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REVIEW: “Cast in Firelight” by Dana Swift


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.


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?


“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.

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REVIEW: “Aurora Burning ” by Jay Kristof and Amie Kaufman


Our heroes are back… kind of. From the bestselling co-authors of the Illuminae Files comes the second book in the epic series about a squad of misfits, losers, and discipline cases who just might be the galaxy’s best hope for survival.

First, the bad news: an ancient evil—you know, your standard consume-all-life-in-the-galaxy deal—is about to be unleashed. The good news? Squad 312 is standing by to save the day. They’ve just got to take care of a few small distractions first.

Like the clan of gremps who’d like to rearrange their favorite faces.

And the cadre of illegit GIA agents with creepy flowers where their eyes used to be, who’ll stop at nothing to get their hands on Auri.

Then there’s Kal’s long-lost sister, who’s not exactly happy to see her baby brother, and has a Syldrathi army at her back. With half the known galaxy on their tails, Squad 312 has never felt so wanted.

When they learn the Hadfield has been found, it’s time to come out of hiding. Two centuries ago, the colony ship vanished, leaving Auri as its sole survivor. Now, its black box might be what saves them. But time is short, and if Auri can’t learn to master her powers as a Trigger, the squad and all their admirers are going to be deader than the Great Ultrasaur of Abraaxis IV.

Shocking revelations, bank heists, mysterious gifts, inappropriately tight bodysuits, and an epic firefight will determine the fate of the Aurora Legion’s most unforgettable heroes—and maybe the rest of the galaxy as well.


As I said in my Theme Party Tuesday post, I ventured out in a pandemic to get this book. So yeah, I think you could say I was pretty excited.


If I’m being completely honest, I remember loving “Aurora Rising,” but it hasn’t stuck in my brain in a super intense way. I vaguely remembered the characters but not their distinct voices; I sort of remembered the plot but no specifics; I forgot a lot of key facts about the world it’s set in. I could probably have used a reread of the first book before diving into this one, but I didn’t care. I was going to get my hands on this book come hell or high water, and it was going to get into my brain as fast as it could.

And WOW. Even given the small amount of information I remembered from “Aurora Rising” to begin with, I knew enough to know I felt like I was reading a completely different series. Each character’s voice read incredibly fresh and new: I felt like I was meeting the characters all over again. The fun action set pieces, which were my favorite part of the last book, were just as fun and action-y as they were in AR. I fell in love with their found-family dynamic and individual friendships all over again, probably moreso for having already spent time watching that dynamic develop in the first book. I was swept up in the stakes, taken utterly CAPTIVE by that CLIFFHANGER (WHY????), came away with a few new ships…

Oh yeah. This was a RIDE.

This isn’t a super coherent review, I know, but I just had to gush, dang it, I LOVE this thing. A rare sequel that surpasses its original.


Short Summary: everything you love about “Aurora Rising” turned up to ELEVEN, and it WORKS.

Favorite Scene: there are many. The one in which we learn about Zila’s backstory was a highlight; literally anytime Fin is speaking; also, the scenes where Tyler and Saedii (new character, you’ll love her) are imprisoned together, and noooo, of course it’s not because I totally ship them, why do you ask? *side eye*

What Stood Out: a lot of sequels try to give the audience more of what it loved the first time around and fail miserably. This book tries it and hits it out of the park.

What Bugged Me: the cliffhanger ending, for one. RUDE. Also, my one small critique: some of the romantic scenes between Auri and Kal are…mind-numbingly cheesy. I LOVE cheesy stuff, and sometimes it was cute, but a few other times it was…yikes. I do like them together, but there is a reason that they weren’t my favorite pairing, implied or otherwise, in this book. (Scarlett/Fin slow burn? GIVE IT TO ME. Vaguely implied Tyler/Saedii that could or could not be romantic depending on how you read it? I WANT MORE. But Kal/Auri? Ehhh…)

Objectionable Content: three f-bombs (truthfully, I’ve never read a more well deserved f-bomb in my life…seriously), a small few other uses of strong language, a fade-to-black sex scene, and a lot of non-graphic violence.

Rating: 11/5 Supernovae ❤

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REVIEW: “Tweet Cute” by Emma Lordship

Earlier this week, I had the incredible luck of being randomly selected to receive a wish-copy of “Tweet Cute,” one of my most anticipated reads of 2020, on NetGalley. suffice to say that it did not disappoint.


Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.


WOW. I had high expectations for this one – the premise alone is squee material – but they were absolutely smashed. Let me explain why.

1. Jack and Pepper are pure smols and their relationship was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Pepper reminds me of myself to no end and Jack is a total sweetheart and both of them are fleshed-out and have depth and heart and real motivations and their chemistry is so !!! that I’m typing in extensive run-on sentences just to convey HOW FREAKING AWESOME THEY WERE. The high dive scene? Per-freaking-fection.

2. The Twitter war and their subsequent internet fame was not only sheer perfection but something I could totally see happening irl. It’s a little bit out there but Twitter is consistently a platform for ridiculous drama and I can 100% see a showdown between rival restaurants going down on Twitter. Plus, the Hub Seed articles and the Pepperjack fandom were so perfectly in tune with the sheer insanity of today’s internet culture – and so delightful – that I couldn’t not love them.

3. The whole book is very Gen Z. Contemporary novels that reference a specific era in painstaking detail often don’t have a lot of staying power, but as a Gen Z teen, the fact that “Tweet Cute” goes there completely works. The author clearly knows what it’s like to be a teenager today – the meme and fandom culture and the slang and the intense competition for college admissions and the utter dominance of social media – and I felt heard for it. I left the book feeling as if Lord knew exactly what it was like growing up in the environment that I did. (Sadly, though, no Vine references. It would have been absolutely WONDERFUL if Girl Cheesing had put out a “Fr esh Avo Ca Do” grilled cheese or if someone had fired off a “WHAT WAS THE REASON?!?” GIF during the twitter battle.)

4. The family dynamics. They’re not the focus of the story, but both Pepper and Jack’s families have a lot of baggage that is gradually worked through as the story unfolds. The fact that those dynamics were explored at all, even if not in intense detail, added a lot of depth.

5. THE FOOD. It made me hungry, okay?

Bottom line? Book very good. Buy book. Buy multiple copies of book so is profitable and get sequel.

(I know, I know, but…pleeeeease?)

Rating: 5/5 Befuddled Giraffes

Tweet Cute will be released on January 21, 2020.

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REVIEW: “The Girl Who Became a Goddess” by Theresa Fuller

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Author: Theresa Fuller

Release Date: May 26, 2019


The Girl Who Became a Goddess is a tribute to the childhood stories of Theresa Fuller who has experienced multiple cultures and learned to love them all. These are tales passed on from generation to generation, some to delight, some to terrify, all to enlighten.


As a girl, a mother, and a teacher, Theresa retells her favorite folktales through the lens of her own life experiences in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia, putting a unique spin on ageless classics.


The Girl Who Became a Goddess is a love letter to a young girl from the adult she has become.


I don’t typically read folktales – not out of dislike, just because they aren’t really on my radar a lot. So when I saw a collection of Southeast Asian folktales available for request on NetGalley, I was intrigued; I thought it might be an interesting expansion on my typical reading habits. I was absolutely right.

I knew almost nothing about Singaporean culture and folktales (most of the stories in this collection originated in Singapore), so I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. Essentially, the book is broken into two major sections: one half that contains several shorter folktales, and another half that is all one story – the titular legend. Though I enjoyed all of them, “The Mousedeer Who Danced on the Backs of Crocodiles” had to be my favorite. I love stories about animals AND stories that praise brains over brawn, and this one was both – and unlike anything I’d ever seen in the European folktales/fairy tales I grew up with. But, though that one was my favorite, there weren’t any that I really disliked.

Really, this was a great case study in why it’s a good idea to expand your reading horizons. I would probably not have picked this up if it hadn’t been on NetGalley but I’m very glad I did. This was a fascinating look at a culture I didn’t know much about, and after reading it I’m interested in learning more.


This one is a little unusual because it’s an anthology rather than a story, so I’m going to give it a flat rating rather than an averaged one. Since I enjoyed it so much, I’m going to go ahead and give it a 5/5.

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INTERVIEW: Kristen Burnham on “Hart & Seoul”

GUYS, THIS IS SO EXCITING. I couldn’t be more thrilled to present you guys with my first-ever author interview! I was lucky enough to have the chance to chat with Kristen Burnham on her upcoming debut, “Hart & Seoul,” which I loved (review here). Both Kristen and her agent, Michelle Weber, were wonderful to work with, and I can’t wait to share her insights with you guys – and hopefully get some of you to read this awesome debut, which is releasing June 4!


1. K-Pop is obviously a huge cultural phenomenon right now—I’ve been seeing a lot of K-pop-related YA lit right now (I’m actually reading another book that deals with the K-pop industry, which is kind of a funny coincidence!). Even so, Hart & Seoulwas a really unique take on that subject matter—taking the K-pop star out of Korea and plunking him down in Virginia certainly changes the dynamic a lot! How’d you get into K-pop, and what ultimately inspired you to write a novel about it? 


K-pop has really taken the country by storm, hasn’t it? Being in Northern Virginia, I’m right near what we call Little Korea, THE place to get all the Korean food you could ever want from both restaurants and grocery stores and anything else Korean you have a craving for. It’s perfect for a K-drama/pop junkie like me! And it’s great for inspiration; whenever I hit a creative wall, I’d go out to my favorite Korean bbq place and always leave inspired…and full. Really, really full.


But I in no way planned for my debut novel to be Hart & Seoul. It’s funny, because if you’d told me that my first novel was going to be about a K-pop star, I would have laughed myself silly; I’d been grappling with one idea for years, and it was most definitely not Hart & Seoul. I was convinced that that was going to be the one that I’d publish first…but I am so glad that I was wrong!


Hart & Seoul seemingly hit me out of nowhere, although in hindsight I think it ultimately came from years of watching K-dramas (I blame Boys Over Flowers for starting it all), which eventually led me to K-pop. I was volunteering at a book festival, moderating a panel, and twiddling my thumbs because the audience was having such a great time with the authors and obviously didn’t need me there to come up with questions. I admit, I was super tired from having to get up so early to get to the festival, had the beginnings of a massive headache, and the day was only halfway over—so I told myself that as a reward I’d start a new K-drama. But what drama to watch? A romance? Fantasy? Comedy? What if there was a drama about a K-pop star that moved next door to a girl in America…and Hart & Seoul was born! I was really hoping that I’d be able to create a rom-com that is just as you described it: unique. 


2. One of my favorite parts of Hart & Seoul was the famous guy/ordinary girl romance dynamic. I’m a total sucker for that type of rom-com, and I have to ask: what made you want to write about that? Also, semi-relatedly, I noticed that the novel is set very near your hometown—is that a clue that there is some element of autobiography in this (whether real or more of a wishful-thinking scenario, like what you would have wanted to experience at Merrilee’s age)? 


Wouldn’t any K-drama/pop lovin’ teenager want this? *Laughs* But alas, for me, it is entirely a work of fiction—I mean, I can’t even draw (unlike Merilee), and I certainly haven’t come so much as thirty feet near a celebrity of any kind. One day, celebrity crush, one day…


I chose this setting because a) it was what I know and b) I wanted to put Lee in an area that on the one hand would be out of the spotlight but still run the risk of meeting fans, although he’s not entirely aware of that danger at first. That was tricky, because I wanted to make it relatively believable that he’d be recognized without having the Chasers be an actual threat before his discovery. And yes, I had A LOT of fun writing the Chaser scenes. 


I am SO a sucker for famous person falling for ordinary person—one of my favorite Disney Channel original movies was Model Behavior. I won’t spoil the plot for you because it’s worth the time to search for it, but needless to say I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the book features the famous/ordinary love story plotline…as does half of the K-dramas that I’ve ever watched. Two words for you: Full House. #Rain


3. Hart & Seoul is much, much cleaner than your average YA book (as a reader who isn’t comfortable with tons of adult content, I very much appreciated that!). I often find that YA authors who choose to write cleaner stories do so very purposefully. Could you tell us if that’s the case with you as well? Did you have a particular motivation for wanting to write something that touches on mature themes without mature content?


I love that you bring this up, because that is EXACTLY what I was going for. One of the reasons why I fell in love with YA was because I could have the fun of all the most amazing genres without some of the more graphic content that is in adult books. I have friends/co-workers who don’t mind that content, which is fine; I, personally, gravitate towards books that don’t have it, and wanted to help provide some more of that kind to give YA readers a variety to choose from. I challenged myself to write a book that is entertaining without the added adult content because you don’t always need it to tell the story. 


4. Merilee’s turns of phrase and the way she thinks and speaks are absolutely hilarious. I was in stitches at some of her observations, which rarely happens when I read YA contemporaries. How did you develop her incredibly unique and comedic voice? And, more broadly, how did you manage to pull off that tonal balance between humor—Merilee’s zany manner of speaking, her hilariously awkward interactions with Lee, the terrifying-but-somehow-still-hysterically-funny melodrama perpetrated by the Storm Chaser fangirls—and the more serious messages about mental health and absentee parents? 


I read somewhere that debut authors often put a LOT of themselves in the book, and that is absolutely the case with Hart & Seoul. I always try to see the humor in situations, and I think Merilee’s voice is very similar to my own. (Okay, I know that it is; several people who read early drafts of it commented on just how much Merilee sounds like me.) I have always enjoyed comedies with snappy dialogue, feisty characters who are able to a laugh at themselves, and zany (love that word!) adventures that pull everything together, and really wanted to create that atmosphere in Hart & Seoul. I took a lot of inspiration from K-dramas, which excel at having that humor while at the same time introducing emotional storylines that have a surprising amount of depth to them that you initially didn’t expect.


In regards to the more serious plotlines in the book, I drew from my own experiences, particularly with Lee’s struggles. I think that because I tend to be very bubbly person (other people’s description of me, not my own), people are shocked when they find out that I suffer from anxietymainly panic attacks. I had my first one when I was six years old, and for years didn’t know how to describe it other than saying that I was sick. At one point, it was so bad I couldn’t leave the house, and even now it amazes me that I’ve been able to do the things that I’ve done. It hasn’t been an easy road, but my family has always been so supportive of me, and I’ve been blessed to work with a fantastic counselor who has helped me learn coping techniques that I practice every day. Plus, having a sense of humor about things is a huge help!


Everyone, to some extent, deals with anxiety, but for some of us that level of anxiety is kicked up a notch…or fifty. If nothing else, I want people to know that they are not alone—something that both Merilee and Lee struggle with, in different ways—and that there is hope. Whether it’s talking to a family member, friend, therapist—there are people who genuinely care and want to help you. 


5. My English teacher once told my class a story about a friend of Ernest Hemingway’s who challenged him to write a story in six words. I loved that idea, and I included six-word summaries of every book I reviewed for several months. Now it’s your turn! How would you describe Hart & Seoul in six words? 


Oh gosh, really? Okay, here goes: Runaway K-pop star meets American suburbs.


6. As a youth librarian, you clearly have a lot of exposure to children’s/YA literature. What was it that you hoped to add to the YA world by writing the story that you did—in other words, what did you not see in other books that you hoped readers would see in yours? 


There are so many excellent YA books out therebooks that inspired me to write, books that I see reader after reader get excited about. I don’t want to say that theyre missing something that my book has—other than the fact that I’m the writer of it and not someone else!—but I will say that YA moves in trends. No surprise there. I just wanted to try something new, both for me to write and for people to read. And boy oh boy, am I glad I did! I began penning the draft before K-pop had become as hugely popular in the States as it is now, but once I saw just how popular it was getting, it convinced me all the more that this was a story that was meant to be shared. Writing a book doesn’t happen overnight, and getting it published takes even longer, so I’m incredibly fortunate that the timing worked out the way it did. 



7. The question every author probably dreads: are you working on any other writing projects after Hart & Seoul? Are you interested in returning to the world of Korean pop culture in your writing, or would future projects probably be very different from Hart & Seoul


While I am happy to say that that one idea that I struggled with for so long is finally ready to be developed, I think it’s safe to say that Merilee and Lee’s adventures are not over. They both still have a lot of things to sort out, lessons to learn…and we still haven’t met the other Thunder members yet! And that’s all I’ll say at the moment. 😊

 I hope that’s gotten you all excited for this release! Seriously, you’ve got to read this. “Hart & Seoul” is out today and you can purchase it at:

Happy reading! 🙂

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REVIEW: “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Maureen Goo


Title: The Way You Make Me Feel

Author: Maureen Goo

Page Count: 319

Genre: YA


Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind? 


1. Clara’s growth. As stated below, she’s a pretty awful person when the book starts off, but her summer job and new friendships force her to reevaluate her priorities and realize that caring isn’t a character defect. She becomes kinder and more caring, and learns to cherish what she has. I especially love that she left her old friends: they were terrible influences who brought out the worst in her. Few YA books really seem to touch on the damage that friendships with the wrong people can do, but this one does. Clara’s choice to spend more time with Rose and Hamlet, who actually care about things and have drive and compassion and kindness, was a wonderful decision. Seeing her leave the worst parts of herself behind was one of the most poignant aspects of the story, and also sends a great message about surrounding yourself with people who make you a better person.

2. Rose and Hamlet! Rose reminds me a lot of myself – she’s earnest, hardworking, kind of nerdy, and very enthusiastic about everything she does. Seeing someone like Clara, the type of girl I’d usually avoid like the plague, befriend Rose, who’s so much like me, gives me hope that I actually could get along with that kind of person if I ever had to. And Hamlet…omg. SO ADORABLE. I WANT ONE. He’s a lot like Rose in personality and his interactions with Clara are preciously adorable.

3. The storyline – it’s so unique and fresh and I never found it to be too slow. I really lapped this one up.

4. The friendships – I’ve touched on this a lot already, but Rose, Clara, and Hamlet’s friendship is the kind we all wish we had. Reading about it was so much fun. And really touching, given the path they took to get to that point.


Mostly Clara herself. She starts off as one of those characters whose unique voice makes them seem great on-page, but who you’d hate in real life. As someone who’s very much like Rose, I know I would hate Clara’s selfishness. HAAATE. People who use other people as entertainment at their expense are just about my least favorite humans. It’s so endlessly selfish…I just can’t stand those kinds of people. She’s mean and cynical and doesn’t truly care about anything but herself. Obviously, she changes a lot, but geez, she’s a hard person to like at first. Also, her mother is the actual worst.


Plot: 4/5. Not a super plot-driven story, but the premise was fun and Goo certainly did it justice.

Characters: 5/5. Clara is a very dynamic and fleshed-out character, and she feels like someone you might actually know. Hamlet is an adorable bean, Rose is literally me, and Adrian is a smol and one of the best parents I’ve seen in a genre where bad parents are very much an overused trope.

Pacing: 5/5. Never slows down, so you’re always on the edge of your seat.

Writing Quality: 4/5. Engaging and well-written, but nothing about the style really stands out.

Handling of Subject Matter: 5/5. An incredibly loving depiction of Korean/Korean-Brazilian culture, with very tasteful handling of an unorthodox and at times unideal family situation.

Message/Content: 4/5. Good messages about responsibility, living with purpose, and finding people who bring out the best in you. Much cleaner than typical Maureen Goo – a tiny smattering of minor curse words, bad life decisions that characters later regret, one allusion to a character smoking (in the past – it was never done again). Nothing super major.

Overall: 4.5

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REVIEW: “Love a la Mode” by Stephanie Kate Strohm


Title: Love a la Mode

Author: Stephanie Kate Strohm

Page count: 322

Genre: YA


Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . . 
Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.
Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.
Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.
Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love à la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other. 


I saw this on Goodreads a while back but initially wasn’t planning on reading it, and the only reason I changed my mind was because it was on a display at my library and I was looking for anything decent to read that they had. I figured “why not?” and checked it out, since I knew I would need something to read on an upcoming flight.


There are many, many things that I loved about this book: firstly, the food. All of the characters were crazy-passionate about food and the way they described it was mouthwatering. I wanted to eat everything they ate. And then there are the characters. Obviously, the book focuses on Rosie and Henry, who are both perfectly decent protagonists, but the supporting cast was what really made the book shine. Priya, Yumi, Marquis, Hampus, et. al. had me in stitches the entire book. (The majority of their appearances had me D Y I N G on a crowded airplane. I probably made myself look pretty bad.) They’re all quirky and fun and lend their own kind of humor to the story. 10/10 comic relief characters with substance. And lastly, Rosie was a smol and I adored her. I loved that she struggled – the fact that she wasn’t the best at everything made it seem a bit more real just how competitive this program was – and she reminds me a lot of myself. (She’s the mom friend, she gets super excited about the tiniest things, and she’s Lutheran, like me; I always freak out a little when I read something with a Lutheran character. Oddly enough, the only two books I’ve ever read with those both have protagonists named Rose…)


This wasn’t without its weaknesses, though. The love triangle subplot was as unnecessary as you’d expect it to be, and Henry and Rosie really, REALLY needed to have an honest conversation that they staunchly refused to have for, like, the entire duration of the book. That irritated me. But on the whole, this was a delightfully fluffy read and I regret none of the times I may have offended my fellow passengers with my cachinnations.


Six-Word Summary: name a problem that sugar can’t fix…

Recommended For: chefs/bakers/food enthusiasts of the world, younger readers (it’s almost entirely clean so it’s a good bet for the 12-14 range), anyone who liked “Love and Gelato” and wants to read something similar, wanderlusty types who like foreign settings

Possibly Objectionable Content: a little bit of language with two uses of the word “a**” and a French curse word (which most people probably wouldn’t notice unless they spoke French or googled it), and two instances of innuendo. On the whole, this is one of the cleaner YA novels I’ve read.

Rating: 5 out of 5 confused llamas

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What My First “Year of Classics” Taught Me

Last December, when one of my best friends insisted that I read Pride and Prejudice, neither one of us knew what she was starting.

It was her favorite book, and I’d lately been thinking that, for someone who loved to read as much as I did, I was shockingly ill-read. I’d barely touched a classic, other than the few I’d read for school and the ones my mom had made me listen to on audiobook during long car rides as a kid. So after I finished Pride and Prejudice (and loved it), I proposed a means to become the well-read, cultured human being I wanted to be: a two-man, classics-only book club. It was a simple setup: one classic novel, which we’d select in advance, for each month of 2018. She agreed to participate but didn’t have time; I finished out the year. And I’m incredibly glad I did. Each of the twelve selected books taught me something and, on this first day of my second annual classic lit challenge (books to come! I’m still waiting for my first to come via library request because I’m a diva and can’t read an 800-page book on a screen – sorry, can’t), I thought it might be nice to reflect on the reading I did this year.

  1. January: The Scarlet Letter

The Lesson: the trick to finishing a book is to convince yourself that you love it until it’s over.

When I was reading “The Scarlet Letter” – which my friend chose, not me – I thought I liked it. I convinced myself that I loved Hawthorne’s obsession with run-on sentences and describing everything in mind-numbing detail because it was “evocative” and pretended I didn’t care that reading ten pages made me want to sleep. And that was good. It allowed me to get through a book that I would later openly acknowledge that I’d hated.

Perhaps I’m too young for things like this. I know someone’s probably going to yell at me in the comments about how I’m a disrespectful heathen youth who should have more reverence for the classics. (*slinks into the corner* I’m sorry, I’m trying!) Even so, I just did not enjoy this. The value in my reading it? I learned early on how to finish a book I didn’t like – and I had to do that a lot this year.

2. February: The Count of Monte Cristo

The Lesson: classics aren’t inherently unlike any other books – you can love them just as much as you would anything else.

IT HAS BEEN ELEVEN MONTHS AND I AM STILL IN LOVE WITH THIS BOOK. Perhaps my experience was altered by the fact that I read the only copy my school library had, which was abridged by half its length, but still. Page count excepted, “Count” has such a compelling story that it’d easily be my first recommendation to anyone who’s never read a classic and thinks they don’t want to. I finished the 500-page version I read in about a week during an incredibly busy part of the school year because it sucked me in. I’d never felt that way about a classic novel and I didn’t even know I could. I always sort of assumed you were supposed to read them coldly, detachedly, admiring from afar without getting attached. Boy, was I wrong.

This is my best friend’s favorite book, which was part of the reason we chose it. Not only can I see why after having read it, but (as you know if you’ve seen the About page) I think I can safely say that it’s one of mine as well.

March: My Ántonia

The Lesson: don’t let your past reading experiences determine your book choices.

I thought that I hated pioneer books.

This is because, when I was a small child, my mother tried to make me read “Little House on the Prairie” OVER and OVER and OVER, and also homeschooled us with a curriculum that included a great deal of snore-inducing middle grade novels about pioneers. So when my friend (who picked, I’m pretty sure, every book on here except The Moonstone and Les Mis) selected this book, I had to physically try not to groan. I thought I’d hate it. I did not hate it. Conclusion: Child Sarah is not a reliable source of opinions about books.

If I had allowed my bias against pioneer books to prevent me from reading “My Ántonia,” I would have missed out on what has to be the best feel-good classic I’ve ever read.

(Is it bad that I shipped Jim and Ántonia, thought…?)

April: Les Miserables

The Lesson: there’s nothing scary about long books once you’ve actually read one.

I was the one who chose this book. I love the musical version of Les Mis more than life itself so I wanted to check out the book, not realizing how long it was. (I read the Barnes and Noble version, which cut out about 400 pages of what it said was “sociological analysis,” but it was still 800 pages!). This was unfortunate because the month I had to read it, I was in a play (which means tech week, ew) and had to prepare for my AP Exams, which were in early May. Busy month + the longest book of the challenge = very bad idea, clearly. So I was a bit intimidated.

But I survived, and I enjoyed it, and I’ve never been prouder of myself than I was when I finished an 800-page book during the busiest month of the year only two days too late. (May 2nd, I think.) And most of all, I learned that I CAN read a long book if I plan it well. They’re not scary, they just need to be approached correctly.

May: Sense and Sensibility

The Lesson: you won’t always like all of an author’s work equally, no matter how much you enjoy that author.

I loved Pride and Prejudice. Naturally, not having read any other Jane Austen books, I thought that meant I loved Jane Austen. I do still enjoy her work, but not all of it is equally enjoyable to me. “Sense and Sensibility” bored me half to tears. And it was then that I learned that I won’t always enjoy everything an author writes – and that’s fine. Really, one of my biggest takeaways for the year was that it’s perfectly fine not to like every book you read; this is no exception.

June: Northanger Abbey

The Lesson: opinions change – sometimes very frequently.

I was not optimistic about this third Jane Austen novel after finishing S&S. But I loved NA. It was incisive and funny and I LOVED Catherine. (She’s a morbid, melodramatic bookworm! ME!) I don’t have a lot to say about it, but it was a great time. And it definitely showed me that my opinions will change more often than I ever expect them to.

July: Wuthering Heights

The Lesson: finding your least-favorite book is just as important as finding your favorite.

I DESPISE this book. (Sorry! I know it’s probably someone’s favorite and I just desecrated it! But I did!) I don’t know why but once the Scarlet Letter Technique of pretending to like it until it’s over got me through this (mostly read on a plane flight to Wisconsin), I just could not stand it. It was so not my thing that I quite literally wanted to fight a book. I’ve got nothing – no excuse. I just. Could. Not. Stand. It.

And for that, it stuck with me as much as any book I’ve ever loved. (This also happened with “The Name of the Rose.” More on that later.)

August: Jane Eyre

The Lesson: the amount of variation in works within a narrow genre can be astounding.

Wuthering Heights didn’t leave me with a rosy view of Gothic romances. I was surprised, then, when I found myself enjoying Jane Eyre. Thinking back on it, that was probably due in large part to the fact that Jane is a fantastic protagonist. I adore Jane and that is just a thing that I have decided. She’s independent and has a brain, and I love that. I also love that her prudence and bright intellect drive so much of the story. And yes, the romance is problematic in many ways, but coming on the heels of Wuthering Heights (I read this one early, on the same trip on which I read W.H.), it looked downright blissful – and that made it VERY romantic. It’s amazing how different two supposedly “similar” books can be – don’t judge a book by its Goodreads “you might also like” suggestions…

September: A Room With a View

The Lesson: “meh” is okay, as long as the book is short.

I neither loved nor hated A Room With a View. It was…there. However, since it was less than 200 pages, this was okay. It had its bright spots: Lucy Honeychurch is an adorable smol for whom I would willingly die, and THE VIOLET FIELD KISS, AH. Someone get me a 16-or-17-year-old male who is willing to kiss me and a field of violets so I can reenact that, pleeeeease? It was pleasant in an entirely forgettable way, hence the “meh.” And I was okay with that. You don’t have to passionately adore a book to like it.

October: The Moonstone

The Lesson: it’s okay to be disappointed by a book you thought you’d love.

I chose The Moonstone and eagerly waited for ten months to read it because I thought it would be the kind of riveting adventure/mystery that I adored. It was a good book, I’ll give it that, but I didn’t like it as much as I thought I would. It was a quiet, peaceful stream where I’d been expecting the Amazon River. In a class-five rapid. I did like it, but my high expectations dampened the eventual reality of the book. I have to say that the most anticipating book on my list being rather meh was a disappointment, but then again, so was “The Name of the Rose.” (Again, more on that infamous weekend binge later…)

November: The Phantom of the Opera

The Lesson: even if you’ve seen the movie, there’s no substitute for reading the book.

I LOVE Phantom-the-musical. It is just about my favorite thing ever. My first crush in high school was essentially a haze of 9th-grade me pining over a senior (love ya, Sergio!) to “Think of Me” while doing nothing about it, and then confessing long after the crush had died, and finding out it was mutual all along-

Anyway. Enough about that. The point is, I chose this book not expecting it to live up to the musical. But it did, in its own way. It was at least six times weirder, but that lent it its own Gothic-horror charm that was largely missing from the far more lavish and palatable musical. I would never have understood the vibe of the story had I only seen the musical. So, even if you’ve seen the movie…

Read the book, kids.

December: A Tale of Two Cities

The Lesson: you probably don’t hate that author as much as you think you do.

I read half of Oliver Twist. Couldn’t finish. So depressing, sigh. (I know that was the point, but I was having a hard time and didn’t need to be further dragged down by a book.) Thus, I thought I hated Dickens – but I didn’t. “A Tale of Two Cities” is slow-moving, but it has to have the single most beautiful ending in all of literature. The whole book is poetic as heck and it especially comes out in the denouement – both in the writing and in the timelessness of the events themselves. People, when in doubt, go with the Jesus ending. Tragic self-sacrifice gets me every single time. 


BONUS ROUND: Other classics I read this year, briefly described!

A Passage to India (Feb.): lovely, if a bit stale. I like that period in history, so that helped.

Much Ado About Nothing:  makes me almost IRRATIONALLY happy. (The film is delightful too.)


(I read this in a single weekend, because I had nothing else to do at a family event in the most boring city on earth. Bad idea. But hey, it made me think.)

Crime and Punishment: I also hated this one, but at least I’m not using caps…

This one has a story too. I read the last 313 pages on a 13-hour car ride in 106-degree heat. The car had no air conditioning. We only stopped for food and water once in the entire day. I sweated through a pair of shorts so thoroughly that it felt like I’d bathed in them when I got up. And a ratty used-bookstore copy of Crime and Punishment was my sole source of entertainment. I was sort of set up to hate this book even if I didn’t find it relentlessly depressing and dull. Oops.

The Age of Innocence: poetic and boring.

The Scarlet Pimpernel: so much fun. Also, Marguerite Blakeney is the hecking love of my life. It’s not Wednesday, but Marguerite is my WCW every day of the week.

Anna Karenina: long, but rewarding. I vastly preferred Kitty and Levin to Anna and Vronsky, though.