Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized

REVIEW: “Cast in Firelight” by Dana Swift

SUMMARY

Adraa is the royal heir of Belwar, a talented witch on the cusp of taking her royal ceremony test, and a girl who just wants to prove her worth to her people.

Jatin is the royal heir to Naupure, a competitive wizard who’s mastered all nine colors of magic, and a boy anxious to return home for the first time since he was a child.

Together, their arranged marriage will unite two of Wickery’s most powerful kingdoms. But after years of rivalry from afar, Adraa and Jatin only agree on one thing: their reunion will be anything but sweet.

Only, destiny has other plans and with the criminal underbelly of Belwar suddenly making a move for control, their paths cross…and neither realizes who the other is, adopting separate secret identities instead.

Between dodging deathly spells and keeping their true selves hidden, the pair must learn to put their trust in the other if either is to uncover the real threat. Now Wickery’s fate is in the hands of rivals..? Fiancées..? Partners..? Whatever they are, it’s complicated and bound for greatness or destruction.

REVIEW

I have a confession to make: as much as I claim to love enemies-to-lovers and slow burn, I cannot possibly have more than a 40-60 success rate with actually enjoying books that utilize those tropes. I KNOW. What could be better than the heated romantic tension of two mortal enemies whose hearts betray them at the worst possible time by causing them to fall for one another? What could be more satisfying than the culmination of 300 pages of will-they, won’t-they?

But I’m IMPATIENT. About half of the time I just want them to kiss already by page 200. But…this book? A book so slow-burn that they don’t even admit that they’re in love until, I’m pretty sure, the 85% mark?

OH MY GOODNESS GUYS, SO GOOD.

“Cast in Firelight,” though it is a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance, pulled off those tropes remarkably well because it isn’t just a romance. The mystery, politics, and adventure – and just enough hints of attraction early on to keep the romance gremlin in my brain satiated – were compelling enough that I didn’t even think about the fact that they hadn’t kissed until about 70% of the way through. What? I know! And a lot of that owed to the worldbuilding, especially in relation to the magic system that is used.

It’s a little complicated to explain in a concise fashion, but essentially, “Cast in Firelight” takes place in a pre-technological world that seems to be inspired by India where many people are gifted by the gods with the ability to perform one or more of nine types of magic. I have a thing about magic in YA because it’s so freaking common and so freaking easy to mess up, but the system Swift came up with for the world of “Cast in Firelight”…actually makes sense. Magic use has a cost, it’s governed by consistent rules, and it has real-world impacts in other spheres – politics, medicine, commerce, crime, you name it. If magic existed in the real world, it would obviously have far-reaching affects on nearly every part of life, so that makes sense and comes off as very real and I’m a sucker for well-thought-out magic in YA fantasy so good on ya, Dana Swift. Plus, the system that’s set up has a ton of potential to create tension, drama, and bad*** action scenes since it’s so versatile, and a lot of those fun possibilities are paid off. That part of the story was really well done and the mystery (I won’t get into it but it involves organized crime, drug dealing, and the wrongful exploitation of technology) kept me on my toes – you never knew who you could trust. Loved that.

And the characters! Ugh, I adored both Aadra and Jatin. They didn’t even know each other’s real identities until about 65% of the way through, but if anything, that actually made things more fun because they got a sort of do-over. This was, of course, delightful on my end because I knew who they were, and I was just waiting for them to figure it out. Every time they had to concoct some increasingly less-plausible lie to explain away something that could blow their cover, I was grinning like an idiot at my Kindle screen like yes, maintain the farce. You will be unmasked, you’ll see. 

[And then you’re totally gonna make out when you do.]

*clears throat* aaaaanyway. The mistaken-identity thing added a lot of interest to the classic enemies-to-lovers storyline, which is pretty common in YA fantasy but rarely done like this. In addition, both protagonists were very likable but obviously flawed, easy to root for both as individuals and together. And THE CHEMISTRY, AHHHHH. Their chemistry was better than the chemistry in my completely BS’d answers on the AP Chemistry exam this year. They had this crackling tension between them from the start, but they also made a great team (bc nothing is sexier than teamwork, y’all!) and watching them play off each other both in mystery-solving and in their banter was so much fun. I was reminded of Esha and Kunal from “The Tiger at Midnight” trilogy in that they shared the reluctant-allies-with-insane-chemistry energy, even though the tone of this novel was totally different. And omg. The twists. There were so many, and they kept getting undone and redone and no one ever knew what was going on and none of them were huge, so they totally snuck up on me and I didn’t feel like I was being smacked in the face but I STILL got chills a few pages later when it hit me what that meant and why is this such an egregious run-on sentence? IDK, it’s 1 A.M. and I might never actually be able to answer that.

But basically? This one was a gem. Great worldbuilding, lovable characters, a romance you won’t even care takes forever to get going – please pick this one up.

Rating: 5/5 worth the midnight rant.

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “The Code for Love & Heartbreak” by Jillian Cantor

SUMMARY

Emma Woodhouse is a genius at math, but clueless about people. After all, people are unreliable. They let you down—just like Emma’s sister, Izzy, did this year, when she moved to California for college. But numbers…those you can count on. (No pun intended.)

Emma’s senior year is going to be all about numbers, and seeing how far they can take her. When she and George, her Coding Club co-president, are tasked with brainstorming a new project, The Code for Love is born—a matchmaking app that goes far beyond swiping, using algorithms to calculate compatibility. George disapproves of Emma’s idea, accusing her of meddling in people’s lives. But all the happy new couples at school are proof that the app works. At least at first.

Emma’s code is flawless. So why is it that perfectly matched couples start breaking up, the wrong people keep falling for each other and her own feelings defy any algorithm? Emma thought math could solve everything. But there’s nothing more complex—or unpredictable—than love.

REVIEW

It’s no secret that I love rom-coms AND classic lit retellings, so requesting this one was kind of a no-brainer for me. I mean, a modern-day “Emma” retelling about STEM nerds? YES PLEASE. So I was thrilled to get this ARC – and for the most part, it didn’t disappoint.

Seeing as this is very obviously an “Emma” retelling (most of the characters even keep their names), I will admit that having read the original book beforehand helped me get into this. I knew what role each character would play, the basics of the plot, and what was probably going to happen. But it definitely departs enough from the plot of the book (non-spoilery examples: the Harriet/Robert subplot doesn’t exist, and Jane Fairfax plays a very different role in “Code for Love” than she does in the Austen version) enough that it’s easy to follow along with if you haven’t. And if you HAVE read the original, like I have, there’s enough that’s new here to interest: the emphasis on computer science is really fun and technology is integrated super well, making a dated story feel perfectly at-home in the modern world. The premise was really fun, and for the most part, I really enjoyed it.

The characters were fun, too: Emma was just as lovably flawed as her source-material counterpart; I actually liked this Jane even more than the original version; and I loved what Cantor did with Izzy, Emma’s older sister. (I found it kind of hilarious that Izzy goes to UCLA in this because I’m going to USC next year, so every mention of UCLA made me smirk like mad because hehe, rivals. I’m so freakin’ immature, I know.) They were easy to like and, unlike in the original, there were less sleazy potential love interests, which is always cool. As to the story itself…well, you can’t go wrong with Jane Austen. Just sayin’.

Though it didn’t have the instant “oomph” of my absolute favorite books, “The Code for Love and Heartbreak” was a really fun read that I’d highly recommend.

ENDNOTES

Content: pretty much none! Unless I’m forgetting something, the ONLY adult content I can remember reading was a single, vague allusion to the possibility that two characters are sleeping together (and it’s literally just that – an incredibly vague two-sentence reference). It’s always nice to see books as clean as this one!

Rating: 4.5/5 Confused Llamas

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Roman & Jewel” by Dana L. Davis

SUMMARY

If Romeo and Juliet got the Hamilton treatment…who would play the leads? This vividly funny, honest, and charming romantic novel by Dana L. Davis is the story of a girl who thinks she has what it takes…and the world thinks so, too.

Jerzie Jhames will do anything to land the lead role in Broadway’s hottest new show, Roman and Jewel, a Romeo and Juliet inspired hip-hopera featuring a diverse cast and modern twists on the play. But her hopes are crushed when she learns mega-star Cinny won the lead…and Jerzie is her understudy.

Falling for male lead Zeppelin Reid is a terrible idea–especially once Jerzie learns Cinny wants him for herself. Star-crossed love always ends badly. But when a video of Jerzie and Zepp practicing goes viral and the entire world weighs in on who should play Jewel, Jerzie learns that while the price of fame is high, friendship, family, and love are priceless.

REVIEW

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I was your garden-variety high school theater kid. I obsessively listened to Broadway cast recordings, starred in every school production, and tried to pretend I could belt when I was home alone and/or driving (spoiler alert: I couldn’t). So my delight when I saw that there was a musical theater-themed YA contemporary coming out was unmitigated.

And it was EVERYTHING.

“Roman & Jewel” is insanely readable: it’s fast-paced but doesn’t feel frantic and has a pretty quick start, so it never feels like it drags; the characters are compelling even if I hated them (look, I *know* we’re supposed to sympathize with Cinny at least a little bit, but I COULD NOT STAND HER OKAY???), the author’s knowledge of the inner workings of a theater is evident, and the rehearsal scenes are *magical.* I couldn’t wait to read more about the musical itself, which is a modern retelling of Romeo & Juliet – basically, for all you fanfiction readers out there, this version of the play is a reincarnation AU (yes, I just outed myself, and yes, I’ve written 50k+ words of Zutara fanfic in the last month, SHUT UP) where the leads have to find each other in all of their lifetimes. The way Davis described the rehearsals, songs, and choreography made me feel like I was really watching, and it was impossible not to root for Jerzie. She was perhaps the only major character who wasn’t at least a little bit morally grey, but that honestly worked in her favor. By setting her up as the only reliable source of information we had (and even that was a little debatable given how many people deceived her, though that obviously wasn’t her fault), it gave us ample reason to root for her. Add that to her easy likability, and Jerzie made for a protagonist I could get behind. And although the romance wasn’t always my favorite (SPOILER I know he turns out to be a good guy but uhhh…what was going on in the middle there?), it certainly kept me guessing.

Simply put, “Roman & Jewel” was the compulsively-readable musical theater romance of my dreams, and EVERYONE needs to run out and get this when it’s released!

ENDNOTES: 

Best Scene: the “I Think I Remember You” scene, DUH.

Most Underrated Side Character: Jerzie’s brother was SO SWEET. He was protective but knew when to back off, which reminded me a little bit of my own older brother (we have the same age gap as they do) if he weren’t determined to rat me out to our mother every time I so much as liked a boy. :/

Content: some cursing, one instance of drug use (not glamorized and the character makes a point of saying she doesn’t intend to do so again), and one kiss scene that gets a little…*spicy.* Other than that stuff, this was a pretty clean read.

Rating: 5/5 Confused Emu

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesday #6: Favorite YA Sports Books, Upcoming Themes, + My YA Debut!

Hey lovelies! It’s been WAY too long since I wrote a Theme Party Tuesday post, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things with this one. I thought that I’d also use this opportunity to keep myself accountable by listing the themes of upcoming TPT posts so I don’t have any excuse not to write them, and so you guys can contribute book suggestions for upcoming weeks or even make your own TPT posts if you want.

June 16: Sports in YA

June 23: Ocean-and-beach-themed YA

June 30: YA books set in Los Angeles (bc I’m heading off to USC in the fall and I gotta rep my brand!)

July 7: YA books with great worldbuilding (to celebrate the release of “Unravel the Dusk”!)

So that’s our next month worth of Theme Party Tuesday posts, and I can’t wait to share my recs with you guys (if you’d like to see a book included, please leave me a comment so I can check it out!). But you know what else I can’t wait to share with you?

GUYS, I’M A PUBLISHED AUTHOR NOW! My debut novel, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” came out June 2nd on Amazon and I’m so excited to share it with you guys! But more on that in the actual ranking itself 😉 (Why do you think I picked sports as the theme? Hmmm?)

So without further ado: my favorite sports fiction!

5. Best Team Dynamics: “We Are the Wildcats” by Siobhan Vivian

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Sport Depicted: Field Hockey

What it’s About: a prestigious high school field hockey team realizes at a team sleepover that there are flaws in the system that they can no longer stand for.

Why You Should Read It: “We Are the Wildcats” was not my absolute favorite book, but I loved the team dynamics. It’s obvious that these girls love each other, and that’s sometimes really hard to find: when was the last time you read an ensemble-cast book where the characters actually got along? It’s probably been a while (I know it has for me). Their friendships were heartwarming even if the coach and everyone’s tendency to turn a blind eye to what a [redacted] he was made my blood boil.

Where I Read This: several places, but primarily while waiting at the train station to pick up my brother when he came home from college for Thanksgiving.

4. Fun Armchair-Travel: “Above All Else” by Dana Allison Levy 

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Sport Depicted: Mountaineering 

What it’s About: best friends attempt to summit Mt. Everest. That’s it. That’s the book.

Why You Should Read It: okay, I’m not going to lie, I could not STAND this book, but I’ve read almost no sports fiction and in terms of the actual sports part? The way mountaineering was depicted here was fantastic. It’s so detailed, and it was fascinating to learn about what actually goes into a climb of this difficulty. If you want a good mountaineering story, look no further; if you want a good story, maybe not.

Where I Read This: on a ski trip to the mountains (ha!) at Christmas.

3. Can’t-Not-Recommend: “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” by Sara Fujimura

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Sport Depicted: figure skating, roller derby, and speed skating

What it’s About: a former figure skater has to face the fact that her career could be ending, while the arrival of a talented young speed skater at her rink shakes things up.

Why You Should Read It: FIGURE SKATING!!! This is the first YA book I’ve come across that gets figure skating *right.* If you’re gonna write about a sport you’ve never actually tried, you have to do your homework; it’s clear that Sara Fujimura did hers. (I’m a former skater, so I’m super picky about this, and I actually though she was a former skater too by the way she wrote about it.) And besides that, it’s a really cute story that manages to be meaningful, too.

Where I Read This: while walking in my backyard to get steps in because the FitBit is a ruthless master.

2. Probably the Best Sports Book I’ve Ever Read: “Break the Fall” by Jennifer Iacopelli 

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Sport Depicted: gymnastics

What it’s About: the 2020 Olympic gymnastics team faces both the intense pressure of the Games and the reveal of a widespread and ongoing sexual abuse scandal.

Why You Should Read It: first of all, the actual gymnastics in this book is beautifully-depicted. I don’t do gymnastics, but I watched it rather obsessively (along with figure skating) growing up, and from what I know, “Break the Fall” is very accurate. The competition scenes are tense and exciting and I’m not ashamed to admit that I took a lot of inspiration from the way Iacopelli talks about competitions when I was writing my own novel (see below). And the side plot focusing on the scandal was both important and incredibly timely. It’s easy to see the parallels to real events, and they’re horrifying, but they tell a story that more people need to know if sports are to be made safer for future athletes. I applaud Iacopelli for taking that on.

Where I Read This: in bed, on a single night.

1. The One That I Wrote!: “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” by Sarah Salisbury 

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Sport Depicted: Figure Skating

What it’s About: I wrote a summary for this thing already, so I’m just going to paste that:

AUDIENCES LOVE A STRUGGLE.
Valerie Tran feels lost.
After years of work, Valerie’s name is beginning to be known in the figure skating community as one to watch. She’s got technical chops, consistency, and a sharp wit that’s made her a hit among fans – too bad she doesn’t want any of it. Valerie’s passion and motivation have waned, and as a new dream begins to eclipse the one she’s spent her entire lifetime striving for, she has to decide whether her career is worth spending her life doing something she doesn’t love.

AUDIENCES LOVE AN UNDERDOG.
Luisa Castillo is just getting started.
Switching countries to represent Mexico after years of skating for the U.S. team was a risky move, but if anyone can carry the hopes of a nation with absolutely no skating program to speak of – and do it without funding – Luisa is convinced it’s her. She’s got the best coaches and training mates she could ask for, and her new federation is all too eager to give her the international assignments she’s been dreaming of. Who cares if she might be pushing it a little too hard just months after knee surgery? She’s got this!
Right…?

AUDIENCES LOVE A LEGACY.
Samanatha Zhang comes from skating royalty.
Sam’s got Olympic medalists in pairs skating on both sides of her family, and they expect her to follow in their footsteps. But that’s not all bad: the ice is the one place where she isn’t in the shadow of her tragic childhood. Skating is safety from herself, her past, and her thoughts. But with her star on the rise, new friendships forming, and a budding romance threatening to tear down the walls she’s spent a lifetime building, Sam might just have to face the music: she can’t hide from everything that haunts her off the ice forever.

Why You Should Read It: oh, boy, guys, this is gonna get long. So, I’m not sure how many of you know that I write, but I’ve been writing fiction since I was ten and it had been a sort of pipe dream to write a novel for a while. I finally did that when I was a junior in high school, but that book will never be published, so I started on another one.

Also important to note is that when I was younger, I was a competitive figure skater and a devotee of the sport in every possible way. I watched it every time I possibly could, catalogued facts about every skater in my brain, ran a video editing account and a blog about skating, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport that I constantly tried to use to convince people on an online skating forum I was on that I was in my twenties even though I was actually thirteen. (It almost worked.) Then I quit and went totally cold turkey, until something possessed me to start writing “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”.

I really don’t know where I got the idea to write a story about skating; all I knew was that I wanted to use a trio of likable teenage girls to provide both an uplifting coming-of-age story and the realistic look at the skating world that I so rarely found in YA novels. But once I made that decision, the characters fell into place easily. Valerie was both the face of my own struggles while also being the person I wished I had been at her age; Luisa was based on my best friend in middle school, a skater who competes internationally for Mexico; and Samantha was a character I’d had in my brain since I was about twelve. And before I knew it, I was way too invested in these stories I already knew the endings to to stop writing. I was proud of the result and I decided to publish it. And a funny thing happened when I finally hit that “Save and Publish” button on Amazon.

People who’d been brushing off my writing as a pointless hobby were suddenly proud of me. Classmates who had told me they didn’t like my writing expressed interest in buying a copy. Instead of just being that weird writer girl, I was a published weird writer girl, and I’m not gonna lie, it feels good. I got to hold a physical copy of “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” yesterday and it was one of the most magical moments of my short life. So…this book kind of means the world to me. And I think y’all should check it out.

I promise, the skating is accurate. 😉

Where I Read This: at least fifteen times, because it’s my baby and I had to. But, fun fact: of the 65k-ish words of this story, I wrote the last 40k words in about five days. I have no idea why or how but it happened.

Bonus! Where to buy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0893ZP79N/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=sarah+salisbury&qid=1590365324&sr=8-1

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “The Archer at Dawn” by Swati Teerdhala

SUMMARY

The Sun Mela is many things: a call for peace, a cause for celebration, and, above all, a deadly competition. For Kunal and Esha, finally working together as rebel spies, it provides the perfect guise to infiltrate King Vardaan’s vicious court.

Kunal will return to his role as dedicated Senap soldier, at the Sun Mela to provide extra security for the palace during the peace summit for the divided nations of Jansa and Dharka. Meanwhile, Esha will use her new role as adviser to Prince Harun to keep a pulse on shifting political parties and seek out allies for their rebel cause. A radical plan is underfoot to rescue Jansa’s long-lost Princess Reha—the key to the stolen throne.

But amid the Mela games and glittering festivities, much more dangerous forces lie in wait. With the rebel Blades’ entry into Vardaan’s court, a match has been lit, and long-held secrets will force Kunal and Esha to reconsider their loyalties—to their country and to each other. Getting into the palace was the easy task; coming out together will be a battle for their lives.

REVIEW

Confession: I barely remember the plot of “The Tiger at Midnight.” [If you’ve not read it, that’s the first book in this series. This is a sequel. You probably know that, but I though I should mention it anyway.]

I KNOW, I KNOW. It’s weird, because I loved that book, and I have absolutely no idea why I’d completely forget what the plot was when it’s only been a year since I read it. (The same thing happened with “Aurora Rising,” though, so I guess it’s a common thing with me.) But I did know that I really liked it, so I jumped into “The Archer at Dawn” without much preparation. And you know what? That worked just fine.

Although some of the plot points of the first book, which were referenced here, had me scratching my head because I’d forgotten what exactly happened, it wasn’t hard to immerse myself in this world again. The action, the politics, the twists, the romance – it was all strong enough to stand on its own even with my limited knowledge of the last book. And while I wouldn’t recommend reading this as a standalone (at all! Don’t do that, you’ll be ??? the entire time!), it’s a testament to the strength of the writing that it’s a fantastic book even with a few knowledge gaps. Filling those in would explain parts of the plot that went over my head, but I still really enjoyed the book without them.

I think the reason that this book works so well not just as part of a series, but in its own right, is that Teerdhala is fantastic at balancing action and character work, and both were very well done here. Both the competition scenes at the Mela (an Olympics-type athletic event/festival) and the fight scenes were fast-paced, flowed well, and kept me engaged, but the quieter parts – character and relationship development, worldbuilding, and political intrigue – weren’t sacrificed to leave room for action. Though this was a long book, it didn’t feel like it because its pacing was spot-on. There were always breathers after big action scenes, but not too many, so it avoided the typical pacing pitfalls of the “haunted house effect” (breakneck-paced plotting with one big thing after another and no room to process anything) and being so slow-paced that I lost interest. Only in the last thirty or so pages of a 450-page book did things start moving so fast my head spun, but that was basically one extended scene and it worked.

And CAN WE TALK ABOUT THAT ENDING? BECAUSE I’M NOT FINE. What is it with second books in trilogies ending in batcrap insane cliffhangers this year? I’m just saying! 

This book, while it wasn’t *my favorite of the year*, was both enjoyable and an example of solid writing and storytelling. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book – they’re very similar, so if you liked “The Tiger at Midnight,” you’ll probably like this one too.

RATING: 4/5 stars


A/N: so it’s been forever since I posted here and I’M SORRY. In the intervening time, I’ve graduated high school, written so much fanfiction it’s not even funny, and published a novel! I had time to read and blog, but kind of just…didn’t feel like it. Reading has been a slog lately, so naturally, blogging about it hasn’t been on my mind much. But I’m back, and I can’t wait to share more posts with you!

Also. I know I don’t really have many followers who do book tags, but I’m thinking about making a fun fandom-themed book tag (you’ll see…if I do it) and want to know if anyone would do that sort of thing if I posted one. Anyone?

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Recommended for You” by Laura Silverman

SUMMARY

Shoshanna Greenberg loves working at Once Upon, her favorite local bookstore. And with her moms fighting at home and her beloved car teetering on the brink of death, the store has become a welcome escape.

When her boss announces a holiday bonus to the person who sells the most books, Shoshanna sees an opportunity to at least fix her car, if none of her other problems. The only person standing in her way? New hire Jake Kaplan.

Jake is an affront to everything Shoshanna stands for. He doesn’t even read! But somehow his sales start to rival hers. Jake may be cute (really cute), and he may be an eligible Jewish single (hard to find south of Atlanta), but he’s also the enemy, and Shoshanna is ready to take him down.

But as the competition intensifies, Jake and Shoshanna grow closer and realize they might be more on the same page than either expects…

REVIEW

The truest and most positive way I can start this review is by saying that it’s impossible not to notice that this book is incredibly well-meaning. It’s written with such earnestness and belief in its story, and I don’t see that often, so I have to start off by saying that. It’s as cute, bookish, and bright-eyed as it sets out to be. Was it a perfect book? Well, no, few are. But what “Recommended for You” gets right is its chipper tone and commitment to its story and characters.

At first, I didn’t think I would like Shoshanna. She, like me, tends toward the over-the-top, and I can’t tell whether it was because of secondhand embarrassment or just plain annoyance that I didn’t like her. But I’m glad I stuck with it, because a lot of the book is actually about her journey to realizing that about herself and learning to be, er, a little less overzealous at inappropriate times, and she matures without losing any of what makes her Shoshanna. I am all about positive growth, and I’m also all about being true to yourself, quirks and all, so I loved that she was able to do both. Her sincerity was hard not to find endearing after a while. I also loved the bookstore aspect. The work environment was great and I loved the coworkers’ dynamics, and of course, Shoshanna’s bookishness was delightfully relatable.

Where this book fell a little short, eerily similarly to its protagonist, was in its overzealousness. I felt like “Recommended for You” was trying to do a LOT – we have the romance development, the work at the bookstore, the friend drama, the parents fighting…almost every source of conflict that is common in YA contemporary books was here, and it was all just…Much. It was So Much. And there were some really forced conversations about social justice that, while they had good messages, felt extremely shoehorned. In a fast, fluffy read, the weirdly forced social commentary and ~15,000 different conflicts felt like they weighed it down. There wasn’t really a need for that and I think the book would be stronger if it stuck to one or two conflicts instead of subscribing to the “every area of the protagonist’s life must fall apart!” notion.

However, none of that could abash this book’s sunny optimism, and I would recommend it for you. :p (Yes, I had to!)

ENDNOTES

Best Scene: the baking scene, probably. So sweet.

Strengths: fluffy, quick, upbeat, character growth

Weaknesses: too many side plots/too much going on

Content: none! Seriously. The characters don’t even curse??? When was the last time I saw that??? Thanks for that, Laura Silverman, I APPRECIATE YOU. This one’s veeeery clean.

Rating: 3.5/5 Golden Grasshoppers

Posted in Blog Tags

The Bookish Baking Tag

I’ve been wanting to do book tags for a while, but since I don’t really have any blogger friends :(, I haven’t been able to. Then along came Lauren at Lala’s Book Reviews! She recently did the Bookish Baking Tag from Hammock of Books and tagged whoever wanted to do it…well, that’s me! So I couldn’t wait to do this. Let’s get cracking 🙂

Rules:

  • Thank whoever tagged you
  • Link back to them and the original creator (Kay @ Hammock of Books)
  • Answer the 12 prompts, and feel free to use these graphics
  • Tag 5+ friends to share the sweetness

 

blueberrymuffins

I’m going to go with Julie Berry’s Lovely War. Opening up with one of the most adorable meet-cutes I’ve ever read and an intriguing introduction to our narrators – who just happen to be members of the Greek pantheon, meddling in mortal affairs – Lovely War had me swooning, and completely hooked, from page one.

banana

I’m assuming this is a hyped-up book that I enjoy? So my pick would have to be The Illuminae Files trilogy! Everyone has heard of Kaufman & Kristof’s first space opera series, but there’s a good reason for that. Its unusual narrative style and fast-paced plot are absolutely gripping, and it’s easy to fall for the characters. This one is a tour de force and there’s a reason it’s surrounded by hype! carrot-1

She’s the Worst by Lauren Speiller has a wonderful message about cherishing your siblings. I happened to read this book right before my older brother went off to college and I was really struggling with regrets about my relationship with him; this book helped me step back and realize that it’s never too late to rekindle your bond with your family and get closer to a sibling you drifted away from.

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The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner is my all-time favorite YA series, and one of the first ones I ever read. Ever since I read “The Thief” in 7th grade, I’ve been in love with the world and characters, and revisiting the series always makes me feel like a carefree middle schooler again.

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Tweet Cute by Emma Lord! This is probably my favorite rom-com of 2020 so far because it’s incredibly sweet but also hilarious (a LOT of so-called “rom-coms” are severely lacking in the “com” department…not this one!) and just completely delightful. This book just made me happy, and it’s a perfect light, happy read when you’re having a rough time. 🙂

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 Oscar Bell from Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne! He’s a piano/composition prodigy who knows how special he is and isn’t afraid to let you know, but who can somehow make you love him all the more for it. He’s also quirky, sweet, attentive, and self-assured but has his struggles, too – so basically, PROTECT HIM.

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Hmm…Every Reason We Shouldn’t by Sara Fujimura. This is the only figure skating-themed YA that’s ever gotten a seal of approval for its portrayal of skating from this insanely picky ex-skater, and for that alone it deserves this spot. But it’s also a wonderful story about the crossroads that teenagers have to face as they grow up, which resonated with me and which I think might be just as familiar to other high school students.

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Embarrassingly, I kind of have nothing for this one! I’ve never really read a holiday book.

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Uhh…honestly, If I’m Being Honest. I was expecting reading this book to be an experience somewhat akin to being punched in the face, not because of its length (once you’ve read “Gone with the Wind,” no YA book will ever seem long again…) but because it seemed like a very angry book and I don’t have a good track record with anger. Turns out that while, yeah, there was a little bit of that, it was also about personal growth, kindness, forgiveness, and open-mindedness – all things I can get behind!

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Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch is my go-to summer read. It’s sweet but poignant, fun but substantial, and both the setting and the romance are all-around, utterly swoonworthy. It’s been over a year since I’ve read this, and I still smile when I think about the dress-shopping scene.

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For some reason, I read a TON of books with Asian representation. (I cannot explain this, as I am, unfortunately, white.) So, since that’s kind of my norm, I’m going to pick something with a different kind of representation and go with This Train is Being Held, which has Dominican and Cuban protagonists and deals a lot with Latin-American culture. I go to a Latino-majority high school (half of the student body actually commutes over the Mexican border to come to school every day!), so a lot of what it talked about was familiar to me through my Mexican-American friends, but there’s a definite difference between Southern California Mexican-American culture vs. NYC Dominican/Cuban-American culture, so I also learned a lot.

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I’ve been challenging myself to read a classic novel every month since January 2018 and have yet to fail, so I have a couple of favorite classics I’ve compiled in that time. But the one that probably has the most appeal to YA fans would be Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. It’s my favorite of her books by far and I love that it has a bookish protagonist! Catherine Morland is an incredibly relatable character for all of us readers out there and its slightly campy plot is super fun. (Other favorites that I also recommend: This Side of Paradise, Much Ado About Nothing, The Count Of Monte Cristo, Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby.)

That was really fun! I don’t know any of y’all but I follow your blogs and like them a lot, so to spread the love, I’m tagging:

1. Caitlin at Caitlin Althea

2. Alexia at Right Writing Words

3. Scorpio Book Dreams

4. Jenniely at Jenniely Books Writing Lifestyle

5. 24 hr YA book blog

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “The Little Bookshop of Love Stories” by Jaimie Admans

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I don’t typically read adult romance because…well. You can probably guess. But I’ve recently started requesting adult books from NetGalley because I’ve all but run out of YA to request (most of it historical/literary fiction – the first adult ARC I read was a short story collection about a Japanese family called “Inheritors” which was excellent, but not reviewed here because I imagine it would have almost no appeal to my readers), and I couldn’t resist this. To my delight, it was exactly as charming, sweet, and clean as its cover appeared, so I’m posting it here because I feel like it might appeal to some YA readers who are looking to dip their toes into adult romance but aren’t so sure about all the sexy stuff that abounds in that genre.

SUMMARY

Today is the Mondayest Monday ever. Hallie Winstone has been fired – and it wasn’t even her fault!

Having lost her job and humiliated herself in front of a whole restaurant full of diners, this is absolutely, one hundred percent, the worst day of her life.

That is until she receives an email announcing that she is the lucky winner of the Once Upon a Page Bookshop!

Owning a bookshop has always been Hallie’s dream, and when she starts to find secret love letters on the first pages of every book, she knows she’s stumbled across something special.

Things get even better when she meets gorgeous, bookish Dimitri and between them, they post a few of the hidden messages online, reuniting people who thought they were lost forever.

But maybe it’s time for Hallie to find her own happy-ever-after, too?

REVIEW

The best comparison I can come up with for this book is that it vaguely resembles the British equivalent of a Hallmark movie. However, that’s not a perfect comparison, because even though it has the chaste romance, quirky premise, and predictability of a Hallmark movie, it’s earnest, wholesome, sweet, and swoon-worthy in a way that very few of those are. (I should know. My mother has watched one every single night of quarantine and I am not exaggerating this figure in the slightest.) “The Little Bookshop of Love Stories” never claims to be anything but a sweet, escapist romance for book lovers, but that’s a very good thing to be, in this escape-seeking book lover’s mind. 🙂

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that this book…is good for the heart. (One thing it has in common with cardio, I guess.) It’s wholesome, it’s unabashedly kindhearted, its hero and heroine and their families and friends and neighbors are good people, and it desperately wants to make you believe in love. Yes, it can be sugary-sweet at times, but it means so well and is so overflowing with sincerity that it’s very hard to fault it for that. (Not to mention that its leading man is the kind of guy this world needs a lot more of. Swoon.) The characters’ love of books comes through loud and clear, the romance is a little bit slow-burn (one way it did remind me of Hallmark: it baited me with near-kisses but kept waiting almost the entire book for the one climactic time they finally did!) but earned and heart-melting, and you kind of can’t read it and not want to visit the quaint English country town it is set in. The world is having a time of it right now, and “The Little Bookshop of Love Stories” created an idyllic little pocket of goodness for me to escape into. How could I possibly not love this book?

ENDNOTES

Best Scene: um, honestly, anything that takes place in the bookshop made me *puppy eyes emoji that I wish I could use here.* And the dancing scene.

What Stood Out: the book’s unabashedly optimistic outlook and earnest sweetness.

What Bugged Me: this book didn’t really need a villain, so the one it had seemed kind of unnecessary.

Content: almost none to speak of – a little strong language (mostly British curse words and/or ones that are considered to be milder in British English than they are in American English) and a few sexual references but otherwise, almost shockingly clean for a romance novel.

Rating: 5/5

 

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesday: Books Set in NYC

Sometimes, when I’m preparing to write a Theme Party Tuesday post, I browse my Goodreads shelves to find ideas for topics. That’s what I was doing today: I had no idea what I wanted to write about, so I decided to pick a book and find a theme that worked for it.

That book was Ismee Williams’ “This Train is Being Held,” which I loved but never reviewed. Since a “books that involve trains” or “books with dancers” list would be very short, I decided to base the list around the fact that the book is set in New York City…and a list was born.

5. Most Unexpected Use of Setting: “Wardens of Eternity,” Courtney Moulton 

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What it’s About: an orphaned young woman in 1930s New York who’s spent a lifetime searching for clues about her mysterious heritage discovers she’s descended from a long line of Egyptian magic-wielders sworn to protect…I think it was a tomb? I haven’t read this in a while.

Why I Liked It: the writing of this book was pretty clumsy at times, but I’ve never seen a more interesting use of magic in a real-world setting. Magic tends to bother me in YA because it’s often taken very lightly, but here, it has real-world ramifications. Even though this is very much an alternate history, we never forget that we’re in the real world of Great Depression-era New York. In addition, basing the story on Egyptian mythology made it very unique among magical YA novels, most of which seem to base their magic systems in European mythologies. (But, let’s face it, I mostly included this because I wanted to diversify my list so it wasn’t all contemporary rom-coms.)

NOTE: not all of this book actually takes place in New York (some of it is in Egypt) but the bulk of it does.

Where I Read This: at a Greek restaurant in a strip mall at family dinner the night before my brother went off to college.

4. Best NYC-set Retelling: “Alterations” by Stephanie Scott

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What it’s About: a budding fashion designer from a working-class Miami family is selected for a prestigious fashion internship in New York; after she returns home, she has to grapple with her feelings for the son of the wealthy family that employs her mother – and perhaps his brother as well.

Why I Liked It: so, this is a retelling of a classic movie called “Sabrina,” which I have never actually seen. Nevertheless, this was a cute story, and its depiction of New York City through the eyes of a first-time visitor is as sweetly starry-eyed as any I’ve ever seen. This was just…really wholesome I guess? “Alterations” wasn’t a perfect book but it’s hard not to be endeared to it.

Where I Read This: in my bedroom, because I read this at the beginning of the COVID quarantine. :/

3. Prose so Pretty You’ll Probably Cry: “Night Music” by Jenn Marie Thorne

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What it’s About: sparks fly over a New York summer when a brilliant composing student comes to study under washed-out pianist Ruby Chertok’s illustrious father.

Why I Liked It: I’ve played the violin since I was nine, so if a book is about classical musicians, I do not care what it is, I will read it. So a classical musician rom-com? Yeah. I was sold. But what I thought would be a sweet summer rom-com actually turned out to have a lot of weight; it’s about a romance, and it’s about music, but what it’s really about is finding your identity as you transition into adulthood, and it was beautiful. Thorne’s prose is gorgeous, and I fell more and more in love with the characters and the setting and the writing with every page. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Where I Read This: again, in my bedroom because quarantine had started by the time I read it. :/

2. Best NYC-set Rom-Com: “Tweet Cute” by Emma Lord 

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What it’s About: classmates and rivals Pepper and Jack (yes, like the cheese!) wind up on opposite sides of a viral Twitter war between their families’ grilled cheese restaurants – and find themselves falling for each other as they duke it out online for sandwich supremacy.

Why I Liked It: okay, read that summary and ask me again why I ate this thing up with a spoon.

It’s an OVERACHIEVER HIGH SCHOOL ROM COM. It has GRILLED CHEESE. And ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS. And TWITTER WARS. And INSANE TUMBLR SHIPPERS. It’s everything you could ever want in a book and months later, I am still living for it. This is the only book wish NetGalley has ever granted me (yk that “wish for this” button?) and if there could only be one, I’m insanely glad it was this. Read this if you want to be absurdly happy for some amount of time, okay?

Where I Read This: I…cannot remember, how embarrassing.

1. Best Overall: “This Train is Being Held” by Ismee Williams

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What it’s About: NYC teenagers from different worlds meet, bond, fall in love, fall out of love, fall back in love, and repeat after meeting on the subway.

Why I Liked It: this is kind of a weird way of describing a book but the only word I can think of that adequately sums up this book is “lyrical.” There’s something incredibly graceful about it – its prose, which is elegant even in its use of colloquialism; the way it tackles difficult issues with a light, gentle touch; the softness of the romance, which is built upon a real connection and feels utterly authentic. It’s almost literary in that deft touch it has with its subject matter; in that, “This Train is Being Held” is a masterclass in why YA is nothing to sneeze at. Take that, book snobs.

Where I Read This: various places but the one I remember is while sitting in my car before school one day, trying to finish it before 7:52 so I’d have enough time to sprint to class by 8:00. (I did.)

That’s all for this week, but if you have any other NYC-set book recs or a suggestion for next week’s theme, PLEASE leave me a comment because I kind of have no idea what I’m doing and am 100% making this up as I go. Thanks, lovelies 🙂

 

 

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Say Yes Summer” by Lindsay Roth Culli

SUMMARY

The perfect book to kick off summer! For as long as Rachel Brooks can remember, she’s had capital-G Goals: straight As, academic scholarship, college of her dreams. And it’s all paid off–after years of following the rules and acing every exam, Rachel is graduating at the top of her class and ready to celebrate by . . . doing absolutely nothing. Because Rachel Brooks has spent most of high school saying no. No to dances, no to parties, and most especially, no to boys.

Now, for the first time in her life, there’s nothing stopping Rachel from having a little fun–nothing, that is, except herself. So when she stumbles on a beat up old self-help book–A SEASON OF YES!–a crazy idea pops into her head: What if she just said yes to . . . everything?

And so begins a summer of yes. Yes to new experiences and big mistakes, yes to rekindled friendships and unexpected romances, yes to seeing the world in a whole new way. This book is a fresh and fun take on the coming-of-age novel that explores the quintessential themes of growing up: taking risks, making mistakes, and, of course, love. And who knows? Lindsey Roth Culli’s hilarious and heartwarming debut may just inspire your own SAY YES SUMMER.

REVIEW:

I have a soft spot for post-high school books right now, for reasons that are probably obvious if you have read any of my past reviews. Maybe it’s preemptive nostalgia for a time that, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, I will probably never experience. Whatever the cause, though, I’m currently rather enamored of books set in the pre-college summer. This one caught my eye for a few reasons.

As an overachiever in high school, I completely empathized with Rachel’s “really? Is this it?” feelings upon graduating and realizing how much she missed out on. No, I never wanted to get wasted with people I would never speak to again, and I still don’t (shudder), not to mention my dating prospects were nonexistent – but I still felt myself wondering what it would be like to have had a high school experience that stood out. So as dumb and impulsive as it admittedly was, Rachel’s idea of spending the summer saying yes to every available opportunity is something I’m probably just desperate enough to try. Reading about Rachel’s new experiences and relationships felt like living an alternate reality of my own life (other than the hot boy suddenly deciding that he liked me…never in a million years) because Rachel’s coming from the same place that I would be. That made them fun to read about. And the tone of the story is so unabashedly optimistic and upbeat that you can’t help but have fun following Rachel’s new adventures in yes-saying.

So, was this a perfect book? Of course not. A lot of the characters weren’t all that well-developed, most of Rachel’s decisions were kind of insane, and the strange love triangle dynamic definitely rubbed me the wrong way. But the writing was great, and ultimately, reading about someone else’s life-altering post-senior summer was exactly the escape I needed from a senior summer that’s shaping up to consist mostly of me sitting on my bed reading books.

ENDNOTES

Best Scene: Clayton and Rachel’s Canada date made me want to hop in my car and make for the Mexican border (which…is 20 minutes away from me so that’s not saying much) ASAP.

What Stood Out: reading this felt like drinking a strawberry milkshake: it’s what you drink when you can’t handle anything else because it’s easy to get down, undeniably delicious, and makes you happy.

What Bugged Me: Rachel’s decision to resolve a love triangle by dating both guys behind each other’s backs came off as all kinds of deranged.

Content: scattered cursing and a few innuendos, but mostly clean.

Rating: 4/5 Golden Grasshoppers