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.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

Summary:
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda in this rom com about two teen girls with rival henna businesses.
When Nishat comes out to her parents, they say she can be anyone she wants—as long as she isn’t herself. Because Muslim girls aren’t lesbians. Nishat doesn’t want to hide who she is, but she also doesn’t want to lose her relationship with her family. And her life only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life.
Flávia is beautiful and charismatic and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat choose to do henna, even though Flávia is appropriating Nishat’s culture. Amidst sabotage and school stress, their lives get more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush on Flávia, and realizes there might be more to her than she realized.
Review:
The Henna Wars follows Nishat after she comes out as a lesbian to her parents. This is really hard for her because her parents “accept” what she says to them, but she knows they really don’t and are hoping she’ll grow out of it. Along with this, her business class has started a project of creating their own business and whatever team wins will get a cash prize. Nishat, with her two best friends, work on an idea that Nishat is excited and passionate about, henna. Except there’s another group doing henna as their business and Nishat is upset about it because they are using something from her culture because they think it’s “cute”.
I really liked this story. It talked about so many good things like cultural appropriation, how hard it is to be queer when you don’t have supportive parents, and being queer while going to a Catholic school. Nishat has dealt with racist rumors and catty girls while growing up, she knows how to keep her head down and ignore people. But I really enjoyed it when she finally stopped doing that and stood up for herself.
Overall, I really liked Nishat. Her relationship with her sister was one of my favorite things about this book. Her sister is so supportive even when Priti was dealing with her own struggles. There were some good and bad moments with Nishat’s two best friends which definitely added to the story. And the romance with Flavia, despite all the bad things between them, was sweet and I grew to like it. This was a great story that talked about so many important things like, race and bullying. I think readers that like YA contemporary will really love this one.

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.

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: 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.

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.

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.