Book Review: A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

Publication Year: 2021
Page Count: 416
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

I’ve heard really mixed reviews about this book, which follows two Vietnamese-American teenagers whose parents own competing restaurants. While it wasn’t a new all time favorite of mine, I still really liked many aspects of this book!

This book follows Linh and Bao, who have been raised knowing their families hate each other. They have never interacted with one another except once when they were children. Even though they go to the same school, they have always made sure to stay clear of each other, in case word somehow gets back to their parents. However, after Bao sees Linh crying outside her families restaurant, the two realize their families are hiding secrets, and realize maybe they aren’t so different from one another.

This is told in dual perspective, which I think had the potential to work really well. It was super cool to see both Linh and Bao’s side of the story, because it gave the reader a better grasp of what was going on. We got to see both family’s perspectives, which I think was necessary for this book to work. Along with that, I liked that the author gave both Linh and Bao hobbies and specific passions. Linh is an artist and loves to paint, while Bao wants to be a writer. It was nice to have each character care about something outside each other, and how they are planning to navigate their futures outside of high school.

However, I think both characters had a very similar voice. Because I was listening to the audiobook, I was able to keep track of who was saying what in the moment, but if I look back to remember certain scenes, I have a hard time recalling whose perspective it was from.

As for the plot, this is definitely a Romeo and Juliet retelling, although I am not sure if it was marketed as one. I liked the romance in this a lot! It was definitely on the slower side, which is good because both Linh and Bao were raised to hate one another, so the transition from enemies to lovers felt gradual to me. However, the plot just kind of seemed to drag. Looking back, I can think of a few scenes that definitely could have been cut, or at least shortened to try to move the plot along. I felt like there were many instances where Bao and Linh were shown trying to hide their relationship from their parents, but the author clearly got the point across and didn’t need to emphasize it so much. I also feel like the author was trying to cover a lot things in one novel, such as the romance, the family feud, high school drama, racism, the history of Vietnamese immigrants, messy family dynamics, and Linh and Bao’s passions. It was just a lot, and I feel like some of it could have been cut or put into the author’s next book.

The place this book really got to shine was with the Vietnamese culture! Like I mentioned, the author tells stories about the Vietnamese refugees who fled after the fall of Saigon. She didn’t sugar coat anything, and explained how dangerous and heart breaking fleeing was, with some people not making it out alive, and others leaving behind their entire family. Along with that, the author describes various Vietnamese dishes so vividly, it definitely made me wish I was eating them as well! I think having this story set in a restaurant was a great idea, because it was the perfect opportunity to dive into Vietnamese cuisine, and the culture behind it.

Along with that, as someone who has worked in a restaurant for 7 years, I loved the way the author described it. She does a great job at encompassing the panic of being overwhelmed on a busy night, dealing with rude customers, and coping with being short staffed. It all just felt really relatable and I enjoyed reading about this aspect!

All in all, I thought this book was very cute and fun, even if it was a little bit long. I know the author has a companion novel coming out next year following Linh’s sister, and I will probably be picking that up as well.

If you liked this book review, you can check out my other reviews here.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Book Review: I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Publication Year: 2019
Page Count: 272
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

When Chloe Pierce’s mom forbids her to apply for a spot at the dance conservatory of her dreams, she devises a secret plan to drive two hundred miles to the nearest audition. But Chloe hits her first speed bump when her annoying neighbor Eli insists upon hitching a ride, threatening to tell Chloe’s mom if she leaves him and his smelly dog, Geezer, behind. So now Chloe’s chasing her ballet dreams down the east coast—two unwanted (but kinda cute) passengers in her car, butterflies in her stomach, and a really dope playlist on repeat.

Filled with roadside hijinks, heart-stirring romance, and a few broken rules, Kristina Forest’s I Wanna Be Where You Are is a YA debut perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon.

There was so much to like about this book! Even though I did prefer Kristina Forest’s sophomore novel over her debut, there was no doubt that this was a heart warming read, and one that I devoured in just a few days.

To give a brief synopsis, this follows Chloe, who has always had a passion for ballet. After her dream school is holding auditions, Chloe knows she has to go, even though her mom has strictly forbidden it. So, Chloe devises a plan to audition while her mom is out of town, even if it means driving two hundred miles. However, after the annoying neighbor Eli catches wind of Chloe’s plan, he blackmails her into taking him with her so he can visit his dad while Chloe is auditioning. And of course, nothing goes as plan, leaving Eli and Chloe on a wild road-trip adventure.

To start with the characters, I did really enjoy reading about Chloe! While I did find her a little bit passive and forgettable, I did really like the passion that she had for dance. Chloe lives for ballet, and you can tell the author had a similar experience at one time. I also liked that Chloe was a Black ballerina, because the author was able to go into detail about why some casting agencies don’t cast Black ballerinas, and how ballet in general caters to white dancers. These were very important conversations to have, and really emphasized the diversity that we need to see in the arts. However, besides ballet, I can’t really tell you much about Chloe. I didn’t find her annoying, but I also wish the author would have given her a few more character quirks that would have helped her better stand out.

As for Eli, I kind of felt the same way about him. Eli was a closed book for most of the novel, so I had a hard time trying to get a feel for his character. However, I definitely think it was cool that we got to know more and more about Eli as Chloe did, but I just found him to be a bit… annoying. He just acted a bit immature at times and I knew if I was on a road trip with him I would not have been able to handle him. Maybe that’s what the author was going for, but it just really tainted the relationship for me. This is also directed at a younger audience than myself, so perhaps that had something to do with it as well.

Because I didn’t love Eli, I didn’t really connect with the romance in this book. This is definitely an enemies-to-lovers story, and I did see the foundation for the hatred between Chloe and Eli. While they grew up as best friends, there was an incident that split them apart, and the two hadn’t talked to each other for many years. I felt like this aspect was believable, and understood why Chloe disliked Eli so much, besides him being annoying on the road trip. I also felt like the shift to lovers was gradual, as the two spent more time together. It felt believable and didn’t feel forced.

The other part of this book I didn’t adore was the plot. I have read some amazing books that follow dance this year, so I was a bit disappointed this one didn’t hold up as well. I loved the parts of the novel that surrounded dance, but it only took up a small portion. The rest was just… a bit boring. And this could once again be because I am not the books intended audience, but I just wasn’t feeling the plot. I found myself wanting to focus on the dancing aspect of the book, and not the road trip itself.

Even so, this was a very quick read, so I do not in any way regret picking this up! I think it really does come down to the fact that I think I am (unfortunately) growing out of YA contemporary. I think I would have loved this in high school, but as a 21 year old I just wasn’t vibing with it as much.

What did you think about this book? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Year: 2021
Page Count: 304
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.

I was initially drawn to this book for 2 reasons. First off, that cover. It perfectly encapsulates the aesthetic of this book. It is beautiful yet creepy at the same time. The second reason being that the author said she was inspired by the movie Midsommar, which is a horror movie I have a weird fascination with. The vibes were definitely similar to Midsommar, and there was a plot point that reminded me of the film as well. I think if you liked that movie, you will also like this book!

If you haven’t read the synopsis, this follows Iris Hollow, who had famously disappeared with her two older sisters as a child. When they were returned to their parents one month later, strange things began to happen to them. Their baby teeth grew back in, their hair turned white, and they had an insatiable appetite. Now, Iris’s older sister Grey has disappeared once again, potentially by the same person who took them as children.

As a character, I did really enjoy Iris. She is kind and passionate, unlike her sisters who use their beauty to get whatever they want in the world. Iris would do anything for her older sisters, because the three of them have an indescribable bond. They are able to sense one another’s presence, if one of them gets hurt, or if one of them is in danger. Reading about the sisters was definitely a highlight of the book for me. The author did a great job at describing them as a singular unit, yet also giving them three distinct personalities. While Iris is sweet and sensitive, Vivi, the middle sister, is a badass rockstar. She puts on a hard exterior, but would really do anything for her sisters. Meanwhile, Grey is a supermodel and designer known for her other-worldly designs. She has the world at her fingertips, using her beauty to get whatever she wants. The three sisters lived such different lives, yet never failed to come back together when they needed each other the most.

Another highlight of this book for me was the writing. Krystal Sutherland used a lot of sensory details, and it really created a magical aesthetic to the book. She was constantly describing smells, sights, and the atmospheres of the places the characters visited. It created a truly atmospheric read, one that was magical yet disturbing at the same time. I did find that some phrases seemed to be overused (for example: ‘the smell of death’ or ‘rot and decay’), which was a bit noticeable in such a small book. Even so, the writing was overall beautiful.

I can’t go into the plot much without giving anything away, but I will say that you should be ready for a wild ride! There are so much more to the sisters than one could ever imagine. The ending was absolutely insane, as the author slowly begins to reveal answers to all the questions the reader is asking throughout the entire novel. There were also some plot points and details that will definitely give you the heebie-jeebies, but in the best way possible. I truly didn’t guess anything that would happen, and everything came as such a surprise to me.

The one critique I had with this book was the weird romance the author threw in. Initially, I found it very refreshing that there was no romance in this book, because that’s not something you see a lot in YA. But towards the very end, there was this really weird, out-of-character moment between two characters that really just didn’t make any sense. It literally came out of left field and left me so confused, because neither character had shown any interest in each other until the moment they kissed. I wish the author wouldn’t have forced the romance, and let Iris focus on her sisters rather than a love interest.

All in all, you should read this book if:

  • You want a short book you can devour in a day
  • Like dark and unsettling stories
  • Books with little romance
  • Atmospheric, spooky reads
  • Books with sisters

What did you think of House of Hollow? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Book Review: This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

They’re just wildflowers, doing their thing, and they’re beautiful. Be like them, sweet pea. Just be you and be happy.

Misa Sugiura, This Time Will Be Different

Publisher: HarperTeen
Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2019
Format: Audio
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.

She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.

Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for. 

I haven’t heard so much about this book, but it was a really fun read and I’m happy I got around to reading it!

This follows CJ, a Japanese-American who loves working in her aunt’s flower shop. The shop has so much history, and was started by her grandparents who were sent to an internment camp during WWII. However, the shop hasn’t been as profitable as her family had hoped, and now CJ’s mom is determined to sell it to the same family who ripped off CJ’s grandparents when they were forced to sell the shop in the 1940s.

I really enjoyed CJ as a character, even though she could be a bit selfish at times. CJ loves working with flowers, making arrangements, and picking out the perfect flowers for the perfect occasion. This was a really fun hobby to read about, and you could tell the author had knowledge in this area as well (or if she didn’t, she certainly did her research). Not only that, but CJ is very persistent and doesn’t give up. This made me really root for her throughout the story. The entire time, I was hoping she and her aunt would find a way to save the flower shop, and that she would find a way to expose the racists hoping to buy it.

While this is a fun book, I liked that it also dove into hard topics as well. I learned a lot about Japanese-American history while reading this, and the author did a great job to show how the internment is still affecting these families nearly 80 years later. This book is rich with Japanese culture, and was probably my favorite part.

Along with that, the author also uses this story to discuss homophobia, women’s reproductive rights, and racism in America. CJ’s best friend is queer, and I liked the way the author portrayed CJ’s relationship with her. While CJ will always be there for her friend, she also recognizes that she can’t relate to her in the same way other queer friends can, and that she has straight privilege. Along with that, this book really dives into the repercussions of white privilege in America. It was explained in a way that was easy to understand, which is great since this book is targeted towards younger readers. It also discusses Asian stereotypes, and how they originated.

I think a downfall for me in this book was the love triangle. While it wasn’t horrible, I do feel like both of the love interests just felt cliché. We have Shane, who is so forgettable I honestly forgot he existed until now. He is the popular boy at school who all the girls are pining over, and so obviously CJ is smitten by him. But then, we have Owen, the nerdy history geek who has somehow also gained CJ’s attention. We have read about both of those characters before, and I think both of us can already guess who CJ chooses.

However, even though I didn’t love the romance, I think this book did make up for those relationships by exploring a complex family dynamic. CJ has been raised by a single mother, who has always been dedicated to her work, even when CJ feels like she is betraying her heritage by doing so. I had a love-hate relationship with CJ’s mom, much like CJ did. While I knew she was just trying her best, she was also a frustrating character. It felt very authentic, because in real life money is a very driving force.

All in all, this was a great book and I am surprised I haven’t heard more people talk about it. It was the perfect blend of cute and serious, and was just overall a very entertaining read. I devoured it in just 2 or 3 days via audiobook.

If you’ve read this book, let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Book Review: Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

“Just because you’re telling a good story, doesn’t mean it’s the right story. And I think that it’s really important to tell the right story.”

Dahlia Adler, Cool for the Summer

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Year: 2021
Page count: 272
Format: Physical Book
Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

I have heard really mixed things about this, so I had no idea what to anticipate going into this. While it wasn’t an all time favorite, it was a quick summer read that also had some serious notes in it.

Like the synopsis says, this follows Lara, who has a seemingly perfect life. She is popular at school, has a great group of friends, and the perfect boyfriend who also happens to be the star quarterback. Even so, Lara can’t get Jasmine out of her head, a girl who she spent the whole summer with. Now, Jasmine has transferred to Lara’s high school with no warning, and Lara can’t get her out of her head.

To start off with positives, I think this book really touched on some great topics. We have Lara, who has always assumed she was straight, until she met Jasmine. This book shows that the journey to discovering your sexuality is not the same for everyone. While Lara still doesn’t have a label for herself, some of her friends have known they have been bisexual since grade school. It shows the reader that no everyone’s journey is the same, and that’s okay.

Along with that, this book was just a lot of fun. Even though it does read like it’s written for a younger audience (which it is), it was still fun to read about high school parties and homecoming dances. It read really quickly, and I finished it in about 2 sittings.

That being said, there was quite a bit in this book that I didn’t like, starting with the characters. While Lara was the most developed character in the story (which makes sense, as she’s the protagonist), I still felt like I didn’t really know much about her. The author describes the summer as a time where Lara really discovered who she was without her high school friends, but I didn’t really understand who that was. I felt like her only character traits were loving reading and writing (which I feel like is a cop-out, because most people who read books also like reading and writing), and stuck in a love triangle. I feel like the reader was supposed to believe she went through this incredible transformation, but I just didn’t see it.

Along with that, I found both the love interests to be almost like stock characters, especially Chase. Chase is the star football player who all the girls are pining over. He is in the running for homecoming king, and has a bunch of college scholarships lined up. We have all read about this character before, so I didn’t find him to be super memorable. Along with that, Lara had been crushing on Chase for years, and his interest in her felt too sudden to be realistic. She had been trying to date him since middle school, and suddenly she chops her hair and he decides to make her his girlfriend.

While Jasmine was a bit more developed, I still felt like I knew nothing about her. She is the character that is untouchable- she always looks flawless, her style is immaculate, and everyone wants to be her. This is another character everyone has read about. I wish the author would have given her a bit more characterization, because I still felt like I knew nothing about her by the end.

Along with that, this book relied very heavily on the “miscommunication trope,” which is probably my most hated. This entire book could have been avoided by having one conversation at the beginning of the novel. It just made my reading experience frustrating.

I also read a review that mentioned they felt like the author was trying to fulfill a “minority checklist,” which I didn’t notice while reading, but looking back can recognize. You can read Cosette’s review here if you want to learn more about that.

I feel like that review was a bit mean, because I really didn’t hate this book. It was a fun YA romance, and I do think it would make for a super cute Netflix rom-com! I would definitely read from this author in the future.

What did you think about this book? Let me know in the comments below!

YA Contemporary Book Recommendations

I read a lot of YA contemporary, especially considering the fact I am not its target audience. But it is just so much fun that I can’t help myself! That being said, sometimes I feel like it is hard to find great YA contemporaries. Some are too cheesy, some don’t have enough of a plot, and some are just too immature. So today, I will be writing about my favorite YA contemporaries!

I also want to mention that I began a page where I made a list of diverse reading recommendations. It can be overwhelming to try to figure out where to begin when it comes to diversifying your reading, and I wish I would have had a similar list when I began reading more! You can find it here.

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

This was a recent read for me, and one of the absolute cutest books I’ve ever read. This is the companion novel to When Dimple Met Rishi, although you don’t have to read them in order. This follows Sweetie, who has constantly been told by her parents that she is not good enough because she is fat. Meanwhile, Rishi has just gotten his heart broken and is trying to get back into the dating field. Both Rishi and Sweetie have something to prove, and so they team up and decide to begin dating, despite not really having feelings for one another. This was the cutest book ever, and had such great messages about fatphobia. There was also great Indian-American representation in this (as well as Menon’s other books!)

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

This book follows Skye, a plus-sized, bisexual, Korean-American teenager. After auditioning for the singing and dancing portion of a K-Pop competition, Skye’s mom urges her to drop out of the dancing portion because girls her size should “not be dancers.” However, Skye continues to practice, working hard to fulfill her dream of becoming the next K-Pop star. I absolutely loved Skye as a character, and the representation in this book was also wonderful!

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

I love all of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books, but this one is by far my favorite! This follows Enchanted, a rising R&B star. After becoming noticed by the 26 year old uber-famous Korey Fields, he takes Enchanted under his wing, claiming he will help her become successful. Instead, Enchanted finds herself trapped under Korey’s influence. After a night gone wrong, Enchanted wakes up with a dead Korey Fields, and everyone claims she killed him, even though she has no memory of the night before. There are quite a few triggers in this book to be aware of, but it was so addicting and had me sobbing by the end. I would highly recommend this.

Clap WHen yOu Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Like Tiffany D. Jackson, I love all of Elizabeth Acevedo’s books, but this one is my personal favorite. This follows two sisters who don’t know about one another, one in NYC and one in The Dominican Republic. After their father dies in a tragic plane crash, they discover that their father has been living a double life. This is a book written in verse, but don’t be intimidated by that! Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing is so easy to devour and is actually what got me into poetry in the first place.

Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest

This was such a cute read, and one that has stuck with me long after reading it! This follows Evie Jones, a rising actress in LA. However, after a betrayal from her “best friend,” Evie gets blacklisted by all Hollywood producers. The only person who can save her career? Her grandmother, film legend Evelyn Conaway. After traveling to NYC to get her grandmother to help, Evie panics when she realizes she is missing, just days before a huge awards ceremony. I loved the familial relationships in this book, and the Hollywood/NYC aspect of this book was so fun! There is also a super adorable romance.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

This is a super interesting story, focusing on 3 siblings who have been adopted by different families at birth. Grace, decides she wants to find her birth mother after giving up her own child for adoption. Instead, she finds Maya, who has never felt like she fits in with her new family, and Joaquin, who has been in and out of the foster system his entire life. It was so amazing seeing these 3 siblings team up trying to find their birth mom, and how all three of them had such unique stories. This was such a quick read, but also a very important one that left me very emotional.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Tahereh Mafi is the author of the Shatter Me series, and I believe this is her first contemporary (she has another coming out soon!). This book takes place a year after 9/11, and follows Shirin, a 16 year old Muslim girl. This book essentially follows Shirin’s journey as she deals with Islamophobia. There was also a cute romance in this book!

Kisses and Croissants by Anne-SophiE Jouhanneau

The last book on this list was definitely one of the cutest books I’ve read this year! This follows Mia, who is an American studying at a prestigious ballet school in Paris over the summer. Mia doesn’t have time for distractions, and vows to dedicate all her time to ballet. But that becomes very difficult after meeting Louis, who happens to be the son of her dance instructor. I thought the romance was so cute, and really encapsulated first love so well. Even so, my favorite part of this book was the dancing element. I love ballet and it was so cool reading a book where it was centered! I also loved the descriptions of Paris, and really felt transported there.

Let me know what your favorite YA contemporaries are in the comments below!! I am always looking for new recommendations!

Oops… Another Book Haul

Remember when I claimed I was going to reach a 0 TBR this year? Yeah, me neither! Apparently, I am absolutely unable to stop buying books, and so I have another haul for you guys. This is getting dangerous, because I have literally 0 space on my shelves at the moment.

I also want to mention that I began a page where I made a list of diverse reading recommendations. It can be overwhelming to try to figure out where to begin when it comes to diversifying your reading, and I wish I would have had a similar list when I began reading more! You can find it here.

Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett

I read Serious Moonlight a couple weeks ago and really liked it, so I decided to pick up Starry Eyes when I found it for a really good price on vacation! This is a YA contemporary following to best friends-turned best enemies who get stuck in the Californian woods together after a camping trip gone wrong. This seems like a lot of fun, and I don’t think I’ve read a contemporary set in the woods before. This sounds like the perfect summer read!

Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

This book has been on my radar for ages, so when I saw a brand new hardcover at the bookstore for only $4, I had to buy it. I have been really into pirates lately, and this is a book following a crew made up of female pirates. I don’t know much else about it, but that premise just sounds like so much fun.

Daughter of the Siren Queen by Tricia Levenseller

Speaking of pirates, this is another pirate inspired story I picked up recently! After reading Daughter of the Pirate King in just 30 hours, I knew I needed to pick up the sequel ASAP. I loved Tricia Levenseller’s writing in book 1, and I am so excited to see what this book has in store for Alosa!

Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena

Do I have any idea what this book is about? Absolutely not. But the cover is stunning, and I believe it is inspired by medieval India, so that’s really all I need to know.

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

Tiffany D. Jackson is one of my all time favorite authors, so I needed to pick up her only book that I haven’t read yet. This is a mystery thriller following Claudia, whose best friend has disappeared. However, no one seems to really notice but her. As she continues to dig deeper, no one seems to remember seeing Monday except her. Tiffany D. Jackson writes the most amazing thrillers, and I’m pretty sure they are inspired by really criminal cases (at least, I know Grown and Allegedly were).

House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

Horror isn’t usually my genre, but I found this book so intriguing that I just had to pick it up. This is a fairy tale following Iris, whose sister has recently gone missing. However, after trying to solve the mystery, she realizes that her sister had been keeping a huge secret from her. I’ve heard this is really creepy, and the author said she took some inspiration from Midsommar. All in all, this just sounds very interesting.

They Went LEft by Monica HEsse

This book has been on my radar for quite some time, so I had to purchase it when I saw it for such a great deal. This is a YA historical fiction novel that takes place in Germany in 1945. It follows a girl who has just been liberated from a Nazi concentration camp. When they were splitting up the prisoners, she was told to go to the right, while the rest of her family was told to go to the left. Now, she is on a mission to find her missing relatives. This has stellar reviews, and I’m sure it will break my heart.

The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank

To keep up with the theme of World War II, I decided to pick this book up. It is on my list of books to read in 2021, especially since my husband and I are trying to plan a trip to Amsterdam soon. I haven’t read this book since middle school, and know it is going to have a huge effect on me.

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

For some reason, I have really been in the mood for classics lately, although I haven’t actually picked one up in awhile. But this is one that I have been wanting to read for awhile, simply out of my love for the musical. I know this story like the back of my hand, so I am excited to get a fresh perspective of it from the original novel.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by OScar WIlde

This is the other classic I purchased recently, since I saw a great deal for a beautiful edition on e-Bay. I’d be lying if I said I knew what this is about, but I have read Wilde’s writing in the past and really enjoyed it. Plus, he is just a fascinating man, so I am excited to dive into this.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I will never forgive the publishers for this cover change. But I finally gave into the hype of this series and purchased the first book. I honestly have no clue what to expect, because I haven’t loved SJM’s writing in the past. But I am will to give it another try! Bring on the faerie smut, I guess?

A Dark and Hollow Star by AShley Shuttleworth

Once again, I have fallen victim to a book with a beautiful cover. I have absolutely no idea what this book is about, but it is thick and beautiful and about faeries, so I obviously had to buy it.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

This is another book that was on my list to read before 2022. I have read some of Jemisin’s writing in the past, but have yet to read any of her novels. I have heard so many great things about this series, so I obviously have to give it a try for myself. There is no doubt that Jemisin is an incredible writer, although I am a bit nervous this fantasy might be a bit too dense for my taste (like a lot of adult fantasies tend to be).

Well, I sure hope that I am done buying books for awhile. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and what you thought!

Book Review: The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

The first woman president has to happen in my lifetime, or I’m going to light this entire planet on fire.

Maurene Goo, The Way You Make Me Feel

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Year: 2018
Page Count: 336
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

From the author of I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a laugh-out-loud story of love, new friendships, and one unique food truck.

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?

With Maurene Goo’s signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.

This book has been on my TBR forever, so I’m very happy I finally got around to reading it! While it wasn’t a new all-time favorite of mine, I still had a lot of fun with it!

The GoodReads synopsis doesn’t give much information, but essentially this follows Clara, who has never been afraid to speak the truth (AKA she’s a bitch). After nearly setting her high school on fire, her dad punishes her by making her work in his food truck over the summer with her nemesis, Rose.

Clara was a character that took quite a bit of time to warm up to. She was absolutely insufferable for the first 30% or so of the book. She was horrible to essentially every person she talks to, including her dad. I really didn’t think I was going to like the book very much because she was just a lot to handle. Obviously though, there was some serious character development by the end of the novel, and while Clara isn’t a new favorite character of mine, I was able to stand her enough to finish the book. I just felt like the author was trying to emphasize the fact that she is different from other girls, and made her a little too over the top and unrealistic in doing so.

While the romance wasn’t really my cup of tea (it felt a bit forced and I think Hamlet’s presence would have been even better as just a friend), this book did have great relationships in other places. Clara’s relationship with her father was very beautiful, and even made me emotional at times. While Clara had always taken her single father for granted, by the end she realizes how much he really does for her, and how he will always be there for her. I feel like we see a lot of single mother arcs in books, so reading a single father arc was a bit different. Clara’s mother is absent, and I think the author did a great job at portraying realistic feelings towards an absent parent. While Clara obviously loves her mother, she feels like she must beg for her attention.

The other relationship I enjoyed reading about was Clara and Rose. I felt like the shift from enemies to friends was gradual and believable. A lot of this book focused on their friendship, which was a lot of fun! Rose totally changes Clara’s perspective on life, and it really shows how important it is to have good friends you can rely on.

Another part of this story that I loved was the setting. This book takes place in L.A., and you can tell that the city is near and dear to the author’s heart. Somebody described this book as being a “love letter to Los Angeles,” and I couldn’t agree more. While I’ve never been, the story definitely transported me there, and showed there is so much more to the city than the tourist destinations. But this city is home to Clara and her father, and has been there for them when her mother hasn’t.

I feel like where the book was a lacking a bit was the plot. This is a very short novel (it took me 5 hours to read), but I just didn’t care that much about what was happening. I was much more invested in the relationships and the character development than the story itself. Clara and Rose are working on a food truck together, and then decide to enter it into the L.A. food truck contest. While I did like the food truck setting, the stakes of the contest just didn’t feel super high to me. I felt like it seemed a bit rushed and the author could have added more tension. Because of this, I just feel like the novel might be a bit forgettable.

All in all, I would recommend this book if you:

  • Enjoy character driven stories
  • Like food truck stories
  • Like strong friendships in books
  • Enjoy reading about single/absent parents
  • Are looking for a book that takes place in L.A.

What did you think of this book? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce

Publication Year: 2021
Publisher: HarperTeen
Page Count: 336
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 2 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

After a horrifying public rejection by her crush, Ellie Nichols does what any girl would do: she flees the country. To be more precise, she joins her high school’s study abroad trip to England. While most of her classmates are there to take honors courses and pad their college applications, Ellie is on a quest to rebuild her reputation and self-confidence. And nothing is more of a confidence booster than getting a hot British boyfriend.

When Ellie meets Will, a gorgeous and charming Brit, she vows to avoid making the same mistakes as she did with the last guy she liked. Which is why she strikes up a bargain with Dev, an overachieving classmate who she’s never clicked with, but who does seem to know a lot about the things Will is interested in—if he helps her win over her crush, then she’ll help him win over his.

But even as Ellie embarks on a whirlwind romance, one that takes her on adventures to some of England’s most beautiful places, she still needs to figure out if this is actually the answer to all her problems…and whether the perfect boyfriend is actually the perfect boy for her.

I must say, this book definitely started out strong! The opening scene was very funny, and I was fully expecting to love it afterwards. However, the charm only lasted for a few chapters, and I very quickly grew to tire of the book.

Like the synopsis says, this follows Ellie, who participates in her high school’s study abroad program to England. After a mortifying, public rejection from her crush, she decides to bounce back and sets out to find a hot British boyfriend. Thus, enters Will, who is everything that Ellie dreams of. He is charming, hot, and definitely British. However, after lying to impress her new boyfriend, Ellie finds that she can’t really be herself around him, the way she can be in front of her new friends.

The biggest let-down in the book for me was Ellie herself. I have no words to describe her, rather than she was just annoying. The entire book, she was only capable of thinking and talking about boys. If she wasn’t thinking about Andrew, she was thinking about Will. If she wasn’t thinking about Will, she was thinking about Dev. If there was a scene where Will wasn’t present, she spent the entire time thinking about Will. Liking boys was Ellie’s entire personality trait. The only other ounce of character we see from her is when she is gardening. Ellie has a quirky hobby of building “fairy gardens,” and like to build fairy villages using plants and other knick-knacks. This was interesting, as it is a hobby I haven’t read about before. However, it definitely fell to the back-burner because when this hobby was mentioned, it was almost always followed with thinking about what Will or Dev would think about it.

Another reason this book wasn’t my favorite is because Will deserved better! I felt like the author was trying to make him out to be a not-so-great guy, but he really was! I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were many times when Ellie treated him horribly, and he always forgave her almost instantly. His only character flaw was that he was often busy working, and it cut into their time sometimes. Even when that happened, he always apologized and tried to make it up to Ellie as best he could. Ellie honestly didn’t deserve him, and it was painful seeing the way she treated him.

Also, one of my biggest pet-peeves is when authors use fandoms to characterize their characters. It feels like such a cop-out to me. And there is one character in this book who essentially all we know is that he likes Harry Potter. Characters like that just annoy me to no end.

While this wasn’t my favorite book, I must say that I loved the way the author described Europe. While the descriptions of England did fall a bit flat, the descriptions of Venice were amazing. Her writing definitely transported me there, and made me want to visit Venice so bad!

It is also worth mentioning I am not the target audience for this book. I am 21, and I would say this definitely falls on the younger end of the YA spectrum (maybe 13-15 years old). If I would have read it during those ages, chances are I would have like it a lot more.

If you have read this book, let me know what you thought about it in the comments below!

Book Review: Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Publication Year: 2017
Publisher: Katharine Tegen Books
Page Count: 390
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 5 stars!!

Blurb (From GoodReads):

Mary B. Addison killed a baby.

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.

Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary? 

This book has officially made Tiffany D. Jackson my new favorite author. And considering the fact this was her debut novel? Absolutely stunning!

Tiffany D. Jackson’s debut novel, Allegedly, follows Mary, a Black teenager who at age nine was “allegedly” accused of killing a white infant. After weeks of questioning and interviews, detectives could not get any information out of Mary, leaving the media to assume that she was guilty, and soon a jury followed suit. Now, Mary is 16 years old, and finds herself pregnant. Knowing she will never be allowed to keep her baby while she is convicted of murdering an infant, she ensues on a journey to prove her innocence. It is also worth noting this story is based on a real murder case that took place in Maine, where a 10 year old was charged with manslaughter after an infant she was babysitting died in her care.

This book will capture its reader from the very first page, using different mediums including interviews, articles, police reports, and book excerpts to tell this story. Tiffany D. Jackson jumps right into the action, by opening up with an “Excerpt from Babies Killing Babies: Profiles of Preteen and Teen Murderers.” Using this multi-media approach in this novel, the reader is able to see Mary’s cases from two perspectives: her own, and the media. The media portrays her as being “born bad, plain and simple,” with protestors claiming she “deserves to rot in jail for the rest of her life.” However, Mary opens up to the reader claiming her innocence. This gives the reader a well-rounded understanding of the case, and everything that Mary has been through in just a short 16 years. The reader longs to believe Mary’s story, because they grow to care about her throughout the course of the novel, even if the facts point otherwise.

While the media portrays Mary as a dangerous baby murderer, Tiffany D. Jackson does a fantastic job of developing her beyond this, showing the reader that Mary just longs to be a normal teenager. While passing a group of high schoolers playing basketball, she thinks about the fact that “There are no social workers hating them, roommates trying to kill them, or parole officers looking for any excuse to throw them back into baby jail. And they don’t have to worry about having a baby at sixteen.” This helps the reader see a deeper part of Mary that outsiders can’t see. Even though she has a tough exterior, she longs for normalcy, something she will never have because she has become infamous in her town. 

While Mary is a very complex character, her relationship with her mother is even more complicated. After Mary’s arrest, her mother puts up a facade of a perfect church-goer, trying to protect her image. Mary is aware of this, telling the reader that “”Momma is all about appearances.” Mary’s mother visits her every other Sunday, and everyone tells her that she should be thankful, since she doesn’t deserve parental love. Yet even so, something about the relationship just feels so off, and it becomes more and more evident as the novel goes on. Along with that, Tiffany D. Jackson uses Mary’s mother to show readers what affects mental health can have on people and their loved ones. Throughout the novel, Mary often mentions that her mother takes many “pills,” and that if she doesn’t she has “a day.” On these days, the author describes what are known to most as panic/anxiety attacks, which ultimately has a major effect on both Mary, her mother, and both of their futures.

Tiffany D. Jackson also uses this novel to explore race relations in America, and how Black Americans are treated much differently than white Americans in the media. While describing a protest demanding justice to the deceased newborn, passerbys state “ There would never be this type of outcry if the baby was black. Period. You’ve never seen white families storming the steps of city hall demanding justice for a little black baby. They’re pushing the death penalty and don’t even realize executing this little girl is no different than murdering that baby.” Tiffany D. Jackson is explaining to readers that the media often tends to criminalize Black Americans, while not giving Black victims the justice they deserve. This goes hand-in-hand with cases in the media today, such as the Breonna Taylor and George Floyd cases, where the white police officers are constantly being defended or excused despite the fact they have taken an innocent life. The author uses this book to take a character who the readers have learned to care about, and inserts this commentary in a way that everyone can understand.

To sum up, this book is perfect for readers who love fast paced mystery thrillers, fictional stories with political commentary, and well developed characters. Tiffany D. Jackson is a master at storytelling, fictionalizing this real case and adding to the stakes, creating a page turner of a novel.