Book Review: After the Game by Abbi Glines

AtG After the Game by Abbi Glines

Published by Simon Pulse on August 22, 2017

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 320 – hardcover, 352 – ebook

Format Read: paperback ARC

Rating: 4 stars

Source: Simon & Schuster

Previous Books in Series: Until Friday Night, Under the Lights

PURCHASE LINKS

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Blurb:

Two years ago, Riley Young fled from Lawton, Alabama. After accusing the oldest Lawton son, Rhett, of rape, everyone called her a liar and she had no option but to leave. Now she’s back, but she’s not at Lawton High finishing up her senior year. She’s at home raising the little girl that no one believed was Rhett’s.

Rhett is off at college living the life he was afraid he’d lose with Riley’s accusation, so Riley agrees to move back to Lawton so she and her parents could take care of her grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. But the town still hasn’t forgotten their hate for her, and she hasn’t forgotten the way they turned on her when she needed them most.

When town golden boy Brady Higgens finds Riley and her daughter, Bryony, stranded on the side of the road in a storm, he pulls over and gives them a ride. Not because he cares about Riley, of course, but because of the kid.

But after the simple car ride, he begins to question everything he thought he knew. Could Brady believe Riley and risk losing everything?


Review:

After Under the Lights, I really really hoped that this book would be better & that my mixed feelings about UtL were just a fluke. I was relieved when — fortunately — I loved this book just as much as the first one. Of course, Until Friday Night will always remain my favorite of the series, but After the Game comes in at a close second!

All the books in this series can be read as standalones, but personally, I think you should read the first two before reading this one. This book is pretty connected to the first 2 books, and for someone who hasn’t read them, that could be confusing. In addition to that, Book 2 sets the stage for this book, so you really don’t want to miss that.

I’ll start off by saying just how much I adored Riley in this book. I’ve always wanted to read more about her; now I’ve finally got the chance to get to know her in this book! I really like how this book doesn’t shy away from the truth. Riley’s just like, “Yeah, he raped me, and I don’t care whether you believe me or not.” She didn’t give a shit about what the rest of the town thought and I loved that.

“Just because others hadn’t accepted me hadn’t made me less of a person.”

I also enjoyed catching up with the other characters, West & Maggie… Gunner & Willa… All their stories are interconnected so seeing everyone interact made me so happy, especially Riley, Maggie, and Willa. Also, can we just take a moment to talk about the real star of this book? Bryony was so adorable! I just wanted to reach out and squeeze her. She was a ray of sunshine amidst all the negativity. Somebody please give her all the cookies!

This book was very family-centered, even more so than the previous books. Riley always makes sure she puts Bryony’s needs first, and Riley herself has such an excellent support system in her family. The book didn’t focus on the rape itself so much as the aftermath. You’d think that I’d be more emotional if Riley was unhappy and depressed, but what got to me was how happy and satisfied she was to have Bryony in her life. It was honestly the sweetest thing ever.

It was also really nice getting a more in depth view of Brady’s character. I’ve always thought of him as one-dimensional and as that “nice guy”. I’m glad this book delved deeper into his character. Also, like Riley, family plays a major role in Brady’s POV. I won’t say more because that would be considered a spoiler; you’ll just have to read the book to find out!

Despite the above, there were a few things that kind of weighed the book down, the first being the pacing. I expected Riley and Brady’s “friendship” to last a little while longer before they started locking lips, but that didn’t happen. I didn’t want a slow burn or anything, but a lil angst sure din’t hurt nobody… which leads me to my next point. This book, overall, was definitely less angsty than the first two. There were a few unexpected turns of events, but not many and they were far too predictable & anticlimactic. Maybe this book was more about wrapping everything up, rather than starting new drama.

Another thing worth mentioning is how Rhett got off practically scot free. I feel like he was forgiven at the end merely as a means to tie off any loose ends. That doesn’t sit well with me. What he did was a crime, so why is no one fighting it? I just find it so sad because it reflects how the world views rape and its victims.

In conclusion, I’d like to say that reading this book was bittersweet. It was like the end of an era. Our characters are all grown up! I can’t wait to see who the next book centers on. My guess is either Asa, Ryker, or Nash. Either way, I’m so pumped to read whatever comes next and follow new (and hopefully old) characters on new journeys!

Many thanks to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way impacted my views & opinions above.

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Rating: 4 fish!

4 fish

 

 

Book Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

when dimple met rishi When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Published by Simon Pulse on May 30, 2017

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 380 – hardcover, 384 – paperback, 320 – ebook

Format Read: paperback ARC

Rating: 4 stars

Source: Simon & Schuster

PURCHASE LINKS

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Blurb:

Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.


Review:

Many thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

This. This was the perfect cute summer romance read. Filled with dynamic characters and a very engaging plot, this book was an absolute delight to devour! I’ve been looking forward to this book for ages, and it did not disappoint at all!! I don’t know how many times I’ll be saying this in my review, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

The story is told through the alternating POVs of Dimple and Rishi. The alternating POVs allowed us to view scenes from Rishi’s cheerful, optimistic perspective and from Dimple’s cautious, realistic perspective. It’s also written in 3rd perspective – which actually didn’t detract much from the story being told!

Rishi and Dimple’s interactions were always something to behold. I reallyy loved them. Their first meeting was hilarious, and the consequent ones were equally as entertaining to read. They were such dimensional characters, and their romance was so cute! I think Dimple is an amazing heroine – she’s smart, cautious and levelheaded. She is definitely her own person. Rishi is so swoon-worthy, too! He’s adorkable and goofy and just perfect! The yang to Dimple’s yin. (Or was it the other way around? Don’t attack me.)

Rishi and Dimple’s dynamic is made even better when you throw the “arranged marriage” aspect into the mix. Typically, books pertaining to arranged marriage are always negative and depressing as hell, with the parents being depicted as evil dictators. However, in this book, that was not the case at all. Rishi and Dimple’s parents were (relatively) chill about it. They weren’t all “Get married or die!!”; they were more like “Here, we arranged a quite opportune marriage for you. You don’t have to do it, but it’d be cool if you did.” They obviously wanted what’s best for their children and didn’t try to force anything they didn’t want on them.

In addition to all of the above, the cultural aspect of the book was soo perfect! The way it was presented made me curious to know so much more! The clothes, the food, the homage to Bollywood movies… everything! Both Indian and non-Indian readers alike are sure to appreciate this.

I do admit, there were times when the story felt a little too predictable, especially towards the end when I felt like I was reading a mix of contemporary romance novels. But that definitely isn’t enough to keep me from reading.

Overall, this book had all the feels! This was a light, fun, engaging read with constant humor and swoon-worthy romance. The characters were realistic and dimensional, and the diversity was on point. The writing flowed really well with the story, and the alternating POVs offered fresh insight into the characters’ minds. I really recommend this book if you need a quick, unique read to devour and feast on!

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Rating: 4 fish

4 fish

Book Review: Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

of-fire-n-stars

Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Published by Balzer + Bray on November 22, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, LGBT Romance

Pages: 389 – hardcover, 400 – ebook

Format Read: paperback ARC

Rating: 2 stars

Source: HarperCollins

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Blurb:

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire—a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine—called Mare—the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more.

But with dangerous conflict brewing that makes the alliance more important than ever, acting on their feelings could be deadly. Forced to choose between their duty and their hearts, Mare and Denna must find a way to save their kingdoms—and each other.


Review:

Thanks to the publisher, HarperCollins, for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way impacted my views and opinions.

Honestly, the f/f romance is the only thing that intrigued me about this book. If it weren’t for the romance, I probably would have skimmed right past this book and onto the next one. It’s that unmemorable. The most frustrating thing in the whole entire world is reading a book with such.good.potential. I didn’t even have any expectations and this book managed to let them down.

Firstly, what irked me the most was the complete, utter lack of character depth. This isn’t like in most books, where only the secondary characters lack complexity. Here, even our main protagonists are as shallow as a kiddies pool. Denna was so incredibly boring. I’m glad hers is not the only POV, because I might not have been able to finish the book otherwise. It’s obvious Denna is meant to be the “good” one, with repeated mentions of how sweet-tempered, polite, and intelligent she is. The literal embodiment of a princess. Mare, on the other hand, is the “wild” princess; she’s fiery, tomboyish, and disobedient, as is repeatedly stated every few chapters. I liked their relationship and how it progressed from enemies to friends to lovers, but I did feel like there was certainly an element of unnecessary angst. The forbidden romance wasn’t even “forbidden”. The ‘I-love-you-but-I-can’t-be-with-you’ trope was heavily employed as a means to further the plot’s angst, which was very annoying.

Aside from Mare and Denna, literally no one else is worth mentioning. The secondary characters are even more unmemorable and shallow than the main characters. What even was their purpose? I wouldn’t even be able to tell you their personalities, because they have none!! Go ahead, ask me their names. I guarantee you, the only name I’d be able to recall is Mare. She’s the only character who was on the right track to being properly fleshed out.

The second thing that bothered me about this book was the insane amount of plot holes and nonexistent world-building. We’re plunged into this world with no knowledge of the political and cultural workings of the land we are in, and no knowledge of the magical system there — something about ambient magic and a siphon and a silver bowl was dropped three-fourths through the book, what is all that? Also, why do the Mynarians hate magic? Who are these ‘Six’ that everyone keeps running around and cursing? Why is there even a need for a political alliance between Havemont and Mynaria? Why does everyone hate the Zumordans when they’ve done nothing to you? I understand this is YA Fantasy, but I’m not expecting Game of Thrones level world-building. Is it too much to ask for at least some semblance of an explanation for the world we’re plunged into? Unfortunately, this book reads like it was written for a much more juvenile audience that wouldn’t care much for character complexity and world-building.

Thirdly, nothing remotely intriguing occurs in the entirety of the book! The politics were extremely yawn-inducing and the incompetence of the adults extremely frustrating. I was looking forward to Mare and Denna’s horse training, but that (like many other aspects of the book) completely fell short. Frankly, I felt like the horses were given more depth, complexity, and attention than the main characters.

In conclusion, I could go on and on about so many other disappointing aspects, such as the obvious contrivedness of some scenes and the predictability of the whole book in general. Of Fire and Stars is a book that had great potential with its f/f romance, but failed to follow through on that potential. Lack of character complexity, one-dimensional relationships, nonexistent world-building, and a tedious plot are mainly what ruined this book for me and many others who had eagerly anticipated this read.

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2 fish

Book Review: Under the Lights by Abbi Glines

utl

Under the Lights by Abbi Glines

Published by Simon & Schuster on August 23, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 336 – hardcover, 320 – paperback & ebook

Format Read: paperback

Rating: 3 stars

Source: Simon & Schuster

BUY LINKS

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Blurb:

Willa can’t erase the bad decisions of her past that led her down the path she’s on now. But she can fight for forgiveness from her family. And she can protect herself by refusing to let anyone else get close to her.

High school quarterback and town golden boy Brady used to be the best of friends with Willa—she even had a crush on him when they were kids. But that’s all changed now: her life choices have made her a different person from the girl he used to know.

Gunner used to be friends with Willa and Brady, too. He too is larger than life and a high school football star—not to mention that his family basically owns the town of Lawton. He loves his life, and doesn’t care about anyone except himself. But Willa is the exception—and he understands the girl she’s become in a way no one else can.

As secrets come to light and hearts are broken, these former childhood friends must face the truth about growing up and falling in love…even if it means losing each other forever.


Review:

Many thanks to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review. This in no way impacted my views and opinions below.

Okay, so, I do admit to kinda being nervous that Under the Lights wouldn’t live up to my expectations after Until Friday Night or that it would just be too similar to the first book. I was wrong about the latter; it had a completely different feel to it than the first book. Under the Lights could probably be read as a standalone, though it’s set in the same town as Until Friday Night with the same cast of characters making cameo appearances. Reading the first book definitely isn’t a necessity, but I personally like the feeling of recognizing old characters and already being acquainted with the world and all.

Under the Lights is told in multiple points of view — three, to be exact. Brady, Willa, and Gunner used to be childhood best friends until Willa had to move away. Now she’s back, but she’s not the same. All of them aren’t. They have haunted pasts and dark secrets (you know, the package deal). I know what you’re probably thinking… love triangle? Yikes. I was a bit disheartened by that, too, but it actually wasn’t that bad. For starters, it was pretty obvious who Willa would end up with from the beginning. For me, it didn’t even take away from the book. Their relationship development still made my heart beat all the same. There wasn’t much drama about the love triangle itself as expected. Instead, the “drama” was mostly focused on each character’s individual struggles. Needless to say, there was jealousy here and there, but it didn’t stir that many problems.

The story itself was an incredibly enjoyable fast read that’ll have you wondering where the pages flew. My overall level of enjoyment of this book alone is enough to warrant it 4 stars; however, there are a few issues that did bother me enough to make me take away a whole star.

Firstly, the way every single girl character except for our MC, Willa, and the previous book’s MC (Maggie) was written irked me so.much. They were all so stereotypical and mean, and it was obvious they were written for the sole purpose of being props to the guy characters. In addition, older women like Willa’s and Gunner’s mother were such awful, conceited people and I just- arghh. What pissed me off the most was the fact that two women in this book *no spoilers* said that they’d been raped, and guess what? They were ridiculed & disbelieved by almost everyone, including some of our very own MCs.

Second, unlike the first book, the character development in this was almost nonexistent. Maggie’s character development was honestly phenomenal, but Willa? Not so much. What this book did have in abundance, though, was inner dialogue. There was lots of it. Like, it would span the length of 1-2 pages! At first, I didn’t really care or notice that much, but there were times that this inner dialogue started to get repetitive and, dare I say it, boring.

(At this point of the review, I started waffling about what to rate this book, but finally settled on 3 stars for the reasons below.)

On one hand, this was a very quick, cute, and enjoyable read – no doubt about that. The romance was able to pull me in and the love triangle (thankfully) wasn’t that obnoxious. The writing was pretty great and articulate, too. The characters made me fall in love with them, and the book made me feel so many wonderful things. I just really, really, really enjoyed this book!

On the other hand, when I start analyzing the book and delving deeper into all the technicalities, I start to find underlying issues. The way the female characters were written and how they tried to bring each other down (which is a huge pet peeve of mine), the lack of character development & abundance of internal dialogue, and the sexism.

I don’t know if the first book had the same problems as this one and I just didn’t see them, or if I was just in a really weird place while reading it, but what I do know is that both books still managed to capture a part of my heart – no matter how small.

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Rating: 3 fish

3 fish

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

and i darken And I Darken by Kiersten White

Published by Delacorte Press on June 28, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance, Historical Fiction

Pages: 496 – hardcover, 498 – paperback, 400 – ebook

Format Read: eARC

Rating: 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

BUY LINKS

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Blurb:

NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.


Review:

Alright, so, I’ve been wanting to write this review ever since I finished the book at 5:30 a.m., but unfortunately, I had to go to sleep. Ugh, life necessities. I don’t know if I can properly articulate what I feel about this book, but I sure as hell will try my hardest!

Now this is a book that is unlike any that I have ever read. From the get-go, we are introduced to the book’s dark and gritty atmosphere. The synopsis compares it to Game of Thrones, but I’ve only watched 5 episodes of that so I can’t really judge. What I can tell you, however, is that this book is going to sink its claws into you from the beginning until the very end. There’s this suspense and darkness about it that keeps you flipping page after page after page. Trust me when I say, you will devour this book.

This story has elements of fantasy incorporated into an alternate historical universe set during the pinnacle of the Ottoman Empire’s success. Although not very historically accurate, the book does an excellent job of depicting various religions and politics in an objective way, which I loved. The story itself is also very unconventional, for sure — with its unconventional setting and unconventional heroine and unconventional atmosphere. This all makes it so unique and original.

However, the main driving force of the story is the complex, dimensional characters. Our protagonist is the fierce Lada, short for Ladislav, and she is basically the alternate female version of Vlad the Impaler. Lada is the epitome of fierce anti-princess. Her wickedness & sinisterness are very palpable things in the book. I might even dare call her psychotic. However, her POV makes us sympathize with and feel empathy for her, framing her in a slightly humane manner. Lada defies everything a woman should be in the 1400s. She despises being a woman and does everything in her power in order to not be seen as one. Later on, she learns that women themselves are weapons, binding their time and then striking. I really admire Lada’s character – she’s wild and shrewd and cruel and calculating. A force to be reckoned with!

In contrast, we have Lada’s brother Radu. He is pretty and delicate and sensitive, pretty much the polar opposite of Lada. He’s usually the one that needs protecting, in the physical sense. However, later on, we learn that Radu is better at defending himself in other ways: through charming smiles and insincere speech and praise-filled assurances. ‘Kill ’em with kindness’ is probably his motto. What Radu lacked in substance, he more than made up for in charm & kindness.

Lada and Radu’s sibling dynamic is an intriguing one for sure. They are practically the embodiment of yin and yang. Their relationship is tainted with frustration, misunderstanding, and jealousy, yet they both manage to put each other first. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve seen in YA. In this book, their relationship is merely a thread in the web of other complicated relationships in this book.

Contrary to what you might believe, there’s no love triangle in this book, although it may seem like one. Mehmed and Lada’s slow development of their relationship was nice, but I don’t think Mehmed is a good match for Lada. I feel like he holds her back from her true potential, as it is so often subtly hinted at in the book by others. *cough* Mara, Bogdan, Nicolae. *cough* In the first half of the book, Lada is as wild as ever, but in the middle of the second half, she kind of stops fighting. She’s content with what she has, which was all given to her by Mehmed. I remember thinking,“I thought you didn’t want to be tied to what a man gave you? I thought you were going to take what is yours and not have it given to you?!”

Moreover, let’s talk about the compelling, captivating plot, shall we? It literally made my head explode! (In a good way) The plot is so fast-paced from the very start, and there’s never a dull moment in this book. Hold your horses. I don’t mean fast-paced as in sword-fighting, arrow-shooting, knife-stabbing action, although there is plenty of that to go around. I meant the political intrigue that’s so abundant in this book. There are so many mind-blowing machinations and jaw-dropping twists & turns! The complexity of all that, in addition to the author’s eloquent writing style, makes for an unputdownable read.

To briefly sum it up, And I Darken has complex dynamics that are all tangled in a dark web of betrayal and frustration. That’s not all, though. The attention to detail, the intricately woven setting & plot, the meticulous characterization, and the portrayal of history & its religions… These all make for a truly phenomenal page-turner of a book. A perfect read if you’re looking for something dark, unconventional, and unputdownable!

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with an ARC of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is in no way impacted my views & opinions above.

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Rating: 5 fish

fish rating

Book Review: Winning by Lara Deloza

winning  Winning by Lara Deloza

Published by HarperTeen on June 28, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

Pages: 336 – paperback, 304 – ebook

Format Read: paperback ARC

Rating: 4 stars

Source: HarperCollins

BUY LINKS

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Blurb:

Whoever said being nice would get you to the top?

Certainly not Alexandra Miles. She isn’t nice, but she’s more than skilled at playing the part. She floats through the halls of Spencer High, effortlessly orchestrating the actions of everyone around her, making people bend to her whim without even noticing they’re doing it. She is the queen of Spencer High—and it’s time to make it official.

Alexandra has a goal, you see—Homecoming Queen. Her ambitions are far grander than her small town will allow, but homecoming is just the first step to achieving total domination. So when peppy, popular Erin Hewett moves to town and seems to have a real shot at the crown, Alexandra has to take action.

With the help of her trusted friend Sam, she devises her most devious plot yet. She’ll introduce an unexpected third competitor in the mix, one whose meteoric rise—and devastating fall—will destroy Erin’s chances once and for all. Alexandra can run a scheme like this in her sleep. What could possibly go wrong?


Review:

Many thanks to the publisher, HarperCollins, for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is in no way impacted my views & opinions below.

I’ll start off by saying this: If you’re looking for a cute contemporary read about a nice heroine and her charming love interest, and a happy ending for both of them, then this book – my friend – is not for you. Winning will trample over all your hopes and dreams, then ruthlessly crush them into nothing. This book has honestly left me speechless; I can’t even form the words to appropriately articulate my feelings!

*deep breath* Okay, yeah, I’m fine now.

So, our protagonist is Alexandra, and boy is she ruthless and manipulative. Alexandra has a plan: win Homecoming Queen, become Miss Indiana, and then Miss America. Simple & breezy… or is it? From the very beginning of the book, Alexandra is established as the anti-hero who will trample over anyone and anything to get what she wants. We see her resort to manipulation and concocting some really, really messed up schemes. She’s a power-hungry bitch, to say the least.

Despite all that, her POV is framed in such a way that makes the reader actually want her to
succeed. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself defending her in my head. Alexandra’s also been affected by a few outside influences that made her into who she is, like her father’s death and her mother’s subsequent neglect of her. This served to help the reader empathize and relate to her. There’s also the fact that, from the exterior, Alexandra’s not that bad. She’s genuinely a good person, even defending her friend’s sexual orientation when she was being attacked for it.

Winning blurs the lines between the good guys and the bad guys. There’s a kind of moral ambiguity there, because everyone’s pitted against each other. The mean girl. The best friend. The new girl. The wimp. The lackey. They’ve all done cruel things to take down each other. No one is who you think they are. Good vs. bad is clearly a conundrum that this book wrestles with, and it does so excellently.

I’ve seen people describe this as Pretty Little Liars meets Mean Girls, which is a pretty accurate description. There’s a lot of devious plotting and cutthroat competition; everybody wants something. Alexandra wants to be Homecoming Queen and get out of this town, Sam wants Alexandra’s love, Ivy wants to not be an outcast, Sloane wants to take Alexandra down, and Erin just wants to be everyone’s friend.

There’s a lot of backstabbing, sure, but there are light moments, too. The f/f subplot was really adorable, and I loved how even though everyone – including her ‘best friend’ – tried to use Sam’s sexuality against her, she still managed to emerge victorious AND she got the girl. There are tons of witty one-liners, humorous dialogues, and most importantly, girl power!

In short, Winning is a book that is sure to surprise you, taking you on a whirlwind path of devious schemes & cunning plots. Bonus points for anti-hero protagonist, multiple POVs, and f/f subplot! I’d definitely say that there are still loose ends to be resolved; I want to know what happens next, but a sequel? Not so much. Leaving the book as it is would be so much better – it sends a realistic message that not every ending has to be perfectly wrapped up and tied in a bow. If you’re a fan of unconventional contemporaries with anti-hero protagonists, then this is definitely for you!

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Rating: 4 fish

4 fish

Book Review: Indiana Belle by John A. Heldt

indiana-trr-headline-398x625 Indiana Belle by John A. Heldt

Published John A. Heldt on April 14, 2016

Genres: Historical Fiction/Romance, Time Travel

Pages: 295 – ebook

Format Read: ePub

Rating: 3.5 stars {rounded to 4 stars}

Source: Author (John A. Heldt)

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Blurb:

Providence, Rhode Island, 2017. When doctoral student Cameron Coelho, 28, opens a package from Indiana, he finds more than private papers that will help him with his dissertation. He finds a photograph of a beautiful society editor murdered in 1925 and clues to a century-old mystery. Within days, he meets Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” and begins an unlikely journey through the Roaring Twenties. Filled with history, romance, and intrigue, INDIANA BELLE follows a lonely soul on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for love and answers in the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz.


Review:

Many thanks to the author for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way impacted my views and opinions below.

Okay, so this may not be my first read by John A. Heldt, but it is my favorite! I’m probably going to say that about every single book of his I read in the future. This book captivated my attention from page one and managed to keep it it till the very end. I was so fully immersed in the book, and that’s saying something, because I’m not a regular reader of the time travel genre. Well rest-assured, I’ll be reading a lot more time travel books now.

What makes this such an immersing read is the way the world was fleshed out. I found it really easy to visualize the setting of this book. The author does a magnificent job of depicting the 20s; it’s obvious that meticulous research was involved in this. The writing was also contributory to the book’s impressiveness. It was very well-articulated, but not too convoluted with unnecessary descriptions, which I loved. It made everything flow really well together and made it easy to follow along. I could practically picture myself in the 1920s!

The characters were also really easy to relate to. Candice’s character drew me in from the beginning. At first, I was afraid I wouldn’t like her because I usually cringe at the way women from the 20th century are written in books, but that turned out not to be a problem! Candice is an extremely wonderful and likable character with her repertoire of witty comments and sarcastic one-liners. I loved her independence, intelligence, and good-naturedness. Of course, she’s not rainbows and unicorns all the time – she has a dark past – but that just makes me admire her character even more.

As much as I liked Candice, I felt like Cameron’s personality was a bit bland in comparison – as in, his character somewhat falls on the “plain” spectrum. There was a bit of one-sided instalove on his part, and although it is later reciprocated, instalove has just always been something that put me off. Still, Cameron and Candice’s relationship dynamic as it developed was pretty interesting to read about.

Also, can we talk about the book’s premise? Time-travel books usually require a certain level of suspension of disbelief, and they have to be executed really well – not too complicated and science-y, but not too straightforward and simple. I feel like the author’s done an excellent job in accomplishing that. In addition to being a time-travel book, this book also incorporates historical fiction, romance, and mystery elements. Best of all worlds!

Overall, this is a fast-paced book with a plot that has many twists that are sure to keep you flipping pages till the very end. In addition to dimensional & well-rounded characters, the author’s casual, easy-going style of writing truly makes this an enjoyable read. If you think time-travel books aren’t your thing, I’d recommend trying again with this book!

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Rating: 4 fish

4 fish

Book Review: Wanderlost by Jen Malone

wanderlost  Wanderlost by Jen Malone

Published by HarperTeen on May 31, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 352 – paperback & ebook

Format Read: paperback ARC

Rating: 4 stars

Source: HarperCollins

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Blurb:

Not all those who wander are lost, but Aubree Sadler most definitely is on this novel’s whirlwind trip through Europe.

Aubree can’t think of a better place to be than in perfectly boring Ohio, and she’s ready for a relaxing summer. But when her older sister, Elizabeth, gets into real trouble, Aubree is talked into taking over Elizabeth’s summer job, leading a group of senior citizens on a bus tour through Europe.

Aubree doesn’t even make it to the first stop in Amsterdam before their perfect plan unravels, leaving her with no phone, no carefully prepared binder full of helpful facts, and an unexpected guest: the tour company owner’s son, Sam. Considering she’s pretending to be Elizabeth, she absolutely shouldn’t fall for him, but she can’t help it, especially with the most romantic European cities as the backdrop for their love story.

But her relationship with Sam is threatening to ruin her relationship with her sister, and she feels like she’s letting both of them down. Aubree knows this trip may show her who she really is—she just hopes she likes where she ends up.


Review:

Many thanks to the publisher, HarperCollins, for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way impacted my views and opinions below.

When I first read the premise of this book, my first instinct was to roll my eyes and think “Yeah, totally, that’s so plausible.” A minor leading a senior group on a tour around Europe as a replacement for her older sister who was arrested, and as a result, grounded? Uh, yeah, sureee. I soon realized that if you just roll with it and continue reading, you’ll find that it isn’t much of a deterrent after all. So in this review, I’m going to put aside all my doubts & opinions about the implausibility of the premise just because the rest of the book was enjoyable enough to nullify that flaw.

Let me tell you, Wanderlost was a very adorable, cute, fluffy, charming read. Adorable, cute, fluffy, charming reads are my favorite kind of reads! I flew through this book and I was so sad to see it end. Aubree was an amazing heroine. I loved how she a) stepped out of her comfort zone and b) managed to handle everything that got thrown her way. She didn’t do it perfectly, of course. She fumbled her way through and messed up quite a few times, but in the end she still persevered — with the help of her friends and family. Her relationship with her sister was emphasized in this book, and it was such a pleasure watching them try to reconnect & fix this relationship.

This wouldn’t be a contemporary review if I didn’t talk about the romance. The romance in this book gave me soo many heart palpitations. I could swoon over Sam for hours on end. From the moment we are introduced to him, he is charismatic, charming, and funny. His lines had me grinning widely at the page… like a goof. He’s definitely my favorite character in this book. What bothered me, however, was how Aubree still wouldn’t tell him her secret. He was so nice and charming and an overall good guy that I knew what Aubree was hiding would hurt him very much. I was practically screaming at her to just tell him!!! Still, their relationship was truly something to read. It had its bumps along the road (see what I did there), but in the end, their pull toward each other was just too strong. All the feels, man.

Another thing that I really admired about this book was the way the senior characters were written. I’m so glad they weren’t just a bunch of wise, warmhearted, wool-knitting grandparents, because that’s usually the way old people are written in books. They all had realistic personalities and were extremely dimensional, encompassing all the flaws and shortcomings of a normal person. I was actually able to connect and care about every single one of the group.

The setting of this book was breathtaking. The descriptions of the different countries in Europe the group group visited made me want to go there myself. I can understand why Aubree fell in love with every place she visited. The writing made me easily picture Aubree there with Sam, leading the tour group and having adventures together.

In short — ignoring the plot holes & inconveniences that this story presents — this was an extremely adorable book with excellent writing and lovely themes. The dynamic characters and swoon-worthy romances are an added bonus! Still, there are quite a few flaws, but the story’s overall enjoyableness definitely negates them. A perfect summer read with just the right amount of adorableness!

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Rating: 4 stars

3 fish

Book Review: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

 

tue The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 3, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 519 – hardcover & paperback, 528 – ebook

Format Read: paperback ARC

Rating: 3 stars

Source: Simon & Schuster

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Blurb:

Andie has a plan. And she always sticks to her plan.

Future? A top-tier medical school.
Dad? Avoid him as much as possible (which isn’t that hard considering he’s a Congressman and he’s never around).
Friends? Palmer, Bri, and Toby—pretty much the most awesome people on the planet, who needs anyone else?
Relationships? No one’s worth more than three weeks.

So it’s no surprise that Andie’s got her summer all planned out too.

Until a political scandal costs Andie her summer pre-med internship, and lands both she and Dad back in the same house together for the first time in years. Suddenly she’s doing things that aren’t Andie at all—working as a dog walker, doing an epic scavenger hunt with her dad, and maybe, just maybe, letting the super cute Clark get closer than she expected. Palmer, Bri, and Toby tell her to embrace all the chaos, but can she really let go of her control?


Review:

Many thanks to the publisher, Simon & Schuster, for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way impacted my views and opinions below.

Okay, so I love Morgan Matson’s books; they’re all such memorable reads and I always find myself enjoying every single second of them. I only have, like, 3 auto-buy authors and she’s definitely one of them. So, imagine my excitement when I hear that she has a new book coming out! I.am.pumped! Seriously, the excitement I felt was surreal. Unfortunately — I don’t know if it was just me or if it was the book itself — but… this book kind of fell flat. I kept waiting for that moment when I would get completely sucked in, that heart-racing ‘omg‘ factor… 400 pages in and… nope. Zilch. Nada. Maybe it was just because my expectations were ridiculously high and the hype was massive, but I still can’t help but feel a twinge of disappointment. Compared to her other books, The Unexpected Everything just failed to grab a hold of my attention and actually keep it until the end.

I’ll start off by talking about what I liked about the book, because although it just wasn’t up to par with her other books, the book in and itself did have some redeemable parts. I loved the dynamic between the characters, especially between Andie, Toby, Bri, and Palmer. Their friendship was just so precious! It’s always nice to see books that give as much importance to the platonic relationships as they do to the romantic ones, and that’s something that’s always been emphasized in Morgan’s books — which I absolutely love. Also, the humor and banter was 10/10! I found myself giggling at the book more often than not. It made the pages fly by a little faster.

Andie was a nice protagonist, too. Not my favorite, but she was okay. I couldn’t understand her reasoning sometimes and her decisions seemed to lack common sense a lot of the time. You know when you’re reading a book and the MC does something that you just know will come back to bite them in the ass at a later point? Well, that was Andie… times ten.

Speaking of Andie, can we just talk about her dad? I loved the subplot there. I loved watching their relationship develop. I loved watching them slowly get to know each other. Most of all, I loved the care with which Morgan explored their relationship. It was really something to read! Especially the scavenger hunt scene.

Now that we’ve covered what I enjoyed, let’s touch bases on what didn’t work for me. The biggest and most important issue for me, perhaps, was how predicable everything was. As I mentioned above, there was just no ‘wow’ factor that made me want to ignore life and keep reading. I could’ve guessed what was going to happen from the get-go, but I just had to give the book the benefit of the doubt and keep reading. To be honest, most of this book could’ve been condensed into fewer pages. The five-hundred-something pages were just completely unnecessary. The first half of the book barely had anything going on and the second half felt like one very long epilogue that just dragged on and on and on.

Another thing that fell flat for me was Clarke and Andie’s relationship. I wasn’t feeling it. Their interactions were clunky and forced (especially at the beginning) and just tragic. I couldn’t really enjoy the scenes of them together because they were just too tedious. I wanted banter, chemistry, a spark – call it what you will – but their dynamic just made me cringe. I feel like, as a romantic pairing, they weren’t very compatible for each other; Topher would’ve made for a more exciting interest, probably.

In short, The Unexpected Everything wasn’t what I hoped it would be, but it did have qualities that compensated for the defects. The writing was articulate and the characters were relatable and their banter was hilarious. It just that, unlike Morgan’s other books, I couldn’t feel the feels.

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Rating: 3 fish

3 fish

Book Review: The Way Back to You by Michelle Andreani & Mindi Scott

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The Way Back to You by Michelle Andreani & Mindi Scott

Published by Katherine Tegen Books on May 3, 2016

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance

Pages: 384– hardcover & ebook

Format Read: paperback

Rating: 4 stars

Source: HarperCollins

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Blurb:

In this witty, heart-tugging novel, two teens take a spontaneous road trip across the Southwest to meet three strangers who received the life-saving organs of their late best friend—charting a journey of loss, hope, and love along the way.

Six months ago, Ashlyn Montiel died in a bike accident.

Her best friend Cloudy is keeping it together, at least on the outside. Cloudy’s insides are a different story: tangled, confused, heartbroken.

Kyle is falling apart, and everyone can tell. Ashlyn was his girlfriend, and when she died, a part of him went with her. Maybe the only part he cares about anymore.

As the two people who loved Ashlyn best, Cloudy and Kyle should be able to lean on each other. But after a terrible mistake last year, they’re barely speaking. So when Cloudy discovers that Ashlyn’s organs were donated after her death and the Montiel family has been in touch with three of the recipients, she does something a little bit crazy and a lot of out character: she steals the letters and convinces Kyle to go on a winter break road trip with her, from Oregon to California to Arizona to Nevada. Maybe if they see the recipients—the people whose lives were saved by Ashlyn’s death—the world will open up again. Or maybe it will be a huge mistake.

With hundreds of miles in front of them, a stowaway kitten, and a list of people who are alive because of Ashlyn, Cloudy and Kyle just may find their way to back to her…and to each other.


Review:

Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is no way impacted my views and opinions below.

This book is so much more than just a road trip; it’s an emotional journey of two friends trying to find themselves after a tragedy affects their lives. After Ashlyn died, her organs were donated to others in need, and Ashlyn’s mom starts corresponding with some of the organ recipients. Cloudy, Ashlyn’s best friend, stumbles upon these exchanges and decides to go on a road trip with Ashlyn’s boyfriend Kyle to find closure for both of them. I admit that ever since I read the synopsis, I already predicted what half the book was going to be about. However, that did not make it any less enjoyable. I’m a sucker for road trip books, and this is no different!

There are lots of tangled relationships in this book, making for a very interesting dynamic. I won’t spoil… But it’s definitely complicated. This was a notably light read, considering the fact that this book was centered on someone’s death. I actually felt things while reading this – it’s been such a long time since that happened! This was a sad and sorrowful book, of course, but there were also undertones of humor and hilarity which balanced it out really well. I found this to be the perfect read for me.

This book was told in the alternating POVs of Cloudy & Kyle and I equally enjoyed reading both of them. Cloudy was a really strong and sensible (not in the boring sense of the word) protagonist and Kyle was equally as strong. Their dynamic was my favorite thing to read! Their banter and conversations made me laugh out loud. I loved how they both pulled each other out of the proverbial hole they both fell into after Ashlyn’s death. Of course, Cloudy and Kyle weren’t the only ones affected by her death, there was also Matty – Kyle’s cousin – and Zoe – Cloudy’s sister. They were all in this emotional journey together.

I felt like this book was more character-driven than plot-driven, focusing more on the development of the characters, and I actually didn’t find any problem with that. The book was still as easy to read as ever and it was all just really well-balanced. The writing was very conversational & fun and it totally matched the book’s atmosphere. It’s what made this such an amazing read.

Overall, this was an emotional book with undertones of light humor. The characters were enthralling and their dynamic was just as captivating. This story explored the depth of grief & sorrow and love & happiness beautifully.

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Rating: 4 fish

4 fish