Review: The Secret of a Heart Note

secretTitle: The Secret of a Heart Note
Author: Stacey Lee
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Pages: 384
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Review copy: Digital ARC via Edelweiss
Availability: December 27, 2016

Summary: “Love chose me, and I tried, but I couldn’t stop the arrow in its flight.”

As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, fifteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of using her extraordinary sense of smell to mix elixirs that help others fall in love.

All while remaining incurably alone.

For Mim, the rules are clear—falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mimosa dreams of ditching the hermetic life of an aromateur in favor of high school, free time, and a boy to kiss.

When she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman and has to rely on the school soccer star to help fix the situation, she quickly begins to realize that falling in love isn’t always a choice. It’s a calling.

At once, hopeful, funny, and romantic, Stacey Lee’s Secret of a Heart Note is a richly evocative coming-of-age story that speaks to all of the senses.

Review: “Most people don’t know that heartache smells like blueberries.” I can’t argue with the opening line of Stacey Lee’s newest novel. Blueberries and heartache were quite unrelated in my mind prior to reading this quirky and rather lovely romance. The fragrances of many items from nature are highlighted and brought to memory many of my favorite scents such as jasmine, cinnamon, and vanilla. It isn’t often that the sense of smell is such a pervasive topic in a novel. I appreciated this deep dive into aromas and I imagine many people who enjoy aromatherapy, essential oils or flowers will find this to be an interesting framework for a story.

Beyond the aromateur aspect of the book though, the characters and their interactions are engaging too. Mim is pushing gently against the requirements and responsibilities imposed by her mother while still showing respect and love. Their relationship is going through growing pains as Mim tries to balance her unusual lifestyle with typical teen activities and relationships. She attends high school even though her mother couldn’t care less about her studies and believes it’s a waste of time. Mim wanted to learn things in school, but she also wants to be out there interacting with her peers.

No matter what she’s doing, Mim gives her best effort even if she manages to totally mess things up in cringe-worthy style on numerous occasions. There were multiple times when I could see how badly things were going to go, but Mim isn’t one to give up or give in easily. At first it seemed a bit contrived, but before long I was won over by her determination and spirit.

The story is a romantic comedy with a touch of magic. The romance was more believable than I expected. Though there was instant attraction, the relationship started as a nice slow simmer and built from there.

Recommendation: Get it soon. This is a perfect book to snuggle up with this winter. It will bring smiles and the images of blooming flowers while the pages turn.

There is a Goodreads Giveaway going on through Dec. 7.

Book Review: The Sun is Also a Star

Yoon_9780553496680_jkt_all_r1.inddTitle: The Sun is Also a Star
Author: Nicola Yoon
Genres:  Realistic/Romance
Pages: 384
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.

Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store—for both of us.

The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?

Review: I didn’t know I needed a fun quirky romance story to get my mind of current events until I read Nicola Yoon’s sophomore novel, “The Sun is Also a Star.” I enjoyed her first novel, “Everything Everything” and was looking forward to this second one. I’d heard a lot of reviews say it was “lovely” and “charming” and “heartwarming”, and the cynic in me was skeptical, but it really was all that and more. The novel is also very deep in that it drops a lot of truths, is a wonderful commentary on the complexities of immigrants in the US, addresses racial tension, destiny and fate, all within the span of a day in the lives of Natasha and Daniel.

The novel is told in alternating POV chapters between Natasha and Daniel, which I loved, but also interspersed are little vignettes that give background insight into side characters that have either direct impact on Natasha & Daniel’s lives, or have a small impact on their day. There are also small vignettes that drop knowledge about history, as told in the context of how the topic relates to the characters, for example, there is a whole section about Black women’s hair. At first, when I learned about the vignettes, I was afraid they would take away from the story, but I ended up loving all of them and felt like they were placed perfectly, as if they were a very long footnote. Take in the case of the vignette about Black women’s hair; the section gives the reader background information on the complex relationship Black women have had with their hair since our ancestors were stolen from their land and brought to the Americas. The tone used is not as a boring “The More You Know” type of vignette, but more as a glimpse into Natasha’s thought process of deciding to wear her hair in an Afro and the tension it brings between her and her mother. Yoon also does the same for Daniel and his parents, giving backgrounds into why his father pushes him so, which creates a complex character instead of an “evil archetype”.  The vignettes really connect with the theme that everything we do, every person we interact with has meaning in some small way, and for me, it enriched Natasha’s and Daniel’s world.

I obviously cannot write a review about a romance book without mentioning the love story. Many people critique the concept of “instalove” in YA, but for this novel, it really works. Well, it’s not that Natasha and Daniel have “instalove”, as they definitely have to work on it, but their love story is sweet in the way as you watch two people who meet randomly fall for each other. The love story is also steamy as Yoon definitely did not hold back in the way the two characters expressed their attraction to each other. And for that alone is another reason why I loved the novel. Natasha and Daniel are 17 year-olds on the brink of adulthood, with real adult feelings, and I like that Yoon didn’t try to sugarcoat it. Both where honest about their physical attraction towards the other, therefore the chemistry between Natasha and Daniel felt very real.

Lastly, “The Sun is Also a Star” is beautifully written. I enjoyed Yoon’s prose with her first novel, but it feels like she just went to a whole other level with this second one. There are so many wonderful gems that I ended up highlighting my Kindle, which is something that I never do.  For example, take this line when Daniel is explaining his belief in God. He says, “God is the connection of the very best parts of us.” I just…love the philosophy that Daniel is saying here and the meaning of these words are so profound. I have to admit that I think one of the reasons why I feel in love with both Natasha and Daniel is because of Yoon’s beautiful prose. I feel in love with her words, the way she played with language, the way she dropped knowledge, and the way she made Natasha and Daniel’s love real.

Recommendation: Go buy it in Hardcover so you can add it to your “Books I loved” shelf.

New Releases

We found one new release this week.

cloudCloudwish by Fiona Wood

For Vân Uoc, fantasies fall into two categories: nourishing or pointless. Daydreaming about attending her own art opening? Nourishing. Daydreaming about Billy Gardiner, star of the rowing team who doesn’t even know she’s alive? Pointless.

So Vân Uoc tries to stick to her reality–keeping a low profile as a scholarship student at her prestigious Melbourne private school, managing her mother’s PTSD from a traumatic emigration from Vietnam, and admiring Billy from afar. Until she makes a wish that inexplicably–possibly magically–comes true. Billy actually notices her. In fact, he seems to genuinely like her. But as they try to fit each other into their very different lives, Vân Uoc can’t help but wonder why Billy has suddenly fallen for her. Is it the magic of first love, or is it magic from a well-timed wish that will eventually, inevitably, come to an end? — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

Review: When the Moon Was Ours

moonTitle: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Genres: Magical Realism, Fantasy, LGBTQIA, Romance
Pages: 288
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Review Copy: Received electronic ARC from publisher
Availability: Available now

Summary: When the Moon Was Ours follows two characters through a story that has multicultural elements and magical realism, but also has central LGBT themes—a transgender boy, the best friend he’s falling in love with, and both of them deciding how they want to define themselves.

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Review: Last October I read The Weight of Feathers on a plane ride, so it seemed fitting for me to read Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours while on my trip last weekend. If you loved Feathers, you’ll most likely love Moon as the curses, family problems, and magical realism are all still present. The prose itself is excellent, with many beautiful, sometimes haunting, frequently memorable lines and passages. Moon is a fascinating world filled with women who can cure lovesickness, girls made of water, roses that grow from people’s wrists, boys who paint and hang the dozens of moons, and sisters who can get whatever and whoever they want.

Miel and Sam are the heart of the story, and they are engaging narrators. I loved their perspectives on each other, their relationship, and their trials throughout the book. I always appreciate a romance more when the characters have conflict with each other in addition to conflict from outside sources—it makes the relationship seem more real and makes any eventual triumph all the sweeter. Their romance felt like a natural progression from their friendship, which is no small feat considering their history together isn’t told linearly.

Aracely and Yasmin were also great characters, and the relationships they had with Miel and Sam were both interesting and backed by a great deal of love. I’ve been craving stories with good parents(/parental figures), and Aracely and Yasmin helped satisfy that itch. The Bonner sisters were particularly interesting antagonists, and the way they were alternately chilling and sympathetic made me crave more of their stories. I think McLemore handled their one-entity-in-four-bodies portrayal (and its slow subversion) well.

There were a few points in the book where I felt the story dragged a little (if your tolerance for long descriptive passages is low, it may drag a lot), and I occasionally wished we had a wider view of the world than the one we got. While there are a few plot points I would have adjusted, the story and the characters kept my attention so much so that I was a little sad when I finished.

Recommendation: Buy it now. When the Moon Was Ours is a wonderful successor to McLemore’s debut novel, The Weight of Feathers. Moon would be a great introduction to magical realism for teens and treats romance, sex, and (gender) identity thoughtfully.

Excerpt from When the Moon Was Ours

“Where Our Magic Lives: An Introduction to Magical Realism”

The Love That Lives Here: On Queer Girls, Transboys, and Sex on the Page

Interview with Guadalupe Garcia McCall

Shame the StarsToday we welcome Guadalupe Garcia McCall to share about her most recent book Shame the StarsI really enjoyed reading this amazing historical romance and was excited to be able to find out more about the book.

Publisher’s summary: Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.

As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.

Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.

Crystal’s Review


The Texas-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution is an intriguing time and place for a novel. How did you come to the idea of that particular setting?

I really wasn’t looking for an idea. The story’s main character, Joaquín, came to me fully fledged, wanting to tell me his story in the middle of the night. I had gone to bed upset after reading about the lynching of Mexicanos in South Texas during the matanza, the rebellion of 1915, in Dr. Johnson’s book, Revolution in Texas. My son, James, had introduced me to the book that night, and I’d stayed up late pouring over the details, looking at the horrific picture of two Texas Rangers proudly sitting on their horses with the ropes still tied around the corpses of two so-called “rebels” laying in front of them. That picture became a postcard. People bought it and sent it to their loved ones. The sadness that overwhelmed me as I thought about all the people who suffered at the hands of the Rangers and their nefarious posses overwhelmed me, and I went to bed dejected that night.

At around 3 o’clock that morning, Joaquín’s voice awakened me. I could hear him talking to me, telling me his story. “Me llamo Joaquín del Toro, and I live at Rancho Las Moras,” he said, and after the third time I heard his voice, I got up, went to the bathroom, put down the toilet seat, and started writing on my notepad, because I thought it was just going to be a small thread, a small poem perhaps, something to get rid of the ghost of those horrible pictures I’d seen online of Mexicanos lynched in the chaparral. Well, it turned out to be much more than that, and five years later, the book is finally done and I’m glad I got up and listened to Joaquín. His story is important to me. His voice lives in my heart.

Do you see connections between conflicts of that time and situations/events in the present?

Oh, yes. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of prejudice against Hispanics in this country. The current political climate is riddled with anger and hate and intolerance. But there is a lot of support too. Thank God we have people who see us for who we really are, as hard-working, respectful citizens of this country. I became an American citizen because I love this country. I love it as much as I love my Mexico. American has shaped me as much as Mexico has shaped me, and for that reason alone I love living on the border. I am no different than most of the Mexican-Americans I know, good, honest people straddling two worlds, two languages, two loves.

How did writing Shame the Stars differ from writing your previous novels?

Shame the Stars didn’t take as long as Under the Mesquite took to write. I was working on that manuscript for about 10 years, but it did take longer than Summer of the Mariposas. The reason is that I didn’t have all the details when I started working on Shame the Stars. I had only read Dr. Johnson’s book once, and done some superficial digging around online. I was pretty foggy on the details, so I wrote the first draft, in verse (the original novel came to me in verse) before I lost the passion, while Joaquín’s voice was still fresh in my mind. When I was done with that first draft, over 100 pages of poetry, I did more research. As I researched, the storyline changed. The plot grew and grew, as more and more layers started revealing themselves. When I read through the archived newspapers in the Library of Congress, I found more and more of the storyline in the actual historical events surrounding the “rebellion of 1915.” I included some of those newspaper clippings in the novel, not just as evidence, but to foreshadow events in the novel and build suspense because they are so important to the storyline.

What was your research process like?

I read Dr. Johnson’s book, Revolution in Texas, many, many times, making notes on the sidebars, putting sticky notes everywhere, underlining, highlighting, making sure I really understood the conflict, the history of South Texas, what led up to the “rebellion” and the actual matanza. I also went through the archives in the Library of Congress, counting myself lucky that 100 years had gone by and I had access to those newspapers online. I also went to the central library, the orange building in downtown San Antonio, and read other books that dealt with the History of Mexican-Americans in the U.S. Most of my research was done online though, from home. Every time I found something relevant, I would print it out, highlight, and write all over it. When I wasn’t at my computer, I would read on my phone. I have so many screenshots and pictures on my Samsung dealing with the matanza, I might never get rid of that phone. Everything I read, screenshot, highlighted, and marked up served a purpose, and that was to inform my writing. Not everything went into the novel, but it helped me to see the big picture, to find my bearings as I wrote about a time and place I could only imagine.

How do you balance writing, presenting, teaching, and the other aspects of your life?

I’m a zombie. I don’t sleep. No, seriously. It just has to do with passion. I’m as passionate about teaching as I am about writing and speaking. I love my jobs. When I was a young mother, I was all about the mothering: the bottles, the little league, the trips to the theme parks. With a soccer-mom van and a book in my hand, I dedicated myself to the boys, James, Steven, and Jason. I loved being a mom. Now, these books are my children. They are, however, more than my life. They are the other means by which I inform students. I look at writing as an extension of my classroom. The way I will keep “teaching” long after I retire from the classroom, long after I’m gone. Teaching is the gift God gave me. Writing is the vehicle. It’s a great life, and I am humbled by the gift of it every day I get to live it.

How much do you share about your writing life with your students?

I try not to get too excited about my own success, especially in front of my students. They need me to be their teacher, not some self-important, stuck-up famous person. Most of them know I am a writer. They google me, so I can’t ignore it either. Mostly, I share my struggles with them as an example of how even published writers have to work hard at writing. When I am teaching them to revise, I share my revision notes from my editor on the LCD projector. I show them what good writing notes to your writing partner look like (Thank you, Stacy Whitman). I show them that a good editor is honest but kind, truthful but respectful. I also show them my revisions. My computer program tracks changes in different colors, so they get to see how the original text in black changed. How I layered in the blue text during revision 1, the purple text in revision 2, the red text in revision 3, and so on. It shocks them to see how much revision work and thoughtfulness goes into writing. So when I ask them to revise a one-page essay, they are less reluctant to do the work.

What’s ahead for you? Are you able to share anything you’re currently writing/revising?

I’m in the process of finishing up the sequel to Shame the Stars, tentatively titled, Estrella’s Long Journey Home. It is set in Monteseco, sixteen years after the rebellion, and follows the repatriation of the del Toros into Mexico in the winter of 1931.


Photo provider by author


Guadalupe Garcia McCall is the award winning author of Under the Mesquite, a novel in verse, and Summer of the Mariposas. Her poetry has also appeared in many publications. McCall was born in Mexico and immigrated with her family to the U.S. at age six. She grew up in Texas and is currently a high school English teacher in San Antonio.

Review: Shame the Stars

Shame the StarsTitle: Shame the Stars
Author: Guadalupe Garcia McCall
Publisher: Tu Books
Pages: 308
Genres: Historical, Romance
Review Copy: Based on Purchased Copy (though Edelweiss had also provided a digital ARC)
Availability: On shelves now

Publisher’s Summary: Eighteen-year-old Joaquín del Toro’s future looks bright. With his older brother in the priesthood, he’s set to inherit his family’s Texas ranch. He’s in love with Dulceña—and she’s in love with him. But it’s 1915, and trouble has been brewing along the US-Mexico border. On one side, the Mexican Revolution is taking hold; on the other, Texas Rangers fight Tejano insurgents, and ordinary citizens are caught in the middle.

As tensions grow, Joaquín is torn away from Dulceña, whose father’s critical reporting on the Rangers in the local newspaper has driven a wedge between their families. Joaquín’s own father insists that the Rangers are their friends, and refuses to take sides in the conflict. But when their family ranch becomes a target, Joaquín must decide how he will stand up for what’s right.

Shame the Stars is a rich reimagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Texas during the explosive years of Mexico’s revolution. Filled with period detail, captivating romance, and political intrigue, it brings Shakespeare’s classic to life in an entirely new way.

Review: Under the Mesquite and Summer of the Mariposas, McCall’s previous books, are fantastic works of storytelling. Her writing is lyrical whether she’s creating prose or poetry. Having read and loved her first two books, I was predisposed to enjoy this newest novel. In addition, as a former resident of Texas, the story immediately caught my attention. Though I lived there for sixteen years, my knowledge of Texas history was sketchy at best so this seemed like an excellent way to find out more about my former home. The story along with the thorough author’s note was eye-opening to say the least.

In Shame the Stars, McCall shares a part of history not often covered in our school history texts. The conflict might be mentioned, but it is highly unlikely that students would learn about the lynchings, executions and other atrocities. This novel is one way to learn some of that missing history. The story begins with Joaquín expressing his frustration at the way tejanos are treated and how their rights are being trampled by the Texas Rangers. Over time Joaquín witnesses more and more injustices by Rangers. They see no need to have a search warrant, they kill without trials and behave as if the law does not apply to them. For Joaquín it seems that danger is surrounding their community and he and his father have very different ideas about what to do about this.

One way Joaquín deals with his feelings is through writing poetry. Most of the story is told in typical narrative style, but every so often a poem, a newspaper clipping, letter or other snippet of text is included. I appreciated the addition of non-traditional texts. These felt like primary sources and made it seem like readers could see a piece of the past.

Beyond this unveiling of history, the story is also a romance. Joaquín has loved Dulceña for years and falls more deeply in love with her as time passes. She loves him too, but makes it clear that she doesn’t want the role of damsel in distress or quiet little lady to be tucked away at home. She’s an intelligent and brave young woman who has dreams of her own and she will not let her dreams be ignored just because she’s female. I appreciated her and the other strong women in this book. There are women leading and fighting for their families and communities in many ways.

The book is often compared to Romeo and Juliet not only because of the great love between the two young people, but also because their families are at odds. The families have been very close in the past, but both fathers have completely different ideas about how to best protect their family in dangerous times. The break between the families is a result of love and protection rather than a hatred for one another and that makes it all the more heartbreaking.

Recommendation: Get it now. This is an intriguing historical romance that will leave readers with much to ponder. Shame the Stars presents a beautiful love story set against a backdrop of deadly conflict.

Extra: Interview with the author from BookPage