Mini-Reviews{31}: ARC Edition

Posted July 10, 2017 by Stormy in Book Reviews, Books / 6 Comments

I’m a little behind on reviewing some ARCs, so I thought I’d do some mini-reviews and give my thoughts on some of the ARCs I’ve read in the last few months.

1. Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Release Date: May 9, 2017
I received a copy of this book in consideration for an honest review. This in no way influenced my final opinion of the work.


Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.


I am so, so glad I gave Julie Murphy’s books another chance after not liking her debut, Side Effects May Vary, because I’ve loved Dumplin’ and now Ramona Blue. There’s a lot in Ramona Blue about identity of all kinds. For those afraid that Ramona is a lesbian who is “cured” by a man, fear not. Ramona makes it quite clear that she is still mostly attracted to girls, but that her attraction is more fluid. In fact, I think the last line of the summary that says “life and love are more fluid than they seem” is the perfect way to describe Ramona Blue because it is about the fluidity of identity of all kinds, including but not just limited to sexuality. There’s also a lot about being the person who others have always depended on and what it means if you have to give up your own dreams for that, and what’s worth fighting for. Ramona Blue is about poverty, small towns, hardship, families, relationships, and friends. It’s about feeling like the whole world isn’t open to you like it is for everyone else. It’s a beautiful exploration of life. I did find the middle to drag a little, which is why this isn’t a new favorite for me. At times, the plot seem to go slightly off-course. Not enough to be super frustrating, but enough that I feel the writing and storytelling just wasn’t as good as it was in Dumplin‘. However, I still highly recommend this one. I said in my Goodreads review that a good comp title for Ramona Blue is Dahlia Adler’s Just Visiting, and I stand by that. I think if you like one, you’ll like the other. 4/5 stars.


2. The Girl with the Red Balloon by Katherine Locke

Release Date: September 1, 2017
I received a copy of this book in consideration for an honest review. This in no way influenced my final opinion of the work.


When sixteen-year-old Ellie Baum accidentally time-travels via red balloon to 1988 East Berlin, she’s caught up in a conspiracy of history and magic. She meets members of an underground guild in East Berlin who use balloons and magic to help people escape over the Wall—but even to the balloon makers, Ellie’s time travel is a mystery. When it becomes clear that someone is using dark magic to change history, Ellie must risk everything—including her only way home—to stop the process.


I love time travel novels, and I was so excited to read a book about time travel to a place in the more recent past. I’ve never read a novel set in East Berlin, and the setting and plot were so novel and original. I loved the magic system of the balloons that a secret society used to send people over the Berlin Wall, and how Ellie’s arrival was such a mystery. I really, really enjoyed the plot and the overall story of this book. Ellie was my favorite kind of main character who has SO MUCH character growth throughout the novel. There’s also a really interesting and heartbreaking story in Ellie’s past about how her grandfather was a Holocaust survivor because of these magical balloons. There were so many beautiful quotes in the writing and I definitely got use out of the highlighting function on my kindle. Even though Ellie is a girl in the modern world who has had a fairly easy life, she becomes a character with a lot of heart and willingness to sacrifice what it takes to help others. I was also really intrigued by the characters she falls in with once she’s in East Berlin, even though it took me awhile to keep them all straight. They’re a great diverse group with Jewish, Romani, and queer characters. The one thing I did not like in the book was the romance. I saw it coming, so I can’t say it came from nowhere, but it just fell flat. The characters seem to just end up together because they were a single guy and a single girl and I didn’t see any chemistry between them, which means that a lot of the later emotional points in the book didn’t have as much as an impact for me. I definitely want to read the other books in this series, but I’m hoping the romance gets better. 4/5 stars.


 3. The Gallery of Unfinished Girls by Lauren Karcz

Release date: July 25, 2017
I received a copy of this book in consideration for an honest review. This in no way influenced my final opinion of the work.


Mercedes Moreno is an artist. At least, she thinks she could be, even though she hasn’t been able to paint anything worthwhile since her award-winning piece Food Poisoning #1 last year.

Her lack of inspiration might be because her abuela is lying comatose in faraway Puerto Rico after suffering a stroke. Or the fact that Mercedes is in love with her best friend, Victoria, but is too afraid to admit her true feelings.

Despite Mercedes’s creative block, art starts to show up in unexpected ways. A piano appears on her front lawn one morning, and a mysterious new neighbor invites Mercedes to paint with her at the Red Mangrove Estate.

At the Estate, Mercedes can create in ways she never has before. She can share her deepest secrets and feel safe. But Mercedes can’t take anything out of the Estate, including her new-found clarity. As her life continues to crumble around her, the Estate offers more solace than she could hope for. But Mercedes can’t live both lives forever, and ultimately she must choose between this perfect world of art and truth and a much messier reality.


I have for so long been wanting there to be a YA f/f novel that I could compare to Jandy Nelson’s writing AND IT’S HERE. Well, almost. The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is not exactly f/f(there’s not really a romance), but there is a female bi main character who’s in love with her best friend. Those who have been around my blog might now that Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun is my all-time favorite book. I’m not ready to say that The Gallery of Unfinished Girls lives up to that, but Karcz’s writing has that say literary, lyrical, poetic style. This is a very quiet, introspective book. If you’re more of a plot-driven reader, I wouldn’t recommend it. But for those who, like me, enjoy slow-paced character-driven books, this is a book for you. When Mercedes’ mother leaves Mercedes and her sister alone for awhile to go back to Puerto Rico to look after Mercedes’ ill grandmother, strange things start happening. Out of nowhere, a piano appears on the lawn and a new neighbor moves in. This neighbor, a fellow artist like Mercedes, invites her to paint at a place called the Estate. At the Estate, Mercedes finds whatever she needs. There’s a speculative element of magic and wonder, like time moves differently in the Estate and sometimes what Mercedes remembers happening there is different than what those around her remember. The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is a lush book. That’s just the best descriptor for the writing that I can come up with. It touches on the longing nature of love and desire, creativity, sisters, art, and starting something new. I absolutely loved it and I’m so glad this book exists. 5/5 stars.







6 responses to “Mini-Reviews{31}: ARC Edition

  1. Susan

    I hadn’t heard of THE GIRL IN THE RED BALLOON before, but it sounds really good. I’m definitely going to check it out. Thanks for the rec!

    • Stormy

      The time travel aspect was really good! And I’ve never read a book set during the time of the Berlin Wall, which was nice. I felt like I learned a lot because that’s a part that always got glazed over in my history books.

  2. I have the latter two books you reviewed as eARCs and I am now more excited to read them! There’s always something revealed when you read reviews rather than just a blurb, and I have to say that I like what you said about The Girl with the Red Balloon and The Gallery of Unfinished Girls. It’s a shame that the romance wasn’t great for you in Red Balloon, though. The fact that you compared Gallery to I’ll Give You the Sun makes me SO excited because IGYTS is one of my favourite novels, as well! 😀

    • Stormy

      I think The Gallery of Unfinished Girls is more comparable to Jandy Nelson’s writing in general rather than to specifically I’ll Give You the Sun (though in both there’s a lot about art!). It is, however, one of the more literary books I’ve ever read with a bi character which is what I have been WANTING for so long so I loved it right away.

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