Flower Magic, Terror in the Woods, and a Quinceañera (TBR Round 3)
I subscribe to a book recommendation service which, every three months, offers you three books to read based on your answers to a questionnaire and feedback. This was my third set of recommendations and second with Aurora has my bibliologist. My first set of recommendations from her was a very mixed bag and I even ended up DNFing one of the books, unfortunately. This time around the results most definitely improved. Keep reading to find out what I was recommended and my thoughts on them.
1. Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
What it's About: This YA book is about Estrella and her family who are capable of growing flowers from their fingertips. However, the family is cursed to never be able to leave the land where they live. Also, every man they love vanishes. That is until one day when one of their vanished loves, a man known only as Fel, is returned to them without any memories of his past life.
My Review: The premise of this novel and the writing itself is very fairy tale like. Anyone who knows my reading preferences knows I love fairy tales so this was right up my alley. If asked to describe the writing I would say it is soft, delicate, and ethereal. I don't have any other author I've read from before to which I can comfortably compare this and that's a very good thing. It means that McLemore has a very distinctive style all their own.
This is a character rather than plot driven story so keep that in mind if you're thinking of reading it. I don't think this book will be everyone's cup of tea because it is slow. I wasn't sure what direction it was going in for a good portion of the novel. I was sort of just along for the ride. While it's magical realism it borders on being a straight up fantasy. The main difference is there aren't hard and fast rules to the magic as there is with a fantasy; not everything has (or needs) a solid explanation.
In addition to the writing, I really, really adored Fel's character and his story arc. He alone made the novel worth reading. The choice to write from the third person perspective of both Fel and Estrella was smart on McLemore's part. This way we get a better understanding of both what it is like to live with this generational curse (from Estrella's perspective) and what it's like to awaken out of time without any memories of your life (from Fel's perspective). I would deem this a very successful recommendation!
Final Rating: 5⭐️
2. The Woods Are Always Watching by Stephanie Perkins
What it's About: Two best friends (Neena and Josie) take one last trip together before heading off to college. They go hiking and camping but drama and danger ensues. The girls own fears of the future drive a wedge between them and they may never see civilization again.
My Review: This novel reads like a YA version of The River at Night by Erica Ferencik. Both feature friends on a trip in the wilderness with drama and things going horrifically wrong. Given how much I enjoyed The River at Night you can imagine that I also had a grand time with this book. Aurora really took into account how I said I love books taking place in woods/forests/jungles when choosing this book. Perkins' writing, much like Ferencik's really engaged the senses to make me feel like I was out in the woods with them.
I noticed quite a few other reviewers harped on the pacing of this novel and that's understandable. A good chunk of it is devoted to hiking and the experience of being outdoors as well as the development of the girls' relationship. It isn't until a fair bit into the novel that the thrilling parts begin. This wasn't a problem for me because, as I mentioned, I like the feeling of being out there exploring the great wide world with the characters. I also think the establishing of the friendship and its bonds and dramas was necessary. At its heart this is the story of two high school seniors about to go their separate ways, fearful of the future of their friendship. If you don't care about the girls and their relationship then you won't feel as invested in the danger they later find themselves in. Though I'm older now I remember the fears of my own best friend going to a different college and the worries we would lose what we had. I think many young girls will be able to relate to this story.
While technically labeled as a horror this book reads much, much more thriller to me. There aren't any moments that are outright terrifying. I would more classify them as tense, anxiety inducing, and most definitely gory. If you go into this looking for a straight up horror then you may be disappointed. For me personally, though, it towed that perfect line of thrill without giving me nightmares.
Final Rating: 4⭐️
3. Once Upon a Quinceañera by Monica Gomez-Hira
What it's About: Carmen is spending the summer has a party princess. Her company is hired to work her estranged cousin's quinceañera. To make matters even worse, her ex-boyfriend is back in town and is her new co-worker.
My Review: Unfortunately, I did not save the best for last. This is a book that has a classic case of a promising premise but is lacking in the execution department. I love exploring about cultures that are different from my own via books because it's a fun, engaging way to learn. In this case the best part of this novel was learning about the tradition around a quinceañera and all that goes into one. Gomez-Hira really details the event and all of its preparations. I have a whole new respect for this Latinx celebration.
I really liked the idea behind the novel in that it was meant to be about the healing of past cracks in relationships (both familial and romantic) as well as Carmen's own self acceptance journey. Unfortunately, by the end it feels like I'm being told rather than actually shown that Carmen has learned these valuable life lessons. I know Carmen is young but she's still on the older end for a YA protagonist. It's fine for her to start out more immature and bratty, but I expect, especially given the story's chosen narrative, that she'd grow up throughout the course of the novel. This never really happens.
The novel is written in first person and is quite long (over 400 pages). It was not so pleasant to be inside of Carmen's head for that length of time. Her relatives and ex were sometimes mean to her, yes, and I understood her anger. I wanted the characters to properly apologize and forgive one another and try and understand each other. That would have been a satisfying conclusion, but it never felt like what I got.
I understand what this was recommended because I had asked for own voices novels and mentioned wanting to read more Latinx novels. I wish I'd liked it better, but I can't say Aurora didn't give me what I asked for. So, it's difficult to say if this was a successful recommendation or not.
Final Rating: 3⭐️
THOUGHTS ON MY NEXT PICKS
I have a new bibliologist this time around and she recommended me two witch books and one contemporary novel. The first recommendation is The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin which is about witches whose powers are aligned with the seasons and features a climate crisis (honestly, that climate crisis part sounds more realistic fiction than fantasy). The second book is The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinka and is about a magical island where every year a boy is sacrificed to the queen to keep the tide from flooding the island. It sounds like it's going to feature an LGBT+ romance as well which is great. My final pick is Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram which is about a teen named Darius who has depression. He travels to Iran (where his family is from) for the first time and learns about his mother's culture.
Of these three I am most excited for Darius the Great is Not Okay because I"m always looking for accurate mental health representation in books. Also, the synopsis is giving me The Astonishing Color of After feels and that is one of my all time favorite books. The one I'm next most excited for is The Nature of Witches because according to my bibliologist it will serve all those magical forest vibes I so crave. Though I'm technically least excited for The Dark Tide I am still looking forward to reading it. It was recommended to me based on another book I recently read and enjoyed, Sweet & Bitter Magic. Plus, I can never have enough good LGBT+ romances to add to my roster of recommendations. This set may be the one I'm most intrigued by to date.