REVIEW #81 | CEMETERY BOYS by Aiden Thomas

Cemetery Boys is a YA urban fantasy book about Yadriel, a trans Latinx boy who is trying to find a way to be his authentic self as a brujo, even when his family is struggling to understand. He has the chance to prove himself when cousin Miguel is killed — a brujo has the ability to summon spirits and, if need be, force them to cross from the living to the dead. Yadriel and his friend Maritza work to summon his cousin’s spirit, and it works! Sort of. Not really. Instead of Miguel, Yadriel summoned one of his classmates that was killed the same night as Miguel — Julian, the resident “bad boy.” Now not only does Yadriel have to figure out what happened to his cousin, but he also has to help Julian find out what happened to him. And…start to fall for him? Uh oh.

Has anyone recommend this to me? More like who hasn’t recommended Cemetery Boys, lol. This book has exploded over the past year — especially during lockdown last year, damn — and if I’m being honest? It is 100% deserved! My expectations going in were already pretty high, but they were blown out of the water. I think I’d go so far as to say that Aiden Thomas may be a new favorite author of mine. He just has an amazing way of writing characters, their complexities, and their relationships with one another. It’s simply amazing!

The writing is — how do you say? — *chef’s kiss*.

Seriously, though, I thought it’s was great. It was quick and tight, which helped the story move along. It never really seemed to drag on all that much, and even though it did seem to be a bit on the nose at times, I still thought it was strong overall.

Let me be clear, though: while it was fast-paced, it was not rushed. While there were some plot points that probably could’ve been developed more (the murder mystery aspect is stuck on the back burner for a good share of the last half, let’s be honest), I thought that it did a great job at giving time to develop the characters and the relationships between them all.

Very specifically, the party scene with Julian and Yadriel at the beach party? It was simply phenomenal. I could feel what they were feeling, thinking, doing. It gave me chills. I truly loved that scene, and I thought it really showcased Thomas’ skill.

And honestly? It made me cry (or at least, as close as I wanted to get to crying while at work, lol). And we all know any book that can make me cry has an A+ story in my book. So there’s that, lol.

Like I said before, Cemetery Boys is about Yadriel, a trans brujo trying to prove himself to his family, as he and his friend Maritza try to figure out how his cousin Miguel was killed…along with Julian, resident high school bad boy, because they accidentally summoned the wrong spirit.

I thought, overall, it was a wonderful story. It wasn’t super slow, but it wasn’t rushed, either. While it did seem to tip more towards Yadriel and Julian’s budding relationship, especially in the second half, I still thought the murder mystery aspect was still a lot of fun!

The murder mystery conflict — both for Miguel and Julian — was interesting in its own right. It seemed to have a bit of slow start and took a back seat for a bit to give Yadriel and Julian time to connect, but it was still intriguing, especially near the end.

Speaking of, that climax? Holy shit, y’all, it was freaking amazing. The twist in and of itself wasn’t surprising for me — I figured out pretty early on that a particular character was going to do something — but oof, the emotion that went into it? That’s what had me in tears near the end. It was so, so good, and I absolutely love Yadriel, Maritza, and Julian.

Overall, I thought the plot was a lot of fun. I loved the focus on Yadriel and Julian’s relationship (the shift from full names to nicknames in the narrative had me screaming, omg), but the mystery plot was nicely done, too.

Is it appropriate to just leave a screaming gif and leave it at that? Probably not, but that’s how I feel, lol. I loved everything about the characters (except for, well, maybe one, but I’ll get a bit into that later).

I’m going to start with my two sons, Yadriel and Julian. Can fictional characters be your children if they’re only six or seven years younger than you? My younger siblings, then. Or maybe we just forgo the weird “let’s make these fictional beings appear real” thing that we all seem to do in bookish spaces, and I’ll say I love their characters so, so much.

Yadriel is a young trans boy that wants his family to accept who he is and actively embrace him as a brujo. He’s driven to solve Miguel’s murder and, along the way, help Julian find out who his murderer was, too. I found his Mexican and Cuban culture(s) interwoven throughout the story refreshing, and though I probably missed some nuance, I thought it was wonderful to read about.

On top of that, I didn’t realize how anxious he was as a person until about halfway through, when he had to bring Julian with him to school. Can I just say that anxious Character A and off-the-walls Character B is one of my favorite pairings, so when I found it here, I did a lil happy dance as I was reading.

I also just…really love the complicated feelings he has towards his family. He loves them unconditionally, on the one hand, but on the other hand, he is So Tired of having to claw out any sort of validation or respect for him and his trans identity. It’s not that his family members are being purposely transphobic in trying to push him out of the duties of a brujo, but it stings just the same.

And then we have Julian. The literal ride-or-die friend, his dedication to and love for his friends — his found family — is immense and amazing. He is such a good friend to everyone he lets in close, and I loved seeing him trying to care for them even when he was a spirit.

This includes Yadriel, too. The little things Julian would do or say to truly support Yadriel when he was struggling with his family and being trans almost made me start crying with how genuine he is as a character. The way he urges Yadriel to inch outside his comfort zone and try things out while respecting who he is in his totality was amazing. And oh, I don’t want to spoil it (and I won’t!), but there’s a bit during the climax where he says something to Yadriel, and I just start crying in the club (library).

Let’s not forget his sillier side, too. This boy is off the walls goofy, and I absolutely love him for it. He has little to no impulse control, just does whatever he thinks of in the moment and goes from there. Pair this with Yadriel, who may or may not have some Anxiety Issues, and you get perfection.

I also just really enjoyed all the side characters, too. I thought Maritza was interesting, and I loved seeing her and Yadriel interact (wish I saw more of it!). Now that I think about it, I think she may be one of the few vegan characters I know, which is pretty cool. Julian’s whole friend group were a delight, and seeing them stick together no matter what was great. Yadriel’s family, though they made me wince now and again, were still a major part of Yadriel, and I liked seeing the complexities between him and them. Just, overall, I loved all the characters in Cemetery Boys — I think Aiden did a wonderful job in fleshing them out and developing them over the course of the story.

Cemetery Boys takes place in East Los Angeles, where Yadriel lives with his family in a family-owned cemetery. The magic system — and the commentary behind it — was pretty interesting, and I wished I could see more of it throughout the story. From what I understand, it’s a gender-based magic system, where brujos are able to summon spirits and send them to the other side (voluntarily or otherwise) and brujas are able to heal wounds. When each kid in the family comes of age, they partake in a special ceremony where Lady Death gives them their abilities. Yadriel wasn’t allowed to partake in the brujo ceremony because his family believed that Lady Death wouldn’t see him as his gender.

It was interesting to see him try and navigate this gendered system throughout the book, and it made me wonder what would happen with non-binary folks who were neither men/boys or women/girls. Would it just be whatever the non-binary person was “closest” to? If so, wouldn’t that be inherently antagonistic towards non-binary people who don’t coincide with either binary gender? I found myself thinking about it a bit throughout the story, and I don’t remember it ever being touched on. It’s an interesting thought exercise nonetheless.

I will say, though, the mythology surrounding Lady Death and other mythological figures within the story was really intriguing. I loved learning about them, and I thought they were a great addition to really round-out the world-building.

There was so much good stuff shoved in this delight of a book, I loved it. One of the themes that really popped out to me was this notion of proving oneself. Throughout the book, Yadriel struggles with proving he’s a man to his family, that he deserves the title of brujo, because being seen as a man by his family is one of the most important things to him. He doesn’t want to sacrifice his family or himself, he wants to confidently have both.

However, there are multiple times that Julian tries to push against this, against proving one’s own intrinsic worth. If I remember correctly, he asks Yadriel a variation of “prove yourself to whom and why?” and tries to get him to see that he doesn’t need external validation from his family, and he shouldn’t have to try so hard if there are certain people in his life who are unwilling to rise up to the plate.

It’s a conflicting spot to be in for Yadriel, though. On the one hand, he hates having to “prove” who he is, that his family can’t simply accept and support him. He hates having this doubt that Lady Death would reject him as a brujo. But on the other, he loves his family and his culture. He wants to create a space for himself and others like him, and he wants his family’s love and acceptance. It’s not as simple as “drop them and leave” when he truly wants a place within his family that he can be proud of. This conflict is threaded throughout the story, and I love the way it ends up. No spoilers, but it’s definitely not a “everything is happiness and rainbows and absolutely perfect” ending.

On top of that, I’m always down for a good ol’ found family theme, and Julian and his friends really make it good. The relationships between one another, looking out for each other, everything. I absolutely loved meeting them, and I wish that if, for whatever reason, Aiden Thomas decides to make a sequel, we can see more of them.

I was also pleasantly surprised at Julian’s brother — their relationship is complicated, but I was so happy to see him look out for Julian and his friends, no matter what. He’s just trying his best to be a dad to a bunch of teenagers, and I love it. He gets a 10/10 from me.

In short, I had an amazing reading experience with Cemetery Boys. While the plot was engaging enough, I think it really shines with the characters and their relationships with one another (especially Yadriel and Julian, but the entire cast was intriguing in their own way). If you want a fun slow-burn supernatural romance with a dash of murder mystery on the side, I would definitely recommend Cemetery Boys!

✨✨✨

Shoutout to CW and the Pond for their blog post full of different book review prompts — it was the basis for this here review structure! If you want, shoot over to their Ko-fi to give a tip!

  • Transphobia, including deadnaming (the act of it; the deadname itself isn’t used) and misgendering
  • Classism
  • Xenophobia
  • Blood
  • Violence
  • Character death
  • Mexican-Cuban gay trans boy MC
  • Colombian achillean LI
  • Trans and queer side characters
  • Side characters of color

Title: Cemetery Boys

Author: Aiden Thomas

Pub. Date: 1 September 2020

Genre: Paranormal; Urban Fantasy

About (via StoryGraph):

A trans boy determined to prove his gender to his traditional Latinx family summons a ghost who refuses to leave in Aiden Thomas’s New York Times-bestselling paranormal YA debut Cemetery Boys, described by Entertainment Weekly as groundbreaking.

“Yadriel has summoned a ghost, and now he can’t get rid of him. When his traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his true gender, Yadriel becomes determined to prove himself a real brujo. With the help of his cousin and best friend Maritza, he performs the ritual himself, and then sets out to find the ghost of his murdered cousin and set it free.

“However, the ghost he summons is actually Julian Diaz, the school’s resident bad boy, and Julian is not about to go quietly into death. He’s determined to find out what happened and tie off some loose ends before he leaves. Left with no choice, Yadriel agrees to help Julian, so that they can both get what they want. But the longer Yadriel spends with Julian, the less he wants to let him leave.”

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WEEKLY READS #2 | Wherein I Read Nothing, and Then Try to Read Everything

Hi there, everyone! I hope you are having a wonderful day whenever you’re reading this! I’m back again with another Weekly Reads, but this time it’s more of a…Bi-Weekly Reads? Because I didn’t post one last week, but that was because that whole week was a clusterfuck of class and work and 10-page research papers that I didn’t start until two days before they were due. But I actually didn’t read a thing that week, so does that really count to make bi-weekly? Meh, whatever, we’re keeping with Weekly Reads, lmao.

Anyway, like I said. It’s been a couple weeks. Now I’m back. So. Let’s get this rolling, lol.

First! Stats! This past week, up until I’m writing this (approximately 6:30pm on Sunday):

  • I finished four books
  • I DNF’d zero books
  • I started/continued two books
  • In total, I read a total of 649 pages

Okay, I lied in the intro, apparently I did read the week prior, but it was only one day, and I can’t tell to see what book it even was, so it doesn’t count. Moving on to this past week…I didn’t actually read until Thursday. All other days, I was too busy. But when I read, damn y’all, I read.

First, I was super excited to finally finish How Not to Die by Michael Gregor. I have been chugging along at this book since May, y’all. Six months of my life I have been trying to read this book, and it’s finally! Done! Overall, it’s a good book that goes into the science behind lots of different illnesses and how a plant-based whole food diet could help to prevent them. There is so much information, though, and that’s part of the reason why it took me so long — I took a lot of notes!

For the next three books, it may be helpful to read through my reading blog from Saturday, since I go into a bit more detail! I read the rest of Here There Be Gerblins by the McElroy family and Carey Pietsch and eventually finished it on Saturday. I had a great time with it, and can’t wait to get my hands on the other graphic novel adaptations of the next two campaigns!

I also finished two volumes of manga! They were the sixth and seventh volumes of Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto. I’m just chugging along on my re-read of Naruto, and I really enjoyed both of these! I forgot about the early-series villains, and it was nice to go back to that before it got, like, super confusing with the war stuff in Shippuden, lol.

And that’s pretty much it! There is still time left tonight to start another manga volume or another book entirely, but if I do, I’ll leave it for next week’s Weekly Reads.

And that’s a wrap for this week’s Weekly Reads! Let me know what y’all have been reading this week in the comments!

See y’all next week ✨

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READING BLOG #1 | 20 November 2021 | Another New Blog Series? Another New Blog Series!

Kait, you may be wondering, why are you creating another series on your blog when you already have so many and you only just started posting semi-regularly again?

And that’s a great question, dear reader!

The answer?

Because I want to.

Serious answer, though? Because I’ve recently gotten into reading vlogs (thanks, BookTube!) and I wanted to try one out, except, well. I don’t feel comfortable in front of a camera. So here’s the next best thing: a written reading vlog with pictures!

So…a reading blog. Yes, exactly, thank you for understanding.

Anyway! I wanted to blog a bit about my day (even more specifically, what I read) because I had my first day off in a while where I also wasn’t bogged down with any class work. Ergo, a perfect reading day!

I hope you all enjoy, and let me know what you think! ✨

Morning

Since today was the first day off I had in a while without class work to worry about, I decided to sleep in till around 9! I normally wake up around 6:30, but I just shut my alarm off and went back to bed, lol. I got a bit done before breakfast, mainly laundry — I’m horrendous for doing it and then keeping it shoved in the hamper for two weeks before forcing myself to put it away, lol.

And today was a comfy day, if I do say so myself. Got myself some joggers and a Ghost shirt. I also put on some slippers and a hoodie because it’s always below 70 degrees in my house 🥴

This is one of my fav Ghost shirts, not gonna lie. So colorful!

After that was all done, I got some breakfast! I love breakfast, but I wasn’t in the mood to actually make anything, so instead I had a glass of this almond milk peppermint mocha I bought from Aldi sometime last week and a banana. The mocha has a bit of a grainy texture, but it’s still very tasty! I also had some time to read. I had quite a bit left of Here There Be Gerblins from when I started it sometime last week, so that’s what I decided to get into.

So sad for the banana, but I actually didn’t decide to have it till after I took this, lol

Here There Be Gerblins is a graphic novel adaptation of the podcast The Adventure Zone, where three sons and their dad play DnD together, illustrated by Casey Pietsch. Each campaign has its own cute title (and it looks like, hopefully, its own graphic novel adaptation) and storyline. Most of the time, it’s just a goofy podcast that’s nice to relax to, but it can get pretty emotional sometimes, too.

I actually ended up finishing Here There Be Gerblins! I had a wonderful time with it — as a fan of the The Adventure Zone podcast (even though I haven’t listened to this particular campaign in more than a year), it was a ton of fun to see the characters come to life. I had a blast reading it, definitely laughing more than once the longer I sat and read. Casey Pietsch did a great job! If you want a funny graphic novel based off of Dungeons and Dragons, I say try it out! While there are a lot of Easter eggs from the podcast, I think even non-fans would get a kick out of it.

Afternoon/Early Evening

After I finished that, I had to go make up a quick list for the grocery run my mom and I had to go on. She did most of her weekly shopping yesterday with my sister, but she wanted to grab the produce for Thanksgiving today, and I still had to grab some stuff for it as well. I’ll tell you more when the day comes around, but I want to make this roasted veggie bowl for dinner, since the rest of my family is having meat. I’m pretty excited for it, if I do say so myself.

Anyway, I got my groceries relatively quickly (and a duster because my bookshelves are…a mess), and since my mom was taking a bit to get through the line, I decided to read some more as I waited! This time it was the sixth volume of Naruto. I had it (along with the rest up through volume nine) out from the library for…quite a while, so I decided it was probably best to read it so I could return it, lol.

Don’t mind the glare…there’s no way to get good pics in a Kroger 😩

Naruto is one of the more popular mangas out there, but for those of you that don’t know, it’s a fantasy series by Masashi Kishimoto that follows a young boy, Naruto, as he sets out to become the greatest ninja in his village. In this particular volume, he and his teammates are in the middle of an…eclectic, shall we say…examination, where they have to survive in a creepy forest and try not to get killed by the other contestants.

I was able to get a chapter or so into it at the store, and then I finished it up when I got home. Overall, I’m still really liking my re-read of the series, but I can definitely tell that my perception of it has changed a bit over the years. Which makes sense — I was really young when I first started reading this series, and now I’m slightly less young at the age of 23.

It’s still a good series, but I cringe at how the female characters (especially Ino and Sakura) act in the early parts of the series. I mean, I know that, for the most part, I think we see a bunch of character development later on throughout the series, and I’m excited to see that. But I’m coming for Masashi Kishimoto for having these 12-year-olds try to act ~sexy~. My guy, they aren’t even teenagers, please stop this instant. I’ll still read on, though, for the fun of it!

Evening

After that, I wanted to take a break from reading, so I actually started the prep for this post (does that count as breaking the fourth wall, or…?). I wrote up a quick outline, organized my notes, and made a new post pic for it. And then…dinner!

I originally got the bread and butter for my soup, but then my family had biscuits for their dinner, so I snagged one. Love me some carbs 😋

I had a can of vegan chicken noodle soup from Gardein that was surprisingly good? It tasted similar to what I remember chicken noodle soup tasting like, and the “chicken” was a similar texture, too! I won’t have it very often — I’m trying my best to keep to more whole foods as I can, and regardless of that, it’s like $3 a can — but it sure is a tasty meal every once in a while.

After that, I wanted to get super comfy-cozy (and write up this post real fast), so…initiate super cozy time!

I love this candle — I think I got it last year from Michael’s, and it’s the perfect fall scent! I know it’s hard to see, but it’s called Smoked Pumpkin Apple. I can’t smell the pumpkin at all, but the apple really shines through, and it gets me right into a fall mood 😌

Also…it’s hard to see because I turned off my ceiling light and turned on my Christmas twinkle lights as well as some other red and green lights. It gets me into a cozy/winter/holiday mood, and it was nice to finally do so again knowing we’re getting closer to winter holidays!

And this is where I’ve been sitting since, lol — working on this post and enjoying my candle. After this I may start the next volume of Naruto, or I may continue on with something else. Or maybe I’ll forego reading entirely to play some video games…I’m not sure!

So to recap my bookish adventures real quick:

  • I finished Here There Be Gerblins
  • I started and finished Naruto, vol. 6
  • I may or may not start something else before going to bed, who knows

But that’s basically it for my reading blog today, y’all! I hope you all enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed writing it! It was a ton of fun to take pics and keep track of my day like this — I hope to do more of it, especially with more time off coming up for the holidays.

Please let me know your thoughts, especially if you want to see more of these type of posts! I’ll see everyone next time ✨

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Weekly Reads #1 | The Start of the (Readathon) Season!

Yes, hi, hello! I decided to start (yet another) weekly post to practically force myself to post on a semi-regular basis, lol. This time it’s what I like to call Weekly Reads: basically a weekly update on what I’ve been reading (and, in the process, hopefully a lil update on what y’all have been reading, too!). Without further ado, let’s get into it!

It’s the first week of November and, for me, the start of two seasons: the holiday season and the readathon season! I normally don’t do readathons: they stress me out too much because many of them are only a week or two but people still somehow read, like, 5 books?? I dunno, man, I just have a lot going on in my life’s — add that to being a slow-ish reader compared to others in the community, and I feel overwhelmed by most readathons.

HOWEVER! I decided to try my hand at a couple of them for the last couple months of the year: ClearUrShit and PokemonAthon. What initially drew me to ClearUrShit was the fact that it lasted over a month (gave me some wriggle room!) and the fact that it focused on the books you own (or any library books you have checked out — basically any books in your possession that you haven’t read yet). PokemonAthon, on the other hand, only lasts 18 days, but it’s Pokémon-themed and it’s a fun way to read a ton before the new Pokémon Diamond/Pearl remake comes out later this month! Many of the books I chose doubled up on prompts, in both readathons. I’m excited to get back to reading, but, ya know, I’m also still very limited in how much I can actually read.

But yeah, this week was the first one for both, and I’m very happy with how it turned out! Here’s some fun lil stats for y’all:

  • I finished 1 book
  • I DNF’d 1 book
  • I otherwise started/continued 3 books
  • In total, I read 546 pages

The week started off on both a good and bad note. A good note because I was able to get through over 200 pages in one day throughout the three books I was reading, but a bad one because I ended up DNFing another book. It was The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I didn’t get all that far into it (maybe around 8%) before I decided to ditch it — even within such a small amount of time spent with the protagonist, I couldn’t stand him. And then the whole world-jumping happened between one sentence and the next, and it threw me right out of the story. And like I said, I’m a busy person — I don’t have the time to spend on books I don’t like, especially books that were an impulsive check out on Libby.

However, my week got 100x better because a couple days after I DNF’d a book, I finished one! It was Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas, and y’all, it stole my heart away. I started it on Monday the 1st, and it was so hard for me to switch over to my other two books to get their daily pages read, too. It had me totally enraptured! While the plot itself was fun, I thought the author really excelled at exploring the characters and their relationships with one another. Definitely a new favorite.

I started two other books: White Malice by Susan Williams and Here There Be Gerblins by the McElroy fam and Carey Pietsch. I didn’t finish either of them before the week was up, but I’m enjoying both! White Malice is a non-fiction book about the CIA’s involvement in Africa throughout the latter half of the 20th century and how it essentially helped to recolonize Africa. It’s incredibly dense (and over 500 pages!), but I’m learning lots. I’m only about 100 pages in, and I can’t wait to work my way through it!

Here There Be Gerblins is a graphic novel based on the first campaign of the podcast The Adventure Zone. I’m about 30 or so pages in, but I am having the time of my life. Carey Pietsch did a wonderful job bringing the characters to life, and while there are differences (in order to make it a cohesive adaptation from a podcast to a graphic novel), the base humor and storytelling that makes TAZ such a joy is ultimately still there. I want to simultaneously make it last and gobble it up, which is…a problem, lol.

I’ve also continued one book from before November — one that I have been meaning to get done for forever. It’s How Not to Die by Michael Greger. This book is a non-fiction book about how a plant-based diet (specifically a whole-food plant based diet) could help with common diseases, specifically in the United States. I have literally been reading this book since, like, May. It’s not even that big of a book (or badly written!). I’m just…taking forever, lol. Hoping to get it done soon, it really is an interesting read!

And that’s what I’ve been reading last week! What do you think? Have you read any of them? What have you been reading last week? Let me know!

I’ll see y’all next time — have a wonderful week! ✨

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MUSIC MONDAY #2 | The Chapeltown Rag — Slipknot

Welcome back to the second Music Monday on this blog! For those of you that don’t know, Music Monday is a weekly post that was started by The Tattooed Book Geek and I’ve started it as a way to get back into blogging while also showing all y’all what I like to listen to. This week’s Music Monday choice is…

The Chapeltown Rag by Slipknot

Read all about it if you want to know
Read all about what they want you to know

Everything is god online, and it’s as evil as it gets
This is not a fuckin’ trick, either follow or repent (No choice)
Get infected by a vertical event
Check the meter, check your watch
Are they ever gonna stop?
Runnin’ out of daylight, nighttime’s better
But we know how to handle the truth, motherfucker
Scandalous know-it-all, feedback chamber
Nobody wants the proof, they want a number

We don’t deny what is wrong with our lives
We can’t decide what is left of our right to silence our remains
Buried in the back and I’m sick and alive
Hollow as a breath, the further you dive

Oh, how I missed your honesty
You never miss with your intensity
You’re gonna need a new disguise
Vessels burst, veins release
Just slide into the nearest lie

(One, two, oh my god)
All the ligatures are getting tight, like a style
Murder another mouth before the trial
Scalpel and then you scalp ’em to fucking death
Kills for the other vampires and surrogates
It’s a ploy for attention and evidence
All your fucking monsters are flaws in your common sense
Do the dance while the shovels are breaking dirt
Everybody mind your fuckin’ business or you get hurt

We don’t deny what is wrong with our lives
We can’t decide what is left of our right to silence our remains
Buried in the back and I’m sick and alive
Hollow as a breath, the further you dive

Oh, how I missed your namaste
You never miss with your integrity
You’re gonna need a new disguise
Vessels burst, veins release
Just slide into the nearest lie

Read all about it if you want to know
(Everything is god online)
Read all about it if you want to know
(Everything is god online)
Read all about it if you want to know

Stoned like a beast on a chain lookin’ dead
Feelin’ strange, what the fuck
I’m material to sew into the stains
Like a catalogue of pain, like a martyr in restraints
I can kill with a will, and it’s stronger every day
I’m a knife, I’m a gun, I’m a slit, I’m a scar
I’m a scream, I’m a death, I’m a threat, I’m afraid
That you will never understand I’m not the same
You better call the triple 9, I want a face
That you can only recognize
I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I’m afraid

When everything is god online, nothing is
When everything is god online, nothing is

I don’t think y’all understand how excited I am for new Slipknot. The last thing we’ve had was over two years ago, when their album We Are Not Your Kind came out in August 2019. So it was an extra special treat when my fiancé sent me the YouTube link early this past Friday morning. It’s giving me early Slipknot vibes, but still has a new sound to it, which is awesome. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us in the new album…whenever that’s coming out, lol.

But anyway, I really like how this song sounds, and if you gave it a listen, let me know! Love to talk about music with folks, especially when it’s something outside of your usual comfort zone.

Until next week ✨

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MUSIC MONDAY #1 | Hunter’s Moon — Ghost

Hi everyone, long time no see (or, well, write? Idk, lol). I wanted to get back into the swing of things pretty slowly, so I thought this cute lil post series would be an awesome way of doing that. I remember seeing someone do it…wow, a few months ago, I think. I completely forgot whose blog it was, and I’m sorry for that, but the original idea is from The Tattooed Book Geek, so definitely go check their blog out!

Anyway, it’s super simple: Music Monday is where you post a song every Monday, and…that’s it! It can be any song, maybe one you’ve been listening to non-stop or a new one that just came out. Whatever! I just thought it’d be an easy way to get blogging again AND share a bit more about myself and my music taste. ☺️

So, without further ado, the song for this week’s Music Monday is…

Hunter’s Moon by Ghost!

It’s been a long time coming
I’m coming back for you, my friend
To where we’d hide as children
I’m coming back for you, my friend

Though my memories are faded
They come back to haunt me once again
And though my mind is somewhat jaded
Now it’s time for me to strike again
Tonight

It’s a hunter’s moon

Under a headstone, sister
I’m dying to see you, my friend
Back in the old cemetery
I’m dying to see you, my friend

Though my memories are faded
They come back to haunt me once again
And though my mind is somewhat jaded
Now it’s time for me to strike again
Tonight

It’s a hunter’s moon

Ooh I’m coming
I’m dying
To see you one last time together

Though my memories are faded
They come back to haunt me once again
And though my mind is somewhat jaded
Now it’s time for me to strike again
I’m coming back for you, my friend
Tonight

It’s a hunter’s moon

(A hunt, hunt, hunter’s moon)
(A hunt, hunt, hunter)
(Hunt, hunt, hunt)

Sooo I was supposed to have this blog post up last week, and it would’ve been great, what with Halloween coming up. Perfect spooky song! But unfortunately, life got in the way, so now we have to treat it as Halloween 2.0, aka November 1st, lol.

But no, when I first heard this song, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it — I’m a Ghost fan, but this song seemed too…Ghost-y almost, if that makes any sense. However, after listening to it a few more times, I started liking it a lot more, so here we are! Hope y’all enjoy, and let me know what you think of it. ☺️

An oval with a white background. In green cursive text is Kait [heart emoticon] SixCrowsBooks.

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REVIEW #80 | WHAT WE DEVOUR by Linsey Miller (ARC)

*I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

What We Devour is a YA dark fantasy standalone that follows Lorena, a young girl who holds a secret close to her heart. When she makes a deal with the Crown Prince to help him in researching a special Door that just barely holds back murderous gods known as Viles in exchange for human sacrifices, she will be stretched to her limits. Not only does she have to help with the Crown Prince Alistair’s research, but she is also tasked with finding information to prove Will’s (her partner Julian’s father) innocence when he is arrested for treason. However, the further Lorena goes with either task, the more she learns that neither is what they appear to be.

I’ve been following Linsey Miller ever since her first book, Mask of Shadows, came out, and I’ve been floored with her work every time. Requesting an ARC for her most recent book seemed the logical next step, and I was ecstatic when I saw it come in the mail. My whole time spent reading it was a thrill, and I was simultaneously heartbroken and blown away when I finished reading it. It’s been days, and I’m still in a bit of a bookish hangover.

I’d like to say that I try not to have any preconceived notions going in, but I’d be lying. What We Devour was one of my most anticipated reads for this year, and it absolutely destroyed the (admittedly, quite high) expectations I held for it. The commentary surrounding asexuality and capitalism was superb, and it truly was one of the book’s strengths. The characters? *chef’s kiss* I loved seeing everyone’s interactions with one another, especially Lorena and Alistair. Everything just clicked into place for me, and it was an absolutely amazing experience.

This is also coming from someone who doesn’t read a ton (if any?) dark fantasy! I didn’t think I was going to like that aspect so much just because the genre never seemed to be something that I would be interested in. I’m very glad that Linsey proved me wrong. ☺️

Just. This whole reading experience was me screaming about…basically everything? The writing really set the tone; the plot (while it seemed to be placed on the back burner at times) was exciting; the characters??? are everything I could ever ask for and more???; the world-building needed a bit of thought and was absolutely captivating; and the THEMES, oh my goodness. The themes (and the characters, tbh) is where this book really shines.

To put it simply, the writing was all around very good. It did a wonderful time setting (and keeping) the tone of the book — it was dark and tense and it had me flying through the pages as fast as possible. To me, the gore wasn’t all that bad (YMMV, however — it is a dark fantasy novel based partially around sacrifice, after all), but the writing really shines with character’s emotions, especially Lorena’s since we’re in her headspace for the whole novel.

I thought the 1st person POV did a great job of centering in on how Lorena starts off in the beginning of the book as a girl who already knows of the horrors the world and those in power can bring and then shifting to the morally grey protagonist we see at the end. Not only that, but the reader gets to see firsthand her dilemmas regarding her feelings toward both Alistair and Julian, as well as Will. Seeing her struggle with how she feels about the three of them was very intriguing to read through, and there are no easy answers.

Throughout the book, there’s a constant stream of darkness. It’s bleak, all the cards are stacked against Lorena and the others, nothing seems like it will work out. But through it all, there always seems to be this undercurrent of hope, no matter how weak. The characters are constantly up against roadblocks, but there’s always this feeling that at the end of it all, our dear protagonist and her friends will come out on top, even if it isn’t exactly the way we want them to. And this bit did a wonderful job at making me root for not only Lorena, but the side characters such as Basil and Mac (and yes, even Carlow). There is always this feeling of, “The world can be — and needs to be — different. And we’ll help get it there.” and it made the story not as dark as it could have been, which I personally enjoyed.

In terms of the more technical aspects, I found it very easy to read. While the world-building was a bit much at first — requiring me to sit with a few sections and think on them sometimes — it didn’t make for anything particularly rigorous, and in fact, I had a bit of fun with it. There are some time-jumps that, to me, seem to come out of nowhere and a few awkwardly-ending chapters, but that didn’t take away from my personal enjoyment whatsoever. I also wish we had more time with the world-building — it seemed a bit crunched in at times — but I’ll get to that later on in the review.

Overall, I thought that the writing made for a dark and tense reading experience, which I very much enjoyed. It drove the plot along, and it made me anxious to see what would happen next.

Like I said earlier, What We Devour follows Lorena when she, as a deal to prove her partner’s father’s innocence, agrees to help the Crown Prince Alistair with his research that involves the Door, the entry to the world beyond that holds powerful gods known as the Vile (those who destroy) and the Noble (those who create). However, she has her own secret: she is a dualwrought. Being dualwrought means having both a vilewright (the ability to destroy in exchange for sacrifices) and a noblewright (the ability to create in exchange for sacrifices). Dualwroughts are extremely rare — the only other known dualwrought is the queen of Cynlira, Alistair’s mother.

Not only does Lorena have to worry about the Door, as it needs an increasing amount of human sacrifices to stay closed recently, but she also has to find a way to prove Will’s innocence when he is charged with treason. Both of these, however, become more and more challenging because nothing is as it seems. Lorena will have to not only work with her newfound allies to find a solution, but also with Alistair, the symbol of everything Lorena hates in Cynlira.

I fucking loved this story, y’all. Like I said earlier, it seemed to take the back burner at times in order for us to connect with the characters, but it was still magnificent in the way that it circles back around to encompass said characters. Whether it’s the moral questions surrounding the Door or the questions surrounding Will, Lorena, and what family means, I thought the plot gives the reader a good foundation to explore the themes that pop up throughout the book. If you’re into stories about anti-capitalists attempting to take down the systems that oppress them, I think you’d really vibe with What We Devour.

I will say that it seems to take a bit for the ball to start rolling in the beginning, but when it does…be ready. When it picks up, it picks up quickly, but it didn’t feel rushed to me. The ending and resolution could seem a bit too open-ended for some, but I thought it was a perfect ending for the story: very rarely do things end with a neat bow on top, and it can be messy and complex — all you can do sometimes is weather it.

I have so many favorite scenes, but I’m adamant in keeping this review spoiler free. In the meantime, just know that I was on the edge of my seat for the last third or so of the book — there were so many memorable scenes and character development (regression?) that had me doing a lil excited dance in my chair (or bed, depending on where I was reading, lol).

I will say, though, that while I enjoyed the plot immensely, the characters are what really sold me on What We Devour. Let me tell you…Linsey Miller knows how to create some real interesting characters.

…Where do I even start with the characters, y’all? Lorena was simply amazing. Starting right out of the gate, she is a brave and outspoken girl who isn’t afraid to point out other characters’ bullshit. She is manipulative, and lying is her safeguard. Her relationships with the other characters were so interesting to get into (especially Alistair! omg!), but what really intrigued me was her relationship with her wrights. I don’t want to go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but compared to other noblewrought and vilewrought, she treats her wrights in a much different way. I loved seeing the dichotomy between how Lorena communicates with her wrights and how Alistair does. It was very interesting to see, and I think it gives just a bit more depth to who they both are as people.

I really liked seeing Lorena’s development (regression?) throughout the novel. She isn’t afraid of doing what she thinks she must in order to protect Cynlira as a whole, which usually means doing some pretty gruesome things. At the end of the day, though, I still rooted for her. For years, the nobility class sat back and ignored the anguish and break-backing labor the lower class has put in for the hopes of scraps because, simply, they think they can have their cake and eat it. They force the masses into grueling work so they can reap the benefits for themselves and throw people away when they become just a bit too loud in their protests. I suppose Lorena isn’t a likable character in the traditional sense, but I loved her regardless.

And Alistair…just. My goodness. He respects Lorena and the other wroughts that are working with him, and he isn’t afraid of being corrected by them, which is miles better than how many of the noble people treat “regular” folks throughout Cynlira. It was charming to see.

However, it still had a bittersweet bite to it: he respects Lorena and the others as far as he sees their use and value. He likes them because they’re as invested in the research about the Door as he is, but beyond that…he is still the vilewrought Prince. If they were just regular joe blow on the street, he wouldn’t think twice about them. He is still a bloodthirsty person who won’t stop to get what he wants. To see Lorena struggle with this side-by-side with her budding feelings (platonic, romantic, or otherwise) had me eating this book up.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget the side characters! They were all delightful; I just wish we could see them more. Creek and Carlow — a noblewrought and a vilewrought who have also been cursed by a Noble and Vile respectively — were fun to read, especially when they were together. Basil was adorable, and I would protect them with my life, no questions asked. The three of them working for/with Alistair on the Door was an interesting dynamic I wish we got to see more of, honestly. Let’s be real, though, these characters could be reading the back of a cereal box, and I would lap it up because I simply love them that much.

Julian, Lorena’s friend, and his father Will were characters that I just loved to hate. They’re the kinds of people that we all know, the ones who make it seem like they care about everyone, when they truly only care about themselves and maybe closest to them. In truth, they would let the whole burn if they were able to live, even if they have to do exactly what their oppressors have done to them.

All of the characters really shined (yes, even the characters the reader is supposed to hate — they shined in being the most annoying characters ever), but I think what really intrigued me was the world-building.

What We Devour takes place in a country called Cynlira, where the rich thrive and everyone else is left to the wolves. Or, in this case, the Door, the gate between the mortal world and the world in which Vile and Noble exist. The Door must be given human sacrifices in order to satiate it. Otherwise, it risks opening and thrusting the Noble and Vile upon the nation. Recently, the Door has become increasingly insatiable, needing more and more sacrifices more frequently to stay closed.

There are people throughout Cynlira known as noblewrought and vilewrought — people who can do certain types of magic thanks to having parts of the Noble and Vile gods. Some folks also have the ability to be both, a dualwrought. However, many of them do not have the freedom they wish for — most wrought are found and forced over to the Crown in order to be bound to some nobleman so they can do their dirty work magic and nothing else.

I will be straightforward in saying that the world-building can be A Lot when first starting out. It can be confusing, and I had to re-read passages sometimes in order to fully understand what was being conveyed. However, I will also say that this may be the first book where I was excited to learn more about the world. I was actively looking forward to when the characters discuss more about the Door and the Vile/Noble. The noblewrights, vilewrights, noblewroughts, and vilewroughts. Dualwroughts.

Outside of the characters, this is why I wish there was a sequel planned. Or, better yet, that it was going to be part of a 12-book series where I could get lost in the world and characters. I always had this craving for more. If someone had to twist my arm and ask what I thought the weakest part of the book is, it probably would be the world-building simply because I never felt like I got the full picture. Functionally, yes, I did get enough that I understood what was going on, but damn, I wish I could’ve gotten a whole encyclopedia to pick through. A whole Cynlira: A History to read. That would’ve really topped the cake and make this book a step above the “absolutely phenomenal” it already was.

In all honesty, even though I just said the world-building is probably the weakest thing about What We Devour, it was still plenty enjoyable for me, and it kept me captivated throughout my whole reading experience. And ya know what? You wanna know what really made this book shoot up to my top 3 favs of the year? Ya ready for this? It’s the themes. The themes, oh my goodness, y’all. You’re not ready for the themes.

Let me just say that if I still have any brain cells left after I’m finished with grad school, the first thing I’m doing is writing an academic-level essay on the themes in this here book, y’all. I just. What We Devour has it all: the harsh realities of capitalism! asexuality and how many ace folks constantly have to “prove” ourselves! the moral dilemma of how far is too far if you’re trying to tear down the existing system and build something new! and more!

Excuse me as I scream because the way these were all executed throughout the book was…so good. The anti-capitalism themes were immediately apparent throughout every strand of the story. The exploration of asexuality and acephobia through Lorena and her relationship with Julian was very validating to read and absorb. Seeing an ace character so damn confident in their identity right off the bat was something I didn’t know I needed until I saw it in action, and it was amazing to see.

The discussion surrounding how far is “too far” when creating a new society was interesting for me because I’m constantly thinking about what we could do in our current society, how we could tear shit down to create something better. Is there a limit to what we should or should not do in order to create a just world? Are there needed sacrifices, or are all sacrifices unjustified? Who gets to choose these things? It was compelling to think about, at the very least.

So, yeah, if you couldn’t tell already, I really enjoyed What We Devour. If you’re into dark fantasy, anti-capitalist themes, ace girls who will stop at nothing to save the proletariat and watch the rich suffer, monster gods….well, you’re in for a treat with this one. While the plot can be subtle and the world-building a bit confusing, I feel like the characters and themes definitely make up for it. I just can’t put into words how much I love this book, y’all.

I can’t exactly end this review by saying “be ace, do crimes, eat the rich”….except I totally can, it’s my review.

Be ace, do crimes, eat the rich.

✨✨✨

SO. This is set up a lot different than my previous reviews, huh? I have CW and the Quiet Pond to blame for that (except not really blame because it helped a lot!). They have a blog post chock-full of review prompts that have really helped me flesh this review out! Here is the post in question, and this is their Ko-fi page if, like me, you’ve found this post super, super helpful. I just wanted to give credit where credit is due!

(Also, lemme know how you like the new set-up, please? I think I’m gonna tweak a few things going forward, but I’m always open to hearing new ideas!)

  • Death
  • Mention of cannibalism
  • Blood and gore
  • Self-harm for magical purposes
  • Human sacrifice
  • Acephobia (moderate amount)
  • Ace girl MC
  • Wlw SCs
  • Non-binary SC
  • Side characters of color

Title: What We Devour

Author: Linsey Miller

Pub. Date: 6 July 2021

Genre: Dark Fantasy

About (via StoryGraph):

“Undertaker Lorena is comfortable in her quiet life. She knows what her future holds, anonymity and a marriage to her best friend Julian. But when the notorious Crown Prince Alistair arrives at her doorstep with an arrest warrant for Julian’s father, her life changes in an instant.

“The Prince immediately recognizes that Lorena is powerful and whisks her away to the capital in exchange for Julian’s father’s freedom. With Alistair she learns more about her power, as well as the danger facing the entire country.

“As a rebellion between the rich and powerful and the poor and downtrodden erupts, Lorena becomes less sure of her loyalties. Should she trust the boy she thought she loved and the world she thought she knew? Or should her faith lie with the boy she barely knows who has everything to lose?”

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WRAP UP #17 | (a very late) Quarterly Wrap-Up: January — March 2021

Quarterly Wrap Up: January to March

Hey, all! Sorry for uh….basically falling off the face of the Earth. I just haven’t been in the mood to blog, and I didn’t want to force it. Ergo, blog hiatus. I can’t say I’ll be all that regular with my posting, but I will post when I feel like it, so maybe that’ll mean the quality of my work will increase since I won’t feel pressured to do so. ☺️

Anyway, on to the subject of this here post: a wrap-up! I’ve decided to try out a new way to do my wrap-ups: instead of doing one monthly, I figured I’d try out doing one quarterly. I’m not sure how it’ll go or if y’all will like it, but I wanted to try something new! So, without further ado, here’s what I’ve been up to the first three months of the year ☺️

Books Read

January

I’m really happy with my reading in January! I was able to read 8 books, which honestly, is my monthly goal if I had to have any. And I only DNF’d one of them!

Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?: Police Violence and Resistance in the United States — Maya Schenwar, Alana Yu-Ian Price, and Joe Macaré | 5⭐️ | Review | I was so happy this was my first read of the year: while I already knew a lot of what was talked about, I still learned a great bit of information, too.

Eragon — Christopher Paolini | 1⭐️ | Review | Lol, I knew this whole thing was a train wreck going in, and yet. I did not think it could possibly worse, and it did, time and time again. Only three more books to go, I guess?

Such a Fun Age — Kiley Reid | 4⭐️ | StoryGraph Review | I really loved this one! I didn’t know anything about it, but I snagged it when I noticed it was available on Libby. The social commentary was great, but I wasn’t ready for all the fatphobia (internalized and otherwise). It was pretty rough. Either way, though, I still thought it was a great book!

Mornings in Jenin — Susan Abulhawa | 5⭐️ | Review | I don’t know what to say except this book wreaked me, my god. Nothing else (so far) can compare.

Pages I Never Wrote — Marco Donati | 2⭐️ | StoryGraph Review | This book…really wasn’t for me, which stinks because the MC and LI were actually pretty cute together! (Let’s also forget about the “there will be a review on my blog soon!” Statement because that’s around when I went on hiatus accidentally, lol)

Dowry of Blood — S.T. Gibson | 5⭐️ | Review | So I got an eARC of this, and HOLY SHIT it was so, so good. If you’re wanting some gothic horror with a splash of bi polyam characters, I cannot recommend this enough!

A Woman Is No Man — Etaf Rum | 2⭐️ | StoryGraph Review | I owned this book for a few years, and I finally got around to reading it. I…really wasn’t impressed (and I ultimately ended up DNFing). Just wasn’t a fan at all, so I pretty quickly put it down and refused to read on.

Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them — Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers | 3.5⭐️ | StoryGraph | Meh, it was alright. I’m glad the students were able to find a community in the classroom, but being bludgeoned with “tolerance for EVERYONE” almost every essay was tedious. Also, it was kinda hard sometimes to discern the different voices — they all pretty much sounded the same.

February

I go from being super happy about January’s reading to bombing in February, lol. I think I was in a really bad reading slump, though, so it’s a miracle that I was able to get these three books done, tbh.

Haikyuu!! (Vol. 1) — Haruichi Furudate | 5⭐️ | StoryGraph | I’m so glad that I finally succumbed to peer pressure and got on the hype train for this series! I absolutely fell in love with all the characters, and I can’t wait to see where the story will take me (if I can ever grab the second volume from a library 😭)

Nimona — Noelle Stevenson | 5⭐️ | StoryGraph Review | This was a library loan that was super quick and fun to read! I enjoyed all the hijinks Nimona and Blackheart got into, and I really wasn’t anticipating that ending. Definitely bitter sweet, and I can’t wait to read Noelle Stevenson’s other work.

Uzumaki (Vol. 1) — Junji Ito | 4⭐️ | StoryGraph | This was my first work by Junji Ito, and I really enjoyed it! It was freaky and spooky and everything that I wanted in a weird horror manga.

March

And we’re back at it with 8 books this month! Granted, two are manga and one is a book I DNF’d, but I’m still counting them, lol.

Uzumaki (Vol. 2) — Junji Ito | 4⭐️ | StoryGraph | This one was just as good as the first one, if not a bit spookier.

Uzumaki (Vol. 3) — Junji Ito | 3⭐️ | StoryGraph | Meh, for all the build-up in the first two volumes, this conclusion let me down. It just got…kinda weird, and not in a good way. That ending was really out of left-field, too, and I wasn’t a huge fan.

Jade City — Fonda Lee | 5⭐️ | StoryGraph | I really wasn’t prepared for how much I was going to love this book. Just…y’all. If you haven’t picked it up already, believe the hype and go read it. It’s amazing.

Gender Mosaic: Beyond the Myth of the Male and Female Brain — Daphna Joel and Luba Vikhanski | 3⭐️ | StoryGraph Review | This book was just kinda…eh. I already knew most of what the authors proposed, and even with them stating that gender, sex, and “male”/“female” brains are not strict binaries, they still basically upheld them. It was incredibly frustrating.

Dragon Pearl — Yoon Ha Lee | 3.5⭐️ | StoryGraph Review | While the pacing was a bit funky, I still enjoyed myself a ton and would recommend it!

The Never Tilting World — Rin Chupeco | 5⭐️ | StoryGraph Review | This was the March/April read for the Celestial Book Club and while everyone else…really didn’t like it lol, I ended up enjoying myself a ton!

Kill the Farm Boy — Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne | DNF | StoryGraph | The sarcasm and satire were just too on the nose for me, and it got annoying real quick. I didn’t even last 20 pages, lol.

My Dark Vanessa — Kate Elizabeth Russell | 5⭐️ | StoryGraph | Oof, this was so hard to read. It was heart-breaking and had me gritting my teeth, but it was such a good exploration of the different ways people accept or deny victimhood. But please take head of the trigger/content warnings, there’s some real heavy shit involved. But wow, what a way to end the month.

VIDEO GAMES PLAYED

January

Unfortunately, I didn’t play anything this month 😭

February

February was yet another month of video game disappointment, lol.

March

…There really was no video game playing in the first three months of the year, huh, lmao.

TV SHOWS AND MOVIES WATCHED

January

I didn’t watch anything for January, either :/

February

Let’s just say I didn’t really do much in February.

March

😦

BOOKISH CREATOR SHOUT-OUTS

January

I may not have watched or played anything, but I did watch quite a bit of BookTube! (…we’ll just ignore the fact that I didn’t read many book blog posts 😅). This month we have:

February

I didn’t even watch or read bookish content this month, what was I doing? 😭

March

I didn’t read many posts, but I did watch a few videos that I really enjoyed!

And there you have it, y’all! While I haven’t been around blogging much this year (yet), I have been reading quite a bit and (trying) to find time for my other hobbies, lol.

What has everyone been up to so far? What sort of books are you loving or hating? Let me know!

Kait | sixcrowsbooks

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REVIEW #79 | A DOWRY OF BLOOD by S.T. Gibson (eARC)

Review: "A Dowry of Blood" by S.T. Gibson
Review: “A Dowry of Blood” by S.T. Gibson
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson
A Dowry of Blood – S.T. Gibson

Title: A Dowry of Blood

Author: S.T. Gibson

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: 31 January 2021

Synopsis (via StoryGraph):

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets.

With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • fantasy/supernatural violence
  • blood
  • gore
  • incest (mention)
  • emotional and psychological abuse
  • physical abuse (minor)
  • character death
  • self-harm
  • depressive symptoms

Representation:

  • bisexual MCs
  • m/f/f/m relationship (but let’s be real…the f/f/m relationship is better)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

*I received an eARC in exchange for an honest review*

This is my second gothic horror novel — and my first S.T. Gibson book — and let me tell you, it won’t be my last for either of those things!

A Dowry of Blood follows a young woman renamed Constanta, who is turned into a vampire by an unnamed man (but who the reader understands to be Dracula), throughout centuries as she lives and travels with said sire. The story is told as a series of letters/diary entries written by Constanta to the lord who created her after the events have occurred.

So I’ve never read a Dracula re-telling (or anything related to Dracula, tbh), mostly because I wasn’t a huge fan of Dracula when I first read it. However, when I saw that A Dowry of Blood was a polyam book centered around the vampire partners of Dracula, I decided that I had to request an ARC from the publisher. And uhh I loved it. It was so good, omg.

The characters! Are amazing! Constanta is a wonderful narrator, and it was really interesting to see her development throughout the story. Her relationship with the other partners, Magdalena and Alexi, was amazing, and I loved seeing the subtle differences in how Constanta interacts with the two of them and vice versa.

At this point, I do want to point out that while the relationship between Constanta, Magdalena, and Alexi isn’t abusive, their relationship with Dracula is. Amongst other things, A Dowry of Blood is a study of an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship (at some points, it is physically abusive, but it isn’t graphic or often). It starts from the moment Constanta is turned and it doesn’t stop until the (very tense, very “grips you and never lets go”) climax. I thought the exploration was done wonderfully, with extra care given since the subject matter is sensitive. But if the depiction of an abusive relationship can be triggering for you, it’d probably be a good idea to keep that in mind if you make the decision to read this.

With that being said, though, the writing was gorgeous. It’s dark and loving and amazing all at the same time, and I know that seems overwhelming to some people but I swear it makes sense when you read it, lol. It’s just…so pretty. So good. It was very easy to read, especially once Magdalena and Alexi get introduced. And that climax? I know I mentioned it before, but that was probably one of the best climaxes (and build up to said climax) I’ve ever read. I even had to put the book down for a time because I was getting so worried over the trio.

I just had such a wonderful reading experience with this book, and if it sounds like something you’d be interested in (even if it’s outside your reading comfort zone, like it was for me!), I would highly recommend it. I can’t wait to see what S.T. Gibson does next!

Kait | sixcrowsbooks
Kait | sixcrowsbooks

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REVIEW #78 | MORNINGS IN JENIN by Susan Abulhawa

Review: "Mornings in Jenin" by Susan Abulhawa
“Mornings in Jenin” review
Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa
Mornings in Jenin – Susan Abulhawa

Title: Mornings in Jenin

Author: Susan Abulhawa

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: March 2006

Synopsis (via StoryGraph):

Forcibly removed from the ancient village of Ein Hod by the newly formed state of Israel in 1948, the Abulhejas are moved into the Jenin refugee camp. There, exiled from his beloved olive groves, the family patriarch languishes of a broken heart, his eldest son fathers a family and falls victim to an Israeli bullet, and his grandchildren struggle against tragedy toward freedom, peace, and home. This is the Palestinian story, told as never before, through four generations of a single family.

The very precariousness of existence in the camps quickens life itself. Amal, the patriarch’s bright granddaughter, feels this with certainty when she discovers the joys of young friendship and first love and especially when she loses her adored father, who read to her daily as a young girl in the quiet of the early dawn. Through Amal we get the stories of her twin brothers, one who is kidnapped by an Israeli soldier and raised Jewish; the other who sacrifices everything for the Palestinian cause. Amal’s own dramatic story threads between the major Palestinian-Israeli clashes of three decades; it is one of love and loss, of childhood, marriage, and parenthood, and finally of the need to share her history with her daughter, to preserve the greatest love she has.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • child abuse
  • war
  • bombing
  • kidnapping
  • death (both human and animal)
  • child sexual assault/rape (inferred)
  • execution
  • trauma (and the effects of it)
  • torture
  • sexual content
  • ableism (including internalized ableism)
  • genocide

Representation:

  • Palestinian cast (MCs and SCs)
  • Jewish SC/MC

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

Everyone go thank Jia for rec’ing this book for as long as I’ve known her. She’s the entire reason I even knew about this book’s existence. And because of that, she’s also the reason I’ve cried so much within the past two weeks (for book-related reasons, obviously, lol).

Mornings in Jenin follows four generations of a Palestinian family, from the time of Al Nakba to after 9/11. Center stage through most of is Amal and her older brother Yousef as they grow up in a refugee camp in Jenin, as well as beyond, and deal with the trauma thrust upon them from such a life.

So, I want to be super upfront about this book: it doesn’t pull any punches. While there are happy moments throughout the book, it’s meant to pull at your heartstrings, and it’s an extremely emotional read. Please take care to read the trigger/content warnings, especially if war, genocide, trauma, and the effects of such things could potentially trigger you.

With that being said, however, I loved this book. It is very much character-focused: while Abdulhama uses the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a backdrop, the story centers around Amal and her family as they live through this tumultuous and traumatic time. The reader is thrust into their lives and experience what they experience alongside them. The writing very much helps with this — the purple prose is both beautiful and heart-breaking at the same time, especially when it comes to the tragedies that befall the characters. The reader connects with them quickly, and just as quickly it seems that something happens to them that break’s their heart.

Along with that, the narrative switches between the past and the present. This might put some readers off from reading Mornings in Jenin because it could be confusing for some folks, but I thought it worked very well. I liked how it flowed between the different times and characters. I’m not sure if I can put into words how it worked, only that it did. If that makes sense?

I also want to point out that even though tragedy and trauma are a constant in this book, I don’t think the book would be considered trauma porn. What happens to the characters isn’t purely for the emotional effect it has on the reader, but instead, it has a purpose. It’s supposed to show the atrocities of war and occupation, very particularly when it concerns the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the subsequent attempt of pushing Palestinians out of their own country. The book is supposed to humanize a community that has been simultaneously dehumanized and ignored for so long, to show that in the face of oppression, loving one’s family, one’s culture, one’s country is an act of resistance when the oppressors want to eradicate you and pretend you don’t exist for their own gain.

If you’re into sad books, but still aren’t convinced enough to try this one out (assuming the reasons are outside any triggering content, of course)? Let me just say that this book made me cry within the first fifteen pages, and it is now the book that has made me cried the most while reading it. I wasn’t really keeping track, but it was at least five, lol.

So yeah, if you want a book that has the potential to make you super emotional and pull at your heartstrings — especially when you think about how many of the events throughout the book are based on events that actually happened (or described exactly events that happened) — and one that encompasses a family story four generations in the making, I’d give Mornings in Jenin a shot. It may become a new favorite like it did with me!

Kait | sixcrowsbooks

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