Reviews in a Minute: Early November Notes

True story, at first, I was going to do a November 2nd Book Birthdays post. But then nearly all the book release dates were changed, so here we are. These come out in the first half of the month, and that was pretty much the best I could do!

Roxy by Neal Shusterman & Jarrod Shusterman
Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross
You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley

Reviews in a Minute: Early November Notes Roxy by Neal Shusterman, Jarrod Shusterman
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on November 9, 2021
Pages: 384
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

From the team that brought you the New York Times bestselling Dry comes a riveting new thriller that proves when gods play games, even love is a lie.

The freeway is coming.

It will cut the neighborhood in two. Construction has already started, pushing toward this corridor of condemned houses and cracked concrete with the momentum of the inevitable. Yet there you are, in the fifth house on the left, fighting for your life.

Ramey, I.

The victim of the bet between two manufactured gods: the seductive and lethal Roxy (Oxycontin), who is at the top of her game, and the smart, high-achieving Addison (Adderall), who is tired of being the helpful one, and longs for a more dangerous, less wholesome image. The wager—a contest to see who can bring their mark to “the Party” first—is a race to the bottom of a rave that has raged since the beginning of time. And you are only human, dazzled by the lights and music. Drawn by what the drugs offer—tempted to take that step past helpful to harmful…and the troubled places that lie beyond.

But there are two I. Rameys—Isaac, a soccer player thrown into Roxy’s orbit by a bad fall and a bad doctor and Ivy, his older sister, whose increasing frustration with her untreated ADHD leads her to renew her acquaintance with Addy.

Which one are you?


This is such a clever take on drug abuse- anthropomorphisation of the drugs was such a unique way to present the story, and the authors did a tremendous job keeping it appropriately serious. I have a ton of thoughts on this book, and will try to break them down. It isn’t even a wholly likes-versus-dislikes list either, it’s more of a “here’s some thoughts about various topics in this book”.

The Characters (humans):

Ivy and Isaac are quite different, and I will say that I knew which I. Ramey was being discussed from the start. I have no idea why; in fact I think I just read it wrong and thought I saw one name. Regardless. I think I wanted a bit more in terms of their development, but I also understand why that would have been near impossible (or, lead to a six hundred page book). They were so different, but they still both ended up having particular issues with drug use. Ivy had been on and off Adderall for quite some time, and when we meet her, she’s currently off of Adderall, and kind of floundering, making some bad decisions, etc. Isaac, on the other hand, is destined for great things, but an injury puts him in the clutches of Oxycontin. I cannot say much more about the trajectory of their respective stories, because they’re kind of the whole point of the story. But I definitely felt a ton of empathy for each of them, because neither road is easy.

Their parents are fairly absent, which didn’t quite work for me. It felt like a pretty heavy case of Parent-in-YA Syndrome™, which as you may recall, is when parents go AWOL basically because their existence doesn’t lend itself to the plot. But part of it does showcase that hey, maybe kids need present parents, which I am here for.

The Characters (drugs):

This is interesting. I have read reviews that claim irresponsibility in personifying drugs, and I get that to an extent. But I also find it a genius idea (as I find most of Neal Shusterman’s, and now his son’s, ideas). The thing is, drugs have functions, and in some cases, those functions are good! While I’ll delve into that more in a bit, obviously Adderall has been immensely helpful to many people. And even Oxycontin has its appropriate uses, of course. And to me, that is what the authors are trying to get at here: medication is not inherently bad. But at the end of the day, if you are addicted, it will stop at nothing to keep you hooked. Obviously this is an oversimplified version of what is happening in this book, but you get the idea.

Roxy (who is Oxycontin) is quite likable at times, and you get the feeling that Addison (Adderall) is genuinely not a bad dude. Which is the thing- Adderall is helpful to so many people. And yeah, it can also be abused. Ditto the situation for Roxy. Interestingly enough, they are quite well-developed in their own rights, and I was quite interested to see how their stories would end as well.

The Drug Use Plot:

So, I think this is the part that some people struggled with. I have seen some rather harsh reviews concerning the inclusion of Adderall, that perhaps it is deterring people with ADHD from taking necessary medical treatment, or even stigmatizing the use. And look, as someone who’s not used the medication personally, I certainly cannot say. But from my (admittedly limited) perspective, I didn’t infer that.

I felt like the authors did a good job of showing that medicinal use of these substances was incredibly valid. And that when Isaac began taking the Oxycontin, it was under appropriate medical prescription. But the truth is, even the best intended use of drugs can go astray, and that is exactly what is being illustrated here. Isaac was basically the last person you’d think would develop a problem- which is what happens with a great many people. Much like Mindy McGinnis’s HeroineRoxy is able to showcase the very human side of drug addiction. It removes the stereotypes, and as such, decreases stigma.

This isn’t a cheerful story. Please be aware going in that there is death, as well as (obviously) significant drug use. And because of this, a lot of unhealthy behaviors as a whole. Look, I didn’t like this book. Who likes a book about the harsh realities of drug addition? But I am absolutely glad to have read it.

Bottom Line: Beyond clever, definitely heartbreaking, yet very important.

Reviews in a Minute: Early November Notes Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Tordotcom on November 9, 2021
Pages: 112
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Sophia was made for him. Her perfect husband. She can feel it in her bones. He is perfect. Their home together in Arcadia Gardens is perfect. Everything is perfect.

It's just that he's away so much. So often. He works so hard. She misses him. And he misses her. He says he does, so it must be true. He is the perfect husband and everything is perfect.

But sometimes Sophia wonders about things. Strange things. Dark things. The look on her husband's face when he comes back from a long business trip. The questions he will not answer. The locked basement she is never allowed to enter. And whenever she asks the neighbors, they can't quite meet her gaze...

But everything is perfect. Isn't it?


This was such a bizarre little book! I mean, don’t get me wrong, I had a good time reading it, even if I am not completely sure what the heck I just read. And it’s a fast one- I read it in one sitting, so that earns it extra points for sure! The length works really well for this one really, because I think it would have felt way too drawn out for a full-length novel. (And maybe we’d have all lost our minds with 300+ pages of bizarre, yeah?)

It truly would be a disservice to tell you anything about this, really. So I won’t. Also, I don’t think I fully understand all the symbolism (this is a very “me” thing, I have always been absolute crap at figuring those things out), so just… go in blind. If it sounds at all like your cup of tea, do it! In fact, I may re-read it to see if I glean any more info (Tammy’s review talks about clues in chapter headings, and now I kind of need to know, because I did not realize this myself)!

Bottom Line: My note at the end of the book: “Well, that was a bizarre yet entertaining story!”

Reviews in a Minute: Early November Notes Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross
Published by Quill Tree Books on November 2, 2021
Pages: 496
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Perfect for readers of The Hazel Wood and The Night Circus, this lush and layered story about magic and the captivating power of dreams is delivered with acclaimed author Rebecca Ross’s signature exquisite style.

A curse plagues the realm of Azenor—during each new moon, magic flows from the nearby mountain and brings nightmares to life. Only magicians, who serve as territory wardens, stand between people and their worst dreams.

Clementine Madigan is ready to take over as the warden of her small town, but when two magicians challenge her, she is unwittingly drawn into a century-old conflict. She seeks revenge, but as she secretly gets closer to Phelan, one of the handsome young magicians, secrets begin to rise. Clementine must unite with her rival to fight the realm’s curse, which seems to be haunting her every turn.


Can I be honest for a second? I umm may have requested this one by accident. I mistook it for another book, because I am that much of a mess. But, I have enjoyed the author’s work in the past (honestly Sisters of Sword and Song is a whole gem) so I just went with it! And while I had some trouble with the beginning, I did really enjoy it over all!

I will say, the beginning was rough for meI didn’t really understand what was happening, and more than that, I didn’t really care, either. I likely would have DNFed, had I not loved the last book I read by the author. But I told myself to try a bit more, and I began to realize that I was actually kind of enjoying it, and sooner than later. I became quite fond of and engrossed with the characters. And while I still didn’t totally get the magic, I could certainly infer how high the stakes were, and the general concept.

I think really for me, the characters were the reason I got so into it. Clem is such an amazing main character, and the people in her life are equally captivating. I loved how the focus was neither solely on revenge nor romance, but on family and friendships and Clem’s relationship with her own self.

The world was so well developed too, I was intrigued and captivated by it, especially as the book went on. And even though I never fully understood how someone could fight in dreams, the idea was so unique and well done that I ended up kind of being into it! Overall, the story felt incredibly heartfelt and was full of characters I loved reading about (and cheering for)!

Bottom Line: Basically, I am thrilled that I accidentally requested this book and that I convinced myself to keep reading!

Reviews in a Minute: Early November Notes You've Reached Sam by Dustin Thao
Published by Wednesday Books on November 9, 2021
Pages: 304
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.

Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.

And Sam picks up the phone.

In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through.

Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.


True story, I started crying during the first chapter, and did not stop until the last page. Maybe I have a problem, who knows, but yeah, this book wrung me out. In a mostly good way, mind. But yeah, to call it a tearjearker is an understatement. From the moment we meet Julie, and begin to realize how awesome Sam was, it becomes hard to not be devastated.

Julie isn’t handling Sam’s death well, as you can imagine. She’s avoided his funeral and memorials, and is staying away from pretty much everyone she knows and loves. And look, I get it! She’s inconsolable, and she’s not thinking clearly of course. She doesn’t know how to move forward, which is legitimate. And when she starts talking to Sam again, and flashing back to their relationship, it’s gutting. Perhaps too gutting? I find a good book-cry cathartic, but this nearly did me in.

I liked that there was hope though, too (though in fairness, even the hope made me cry because that is just who I am as a person). The author did a beautiful job developing the relationship, and making us understand why Julie felt this loss so sharply. The writing was lyrical and emotive, and simply lovely.

My one qualm would be that I didn’t feel like I got a good idea of who Julie was outside of her relationship, and I think Julie probably needed that to move on. I did like the supporting characters too, and felt like she at least had a lot of great people waiting to help her along the way, as long as she was willing to take those steps too.

Bottom Line: Beautiful and emotional, I quite enjoyed it and also maybe flooded my house.

Reviews in a Minute: Early November Notes A Face for Picasso: Coming of Age with Crouzon Syndrome by Ariel Henley
Published by Farrar on November 2, 2021
Pages: 400
Source:Copy provided by publisher for review, via Netgalley

I am ugly. There's a mathematical equation to prove it.

At only eight months old, identical twin sisters Ariel and Zan were diagnosed with Crouzon syndrome -- a rare condition where the bones in the head fuse prematurely. They were the first twins known to survive the disease.

Growing up, Ariel and her sister endured numerous appearance-altering procedures. Surgeons would break the bones in their heads and faces to make room for their growing organs. While the physical aspect of their condition was painful, it was nothing compared to the emotional toll of navigating life with a facial disfigurement.

Ariel explores beauty and identity in her young-adult memoir about resilience, sisterhood, and the strength it takes to put your life, and yourself, back together time and time again.


When I started A Face For Picasso, I wondered “how exactly can I review someone’s life?”. Which, valid, right? But it turns out that it isn’t so hard when what you plan to say about the book can be summarized as “I recommend this to all people everywhere”. More than recommend, I wish I could require this book for all people everywhere. It’s beautifully written, and the story itself is absolutely heartfelt. You can tell that the author poured her soul into telling the world her story, and I wish I could properly express how much it moved me.

The author does a tremendous job of writing her story in a way that is beyond engaging. Add to it, she is such a fantastic storyteller that I felt immersed in each moment she tells us about, each feeling she’s experiencing. I bought this book as soon as it was released, to share with my whole family. For my son with a craniofacial syndrome of his own, and for my daughter who is often unsympathetic to his struggles. The book also made me realize how imperative it is that I am my son’s advocate. That I follow his lead when it comes to surgical procedures, that I always, always keep lines of communication open.

As you read Ariel’s story, you’ll be enraged at how she and her sister were treated, far too often. People can be cruel- not just kids, people, because make no mistake, there are many adults who let these women down along the way. I also loved how insightful the author was- not just about the world around her, but her own traits that she needed to work on. Truly, this story blew me away, and I am so, so thankful to have read it- and to be able to share it with my kids.

Bottom Line: Every single human should read this book, full stop. Truly the best memoir I have ever read, by a large margin.

P.S.: Did you know that Picasso was the worst? Cause wow, that guy was the worst. Thanks to the author for all of the info so I can properly hate that dude.

Have you read any of these books? Plan to? Let us chat about them!  

Posted November 7, 2021 by Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight in In a Minute, Review / 17 Comments


17 responses to “Reviews in a Minute: Early November Notes

  1. I’m still so confused about which books came out on November 2, I’m seeing different release dates across so many platforms!
    Im happy you convinced yourself to keep reading Ross’ newest. I actually requested her new Adult Fantasy on a lark as well. I had been declined for every single Avon/HarperVoyager book for about a year and I wanted to see if I’d get declined again. Of course I got approved!

  2. I wish we could have hugged each other as we read You’ve Reached Sam. My emotions! My emotions! I agree that I understood the why of her pain deeply, though I do think I got a feel for some of her other relationships outside of Sam. They could have been better developed perhaps. My problem was with the weird storyline with the mom. I didn’t get the purpose of it. *shrugs* I will definitely keep Picasso in mind for when I need a memoire for a reading challenge. I don’t read them much as I have no interest in celebrities or politicians, but this woman’s story is one I think I would enjoy

  3. I’m reading Roxy right now, have to finish for a review tomorrow! :-O It’s good, but not a book to ready quickly, at least not very easily. But I’d have to agree with you that I don’t feel like it is doing what people are saying is bad. I feel like it is just trying to talk about how all drugs can be bad if used wrong. But like you I don’t use adderol so I don’t know if I’m qualified to say either. Great reviews! That last book is one I really want to read! Glad to hear it was so good.

  4. Ohh interesting, I don’t think I’ve seen you review an autobiography before! It sounds intriguing, and I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

  5. Another unique bunch! I’ve read Shusterman in the past (Challenger Deep) and I loved his style, but I’m not sure I’m ready for the pain here. I’m glad that A Face Like Picasso resonated so much with you.

  6. Drugs as characters. Wow. And Comfort Me With Apples- i’ll admit I’ve wanted to try this author and haven’t yet. I saw Tammy’s review too and yeah I’m curious! Also the hints in the chapter headings sounds fun.

    “Perfect for readers of The Hazel Wood and The Night Circus.” Ah marketing. But that DOES make me want to read it! and what a wild cover. I’m glad it worked for you after sticking with it.

    AJ’s got a good point in her comment too. I was in Barnes and Noble tonight and was kind of amazed at how awesome so many of the covers looked- you know, those arty little YA tables and I was like damn if I didn’t want practially every book just to display it!

  7. I just heard about A Face for Picasso the other day, and it sounded like the kind of non-fiction I would be drawn to. Sounds like I definitely need to read it! And I totally agree with just about everything you said about Roxy. Shusterman(s) just always blows me away with his profound choices.

  8. I’m so tempted to read ROXY right now because it sounds like such a unique take on drugs and whatnot. Also, A FACE FOR PICASSO sounds great and I can’t believe I didn’t know this book existed till now!

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