Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds

Summary:
Justin A. Reynolds, author of Opposite of Always, delivers another smart, funny, and powerful stand-alone YA contemporary novel, with a speculative twist in which Jamal’s best friend is brought back to life after a freak accident . . . but they only have a short time together before he will die again.
Jamal’s best friend, Q, doesn’t know he’s about to die . . . again.
He also doesn’t know that Jamal tried to save his life, rescuing him from drowning only to watch Q die later in the hospital. Even more complicated, Jamal and Q haven’t been best friends in two years—not since Jamal’s parents died in a car accident, leaving him and his sister to carry on without them. Grief swallowed Jamal whole, and he blamed Q for causing the accident.
But what if Jamal could have a second chance? An impossible chance that would grant him the opportunity to say goodbye to his best friend? A new health-care technology allows Q to be reanimated—brought back to life like the old Q again. But there’s a catch: Q will only reanimate for a short time before he dies . . . forever.
Jamal is determined to make things right with Q, but grief is hard to shake. And he can’t tell Q why he’s suddenly trying to be friends with him again. Because Q has no idea that he died, and Q’s mom is not about to let anyone ruin the miracle by telling him. How can Jamal fix his friendship with Q if he can’t tell him the truth?
Early Departures by Justin A. ReynoldsReview:
Early Departures is a 2020 release that I didn’t hear about until later in the year. If I’d heard about it earlier, it definitely would have been one of my most anticipated releases. I loved Reynolds’ debut, Opposite of Always. So, I hoped that Early Departures would delight and destroy me as much as that book did. I was not wrong. Reynolds manages to make me fall in love with the characters, to become so invested in them, and then kill them. But this is a contemporary novel with a science fiction twist, so he brings them back to life. In this book, the story follows Jamal. Jamal has dealt with some hardships in his life. His parents died and he lives with his older sister (who is very pregnant). He has a girlfriend, Autumn, who is one of my favorite characters in the book (alongside Jamal’s sister.) We meet Q very early on in the book. But we slowly learn exactly what happened that ended Jamal and Q’s friendship. We also get tidbits from Jamal and Q’s old YouTube videos. I liked this because it gave us a bit of insight into how their friendship was before their falling out.
Jamal is kind of a little shit. But in a sort of understandable way. I think I liked Autumn so much because she never failed to call Jamal out when he was being a shit. Jamal is still dealing with the death of both his parents and he doesn’t really deal with it very well. He blames Q for their death, but never communicates that. He’s a young man that doesn’t know how to share his feeling. He’s also definitely a bit selfish. But he had great character growth. He realized that his actions were wrong and forgiveness helps everyone. I didn’t always like him, but I was always invested in his story.
I listened to the audiobook and it was fantastically narrated. The narrators (I think there were two) really brought this story to life and I highly recommend the audio for anyone that wants to read this book. This was a heartbreaking story about love, friendship, and loss. It’s about forgiveness and grief and it’s beautifully written. I will say that I definitely cried quite a few times while listening to this story, so prepare yourself for this one. It was one of my favorite reads of 2020.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

You Have a Match by Emma Lord

GoodReads Summary:
When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.
But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.
When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents—especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.
The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.
But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.
You Have a MatchReview:
I got You Have a Match as an eARC thanks to NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I read Emma Lord’s debut novel, Tweet Cute, also as an ARC. I really loved that one, which is why I hit the request button as fast as I could when I saw You Have a Match. The story follows Abby. She and her two best friends, Connie and Leo, take a 23&me DNA test because Leo is adopted and he’s curious about his history. A part of him was hoping to potentially find family members. Connie and Abby take the test with him to be supportive. When the results come in, Abby is the one that finds a new family member. A full blood sister, meaning they have the same parents, and Savannah (Savvy) has already sent a message to Abby. The two meet and put some pieces together about the fact that their parents (Abby’s parents and Savvy’s adoptive parents). They concoct a plan to go to the same summer camp to figure out what’s going on with their parents.
I didn’t always like Abby, but I really appreciated her as a character. She had some real growth. She reminded me a lot of myself. She’s a ‘don’t make waves’ kind of person. So, instead of telling her parents, she doesn’t need all of the tutoring and extra help they’re making her go to, she just goes. She doesn’t want to rock the boat and that’s the story of my life. She has a lot of feelings that she doesn’t let out, which is never good. It causes lots of hijinks between Abby and Savvy (read: Finn is my favorite instigator).
Savvy is an Instagram influencer. I wish we’d gotten some of this story from Savvy’s point of view. I think that would have been the only thing that would have made this story better. I think it would have been nice to hear how she was feeling about everything and then later how things went with her parents. I liked Savvy. She puts on this image for the internet and that sort of makes her feel like she needs to put on the same image all the time. It was really interesting to see her talk to Abby and share things with one another. I loved seeing Savvy open up and be vulnerable with Abby. The two really had a rocky start, but they worked through it and I loved the sisterly moments they had. Also, Savvy is a lesbian (I don’t remember if it was specifically stated, but she has a girlfriend in this book.)
Overall, I loved all of the characters. I don’t want to make this too long and go over each of them. But I loved Abby and Connie’s relationship. It was realistic, filled with conflict, and a great resolution. I loved Savvy’s best friend Mickey and her food competition with Leo. I loved Finn and how much of an instigator he was, for it only to come out that he was going through some shit. I loved this book. It was filled with diverse characters that I couldn’t help but feel the things that they were feeling. There was family drama and heartwarming resolutions. There was summer camp hilarity. I just had a great time reading this story.

Quotes:

“Poppy had this thing he always said when we were out with our cameras. He’d show me how different lenses captured different perspectives, and how no two photos of the same thing were ever alike, simply because of the person taking them. If you learn to capture a feeling, he told me, it’ll always be louder than words.”

“We are best friends. And being someone’s best friend comes with a responsibility, a lifetime of secrets and promises and shared moments, that were made with a certain understanding. A contract of sorts. This is the person you are to me; these are the things I feel safe to tell you because of it.”

“Brave. It’s a word I’m still getting used to, after a lifetime of ducking from my problems. But maybe I’m growing into it, in my own way. A little less running and a little more talking. A little less wondering and a little more found.”

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Closer to Nowhere by Ellen Hopkins

Summary:
For the most part, Hannah’s life is just how she wants it. She has two supportive parents, she’s popular at school, and she’s been killing it at gymnastics. But when her cousin Cal moves in with her family, everything changes. Cal tells half-truths and tall tales, pranks Hannah constantly, and seems to be the reason her parents are fighting more and more. Nothing is how it used to be. She knows that Cal went through a lot after his mom died and she is trying to be patient, but most days Hannah just wishes Cal never moved in.
For his part, Cal is trying his hardest to fit in, but not everyone is as appreciative of his unique sense of humor and storytelling gifts as he is. Humor and stories might be his defense mechanism, but if Cal doesn’t let his walls down soon, he might push away the very people who are trying their best to love him.
Told in verse from the alternating perspectives of Hannah and Cal, this is a story of two cousins who are more alike than they realize and the family they both want to save.
Closer to NowhereReview:
Hopkins has been a long-time favorite author of mine. So, when I heard that her newest novel was going to be a middle-grade story written in verse, I was very excited. Closer to Nowhere follows two cousins, Hannah and Cal. Cal’s mom died and his dad is in prison, so he’s moved in with his aunt and uncle, and his cousin, Hannah. At it’s heart, this is a story about two kids that are learning how their words and actions effect the people around them.
Cal has had a hard childhood. With an abusive father and the death of his mother, he struggles with PTSD. We see this in many examples of Cal ‘running away’ and walking around the neighborhood for hours, screaming when he’s unable to work through his anger or other emotions. He also is just a kid that likes to play jokes. He pulls all kinds of pranks that are objectively hilarious, but Hannah disagrees. I didn’t come from an abusive home, but I do have family history of substance abuse, so I thought this topic of Cal’s dad’s addiction was discussed thoughtfully and how his addiction effected Cal was also really well done, in my opinion.
Hannah has had a relatively happy childhood. She lives in a nice home with both her mom and dad. Both her parents do all they can to support her by showing up to all of her sporting events. But when Cal moves into her house, things start to change. I think it was interesting to see how Hannah’s life changed after Cal moved in and how Hannah dealt with those changes (read: not well, at first). Hannah has lived a privileged life and she wishes things could go back to how they were before Cal moved in. But Hannah slowly learns about the things that Cal has had to deal with. The more she learns about his past, the more she tries to be more understanding. I really liked this aspect of Hannah’s story. She still wishes that things hadn’t changed with her parents, but she starts to realize that none of those changes are Cal’s fault.
I think telling this story with both Cal and Hannah’s points of view was an excellent idea. We get both first-person perspectives from them and the perspective of another. It was thought-provoking to see how two characters experienced the same events in different ways.
Overall, I loved this book. I truly hope that we will get more middle-grade stories from Hopkins. She did a really great job talking about addiction, PTSD and other mental health topics, death, homelessness, marital problems, alcoholism, and blended families in an accessible way for middle school age children. I highly recommend this book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin

GoodReads Summary:
Anyone can ask the Red Court for a favor…but every request comes at a cost. And once the deed is done, you’re forever in their debt.
Whenever something scandalous happens at Heller High, the Red Court is the name on everyone’s lips. Its members–the most elite female students in the school–deal out social ruin and favors in equal measure, their true identities a secret known only to their ruthless leader: the Queen of Hearts.
Sixteen-year-old Ember Williams has seen firsthand the damage the Red Court can do. Two years ago, they caused the accident that left her older sister paralyzed. Now, Ember is determined to hold them accountable…by taking the Red Court down from the inside.
But crossing enemy lines will mean crossing moral boundaries, too–ones Ember may never be able to come back from. She always knew taking on the Red Court would come at a price, but will the cost of revenge be more than she’s willing to sacrifice?
These Vengeful HeartsReview:
Thank you NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an eARC of These Vengeful Hearts in exchange for an honest review. This story follows Ember Williams on a quest for revenge. She attends Heller High (called Hell High by the students), where instead of popular students ‘ruling’ the school, there is a ‘secret’ society (secret is in quotes because many of the students know it exists and have asked for favors, but other truly believe it to be a myth which seemed a little far-fetched after seeing some of the things that the Red Court did) that runs Hell High. The Red Court (sort of based on Alice and Wonderland) is led by the Queen of Hearts and everything is done through playing cards. This society is full of only female members that, at the synopsis accurately put it, deal out favors and social ruin in equal measure. Ember has been trying to become a member of the Red Court since she started high school. She wants revenge, to dismantle the Red Court forever. Two years ago, her sister, April, was in an accident orchestrated by the Red Court that left her paralyzed. Since then, Ember was plotted to join the society and ruin it.
The story starts right before Ember gets invited to be a member of the Red Court. I thought this was a great way to get to know Ember a bit before she joined. I mention that because one of my favorite things about this book was the way Ember changed and developed throughout the story. After joining the Red Court and completing her first mission, she realized two things: that this take down wasn’t going to be easy and that she actually kind of liked the manipulation she was tasked to complete. Things definitely got a little muddy, morally speaking, for Ember as this story progressed, which in my opinion was the best part of the story. Ember was an interesting character. She finds herself in over her head, lying to all of those she’s closest to, and crushing on someone she was specifically warned to stay away from. I loved it all.
Overall, this book was fast paced, suspenseful, and full of drama and secrets. I liked Ember. I liked her best friend Gideon (who is gay). I liked Embers partner in the Red Court, Amber (who is also gay). I liked how the relationships developed. It was exactly what I wanted it to be when I read ‘secret society in high school’ in the synopsis. Also, with that ending I’m really hoping there will be a sequel or companion story.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

GoodReads Summary:
Margaret Jacobsen has a bright future ahead of her: a fiancé she adores, her dream job, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in one tumultuous moment.
In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Margaret must figure out how to move forward on her own terms while facing long-held family secrets, devastating heartbreak, and the idea that love might find her in the last place she would ever expect.
How to Walk AwayReview:
How to Walk Away was a beautiful story. Margaret has a fear of flying. So, her boyfriend surprising her with a plane ride shortly before he was supposed to test for his pilot’s license is like her worst nightmare. She agrees to the ride despite her fears. He proposes while flying, but instead of a happy celebration they had planned, the plane crashes as they’re trying to land.
This story focuses on Margaret’s time in the hospital after the plane crash as she’s recovering. Everything she had planned for her life has changed. I can’t speak to the accuracy of what Margaret goes through as I’ve never been through a traumatic life altering event like her. But as an outside observer all of the things Margaret was thinking and feeling seemed realistic. She has ups and downs, feels good some days and despairs others. I think the writing was well done and really made me feel what Margaret was feeling.
I didn’t expect this to turn into a romance, but I’m not mad about it. I really liked that this story continued after her time in the hospital. We learned about the plan she had for herself, but then we got to watch her figure out what to do next, to think about what she really wants from her life. I liked seeing her get as better as she was going to get and doing what she needed to do to create a new plan for her future.
Overall, I enjoyed this story was more than I thought I was going to. It was a beautiful story about finding a new path, and maybe finding love on that path. I will definitely be reading more books by Center.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogmas Book Review: Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe

GoodReads Summary:
Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.
There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.
Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .
This is a sharply funny and insightful novel about the countless hustles we have to keep from doing the hardest thing: being ourselves.
Charming as a VerbReview:
Charming as a Verb is Philippe’s 2020 release and after The Field Guide to the North American Teenager, I was eagerly anticipating it. Charming as a Verb follows Henri as he’s going through his senior year of highs school. He’s applying to colleges and working to save money for said college. He is a dog walker for a reputable company, but what his customers don’t know is that he’s the only employee of this ‘reputable company.’ I think this was an interesting aspect to his character. He didn’t create this fake company to scam people, he did it because he’s a teenager that needs to make money and the people in older generations (that really love their dogs) tend to trust bigger companies. He’s good at his job and great with the dogs. There was also another thing I really liked that Henri explained. His ‘Smile’ that he uses very specifically. I think this was so interesting. It sort of reminds me of my own customer service voice. I worked in retail for many years and my coworkers would sometimes comment on how I’d talk like a completely different person when using my customer service voice. Henri uses his Smile to make people feel comfortable, to see him as a nice young boy that can be trusted. I liked Henri. He’s a high school boy, so he made some mistakes, some he learned from and tried to do better. I liked the conversations surrounding Henri being a black teen going to a private school. I liked seeing him talk with his parents about these things and eventually talks with his friends about how he and his family don’t have the money like many of his friends and classmates do. I liked that while he didn’t want to talk about it, he did, eventually. Henri really showed growth throughout the story and I really liked him.
I liked Corinne even more. She’s a super smart girl that lives in the same building as Henri. She finds out about his dog walking scheme and blackmails him into helping her become better at socializing. I liked Corinne because she was a confident young woman and she knew what she needed to do to grow. I really liked that she didn’t let the blackmail go on very long. Her friendship with Henri developed slowly and naturally and I really enjoyed following them as they went from classmates to friends to a romantic relationship.
I think this was a wonderful contemporary YA novel that will really resonate with many young readers. I liked the diverse characters and all of the conversations they have. I will definitely be reading Philippe’s future books.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

GoodReads Summary:
Natalie Cleary must risk her future and leap blindly into a vast unknown for the chance to build a new world with the boy she loves.
Natalie’s last summer in her small Kentucky hometown is off to a magical start… until she starts seeing the “wrong things.” They’re just momentary glimpses at first—her front door is red instead of its usual green, there’s a pre-school where the garden store should be. But then her whole town disappears for hours, fading away into rolling hills and grazing buffalo, and Nat knows something isn’t right.
That’s when she gets a visit from the kind but mysterious apparition she calls “Grandmother,” who tells her: “You have three months to save him.” The next night, under the stadium lights of the high school football field, she meets a beautiful boy named Beau, and it’s as if time just stops and nothing exists. Nothing, except Natalie and Beau.
Emily Henry’s stunning debut novel is Friday Night Lights meets The Time Traveler’s Wife, and perfectly captures those bittersweet months after high school, when we dream not only of the future, but of all the roads and paths we’ve left untaken.
The Love That Split the WorldReview:
The Love That Split the World was my last Emily Henry book and I was not disappointed at all. I didn’t realize this was going to be as much of a romance as it was, but I still really loved it. The story follows Nat as she’s trying to figure out who needs to be saved. Natalie has seen Grandmother for most of her life. She sees her late at night and no one really believes that Grandmother is real. Nat tries a certain therapy to stop seeing Grandmother and it works, until one night, Nat sees Grandmother and she tells Nat that there are only three months to save him. Nat has to figure out who Grandmother is talking about. I really liked Nat. She was adopted and her biological mother is an Indigenous woman from a reservation in another state. So, not belonging and trying to figure out who she really is had been a bit part of Nat’s life so far. I really liked this aspect of the story. Nat’s journey to figure things out about herself was one of the best parts of the book. I also really loved all of the stories we got to hear about that Grandmother told her. I really loved all of the Indigenous cultures that was included. I can’t speak to the representation, but as an outside opinion, I thought the stories were beautiful and beautifully written.
Enter Beau. I feel like I only really liked Beau because most of the other people in Nat’s life sucked. Especially her ex-boyfriend. Beau was kind and had some issues, but he was there when Nat needed him and he could understand a bit of what Natalie was dealing with what Grandmother was trying to tell her.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I didn’t mind that it was mostly a romance. I loved how much it reminded me of my own high school experience. I liked the characters. But most of all I loved the twists and turns of the story. It was beautifully written and Emily Henry has solidified a place as one of my favorite authors.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Love, Jacaranda by Alex Flinn

GoodReads Summary:
Jacaranda Abbott has always tried to keep her mouth shut. As a foster kid, she’s learned the hard way that the less she talks about her mother and why she’s in jail, the better. But when a video of Jacaranda singing goes viral, a mysterious benefactor offers her a life-changing opportunity—a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school to study musical theater. Eager to start over somewhere new, Jacaranda leaps at the chance. She pours her heart out in emails to the benefactor she’s never met.
Suddenly she’s swept up in a world of privilege where the competition is fierce and the talent is next level. As Jacaranda—Jackie to her new friends—tries to find her place, a charming boy from this world of wealth catches her eye. She begins to fall for him, but can he accept her for who she really is?
Love, JacarandaReview:
Love, Jacaranda was sent to me by the author as an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review. I love most of Flinn’s contemporary novels. This one was pretty good, but not a favorite. I’m a sucker for boarding school stories. It’s a topic that will always catch my interest. But I didn’t love the way this story was told. I think it was interesting. This story is told via emails. We follow Jacaranda as she’s given a full ride by an anonymous benefactor to a well-known musical school. This story is told via the emails she sends to this anonymous benefactor. That in itself was sort of weird to me. I probably would have sent a few emails full of gratitude for the opportunity they had allowed me, but Jacaranda’s emails turned into almost a diary-like sort of thing. She never gets a response, but it’s obvious that someone is reading them because her contact person, Vanessa, always calls her after any important questions or concerning comments. So, this felt sort of weird for me because this is a teenage girl treating emails to what we’re supposed to assume is a grown man, like her own personal diary. Despite my issue with this aspect, I did enjoy the story. I liked reading how much Jacaranda was enjoying her new classes. I liked seeing her make new friends and experience new things. She’s a girl that’s struggled most of her life. Her mother is in jail, and in the past hasn’t dated the best people. So, when her life changes the way it does, she feels like she shouldn’t reveal her past. This sort of made me sad, but I liked it when Jacaranda made friends with another scholarship kid who knew who she really was. I liked that there was someone she could be honest with.
Overall, I enjoyed this book. I didn’t love the ending, but I thought things were sufficiently wrapped up. I definitely had my issues with this story, but I still had a good time reading it.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green

GoodReads Summary:
April May and the Carls are back in the much-anticipated sequel to Hank Green’s #1 New York Times bestselling debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.
The Carls disappeared the same way they appeared, in an instant. While they were on Earth, they caused confusion and destruction without ever lifting a finger. Well, that’s not exactly true. Part of their maelstrom was the sudden viral fame and untimely death of April May: a young woman who stumbled into Carl’s path, giving them their name, becoming their advocate, and putting herself in the middle of an avalanche of conspiracy theories.
Months later, the world is as confused as ever. Andy has picked up April’s mantle of fame, speaking at conferences and online about the world post-Carl; Maya, ravaged by grief, begins to follow a string of mysteries that she is convinced will lead her to April; and Miranda infiltrates a new scientific operation . . . one that might have repercussions beyond anyone’s comprehension.
As they each get further down their own paths, a series of clues arrive—mysterious books that seem to predict the future and control the actions of their readers; unexplained internet outages; and more—which seem to suggest April may be very much alive. In the midst of the gang’s possible reunion is a growing force, something that wants to capture our consciousness and even control our reality.
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor is the bold and brilliant follow-up to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It’s a fast-paced adventure that is also a biting social commentary, asking hard, urgent questions. How will we live online? What powers over our lives are we giving away for free? Who has the right to change the world forever? And how do we find comfort in an increasingly isolated world?
A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor (The Carls, #2)Review:
I loved everything about this book. If you didn’t see me scream about my love for the first book, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, go ahead and do that now. I think this story is incredibly relevant to the world we live in today. What I really liked about this book was that unlike the first book we didn’t just hear the story from April May. The story starts off and we don’t even hear from April May until at least 50 pages into the book. We get a bit of an update on each of the major players from the first book and they tell us what’s been going on in the world since the ending of book one. I really liked this because I felt like I got to know them better, outside of their role in April May’s life. I also think it made April May into a more likable character because we see them grieving her. I think unlikable characters that have friends who love them will make them more likable.
I really don’t know what else to say for this review because so much happens in the story and I don’t like to talk details in my reviews. But, like I said earlier, this story is so relevant to the world we live in. I loved each of the characters and each of their journeys. I loved that they all learned something important about themselves. I loved that they all grew tremendously. I think Hank created such an incredible story with characters that so easily gained my love. I absolutely cannot wait to see what he writes next.

Quotes:

“You will always struggle with not feeling productive until you accept that your own joy can be something you produce. It is not the only thing you will make, nor should it be, but it is something valuable and beautiful.”

“We all want to be in the room where it happens, we want to be part of the things that matter to us, but no two people have the exact same collection of things that matter. Nowadays, I don’t so much want to be in the room where it happens, but I do really want to help other people choose the right rooms, and help them realize that they really are a part of things that matter. Because when we feel like none of the rooms we are in matter, that’s when we’re really lost.”

“At some point, we have to realize that the places where we share information are not services we use, they are places where we live…this platform should not be something that a few billionaires have complete control over.”

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: When the Sky Fell on Splendor by Emily Henry

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GoodReads Summary:
Almost everyone in the small town of Splendor, Ohio, was affected when the local steel mill exploded. If you weren’t a casualty of the accident yourself, chances are a loved one was. That’s the case for seventeen-year-old Franny, who, five years after the explosion, still has to stand by and do nothing as her brother lies in a coma.
In the wake of the tragedy, Franny found solace in a group of friends whose experiences mirrored her own. The group calls themselves The Ordinary, and they spend their free time investigating local ghost stories and legends, filming their exploits for their small following of YouTube fans. It’s silly, it’s fun, and it keeps them from dwelling on the sadness that surrounds them.
Until one evening, when the strange and dangerous thing they film isn’t fiction–it’s a bright light, something massive hurdling toward them from the sky. And when it crashes and the teens go to investigate…everything changes.
When the Sky Fell on SplendorReview:
I am officially a huge fan of Emily Henry’s books. I’ve read three of her books now, and one that she co-wrote with Brittany Cavallaro. When the Sky Fell on Splendor is a story that may or may not be about aliens, but it also might be about ghosts and I still really don’t even know. So, if you’ve read this, please let me know. We follow The Ordinary while they investigate small town things like ghost stories and legends. I loved this premise. The Ordinary’s are a weird found family. They’re 100% dysfunctional and not always in a good way. I think that’s what I liked most about them though. Franny and her brother have a complicated relationship. Their older brother is in a coma and their mother walked out on them. Their dad isn’t really a dad, just an adult that lives with them. So, they’ve been through some hard things. But the love they have for one another is so obvious. The rest of the gang has also each been through their own hardships. I’m not going to get into the details of each of them, but this is a found family for a reason. They’ve all had their share of grief, and that’s what keeps them together but not in a way where they talk about their past. They are a family that avoids, which was so relatable.
What I loved about this story was that I really had no idea what was going on most of the time. Something crashes nearby while The Ordinary’s are working on their next ghost story documentary for their YouTube channel. Obviously, they go to investigate. They encounter something weird and electrical and wake up with several missing hours. Things sort of just get weirder from here. There are some ghost story mysteries, but also maybe some alien intervention. There’s also a murderous neighbor that gave the story a thriller vibe. It really just kept me guessing and once I got to end and everything was revealed it was sad and wonderful.
Overall, I’m very excited to read the one last book by Emily Henry that I haven’t gotten to. I loved the characters. I loved how bizarre this story was. I loved the dysfunctional and hurting found family. There was such a heartwarming talk about grief and what it means to lose people, whether they die or just leave. I loved this book.

Quotes:

“How many billions of things had to happen just right to give me this ordinary life.”

“There were still pieces of us we so badly wished each other could see and yet couldn’t make ourselves ask for, and there was anger and resentment and it still all hurt, but right now, we were here, and if we stayed long enough, things might start to heal, even a little bit.”

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: This Coven Won’t Break by Isabel Sterling

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GoodReads Summary:
Hannah Walsh just wants a normal life. It’s her senior year, so she should be focusing on classes, hanging out with her best friend, and flirting with her new girlfriend, Morgan. But it turns out surviving a murderous Witch Hunter doesn’t exactly qualify as a summer vacation, and now the rest of the Hunters seem more intent on destroying her magic than ever.
When Hannah learns the Hunters have gone nationwide, armed with a serum capable of taking out entire covens at once, she’s desperate to help. Now, with witches across the country losing the most important thing they have—their power—Hannah could be their best shot at finally defeating the Hunters. After all, she’s one of the only witches to escape a Hunter with her magic intact.
Or so everyone believes. Because as good as she is at faking it, doing even the smallest bit of magic leaves her in agony. The only person who can bring her comfort, who can make her power flourish, is Morgan. But Morgan’s magic is on the line, too, and if Hannah can’t figure out how to save her—and the rest of the Witches—she’ll lose everything she’s ever known. And as the Hunters get dangerously close to their final target, will all the Witches in Salem be enough to stop an enemy determined to destroy magic for good?
This Coven Won't Break (These Witches Don't Burn, #2)Review:
My job opened back up when I found that my library had this audiobook. So, basically, I listened to it while I was working (which I’m not supposed to do) and listened to it in almost one shift.
I really enjoyed this book. Probably my favorite part about this book was all of the kissing. Morgan and Hannah’s relationship was the best. They were sweet and new, but also made progress to become a more serious relationship. I liked that their relationship also helped others see how the other witches can use their magic together.
Hannah was very brave. She feels a little responsible for what’s going on and she wants to be a part of the team of agents that are working to take the Hunters down. I really liked how Hannah’s grief over her father was present in the story. She lost her father which is part of her motivation to help, but she also let herself feel that grief. I liked that she ended up being a key part of taking down the Hunters. It was nice to see the adults listening to her ideas.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I liked the first one better, but this one was still good. There was a diverse cast with different sexualities and a trans character. I loved the diversity. I loved, even more, the way the story concluded with the three different types of witches learning that they can use their magic together.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: A Million Junes by Emily Henry

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GoodReads Summary:
For as long as Jack “June” O’Donnell has been alive, her parents have had only one rule: stay away from the Angert family. But when June collides—quite literally—with Saul Angert, sparks fly, and everything June has known is thrown into chaos.
Who exactly is this gruff, sarcastic, but seemingly harmless boy who has returned to their hometown of Five Fingers, Michigan, after three mysterious years away? And why has June—an O’Donnell to her core—never questioned her late father’s deep hatred of the Angert family? After all, the O’Donnells and the Angerts may have mythic legacies, but for all the tall tales they weave, both founding families are tight-lipped about what caused the century-old rift between them.
As Saul and June’s connection grows deeper, they find that the magic, ghosts, and coywolves of Five Fingers seem to be conspiring to reveal the truth about the harrowing curse that has plagued their bloodlines for generations. Now June must question everything she knows about her family and the father she adored, and she must decide whether it’s finally time for her—and all the O’Donnells before her—to let go.
A Million JunesReview:
This book really surprised me. I actually almost unhauled it two different times. But I’ve since read Emily Henry’s adult romance novel and the novel she co-wrote with Brittany Cavallaro. So, I wasn’t quite ready to give up on A Million Junes. I am so glad I held myself back from unhauling because I gave this book five stars on GoodReads.
We follow June. She goes to the local carnival with her best friend, Hannah. This is when June see’s Saul Angert for the first time in three years. He left town with little explanation and now he’s back. June’s family has one rule, and it’s to stay away from the Angert family. No surprise here that she doesn’t. June finds that she’s sort of attracted to Saul. But Hannah has had a crush on him forever and June wants to respect Hannah’s feelings. I really appreciated this aspect of the story. The fact that June was so thoughtful of her best friend’s feelings really made me love their friendship. I also loved that even when she got Hannah’s okay to act on her feelings for Saul, June didn’t just blow Hannah off. I don’t love girls that blow of their friends once they get interested in a guy.
Now, for the romance. I really liked Saul and June together. I loved the forbidden aspect of their friendship. It definitely led to some funny parts of the story where the pair were trying to keep Saul’s identity a secret. I thought the things that they experienced, the losses that they had in common, were a beautiful part of this story. I also really enjoyed the two sharing their family stories and trying to get to the truth of the two versions.
Overall, this story was beautiful and heartbreaking. It’s a story of grief and love and figuring out how to continue living after losing those close to you. I loved the magical aspects of the story. They were beautifully written and the magic was beyond fascinating. I am now a huge fan of Emily Henry and I’ve bought her other backlist titles. If you like magical realism and stories filled with emotion, this is the book for you.

Quotes:

“Letting go is not forgetting. It’s opening your eyes to the good that grew from the bad, the life that blooms from decay.”

“Grief is an unfillable hole in your body. It should be weightless, but it’s heavy. Should be cold, but it burns. Should, over time, close up, but instead it deepens.”

“When people pity you, it’s like they don’t realize that the exact same thing is coming for them. And then I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and have to pity them, because, like, do you not realize that it’s always someone’s turn? You haven’t noticed everyone gets a few blows that seem so big you can’t survive them?”

“Maybe for some people, falling in love is an explosion, fireworks against a black sky and tremors rumbling through the earth. One blazing moment. For me, it’s been happening for months, as quietly as a seed sprouting. Love sneaked through me, spreading roots around my heart, until, in the blink of an eye, the green of it broke the dirt: hidden one moment, there the next.”

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

GoodReads Summary:
When August learns that his best friend, Jack, shows signs of degenerative hallucinatory disorder, he is determined to help Jack cope. Jack’s vivid and long-term visions take the form of an elaborate fantasy world layered over our own—a world ruled by the Wicker King. As Jack leads them on a quest to fulfill a dark prophecy in this alternate world, even August begins to question what is real or not.
August and Jack struggle to keep afloat as they teeter between fantasy and their own emotions. In the end, each must choose his own truth.
The Wicker King by K. AncrumReview:
The Wicker King was incredible and I’m not really sure how to explain why I feel that way. The writing was the first thing that caught my attention that I liked. It wasn’t quite a stream of consciousness but sort of reminded me of that style. I really liked the writing style. It made the story really easy to devour. This was not an easy story to read. We follow August’s perspective as his best friend, Jack, lets his hallucinations get worse and worse. At first, the story seemed like a fun not quite fantastical story where the two boys were going to quest for whatever it was Jack’s other world needed to be saved. But as things got more serious it was clear that the pair were in over their heads, even if they didn’t want to admit it. Both come from not great home lives. August’s mom has depression and he takes care of her more than she does him. Jack’s parents are basically nonexistent. Both Jack and August are basically just doing the best they can.
Despite their struggles, it was really hard not to like both of them. The relationship they share is clearly incredibly special to them both even though it isn’t always a super healthy relationship. I also really enjoyed the side characters (the twins were my favorite). All of the side characters added something important to the story and I liked them all.
Overall, this story blew me away. This review is short and that is intentional because there isn’t a whole lot I can say without spoiling things. I especially liked the color formatting that was done as the story and the character’s progress. I definitely will be reading all of Ancrum’s books in the future.

Quotes:

“If you drop the weight you are carrying, it is okay. You can build yourself back up out of the pieces.”

“Where we are, there is light.” The wind blew hard from the east and the trees rustled their branches. “From where I’m standing… it is warm enough.”

“You deserve to heal and grow, too. You deserve to have someone to talk to about your problem; you deserve unconditional support; you deserve care and safety and all the things you need to thrive. Just because you may not have them doesn’t mean you don’t deserve them.”

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Book Review: Horrid by Katrina Leno

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Following her father’s death, Jane North-Robinson and her mom move from sunny California to the dreary, dilapidated old house in Maine where her mother grew up. All they want is a fresh start, but behind North Manor’s doors lurks a history that leaves them feeling more alone…and more tormented.
As the cold New England autumn arrives, and Jane settles in to her new home, she finds solace in old books and memories of her dad. She steadily begins making new friends, but also faces bullying from the resident “bad seed,” struggling to tamp down her own worst nature in response. Jane’s mom also seems to be spiraling with the return of her childhood home, but she won’t reveal why. Then Jane discovers that the “storage room” her mom has kept locked isn’t for storage at all–it’s a little girl’s bedroom, left untouched for years and not quite as empty of inhabitants as it appears….
Is it grief? Mental illness? Or something more…horrid?
HorridReview:
Horrid was one of my most anticipated releases for the spooky season. I’m really upset to say that I was very disappointed with this book. This book was another that was completely ruined by the ending. I am going to have a bit of a spoiler rant after the last paragraph. I will clearly label when I start with spoiler complaints.
So, this story follows Jane and her mother Ruth as they move from Los Angeles to the middle of nowhere Maine. This is a huge adjustment for Jane. But she’s also dealing with the grief of losing her father. This grief is a huge part of the story and I really appreciated that. It wasn’t just her father is gone, but it really talked about what that meant for Jane. Her father was the one that could help her calm her rage. Now that he’s gone, she’s fallen back into old coping mechanisms: eating pages out of books. This aspect of her character was weird but I sort of understood it on a comfort level. I liked Jane. I felt bad for her, but I liked her. I didn’t like how she clearly knew something was wrong with North Manor (where she and her mother had just moved into) but she wasn’t willing to ask for any real answers about it. It felt obvious that something was wrong and everyone in town knew it. I liked Jane’s relationship with her mother, Ruth. She was obviously closer to her father, but the love between Jane and Ruth is clear and I appreciated that they were doing their best to be there for one another.
I also really liked the new friends that Jane made. She meets Alana and Susie at school. The three become fast friends. I liked them well enough, but the relationships weren’t too deep. I also like Jane’s friendship with her new boss at the coffee shop/book store, Will (who is also Susie’s older brother). They bond over books and coffee and I liked them even though it wasn’t a very developed relationship.
Overall, I enjoyed most of this book. I really liked the spooky aspects, the possibility of a ghost in North Manor. I thought the suspense and the mystery were interesting (though a little obvious). I didn’t love how oblivious Jane was being. She knew there was something wrong in her house and she never pushed when she asked questions and that really bothered me. The ending is what killed my enjoyment of the book. Without spoilers, the book ended at the climax of the story. We’re finally getting all the answers we’ve been searching for the whole story and then we’re still left with so many questions because of the players that were present in the final pages. I’m just really mad about how the story ended and that anger makes it really hard for me to say I liked this book. I felt similarly about Wilder Girls by Rory Power, so if you liked that book, you might like this one. This book has a pretty decent rating on GoodReads, so don’t let this deter you from picking up this book. But if you don’t like unsatisfying endings, this book might not be for you. Now, I’m going to get to spoilers about the ending in the next paragraph.
The spoilers are starting now. The final pages have Jane letting someone die, which is essentially murder, at the guidance of her sister ghost. But it’s never really clear whether the ghost is real or not. The ghost was pretty convincing, but there were hints here and there that made the reader think that there might never have been a ghost and it all could have been Jane. What I’m mad about is that we never got any sort of answers. The book literally ends in the climax of the story. Someone dies and the story just ends. The synopsis says “Is it grief? Mental illness? Or something more…horrid?” and the way that the synopsis is written makes it seem like we will find out whether it is one of those three things, but we don’t. We don’t find out what really happened or what happened in the aftermath and I’m very annoyed by this. I’m just angry and sad because I had really high hopes for enjoying this book. Okay, rage complaining is over. Thanks for reading!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Blogtober Day Three: Books & Baking – Tweet Cute

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Hiii, lovelies! I’m back again for another Books & Baking post! This is another that  baked and photographed forever ago. It was actually right around when everything closed in the U.S. due to Covid. So, like everyone else in the world, did a lot of baking. For this installment of Books & Baking, I attempted one of the bizarre and wildly appealing recipes from Tweet Cute by Emma Lord. I also want to thank the wonderful Jen from Novels and Notions for allowing me to use the photo below. I read this book as an eARC so I didn’t have a copy to take pictures with, but Jen is a good friend of mine and I adore her photos. So, visit her Instagram to see more lovely pictures like the one below!

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Book: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Read my full review here!

I loved this book. It was funny and cheesy (hah!) and so heartwarming. It follows two teens who manage the social media for their parents. These two are as opposite as opposite can be. But they form an unlikely friendship that turns into more. Things get interesting when they both find out the other is behind the social media (which has turned into a viral Twitter rivalry) of their families business. I loved the family aspects of this story. There were good and bad moments, but the end really solidified my love for the story.

“It’s weird, how you have no idea how far you’ve come until suddenly you can’t find the way back.”

“But sometimes even shouting into a void feels better than just staring into it.”

“Do you ever feel like someone just took something from you?” Yes, I want to say. Sometimes it feels like it’s been four years of this place taking and taking, and I’m all out of pieces to give—like I don’t even know the shape of myself anymore.”

“A stolen day. The kind of day that ends too fast but stays with you much longer.”

“These are the things that tether me, the things I’ve always been and just assumed would always be. What she’s saying right now feels a lot like permission to leave it behind, and it scares me every bit as much as it relieves me.”

“I can see it too. That I don’t belong here. That even after all this time and everything I’ve done, the things I’ve pressed and organized and pushed into myself to fit into this place, home is still somewhere a thousand miles away. Farther than that, even. Because that version of home doesn’t exist anymore.”

Baking: Monster Cake 

Find the full recipe on Emma Lord’s website here! (Seriously, read this. It’s hilarious.)

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I chose to make Monster Cake from this book because, as I said at the beginning of this post, I chose to bake when the world started to close down and I was craving something super sweet. This definitely was that.

“But no matter what else happens, this one thing my mom has always had a weakness for–Monster Cake. A perilous invention from childhood, the day Paige and Mom and I decided to test the limits of our rinky-dink oven with a combination of Funfetti cake mixed with brownie batter, cookie dough, Oreos, Reese’s Cups, and Rolos. The result was so simultaneously hideous and delicious that my mom fashioned googly eyes on it out of frosting, and thus, Monster Cake was born.”

Ingredients

A box of Funfetti cake mix (plus the ingredients the box says you need)

A box of chocolate brownie mix (plus the ingredients the box says you need)

Edible cookie dough (or cookie dough you make without eggs)

A tub of vanilla frosting

A bag of Rolos

A bag of Reese’s

A box of Oreos

Googly eyes

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the brownie batter and cake batter in two separate bowls, and set aside. Chop your ingredients. This does not by any means need to be precise (Emma laid out 16 Rolos, chopped 12 Oreos into fourths, and chopped eight Reese’s Cups into fourths.) Divide your candy in half. Mix the first half in the brownie mix, and the second half in the cake mix. Grease baking dish. Put globs of the cake and the brownie mix into the pans. Then take a fork and swirl it around. You want the brownie and the cake batter to be mostly separate. Stick it in the oven for 20 minutes. Pull the Monster Cake out of the oven, and add globs of edible cookie dough on top of it. Stick it back in the oven for another ten minutes. Remove and let cool. Add googly eyes and squiggly mouth as it pleases you.

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This is just as horrifying and just as delicious as it sounds. I made the mistake of overbaking mine. I gave it five more minutes too many times, but it was still delicious. It was way too sweet for my husband, but perfect for me. I had so much fun with the utter ridiculousness of making this also. This would be super fun to make in a few years once my child is a bit older. Does this sound like something you would attempt? Let me know in the comments.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.