Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Gone by Nightfall” by Dee Garretson

This is one of those books that I intended to read and review long before I actually did. It came out in mid-January and had been on my TBR for a few months, but I didn’t get around to it until recently – so here’s what I think now that I finally have.


It’s 1917, and Charlotte Mason is determined to make a life for herself in czarist Russia. When her mother dies, Charlotte is forced to put her plans to go to medical school aside to care for her unruly siblings. Then a handsome new tutor arrives. Charlotte has high hopes that he’ll stay, freeing her up to follow her dreams of becoming a doctor. But there’s more to Dmitri that meets the eye.

Just when she thinks she can get her life back, Russia descends into revolution and chaos. Now, not only does Charlotte need to leave Russia, she needs to get her siblings out too–and fast.

Can Charlotte flee Russia, keep her siblings safe, and uncover Dmitri’s many secrets before she runs out of time?


For reasons I’ve never been entirely sure of, I’m weirdly obsessed with Russia. Ever since I was twelve and the Olympics were in Sochi, I’ve been fascinated by the history and culture of a country that was famously referred to as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” So whenever I see YA fiction set in Russia (which is rare – the only Russian YA I can recall reading is Lindsay Smith’s “Sekret” series), it becomes an automatic must-read. No different here; as soon as I saw that a Russian Revolution novel was coming out this year, I SLAMMED that “Want to Read” button. I’d never read any of Garretson’s novels, but I had high expectations based upon the setting alone.

Which…weren’t exactly met.

Though this very clearly takes place during the Revolution and, in many ways, is driven by it, I never got that sense of place that I associate with good historical fiction. I wasn’t drawn into the world of the time period, and quite honestly, that made it hard to get invested in the story. The characters were likable, but they didn’t feel layered enough to really make me feel their joy and pain; it felt like there were too many of them for us readers to get a clear picture of a single one besides Charlotte, and maybe Dmitri. That was relatively par for the course – everything about this book was fine, but nothing made me feel connected to the story or the characters. Nothing was actively bad, but it was also not particularly noteworthy. Maybe that’s a me problem and unrelated to the book itself, but even so, this was one of those books I enjoyed enough but will probably forget about within a few weeks. A decent read, but nothing to write home about.


Favorite Scene: kind of hard to say, but really, anything involving Miles and Hap (Charlotte’s brothers)’s shenanigans was delightful.

What Made This Book Stand Out: the uniqueness of the time period the author chose to depict.

One-Sentence Summary: enjoyable but lackluster outsider’s perspective on the Russian Revolution.

Something that Bugged Me: really, the fact that such a fascinating time period was rendered so relatively dull.

 Possibly-Questionable Content: pretty much none. There is no cursing to speak of, very little sexual content (the romantic leads outright discussed the fact that they should stop kissing before they went too far to show on-page, which I appreciated), and any violence that’s described as happening around the characters is left as vague as it can be. This one’s definitely clean enough for younger readers.

Overall Rating: 3/5 Confused Llamas

Posted in Book Tours, Reviews

“Scavenge the Stars” Book Tour and Review

I am thrilled to be hosting a stop on the SCAVENGE THE STARS by Tara Sim Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours! Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


This book has been on my radar for quite some time now. I distinctly remember the moment I discovered that it would one day exist: I was on a bus heading up to the local university for an internship, absentmindedly scrolling through lists of upcoming YA releases on Goodreads, and stumbled across this one. A YA retelling of “The Count of Monte Cristo” (my favorite classic novel)? Sign me up. It’s been on my TBR ever since, so when I was given the opportunity to host a stop on the “Scavenge the Stars” blog tour, I jumped at the chance. And I wasn’t disappointed.

While it doesn’t cleave strictly to the plot of Count, a lot of the things I loved most about the story this book is based on are present: peril and treachery, adventure and romance, stakes and scheming, moral ambiguity and twists at every turn. “Scavenge the Stars” isn’t without flaws, but its fast-paced plot, compelling cast, and rich worldbuilding make for an excellent read. The worldbuilding of Moray is one point I want to touch on: every part of it, from its seedy underbelly to its glittering aristocratic homes, is fleshed out like a real city would be. I also loved the multiple cultures Sim chose to include; having different ethnicities and cultures added a touch of realism and interest that would have been absent otherwise. But all was not perfect: I personally don’t agree with the story’s sense of morality. I was expecting the revenge plot going in because…well, Count of Monte Cristo, duh…and to be fair, the immorality of the character’s actions (by my standards, at least) didn’t bother me as much as it might have if I hadn’t been familiar with the story. However, that’s one thing I wish would’ve stayed a little truer to the original: in Count, Dantes sees the destructive power of revenge, but in Scavenge, Amaya doesn’t get far past mild disillusionment after realizing that her revenge scheme isn’t as cut-and-dry as she thinks it is. I wanted Amaya to realize that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, but she never fully got there; it did seem from the way the end was written that there was a possibility of a sequel, though, so if that’s the case, developing Amaya in the next book would rectify that. I also occasionally felt as if a few too many twists were crammed into the last fifty pages; the pacing was a little haphazard and it took almost the entire book to get to every single major twist. Still, though, I would highly recommend “Scavenge the Stars” to readers with a taste for adventure, enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies-to-who-knows-what romance, and unique worldbuilding.

RATING: 4/5 Stars

About The
THE STARS (Scavenge the Stars #1)
Author: Tara
 January 7, 2020
Publisher: Disney
Formats: Hardcover,
eBook, audiobook
Pages: 336
When Amaya
rescues a mysterious stranger from drowning, she fears her rash actions have
earned her a longer sentence on the debtor ship where she’s been held captive
for years. Instead, the man she saved offers her unimaginable riches and a new
identity, setting Amaya on a perilous course through the coastal city-state of
Moray, where old-world opulence and desperate gamblers collide.Amaya wants one thing: revenge against the man who ruined her family and stole
the life she once had. But the more entangled she becomes in this game of
deception—and as her path intertwines with the son of the man she’s plotting to
bring down—the more she uncovers about the truth of her past. And the more she
realizes she must trust no one…

Packed with high-stakes adventure, romance, and dueling identities, this
gender-swapped retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo is the
first novel in an epic YA fantasy duology, perfect for fans of Sarah J. Maas,
Sabaa Tahir, and Leigh Bardugo.

Revenge. It was a simple word when spoken out loud, but it was so much bigger, like the hidden city under the atoll. It was a word of fire and blood, of a knife’s whisper and the priming of a pistol.
It was a word that consumed her, filled her entire being until she knew that she could no longer be Silverfish. Silverfish’s will was to survive, to simply make it to the next day, and hopefully the day after that. But that was no longer her will.
Now it was revenge.
Captain Zharo. Kamon Mercado. Moray.
They would all pay.
About Tara:


Tara Sim is the author of SCAVENGE THE STARS
(Disney-Hyperion) and the TIMEKEEPER trilogy (Sky Pony Press) and writer of all
things magic. She can often be found in the wilds of the Bay Area, California.
When she’s not writing about mischievous boys
in clock towers, Tara spends her time drinking tea, wrangling cats, and
occasionally singing opera. Despite her bio-luminescent skin, she is
half-Indian and eats way too many samosas.
Tara is represented by Victoria Marini at
Irene Goodman Literary Agency.


Giveaway Details:
3 winners will receive a finished copy of SCAVENGE THE STARS,
US only.
Giveaway ends February 14th at midnight EST.



Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Loveboat, Taipei” by Abigail Hing Wen


When eighteen-year-old Ever Wong’s parents send her from Ohio to Taiwan to study Mandarin for the summer, she finds herself thrust among the very over-achieving kids her parents have always wanted her to be, including Rick Woo, the Yale-bound prodigy profiled in the Chinese newspapers since they were nine—and her parents’ yardstick for her never-measuring-up life.

Unbeknownst to her parents, however, the program is actually an infamous teen meet-market nicknamed Loveboat, where the kids are more into clubbing than calligraphy and drinking snake-blood sake than touring sacred shrines.

Free for the first time, Ever sets out to break all her parents’ uber-strict rules—but how far can she go before she breaks her own heart?


I am not completely sure why, but I love books set in Asia. Maybe I’m just fascinated by books that immerse me in a culture that is about as far from the one I was raised in as you can get, or maybe they satisfy my wanderlust; I’m not completely sure. Whatever the source of that fascination, though, it’s what led me to “Loveboat, Taipei.”

This one was a little but out-of-left-field for me because normally, I avoid anything racy like the plague. (Let’s just say I very much related to Ever, whose parents are so strict about the content she’s allowed to view that she can’t even watch a kissing scene in a movie, at the beginning of the book.) A book that’s almost solely about teenage rebellion is normally not my speed and I was a little skeptical going in that I’d be comfortable reading this, and in a way, those worries were justified. Ever’s behavior did make me uncomfortable at times, and there was a lot more adult content than I would have preferred, but she does (to an extent) learn from the mistakes she’s made in an attempt at rebelling against her parents in as many ways as she can. But I also enjoyed “Loveboat” immensely.

The characters, for one, all kept me on the edge of my seat with their unpredictable behavior. A lot of them aren’t fantastic people (I write this thinking of one particular character who’s set up as likable, only to dramatically betray another character and completely trash our opinion of her) or at least don’t seem like it (that would be another character who’s written off as a playboy at first but later turns out to be a sweetheart who merely has a lot on his plate), but Wen has done a superb job in making us want to know what happens to all of these people. Ever reminded me a lot of myself, Rick is the kind of guy I wish I knew more of in real life, and even the more complicated characters, like Sophie, Xavier, Jenna, and Ever’s parents, aren’t black-and-white. Everyone has layers, flaws, struggles…and redeeming qualities. I did not expect this book to get half as deep as it did at times, and it was through those multifaceted characters and their struggles that it accomplished that depth. Similarly, the fact that I loved both Rick and Ever individually made it much easier to love them as a couple when the romance kicked in – which I did. They were adorable, and I may or may not have had to stifle a squeal when I read certain scenes because it was 1:30 in the morning and I could not wake up my family screaming about how sweet Ever and Rick’s budding relationship was.

The setting was another aspect of “Loveboat” that completely sucked me in. This book really digs its claws into the culture and atmosphere of Taiwan (not just in Taipei – there are several scenes set in more rural areas that make use of the same superb scene-setting). From its descriptions of physical locations and cultural practices to the moments it touches on the class and ethnic divides in Taiwanese society, “Loveboat, Taipei” did a wonderful job of capturing Taipei through the eyes of an outsider (Ever) for people who have most likely not been to Taiwan (us).

All of that combined to make for a book I couldn’t put down. Though I often wanted to shout through the pages at Ever’s decision-making (a lot of it influenced by people she likely shouldn’t have listened to), she did learn from the consequences of her actions. Unfortunately, the fact that those actions were often a little more graphically described than I was comfortable with dulled my enjoyment of the book slightly, but nevertheless, no book I stayed up until 2 AM to finish could have been anything but worth it.


Favorite Scene: there were a lot of scenes in contention for this designation, but I think I’m going to have to go with the scene where Ever reads Rick’s confession/years-late reply to her letter asking for homework help. That was the moment I mentioned when I had to try not to squeal loud enough to wake the dead at 1:30 AM.

What Made This Book Stand Out: the expertly-portrayed Taiwanese setting and the rich, layered, real characters. (Oh, and the adorable romantic subplot didn’t hurt.)

One-Sentence Summary: strict parents + teenagers set loose in a foreign country = recipe for more tension than you’d believe.

Something that Bugged Me: Sophie’s entire story arc. She’s a scarily real portrait of how far desperate people will go to get what they want and while that arc was definitely well-written, it didn’t really endear her to me. (To avoid spoilers: let’s just say I’m not as forgiving as some of her friends.)

 Possibly-Questionable Content: implied sexual content, one semi fade-to-black scene, semi-bloody scene involving snake-blood sake that I personally found a bit gross but isn’t terribly gory, one character gets revenge on another in an extremely malicious way, discussion of suicide attempt by minor character, a little bit of cursing.

Overall Rating: 4/5 Confused Llamas

Posted in Interviews

An Interview with Sara Fujimura, on “Every Reason We Shouldn’t”

Hey, all! Super stoked to bring you a new interview – this one with Sara Fujimura, author of the upcoming figure skating rom-com “Every Reason We Shouldn’t”! (You can check out my review of that here: REVIEW: “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” by Sara Fujimura).

1. As a former figure skater who spent many years in the sport, I was extremely excited when I heard about this book, since figure skating is not the most common subject of YA novels (understatement). What made you decide to write about it – personal skating experience, or something else?


I love to watch skating (all kinds), but I am not particularly good at it. What inspired Every Reason We Shouldn’t was Apolo Ohno’s autobiography No Regrets. I was completely fascinated by the account of his teenaged years. Specifically, when Ohno was at the crossroads and wondering if he should quit the sport all together because his raw talent was no longer enough. Jonah’s character actually came to me first, and Apolo Ohno very much influenced him. I saved the crossroads story for Olivia though. I have two ultra-talented girls (now young women) in my life, and I got to see—thanks to their moms—what it’s like to be that one-in-a-million teen and all the unique challenges that come with being that high level of athlete/performer. One is a dancer and the other a singer, but I wanted a girl who was into ice sports to work better with Jonah’s character. As super cheesy as it is, I love The Cutting Edge. I wanted to write an updated (and much more realistic) version of the movie with teen skaters.


2. Again on the topic of skating: as a skater and avid fan of the sport, I’m extremely picky about how the technical side of figure skating is portrayed in fiction (okay, maybe I’m a little bit of a snob…), and in “Every Reason We Shouldn’t,” you absolutely nailed it! What did you do to research that resulted in such an accurate portrayal of the figure skating world?


Thank you! All of my books have a lot of “fact behind the fiction,” but ERWS had a steep learning curve for me. I started as a journalist, so I take my research very seriously. I read everything I could and watched countless videos and tutorials. I also sought out people who were experts (or at least experienced) in all the areas I am not. Do you know who has a ridiculous depth of knowledge on everything figure skating? Author Courtney Milan. Her remarkable, super nit-picky notes helped me take this book to the next level. Obviously, it paid off if I passed your test despite being a crap skater in real life myself.


3. What would you say your “mission statement” as a writer is, and how does “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” tie into that mission?  


“I write stories for adventurous, intelligent, globally-minded teens who aren’t afraid to love someone outside of their own ethnicity.”


One of the biggest compliments I’ve gotten for ERWS is that people feel like my characters are people they would want to be their friends. Yes, Olivia and Jonah are unique and sometimes straight-up “extra,” but I think they mirror my readers who are maybe unintentionally looking for someone like themselves. 


NOTE: Question #4 could get a little spoilery! Proceed with caution if you haven’t read the book yet.


4. After reading “Every Reason We Shouldn’t,” one of the things I’m most conflicted about is how I’m supposed to feel about Stuart (Egg), Olivia’s pairs partner. Given his actions at the end of the book, he comes off pretty strongly as a jerk, but he’s also, before that, a decent friend and partner to Olivia. Thus, I’m very torn between seeing him as the villain for abandoning her and seeing him as a sympathetic but flawed friend. Obviously, readers like me have to make that call themselves (I’m leaning towards “selfish jerk” right now), but what do you, as the author, think of Egg: sympathetic or deplorable?


People may disagree with me, but I sympathize with Egg, who is at a crossroads in his life and makes a wise (if a bit jerky) decision to put himself first for a change. Egg knows he’s not good enough to skate at an Olympic level and for him to invest another four years of his life to live Olivia’s dream would be unauthentic. (On a smaller scale, think about the people who may sit first chair in their high school’s band, but don’t go on to study music at college. Music can still bring them joy even if they know they don’t have what it takes to play professionally.) ERWS wasn’t about Olivia winning a gold medal either, and not all my readers are on-board with that. I wrote it for all the teens standing at the crossroads in their own lives. For when the thing they love the most (and maybe have a ton of raw talent for) has suddenly gotten too hard and they are questioning if they are at the end of their journey or if they should push through the pain/frustration to see if they can make it to the very top. It’s one thing when you are injured or cut from a team. There the decision is made for you. It’s when YOU have to decide whether to continue or not that things get interesting (and more relatable to many people). That’s what I wanted to explore in ERWS. To keep Egg and Olivia together was the safe choice and wouldhave held both of them back from being the best versions of themselves. And as much as I would love to have gone all Cutting Edge with Olivia and Jonah, *every* skater (including former German Olympic pairs skater Mirko Goolsbey) said that it would be impossible.


End of spoilers! You’re safe again 😉

5. To wrap up, this is sort of a standby question for me in author interviews: how would you describe Every Reason We Shouldn’t in six words? 


Yuri on Ice meets Cutting Edge


Having gotten the author’s insight on her book, I can honestly say that I love “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” even more. Thinking about the theme of crossroads in this novel, I’m brought back to the moment in tenth grade when I had to make my final choice: whether to pursue skating even though I’d hit a plateau and had little time to train anymore, or whether to focus on academics as I had been doing my first two years in high school with the added bonus of being able to pursue theater with my extra time. Though I was never even close to Olivia’s level as a skater, it was an all-consuming passion for much of my childhood, and I’d given up a lot to pursue it even at the level that I did. I’d spent every single morning of each summer between 6th and 11th grade at the rink, put countless hours into training, and, sadly, probably wrecked any chance I ever had at developing a healthy body image by the age of 16. So that feeling of grasping at straws that you feel when you realize it might be time to move on from a dream is one I felt wholeheartedly. As you can probably guess, I quit skating, and if I’m honest, I don’t regret it. But I’ll always remember how hard those last months were, realizing I was never going to reach my childhood dream. (And that feeling kind of never goes away. Ms. Fujimura’s example of the musician in their school band was almost uncanny because I’ve also played the violin since I was nine. As I struggle with tricky runs in the Tchaikovsky concerto that most of my orchestra friends could play in their sleep, I face the realization that I have to figure out how music, a passion I’ve pursued practically forever and am never going to “make it” in, will play into my life as I prepare to graduate from high school.) For a senior in high school, that stuff is huge and never really lets up, so knowing that “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” was written about a character who feels the same way, with the intention of bringing comfort to teenagers who don’t know what comes next for their passions, makes me love it all the more. This book came to me at just the right time, and I hope those of you who choose to read it come March (and I hope all of you do) feel the same way.

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “The Perfect Escape” by Suzanne Park

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy. “The Perfect Escape” is projected to be released on April 7th, 2020.

I was elated to get this ARC because there are very few things in this world than I love more than niche YA rom-coms. Meaning: ones that take place in the context of some unusual interest, setting, or topic. (To give you an idea of what I mean by that, some niche rom-coms I’ve liked include “Hart & Seoul” and “Somewhere Only We Know” with K-Pop, and “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” with figure skating.) “The Perfect Escape,” with a zombie/survivalist focus, falls squarely in that category, but…didn’t really do it for me. Here’s why.


Nate Jae-Woo Kim wants to be rich. When one of his classmates offers Nate a ridiculous amount of money to commit grade fraud, he knows that taking the windfall would help support his prideful Korean family, but is compromising his integrity worth it?

Kate Anderson wants a fresh start, away from her controlling father. She fantasizes about escaping to New York, where she can pursue her dreams. But how can Kate get there when she can’t even buy dinner without his approval?

Worlds collide when Nate and Kate meet at the zombie-themed escape room where they both work. As sparks fly, fate steps in: a local tech company is hosting a weekend-long survivalist competition with a huge cash prize that could solve all their problems. The real challenge? Making it through the weekend with their hearts intact…


Without a doubt, my favorite thing about this book was the zombie/escape room/survival competition thing. Whenever Nate and Kate discussed their favorite zombie movies, planned for the survival contest, or worked at the escape room together, the book took on a whole new kind of energy. It was funny and fast-paced and enthusiastic and exactly what was promised by the book jacket.

Unfortunately, though, the zombie stuff took up very little actual page time.

Up until the 62% (I’m pretty sure) mark, when the survival contest started, we got a lot more of their personal lives than we did of the zombie thing. Instead of spending time at the escape room (I’m pretty sure there are only two scenes that take place at work – it was almost like the author forgot about their jobs after the plot no longer needed them), we’re taken to a high school party at a roller rink. When I was expecting the two to be geeking out over zombies and plotting for the contest, Kate was fighting with her father – who might be the worst father in all of YA, mind you – and Nate was juggling his chaotic family life with his classmates’ insistence that he commit grade fraud on their behalf. Certainly, those issues had a place in this story, but they took up so much of the book that I felt myself missing both the zombies I was promised and the rom-com that this story was marketed as.

That was all the more sad because when those things were in the spotlight, I really enjoyed them. This could have been so fantastically unique and hilarious had it been okay with being a little…lighter. Oftentimes it felt like the book was trying so hard to be deep and substantial that it forgot that it was a rom-com. Had it let loose in a few more places, it would likely have been one of my favorite reads in recent memory. “The Perfect Escape” was an example, to me, that it’s okay to have fun with a story. It’s certainly noble to try to say something with your work, and I commend Park for doing that. But sometimes, a story can exist just because it makes people happy. A story can exist for the joy of it. “Escape” got a little depressing at times, and though everything sort of gets its magic band-aid in the end, I wished that I would’ve spent more of the time it took me to read this laughing. Because if the bright spots in this book showed me anything, it’s that this book knows how to be absolutely hilarious. 

I just wish it would have been more often.


Favorite Scene: the scene where Nate visits his sister’s kindergarten class as her show-and-tell. Small children saying weird things in front of crowds because they have zero filter is honestly a recipe for comedy gold (see: children’s messages at my church) and I was dying of laughter this entire scene. DYING. I wanted more of that in this book.

What Made This Book Stand Out: the uniqueness of a rom-com about zombies.

One-Sentence Summary: what it says on the tin, with a few less zombies and a little more crying.

Something that Bugged Me: the tonal whiplash whenever the story switched from rom-com to family drama and back – see literally my entire review.

 Adult Content: a LOT of cursing and, like, two kisses, but that’s pretty much it.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Confused Llamas


Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Renegades” by Marissa Meyer

I must confess, dear reader, that as far as hyped-up YA series go, my readership is positively dreadful. I’ve read the Selection series, the Illuminae Files and An Ember In the Ashes (the latter two are some of my favorites), but other than that, I have not read many of the best-known YA series. Not Throne of Glass, nor any of the many highly popular Cassandra Clare offerings, the Lunar Chronicles, or the Raven Cycle – heck, I haven’t even read Harry Potter, of all things. So my experience with popular series is extremely minimal.

Hence, when I downloaded “Renegades” – a book I didn’t know much about other than that it had superheroes in it and was wildly popular – as an e-book on a boredom-induced whim during Christmas break, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard good things, and I will read absolutely anything with superheroes in it, so…not a bad way to spend a break, right?

So. Here are my thoughts on a rare foray into Hyped-Series-land.


Author: Marissa Meyer

Series Position: first of three books

Page Count: 566


Secret Identities. Extraordinary Powers. She wants vengeance. He wants justice.

The Renegades are a syndicate of prodigies — humans with extraordinary abilities — who emerged from the ruins of a crumbled society and established peace and order where chaos reigned. As champions of justice, they remain a symbol of hope and courage to everyone… except the villains they once overthrew.

Nova has a reason to hate the Renegades, and she is on a mission for vengeance. As she gets closer to her target, she meets Adrian, a Renegade boy who believes in justice — and in Nova. But Nova’s allegiance is to a villain who has the power to end them both


Let me start by saying that “Renegades” has a ridiculously compelling story. Post-apocalyptic (ish) world ruled by superheroes? Morally-murky government machinations? Divided loyalties? Teenage superhero teams? It would be very difficult to mess up such a promising premise, and Meyer more than cashed in on the potential for action and tension and emotion in those concepts. After taking almost a week to finish the first half of the book, I finished the second half in two days. A truly compelling story can feel almost addictive, and this one hit that mark with flying colors. (Am I mixing metaphors? Yes. Do I care? DOES IT LOOK LIKE I DO, DEAR READER??? Okay. Anyway.)

That was also my issue with this book. Because while that last half was a rip-roaring 250 pages of pure adrenaline, the first half made me consider putting the book aside.

Now, it’s not as if I had an actual problem with the first half. It was just…slow. So, so slow. And when the slow first half is as long as some entire books are (this already-long book definitely felt longer than it was), that’s kind of a mood-killer. I’m incredibly glad I held out and waited for the story to pick up steam, because as I said, once I’d had time to get to know the characters (Honey and Danna have my ENTIRE HEART) and the story picked up, it was !!!!. But I thought that the book could’ve been shorter because of that. A lot of the establishing scenes probably could’ve been cut with little narrative consequence. Most of them focus on establishing Nova’s relationships with the Anarchists, and while a little bit of that is necessary to clarify who her loyalty is so divided when she joins the Renegades, we probably didn’t need a hundred pages of it. Getting to the Trials faster would’ve improved my reading experience. But the story was still insanely compelling, the characters were fleshed-out and lovable, and the world-building was fresh and interesting. Now that the story’s picked up steam, I can’t wait to spend more time in this world in “Archenemies.”

In the end, this one is not without flaws, but I believe it deserved the hype.


Favorite Scene: hmm…probably when the Renegades are giving Nova a tour of their headquarters, which was really fun and an example of a good and necessary and interesting “establishing shot.” That, or the scene in the library, which I can’t say much about because spoilers – it’s a great action sequence (probably what movie people would call a “set piece”…SOMEONE GET ME A RENEGADES MOVIE ASAP).

What Made This Book Stand Out: the underlying complexity of an action-y story, which is only just alluded to and promises to be built on in the next books.

One-Sentence Summary: great if you want to be convinced that there really is no such thing as a good government.

Something that Bugged Me: the pacing, as I’ve said on eight thousand occasions.

Adult Content: surprisingly, this one is actually very clean. There’s quite a bit of comic book-ish violence, but it’s not gratuitous or gory, and there MIGHT be a handful (literally a handful – no more than five, probably) of curse words but I can’t remember if there are or aren’t – that’s it. Seriously.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5 Confused Llamas


Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Above All Else” by Dana Alison Levy

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this advance copy. “Above All Else” will be on sale October 13th, 2020. [Side note: I will be IN COLLEGE when this is released. WHAT? I’m not okay with this guys  a h. Okay anyway. Back to the scheduled programming of book reviews!]


Rose Keller and Tate Russo have been climbing for years, training in harsh weather and traveling all over the world. The goal that kept them going: summiting Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. Accompanied by Tate’s dad, the two will finally make the ultimate climb at the end of their senior year. But neither Rose nor Tate are fully in the game—not only is there a simmering romance between them, but Rose can’t get her mind off her mother’s illness, while Tate constantly fails to live up to his ambitious father’s standards.

Everyone on their expedition has something to prove, it seems. And not everyone is making the best decisions while short on oxygen and physically and mentally exhausted. The farther up the mountain they go, the more their climbing plans unravel and the more isolated each team member becomes. Rose and Tate will have to dig deep within themselves to determine what—or who—they value above all else.


This is it, guys – my last ARC of 2019. Whoa. Crazy, right?

Okay, first off. That cover! Easily one of the prettiest covers I’ve seen this year. That was what initially drew me in but it was the premise – when else are you ever going to find a YA book about teenage mountaineers climbing Mt. Everest? – that made me request it. And to that end, it definitely lived up to my expectations. But in other ways, it really didn’t. Let me explain:

Starting off with the good, the author clearly did her homework. In the author’s note, Levy mentioned having taken several research trips to Nepal (where this book is set) while writing “Above All Else,” and it seriously shows. The setting is incredibly well-captured with the kind of detail that only someone who’d seen the places they were describing firsthand would be able to capture. And although I don’t know enough about mountaineering to say whether the process of the climb was portrayed accurately, it certainly seemed to be. It was obvious that the author’s research on Nepal, mountaineering, and Mt. Everest had been exhaustive. That level of detail made for a great sports/adventure novel even when other aspects of the plot fell short.

I also liked that it struck a balance of life issues and climbing issues. Though Rose and Tate’s quest to climb Mt. Everest was obviously the driving plotline, Levy did well in incorporating the kids’ real-life issues into the central conflict. Both have very believable issues with their families (Rose’s mother is ill, Tate constantly clashes with his father) and in their personal lives (Tate has ADHD and mild PTSD from a climbing accident, Rose and Tate have feelings for each other that they don’t know how to process) that get in the way of their focus on climbing the mountain. And I loved the exploration of what going though such a grueling experience does to you not only physically, but morally and psychologically. I’d never thought about this, but Levy makes in an excellent point in emphasizing that accomplishing a goal that requires so much of you, and that carries such a high risk, really does change you in that it requires absolute self-centeredness. The constant refrain of “is any achievement really worth becoming a person you hate for?” is fascinating. And none of this felt like a distraction from the plot as a whole. But…there was ONE subplot that absolutely did not earn that distinction.

You’ll almost never hear me say this, but I honestly thought this book would have been stronger without the romance.

I know. I KNOW. Me, who will literally always be in favor of a romance being shoehorned into absolutely everything, not wanting one? Shocking. But seriously. For a few reasons, I really wished Rose and Tate had just been friends.

Firstly: their personal issues were poignant enough without the romance that it wasn’t needed to give the book emotional depth. Plain and simple, it was unnecessary, and there was almost no way in which it actually served the plot. It may have been a contributing factor to a big fight they had late in the book, but there were so many other reasons that happened that I can’t very well say that their burgeoning romance caused it. Basically, it accomplished nothing – I felt like it was there just to be there.

Secondly: it came out of nowhere. I know they were best friends, but other than one description of Rose blushing at an accidental touch, there had been absolutely no indication that their love for each other extended beyond a deep platonic bond until Tate kissed her out of the blue around the 40% mark. It was just…weird. They had a great friendship, and I was really hoping it would stay that way because there was no indication that it wouldn’t before that kiss (except in the summary that I didn’t read carefully enough), but nope. I’m almost never the “just let the girl and guy who obviously care deeply about each other be friends” person, but this book was an exception.

And lastly: the way the romantic subplot was written sort of fell into the “stereotypically hormonal teenagers” trap so much that, I’m sorry to say, at times it kind of read like fanfiction. It’s not that it was badly written; the comparison is more just in that this book took every possible excuse to get them in bed together. Even if I wasn’t Super Uncomfortable with sexy stuff in books (I gravitate towards adventure stories partly because they have less of that since you can’t very well get scandalous when you’re fighting for your life…I was wrong), that would have been weird. There was a good 20% in the middle that I had to skim because it got so much more graphic than I was comfortable with. I’m not sure how realistic it was that they went from childhood besties to Uncomfortably Physical after ONE KISS while FACING CERTAIN DEATH? Idk man. It was weird.

All of that sounds super harsh, and I feel bad for being so hard on this book when I actually did really enjoy it. I love sports and adventure books, and the setting was novel and excellently-realized, and I liked the characters (especially the supporting cast), and really, the romance didn’t kill it because *SPOILER* they get separated right after they get together, so it’s not that much of the book *END SPOILER*. And there was one scene at the end that genuinely made me want to cheer. “Above All Else” was a gripping adventure that I greatly enjoyed – its only major flaw was that it tried to be a romance when it really wasn’t.


Favorite Scene: at the end, when Tate conquers his internal demons for long enough to rescue some dying climbers who no one else was willing to help – that was the best moment of this entire book by far.

What Made This Book Stand Out: the novelty of the setting and premise, and its impeccably-researched descriptions of Nepal and mountaineering.

One-Sentence Summary: man, this mountain is really out to get these kids…

Something that Bugged Me: …didn’t I already beat that dead horse enough times?

Adult Content: quite a bit of language, TONS of making out (described pretty graphically), and at least one sex scene that’s sort of described but I’m not really sure to what extent because I skipped over that section.

Overall Rating: 4/5 Confused Llamas