Book Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

One Last Stop Book photo

one last smallTitle: One Last Stop
Author: Casey McQuiston
Genre: Romance, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: June 1, 2021
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin


Synopsis

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

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My Thoughts

One Last Stop is outrageously hilarious, cleverly written, and incredibly romantic. The entire novel is written with such vivid imagery, some of which is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t work–but it somehow does. It feels like every second line of this book is quotable, like the author could take a line at random and plaster it on the cover of the book and sell thousands of copies for that reason alone.  

Now that I’m done gushing about the writing style, it’s time to gush about the characters. August is lonely, witty, a little pessimistic, and an extreme minimalist. She’s an introvert, and she’s quite reserved. She spent most of her childhood helping her mother search for her mother’s brother who went missing in the 1970s, and as a result, she’s basically a grown-up child detective. This personality trait comes into play at various times throughout the story–mostly when she’s trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Subway Girl. 

August is a reserved person, but when she sees the gorgeous girl on the subway, she suddenly doesn’t want to be that way anymore. Jane is outgoing and optimistic, and she regularly makes friends with complete strangers on the subway.  They’re opposites, and in many ways August and Jane complete each other. Jane doesn’t have any memories, but she knows exactly who she is. August has her memories but she doesn’t know who she is. They’re two sides of the same coin, yin and yang, dare I say, soulmates. Sigh.

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Book Review: Her Crown of Fire by Renee April

Her Crown of Fire

Her Crown of Fire

Title: Her Crown of Fire 
Author: Renee April
Series: Molten Fire # 1

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 1, 2019
Publisher: Write Plan


Synopsis

Seventeen-year-old Rose Evermore is just a normal teenager who has no idea what she wants to be when she grows up. That is, until she suddenly discovers her magical affinity for fire and develops dreams that predict the future.  Before she knows it, she winds up in a fantasy realm called Lotheria—with her best friend, Tyson, who has no magic. She is taken to the mysterious Academy to learn to use her magic, while Tyson must hide from the authorities—at the risk of death.  Rose needs to find a way to get them back home, before Tyson becomes the next target of the headmasters’ frightening wrath.

My Thoughts

This book is a real page-turner! I had a hard time putting this book down at bedtime.  From the first page I could tell that this was going to be different from other books like this. I kept expecting it to fall into common tropes.  While it’s still a book about a girl who discovers her magical powers and is torn away from her life and forced to live in a magical world where she must attend a school for magic, the individual plot points are quite unique from other similar books.

The atmosphere of this story is quite dark, darker than expected, and the Headmasters of the school are far from warm and cuddly. Punishments are severe, and they come with even the teeniest, tiniest of infractions.

At the risk of spoilers, I want to be super vague when I talk about the romance in this story. Rose does not fall for who I was expecting her to fall for, which was a pleasant surprise.  I was fully expecting April to write the more obvious of the romances (there are quite a few potential love interests), and she went with someone else entirely.  That said, the romance felt rushed towards the end of the book, and I would have preferred if Rose had interacted with her love interest a little more earlier on, had some longing glances and whatnot to build up to their passionate love affair.

I did find a few parts of the book confusing, especially earlier on. When Rose first shows up in this unique world and is taken to the Academy to study magic, she experiences a strange magical… something. Was it a test? A hazing ritual?  I’m still not entirely sure what I had read, and it happened early enough in the book that it left me worried that I would experience that level of confusion again. Fortunately, it’s the only part of the book that really left me scratching my head, as everything else was quite easy to follow.  If you experience the same while reading this book, I encourage you to push through it, because this read is quite rewarding!

One part of the book that I absolutely adored is the use of Runes. April has created a unique type of magic that leaves me aching for more. You know that a writer has created an interesting type of magic when I long to read a textbook on the subject. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but I want to read a textbook on Runes written by Renee April. (I am a librarian and researcher, after all! It shouldn’t be so hard to believe). Other aspects of the magic in this world are just as interesting, especially the unique take on soulmates, and I’m eager to explore this world more in the next instalment in this series.

Her Crown of Fire

I recommend this book to anyone looking to get lost in a dark, magical world.

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*Thank you to Write Plan for the advanced reader copy for review*

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Book Review: The Lost Coast by Amy Rose Capetta

The Lost Coast book cover

The Lost Coast Book cover

Title: The Lost Coast
Author: Amy Rose Capetta
Genre: Fantasy, Literary, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: May 14,  2019
Publisher: Candlewick


Synopsis

The Lost Coast is a highly literary coming of age tale of a group of teenage witches, self-named the Grays.  Their leader, Imogen, has gone missing, and they’ve tried nearly everything to find her. But when Danny moves to town, she brings with her a unique type of magic that might just be what they’re looking for, in more ways than one.

~My Thoughts~

This book is beautifully written, and the words are like poetry on the page.  It reminds me a little bit of a literary version of an 80s movie, with a bunch of lost kids trying to find their place in the world, but in this book, they’ve found their place–with each other.

There are many different points of view expressed throughout the book.  We get a lot of chapters from Danny’s point of view, and others from the Grays’, but we also get the perspective of the other high school students, which provides context for why the Grays feel so out of place in their little, traditional town.  To reinforce themes of magic in the book, Capetta occasionally provides the point of view of the trees and the ravens, which could be groan-worthy, but it somehow works.

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Book Review: Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto

Crown of Feathers book photo

Crown of Feathers book cover

Title: Crown of Feathers
Author: Nicki Pau Preto
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Series: Crown of Feathers book 1

Date of Publication: February 12, 2019
Publisher: Simon Pulse


Synopsis

Veronyka is a war orphan who was raised by her deceased grandmother and her older sister, Val. Veronyka and her sister are “animages”, and have the ability to communicate with animals.  This is not uncommon in the world they live in, but ever since the war their kind have been persecuted.  Val and Veronyka want nothing more than to become Phoenix Riders, like the heroes who fought during the war.

After a terrible betrayal, Veronyka flees from her sister and finds a sanctuary for her kind, a place where apprentices are being trained as Phoenix Riders. The only catch? If she wants to become a Phoenix Rider–to follow in her parents’ footsteps and become the hero she’s always dreamt of being—she’s going to have to pretend to be a boy.

Characters and Plot

It’s difficult to separate out characters and plot for this book, since there are several point of view characters, and each of their plotlines are heavily influenced by who they are.

We primarily follow three characters in this book. All three of them have fascinating story arcs.  All three of them overcome their fears over the span of the first novel in this trilogy and begin the journey of accepting who they truly are.

First off, there’s Veronyka, the protagonist, who escapes from her (let’s face it—abusive) sister to join the Phoenix Riders while masquerading as a boy.  Her storyline is perhaps the most engaging, as it is the main focus of the story.  I absolutely love her unadulterated adulation of phoenixes and her sheer will to do whatever it takes to become a Phoenix Rider.

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Past Tense by Star Spider

Past Tense

Past Tense Book Cover

Title: Past Tense
Author: Star Spider
Genre: Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: April 10, 2018
Publisher: HarperCollins


Julie Nolan is just another teenager who’s madly in love with her best friend, Lorelei.  She’s obsessed with her and spends a lot of time hunting down the perfect opportunity to come out and profess her undying love.  Once she does, she knows in her heart that Lorelei will reciprocate this love and they will live happily ever after.  But Julie’s home life is getting in the way with her grand plans. Her mother, who just gave birth to Julie’s younger brother, has started to act strangely.  Her mother has become meek and muted.  At night she takes Julie to the graveyard, where she asks Julie to bury her and give a eulogy.  She’s nothing like the vibrant, full-of-life person she once was.  She’s convinced that she doesn’t have a heartbeat, that she isn’t breathing, that she’s dead.

Past Tense

At first Julie’s singular obsession with her best friend was a tad tedious.  But do you remember when you were that age? A crush, or “being in love” would often demand all of your attention. Star Spider does a fabulous job of replicating the teenage experience, and manages to craft Julie into a three-dimensional character. Sure, she’s obsessed with her best friend, but she has other personality traits that she demonstrates and gets to develop over the course of the novel. She shows compassion for her teacher who she thinks is in love with her. She demonstrates maturity and a deep love and concern for her infant brother when her mother starts to act strange.

This brings me to the title. “Past Tense”. How clever! At the graveyard, Julie’s mother asks her to give a eulogy.  She corrects her when she starts – saying that it has to be in past tense. “Past Tense” aptly describes all the themes in this book.  Julie is evolving into a new person, and by the end, she’s nothing like the person she was in the beginning of the book.

As the novel progresses, Julie starts to develop more self-awareness. There’s an event that’s a turning point for Julie, but her evolution is gradual and beautifully conceived.  Julie becomes able to evaluate her relationship with her best friend.  She develops a friendship with a boy in her school, Henry. It’s refreshing to see that her new relationship isn’t insta-love, like what she had with Lorelei.  Julie has grown and evolved into a person who can see beyond looks and superficial charm, and she develops a true connection at a deeper level.  This self-realization is also demonstrated in her relationship with her mother.  While giving the eulogy for her mother, she says that her mother was “wonderful”. Julie ruminates over this term, the shallowness of it, and how she should be able to probe deeper. If nothing else, when Julie’s mother truly does die, Julie will be able to give a fabulous eulogy.

Julie’s relationship with her mother is fascinating.  From the beginning of the book, her mom is already suffering from some sort of mental illness, yet we know that Julie and her mother were very close before the events of this book begin.  Instead of just telling us that they were close, Star Spider demonstrates this with absolutely heart-wrenching little anecdotes at the beginning of each chapter.  They’re short, yet powerfully demonstrative of the relationship they once had.  In the past, her mother was dynamic and full of life and absolutely attentive to her daughter, which makes it even more painfully obvious that she’s suffering in the present.

I particularly loved the parallels between the two prominent plotlines in this story.  The storyline of her best friend and what’s going on with her mother intersects quite beautifully with a life lesson that we all should learn.  (Spoilers are between the glasses!)

 

Spoilers between the Glasses!

Julie learns that sometimes the best thing you can do is to ignore the wishes of the person you want to help.  Being brave sometimes requires a simple telling of the truth.  Sure, she’ll never run into a fire to save a life (like her mother did), but she can still have an incredible impact on the lives around her.

She tells her father about what her mother is going through, which helps her to get the medical treatment she needs. She tells another teacher about Lorelei’s highly-disgusting relationship with the teacher.  By the end of the novel Julie is glad with the decisions she’s made, and she has no guilt or regrets.

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This is a fast-paced, easy-to-read book recommended to young adults (and adults!) of all ages.  While it deals with some intense themes, the book itself isn’t too dark.  The end is uplifting, which makes all the feelings that you had while reading worthwhile.

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*I received a copy of this ARC from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.*

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