Rea and the Blood of the Nectar by Payal Doshi

Summary:
It all begins on the night Rea turns twelve. After a big fight with her twin brother Rohan on their birthday, Rea’s life in the small village of Darjeeling, India, gets turned on its head. It’s four in the morning and Rohan is nowhere to be found.
It hasn’t even been a day and Amma acts like Rohan’s gone forever. Her grandmother, too, is behaving strangely. Unwilling to give up on her brother, Rea and her friend Leela meet Mishti Daadi, a wrinkly old fortune-teller whose powers of divination set them off on a thrilling and secret quest. In the shade of night, they portal into an otherworldly realm and travel to Astranthia, a land full of magic and whimsy. There with the help of Xeranther, an Astranthian barrow boy, and Flula, a pari, Rea battles serpent-lilies and blood-sucking banshees, encounters a butterfly-faced woman and blue lizard-men, and learns that Rohan has been captured. Rea also discovers that she is a princess with magic. Only she has no idea how to use it.
Struggling with the truth her Amma has kept hidden from her, Rea must solve clues that lead to Rohan, find a way to rescue him and save Astranthia from a potentially deadly fate. But the clock is ticking. Can she rescue Rohan, save Astranthia, and live to see it all?

Book Cover

Review:
The authors publicist reached out to me to see if I wanted to read an early copy of this book in exchange for a review. I’m so glad that I said yes. I love middle grade books, but I don’t seem to gravitate toward picking them up often. I always enjoy reading them. There’s just something so wholesome about middle grade stories (even the ones with serious topics) that I really love.
Rea and the Blood of the Nectar follows Rea who finds herself on a quest to find her missing brother. While on this quest, she discovers another world, a world where she and her brother are royalty. The story starts with Rea (who lives in India) being an angry young girl. She’s angry when she feels her Amma favoring her brother, Rohan. She’s angry when she feels her brother is distancing himself from her. She’s angry that Rohan doesn’t want to know more about their Baba. She doesn’t really have any friends. She’s really struggling with her negative feelings. I have to say that Rea’s growth away from this anger and her instinct to make selfish choices was so well done. The author did it in a way that was believable and really made the reader care for Rea.
The world building was also really well done. We are learning about this magical world right alongside Rea. I thought this world that had a sort of plant-based magic was so interesting. I think it was well enough explained to understand, but it wasn’t totally clear what the rules or limits of this magic was. We got a bit more clarity about that with the shadow magic that the queen uses. With the way this story ended, I definitely think we will get some clarity about that in the second book.
I loved all of the side characters. I really love Leela and the way she befriended Rea. I also liked Xee. He was a local to the magical world and showed Rea and Leela around. I liked that he was brave, but that didn’t make him impulsive. I think they were great supporting characters and I’m excited to see more of them in future books.
Overall, I really loved this story. I loved the setting of India and the bits of Indian culture we get to see before Rea discovers the magical world. I thought the world and the magic was so interesting and I really felt like I could root for all the characters.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

Summary:
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?
Cool for the Summer is a story of self-discovery and new love. It’s about the things we want and the things we need. And it’s about the people who will let us be who we are.

Cool for the Summer

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Cool for the Summer is the book I never knew I needed. This book spoke to my soul in a way that no book has for a long time. I firmly believe that is Cool for the Summer had been published 10 years ago, when I was in high school, I would have realized I was bisexual much sooner.
Cool for the Summer follows Larissa in the past and the present. It starts on her first day of her senior year in high school. She’s just had an amazing summer and really gained some confidence in herself. That confidence shows and the boy she’s been crushing on for years notices. Chase is finally noticing her and it’s like all of her fantasies are coming true, so why isn’t she happy? This is where the flashbacks come in. Over the summer, Larissa spends her time in the Outer Banks staying at her mom’s boss’s house. It’s here that she meets Jasmine. Everything gets more complicated when Jasmine shows up as a new student at Larissa’s high school.
I loved this book so much. As I said above, this book spoke to my soul in a way that hasn’t happened with any other book in a long time. Larissa is trying figure out what she’s feeling. She really likes Chase. He’s a genuinely nice guy and she doesn’t understand why she isn’t happier. She also has no idea what the problem with Jasmine is. Jasmine hasn’t really even tried to talk to her and suddenly she’s best friends with Shannon, one of Larissa’s best friends. This story did an incredible job of making me feel Larissa’s emotions and confusion. It’s written in the first person. So, we’re getting all of Larissa’s thoughts as she’s thinking them. I think telling the story this way was a really great way to get the reader to feel and experience Larissa’s emotions alongside her, which is exactly what I did.
I loved that even though Larissa felt like there wasn’t anyone she could talk to, she still had friends (Kiki) that saw through her and could see what she was going through. The best kind of friends are friends that support you and manage to say the right thing even though they don’t know exactly what the problem might be. And once Larissa didn’t finally talk to her friends and her mom, their reactions were so positive and I loved that for Larissa. I definitely shed a tear or two when she finally started talking to her loved ones about her feelings for Jasmine.
Overall, I feel like this review is absolutely incoherent but this book changed me. I wish this book existed ten years ago so that I could have had my moment of self-discovery alongside Larissa. Please read this book. It’s full of diverse characters, self-discovery, and friends that don’t always say the right thing at first. I’m going to go now because I feel like I’m getting more incoherent the longer I type this.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Lucky Girl by Jamie Pacton

Summary:
A hilarious and poignant reflection on what money can and cannot fix
58,643,129. That’s how many dollars seventeen-year-old Fortuna Jane Belleweather just won in the lotto jackpot. It’s also about how many reasons she has for not coming forward to claim her prize.
Problem #1: Jane is still a minor, and if anyone discovers she bought the ticket underage, she’ll either have to forfeit the ticket, or worse…
Problem #2: Let her hoarder mother cash it. The last thing Jane’s mom needs is millions of dollars to buy more junk. Then…
Problem #3: Jane’s best friend, aspiring journalist Brandon Kim, declares on the news that he’s going to find the lucky winner. It’s one thing to keep her secret from the town, it’s another thing entirely to lie to her best friend. Especially when…
Problem #4: Jane’s ex-boyfriend, Holden, is suddenly back in her life, and he has big ideas about what he’d do with the prize money.
As suspicion and jealousy turn neighbor against neighbor, and no good options for cashing the ticket come forward, Jane begins to wonder: Could this much money actually be a bad thing?

Lucky Girl

Review:
I am part of Jamie Pacton’s street team, so I was given an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I really enjoyed Pacton’s debut, so I was excited to have the chance to read Lucky Girl early. I really enjoyed this one. It’s a really quick read. It’s filled with character that don’t always make the best choices, but you can’t help but empathize with them and root for them. The story follows Fortuna Jane, who goes by Jane. Jane buys a lottery ticket on a whim and then finds out that she’s won 58 million dollars. The only problem? Jane is only 17 so she could actually get in trouble if anyone finds out she’s the one that bought it. Most of the story is Jane trying to figure out the best option for how to get her winnings cashed. As she researched past winners, she becomes less sure that she even wants this money despite the fact that it could change her life in so many ways. I really liked Jane. She was a likable character. It was easy to empathize with her with the choice she needed to make.
One of the things I thought was interesting about this book was Jane’s mother. Jane’s mom is a hoarder. She collects things that people once loved. It’s clear that it’s become out of control. I think Pacton did a really good job of showing how this was negatively effecting Jane while still being thoughtful and respectful about the fact that Jane’s mom is clearly dealing with some sort of mental illness. I liked how their relationship changed in the end of the book when Jane finally brought some honesty to the table. I really enjoyed when Jane finally sat down and had a good and open conversation with her mom.
Bran was one of the highlights of this book. He’s Jane’s best friend and an aspiring journalist. So, he’s searching for whoever won the lottery, only Jane hasn’t told him that she won. He asks her to help him interview people in hopes that he will find whoever won. I thought the conflict of Jane feeling unable to tell her best friend this huge thing was a compelling one. It’s clear from their relationship and from the way he reacts when he does learn she’s the winner that she could have told him right from the start.
Overall, I think this was a really fun and quick read. I liked all of the characters (even Holden occasionally). I thought the conversation about what to do with that much money and greed was done really well. The story itself was a little slow but the way it’s written made it an easy and quick read.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Summary:
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian–while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

Project Hail Mary

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this eARC in exchange for an honest review. I loved Weir’s previous two novels, The Martian and Artemis, so it’s no surprise that I also loved Project Hail Mary.
This story follows Ryland Grace. He’s just woken up with no memory of where he is or what the heck is going on. He quickly realizes that he’s in outer space but doesn’t know why. As he starts to explore the spaceship, he starts to regain his memories. He can’t even remember his own name at first, but somehow has all sort of scientific knowledge. I thought this was a really interesting way to tell the story. I enjoy a good flashback, but only if it’s done well and I think that it was in this story. We learn relevant information alongside Grace and there was a mood of suspense with the reader left wondering exactly how a middle school teacher ended up on a last ditch space mission. Both timelines were compelling. We learn small things about Grace at first. Things like his job, and eventually how he came to be on this space mission. But I think I was more interested in the present timeline. It’s not really a life or death mission. Those sent on the Hail Mary knew the risks.
The science of this story was really interesting. There was definitely a bit that went way over my head, but I liked that the most important bits were summarized in a way that the reader could understand. It was heavy on the science but that didn’t lessen my enjoyment of the story. I managed to follow along even if I didn’t always actually understand it. It’s the problem solving that I think was the most interesting. There are tons of problems that pop up, but Grace (with help from someone I can’t say anything about) managed to figure out solutions.
Overall, I was completely sucked into this story. I stayed up entirely too late because I just couldn’t stop reading. I needed to know how this story was going to end. As for the actual ending, I liked that it had a full circle kind of storyline, but I would have liked to get some more definitive answers about what happened on Earth. I think science fiction fans with absolutely devour this one, just like I did. I honestly want to pick it up and reread it already.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Summary:
They are the Beautiful Ones, Loisail’s most notable socialites, and this spring is Nina’s chance to join their ranks, courtesy of her well-connected cousin and his calculating wife. But the Grand Season has just begun, and already Nina’s debut has gone disastrously awry. She has always struggled to control her telekinesis—neighbors call her the Witch of Oldhouse—and the haphazard manifestations of her powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
When entertainer Hector Auvray arrives to town, Nina is dazzled. A telekinetic like her, he has traveled the world performing his talents for admiring audiences. He sees Nina not as a witch, but ripe with potential to master her power under his tutelage. With Hector’s help, Nina’s talent blossoms, as does her love for him.
But great romances are for fairytales, and Hector is hiding a truth from Nina—and himself—that threatens to end their courtship before it truly begins. The Beautiful Ones is a charming tale of love and betrayal, and the struggle between conformity and passion, set in a world where scandal is a razor-sharp weapon.

The Beautiful Ones

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this eARC in exchange for an honest review.
The Beautiful Ones follows Antonina or Nina during her debut Grand Season. I believe this is set in a fictional city, but I honestly couldn’t say for sure as its all written so realistically. The settings are perfectly described to set each scene. Antonina falls in love with Hector, but what she doesn’t know is that Hector is only back in town to see Valerie. Valerie is Nina’s cousin through marriage. Nina doesn’t know if Valerie and Hector’s past together, so when Hector isn’t showing that he reciprocates her feelings, she’s unsure what to do. When she finds out about their past, it breaks her heart. The story then jumps forward a year to the next Grand Season where things get interesting once again.
I really liked Nina and literally no one else in this book. Nina is an unusual girl. She collects beetle and butterfly specimens. She is an outdoorsy girl, which isn’t something that’s acceptable for a lady. She also displays telekinetic powers (again, not something acceptable for a lady). What I liked the most about her was that she didn’t really care that much about what was deemed okay or not by society. She was often hurt by others speaking badly of her, but not enough to change for them. I liked that about her. I thought Luc was a very bland character (but I think that was on purpose? It felt like that was on purpose because of plot things.) I honestly hated Valerie and was very satisfied with the way the story ended for her. She deserved way worse. I could understand why she did some of the things that she did, but the author made it so easy to hate her. Finally, Hector. I honestly didn’t like him for most of the book. I think Hector as a character speaks to Moreno-Garcia’s writing abilities in such a positive way. He’s only in town because he loves Valerie and dreadfully hurts Nina. But he learns from that experience and grows. Even though this was a relatively short book, that growth is shown so well. We get to see the two become friends again and see things go from there. It didn’t feel rushed or forced. The author made it all feel natural and organic.
The writing of this book is what saved it for me. I explained the characters above. But honestly the strength of these feelings is pretty weak. I don’t know that I’ll even be thinking of them still in a few weeks. But they writing in this book is beautiful. It’s lyrical without being flowery. The settings are so well described without taking away from the plot or the characters.
Overall, I liked this book. It was an average read for me. It won’t be making any favorites lists from me. But I enjoyed it while I was reading it. It is absolutely a romance story but I think it really tells a story about wealth and how having it or lacking it can change people. I think this will be a huge hit for many people, it just didn’t completely hit the mark for me.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

Summary:
With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.
At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.
When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within (Wayfarers, #4)

Review:
I received The Galaxy, and the Ground Within from NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review. I have loved all three of the previous installments of the Wayfarer series. This one was no different. I think The Galaxy, and the Ground Within was more of a slice of life story that the previous three books and I actually really enjoyed that.
The story follows five characters, Speaker, Pei, Roveg, and Ouloo and her child, Tupo. They are all different species. I had a bit of a hard time picturing what they each looked like. But I really liked each of their stories. I really enjoyed them spending time together and learning more about each other’s cultures and lives. I thought there were some really fascinating conversations. The dynamics of the characters and their lack of any kind of relationship is what made this book so good. Five strangers are stuck on Gora, their travel plans delayed when technology fails and communication and travel becomes impossible. So, they hunker down together.
Ouloo and Tupo are the owners of the Five-Hop and they do their best to keep the guests happy. I really liked learning about the Laru species. I think Ouloo was my favorite of the characters. She just wants to create a space that will accommodate the many different species of the galaxy. I think the Five-Hop was a place I would absolutely love to visit.
Then there’s Pei, who we sort of know from a previous book. She’s dating Ashby, who we know from a previous book. She’s dealing with a lot of emotions because she is keeping the secret of her romance with Ashby. Then, her shimmer starts. She needs to find a male of her species or she will likely never have another chance to have a child. But she’s not sure she even wants a child.
Roveg’s story was an interesting one. He’s exiled from his homeworld. While he doesn’t regret what he did to get exiled, he does regret being away from his family. He has a very important appointment that he needs to make. And all of the delays on Gora might just cause him to miss this appointment. I really enjoyed learning about the Quelin culture from someone that doesn’t agree with most of it, but also still values bits and pieces.
Then there’s Speaker. Speaker is an Akarak. This is an alien species that little is known of. I thought it was really interesting seeing Roveg take the time to learn about the Akarak history and develop a friendship. I think Speaker was a fascinating character. She’s outside of what we already know from this series and getting to learn about her species and their struggles was one of the more interesting aspects of this book.
Overall, I really enjoyed the slice of life aspect of the book. I think the development of the relationships was really well done. I think it was a slow and enjoyable progression. As always, this book was diverse and unique with the pronouns of the different species and I really appreciate that aspect of this series. I thought this book was a compelling depiction of people with differing lives and differing opinions coming together in an unavoidable way. I would absolutely recommend this book and this series.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Summary:
A thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war with international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders at the helm in her YA debut—think Star Wars meets Doctor Who, and buckle your seatbelts.
Tina has always known her destiny is outside the norm—after all, she is the human clone of the most brilliant alien commander in all the galaxies (even if the rest of the world is still deciding whether aliens exist). But she is tired of waiting for her life to begin.
And then it does—and maybe Tina should have been more prepared. At least she has a crew around her that she can trust—and her best friend at her side. Now, they just have to save the world.

Victories Greater Than Death (Universal Expansion #1)

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Anders’ books have been hit or miss for me, so when I heard she was coming out with a YA science fiction novel, I was very excited. Let me tell you, I was not at all disappointed.
This story follows Tina, who is raised on Earth. She is a clone of a famous space captain that died facing an enemy to the galaxy. Tina has known her whole life that she’s an alien disguised to look like a human. She also knows that one day she will be called back to space to help save the galaxy. When that day comes, she realizes that she isn’t as prepared as she thought she was. Her best friend gets sucked up in the spaceship alongside her and they managed to add a few more humans to their crew.
This is a wonderful and diverse story about found family and all the different ways to be a hero. It’s a story about right versus wrong. I really enjoyed it. It’s filled with great themes and important conversations. One of my favorite things about this book was how it normalized people’s pronouns. Anytime anyone new was introduced they shared their name followed by their pronoun (Hi, I’m Amanda and my pronoun is she). There were the common pronouns, but the more alien species we met the more unique pronouns we learned. I really liked this aspect of the story. There’s also diversity within the main characters. They humans that join Tina and Rachel in space are from all over the world. One of the humans that has been brought up from Earth, Elza, is trans. So, when I say this book is diverse as heck. I mean it and in all the best ways.
Overall, I cannot wait for this series to continue. I didn’t realize it was a series until I was getting close to the ending. I think the ending was good. It gave a solid conclusion for all of the things that were happening during the book, but also left little bits for what to expect in future books. I think this story was well written and filled with characters that you just can’t help but love. I think this book will be a huge hit with many science fiction lovers.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Hurricane Summer by Asha Bromfield

Summary:
The powerful and emotional debut novel from Riverdale and Locke and Key actress Asha Bromfield that deals with colorism, classism, young love, the father-daughter dynamic—and what it means to discover your own voice in the center of complete destruction.
Hurricane SummerReview:
Thank you, NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Hurricane Summer follows Tilla while she visits Jamaica, where her father lives, for the summer with her younger sisters, Mia. I will say right now, there are explicit scenes of sexual assault, and quite a few other scenes of serious mistreatment that I would call emotional and verbal abuse from family.
Tilla has a really hard relationship with her father. She remembers the good times in Canada when her mom and dad were happy. She remembers the time where they fight and yell and then her dad goes back to Jamaica for periods of time before returning to her family. This time he’s been gone for a while and she doesn’t think he will be coming back. So, her and her sister are going to Jamaica for the summer and Tilla is so angry with her dad. She feels like he forgot about her, like he doesn’t want to be a part of their family anymore. But the moment she sees him at the airport, all that goes away. She’s happy to see him, to be with him. But the plans keep changing and she has to keep reminding herself that her father never sticks to what he says. Tilla and her sister end up at the family home in the country. They’re both excited to meet their family. Tilla is especially excited to reunite with her cousin Andre, one of the few cousins she remembers. The summer doesn’t turn out to be all sunshine and quality family time as she hopes. One of her aunts treats her horribly when her father isn’t around and tells lies when she reports back to Tilla’s father. Every time Tilla finds an afternoon of happiness, it’s torn down by her family, people that are supposed to love her.
This was a really emotional story. From the familial abuse, to the death of a family member, Tilla does her best to hold it together. She was such a strong main character. She always did her best to make the best situation she could for herself. I absolutely loved the moments she spends with her cousins, exploring the country. These were some of my favorite parts of the book. It was really hard to see Tilla just take the abuse from some of her cousins and aunts, and even her father. I was so proud of her when she finally stood up for herself. Even though she didn’t always get the results she wanted, I was so proud of her for speaking up.
Overall, this is not an easy story to read, but it was a stunning story about what it means to be a woman dealing with assault and abuse. It shows what it means to have a father that doesn’t believe in you, one that you feel just doesn’t love you anymore. It talks about racism within the community of Jamaica. I think this book did everything it was trying to do and it did it so well. I highly recommend this book to anyone that can handle these hard topics.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Between the Bliss and Me by Lizzy Mason

Summary:
Acclaimed author Lizzy Mason delivers a moving contemporary YA novel about mental illness, young romance, and the impact of family history on one teen’s future, perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, Robin Benway, and Kathleen Glasgow.
When eighteen-year-old Sydney Holman announces that she has decided to attend NYU, her overprotective mom is devastated. Her decision means she will be living in the Big City instead of commuting to nearby Rutgers like her mom had hoped. It also means she’ll be close to off-limits but dreamy Grayson—a guitar prodigy who is going to Juilliard in the fall and very much isn’t single.
But while she dreams of her new life, Sydney discovers a world-changing truth about her father, who left when she was little due to a drug addiction—that he has schizophrenia and is currently living on the streets of New York City. She seizes the opportunity to get to know him, to understand who he is and learn what may lie in store for her if she, too, is diagnosed.
Even as she continues to fall for Grayson, Sydney is faced with a difficult decision: Should she stay close to home so her mom can watch over her, or follow the desire to take risks and discover her true self?

Between the Bliss and Me

Review:
Okay, this was not an easy book to read. It centers around mental health and mental illnesses. So, I want to start by saying that because I think this was a really good story but it’s not going to be for anyone. Also, thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Sydney just turned eighteen. She’s getting ready to go off to college, except she’s not going to the college that her mom thinks she’s going to. Sydney, with the help of her grandparents, has decided that she wants to go to NYU. This is not what Sydney and her mom discussed and agreed to. Sydney’s mom has always been over protective. And she learns why when she visits her grandparents beach house. She learns that her mom has been keeping information about her father from her. Her father has schizophrenia. She also learns that there is a chance she could develop symptoms over the next few years. While all of this is going on, she meets a boy, Grayson. She has a crush on him and ends up seeing him while she’s staying with her grandparents. The only problem with her crush on Grayson? He has a girlfriend. He also has a really bitchy cousin.
So, I really liked Sydney. She’s anxious all the time, but she doesn’t let her anxiety stop her. She stands up for herself. She has all these doubts about herself, but they don’t really show on the outside. I really liked how Sydney was portrayed and how her emotions and reactions were shown. I don’t have personal experience with schizophrenia so I can’t speak to the accuracy of the representation, but it seemed it be handled thoughtfully from my outside perspective. I thought it was interesting the way that Mason managed to show how everyone reacts differently to mental illness. We see Sydney’s grandparents come to a slow realization that there’s nothing they can do for their son, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t try to help him in any way they can again and again. We see Sydney’s mom listen to her husband when he asks her to let him go. There’s also some really good conversation about the lack of support available for people with mental illnesses, about the unfairness of the courts and prison systems when it comes to caring for people with mental illnesses. I think these topics were well done.
Now, the romance with Grayson was the one thing in this story that I didn’t really care for. I think everything that was done could have been left the same, minus Grayson as a romantic interest. I think it could have been a completely platonic relationship and the story would still have had the same effect. I don’t think this needed to be romantic in anyway. I think it would have been an even better story had it just been Sydney’s story about learning to accept herself.
Overall, I think this was a really hard hitting and emotional portrayal about what it’s like to have a family member with a mental illness and feeling helpless to help them. I especially liked Sydney’s friends. Eliot is the light of my life and I loved every moment that he was on the page. I also really loved Magda. Magda reminded me of quite a few of my friends from my hometown, which is a beachy town like the one in parts of this book. So, we also get people from other countries that come over on a student visa and work for the summer. I always loved working with them. They, much like Magda were always so interesting and fun to be around. They also always threw the best parties. I think this will be a book that some will really love and others will not. So, take this review with a grain of salt and read it if the topic is one that you can handle.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Hello, Cruel Heart by Maureen Johnson

Summary:
Swinging London, Summer 1967. Sixteen-year-old Estella, gifted with talent, ingenuity, and ambition, dreams of becoming a renowned fashion designer. But life seems intent on making sure her dreams never come true. Having arrived in London as a young girl, Estella now runs wild through the city streets with Jasper and Horace, amateur thieves who double as Estella’s makeshift family and partners-in-(petty)-crime. How can Estella dedicate herself to joining the ranks of the London design elite when she’s sewing endless costumes and disguises for the trio’s heists?
When a chance encounter with Magda and Richard Moresby-Plum, two young scions of high society, vaults Estella into the world of the rich and famous, she begins to wonder whether she might be destined for more after all. Suddenly, Estella’s days are filled with glamorous parties, exclusive eateries, flirtations with an up-and-coming rock star, and, of course, the most cutting-edge fashions money can buy. But what is the true cost of keeping up with the fast crowd-and is it a price Estella is willing to pay? 

Hello, Cruel Heart

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for this eARC in exchange for an honest review. I requested this because it’s a book by Maureen Johnson and I usually love Johnson’s books. Plus, Cruella? Sign me up.
I didn’t end up liking this as much as I thought I was going to. Cruella is actually named Estella. Her mom dies and she ends up all alone in London. She meets two boys that become her family. They survive by stealing. They steal food and money or whatever else they need to survive. I liked the relationship between these three. But I think we could have gotten more from it. I feel like I still know nothing about these two boys that are like brothers to Estella. I don’t know their history. I did like Estella’s backstory. Definitely enough to turn me into a villain.
I also just liked Estella, even when she was kind of being a jerk. She’s sixteen in this book and definitely still a bit naive. I saw the ending coming almost as soon as she made friends with Magda and Richard. Estella is swept up by the wealthy London scene and starts making clothes for everyone. And the whole time I was left thinking: why is she not asking anyone to pay for these clothes she’s hand making?
Overall, I had a tough time with this book. The ending felt rushed. I would have liked to see what her plans for her next steps were after reconciling with her brothers. I also had a hard time because of the eARC. There were weird images that I assume are going to be chapter designs that chopped up and even moved some paragraphs. It was manageable, but annoying enough to affect my reading experience. I will say that I think Johnson did a good job with the writing and the setting. She was consistent with the language used by the characters and while telling the story. London sounds like a blast during this period of time.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

On This Unworthy Scaffold by Heidi Heilig

Summary:
Jetta’s home is spiraling into civil war.
Le Trépas—the deadly necromancer—has used his blood magic to wrest control of the country, and Jetta has been without treatment for her malheur for weeks. Meanwhile, Jetta’s love interest, brother, and friend are intent on infiltrating the palace to stop the Boy King and find Le Trépas to put an end to the unleashed chaos.
The sweeping conclusion to Heidi Heilig’s ambitious trilogy takes us to new continents, introduces us to new gods, flings us into the middle of palace riots and political intrigue, and asks searching questions about power and corruption. As in the first two books, the story is partly told in ephemera, including original songs, myths, play scripts, and various forms of communication.

On This Unworthy Scaffold (Shadow Players, #3)

Review:
I want to start by saying a huge thank you to Heilig’s publicity team that reached out to me to see if I was interested in reading an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. On This Unworthy Scaffold is one of my most anticipated releases in 2021 and I literally screamed a little when I got the email asking if I was interested.
On This Unworthy Scaffold is the third and final book in the Shadow Players series. I won’t go too much into a summary of the book because there is a summary above and also this is the third book in a series. If you haven’t read the first two books you can read my reviews for For a Muse of Fire and A Kingdom for a Stage. This series follows Jetta, her family, and the friends she makes along the way. I’ve come to really love all of the side characters that make up the main group. Jetta and the rebels have a plan. But as things usually go, nothing goes according to plan. The plot of this story was really compelling. Jetta and Theodora go off on one mission. With this we finally get to see Aquitan. I liked this part of the story. We get to see Jetta think on her feet. She’s still often worried that her malheur. I liked that there was talk of her taking the elixir, a version of modern-day medication. I liked that she was aware of it and questioned herself sometimes to wonder if she was making good choices or not. I also really liked Jetta’s problem solving. She’s not afraid to stand up to those in power. I thought it was really clever the way that she brought things full circle when she finally performed in Aquitan. I just genuinely enjoyed seeing her in her own element, making choices on the fly to get herself out of the situation that she found herself in. I also loved Theodora. She’s an engineer/inventor. I feel like I didn’t get to see as much of her as I would have liked, but I still liked what we did see. She’s smart and unafraid to say what she thinks. Jetta and Theodora working together was really fun to read.
The other team is the Tiger, Leo, Akra, Cheeky, and Tia. Cheeky and Tia are absolutely the comedic relief of the story. But they bring good conversations to the table. They are sex workers and it’s always talked about in a positive way, never with any shame. I also still love Akra. He and Jetta have their ups and downs that come from her bringing him back from the dead, but I loved their relationship. And my dear sweet Leo. I hate the way his story ended. No, I don’t hate it. I hate how fitting it was for his part of this story to end that way. Leo has tried so hard to do good and be loved. He faces his own challenges through this series, but he never lets anything get him down for long. His love for Jetta is so clear. Jetta and Leo lift one another up and I couldn’t help but root for them.
Overall, this was a beautiful and heartbreaking finale to a series that I will reread and love for years to come. I love these characters. I love this story. It includes a lot of important things, like colonialism and bipolar. It’s filled with diverse and queer characters. It’s also written in a unique format, with sheet music, play scripts, myths, and prose. I cannot recommend this series enough.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Namesake by Adrienne Young

Summary:
Trader. Fighter. Survivor.
With the Marigold ship free of her father, Fable and its crew were set to start over. That freedom is short-lived when she becomes a pawn in a notorious thug’s scheme. In order to get to her intended destination she must help him to secure a partnership with Holland, a powerful gem trader who is more than she seems.
As Fable descends deeper into a world of betrayal and deception she learns that her mother was keeping secrets, and those secrets are now putting the people Fable cares about in danger. If Fable is going to save them then she must risk everything, including the boy she loves and the home she has finally found.

Namesake (Fable, #2)

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Namesake is the sequel to Fable (which I reviewed here). I really loved Fable, so I was very excited to get approved to read its sequel. Namesake did not disappoint. I’m just going to say right now that there will be spoilers for Fable, so stop reading now if you haven’t read the first book.
Namesake follows Fable, our main character, after the cliffhanger ending. Fable has been kidnapped and once again separated from her crew. I missed seeing the crew together, but I loved all of the secrets that we learned and getting to see more of this captivating world. We get to see more outside of the Narrows that we learned about in Fable. The mysterious Bastian is finally revealed. We also get to meet the infamous Holland. I really enjoyed seeing this world open up. Young’s writing is so great. It’s detailed enough to give a clear picture of the story and the characters, but not so flowery that it danced around.
Fable is the same badass, intelligent, fierce main character that she was in the first book. She’s faced with a lot of revelations about the past that she’s forced to deal with in her present. I thought these secrets and twists were well done. I didn’t see any of them coming and they really did great things for the overall story.
Now, I’m sad to say that I didn’t love the romance between Fable and West as much in this book. I still liked it and was invested in their happy ending, but there was something about it that I just didn’t like in this book. I think the conflict that was introduced, specifically for the romance, wasn’t needed at all. I didn’t care for the comparisons to Fable’s father and the doubt that it caused for Fable. Especially since I don’t feel like any of that was really worked through.
Overall, this was another action packed, high stakes story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved Fable. I loved seeing her faced with challenges and working through her choices. I liked seeing her try to solve problems and figure out the next steps. I loved seeing more of this world. I especially loved the writing. I will definitely be looking into Young’s backlist soon.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blood Sworn by Scott Reintgen

Summary:
Three cultures clash in all out war–against each other and against the gods–in the second book of this fantasy duology that’s sure to capture fans of The Hunger Games and An Ember in the Ashes.
The Races are over. War has begun.
Ashlord and Longhand armies battle for control of the Empire as Dividian rebels do their best to survive the crossfire. This is no longer a game. It’s life or death.
Adrian, Pippa, and Imelda each came out of the Races with questions about their role in the ongoing feud. The deeper they dig, the clearer it is that the hatred between their peoples has an origin point: the gods.
Their secrets are long-buried, but one disgruntled deity is ready to unveil the truth. Every whisper leads back to the underworld. What are the gods hiding there? As the sands of the Empire shift, these heroes will do everything they can to aim their people at the true enemy. But is it already too late?

Blood Sworn (Ashlords, #2)

Review:
Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with this eARC in exchange for an honest review. Blood Sworn is the sequel to Ashlord (which I reviewed here.) In this book, we follow the same three characters, Pippa, Adrian, and Imelda. The way the first book ended left me wanting to know more. I wanted to know so much more about this world, the gods, and where the story is going. I got everything that I wanted from this book. Once again, the story is told in first person for Imelda and Adrian, but Pippa’s story is told in second person. I think Pippa’s story being told in this way was such a creative choice and it really does something to the story.
Pippa’s chapters were absolutely my favorite parts of this book. She has the most growth and change in this series. She starts off so loyal to her people, the Ashlords, but slowly she realizes that everything isn’t as it seems. She finally learns the truth from one of the gods and that’s where this story gets really interesting. I think Pippa is so incredibly smart. I am awed by the plans that her brain manages to create. I think she’s an incredible character and I loved her. I also really enjoyed the way that Pippa’s relationship with Adrian changed over time.
Adrian was an interesting character as well. But I feel like he sort of just went along with Pippa’s plans. I know this isn’t the case, but we didn’t actually see Adrian and Pippa make their plans so, it’s not hard to assume that Pippa (the master strategist) is the one that came up with the majority of their plans. I liked that Adrian did his part to show the Longhands that things could be different if everyone worked together to make a change.
Finally, Imelda. I wanted more phoenix horse stuff, but we got enough that I wasn’t terribly upset about it. I like that Imelda is also super smart, but in different ways than what we see from Pippa. I think Imelda’s part of the story was interesting because the Dividian’s are the underrepresented group of the story, despite having a large population. I liked following Imelda because with Pippa and Adrian working together, their stories were similar, but Imelda’s path is so different from the others. She stumbles into something she doesn’t totally understand, but manages to find herself working toward the same goals as Pippa and Adrian.
Overall, I absolutely loved this book. I loved this duology. I will recommend this series forever. Phoenix horses, political drama, characters that are complex and loveable, and a fascinating world and interesting gods, there is everything you could possibly want in a fantasy story.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Castle School by Alyssa B. Sheinmel

GoodReads Summary:
When Moira Dreyfuss’s parents announce that they’re sending her to boarding school, Moira isn’t fooled. She knows her parents are punishing her; she’s been too much trouble since her best friend Nathan died―and for a while before that. At the Castle School, isolated from the rest of the world, Moira will be expected to pour her heart out to the headmaster, Dr. Prince. But she isn’t interested in getting over Nathan’s death, or befriending her fellow students.
On her first night there, Moira hears distant music. On her second, she discovers the lock on her window is broken. On her third, she and her roommate venture outside…and learn that they’re not so isolated after all. There’s another, very different, Castle School nearby―this one filled with boys whose parents sent them away, too.
Moira knows something isn’t right about the Castle School―about either of them. But uncovering the truth behind the schools’ secrets may force Moira to confront why she was sent away in the first place.
The Castle School (for Troubled Girls)Review:
The Castle School is a book that I was provided via NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review. I think this book was so thoughtfully written. I don’t personally have experience with most of the mental illnesses that are highlighted. This book talks about depression, self-harm, grief, eating disorders, alcoholism, OCD, selective mutism, drug addiction, and others. So, if any of these are triggers for you, maybe skip this one, but I think the author did an incredible job of thoughtfully talking about these topics.
The story follows Moira as she’s dealing with the loss of her best friend Nathan. Nathan was diagnosed with cancer and died. Since then, she sneaks out at night to visit his grave, she skips school, but the final straw for Moira’s mother was the tattoo. She’s sent to The Castle School, which is a school for troubled girls where the schooling is different and Dr. Prince is there for one on one therapy sessions. Moira is full of grief that she won’t let out. I really enjoyed her growth and development in this story. She fights when she first gets to the school, thinking that she has no need to be there. But as she grows and makes friends, she opens up a bit. I couldn’t help but believe all of Moira’s wild theories about the two Dr. Prince’s one she discovers the second Castle School (for boys). I liked her and I could really sympathize with her.
I also liked the side characters. They were all unique and interesting. I really liked that we got little background stories for some of the characters. A few got their own chapters that were about when it was decided that they would be going to The Castle School. I thought they were really interesting to read and it gave us more information about the side characters.
Overall, I really enjoyed this story. I think it talked about a lot of really important topics in a thoughtful way. I think this was a really great story about young girls that struggle. I really liked the friendships and the relationships that developed. I definitely thought it was going to be a bit of a mystery because of how Moria was telling the story, but I’m not disappointed that it wasn’t. This is a book I’ll definitely be recommending.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel

Summary:
Showing that truth is stranger than fiction, Sylvain Neuvel weaves a scfi thriller reminiscent of Blake Crouch and Andy Weir, blending a fast moving, darkly satirical look at 1940s rocketry with an exploration of the amorality of progress and the nature of violence in A History of What Comes Next.
Always run, never fight.
Preserve the knowledge.
Survive at all costs.
Take them to the stars.
Over 99 identical generations, Mia’s family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race.
But Mia’s family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes.
A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them…

A History of What Comes Next (Take Them to the Stars, #1)

Review:
I want to start off by saying that while I was approved for an eARC of this book (three days before it’s release date), I actually read the finished copy that I got from my local library. So, thank you NetGalley, but technically I didn’t read the ARC. Now, 3.5 stars, that makes me a little sad because Neuvel’s previous series, the Themis Files, is one of my all time favorite series, so you could say that I was very excited for this new release. I don’t want to say that I didn’t like it because that would be a lie. I did like it. I enjoyed reading it. I thought it was interesting. But I didn’t completely love it like I thought I was going to (though I will say I didn’t really even know what it was about until after I picked up my copy from the library).
This story follow Mia and her mother, Sarah, and occasionally some bits and pieces about their ancestors. They are the Kibsu and they have been tasked with helping humanity reach the stars and successfully figure out how to travel through space. Why? I literally have no idea. Are they aliens? Time travelers? Why don’t you tell me because I honestly don’t know. (Edited to add: I’ve reread the synopsis and it says it’s a “first contact” story, so they are definitely aliens.) So, the whole time Sarah is training Mia to take over and start the next generation tasked to reach the stars, there is another alien/time traveler/whatever in play. There is the Tracker that is following them. Neither Mia nor Sarah is completely sure that the Tracker even exists. But if he does, he will kill them both if they let him find them. Some parts of the story are told from his point of view as well. I thought this was an interesting choice because it opened up the story a bit more. It gave us more insight into the history of the Kibsu (which I believe I am correct in assuming that the Tracker is also Kibsu).
Now, I think I just didn’t love this book because a lot of the finer details went right over my head. After reading the authors note at the end, it’s clear that Neuvel put so much thought and research into this book. I don’t often pick up historical fiction and that’s what this was. This is a historical fiction book with a sci-fi twist (a few characters that are aliens). I think it’s the extreme amount of detail that is what put me off the story a bit. There’s so much science that Mia is doing to help different people build rockets. But also, I feel like I was left with all of the same questions that I had while I was learning about Mia and Sarah. I feel like we didn’t really learn anything, aside from what we learned from the Tracker, but that dude murder so many people and I don’t trust him. I also think that so much information has been lost or changed through 100 generations. It’s like a game of telephone.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. Once I got past the 100 page mark, I was intrigued enough by the story to keep going. But it was dense in history and science, the writing style was a bit odd and took some getting used to, and while I learned a lot about the history of the space race I feel like I didn’t learn anything about the characters. I believe this is a series so I do plan to continue it, but I think I might see how the audiobooks are done. Anyway, if you’re a space or history nerd, you’ll probably love this.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.