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March Book Reviews

Updated: Apr 1, 2022

Thanks to spring break, I managed to read 6 (!) books this month, most of which had great mental health representation. All of these were sent to me in exchange for an honest review.

Among the 5/5 star reads: Long Story Short (YA book with social anxiety themes), The Underground Moon (YA urban fantasy with maternal depression), Rules of Falling (YA about chronic fainting and teenage grooming/statutory rape), and Hollywood Games (adult romantic comedy).

The other two include 4/5 star realistic fantasy Journey of the In-Between, and 3/5 star non-fiction Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths.

5/5 stars:

Long Story Short by Serena Kaylor

YA Contemporary, social anxiety

The premise:

Growing up homeschooled in Berkeley, California, Beatrice Quinn is a statistical genius who has dreamed her whole life of discovering new mathematical challenges at a school like Oxford University. She always thought the hardest part would be getting in, not convincing her parents to let her go. But while math has always made sense to Beatrice, making friends is a problem she hasn’t been able to solve, so her parents are worried about sending her halfway across the world. The compromise: the Connecticut Shakespearean Summer Academy and a detailed list of teenage milestones to check off. She has six weeks to show her parents she can pull off the role of "normal" teenager and won't spend the rest of her life hiding in a library.

Unfortunately, hearts and hormones don't follow any rules, and there is no equation for teenage interactions. When she's adopted by a group of eclectic theater kids, and immediately makes an enemy of the popular—and, annoyingly gorgeous—British son of the camp founders, she realizes that relationships are trickier than calculus. With her future on the line, this girl genius stumbles through illicit parties, double dog dares, and more than your fair share of Shakespeare. But before the final curtain falls, will Beatrice realize that there’s more to life than she can find in the pages of a book?

In this sparkling debut from Serena Kaylor, Long Story Short is a YA rom-com about a homeschooled math genius who finds herself out of her element at a theater summer camp and learns that life—and love—can’t be lived by the (text)book.

My review:

5/5 stars.

Thanks to Netgalley for an advanced review copy.

I think I have a new favorite book?!

Literally could not put this down- I read it in one sitting (despite it being very much the middle of the night now).

Especially as a writer and avid reader, I’ve found it increasingly hard to be sucked into a story and forget I’m reading. And yet, I got sucked into Long Story Short. I genuinely laughed out loud, also a rarity for me.

I was worried about the inclusion of Romeo and Juliet as the camp’s play, given how overdone (and problematic and so forth) it is, but this is one of the first books I’ve read that has included it in a non-cliche way.

While the characters were based on tropes (ie smart girl with trouble socializing, mean girl superstar) they also had a refreshing complexity about them, and clear motivations.

Plus, who doesn’t love a swoony, coming-of-age, clean romance full of new friendships and first love, plus witty banter and hate-to-love. As a bonus, there’s tactful anxiety and therapy representation.

If you’re looking for your next YA contemporary read, this is it!

The Underground Moon by Melissa Magner

YA Urban Fantasy, maternal depression

The premise:

Summers in Tennessee are unfamiliar to fifteen-year-old Rosella Gill, who spent her life growing up in Oregon. But after a traumatic event with her mother that left their family in shambles, Rosella doesn’t plan on seeing her old home again any time soon. Together with her mother and seven-year-old sister Hettie, Rosella finds herself ripped from her old life as they move in with her aunt. Though she doesn’t mind Tennessee, the town they live in is rural and stagnant. Things get surprisingly more interesting, however, when she and Hettie come across a well hidden in a nearby forest and a staircase that descends into it. Underneath, they find a moonlit lake and a forest with trees boasting intricate carvings of children’s faces. Above it all shines an underground moon, which grows a little fuller every time they return. After meeting a man with a haunted past, Rosella begins to realize that the world is not as innocent as it seems, and it has a particular target: her sister.

My review:

5/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review. Immediately, I was captivated by the author's voice. Normally, I don't like urban fantasy/magical realism, but I loved this book. The descriptions are lyrical and also masterfully provide insight into the characters and plot. Also great - the tension, pervasive symbolism, and robust characterization. The dialogue is also realistic and well-done. Rosella is a compelling and likable character from the start.

I liked the themes of sisterhood, real life vs fantasy, and the role of nature (including the character names). I also love the drawings, including the tension the moon icons provided - art in YA should be more common!

The Rules of Falling by Leslie Tall Manning

YA Contemporary, syncope and teen grooming

The premise:

Erica O’Donnell is hardly the quintessential high school senior. She doesn’t have a driver’s license. She’s never been to a concert. Sports are out of the question. She doesn’t own a pair of heels. No boy has ever asked her out. All of this for good reason: Erica faints. A lot. And at the most inconvenient times.

Chronic fainting, also known as syncope, keeps Erica on the sidelines as the odd-girl out. Luckily, Lindsay Bennett hovers nearby to catch Erica each time she nose-dives to the floor. Lindsay isn’t only Erica’s best friend—for four years she’s been her savior.

But things are about to change.

When Lindsay breaks up with her boyfriend Adam to pursue a married man, Erica is intrigued. But as Lindsay’s relationship intensifies, Erica finds her own world spinning out of control: from covering up her friend’s affair, to hiding her feelings for Adam, to casting suspicion when a string of arson fires sweeps through the town.

Gradually peeling away layers of deception from those she trusts the most, Erica must decide how far she is willing to go to uncover truths—and how many people will get burned in the process.

My review:

5/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

CW: book contains themes such as statutory rape, grooming, and fainting/syncope.

It has been a while since I've read a book in one sitting because I've been sucked into it.

I loved the disability representation. Initially, I wondered why Manning didn't specify which type of syncope Erica had, but after reading the book (and her author note), I really appreciated the idea of focusing on the syncope spectrum (especially since there is so little representation in media!)

The characterization was strong and clear from the beginning. The themes were difficult, but handled well.

The tension was great, as were the twists and turns throughout. Normally when there is a lack of communication between characters in books, I get frustrated because their reasons for not talking are not compelling enough, or the conflict rests too heavily on miscommunication. However, Manning manages to beautifully weave a story where any lack of communication not only makes sense, but is the most reasonable route. Additionally, other subplots have alternative conflicts, and Erica is easy to root for.

Some minor things: AP Physiology is not an AP class. I would have liked another scene between Lindsay and Erica, even after the hospital scene, for a bit more conclusion, although I also understand why that wasn't included.

Hollywood Games by Evie Alexander

Adult romantic comedy

The premise:

Rory’s found the love of his life but can he be sure Zoe feels the same? What can he offer her when his job’s on the line, and his mother’s out to destroy her? When Hollywood superstar, Brad Bauer, shows up wanting to film Braveheart 2 at Kinloch castle, it seems like the answer to all his prayers. However, there’s a catch.

Zoe’s had a crush on Brad since she was a teen. Now he’s here, hotter than ever, and convinced he was married to her in a past life. As Hollywood descends on the tiny village of Kinloch, it’s not just the castle that’s under siege.

A mystical holy man, a sexy starlet, an intense megastar and a couple pushed to the edge. Can Rory navigate the glitter storm and keep his eye on the prize, or by saving the estate, is he about to lose the best thing that’s ever happened to him?

Hollywood Games is a steamy, love conquers all, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy, with no cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happy ever after (HEA). It can be read as a standalone but is most enjoyed after reading Highland Games.

When Hollywood meets the Highlands, things will never be the same again...

My rating:

5/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Its been a while since I've looked forward to reading a book this much. The original Highland Games is one of my favorite books. While nothing could beat the original IMO, this sequel is still a strong, enjoyable read. Alexander is a talented author, and quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

Of course, Zoe and Rory are still complex, compelling, easy-to-root-for, and swoon-worthy characters. Their interactions are equal parts witty, sexy, and sweet. The antics of the plot are ridiculous and light-hearted in the best way, adding just the right amount of tension and humor. The rest of the ensemble is delightful, as is the setting.

If you're looking for an escape to Scotland, or a steamy and sweet romance with plenty of humor, this is the series for you.

4/5 Stars:

The Journey of the In-Between by Kyra Coates

Adult realistic fantasy

The premise:

When faced with death, what eternal gift can one mother leave behind?

Told she has very little time to live, Maji desperately wants to leave her daughters with the wisdom of her greatest life lessons before she dies. She reflects on the identities she has held in the life she leaves behind: activist, nun, teacher, spiritualist, and mother. From her youthful attempts to save the world to her mind-opening spiritual enlightenment, Maji's story is one that explores not only what constitutes a good life, but what happens in the eternal mystery of death. Illustrated with beautiful hand-painted images and steeped in Eastern philosophy, The Journey of the In-Between tells the story of a quest for self-realization, fulfillment, feminine power, and the eternal love of motherhood.

My review:

4/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Coates is a talented writer who elegantly stitched together beautiful imagery, important themes, strong characterization, and social commentary. I loved the artwork as well, and appreciated how it added cohesiveness and depth to the work.

I normally don’t read more slice-of-life type books, and found myself wanting more tension and plot. However, this is one of the best I’ve read, and I can thoroughly appreciate the literary merit of this piece. Touching on such current events, and complex issues, without coming off as preachy or condescending is difficult, and Coates manages to do so.

I also don’t normally like books with elements of realistic magic, but it worked well here.

3/5 Stars:

Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths by Joseph N. Abraham, MD


The premise:

Xenophobia. Racism. Fascism. Intolerance. Inhumanity. Coercion.

Right wing populists increasingly draw attention around the globe, but the attention is misdirected. The real problem is not the the authoritarian, but the authoritarian personalities who follow him. If people do not blindly follow and obey the despot, he is irrelevant.

Why do we attach ourselves to demagogues and mountebanks? Why do we defend even their most obvious hypocrisies and lies?

The answer is found in the history of civilization. For the past 10,000 years, those who disagreed with the king or his nobles risked ruin and death.

But that is only part of the answer. The other part is that, despite our romantic traditions, kings and conquerors were vicious criminals. They represent the most evil psychopaths, narcissists, and sadists in the history of humanity.

My review:

3/5 stars.

I received a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Note: As you may deduce from the title, this book can be quite graphic.

I do appreciate the inclusion of non-western history. I also acknowledge that I don't typically read much in this genre. The arguments are interesting, particularly the idea of tolerating violence/horror when it is systemic, or ordered from those in authority. That being said, I had trouble buying all of the arguments, and had trouble wanting to finish the story.

I really wanted to like this book. The premise is intriguing, and Abraham's writing is clear. That being said, I was pulled out of the story by a number of things. The first was how many quotes there were. The second was difficulty following the through-line of the chapters, particularly as they jump between leaders and psychiatry and more.

The third was that I didn't fully buy all the arguments. I think there is a recurrent conflation of leaders being evil/prone to violence, and leaders having to face deadly conflict (ie war; not to condone violence). Non-leaders don't have the power or responsibility to deal with large-scale conflict. Additionally, saying that we are now "more humane and civilized" is just untrue - genocide still occurs regularly and the united states still utilizes torture, for example - it is just less publicized.

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