Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

The Santos women are cursed by the sea, and Rosa Santos knows better than to get involved with anyone involved with the sea. As her college deadline looms over her, she is caught between the town she calls home and the island of Cuba, a familial past her abuela refuses to talk about. But when her town falls into trouble, Rosa must work fast to save her town and face her fear of the shore before it swallows her whole.

It has been a while since I’ve picked up a book with little expectations, only to have them exceeded way beyond my imagination. From the description, I have to admit I wasn’t too sure about this one but, wow, I really liked Don’t Date Rosa Santos.

The world-building was rich and vibrant. Port Coral really opened up with each new chapter. The community was so unique and its residents were so lively. The community of Port Coral truly felt real and not just a static background for Rosa’s story. The main theme of Don’t Date Rosa Santos is how Rosa struggles to connect with her Cuban roots, and through the entire novel, she worries that her connection is not enough and she can’t access more of it due to her family’s past. Her experience is very rooted in Cuban culture, but I found myself really relating to her thoughts about diaspora and her disconnection to her family. Moreno did a really great job here, evoking such strong emotions in such a digestible way.

The people around Rosa make their mark as much as Rosa herself. Her grandmother, Mimi, whose loss in the past leads her to close her heart when Rosa comes calling with questions. Her mother travels to run away from the grief that always seems to follow her. The family trauma runs three generations deep, and Rosa tries to get her family to finally face their fears together. Her neighbours are sweet, her schoolfriends hilarious, and a love interest that I actually really loved and rooted very strongly for.

I was not expecting to be so emotionally affected by this book. Rosa’s monologues, her worries about her future and her own self-imposed expectations, it all hit really close to home. Rosa undertakes an internal journey to better understand a culture she yearns to learn more about. And while doing that, she works towards understanding this so-called “curse” on her family that follows the women in her family. If I’m being honest, the curse is a hit or miss aspect because it frustrated me a lot as it concealed so much information, so watch out for that. But everything else was brilliant.

Overall, Don’t Date Rosa Santos was delightful and moving. Its emphasis on family and community makes it such a touching read, and one of my most surprising reads of the year. It really was something special.


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Review: Piecing Me Together

Review: Piecing Me Together

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)


“I don’t know what’s worse. Being mistreated because of the colour of your skin, your size, or having to prove that it really happened.”

High school junior Jade attends an elite school on scholarship in a predominately white area where she is the only person from her “bad” neighbourhood in Portland, OR. With her mother struggling to make ends meet, she reminds Jade that every opportunity must never be wasted if she wants to book it out her neighbourhood someday. However, Jade can’t help but feel like some of these opportunities make her feel like a charity case. More than anything, she wants to join her school’s study abroad week to improve her Spanish skills. But instead, she is invited to a mentorship program for people from her background and is partnered up with Maxine, a school alumnus who has made a name for herself and wants to give back to her community. She has nothing in common with Maxine and her privileged background, but this is an opportunity that Jade can’t turn down. 

Piecing Me Together is a standout novel about a teen’s journey of awareness and self-empowerment through art. Readers will find Jade’s story thoughtful as she navigates the world as a Black girl. The microaggressions she faces in her everyday life is powerfully nuanced and incredibly realistic. Race, privilege and identity are key themes that string through the entire novel. I feel like this book will get some slack for being “quiet” but, honestly, this technique works best in this circumstance. It lacks in an explosive conflict, opting for a story that focuses on the minute reproduction of Jade’s reality. Watson touches upon a lot in so little space which makes the story so layered and put together. Because of this, I wasn’t a massive fan of how quickly the conflict Jade had with one of her white peers had resolved.  This is just a heads up to readers who prefer a more fast-paced read. 

The way Watson create Jade’s voice was indeed on point and brought to life the way Jade’s experiences differs to say Sam, her new friend, who is white and comes from the same impoverished background as her. Jade can see how, despite their similar experiences, they are given different opportunities. Sam benefits a lot from white privilege but fails to see to truly understands its impact until Jade points it out. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself frustrated with Sam but opens your understanding of how she thinks what she does.  Jade grows up a lot in this, and I appreciated her development. She starts by not wanting to rock the boat but slowly realises that she is allowed to speak out when in discomfort and she shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about it. Maxine is a little tricky. It took some time to appreciate her, mainly because she doesn’t begin taking the mentorship seriously, which impacts how Jade feels about her. (and me!) Slowly, over time, they realise they can relate to each other. Jade’s home community is quite precious. I love her uncle and her mum. They’re often on edge with each other, but do care genuinely and want the best for the other. 

Overall, I found Piecing Me Together quite touching and realistic. Jade’s story is colourful as her art and well put together. The characters come alive and become people that we might already know in our lives. Watson has created a story that gives a voice to often silenced Black voices and creates an exciting story that can be completed in one sitting. 


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Review: Slay

Review: Slay

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

A teen game developer finds herself facing an online troll after her Black Panther-inspired game reaches mainstream media and is labelled as exclusionary when a young Black boy is murdered over an online dispute. No one knows that Kiera Johnson, an honours student, runs the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. So when her game’s existence is thrown out into the open, she must save her game while also protecting the safe community she has created for Black gamers. 

SLAY comes to life when Kiera Johnson’s experiences of being a Black gamer means she is ostracised and faces continuously racist abuse. SLAY becomes her refuge where she can put aside her fears about college and whether her future with her boyfriend is the one and, simply put, slays in her self-made game environment. I loved the gameplay detail a lot. For some, it can feel overwhelming, but I loved the detail Morris put into bringing SLAY to life! The gaming culture is one of the book’s strongest point. 

When word of SLAY leaks to the media, Kiera is devastated to see what was a safe space for so many people suddenly branded and portrayed in a negative light, this book is a discussion of the importance of space spaces, and they have the right to exist without being labelled racist. 

In my opinion, the book struggles to make me feel like Kiera developed this game. I thought we’d get a better explanation to how she manages to run SLAY, a VR MMORPG, but we get so little that it made the reading experience disappointing. SLAY is Kiera’s baby, but to maintain a game like SLAY for years with no one in your family realising and only having two people moderating a game with 500k users doesn’t make sense. I would’ve loved to have seen Kiera actively working on SLAY rather than pushing it to the side and with little to show of her skill in game development. Also, the ending was rather disappointing as well, and a lot is glossed over, and not developed. So it’s a shame the side characters weren’t as impressive as they had the potential to be better. Kiera deserves better friends after everything she’s been through. 

Overall, despite my own shortcomings with SLAY, Morris’s debut is a sweet love letter to Black gamer girls. SLAY is born out of Kiera’s wish to promote Black culture from across the diverse diaspora. Collectable battle cards are grounded in Black culture, each with a deep meaning and can kick ass on the digital playing field. SLAY was a good read, and I’ll happily check out anything else Morris will release in the future.  

Here are some #OwnVoices reviews from Black book bloggers: Leila and Liselle Sambury


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Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Review: Two Can Keep a Secret

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

 A small American town finds themselves back in the limelight after a murderer remerges to terrorise its citizens. Twins Ellery and Ezra move into town to live with their grandmother when their mother is admitted into rehab and find themselves in the centre of the murder mystery. As they settle into their new home, they discover that Echo Ridge thrives on gossip and the new drama brings up old wounds of their missing aunt and creates new ones when people begin to wonder if they have a copycat or the original killer on their hands.

The main problem with the story is that there’s too much, and not much being done with it. Too many characters, too many side plots, and not enough focus on the original mystery that there is a lack of depth to everything. Ellery and Ezra’s aunt went missing before they were born, and her disappearance doesn’t seem to impact or intertwined with the current mystery like it’s suggested to be until the end. McManus relies on clichés without working on them further. Rich, snobby girls and all-American jocks. And their voices weren’t distinct enough to be remotely memorable.

What I appreciated the most about Two Can Keep A Secret was the little things. I really enjoyed the theme of family, and while this book does go on a tangent at some points, the family was a key motivation in all the characters. There’s also some discussion by the side character about being a minority in a heavily white population and how you are forced to be perfect in fear of lash back.

Like McManus’s debut, Two Can Keep A Secret followed through with that intriguing and suspense building flair. It certainly keeps you guessing and enjoyed how this small town both mixed and clashed with each other. The chapters alternate between Ellery and Malcolm, whose brother was accused of killing the first girl five years ago. Malcolm, I think, had the most substantial chapters. He has to struggle with everyone pointing the finger at him and no one willing to listen to him. Ellery is a true crime fanatic which was born out of never knowing what happened to her aunt. She’s rather exciting, and I liked how she thinks. But I found it a little inappropriate at times for her to be digging into an actual crime and treating it as her own plaything. Being stubborn isn’t a bad thing, but I could never take her seriously because she never did.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed Two Can Keep A Secret much more than I did with One of Us is Lying. Both books have their strengths and flaws, but I think TCKAS was a stronger and more enticing read. It was a satisfying read about a small town with big secrets. I was super invested quite quickly, but I found my interesting waning towards the end. But it was still a satisfying read, and a quite quick read I might add, I would recommend reading if you have an afternoon to kill.


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Review: Red, White & Royal Blue

Review: Red, White & Royal Blue

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4/5)

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz finds himself falling in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an accident launches their non-existent friendship into international light. Damage control turns into an unlikely friendship and with his mother kicking off her re-election bid, the choices Alex must make can upend everything his family has worked for.

RWRB was strangely entertaining. I dived in not expecting much but came out with a good laugh and a feeling of warmth. McQuinston creates a world in which Trump never happened and instead, the first female president was elected. Alex is proud of his family and will do anything to help them. And that even means putting aside his disdain for Prince Henry for the sake of American-British relations.

Contemporary books that try to get with the current lingo often come across as embarrassing. But RWRB made it surprisingly work. Alex was a hilarious main lead. He’s very full of himself but I’m saying that in a nice way. I personally didn’t like Henry, he just came across as a stereotypical British person. But their relationship together was pretty sweet. Henry is gay, but Alex is questioning his sexuality for most of the book, before coming out as bisexual. They work really well together, and they try their bests to help each other out, despite the circumstances. The side characters are really great to read. I really enjoyed the strong sibling relationship and the whole unlikely yet supportive friendship group that develops in the book.

The political backdrop will be a hit or miss for some readers. I’m sort of in the middle. I feel like this book wanted to stay completely on the romance path but couldn’t ignore the political context in which it’s set in. I wasn’t exactly a huge fan of it,, but I particularly loved the message that Alex sent about being a non-white person in America and how the melting pot that is the country is what makes America and diversity should be celebrated, not shunned away.

I didn’t really have much issue with this book. Adiba Jaigirdar says its more eloquently than I ever could, but because this story is essentially these two people, children of national figures, falling in love. And one of the people being a member of the royal family, you’re given this idealised image of British royalty. An empire which has committed many crimes against humanity. McQuiston does acknowledge the awfulness and Henry is aware of this privilege but positioning him as this ‘not like the others’ prince really wasn’t cutting it for me. But I don’t think I’ll knock off anything from my rating for it, it’s just a personal taste.  

Overall, I personally really enjoyed it. Another review called it a “bookish security blanket” which is rather fitting. It’s hilarious and heart-warming. I found myself engrossed at most. I would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for an international royal romance.


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Review: All the Things We Never Said

Review: All the Things We Never Said

Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.5/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

This is not a spoiler-free review. Content warning: Suicide (suicidal thoughts, discussion of ways to die by suicide, including two on the page attempts), sexual assault (implied and attempted rape on the page). More to be added…

Three different teenage girls join a website (MementoMori.com) that matches people and allocates them a shared date where they must die by suicide together. As they prepare for their final days, they slowly realise they don’t want to go through with it anymore, but the website won’t let them.

All the Things We Never Said (ATTWNS) is hard. Honestly, I found this such a difficult book to read. This is definitely a book to check for trigger warnings before picking it up because while I don’t suffer any of the issues that the main characters suffer with, it was just so emotionally draining, which is why I rated it a three, but I do believe the overall content is worthier of four. (4/5)

As mentioned before, ATTWNS follows the lives of three completely different girls.

Mehreen, a Bangladeshi girl who suffers from anxiety and depression which manifests into something she calls The Chaos. She always feels like she doesn’t fit in with her Muslim family and community. Cara suffers from the guilt of surviving a car accident which resulted in her dad’s death and her being in a wheelchair. Olivia looks picture perfect but is hiding the fact her mother’s boyfriend is abusing her.

With nothing in common but the website, these three girls come together to plan their joint suicide together. Tasked with a to-do list from MementoMori, the girls must submit evidence to completion. But slowly, these girls become friends and see good help in each other. They grow to depend on each other positively, and they bond so well. Each chapter was very distinct and showcased their varied personalities. Mehreen is more collected, Cara is loud, and Olivia is quite challenging to pin down. But they all worked together, and they realise how they all bring the best of each other out of themselves. Sure, they mess up, and that’s chalked up to just being young and inexperienced and being afraid to ask for help.

Overall, ATTWNS is quite the page-turner. The way MementoMori terrorises them was horrifying. And it’s not something that’s completely detached from real life, the way people online use people’s insecurities to gain pleasure is terrifying. (see: Blue Whale or Momo Challenge – both hoaxes but still dangerous) I appreciated that this story highlights stuff like that while also treating it sensitively and realistically.  


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