Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 18. Jane Austen-inspired

Other Possible Prompts: 15. A five-syllable title, 28. Award-winning book from your country, 34. An author’s photo on the back cover, 36. Recommended by a favorite author, 41. Involves a second chance, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover

This was an unexpected gem to add to my pile! I recently grabbed Count Your Lucky Stars at the library, then realized I was jumping into the middle of a sort-of series. Instead of reading anyways, I borrowed the digital copy of Written in the Stars from Libby on a complete whim. I certainly didn’t expect to enjoy it this much!

After a disastrous first date, whimsical and laid-back Elle and strict, type-A Darcy both realize they are not a match – but to get him off her back, Darcy tells her matchmaking brother Brendan that she’s seeing someone: Elle. Much to Elle’s surprise. After she finds out, she agrees to fake date Darcy for two months: to get Brendan to stop trying to bring her speed dating, and to get Elle’s family to realize that her job as an internet-famous astrologist, and her life in the city, is really nothing to scoff at.

As with every fake dating scenario, things get real. The more Darcy and Elle learn about each other, the more comfortable they become with one another, and it seems they may actually be enjoying each other’s company. Beyond their mutually-beneficial fake dating arrangement, are there enough sparks to start something real in the wake of heartbreak?

This book is just surprisingly enjoyable. I shouldn’t be surprised, I knew it won awards and tons of people loved it upon release. The writing is smart and sweet. The cover art kind of threw me for a loop because it’s so juvenile to me…but the book content isn’t juvenile. It’s a mature and ~steamy~ romance. I guess this book could also fall under “don’t judge a book by its cover” because that is certainly what I’ve done, every time I’ve walked past it in a bookstore. I know most romance books these days do tend to look like this, with the illustrated people on the front…but this art style just isn’t my jam, lol.

The sparks between Darcy and Elle are HOT. Their personalities fit together absolutely perfectly, much like their Pride & Prejudice counterparts. And while Written in the Stars does draw some influence from the Austen classic, it’s certainly a story all its own. Truly, the names and maybe a *few* familial relationships are the only good comparison. Elle and Darcy write their own story here, and it’s a great one!

I was a little nervous when I first started the book that the astrology part would take a front row seat, but it’s not really like that. I think if you’re into all that, the horoscopes and house and Mercury in retrograde or whatever it does, some of the jokes or dialogue may be enhanced by your knowledge, but it’s definitely not necessary to have a working knowledge of the stuff to enjoy the read. Heck, Darcy doesn’t even have a working knowledge of it.

The romantic plot and scenes were very endearing and well-written; I was easily able to fall into their story. I liked Darcy and Elle as characters, even through all their faults, and I think that speaks to how well rounded Bellefleur presented our heroines. Preference wise, I preferred Darcy, but only because in some scenes or in her own interior monologue, Elle can come off a bit clueless to her own situation, or needy and whiny. It’s not that I don’t think she has valid reasons to be upset (her contention with her family is a major part of the book, and a big hurdle for Elle to cross in her romantic life as well), it’s that her way of being upset is just a little…annoying. I still feel bad about it though.

Honestly, this is one of the best romances I’ve read in while. I definitely think I’ll be giving book two a try…I believe that’s Hang the Moon, so I’ll need to put that library loan off a *teency* bit longer.

Give this one a try, if you haven’t already! I’m definitely a little late to this party.

Have an awesome week!

Heartstopper: Volume 4 by Alice Oseman

Heartstopper: Volume 4 by Alice Oseman

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 26. Has an “Author’s Note”

Other Possible Prompts: 5. Chapters have titles, 9. A book that sparks joy, 33. A bilingual character, 40. A book with photographs inside (though it’s a stretch!), 43. An author who’s published in more than one genre, 45. A book with illustrated people on the cover, 52. Published in 2022.

EEEEEEE. I know I’ve never actually taken the time to review the Heartstopper series’ books individually, but I hope that my excitement for it has ooozed out when I mention it here and there. I LIVE for the release of these sweet, sweet books.

If you’ve never had the pleasure of picking up Alice Oseman’s darling work, start with Heartstopper Volume One. The internet comics turned graphic novels tell the story of Nick and Charlie, two boys who go from rugby buds to boyfriends and have the most heart-melting romance. Volume four takes us through a journey with Charlie’s mental health, navigating the words I love you, and speaking up for yourself even when words are hard to say.

As I’ve mentioned in previous book lists, the thing I love most about Heartstopper is what a wholesome, feel-good story it always is. It’s real: there are negatives, especially negative people, that hurt Charlie and Nick because of their relationship and their sexuality. But a lot of these representations are just really healthy relationships and positive examples of same-sex couples. I don’t think you see that kind of representation enough in literature, and I hope we see more of it in the coming year. What we read about lgbtq couples shouldn’t always be negative: I think it’s important to show them in a positive, healthy light, too.

I sobbed through much of this book, to be frank. Even in just two colors, I can’t help but tear up over the images of love, family, and even struggle that Oseman always nails in her depictions. Charlie’s struggle with his mental health and eating disorder was gut-wrenching, but it was handled so well within the pages, with true mindfulness that his story is not everyone’s…I cannot sing the praises of this book, and this series, enough. Every story Oseman puts forth hits on an important topic of conversation (coming out, mental health, codependency, homophobia, family relationships) in a way that is met with support and warmth by her characters, but reality and a great message throughout. It’s a talent, and I think it’s a huge part of what makes her work so appealing to such a large group of readers.

To say I squealed with delight upon reading *the* very author’s note in question for this prompt would be an understatement. Heartstopper is being made into a Netflix series! I simply cannot wait to see this play out on screen. The wholesomeness is just going to be too much to take. THRILLED. The cast is adorable.

Heartstopper comes with my highest praise. I know it probably seems exaggerated after such a long string of five star reads this month, but I really love this series and I always have. Check it out if you haven’t already, especially with Valentine’s coming up!

Have a great week (and month – happy February!) friends!

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 28. Award-winning book from your country (Alex Award Winner)

Other Possible Prompts: 14. A Character with Superhuman Ability, 22. An Unlikely Detective, 37. Set in a rural area, 42. An indie read, 43. An author who’s published in more than one genre.

WOW. I’m disappointed in myself for putting this book off as long as I did. I am absolutely astounded and flabbergasted by how much I enjoyed House in the Cerulean Sea, especially given that it is yet ANOTHER fantasy novel! Not only my second five star read of the year, starting off strong, but it’s the second fantasy book I’ve tried and loved so far in 2022.

Quiet and analytical Linus Baker has been given a classified assignment as a case worker for his employer, The Department In Charge of Magical Youth: he is to investigate an orphanage on remote Marsyas island. Six unusual charges with incredible magical abilities are led by Arthur Parnassus, and their strange circumstances and lack of communication has Extremely Upper Management taking a special interest in Marsyas Island Orphanage.

Upon his arrival, nothing is as Linus expects. Though he tries to remain analytical, the children and even Arthur surprise him at every turn. The more time he spends on the island, the harder it becomes for him to keep his distance from these children, labeled as threats, this island, bringing color to his world, and Arthur, sweet and surprising – all but capturing his heart. And Linus hasn’t the slightest clue what to do with it all.

To me, House in the Cerulean Sea is best described as a cross between 1984, the X-Men, and your favorite slow-burn romance. I can’t even pinpoint for you all the exact vibes and marks this book seems to hit upon; all I know is that their convergence is an absolute delight. I haven’t read something with so much warmth, so much wit, and so much familial lightness in such a long time. This book is truly a marvel and lifts a weight off the heart when you read it.

There is so much subtext in this book. I’m sure most people will know that going into it, but Klune does a great job highlighting it for those who may not have gotten it initially. Themes of family, of hate and fear of the unknown, of separation – they are all reflected in this book, and while our characters may be represented as magical beings, they represent a broader group of marginalized people. Which brings us, unfortunately, to the controversy.

Now, I’ve read many different accounts and recounts of where this draws from, and Klune doesn’t seem to be afraid to repeat it. House in the Cerulean Sea was a story born from the Sixties Scoop, which refers to Canada removing indigenous children from their own families and placing them into white families, which went on for about twenty years and is still having an effect today. Reparations were paid by the Canadian government for this action in 2017. Klune claims that when he heard about this, having not previously known it, he had a lot of feelings about it that birthed House. A lot of people feel this to be wrong, given he is not indigenous, he is in fact white, and that he turned this story of misery into a fantasy tale that (spoiler alert) has a happy ending. There wasn’t a lot of happy endings when it comes to the real story that inspired this one.

I think the criticism is one-hundred percent fair, and I agree that, even if it was his inspiration, this is not something Klune should’ve shared. House in the Cerulean Sea is a real sugar coating of things, if I’ve ever seen one. But what I take issue with is the complete canceling of this story. I’m not at all anti-cancel culture: I think it’s society’s brilliant invention for deciding what we will no longer tolerate, and if the masses say it goes, it sure as hell should go. However, I want to remind everyone that this book was absolutely beloved and revered prior to this news breaking. It still does tell the story of a marginalized group of people, particularly children, who overcome through love and changing the minds of those around them. It tells a story of perseverance. And it spoke to so, so many people. Even now, after many readers “canceled it” with one-star ratings, it currently has a 4.47 star rating on Goodreads. I think the substance of this book is quality, and even if it’s not an accurate representation of the Sixties Scoop in any way shape or form, it’s a damn good book. It was born out of the feelings Klune felt when he heard about this horrific event. It’s not an accurate depiction; it was an inspiration for a tale we all hope could be, of the ending we needed. And above all, Klune himself is of a marginalized group, understands a marginalized group, and advocates for marginalized groups to write more about their own experiences. So yes, his inspiration and his sharing it was problematic. Is problematic. But I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bath water. This is a brilliant piece of fiction, and we’d be wrong to deny it that much.

I have to know: have you read The House in the Cerulean Sea? What were your thoughts?? I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t absolutely adore it upon the first read, though I know a few who changed their tune when they learned the information above. I really hope to read Under the Whispering Door this year; I have a few areas I could fit it into my challenge, and this was such an unexpected five stars from me. I picked it up when it first became popular, then when I read the description I didn’t know if I’d actually enjoy it, then the whole controversy came about…so I didn’t know what to expect. But I certainly couldn’t have guessed I would love it THIS much!

I hope you have a fabulous week friends, and that you’ll check out this gem if you haven’t already!

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 41. Involves a Second Chance

Other Possible Prompts: 2. Featuring a library or bookstore, 5. Chapters have titles, 14. A character with superhuman ability, 37. Set in a rural area

This book!!! Too much fun. I legitimately have not read a fantasy book I enjoyed this much in many, many years. It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting – it was better.

After years away, Emmy Harlow returns to her hometown of Thistle Grove in anticipation of a house competition for the town’s founding family witches – over which she is to preside. But there’s good reason for her being gone so long: one of the other witches, Gareth Blackmoore, left her ten years before and made her feel inconsequential – as the Harlows are considered to be the weaker witches, and do not participate in the tournament that brings strength and prosperity to its crowned family. Emmy left magic behind in exchange for leaving behind a family legacy that followed her around like a storm cloud.

Back in Thistle Grove, Emmy and the other houses – Avramov and Thorn – are teaming up. Having been similarly scorned, her best friend Linden and the mysterious Talia Avermov are working together to put the Blackmoores, and Gareth especially, back in their place. But all that time together seems to be creating some sparks between Emmy and Talia…

There’s a lot going on this book so it is a bit hard to describe for you – but I think part of the action and imagination is what makes it so good. As I said, this is one of the first fantasy books I’ve read in a long, long time – I expected magical realism, but it’s pretty far into a fantasy realm. And I actually loved it! Payback’s a Witch was easily accessible and yet tons of fun. The whimsy and magic of it all was a great ride.

The romance was also adorable! That’s what I actually was reading it for – I honestly didn’t realize it was such an in-depth fantasy, though I live for witches and witchy vibes. And even jumping into a romance, I didn’t know this was queer romance, lol. Somehow I missed that – I don’t tend to read descriptions as much anymore, so I just jumped right into the book. After a few minutes, I actually laughed out loud at my own confusion…”That’s odd, I feel like they’re implying that Talia is the love interest? That’s an odd way to describe her if she isn’t.” Silly me! Really not sure how I missed that but oh my lord, are they cute!

I also loved Emmy and Linden’s friendship. It was sweet and genuine, and riddled with shared history that you could feel through the story. Sometimes I read a romance, and I honestly like the best friends more than I like the couple. Sometimes romance stories can feel disingenuine, but a writer can almost always capture best friends. But Linden and Emmy really compliment the romance and highlight the levels of intimacy differences between Talia and Emmy. Linden and Emmy’s sweet moments of friendship build even better expectations of connection between Talia and Emmy.

The storyline, and the ending, absolutely killed it. I can’t even express to you how much this reignited the vibes I gathered from my middle school, fantasy-reading days (but like, obviously…this one is not meant for middle schoolers!). I also want to note that I listened to this as an audiobook, and the performance and reader was very good. I love, love, loved it!

There’s a sequel coming! I’m told there’s another Witches of Thistle Grove book on the horizon…and I literally cannot wait. This book was just tons of fun. That’s the best way to describe it. Please check it out!!

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Rating: 4 out of 5.

As I’m sure the name “The Charmed Librarian” suggests, I love anything witchy! So when I saw the cover for Mooncakes I just couldn’t resist.

Werewolf Tam has returned to their hometown to deal with a mysterious demon in the woods. Teen witch Nova is still around, doing her magic apprenticeship with her grandmas at their magic bookshop. When the pair of childhood friends reunite in their effort to stop an evil force much bigger than they imagined, sparks fly in an adorable romance full of magic and whimsy. 🙂

This graphic novel is the perfect Halloween read! I was so excited to see that its release date will give readers the time to enjoy it and get in the Halloween spirit. I love a little magic in my books all year long, so I enjoyed it in mid-August all the same!

I have to share this little tidbit from the letter to the readers: Mooncakes was written by best friends. As Xu and Walker moved far apart, they used a creative partnership in creating Mooncakes to keep their friendship alive, and I could see it on every page. The connection between characters, the way they felt about one another and interacted, was really sweet and earnest and I was glad I began the read knowing this about them and their story!

I particularly loved the cast of characters in this book: Tam and Nova were lovely, but they were supported by friends and family with a lot of heart. I loved Nova’s grandmas sweet and supportive demeanors, and her friend Tat played the perfect friend role, without jealousy or confrontation for Nova’s new romantic relationship and rekindled childhood friendship. It was a feel-good book, if only for the sweet way these characters took care of each other.

There is also something wonderful to be said about the diversity of these characters! All but Tat are part of Chinese-American culture, giving shape to the name of the story. Tam is non-binary, both characters are queer, and Nova is hearing-impaired. I loved it – it was really authentic, and gave the story some awesome representation.

My biggest complaint, and the reason I didn’t give this book five stars, is because I felt like those characters lacked a certain depth. You don’t see it often with graphic novels, but I think there’s a level of character development required to really get absorbed into any book. I need to feel connected and attached to them. I didn’t get enough background to Nova and Tam’s story, didn’t get thrown straight into the witch and werewolf world like I wanted to, and my feelings about the book reflect that. The story is clearly coming-of-age set on a magical stage, and I think it sets the scene for more. There’s a lot of room for growth in a sequel story, or a whole series of adventures, and I would certainly read them!

Mooncakes will be available on October 15, 2019! An advance copy of the book was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley for review.