5 Books Featuring Grief Amanda Recommends

Hey, lovelies! I seem to read a lot of books that have the topic of grief. This is completely by accident, but I think this is a common topic in books because it’s something that every person has to deal with in their life at some point. I think it’s also often used in books because everyone grieves differently, so there are so many different ways to portray a characters grief in a book. Most of these books have other plot lines that go hand in hand with the grieving characters, but the books I’m going to mention today are all books that I really loved and would recommend to anyone.

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Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
“Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea. Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish. Aching, powerful, and unflinchingly honest, Summer Bird Blue explores big truths about insurmountable grief, unconditional love, and how to forgive even when it feels impossible.”

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Far From You by Tess Sharpe
Nine months. Two weeks. Six days.
That’s how long recovering addict Sophie’s been drug-free. Four months ago her best friend, Mina, died in what everyone believes was a drug deal gone wrong – a deal they think Sophie set up. Only Sophie knows the truth. She and Mina shared a secret, but there was no drug deal. Mina was deliberately murdered. Forced into rehab for an addiction she’d already beaten, Sophie’s finally out and on the trail of the killer—but can she track them down before they come for her?”

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Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
“In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.
Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash. Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered. And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.”

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The Year They Fell by David Kreizman
“When a horrible tragedy unites five very different high school seniors, they discover the worst moment of your life can help determine who you really are in the powerful YA novel, The Year They Fell. Josie, Jack, Archie, Harrison, and Dayana were inseparable as preschoolers. But that was before high school, before parties and football and getting into the right college. Now, as senior year approaches, they’re basically strangers to each other. Until they’re pulled back together when their parents die in a plane crash. These former friends are suddenly on their own. And they’re the only people who can really understand how that feels. To survive, the group must face the issues that drove them apart, reveal secrets they’ve kept since childhood, and discover who they’re meant to be. And in the face of public scrutiny, they’ll confront mysteries their parents left behind–betrayals that threaten to break the friendships apart again. A new family is forged in this heartbreaking, funny, and surprising book from award-winning storyteller David Kreizman. It’s a deeply felt, complex journey into adulthood, exploring issues of grief, sexual assault, racism, and trauma.”

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The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
“Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird. Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life. Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.”

Out of all of these books my favorite was probably Clap When You Land, specifically the audiobook. I also listened to the audio for Far From You and Summer Bird Blue, so I can recommend those on audio as well. I really loved all five of these books. I want to highlight The Year They Fell because I really loved it, but I’ve never seen anyone talking about it on any bookish social media. Don’t be surprised if you see me featuring that one more. As always, my reviews are linked (if I’ve reviewed it) if you just click on the title of the book. Let me know if you’ve read any of these or if you’ve added any of these to your TBR list because of this post!

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Amanda’s May Book Haul

Hey, lovelies! May was an unreasonably large haul for me, especially considering that I’m still supposed to be on a book buying ban. But! In my defense, much of these books were gifts. My in-laws came to visit, now that we’re all vaccinated, and they really spoiled me while they were here. I also went a bit overboard with buying books I haven’t read yet. I’ve curbed my buying a bit by limiting myself to books I’ve read and loved, but don’t own yet. So, that didn’t really happen this month. I did buy some books I’ve already read, but I bought or was gifted more that I haven’t read. I will link my reviews for those that I’ve read and reviewed. And then my little to no reasonable rational for why I bought the ones I haven’t read. Let’s get into it!

Books I’ve Already Read

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

The Lives of Saints by Leigh Bardugo

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

New Books on my Owned TBR

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He
This was another preorder because I wanted to support the donations that the author was running with the preorder incentive.

Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Thank you to my in-laws for this one. It was an impulse target pick.

Take Me Home Tonight by Morgan Matson
Another gift from my husband’s amazing parents, that I impulsively picked.

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard
My final impulse pick/gift from my in-laws. I’ve heard mixed reviews about this one. But I could say the same about Red Queen and I really liked those books.

I Would Leave Me If I Could: A Collection of Poetry by Halsey
I barely read poetry so I have no excuse for this other than I have a small infatuation with Halsey.

Share Your Icy Crown by Amanda Lovelace
Seriously, why did I buy this? I have four other collections by Lovelace and I’ve read maybe two of them.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
This one is legitimate because this is my June book club book with my local ladies.

Tools of Engagement by Tessa Bailey
Last month, I bought some of Bailey’s other books and this was the only one I was missing.

Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend
I love this series and I’ve been meaning to buy this newest installment since it came out.

Written in my Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
I didn’t even know this exisisted. I thought I owned all all published books (just the books though, not the novellas) in this series. But now I do, just in time for the release of the final book later this year.

These are the books that I bought or were gifted to me in May. Quite a few of them are on my TBR list for June. So, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to add many of these to my ‘read’ list pretty quickly. Did you buy any books in May? Are any of these books you’ve read or want to read? Let me know!

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.

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.

This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry

Summary:
A girl walks into a bar… then onto a stage, and up to the mic.
Sixteen-year-old Izzy is used to keeping her thoughts to herself—in school, where her boyfriend does the talking for her, and at home, where it’s impossible to compete with her older siblings and high-powered parents—but when she accidentally walks into a stand-up comedy club and performs, the experience is surprisingly cathartic. After the show, she meets Mo, an aspiring comic who’s everything Izzy’s not: bold, confident, comfortable in her skin. Mo invites Izzy to join her group of friends and introduces her to the Chicago open mic scene.
The only problem? Her new friends are college students—and Izzy tells them she’s one, too. Now Izzy, the dutiful daughter and model student, is sneaking out to perform stand-up with her comedy friends, and she can hardly remember all the lies she’s telling to keep her two lives separate.
Her controlling boyfriend is getting suspicious, and her former best friend knows there’s something going on. But Izzy loves comedy and this newfound freedom. As her two parallel lives collide—in the most hilarious of ways—Izzy must choose to either hide what she really wants and who she really is or, finally, truly stand up for herself.

This Will Be Funny Someday

Review:
This Will be Funny Someday is a story that follows Isabel, the youngest child (an unexpected pregnancy for her parents), feels like a pig among a family of puppies, always trying to keep up and never succeeding. She has learned to keep her thoughts to herself, never speaking up. So, this pattern follows with her boyfriend, Alex. He is controlling and abusive, though Isabel hasn’t realized that yet. But when she worries that she’ll get in trouble if he sees her, she sneaks into what she thinks is a restaurant. Isabel has hearing issues. It’s not her ears, but some sort of auditory processing disorder. So, she manages to find her way into a loud club and can’t understand what is being said. Little does she know, she just signed herself up to perform as a stand-up comedian. On stage, she becomes Izzy V. She finds a place where she can use her voice.
Izzy meets Mo and some of Mo’s friends. Mo brings Izzy into the stand-up comedy world. I loved all of the parts of this story that had Mo and their friends in it. They were funny because they’re all teaching Izzy about comedy and how to write good jokes. But they’re a diverse group so, they also talk about the struggles of stand-up comedy as a person of color or as someone queer. These are topics Izzy wouldn’t generally have thought of, as she comes from a place of privilege. I thought it was a really great part of the story. Izzy is in a place in her life where she is learning who she is and what kind of person she wants to be. So, learning about the experiences of others is an important thing for her. She doesn’t always act the right way or say the right thing, but I think that was realistic. I didn’t love that she lied about her age, but I think that whole situation was handled well when the truth finally came out.
Now, Isabel’s relationship with her boyfriend was not a good one. It wasn’t completely clear from the beginning, but the more we saw of their relationship the more obvious it was that it wasn’t a healthy one. My favorite thing about this book was that when Izzy started wanting to speak up. Through her stand-up routine, she gains confidence. She starts to believe that the things she has to say matter. So, she starts using her voice in other areas of her life. Like her friendships and at school.
I think this book does so many things all in one story, but it did them all really well. There are some really tough topics (most obvious is the toxic relationship, but there are also discussions of racism and discrimination). I thought that all of these tough topics were discussed thoughtfully and with care. But take that with a grain of salt, as I am not a part of any of those represented in these conversations (aside from queer and female). I love all of Henry’s work so far and I am very eager to see what she will write next.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

All the Bad Apples by Moira Fowley-Doyle

Summary:
When Deena’s wild and mysterious sister Mandy disappears – presumed dead – her family are heartbroken. But Mandy has always been troubled. It’s just another bad thing to happen to Deena’s family. Only Deena refuses to believe it’s true.
And then the letters start arriving. Letters from Mandy, claiming that their family’s blighted history is not just bad luck or bad decisions – but a curse, handed down through the generations. Mandy has gone in search of the curse’s roots, and now Deena must find her. What they find will heal their family’s rotten past – or rip it apart forever.

All the Bad Apples

Review:
Honestly, I don’t even know how to start this review. I read this book in January and it has not left my brain for a single day since then. I’m going to do my best to explain how this book made me feel but I’m apologizing in advance if this is mostly nonsensical.
All the Bad Apples follows Deena. Deena is the youngest of three sisters, Mandy and Rachel practically raised Deena, but in different ways. Rachel was the one Deena lived with and she made sure Deena went to school, had clothes that fit, fed her and helped with homework. Rachel was the responsible one and Mandy was the fun one. So, no big surprise that Mandy is the favorite. Well, Deena comes out accidentally to her father on her birthday. When Deena goes running to Mandy for comfort, Mandy enlightens Deena about the family curse. Only days later, Mandy disappears. It’s thought that she’s jumped or fallen off a cliff. But Deena doesn’t believe that Mandy is really gone. So, Deena set’s off to find Mandy and break this family curse.
This is where the story really starts. The reader is left with so many questions in those first few chapters. Questions about Mandy, the curse, and how Deena might find her. But as Deena travels, she starts finding letters. In these letters is the family history. The book alternates between following Deena and sharing the family history. I think the combination of these two was so well done. I stayed up reading this way past when I should have gone to sleep because I kept coming to a stopping point at the start of a new bit of family history and I just couldn’t stop reading. Along the way, Deena finds people to accompany her on her journey. Her best friend (who is black and bisexual), a relative that Deena didn’t know existed, and a random girl that the three found in a bar that ends up being connected to the whole story. The way this author connected the characters was so fascinating. I loved learning about why these specific characters had come together for this journey. While these three follow Mandy’s letters they learn of a horrible and devastating history. Deena’s female ancestors were treated horrifically and Deena is determined to break the family curse. She refuses to be another bad apple that’s left to rot on the ground.
Overall, I am obsessed with this book. It was written beautifully. I think Fowley-Doyle did such an amazing job weaving the past with the present in this story. I also really appreciate that this book covers some really tough topics, but it does it so well. It does it in a way that shows the horror, but also in a thoughtful way. It wasn’t for shock value or anything, it mattered to this story. I think this is a feminist masterpiece. It covers everything from being queer to getting safe and legal abortions. It was mysterious and gothic, mythological and all too real. It’s an emotional ride about soul searching and learning to speak up for yourself. I cannot say enough good things about this book.

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.

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

Summary:
Sparks fly between two teens as they grapple with grief, love, and the future in this unforgettable debut novel sure to entice fans of Jandy Nelson and Jennifer E. Smith
Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.
In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.
When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.
Ashley Schumacher’s devastating and beautiful debut, Amelia Unabridged, is about finding hope and strength within yourself, and maybe, just maybe, falling in love while you do it.
Amelia Unabridged by Ashley SchumacherReview:
Amelia Unabridged is a beautiful story about how to continue living after the death of someone you love. Thanks, NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with the eARC in exchange for an honest review.
I read this story in one sitting. I just couldn’t put it down. The story follows Amelia. She’s just graduated from high school. She and her best friend are supposed to meet their favorite author at a book festival. But when the author backs out of the event Amelia is devastated. Endsley wrote the Orman Chronicles and Amelia found these books when everything in her life was falling apart. Books save people sometimes (we all know that) and that’s what Endsley’s books did for Amelia. They also brought her and her best friend, Jenna, together. But Jenna meets Endsley before he backs out of his event and Amelia is furious. The two part, because Jenna is traveling to Ireland for the summer, on less than perfect terms. But Jenna dies in a car accident while in Ireland and Amelia is lost. But then she gets the 101st special edition of one of Endsley’s books (when there were only supposed to be 100 made). Amelia sees this as a sign from her best friend. So, she travels to Val’s, the bookstore in Michigan where the book was mailed from. This is where the story starts to get interesting. Shortly after arriving, Amelia runs into N.E. Endsley. All Amelia wants is to know what Jenna said to him that day at the book festival. But the two develop a relationship, they bond over their grief, and learn more about one another. Together they work through what they’re struggling with and I thought it was beautiful.
So, I do have to say that I think Amelia falling in love with her all-time favorite author was a little corny, but I still really enjoyed this book. Both Amelia and Nolan Endsley are grieving the loss of the people that were closest to them. They also both feel as if the deaths were their fault, or at the very least that they could have prevented them. I really liked how Nolan was shown as a real person. I think all too often people treat authors as other, which Amelia absolutely did toward the beginning of the book. But it was nice to see Amelia stop and realize that Nolan was more than the author of her favorite book series. He’s a person that’s really struggling.
Overall, I think this was a beautiful story about grief and how to work through it, about new friendships and old ones, about following your dreams even if that means you stray from the path you’re ‘supposed’ to be on. I definitely recommend this book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

As Far As You’ll Take Me by Phil Stamper

GoodReads Summary:
The author of The Gravity of Us crafts another heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding the people who become your home–perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli
Marty arrives in London with nothing but his oboe and some savings from his summer job, but he’s excited to start his new life–where he’s no longer the closeted, shy kid who slips under the radar and is free to explore his sexuality without his parents’ disapproval.
From the outside, Marty’s life looks like a perfect fantasy: in the span of a few weeks, he’s made new friends, he’s getting closer with his first ever boyfriend, and he’s even traveling around Europe. But Marty knows he can’t keep up the facade. He hasn’t spoken to his parents since he arrived, he’s tearing through his meager savings, his homesickness and anxiety are getting worse and worse, and he hasn’t even come close to landing the job of his dreams. Will Marty be able to find a place that feels like home?
As Far as You'll Take MeReview:
I was given an eARC from NetGalley and the publishers in exchange for an honest review. As Far As You’ll Take Me follows Marty as he moves to London, lies to his parents, makes not so great choices, and finds a place where he really feels like he could be happy.
Marty has told his parents he got accepted for a spot in a music school so that they would let him travel to and stay in London for the summer. The truth is that he bombed his audition and didn’t get accepted. But he has a plan to go anyway and get a job. He plays the oboe and is hopeful that he will be able to find a job so that he doesn’t have to move back to the mid-west to his hometown filled with people that don’t approve of a big part of who Marty is, his sexuality. So, Marty stays with his cousin Shane and meets Shane’s friends. Marty immediately feels at home in London and gets swept up in the excitement of trying new things and seeing the sights of London. He also gets swept away by Pierce.
Pierce is where the problems start. Marty is excited to have his first boyfriend, but this leads to Marty dropping most of his other priorities. I really didn’t like the romance, but that was sort of the point. It wasn’t a good relationship. This was a story centered on Marty as he tries new things, makes mistakes, learns from those mistakes, and grows so that he will try do the right thing in the future. I think Marty’s growth was natural and really well done. He does, understandably, dumb things. But when he realizes his mistakes he makes the needed apologies and asks for help.
I think this is an important story. It’s about a young man that’s discovering who he is, what he wants, and how to get there. He doesn’t always make good choices, which is the reality for many people in their formative years. I do want to specifically mention that Marty struggles with food and body image. So, at one point he’s barely eating so that he can lose weight quickly. It was very unhealthy and he knew it, but I wanted to mention it because I know that can be a triggering topic for some.
Overall, I didn’t like this as much as Stamper’s first novel, but I still enjoyed it. It’s a great story for young adults learning how to make their way in the world. I think many people will really adore this book.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

The Project by Courtney Summers

GoodReads Summary:
Lo Denham is used to being on her own. After her parents died, Lo’s sister, Bea, joined The Unity Project, leaving Lo in the care of their great aunt. Thanks to its extensive charitable work and community outreach, The Unity Project has won the hearts and minds of most in the Upstate New York region, but Lo knows there’s more to the group than meets the eye. She’s spent the last six years of her life trying—and failing—to prove it.
When a man shows up at the magazine Lo works for claiming The Unity Project killed his son, Lo sees the perfect opportunity to expose the group and reunite with Bea once and for all. When her investigation puts her in the direct path of its leader, Lev Warren and as Lo delves deeper into The Project, the lives of its members it upends everything she thought she knew about her sister, herself, cults, and the world around her—to the point she can no longer tell what’s real or true. Lo never thought she could afford to believe in Lev Warren . . . but now she doesn’t know if she can afford not to.
The ProjectReview:
Thank you, NetGalley and the publishers for providing me this eARC in exchange for an honest review. The Project is one of my anticipated release for 2021. Summer’s books have been hit or miss for me, but the premise of this one had me very intrigued.
The way this story was told was very interesting. There are a few different points of view that tell the story. The first is Bea, told in the third person, as her younger sister (Lo) is born. Then it flashes forward twelve years, still in Bea’s perspective, then forward again six more years, where the story changes to a first-person narrative, but now it’s Lo telling the story. This was a little bit confusing at first. The change from this person to first was abrupt and the jumps forward in time left me wondering who the story was following now and what had happened in the last six years. As the story went on, I ended up really enjoying the fact that the story was told this way. It continued to go back and forth between Lo’s present perspective and Bea’s perspective in the past. The way their stories ended up so similar, with one big difference, was absolutely fascinating.
I think both Bea and Lo were such compelling characters. Lo has so much anger in her but still ends up on a similar path as Bea. Bea on the other hand was filled with gratitude that led her to her downfall.
Overall, I don’t know that I would say I liked this book. It was an absolutely riveting story. One that I had to read in one sitting, staying up way past when I should have gone to bed of course. But it was filled with things that made me uncomfortable. There are relationships with large age differences, not that this itself is bad, but the dynamics of the two relationships were gross (as was the intention, I think). I went into this book unsure what to expect and ended up sucked into the story and left with one question: What the fuck?

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

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.