leahsbooks's reviews
525 reviews

Savage Tongues: A Novel , by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

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Did not finish book. Stopped at 16%.
It was boring. No plot that I could discern aside from bashing Israel, which wasn’t relevant to the summary that I read in any way. I struggled to stay interested at all, and gave up after slogging through more than an hour of rambling thoughts that seemed to go nowhere. 
The Wrong Family, by Tarryn Fisher

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dark mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? No
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

2.0

Let me start out by saying that Lauren Fortgang was an incredible narrator for this story. Her voice was absolutely perfect to listen to, although it wasn't enough to make me like this book. 

There were some surprising twists to the story, but again, it wasn't enough to overcome the mediocre plot. My main issue is that it relies on my very least favorite plot device in the entire world, and paints someone with a mental illness as the violent villain, when in fact, nearly every single character was a villain in some way. The only character that was likable in any way was the teenage son. 

Ultimately, this was a book with some surprising parts, but in the end, disappointing.

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Autoboyography, by Christina Lauren

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emotional hopeful lighthearted medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.5

I really enjoyed the Christina Lauren book I read for an adult audience, but I wasn't sure how their talents would translate to the YA market. Turns out I had no cause for concern, because this was knocked out of the park. I was a bit confused at first, since there were two narrators listed, but the second didn't appear until close to the end of the book. 

The characters were all so well-crafted, and it was easy to feel connected to them. Tanner, Autumn, Sebastian, and even the side characters felt as though they could easily be real people. The connections between the main characters were so poignant, and I loved how they supported each other. For people who don't get the support they need from birth family, friends become found family, the way they do in this book. 

Although I know very little about the Mormon religion and the people who practice it, this book went a long way to break down the stereotypes surrounding them in a sensitive way. I learned a lot more about the practices, especially the emphasis on service, and not just the proselytizing and homophobia that is more well-known. It broke my heart to see how the church and people who belong to it views being gay as more of a choice, and is so willing to shun members, or even people in their family for being gay. It especially hit hard when it was contrasted to Tanner's incredibly supportive family.

This story was incredibly moving, and I loved how it incorporated school, friendship, family relationships, with the added complexity of religion and being LGBT. This is such an important story to tell, and I'm glad that it was done so beautifully. This is one of my favorite Pride Month books, and I'm so grateful that my library highlighted it so that I came across it.

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Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

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dark mysterious tense fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

I read this book after watching the miniseries, and both were really good. Gillian Flynn's writing is deliciously dark and twisted, full of plot twists you don't see coming. There are a LOT of content warnings to be aware of - this is a book that isn't for the faint of heart, but if you can manage them, it's well worth the read.

Camille is a woman with plenty of inner demons who heads back to her hometown to cover a murder and a kidnapping, in what seems to be a pattern of crimes. When she gets there, she finds a lot more than she bargained for. Attempting to insert herself into an investigation, with law enforcement who is trying to block her efforts at every turn, as well as dealing with old family dynamics, small town drama, something infinitely more sinister, along with facing the wounds of her past (of which there are many), makes this an incredibly engrossing read. It's not a long book, but there's a lot to unpack, even as it held my attention from the very start. Camille is an intriguing narrator, a woman with secrets and so much hurt that she holds inside, as well as her secrets, her family secrets, and the small town vibe that hangs heavily over the entire story. Gillian Flynn wields dramatic tension like a true master, slowly increasing it throughout the book until the climax. 

This isn't a book to miss.

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Color Me in, by Natasha Díaz

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emotional sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? It's complicated
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

2.0

This is a tough book for me to review, partly because according to the author’s note, it draws heavily on her own life experience. And as much as I respect her own lived experiences, there were a few aspects of the book that I really had a hard time with. 
 
I listened to the audiobook. While Bahni Turpin was an enjoyable narrator as the voice of Nevaeh, she clearly struggled with the pronunciation of quite a few of the Hebrew words. There were a lot of words that were pronounced wrong, and I wish this had been addressed. It took me out of the story each time it happened, and was incredibly frustrated. 
 
The characters commonly felt so one-dimensional. Every single time that Nevaeh’s cousin Jerry appears, he is referred to as chubby or eating. Miss Clarisse is constantly portrayed as slutty and focused on pushing her form-fitting clothing. Abby’s father is described in a way that made him seem like an overdone Southern villain. And the Levitz side of the family is problematic in a whole different way — the grandmother is overbearing and kind of controlling (a stereotype), and while the family seems to have no connection to their Jewish roots, they become fixated on the idea of having a Bat Mitzvah for Nevaeh only when they discover that she’s been attending church with her mother. The mother’s behavior is bizarre to me as well — for someone who is so incredibly depressed for much of the book, it didn’t feel realistic to me that she attended a couple of therapy sessions and magically became supermom. There could have been so much nuance to all of the characters. I’m sure there’s more to Jerry than his weight and eating habits and Miss Clarisse is a successful Black business owner that hopefully has a genuine relationship with the grandfather, but those roles aren’t explored at all. 
 
Nevaeh herself seems to have no desire to explore either side of her heritage. She’s kind of forced to explore her Jewish side, which I understand not wanting to, since she wasn’t raised with any connection to it. However, I didn’t think that the representation was done very well there. Judaism is so much more than simply prayers — there’s a rich culture and heritage, with thousands of years of history, customs, rituals, foods, holidays, stories, and a system of beliefs. However, all Nevaeh seems to learn is a few prayers. I did like how she was able to incorporate what she learned into her life, and that her Bat Mitzvah mixed both sides of her background into the celebration. 
 
I liked the message that Nevaeh learned, but I guess I was hoping for more from the story. The relationships just kind of seemed to happen, rather than build up over time. Nevaeh went from disliking Rabbi Sarah to relying on her and considering her as a support, and went from being unsure of Jesus to dating him. I just didn’t really understand how things happened so quickly. Even the relationship with Jordan — it went from antagonistic to friends very quickly. I had some high expectations for this book, but it just didn’t really hit the bar for me. 

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The Children's Blizzard, by Melanie Benjamin

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emotional sad medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

My aunt recently recommended this book to me, and I decided to pick up the audiobook. Cassandra Campbell did a great job as the narrator, bringing each of the characters to life. 

Part of what made this story so engrossing was the fact that it was based on actual events, a devastating blizzard in 1888. This follows the story of several different characters, building a narrative that I couldn't stop listening to, and one that will stick with me for a long time.

First, it describes the very different paths that two sisters take - Raina and Gerda Olsen, who are both schoolteachers in their teen years, working in different areas of the prairie. It also tracks Anette, a young girl with a difficult life, and Gavin, a repentant news reporter who wants to redeem himself after being exiled to the plains from New York and being forced to write propaganda luring people out to buy property in the largely unpopulated area. 

When the blizzard strikes out of nowhere on an unseasonably warm day, each of the main characters makes very different choices, which have unexpected consequences. I loved the way the story unfolded - we learn about backstories from each of the characters, so we understand their motivations and personalities. By the time the blizzard occurred, I was completely engrossed in the story and totally invested in the outcomes for each of the characters. 

I also enjoyed that the story didn't end immediately after the blizzard. In fact, about half the story continued, focusing on the aftermath of the blizzard. It wasn't an easy read, because it dealt with difficult subject matter (death, death of children, racism, discrimination against indigenous people), but it was incredibly interesting. This is one that made history fascinating.

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The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

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dark emotional reflective slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Character
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? No
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

5.0

This book was absolutely incredible, although I’ve been putting it off for quite a while because to be honest, it is a huge brick of a book. Unlike a book where I read it and get sucked into the story, this is more of an experience that feels like I’m actually IN the story, at a level of intensity that I’ve rarely found in books. 
 
The writing is so descriptive, even if it is a bit overly wordy at times. Donna Tartt has a way with words that makes me feel as though I was right there with Theo as he went through everything, but they were explained in a way that I’ve never quite seen before. Even when the descriptions were the most off-the-wall, I was able to clearly picture everything: 
 
“His gold-rimmed aviators were tinted purple at the top; he was wearing a white sports jacket over a red cowboy shirt with pearl snaps, and black jeans, but the main thing I noticed was his hair: part toupee, part transplanted or sprayed-on, with a texture like fiberglass insulation and a dark brown-color like shoe polish in the tin.” 
 
Seeing Theo grow up under the heavy burden of grief was heartbreaking. Grief isn’t an easy thing to deal with, but to have your entire world turned upside down at the age of 13? He didn’t just lose his mother, but his home, his stability, his support, and basically his whole world. It was painful to see him struggle with his own grief and how to express it: 
 
“Certainly I wasn’t howling aloud or punching my fist through windows or doing any of the things I imagined people might do who felt as I did. But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illuminated in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.” 
 
The events of one single day affected the entire course of Theo’s life. I couldn’t help but read this whole book without wondering how differently his life would have been if things had occurred differently on that one day. It was no easy thing to be inside Theo’s head for the duration of this book. He was self-pitying, overanalytical, self-sabotaging, and maudlin. But at the same time, I just wanted to take him under my wing and hug him. It’s rare that I can empathize so deeply with such a damaged character. 
 
“My moods were a slingshot; after being locked-down and anesthetized for years my heart was zinging and slamming itself around like a bee under a glass, everything bright, sharp, confusing, wrong — but it was a clean pain as opposed to the dull misery that had plagued me for years under the drugs like a rotten tooth, the sick dirty ache of something spoiled.” 
 
While I tend to strongly prefer plot-driven stories, this character-driven story was one that I just couldn’t put down. It was like I had an uncontrollable need to find out what was going to happen next to Theo, and figure out what the ultimate outcome was for him. The painting was an intriguing side note, but the characters were really what held my attention. There was just something about Boris (especially), and Hobie that kept drawing me in, and wanting to find out what happened to them as well. 
 
This book was a serious investment of time, mental energy, and emotions, but it was absolutely worth it. I can’t help but wonder if Donna Tartt’s other works are as engrossing as this one. I guess I’ll have to check them out. 

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The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, by Alka Joshi

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emotional mysterious tense medium-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No

5.0

I received an audiobook through libro.fm. All opinions are my own.
 
I loved The Henna Artist so much, that when I saw that this sequel was available, I practically jumped on it. Let me tell you, it’s totally worth the time to read this one! And while I read the first one as a hard copy book, I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook as well. The narrators (Sneha Mathan, Ariyan Kassam, and Deepa Samuel) brought the characters to life in such a beautifully vivid way that I never wanted the book to end. Also, I’d like to take a moment to just appreciate the gorgeous cover, The bright colors and gorgeous composition really characterize the story perfectly. 
 
In the first book, Alka Joshi brings these incredibly nuanced and realistic characters to life, even the side characters. But of course, Malik was the young, mischievous boy who stole my heart, and Lakshmi was the voice of reason as well as caretaker. I had gotten so attached to them that it was great to see them return as their future selves. 
 
Malik is now an adult, but still hasn’t fully outgrown the relationship with Lakshmi that he’s had for nearly all of his life. Even as he’s building a relationship with Nimmi, a local woman, he soon has to leave to navigate a new career path back in Jaipur, where he finds himself sucked back into an old web of secrets, lies, power, and class differences. 
 
Lakshmi has her own hands full, uncovering a dangerous plot occurring closer to home in the foothills of the Himalayas, where she has built a happy and satisfying life. She’s struggling with learning to let Malik be an adult, and keeping the people close to her safe. 
 
The story was so interesting, and even though it was told from 3 different POVs (Malik, Lakshmi, and Nimmi), it never got confusing or boring. At first, it seemed like there was three vastly different stories, but as I kept listening, they ended up coming together in a way that I didn’t see coming at all. I loved how it all wove together so beautifully and seamlessly, with each character overcoming their own challenges both independently and with the help of others. The persistence, found family, and the strength of the bonds that we build were some of my favorite themes running through the story. 

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That Thing About Bollywood, by Supriya Kelkar

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emotional funny hopeful fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.0

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

I’ve only recently been getting into MG books, and at first I was a little worried that this one was going to read a little young, since the MC is only 11. However, once I read a little further into it, I got completely into the story and forgot all my concerns. 
 
Sonali is Indian-American, and lives in a community surrounded by family members and close friends of the family, who are also referred to as aunts and uncles. While her cultural ties are strong, there’s also a strong push to keep things inside the house private, which causes a lot of issues within her immediate family, especially as Sonali’s parents are experiencing marital difficulties. This has led to Sonali pushing her emotions down, and not really knowing how to express them at all. When their arguing intensifies and her parents decide to separate, neither of the kids take it very well. Ronak, her younger brother, becomes even more emotional, crying a lot. Sonali, on the other hand, becomes even more stoic, leading to a whirlwind of emotions inside that she is unable (and unwilling) to let out. 
 
Overnight, Sonali’s world changes and becomes like one of her beloved Bollywood movies. I loved how she sees so much of her life through the lens of Bollywood films, since that is what she knows best, and it gave me insight into the way Indian-Americans in this story express their culture. It also talked a little about the intersection between Indian-Americans and Pakistani-Americans, and how the experiences and trauma from Partition continued to impact their lives even generations later. 
 
As Sonali sees her family and her social relationships change, she wants to get to the bottom of the Bollywooditis (as she calls it), to make it stop happening and get her life back to normal. But to do so, she’s going to have to make the difficult choice of learning how to manage her emotions in a different way than she’s been trying to do her entire life. 
 
I loved seeing her journey to getting in touch with her emotions and expressing them. Along the way, she sees her family and friends in a new light, and it was such an interesting story. This was a fun, fast-paced, adorable, and sweet story that I truly enjoyed reading. It’ll be released soon, so definitely check it out! 

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One Last Stop, by Casey McQuiston

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emotional funny mysterious fast-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? A mix
  • Strong character development? Yes
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? Yes

4.5

I received a copy of this audiobook through libro.fm. All opinions are my own.

I know that Casey McQuiston has developed kind of a cult following, but I can now confidently say that I’ve joined those ranks. She’s got a fun, hilarious, quirky, and completely unique style of writing that had me hanging on every word while simultaneously desperate to find out what happened next. In addition, this story had elements of a love letter to New York City, which won me over. 
 
The audiobook version of this was absolutely fabulous! The narrator, Natalie Naudus, was the perfect choice to voice August, and truly brought the character alive in exactly the way I would have pictured her in my head. 
 
Going into this, I really didn’t fully understand what I was in for. But once I started reading, I was hooked right away. August is the kind of character I could easily picture as a real person. She’s got so many issues and thinks that New York is where she can fade into the background and just lose herself. However, that isn’t what happens at all. Between her weird roommates, a job in an iconic yet strange 24-hour pancake diner (Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes), and a chance encounter with an enchanting woman on the subway, she’s slowly drawn out of her comfort zone only to realize the entire world of possibilities that she’s been missing out on! 
 
Up until now, August’s world has been consumed with her mom’s relentless search for answers, and her desire to escape from that. She’s finally starting to do that. She falls in love with Jane, the girl from the train, but discovers there’s more than meets the eye. Jane isn’t just dressed like a punk from the 70s — she’s displaced and IS from the 70s but somehow got trapped on the subway in some weird sort of limbo. Just like that, August has to learn how to rely on the support of her new friends in a desperate quest to save Jane as she realizes she has to let down her walls, let people in, and rely on all the skills she’s tried to leave behind. 
 
I truly loved seeing August grow and come into her own throughout the story. It was incredibly moving, and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I cried towards the end of the story. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times throughout the story that I laughed, because it was absolutely HILARIOUS! There’s a lot of queer/bi representation, with a trans character and some really awesome drag queens that factor into the story. But it was really intriguing to see the evolution of gay life from Jane’s time to August’s time, especially since it was a major culture shock for Jane, going from the 70s to present day in the blink of an eye. 
 
This was such a great book, and I will be shouting about this to everyone and anyone. Also, I’m definitely going to have to pick up Red, White, and Royal Blue, since everyone has been talking about it and how great it was, and I honestly have no idea (or excuse) or why I haven’t yet, but I clearly need to! 

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