Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized

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

SUMMARY

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.

REVIEW

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.

And OH MY GOULASH IT DELIVEREDDDDD.

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.

ENDNOTES

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 ❤

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesday: Favorite YA Sci-Fi

Hey guys! Today is a very exciting day in my reading life because I have obtained a copy of Aurora Burning. (I know – buying a physical copy of a new release, at full price, during a pandemic? Must have REALLY wanted that book. YEAH. I DID. AND 150 PAGES IN, I LOVE IT. I’d probably be done with it already if I didn’t have to stop to work out…

Anyway.)

In honor of the latest installment in one of my all-time favorite YA series, which happens to be sci-fi, I’ve decided to make that the theme of my latest Theme Party Tuesday and share five of my favorite YA Sci-Fi novels!

NOTE: although I adore “Aurora Rising,” I don’t want to repeat authors, so I’m going to talk about “Illuminae” instead because I love them equally, I’ve never talked about it on this blog, and I’ll be reviewing “Aurora Burning” soon anyway.

5. Most Thought-Provoking: “A Conspiracy of Stars” by Olivia A. Cole

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What It’s About: an intrepid, curious young woman studying the wildlife of the alien planet she lives on becomes increasingly skeptical of the colonial government she lives under as her research leads her to unravel its sinister aims.

Why You Should Read It: “Conspiracy” was not my favorite of the books on this list, but none of them made me think more than this one did. I think a lot of what makes sci-fi so fascinating is its ability to take relevant, timely social issues and apply them to alien settings. This lets us detach the issues enough from the reality we experience them in to see them differently, and that’s exactly what this book does. By uprooting colonialism and plopping it down on an alien planet, Cole lets us see its brutality in a way that no history textbook about the Belgian Congo ever could. It also got me thinking about the rights of indigenous peoples, which don’t get even close to enough attention in literature, so that’s great too. This is about as thought-provoking as young adult fiction gets, and I recommend it for people who aren’t sure about sci-fi but are passionate about human rights and social justice – you’ll find enough to like in this book to be convinced that sci-fi isn’t so bad after all.

Where I Read This: on a sick day home from school in 11th grade.

4. Best Sci-Fi Retelling of a Non-Sci-Fi Story: “Last of Her Name” by Jessica Khoury 

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What It’s About: in this outer-spacey “Anastasia” retelling, a teenage girl from a rural backwater planet discovers that she is not who she believed she was.

Why You Should Read It: I know I’ve yelled about this book at least once on my blog, but in case you missed that post, here’s a rundown of reasons:

  1. Anastasia. Duh. I will read anything that claims to be an Anastasia retelling. I am such a massive sucker for that story.
  2. Fun space adventures! Action! Peril! Romance! Identity-seeking! Destiny-forging!
  3. This has an absolutely fascinating mythos and I loved the worldbuilding.

But in the end…it’s just plain fun. This was one of the first new releases I’d ever read, and at the time, I’d never rooted for a character so hard. “Last of Her Name” was a huge part of what got me into YA. Read this if you want to fall in love with a character, and you can’t decide whether you want to read sci-fi, historical fiction, or fantasy, because you will, and it’s got all of them.

Where I Read This: while walking around in my backyard to get my 10,000 steps.

3. Sleeper Hit: “Rebel Seoul” by Axie Oh

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What It’s About: a down-on-his-luck teenage boy in future Seoul, South Korea jumps at the chance to work on high-level government operations as a companion for Tera, a bionic teenage girl designed by the government as a weapon. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s going to be hard to separate business and pleasure with Tera around.

Why You Should Read It: I really didn’t expect to love this. Yeah, I did, but it had a lot of qualities I would usually dislike: the writing wasn’t nearly as strong as some of the other entries on this list; it had a slow start; and the secondary romance was shoehorned as heck. But against all odds, Rebel Seoul made me fall madly in love with its awesome worldbuilding, sweet camaraderie, fast-paced action, and touching romance. Tera and Jaewon’s romance felt very real (well, as real as a romance between an ex-gang member and a bionic human weapon can feel) and earned because their connection built over time. Jaewon had to earn Tera’s trust, then her respect, then her affection – I LOVED THAT, MORE, PLEASE. (We do not see that enough in YA.) By the end of the book, I was in love with Neo-Seoul, with Jaewon, and with the two of them together. And great news if you loved “Rebel Seoul” as much as I do: it has a sequel, which is also great 🙂

Where I Read This: frantically, over two days, wherever I could – be that before bed, during meals, or even in class. (When senioritis was hitting me hardest, I started taking whatever book I was reading to school. Yeah. I know.)

2. Sentimental Favorite: “Enchantress from the Stars” by Sylvia Engdahl 

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What It’s About: a college student from an advanced intergalactic civilization is sent to a small, less-developed planet to defend them from the incursions of an imperialist planet seeking to take it over for their own gain.

Why You Should Read It: lots of anti-colonialist books on this list, for some reason – I guess that subject just lends itself well to sci-fi? (You’ll see a little of that in my #1 pick, too.) While “Enchantress” is certainly thought-provoking, it’s on this list for sentimental reasons. At the time that I read “Enchantress,” this was my first sci-fi novel. I was in eighth grade, about a week shy of my fourteenth birthday, and thought I hated sci-fi. Getting wrapped up in the romance of this tale (the “lush, adventurous, transportive” sort of romance, not the love kind, although there’s some of that, too, and it’s great), I realized that I didn’t. It kinda blew my middle-school mind, and I loved every minute. Couldn’t recommend this more.

Where I Read This: on a spring break vacation to New Mexico in eighth grade.

  1. All-Around Favorite: “Illuminae” by Jay Kristof and Amie Kaufman  (all three, but I especially love the first one)

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What It’s About: two teenagers who escape the destruction of their planet must survive repeated attempts by various parties to kill them off before they can discover their nefarious secrets.

Why You Should Read It: what can I say about “Illuminae” that hasn’t already been said? It’s clever, romantic, epic in scale, addictive, shocking, beautiful, terrifying – HOLY CRAP, THIS THING IS A TOUR DE FORCE. If you only read one YA novel this year, this would be one I’d suggest. (Now, not uncontested, mind you, but it would definitely be in the running.)

Where I Read This: I can’t even remember – I think it had something to do with drama practice?

What do you think of these picks? What YA sci-fi would have made your list? Have any theme suggestions? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Time of Our Lives” by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka

SUMMARY 

Fitz Holton waits in fear for the day his single mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s starts stealing her memory. He’s vowed to stay close to home to care for her in the years to come–never mind the ridiculous college tour she’s forcing him on to visit schools where he knows he’ll never go. Juniper Ramirez is counting down the days until she can leave home, a home crowded with five younger siblings and zero privacy. Against the wishes of her tight-knit family, Juniper plans her own college tour of the East Coast with one goal: get out.

When Fitz and Juniper cross paths on their first college tour in Boston, they’re at odds from the moment they meet– while Juniper’s dying to start a new life apart for her family, Fitz faces the sacrifices he must make for his. Their relationship sparks a deep connection–in each other’s eyes, they glimpse alternate possibilities regarding the first big decision of their adult lives.

REVIEW

This…could not have been a more timely book for me. Read: I finished this book the day I submitted my college commitment. Yeah. So a book about a prestigious college road trip was…kind of exactly what I wanted right now.

And I loved it. 

There were a couple reasons for this: my deep love for both of our protagonists, the East Coast road trip (I want to do that!), the satisfying romance, the Complications and Angst, the fact that it name-dropped a college I was accepted to (sorry, Carnegie Mellon, you weren’t for me).

But really, I loved this book because it felt like my life.

Seriously. I’ve never read a book that captured the special breed of uncertainty and angst that goes with the college process more truthfully. Both of our protagonists have things holding them back going into college, worries that complicate an already-complicated decision. Both have dreams; neither fully feels they can pursue them. Both put in the work to create opportunities they’re afraid to take. Both are running from something.

And, as a high school senior a lot like both of them, I felt their anxiety and questioning on a visceral level. I don’t have a mother with Alzheimer’s, or a family that won’t let go of me, but I felt like their experiences were mine, because I feel like their situations were specific examples of universal experiences. College is a scary time, but also an incredibly hopeful one. Like Juniper, I’ve looked forward to college since I started high school, but the future is still daunting and lonely. Because of that, though they were rare, I’ve had moments where I would’ve sympathized more with Fitz’s trepidation about his future, too. That said, it was pretty much impossible for me to be objective about this book, but I don’t care. I haven’t fallen this hard for a book since…when was the last time Maurene Goo released a book? Then. Since then.

(Actually, no, that’s kind of a lie. I felt that way about “The Fountains of Silence” too, and that came out a lot later. But you get the point. This was one of my top reads of the first third of 2020 and, honestly, if you’re heading into college, a must-read.)

Add this to the list of “books that make me sad that my first semester of college might be on the internet.”

ENDNOTES

One-Sentence Summary: it turns out that what these two unlikely friends want out of life isn’t as different as they thought it was.

Favorite Scene: it’s so hard to pick! Maybe the rooftop scene?

Something that Stood Out: I didn’t mention this in the actual review because I was too busy waxing poetic about how much I ~related~ to this book, but the writing itself was beautiful. Oftentimes, style is an afterthought in YA – never for Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka. The quality of their writing consistently ranges from excellent to downright poetic and some of the turns of phrase in this book were actually Kindle-highlight-worthy, which I find rare.

Something that Bugged Me: the cameo from the lead couple in “If I’m Being Honest,” this author duo’s last book. What was the point of including that scene if it was going to undermine all of Cameron’s character development the way it did? Yeah, it sort of tied into the story, but I feel like it was thrown in just to be thrown in and it didn’t sit well with me.

Possibly-Objectionable Content: one sex scene (can’t tell you how bad it was because I didn’t read it), a couple of f-bombs (and, weirdly, absolutely no other cursing), underage drinking, non-explicit discussion of college hookup culture.

Rating: 5.5/5 Befuddled Emu

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “More Than Just a Pretty Face” by Syed Masood

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy. MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE releases August 4th, 2020. 

Summary 

Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.

When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man, a school-wide academic championship, it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her…the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her…the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.

Review

Oftentimes, the characters I love most in fiction are the ones I’d absolutely hate in real life. Danyal Jilani is one such character. He’s cocky and irresponsible; he knows how attractive he is and hates school – he’d probably drive me crazy in real life. But man, I was rooting for Danyal hard in “More than Just a Pretty Face.” That was consistently how I felt about this book: it was full of heart and charm, and it was almost impossible not to love and root for our leads, Bisma and Danyal. Their romance was sweet, they were compelling characters on their own, and I really felt for them through their struggles. 

Additionally, this is one of those rare rom-coms that’s both plot and character-driven; most, I find, are one or the other. The progression of Danyal and Bisma’s romance, and Danyal’s preparation for the Renaissance Man competition, make up a significant chunk of the story, but so does the character development. (Also, may I just say: I almost never read books with male perspective characters, and I actually really enjoyed reading something in a guy’s voice.) And not only are they balanced, but they feed each other: the character development fuels the romance, and the historical perspective that Danyal gains through Renaissance Man informs his character development – it’s a big part of what teaches him to speak up, which is a major lesson he has to learn throughout the story. I feel like “More than Just a Pretty Face” was trying to do a lot; many books that attempt that fall flat, but this one didn’t. None of the topics that were touched upon felt perfunctory or skimmed-over. 

Overall, this was both a fun read and a surprisingly substantial one, and I highly recommend it.

ENDNOTES

One-Sentence Summary: he may not start as more than just a pretty face, but trust me, he won’t stay that way.

Favorite Scene: hard to choose…the beach scene? Or anything at Remarquable, the French restaurant Danyal works at – I loved the cooking parts of the book. 

Something that Stood Out: the fact that a contemporary rom-com tackled historical issues that are still felt today – I’ve read contemporary/in-the-moment social issue books, but never one that talked about historical issues. 

Something that Bugged Me: really, can’t think of a lot. Maybe the fact that Danyal’s irresponsible behavior is occasionally glorified? But there really aren’t a lot of cases where that’s true. 

Adult Content: scattered cursing; a character’s sexual history is a big part of the plot and is often referenced (never graphically); lots of terrible parenting. 

Rating: 4.5/5 Befuddled Emu

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesdays: Travel-Themed YA

Hey guys, I swear I’m actually going to be punctual this time :p

Since I just finished a great travel-themed novel, Aix Marks the Spot, I thought this second Theme Party Tuesday might be a good time to highlight some of my favorite travel-themed YA novels. Let’s get started!

5. Best Unconventional Travel Story: “Field Notes On Love” by Jennifer E. Smith

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What It’s About: after his girlfriend breaks up with him shortly before they were to go on a nonrefundable train trip across the U.S., a British teenager puts out a classified ad asking for a woman with the same name as his ex to accompany him on the trip with his ex’s ticket. He and the replacement girl, who happen to be the same age because this is YA, fall for each other as they train trip across the USA.

Why I Liked It: this book was never JUST about the travel, or JUST about the romance; it was also about family and finding your passions and place in the world. It handled all of that with heart and you could tell the author loved these characters. Also, nothing I’ve ever read has made a cross-country train trip sound so appealing, and that includes my cousin’s travel blog about train-tripping across Europe.

Where I Read This: on a plane to a family reunion in Sonoma (fitting, no?)

Recommended For: hopeless romantics and lovers of trains and/or thoughtful romances.

4. Best Road Trip Book: “I Wanna Be Where You Are” by Kristina Forest

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What It’s About: a ballerina devises a plan to sneak off to an audition in another state that her mother would never allow her to attend, but when her neighbor/ex-crush/arch-enemy tags along, things get a little more complicated.

Why I Liked It: Chloe, the protagonist, is an incredibly likable lead, and her passion for ballet was evident. I loved the dance side of the book, and road trip + frenemies-to-lovers = BEST combination. This one wasn’t the most explicitly travel-based of the books on this list – the road trip wasn’t really the point (if you want that, go with “Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour,” which was considered for this list but didn’t make it) – but “I Wanna Be Where You Are” was a lot of fun and surprisingly heartfelt.

Where I Read This: as an audiobook, while hiking with my mom over the summer. (Obviously, it took several hikes.)

Recommended For: dancers, frenemies-to-lovers fans, and anyone who likes books WITH travel but not ABOUT travel.

3. Most Unputdownable: “Anna and the French Kiss” by Stephanie Perkins

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What It’s About: American girl sent to boarding school in Paris falls for France and a charming classmate, but there is seemingly no end of hurdles to overcome before she can earn her happily-ever-after

Why I Liked It: okay, I know what you’re gonna say. “Anna” is undeniably cliché, totally soapy, and not anything that would be trendy today (diversity – who is she?). But absolutely none of that stops it from being the book equivalent of crack cocaine. AKA: once you start reading this, you will not be able to stop. I might get roasted for unabashedly loving this book, but it makes me happy: the writing is good, the characters are endearing (at least, the leads…most of the side characters drove me nuts), the Parisian setting is evocatively drawn, and it’s totally unputdownable. This was the perfect summer book. A joyous love letter to Paris, the teenage years, and love itself, “Anna and the French Kiss” is an enduring favorite.

Where I Read This: frantically, in my bedroom over the last two days of summer before senior year.

Recommended For: Francophiles and people who grew up on early 2010s YA and want to be reminded of the inflated expectations they had for their high school experience before it inevitably ended up being blah.

2. Best Use of Setting: “I Love You So Mochi,” Sarah Kuhn

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What It’s About: Japanese-American high school student Kimi spends the spring break of her senior year in Japan with the grandparents she’s never met, falls in love, and goes on a journey of self-discovery.

Why I Liked It: there’s a very specific feeling I get when I’m reading a book that’s going to be special to me. It feels like the night before vacation, or eating a delicious dessert and knowing that I can eat as much as I want and without getting sick to my stomach. “I Love You So Mochi” was one such book. It’s both intensely visual and highly introspective, describing sense and setting so well that Kyoto is practically its own character and emotion so well that we feel like we’ve known Kimi all our lives. I felt like I was watching a feel-good, visually stunning indie coming-of-age movie. I can’t really describe what it was that I loved about this book in terms that I feel do it justice – you’ll just have to read it.

Oh, and the romance was adorable. 

Where I Read This: various places, including an AirBnB in Sedona, over the first few weeks of summer vacation.

Recommended For: fashion and art enthusiasts, soul-searchers, people like me who are enamored of anything from or involving Japan (…I feel attacked), and teenagers struggling to find their place in the world.

1. Overall Favorite: “Love & Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch 

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What It’s About: girl sent to live with her late mother’s old college classmate in Italy finds love and explores the country – and tries to solve the mystery of who her father is.

Why I Liked It: “Love and Gelato” made me feel nostalgic for experiences I’d never even had, and if I had to describe it in a word, that word would be “wistful.” As protagonist Lina opens up to those around her and experiences life in Italy for the first time, you can’t help but fall in love with the people and places she encounters right along with her. The wistful romance of both the setting and the relationship Lina develops with the literal boy next door (which is *chef kiss*, by the way), and the excitement of the search for Lina’s father, absolutely melted my heart. If I ever get to go to Europe, I’d want it to be exactly like “Love and Gelato.”

Where I Read This: in my bedroom at midnight on a school night, because I couldn’t stop until I finished.

Recommended For: anyone. I’m not kidding. Anyone.

What books would’ve made your list? Know of any good travel-themed YA books I should check out? Theme suggestions for next week’s Theme Party Tuesday post? Leave me a comment to let me know 🙂

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Aix Marks the Spot” by S.E. Anderson

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for allowing me to read an advance copy of this book. “Aix Marks the Spot” will be released on June 16th, 2020.

SUMMARY:

Jamie has been dreaming of this summer forever: of road trips and intensive art camps, of meeting cute boys with her best friend Jazz. What she didn’t count on was the car accident.

Exiled away from her family as her mother slowly learns to walk again, Jamie is sent to Provence and trapped in an isolated home with the French grandmother she has never met, the guilt of having almost killed her parents, and no Wi-Fi. Enough to drive a girl mad. That is, until, she finds an old letter from her father, the starting point in a treasure hunt that spans across cities and time itself. Somehow, she knows that the treasure is the key to putting her shattered family back together and that whatever lies at the end has the power to fix everything.

Armed only with a high-school-level of French and a map of train lines, she must enlist the aid of Valentin, a handsome local who’s willing to translate. To save her family, she has castle ruins to find and sea cliffs to climb; falling for her translator wasn’t part of her plan… 

REVIEW

I wasn’t completely sure what to expect going into this book, but I love travel novels, so I thought I’d give this a try. What I didn’t expect was how comforting this book would be at a time when I really needed that.

This isn’t always a happy book: Jamie struggles constantly with cultural identity, self-blame, and isolation. As someone who has grappled a lot with isolation and the need to find my place in the world, a lot of Jamie’s struggles really hit home for me. But reading about the people, places, and experiences that help her to slowly step out of her hopelessness and find her joy again is like a bowl of hot soup on a cold day. I was amazed how…warm I felt after I finished this book.

And aside from the personal/emotional side of the story, it was actually a lot of fun, too – I loved getting to explore Provence with Jamie! The scenery, the culture, the food (ugh, this book made me hungry…) – all of it was so evocative. A good travel-themed novel should be transportive; that’s exactly what this was for me. And the supporting characters! I loved them 🙂 Valentin was ADORABLE, and even though his friends were only in one scene, I loved them, too. Jamie and Valentin had that friends-first kind of chemistry that made for a really sweet romance – because they connected as friends before they fell for each other, their connection felt real and earned. While there was definitely an attraction from the start, it doesn’t feel like instalove. And the family connection…ugh. I have a *thing* for mother-daughter books right now, for whatever reason, so that part of the story hit home, too.

None of us can exactly go out for a warm croissant right now, but this book is the next-best thing.

ENDNOTES

One-Sentence Summary: apparently, Provence is a pretty good therapist.

Favorite Scene: the barbecue scene :’)

Something that Stood Out: nothing about the actual book, just…the way I felt after I finished. The story was like a blanket.

Something that Bugged Me: I feel like the author wanted to create multiple kinds of conflict to the point where there was just too much going on. There’s literally nothing in this story that isn’t a source of conflict, which makes sense, but still. Bit much.

Adult Content: a tiny bit of cursing, a little underage drinking, and, like, two references to sex? Mostly clean.

Rating: 4.5/5 Befuddled Emu

Posted in Lists and Rankings, Miscellaneous, Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesdays #1: Books About Korean Pop Culture!

NOTE: this is obviously not being posted on Tuesday. Sorry, guys. 😦 I’m not punctual.

Hey guys! This blog has kind of died lately, and I’m trying to find a way to revive it, so I settled on something that I like doing a little more than I should: obsessively categorizing and ranking things! 🙂

We’ve all had to develop our own coping mechanisms for COVID-19 quarantine survival, and mine (aside from distance running and the online community college class I enrolled myself in For Funsies over spring break) has been bingeing K-Dramas. They’ve proliferated on Netflix lately, and I wanted to see what the hype was all about (one of my friends is in love with them and has been begging me to watch them for years), so I started with “Love Alarm.” And then I watched another one. And now I’m watching two more, and I have a K-pop playlist now, and I can’t STOP. So. Given the fact that we are being graced with not one, not two, but THREE lovely new K-Pop-themed YA novels this year:

 

I thought…what better way to celebrate my newfound love of Korean pop culture, and the fact that it’s an increasingly popular topic for YA lit, than by using it as the topic of my first Theme Party Tuesday post?

So. In this first post in what’s going to be a weekly series, I’m going to be listing five books in a themed category that I’ve read, along with mini-reviews and recommendations. So let’s get going with our first Theme Party Tuesday: YA lit about Korean pop culture! 🙂

  1. Best for K-pop & K-drama newbies: “SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW,” MAURENE GOO

What It’s About: a runaway K-pop idol in Hong Kong breaks out of her regimented lifestyle to explore Hong Kong in the adventure she’s been longing for, aided by a boy she doesn’t realize is a paparazzi photographer.

Why I Liked It: “Somewhere Only We Know” is one of those books I ate up like an ice cream cone that’s about to melt in the sun: as if I was running out of time. :p As anyone on who reads my posts probably knows, Maurene Goo is one of my auto-buy authors, because all of her books have made me feel like that! Lucky and Jack’s bad-idea-that-you-can’t-help-but-love romance is adorable but also incredibly tense, given what we know about Jack and Lucky doesn’t; the FOOD, ugh; the Hong Kong setting is utterly transportive; and it does a good job of speaking to the darker side of K-pop as well. Oh, and it’s a retelling of the cinematic classic “Roman Holiday.” I would DIE for a movie adaptation of this.

Recommended For: people who think they hate reading, but I’m pretty sure that’s no one who’s voluntarily on this book review blog…and people who don’t know a ton about K-pop but want to get into it. “Somewhere Only We Know” definitely never lets you forget that its leading lady is a K-pop idol and gives a lot of insight into the industry, but there’s so much more to the story than Lucky’s career that it’s not ever JUST a K-pop novel. First and foremost, it’s a romance. Thus, it’s very accommodating for neophytes like myself who are still familiarizing themselves with the world of Korean pop culture.

2. Best Wish-Fulfillment: “Hart & Seoul,” Kristen Burnham

What It’s About: a runaway K-pop idol (sensing a trend?) visiting his aunt in Virginia on hiatus falls for a prickly local girl.

Why I Like It: “Hart & Seoul” is pure wish-fulfillment and fun from start to finish. It’s the “European prince falls for a plucky working-class American girl” Hallmark movie trope, except that the prince is a K-pop idol. That premise is admittedly a little self-insert-fanfic-y, but it’s well-written, and SO MUCH FUN. Now, I’ll admit that it’s not the book to go for if you’re looking for a primer in Korean culture: it’s not always incredibly accurate and the perspective character’s lack of sensitivity towards Korean culture can come off badly at times. But for me, the positive outweighed the negative: learning man Lee is an adorable bean, its depiction of the K-pop fandom has to be read to be believed and made me laugh my face off, and it’s a very, very fun romp if you can get past Merrilee’s cultural insensitivity.

Recommended For: those in need of an escape, fans who’ve always wondered what it would be like to fall for their celebrity crush, or casual K-pop fans who aren’t going to be mortally offended by the inaccuracies.

3. Best Quick Read: “The Idol Who Became Her World” by Ji Soo Li

What It’s About: aspiring K-pop idol Minhyuk builds a rapport with American dancer Lucinda through several years attending an annual dance camp together. Their friendship builds to romance, but the odds aren’t in their favor as Minhyuk’s music career takes off.

Why I Liked It: I’m going to be honest, this was not really of the quality of the other books on this list. The writing in “The Idol Who Became Her World” lacks the polish of that in the rest of the books on this list, and its story is a little bit ???. But it’s decent, it gives a good bare-bones introduction to the K-pop world, and it’s short. Not a bad way to spend an hour. (No, seriously, it will take an hour to read this. It’s 105 pages.)

NOTE: there are three more books in this series that I haven’t read.

Recommended For: people with an interest in K-pop a lot of extra time on their hands.

4. Best Use of K-Dramas: “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by Maureen Goo

What It’s About: an overachiever with questionable luck in romance uses K-dramas to design a surefire method for landing a boyfriend.

Why I Liked It: this book is kind of insane in the best possible way. Protagonist Desi has a plan to snag her dream man that would only work in fiction, and watching it play out in epically melodramatic Korean drama fashion is an absolute treat. Is Desi actually kind of deranged when you stop to think about it? Yup. Is her plan actually kind of disturbing? Definitely. But as a fellow overachiever, watching this oh-so-relatable overachiever scheme, plan, and wind up with everything she ever wanted in the end is so much fun. It really does have a K-drama-esque plot, and who doesn’t love those from time to time?

Recommended For: K-drama addicts who feel like taking a break from the screen to read. Or just fans of wildly improbable but incredibly fun contemporary romances.

5. Favorite Overall: “Comeback” by Lyn Ashwood and Rachel Rose

What It’s About: rising K-pop star Emery Jung (known to fans of his group NEON as “M”) is thrown for a loop when he crosses paths with a mysterious girl from his past.

Why I Liked it: okay, so I know not everyone loved this, but let me gush for a minute. The romance was honestly kind of meh, but I didn’t care because that didn’t make or break the book for me. This one had so much heart. And aside from that, the insight into the K-pop industry was superb (it has a very “insider look” vibe), the relationships between the boys in NEON were wonderful, and Emery was a sweet bean and in other news, I want eight of him. This was the book on this list that I most connected with on an emotional level, and though a working knowledge of K-pop helps, you don’t need to know anything or even like the genre to enjoy this.

Recommended For: people who don’t think they could possibly like a book about K-pop, because if reading “Comeback” doesn’t prove such people wrong, I don’t know what could.

BONUS: if you want more books about Korean culture in general that don’t necessarily involve K-pop or K-dramas, I recommend “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Maurene Goo, “Good Enough” by Paula Yoo, and “Wicked Fox” by Kat Cho, and (I can never hype this series up enough) the “Rebel Seoul” duoloy by Axie Oh.

This concludes my first incredibly delayed Theme Party Thursday! What’s your favorite book on this list? Do you know of any other books on Korean pop culture that you’d recommend? Leave me a comment to let me know 🙂

Posted in Miscellaneous, Reviews

MINI-REVIEWS: What I’ve Read This Month is no

So, I haven’t exactly been active on this blog lately. Other than the ARCs I’ve reviewed lately, I’ve fallen very short of my goal of reviewing every YA novel that I read. So in an attempt to remedy that, I’m doing a few mini-reviews of the recent releases I’ve read this month!

1. “This Light Between Us” by Andrew Fukuda

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Quick Summary: a Japanese-American boy and a French-Jewish girl become pen pals a few years before the outbreak of WWII; the friendship they build through their letters sustains them when, as teenagers, as both of them come under fire during the war because of their heritage.

What I Liked: seeing the literarily-familiar events of WWII through the unique experiences of two teenagers whose people were oppressed during the war was eye-opening. We spend most of the book seeing the events through the perspective of Alex Maki, a Japanese-American teenager who joins the army after his family is uprooted to an internment camp at Manzanar, which is a perspective that I don’t see much of in WWII fiction; his circumstances (and those of his pen pal Charlie, though we don’t see as much of her) are heartbreaking, but his story is an important one, and though it’s not easy to read, it really puts things in perspective.

Recommended For: those who like historical fiction with substance and weight.

Rating: 4/5 Nonplussed Giraffes

2. “Break the Fall” by Jennifer Iacopelli 

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Quick Summary: elite gymnast Audrey Lee, recently recovered from a major injury, thinks all is right with the world when she makes the 2020 Olympic team, but a series of shocking revelations are about to throw a wrench in the team’s plans.

What I Liked: I love gymnastics, and there were a few years where I followed the sport extensively enough to know the technical lingo and all, so I was OVERJOYED at the accuracy of the gymnastics side of this story. I’ve never read a sports story where the author so clearly knows her stuff. That, combined with the compelling characters, very real and meaningful human drama, and Iacopelli’s talent for writing fast-paced competition sequences, made for an utterly gripping story. I devoured this thing in a single night and was legitimately depressed when it was over – as much as I love to read, I can’t remember the last time that happened. “Break the Fall,” with its unique blend of exciting gymnastics, cultural relevance, real and lovable characters, and friendship dynamics, was easily my favorite YA novel of 2020 so far.

Recommended For: everyone, especially fans of gymnastics, the Olympics, and well-written sports stories of all stripes.

Rating: 5/5 Nonplussed Giraffes

3. “The Iron Will of Genie Lo” by F.C. Yee

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Quick Summary: when an existential threat faces the universe as she knows it, Genie Lo – with boyfriend Quentin and mentor Guanyin – realizes that the demon invasion of the first book in her eponymous series was just the tip of the iceberg.

What I Liked: the mythology aspect of these books is always fun, given how little I know about Chinese mythology and how much F.C. Yee does fantastic things with the concept of the  Chinese pantheon cavorting about the modern SF Bay Area. But what I’ll really miss about the story of Genie Lo is the characters. From perpetually-angry overachiever Genie, learning restraint and mercy without losing one ounce of her delightful snark and her boyfriend, Quentin, an adorable and extremely competent but reckless goof-off with a heart of gold; to soft-hearted bad*** Guanyin, goddess of mercy, to her best friend Yunie, a violinist who doesn’t take “no” for an answer; to entirely new characters we get to meet here – I love them all. They’re all so fresh, dynamic, and full of life that I couldn’t help but fall in love with them, and I can’t help but miss them now that the duology is over. And their adventures were as humorous and action-packed as ever. This was a great way to end Genie’s story, as much as I wish it didn’t have to.

Recommended For: fans of the first book, Chinese mythology, mythology-based YA in general, and urban fantasy.

Rating: 4.5/5 Nonplussed Giraffes

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “Today Tonight Tomorrow” by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC. “Today Tonight Tomorrow” will be released June 16th, 2020.

SUMMARY

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

REVIEW

There is something about high school overachiever books that I simply cannot resist. As one myself (oh, the bitter near-miss of graduating third in your class…*sad kazoo music*), I LOVE reading about the high school experiences of kids like me. And I also love enemies-to-lovers romance, and I also love anything set in the PNW, so how could I not love this?

Well, I certainly enjoyed “Today Tonight Tomorrow,” but it wasn’t an instant favorite. Let’s dissect why.

Starting with the characters: pretty much no complaints here. There’s not much depth to any of the supporting characters, but since Neil and Rowan were the entire point of the story, and were alone together for most of the book, it didn’t really take much away from the story since they were very real and fleshed-out. Neil was absolutely adorable, Rowan was…well, she was fine, and both their overachieving nerdiness and enemies-to-lovers dynamic made me *squee.* (I’m not kidding about Neil, though. I want one.) Also worth noting is that both protagonists are Jewish, which is pretty rare in YA; although I’m not Jewish myself, I always appreciate when cultural/ethnic representation in books teaches me something about the experiences of group I’m not part of, and I definitely felt like I learned a lot about what it’s like to be a Jewish teenager in modern-day America from Neil and Rowan’s experiences.  Also figuring much into the story was Rowan’s love of romance novels, about which my feelings were decidedly more mixed. Though I didn’t agree with all of her views relating to the topic (she talked a LOT about how reading romance novels made her far more comfortable talking about sex, something I personally don’t see as overwhelmingly positive since most teenagers I know already talk about sex a gratuitous amount in ways that majorly freak me out), it is always cool to see a protagonist who loves to read and write as much as I do. And even though I didn’t agree with her on all counts, Rowan’s musings on the romance genre gave me a lot of food for thought about the stigma associated with certain female-dominated forms of entertainment and how it affects the young women who love them. (I’ve definitely felt that, though not with romance novels.) I also loved Rowan’s parents, though they got little screen time – they were adorable. So this gets an A for the rep and the portrayal of high school nerds, but I’m a little more on the fence about other aspects of Rowan’s characterization.

The story itself was a great deal of fun across the board. I loved the idea of The Howl, which filled me with an INTENSE preemptive nostalgia for my high school days (I don’t graduate until May, so…), and even though I’m not from Seattle, I recognized a lot of the landmarks the book mentioned from a vacation a few years back, so it was cool to be able to visualize the places they were visiting. Seeing Rowan and Neil slowly open up to each other throughout the night, going from enemies to reluctant allies to friends to maybe-something-more, was delicious – the tension was wonderfully built-up and, I felt, heaps more realistic than the majority of enemies-to-lovers stories. (The fact that they had so much history made their eventual confession a lot more believable than it might otherwise have been.) And I LOVE Solomon’s writing style! Some of the turns of phrase in this had me cackling, and I found myself totally sucked in by the prose alone. This book is a great example of an author whose writing style melds perfectly with the story she’s telling, and it shows.

In the end, this was a ton of fun to read, but I still felt a little uneasy as I was working through it. I love the characters, tension, setting, and premise, but the amount of sex talk in this book – a lot of it not necessary to move the plot along – made me really antsy at times. As most of you who’ve read some of my previous reviews know, I personally prefer cleaner books, and although it was worth wading through pages of Rowan going off about why the well-known steaminess of most romance novels isn’t actually bad to get the rest of the fun, compelling story, I was just…not comfortable with it. I wish some of it could’ve been toned down, but oh well…I guess this one wasn’t *quite* for me.

ENDNOTES

One-Sentence Summary: nerds who hate each other realize that they’ve got a lot more pent-up love than they perhaps realized.

Favorite Scene: the bench almost-kiss, and the cinnamon roll scene. 🙂

Something that Stood Out: the glorious nerdiness!, the adorable relationship development, the scavenger hunt-y vibe (I love those types of things!), the well-done Jewish rep, and everything about Neil.

Something that Bugged Me: see last paragraph of review.

Adult Content: lots of cursing, lots of sex talk. And I do mean LOTS.

Rating: 4/5 Befuddled Emu

Posted in Reviews

REVIEW: “We Are the Wildcats” by Siobhan Vivian

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the chance to review an ARC. “We Are the Wildcats” will be released March 31st, 2020.

SUMMARY

Tomorrow, the Wildcat varsity field hockey squad will play the first game of their new season. But at tonight’s team sleepover, the girls are all about forging the bonds of trust, loyalty, and friendship necessary to win.

Everything hinges on the midnight initiation ceremony—a beloved tradition and the only facet of being a Wildcat that the girls control. Until now.

Coach—a handsome former college player revered and feared in equal measure—changes the plan and spins his team on a new adventure. One where they take a rival team’s mascot for a joyride, crash a party in their pajamas, break into the high school for the perfect picture.

But as the girls slip out of their comfort zone, so do some long-held secrets. And just how far they’re willing to go for their team takes them all—especially Coach—by surprise.

A testament to the strength and resilience of modern teenage girls, We Are the Wildcats will have readers cheering.

REVIEW

This was not exactly what it promised it would be. Well, not in all ways, at least. But let’s start with the positives.

THINGS I LIKED ABOUT THIS BOOK 

  1. The field hockey. I know next to nothing about field hockey (I thought it was the same as lacrosse until this book compelled me to Google it and find out that, no, they’re two entirely different sports), so it could be inaccurate as all get-out and I’d have no idea. But the way Vivian writes field hockey makes it obvious (seemingly so, at least) that she knows what she’s talking about. The descriptions of drills, tryouts, and gameplay were all impeccably-done.
  2. The friendships. No matter how toxic (and I cannot stress the “toxic” part enough) their surroundings are, the West Essex field hockey girls are unabashedly and wholeheartedly supportive of each other. Their friendship and camaraderie are exactly the kind I like to see in books about teenage girls. The Wildcats really do love each other, and I loved the way the older, more experienced players go out of their way to bring newcomers to the varsity squad into the fold. (And that such friendships could form in a problematic training environment is not that far-fetched. When I was a figure skater, my rink was essentially dominated by a verbally-abusive coach, but us skaters all became extremely close in spite of that. When the powers that be are against young athletes, even if they don’t realize what’s happening, they ally with each other.) I’ve only read one of Siobhan Vivian’s other books – “Stay Sweet,” which I was pretty ambivalent on – but two of her books is enough to know that she writes teenage-girl camaraderie extremely well.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THIS BOOK 

So, let’s talk about the coach.

Obviously, it’s stated explicitly in the summary that this dude is going to be a massive jerk. That much is clear. And to be fair, he is portrayed as such, and we absolutely do not for a second sympathize with him. That’s good. But.

It also makes it grind-your-teeth irritating when the girls can’t see what the problem with that is, even when all manner of incidents make it clear that they’re being abused. SPOILERS Of the six main girls, one was physically harmed by the coach; another was the subject of racist harassment at a game and told to, basically “deal with it”; a third was made to lie to her teammates and act as a spy for their coach; the fourth was encouraged to play through a severe ACL injury, needed multiple surgeries, and was blamed for it by the coach even though she told him she couldn’t keep playing and was forced to; the fifth was harassed by the coach for dying her hair; and the sixth had an extremely inappropriate, borderline-romantic relationship with said coach that existed only as an excuse to manipulate her emotionally. END SPOILERS I know it can be hard to see that you’re being manipulated; for one of the girls, I can understand why she never saw the issue with her treatment. But all five of the others clearly stated at some point that they were uneasy with the way their coach was treating them and yet didn’t tell each other about their suspicions; I was waiting for them to do that, but it took until the last twenty pages of a 368-page book for the girls to even casually tell each other, “hey, I think our coach is a major [redacted].” Is there a reason it was difficult for them to come forward? Of course. But did it have to wait until the LAST 10% OF THE BOOK? No, it didn’t. And that delay left me feeling like the story’s vaunted “teenage girls outplay coach” premise was a small subplot, if anything, in a book that honestly had no real plot.

While I enjoyed “We Are the Wildcats,” it lacked the post-read satisfaction factor I was expecting.

ENDNOTES

One-Sentence Summary: not-as-satisfying-as-it’s-cracked-up-to-be-but-still-pretty-decent sports story meets Lifetime movie.

Favorite Scene: the big-reveal scene at the end where all of the girls reveal how they’ve been hurt by their coach. As much as I hated the pacing of it, there was something undeniably powerful about the way each girl reacted to the other’s stories. Also, anything with Ali and Grace, because I loved them together.

Something that Stood Out: the fantastic friendship dynamics and focus on field hockey.

Something that Bugged Me: the fact that not ONE girl made so much as a suspicious-sounding comment about what she’d been through until the big reveal at the end. I get the “it’s hard to come forward” part, but the way it all came to light was a little too neat and a little too planned to be fully realistic. Wouldn’t one of the girls had mentioned something in passing that raised eyebrows?

Adult Content: more uses of the f-word than I have ever seen in a single YA novel, plus the aforementioned coach abuse. (It’s not violent or sexual but could still be very disturbing to anyone who’s been in an emotionally or verbally-abusive situation.)

Rating: 4/5 Befuddled Emu