used to try and review every book on my blog, but I’ve since switched to only reviewing Arc/Blog Tour books and 5-star reads on my blog, with the rest of the reviews on Goodreads. However, I have wanted to highlight some of the books I loved (that weren’t full five stars) because there are a lot of books I enjoy and want to talk about 💗 I also want to feature a few more Reviews on my blog as they are the reason I initially started blogging! Usually, this might be 2-3 books that I recently liked, with a Spotlight post happening whenever I have enough books I’d like to talk about 🥰 I shortened some of the reviews that were very long but you’ll be directed to my full Goodreads review by clicking on the cover! 😊
- The Gravity of Us (Phil Stamper) 💖
- A Blade so Black (L.L. McKinney) 💖
- Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire) 💖
Representation 🌷 Queer MC, Queer Black LI who has depression, a side character who has anxiety
➽ The main character Cal has his flaws, but his character arc is really well written Cal loves reporting on the news and would like to be a journalist in the future, so he’s streaming on an App to get himself out there. Some of the things he achieved were a bit unrealistic – like exposing politicians – but I liked that his reporting was so important to him. Cal knows what he wants and is prepared to do everything to achieve it. I admired his dedication to his journalism, platform, and how he later used it for good. Cal can be a bit pushy because he is so sure about what he wants to do. He’s also putting a huge burden on himself to always fix any situation and take responsibility for it. A large part of his growth comes from accepting that he cannot fix everything, especially not people, and needs to accept that some things are just the way they are. He also needs to trust others to address their own problems instead of trying to make things better all the time. Cal makes his fair share of mistake in the story but he still tries his best and has his heart in the right place.
➽ I loved the mix of romance and the space mission The story is of course focused on the developing romance between Cal and Leon, but it also talks about the big changes Cal faces. Suddenly his father is picked to be on the famous Mars Mission which is supposed to explore Mars and deem how habitable it is. Cal is no stranger to the spotlight, but now his entire family is under constant scrutiny by the press, as the Astronaut families have become their own brand of celebrities. This brings in the reality show Shooting Stars, which partner with NASA to gain money and publicity for the Mission and interviews the Astronauts. I don’t know much about space missions at all, so I enjoyed learning about Cal’s dad’s passion for space, the old missions, and the new one.
➽ Kat and Deb are the secret stars of the book Kat is Leon’s sister and honestly the coolest! She’s super friendly and supportive, instantly making Cal feel at home and rooting for his relationship with her brother. As another AstroKid she is also in the spotlight a lot, but handles it really well and has a massive interest in coding. I loved Kat’s positive energy and attempts to help her brother and Cal when they were in trouble. I also liked Deb, who is Cal’s best friend who lives back in New York. We don’t see that much of her, but I really liked how Cal and she used to be inseparable and helped each other when their parent’s fought as they used to live in the same apartment building.
➽ The family dynamics are messy but also very well-written. Cal’s parents often fight and have a difficult relationship, especially once Cal’s father’s dream of becoming an Astronaut comes into play. In the beginning, I really disliked him because his decision to apply for the new Mars Mission was done without consulting his family. I understood why Cal’s mum and Cal himself were so upset, as none of them had the same passion for NASA and didn’t want to move to Texas where all the Astronaut families have to go. However, throughout the book, we see that this change of scenery actually helps Cal’s parents communicate with each other again and address some of the problems they have had in the past. I thought that their relationship was very well written and I really appreciated that the story also dealt with Cal’s mom’s anxiety.
➽ I did find that the romance was insta-love and very rushed though. As much as I liked Cal and his love interest, Leon. They barely knew each other but instantly fell for each other and I personally prefer a bit of a slow burn when it comes to my romances. I did like Leon a lot though – he’s another Astro Kid and struggles with his future. Unlike Cal, he doesn’t have a plan and his career in gymnastics turned out to not be his passion after all. I related a lot to his struggles to find a passion and have a huge masterplan for the rest of his life, as not everyone has such a strong idea of what they want to do as a career like Cal.
A Blade so Black (L.L. McKinney)
CW’s: Death/Murder, Gore, Violence
Representation 🌷 Black MC, side f/f romance
➽ First of all, I liked how A Blade so Black retold Alice in Wonderland. It’s a great, imaginative retelling that I greatly enjoyed. In this retelling Wonderland is kind of like a parallel world to ours that can be accessed via several Gateways. Wonderland is just as fantastic, whimsical but also dangerous as you would expect and several chosen humans get trained as Dreamwalkers to protect Wonderland, as its primary threats are the Nightmares. They are negative human emotions made flesh and can only be effectively killed by humans themselves. I loved that concept so much and also enjoyed the magic of Wonderland. Throughout the story, we learn even more about the history of Wonderland as well as the dark memories. I definitely enjoyed the Black Knight as the primary villain of the first book, as I tend to enjoy antagonist who plays at being charming and has got great charisma, despite also doing horrible things.
➽ I loved reading about Alice’s emotional journey and how she balanced being a hero with everyday life. A huge part of her life is being a hero in Wonderland and slaying Nightmares, but Alice is still a high school student with a social life and a mother that worries about her greatly, especially after her father’s death. I really appreciated that the book showed Alice’s struggles to balance both worlds – her Wonderland duties and also her Normal life. I liked that her mom was such a big part of the story and so present: I understood her frustration and also fear when Alice didn’t return home. I liked Alice a lot, as she was so human and realistic, a teenager trying her best to do something she believed in and be brave, even when it felt like she was constantly making mistakes.
➽ There was also a great cast of secondary characters! A lot of the supporting characters are really interesting and I especially enjoyed that there were some great supportive female friendships.
- ➥ Maddi is a Poet – someone who can cast spells and make potions – but that also means that she speaks Nonsense. She’s from Wonderland but stays in the human world to help Alice when he’s getting injured during her missions. Alice might not always understand what she’s saying but they always find a way to communicate with each other.
- ➥ Courtney + Chester are Alice’ human best friends. Courtney is the only one in her normal life who actually knows of Wonderland, but is still disappointed when Alice skips out on important events. She’s trying to be understanding but sometimes frustrations run high, even though Alice tries to be there for her friends as best as she can. Chester doesn’t know about Wonderland and is new to the Trio, but he’s such a kind, supportive friend to Alice.
- ➥ Xelon & Odabeth join later in the adventure. Xelon is a knight of the White Queen and very dedicated to her duty as a protector to the crown. She’s a very talented fighter and her primary goal is to keep Odabeth safe, who is the Princess and Heir of the Crown.
➽ The only thing I really didn’t enjoy was the romance. First of all, the author made an attempt at a love triangle when the story really didn’t need one. I also have to admit that Hatta and Alice’s relationship didn’t have much development or chemistry. Out of all the secondary characters, Hatta actually was the least developed, and to be honest, I didn’t care about him at all. He felt like another YA love interest to me.
Every Heart a Doorway (Seanan McGuire)
CW’s: Death/Murder, Gore, Ableist Language, Misgendering/Transphobia (challenged)
Representation 🌷 Romantic Asexual MC, Trans SC
➽ The characters are what really made me fall in love with the story! I loved almost all of the characters and I’m very happy that we’ll get to see some of them in the other books in the series. Despite not having much time with them I got a good idea about their personalities and personal journeys and loved all their interactions. Nancy gets welcomed by a lot of the students, including the eccentric Sumi and Kade. Later she also befriends Jack and Christopher. All of them are accepting her being different – unlike her parents who want to ‘fix’ her – and that alone makes their friendship so great: there’s a big understanding between all of them. All of them have been different and were ripped from the worlds they called their homes, so that’s something that connects them.
- ➥ Nancy. She’s the new girl at Eleanor West’s boarding school and just returned from an underworld where she was always required to stand still. This makes her feel very overwhelmed in the real world, as everything is so loud, fast, and requires her to keep up with their hectic life. I loved how her struggles with adjusting to a loud world were portrayed, as you can see how Nancy feels much more at peace when she’s still.
- ➥ Kade. He’s a trans boy who got kicked out of his world when they discovered his gender identity, so he can never go back. He’s a really great, supportive character who manages the wardrobe of the entire boarding school and outfits everyone with the clothes that fit that world they used to be in. Kade is one of the more popular students and as he might one day take over the boarding school.
- ➥ Jack. She’s a good scientist who doesn’t mind the more gore and blood, which is why she’s seen as the ‘weird’ and ‘freaky’ person by the others. In her world – which was full of vampires – she apprenticed to a doctor which is why she’s a lot more pragmatic and calm when the murders start.
- ➥ Christopher. He only later joins the others when the murders start because he used to be part of another Underworld full of skeletons, which is why he fears some people might think him weird.
➽ The worldbuilding was incredible! I loved the idea of different doorways to certain worlds that could be found by children. There are several different types of worlds. One of the biggest directions are Nonsense and Logic, all about how the world operates. The author managed to explain these worlds well and made me curious about them, as there have got to be many and some of them can only be accessed once. The majority of the kids who come back from their worlds want to find them again, but even those who technically could find their door again sometimes never find it, as the circumstances need to be right. Every child that Eleanor West – a fellow wanderer – can house in her boarding school gets therapy and people helping them find their way back in the real world. The book addresses what home can look like and how so many of the teens try to find their way back to the only world that can understand them, while other people like their parents often try to get them to be someone they no longer are.
➽ Despite this being short, I felt like we got a really well-rounded story. I was surprised by how well developed everything was because the book is only 170ish pages and I wasn’t sure how the author would use the limited page time. However, the book didn’t feel like it was short at all and instead managed to flesh out characters, the world, and the plot centered around the boarding school. I had a great time reading about the doorways and the magical worlds the teens went to and the rather character-driven storytelling worked really well for me. The mystery aspect was interesting, though I was more invested in the relationships between the characters and their experiences in their respective worlds.
Have you read any of the books I featured? What did you think about them? Any similar books that you’d recommend? 💖