Fantasy, Young Adult

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Amazon.com: A Curse So Dark and Lonely (The Cursebreaker Series ...

Pages: 484

Series: Cursebreakers #1

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release Date: January 29, 2019

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

Fall in love, break the curse.

Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year, Prince Rhen, the heir of Emberfall, thought he could be saved easily if a girl fell for him. But that was before he turned into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. Before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, Harper learned to be tough enough to survive. When she tries to save a stranger on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s pulled into a magical world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. A prince? A curse? A monster? As she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.”

What Did I Think?

A Curse So Dark and Lonely was my very first Brigid Kemmerer book, and I can honestly say that it totally lived up to all the hype surrounding its release,

The overall concept of A Curse So Dark and Lonely in some ways fits what I was expecting from a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but also completely broke away from any preconceived notions I had before giving it a read. The bones of the story remain the same as the tale: a curse that needs to be broken, a misunderstood beast, and a distraught (at first) damsel who has the power to break the curse and save the land. I loved that this retelling creates a modern twist to the tale by having the perfect blend of time spent in modern-day Washington, DC and that spent in Emberfall, the story’s magical land. I really enjoyed the fact that it was told from both Rhen and Harper’s perspectives in alternating chapters, as they both have such distinct voices and life experiences that are equally important to the story. As a whole, I found the overall concept to be intriguing from the very first page. Pair that with the beautiful writing and world-building, and I am SOLD.

Harper’s character was one of those I don’t foresee myself forgetting for a long time (if ever!). As we learn early on, she has a pretty rough home life. Her brother is trying to make ends meet by taking less than ideal jobs from a group of criminals in DC, and Harper spends her time watching over him and their terminally ill mother. I’ve never read a book where the protagonist has cerebral palsy, and I found reading about Harper’s struggles with this condition in her daily life really enlightening, as I wasn’t all that familiar with what someone with a less severe case of this condition goes through to accomplish everyday tasks. Though she doesn’t have a cream puff life, Harper is a SPIT FIRE, let me tell ya! She has sass, class, and is totally kick… err, you can fill in the blanks on that last one, but I absolutely loved all of the moments where we got to see Harper open a can of kick butt up on someone, as well as when the more compassionate side of her personality shined through. While Harper has a whole lotta layers, all of the facets that made up her characterization worked together beautifully. I can’t wait to see how her character has changed (and stayed the same, in some ways!) in Book #2.

Rhen, Rhen, Rhen. While the whole “tortured male lead that decides to just hide his problems from everyone” trope isn’t my favorite, I thought having his character fit this mold worked perfectly in this case due to A Curse So Dark and Lonely being a Beauty and the Beast retelling. Rhen is the prince of Emberfall, and for someone who was cursed at the age of 18 by the evil enchantress Lillith, he has had a rough go at life so far. In order to break the curse that has held him hostage for so long, he has to fall in love, but this is obviously easier said than done. What I liked about Rhen’s character the most was that even though Grey’s job is to protect him and Harper was brought to Emberfall to essentially serve as a contestant on The Bachelor, Rhen protects those he’s close to fiercely and doesn’t let his past mistakes dictate the decisions he makes in the present. I also loved the fact that while he is haunted by his past, Rhen cares deeply about the people he rules over (as the reader sees time and time again) even if his subjects don’t realize it. While I enjoyed Rhen’s character in this book, I’m looking forward to getting to know him in a more sincere way (if I had to pick one fault, it was that I couldn’t connect to his character in this book) and seeing how Harper’s presence changes him as the series goes on.

Last but certainly not least, let’s discuss Commander (aka Scary) Grey. If I had to pick a favorite male character from this book, it would 100 percent be Grey, hands down. Even though he’s around the same age as Rhen and Harper, he is definitely wise beyond his years. I cracked up every time he gave Rhen advice (good advice at that!) because he sounded like a legit prophet or something. He was the only guard to survive a brutal attack on Emberfall, and now serves as Prince Rhen’s personal guard (and, maybe just maybe is also his only true friend). I loved that even though Grey was super hardcore on the outside, he also had a softer side to him that was hard not to love. I think everyone needs a friend like Grey — smart, witty, and loyal to the core. After that ending, I am so excited (but also slightly afraid!) to see what’s up with Grey in the next book!

A Curse So Dark and Lonely was one of those books that I found myself unable to put down. The plot was perfectly paced and full of action, the journeys of the characters were both heartbreaking and compelling. Kemmerer’s writing style was the icing on this beautiful cake that made this story come straight off the page. I’m really looking forward to picking up the next book, A Heart So Fierce and Broken, in the very near future!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’ve read Brigid Kemmerer’s other works and enjoyed her beautifully whimsical writing style, you should totally check out A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

I’d also recommend this book to anyone looking for a fast-paced fantasy read with complex, witty, and clever characters that are sure to steal your heart. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a little dash of romance as well? If you’re into all of these things, go get you a copy of this book!

Fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout, Holly Black, and Sarah J. Maas will also likely enjoy A Curse So Dark and Lonely.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Alex, Approximately

Pages: 390

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: April 3, 2018

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Classic movie buff Bailey “Mink” Rydell has spent months crushing on a witty film geek she only knows online by “Alex.” Two coasts separate the teens until Bailey moves in with her dad, who lives in the same California surfing town as her online crush.

Faced with doubts (what if he’s a creep in real life—or worse?), Bailey doesn’t tell Alex she’s moved to his hometown. Or that she’s landed a job at the local tourist-trap museum. Or that she’s being heckled daily by the irritatingly hot museum security guard, Porter Roth—a.k.a. her new arch-nemesis. But life is whole lot messier than the movies, especially when Bailey discovers that tricky fine line between hate, love, and whatever-it-is she’s starting to feel for Porter.

And as the summer months go by, Bailey must choose whether to cling to a dreamy online fantasy in Alex or take a risk on an imperfect reality with Porter. The choice is both simpler and more complicated than she realizes, because Porter Roth is hiding a secret of his own: Porter is Alex…Approximately.

In this delightfully charming teen spin on You’ve Got Mail, the one guy Bailey Rydell can’t stand is actually the boy of her dreams—she just doesn’t know it yet.

What Did I Think?

One of the things I always love about Jenn Bennett’s books are their unique overall concepts, and that of Alex, Approximately is no exception. I loved that while the setting was in California, there was a small town vibe to it that makes the reader feel like we’re locals. I’m a suckers for playlists, illustrations, and anything else that breaks up the chapters and tells us more about the characters, so seeing the messages between Alex and Bailey via the film fanatics website was so cool to see and even more fun to read. While there were some really heart wrenching moments in the book, they were balanced out well by the quirky characters and their witty senses of humor. I also really appreciated the fact that while Bailey and Porter don’t necessarily have a “traditional” upbringing, the family they do have in their lives are so supportive of each of them and always have their best interests at heart.

I loved our protagonist, Bailey, from the very first chapter. She avoids conflict at all costs (including moving all the way across the country to do just this), has a very distinct sense of humor, and isn’t afraid to get nerdy about all things film. She’s had to come to terms with some pretty traumatic events in her life thus far, but I love how this doesn’t hold her back from taking a chance on new things as she explores her new Cali home. While she starts out reserved and avoids the spotlight, I loved the moments where Bailey came out of her shell and lost her temper at people who tried to walk all over her. Though her character didn’t develop all that much, I think that moving to a different placing, getting her first real job, and finding her voice were realistic steps in her journey to become a more mature young adult, and I could see this change in her by the end.

Porter, our main man, really threw me for a loop. I really REALLY did not want to like him, especially after the little charade he pulled during Bailey’s training day at the museum. But eventually his natural charisma drew me in and I couldn’t help but like and respect him once I got to know a little more about him. I loved the fact that he was always eager to help his family, even when it was inconvenient for him to do so, and how proud he is of his sister’s surfing accomplishments. Like Bailey, he has had to deal with some hardship in life, but I loved the fact that he took those memories and used them as fuel rather than cow-tailing to his fears. Overall, as mad as I got at Porter, my anger never overshadowed how good of a guy he really is at heart!

While there is very little not to love about this book, I couldn’t give it a full five starts for a few reasons. The main reason is that the biggest spoiler on earth is literally on the back of this book in the synopsis: Porter is Alex. GEEZ! That literally took the mystery out of the whole thing, and I was really bummed about it. While the reader surmises pretty quickly that this the case, I wish we would have been left to figure it out on our own rather than being spoiled BY THE AUTHOR HERSELF. Another less upsetting issue I had with this book was that while I loved the fact that there were so many intricate details thrown in, by the end, I just felt like there were loose ends that still needed tying up. This is not to say that the ending wasn’t satisfying (it TOTALLY was), but some things just didn’t feel complete to me. However, don’t let these issues deter you from giving Alex, Approximately a chance because overall, it was a fantastic read!

Alex, Approximately was about as loaded of a contemporary romance as you’ll find, and I loved every moment of untangling all the little details! The characters had such unique backgrounds and personalities, and I enjoyed the fact that the connection that each of these characters have with their families remained at the forefront of the story. The plot was well-paced, and I found myself completely engaged in Bailey’s new Cali adventures from beginning to end. Alex, Approximately was both heartwarming and heartbreaking, funny and cringe-y, and just an overall blast to read.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Looking for a summery contemporary romance with a strong emphasis on family, friendship, and learning how to overcome your past and reshape your future, this book is for you!

If you’re like me (aka you’ve read her latest works before picking up this gem up) and enjoyed Jenn Bennett’s Starry Eyes and Serious Moonlight, I highly recommend you give Alex, Approximately a read!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Morgan Matson, Rainbow Rowell, Katie McGarry, and Sarah Dessen.

Bonus Content

If You Liked That, Try This: Fantasy Edition!

Hello, bookish friends! Welcome to another installment of “If you liked that, try this!” This segment’s topic is all about fantasy novels. Be warned: There are some blasts from the past on this list (partly because I am a little behind on my newly-released fantasy novel reading. This summer, I’ve been on a crazy contemporary kick!). Without further ado, let’s get on with this thing, shall we?

If you liked Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, try Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings!

I know what you’re all thinking: How are these two books even remotely similar? Well, let me tell ya, folks: They are more alike than you could ever imagine! One of the shared elements I loved about both of these books were the “crews” the characters were a part of and the adventures they went on together. While I’m a sucker for some good romance, I appreciated that this component took a backseat in both of these books, keeping the focus on the characters’ individual journeys. If you enjoyed all of these elements while reading Six of Crows, as well as its completely unexpected plot twists at every turn, Zenith may just be the perfect read for you!

If you liked The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, give A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer a try!

When I was trying to come up with these book pairings, I honestly could not think of a better match than these two in terms of overall concept/structure. Both The Cruel Prince and A Curse So Dark and Lonely have protagonists who are thrown into completely different worlds and fight back against those who try to force them to adapt to their new surroundings. These books also have the “tortured male lead” and “normal girl falls for the royal” tropes going on. If you enjoyed the political intrigue, strong female protagonist, and supernatural elements of The Cruel Prince, check out A Curse So Dark and Lonely!

If you liked House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas, give From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout a try!

I couldn’t help but include both of these adult fantasies on this recommendation list because they are two of my favorite reads of 2020 thus far! It also just so happens that many of the elements I enjoyed about House of Earth and Blood are also at the forefront of From Blood and Ash. Both books have super awesome, kick butt female protagonists who are taking control of their lives after coming to terms with some seriously traumatic events. As you can probably guess already since we are talking about Sarah J. Maas and Jennifer L. Armentrout, after all, you will probably want to hate but will end up loving the male leads (ughh. It happens to me every time!). If you fell in love with the witty characters, sizzling romance, and stunning world-building of House of Earth and Blood, From Blood and Ash is the perfect book for you to check out next!

If you liked Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, give Invictus by Ryan Graudin a try!

Calling all time travel fans — this recommendation is totally for you! Both Passenger and Invictus take the reader on a journey through time as their protagonists race against the clock to discover long lost truths about members of their families. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even be faced with the ultimate choice to make: Is rewriting history worth the cost? In addition to this critical similarity, Bracken and Graudin both have very distinct writing styles, making their storytelling incredibly compelling. If you’re on the hunt for a book to help fill the hole that Passenger left behind when you finished it, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Invictus!

If you liked Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout, give Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick a try!

In addition to both of these books having supernatural creatures in them (aliens and fallen angels) and the fact that they have similar “struggle between two factions to save humanity” concepts, the main similarity I couldn’t help but point out is the fact that the male leads in both books are kind of… broody, especially when the female protagonists first meet them. I would also argue that the way the romances in these books start out are very similar to one another, in that there is sort of this “instant attraction” element that while I’d love to hate it, I can’t help but love. If you enjoyed the broody, mysterious dude that is Daemon Black, the can’t-help-but-ship romance, and the battle between good and evil in Obsidian, I highly suggest giving Hush, Hush a read!

If you liked Divergent by Veronica Roth, give Matched by Ally Condie a try!

There’s been a lot of talk about both of these books, and it appears that one similarity between Divergent and Matched is the fact that readers either love or hate them. While neither of these books were necessarily make my list of favorite reads of all time, I did find myself enjoying a lot of things about them. I found the overall concepts of these dystopian novels to be really interesting, and the worlds these writers created were so neat to learn about. I found myself relating to the main characters on more than one occasion, and even though I didn’t always agree with the choices they made, I still enjoyed watching their journeys play out. If you enjoyed the plot twists, dash of romance, and watching the protagonist attempt to destroy the corrupt government systems in their world play out in Divergent, definitely give Matched a shot!

There you have it, folks — another recommendation list, as if our TBRs aren’t long enough as it is! Did a book you love that’s similar to those above not make the list? Drop your recommendations in the comments below!

Until next week, bookish peeps! 🙂

Paranormal, Young Adult

Rage and Ruin by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Rage and Ruin (The Harbinger, #2)

Pages: 608

Series: Harbinger #2

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Release Date: June 9, 2020

Genre(s): Paranormal Romance

Format: Hardcover

*If you have not read Storm and Fury (Harbinger #1), please STOP READING HERE. The review below CONTAINS SPOILERS! However, you are welcome to check out my review for Storm and Fury, as it does not contain any spoilers!*

Goodreads Synopsis

“Half-angel Trinity and her bonded gargoyle protector, Zayne, have been working with demons to stop the apocalypse while avoiding falling in love. The Harbinger is coming…but who or what is it? All of humankind may fall if Trinity and Zayne can’t win the race against time as dark forces gather.

As tensions rise, they must stay close together and patrol the DC streets at night, seeking signs of the Harbinger, an entity that is killing Wardens and demons with no seeming rhyme or reason. Forbidden to be with each other, Zayne and Trinity fight their feelings and turn to unusual sources for help—the demon Roth and his cohorts. But as deaths pile up and they uncover a sinister plot involving the local high school and endangering someone dear to Zayne, Trin realizes she is being led…herded…played for some unknown end. As anger builds and feelings spiral out of control, it becomes clear that rage may be the ruin of them all.” 

What Did I Think?

Boy do I have some THOUGHTS for you on this book, my friends! Since this is the second book in the Harbinger series and you already know all about the overall concept established in Storm and Fury, let’s begin with a little recap of what we know so far and where Rage and Ruin picks up:

At the end of Storm and Fury, we learn that Zayne is now Layla’s official replacement Protector, which, while somewhat exciting because we already know they will be spending a lot of time together, also reestablishes the (unfortunate, for all of us shippers out there) main trope that’s at the forefront of the Harbinger series: forbidden love. In the first book, Layla and Zayne were kind of like “Ehh, ya know, we shouldn’t be together even though we totally want to be,” but now it’s like “WOAH, NO. We can’t do this because the golden rule is that Trueborns and their Protectors CANNOT be in a relationship with each other or we’ll get struck down by the Alphas or worse.” This shift in dynamic obviously causes some issues between Zayne and Trinity, who are still feelin’ some type of way about each other. Oh, and don’t forget the the Harbinger is still out there somewhere on the prowl, and these two still have no idea who it is or what it wants.

Given all that Trinity has been through, I think it’s fitting to talk about her journey in Rage and Ruin first. After being the one forced to kill her previous Protector, Misha, as well as dealing with some other heartbreaking issues, Trinity certainly carried around a lot of baggage in this book. I thought her reactions to various events in this book were written very realistically, as I know many people who tend to just shut down when having to deal with tragedy and trauma. I think her inability to cope in a healthy way made her push those who care about her away and made her more hot-tempered than she already was, which was both frustrating and understandable. I also found myself relating more to Trinity this go-round, particularly in terms of our shared ability to “compartmentalize” thoughts so we can focus solely on the tasks at hand. I loved that we still got to see the super awesome warrior that Trinity is, but also the more vulnerable side of her, particularly when she opens up about her eye condition. I loved watching Trinity’s character go through some serious emotional development in this book (it was MUCH needed), and I look forward to seeing how these breakthroughs influence her decision-making and her characterization in general in the final book in this trilogy.

Zayne REALLY shocked me in this book (mostly in good ways, don’t worry!). He’s still the kind, considerate, gentlemanly, and handsome guy we all love, but a different side of him definitely came out (dare I say it) more often than his old one. I think many of the changes in Zayne were a result of his new-found responsibilities as Trinity’s Protector, but also due to the fact that he was coming to terms with understanding that his feelings for Layla weren’t what he thought they were, and those for Trinity may be stronger than what he really wanted to admit. I thought this balance between the “old” and “new” Zayne worked really well, considering everything he was juggling and the amount of pressure he was under. I’m curious to see how things change for Zayne in the last book in the series and how he adapts to the new challenges that have been thrown his way.

As with Storm and Fury, I enjoyed seeing what Roth, Layla, and Cayman were up to in Rage and Ruin! Even though the reader could already tell from the first book that Roth, Cayman, and Layla are close to Zayne (and now Trinity), it’s clear in the second book that the connection that they all have with one another resembles that of family rather than just friendship. I love the dynamic between all of these characters, and I can’t wait to see them in action together in the next book.

While I wish I could give this book five stars because in a lot of ways it deserves it, I hesitate for two reasons. The first is that there was one conflict that was drawn out WAY TOO LONG (to the point where I was literally angry at my favorite author, which NEVER happens. I’m usually just mad at the characters). This conflict also made both characters seem very immature for their ages, especially since their characterization appeared to the the opposite for the rest of this book and all of the last one. The second issue (more of a personal want that didn’t really happen) was the fact that I just expected more action. I think I went into it with the expectation that there would be some awesome fight scenes, and there were, but overall I just wanted more on this front. Also, no spoilers, y’all, but the book should have ended after the second to last chapter, just my opinion. Just give it a read and you’ll pick up with I just threw down.

As you can probably surmise, there was a lot going on in Rage and Ruin, but it all managed to come together well. I enjoyed that this book was a little more fast-paced and while I expected more action-packed scenes, I found myself appreciating the different sides of the characters when they were at their most vulnerable — a rarity from this crew. I’ve had so much fun jumping back into this world of gargoyles, demons, and so many other paranormal critters, and I can’t wait (but I’m also terrified) to see how this series wraps up with Grace and Glory, coming out next year!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*NOTE: This book, like Storm and Fury, does have a good amount PG-13+ references and scenes (specifically in relation to the romance), so just be aware of that going in!*

So obvious, I know, but if you enjoyed Storm and Fury, I highly recommend you continue the series by reading Rage and Ruin!

Bonus Content

Bookish Pet Peeves: Appearance Edition

Happy Friday, bookish friends! For this week’s bonus content post, I decided to introduce a new series entitled, “Bookish Pet Peeves,” and have opted to start by sharing things that drive me a little nuts about the physical appearance of books. Before we jump into this thing, here’s a little disclaimer: In no way does the appearance of a book dictate the quality of the words inside nor would I not read a book because I don’t like the way it looks. Now that all that business is taken care of, let’s get into it!

1) The Cover Being Just a Zoomed-In Face

As always, there are exceptions to every rule (aka The Shatter Me series covers which are so beautiful!), but for the most part, there’s just something about these kinds of covers that irk me to no end. When I see them, I just think, “okay, cool, a face. But what exactly does ONE ZOOMED-IN FACE tell me about this book???” More times than not, it has absolutely nothing to do with the words inside, so why would that cover have even been an option on the table when they were making printing decisions? This is the question that will forever haunt my dreams.

2) Price Tags/Sale Stickers

Imagine: You’re in a bookstore, browsing around for a new read. You pick up a good lookin’ book, flip it over to read the synopsis, and BOOM — there’s a sticker RIGHT IN THE DAGGUM MIDDLE of it. Or maybe you’re a bookstagrammer and you loved a book you recently read. Naturally, you want to talk about it on your page, but when you go to take a picture of the it, there’s a sticker on the front. If you’re like me, you try to rip it off, but it doesn’t come off in one piece, and now it looks worse than it did before. Ughh… tragic! While I love a good deal, it will be a good day when the sticker method of labeling sale prices on books ceases to exist!

3) Mid-Series Cover Changes

An excellent marketing ploy publishing houses use against all the readers who can’t stand to have mismatched books in the same series? Absolutely, because they know fools like me are going to put all the books in the series with the new covers in my little Amazon cart, even if I already own the books in their original covers! Is this approach annoying as HECK to the consumer? 100 PERCENT, and basically forces me to spend money that I totally don’t have (#brokecollegestudentlife) because I can’t stand mismatched covers. You’re killin’ me here, publishers!

4) Different Book Heights… In the Same Series

*Insert “change my mind” meme here* because there is literally NO REASON this needs to be a thing! Every time I look at my bookshelves, I always notice the height difference in books that are in the same series, and it drives me slightly bonkers, especially when it’s the second book in a trilogy — my OCD just can’t handle it!

5) Film-Adapted Book Covers

I know many of you feel as strongly as I do about this one. It’s not that I don’t enjoy book-to-movie adaptations (sometimes…). It’s just that some things are better left untouched, and, like other booklovers, I think that literature should be remembered for being awesome FIRST, not after a great movie adaptation of it comes out. This being said, there is a small part of me that loves these covers because they encourage non-readers to pick some really great books up, so there is a tiny plus to this pet peeve!

6) Uneven Page Edges

I’ll be the first to admit that often times, books with this feature are STUNNING! But as I’m flipping through reading, these kinds of pages end up sticking together, and occasionally I’ve been spoiled (BOO) because I skipped a page without realizing it until too late. I also don’t really like that this feature makes the books look unfinished and rather distressed. When I pay full price for a physical copy of a book, I want it to look new rather than like my cat got a hold of it (sorry, not sorry not the analogy, friends).

This is probably terrible to say, but I found writing this post super therapeutic. Did any of your bookish pet peeves make this list? Leave any additions you can think of in the comments below so we can all rant together!

Until next week, bookish buddies! May your weekend be filled with fun reading 🙂

Dystopian, Young Adult

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

Amazon.com: The Darkest Minds (A Darkest Minds Novel ...

Pages: 528

Series: The Darkest Minds #1

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Release Date: December 18, 2012

Genre(s): Fantasy with Romantic Elements

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something alarming enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that gets her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that’s killed most of America’s children, but she and the others have emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they cannot control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones.

When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. Now she’s on the run, desperate to find the one safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents.

When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at a life worth living.”

What Did I Think?

 Supernatural powers meets dystopian landscape meets cross-country adventure while avoiding the eyes of the authorities? Yeah, there’s a lot going on, but The Darkest Minds was DOPE. Continue reading for all the deets!

The overall concept of The Darkest Minds was both intriguing and disturbing (like most dystopian tales). I liked the fact that this book is kind of like those superhero movies in that children have these crazy cool powers that also just so happen to intimidate adults, resulting in the kids being sent away (or worse). Having the children’s gifts all falling under a color seemed so simplistic at first, but I think it was the perfect choice to help keep the associated powers straight in the reader’s mind. The word-building, descriptions of various settings, and all the events that were taking place could easily be visualized by the reader, and I found myself completely engaged in all the action from beginning to end. As a whole, The Darkest Minds was unlike any of the other dystopians I’ve read in the past in terms of its overall concept, and, while a little upsetting at times given that children are the main focus of the misfortunes in the book, I enjoyed being immersed in this fictional world.

While the characters and their development often took a backseat to the plot, I appreciated the amount of diversity I saw in this group of characters. As a whole, I liked our protagonist, Ruby, and I think a lot of readers can relate to her quiet, reserved personality. It was good to see her come out of her shell and start fighting for what she wants by the end. However, I did find Ruby to be a little immature and naive, but given the fact that she’s so young, I tried to overlook this as much as possible. There were just times where I found it frustrating because even though she’s clearly been through a lot in her short 15/16 years of life, I expected these memories to shape her and, realistically, I think her life experience thus far would have likely forced her to grow up more quickly. In the next book, I hope to see a little more maturity from Ruby, and I look forward to seeing how the events in The Darkest Minds shape her character moving forward.

Moving right along to my man, Liam. I absolutely loves his character, even though he does embody the “ideal” male lead, in a lot of ways. In addition to being the total dad friend to the whole gang of runaways, I appreciated the fact that he also tried to think logically through things rather than just jumping headfirst into the unknown. His level of maturity definitely balanced out what I found lacking in Ruby’s character. Liam carries a lot of baggage from his past with him, and I appreciated seeing his more vulnerable moments of reflection on these memories, as it made his characterization much more realistic. I’m really looking forward to seeing more of Liam in Book #2!

You didn’t think I was going to write this whole review and not mention Chubs and Zu, did you? While their personalities are starkly different from each other, I really enjoyed the balance the two of them brought to the crew. Zu doesn’t talk, but I love how quickly she can get her point across by just the arch of an eyebrow. She’s certainly stubborn and has a strong personality, even though she is so young and has witnessed some pretty terrible things in her life. Chubs, the brains of the operation, was an absolute HOOT. His comebacks are legendary, and, even though it was annoying at times, I had mad respect for the fact that he wasn’t quick at all to warm up to Ruby until he knew she had good intentions. If there was one stand-out element of this entire book, I’d have to say that Chubs and Zu take the cake for being one of the main reasons why I enjoyed The Darkest Minds as much as I did.

Overall, I had so much fun reading The Darkest Minds, even when I hit some pretty sad/upsetting parts (Hey, it’s a dystopian. Can’t expect all rainbows and butterflies). I loved the fact that I felt like I was actually the fifth member of the Black Betty crew, going on all the gang’s adventures with them. I though the plot was very well paced, and each event flowed well into the next without too much lag. Given all the plot twists and that CRAY ending, I’m really looking forward to picking up Never Fade in the near future!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re in the mood to read a fast-paced dystopian that’s full of adventure and fairly dark with some little rays of sunshine peeking though, The Darkest Minds will likely be right up your alley.

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, and Victoria Aveyard.

And, as obvious as it sounds, if you’ve read any of Bracken’s other books (Prosper Reading series, Passenger series, Star Wars novels, etc.), and enjoyed them, I highly suggest you check out The Darkest Minds!

Bonus Content

Bookish Workout Tips!

Hello, bookish people! Some of you may have come to check this post out just because it literally sounds so bizarre, in which case, welcome and thanks for allowing your curiosity to bring you to this wonderful (yet kind of nutty) post! Given the current pandemic, I know a lot of folks are still skeptical about hitting up their go-to gyms to get their blood pumping. As an alternative to this, I thought I would share some bookish workout tips that not only allow you to keep up a solid fitness regime, but also may let you sneak in a little extra reading while doing it. Let’s jump right into this thing, shall we?

1) No weights? Just use some big ol’ books!

I like big books and I cannot lie! Okay, totally cheesy and unoriginal, but one of the many reasons I love big books is because they have multiple uses besides just being fun to read. If you’re stuck at home and looking for a little extra weight to use during your workout, try using a few of your largest and/or most heavy books on your shelf! While this tip doesn’t necessarily let you get some extra reading in, it does still let you spend some quality time with your literary BFFs.

2) Earn your reading time!

Looking to sneak in a little extra reading during your day, but don’t want to give up your daily workout to do it? This tip is for you! However, there is a small catch: you can only read the number of pages that you can do of a particular exercise. For example, if you can do 10 push-ups in a row, then you can only read 10 pages. This may even be fun to do in a circuit — do some kind of exercise, read the number of pages you earned, do another exercise, then read those pages, and so on. Then your page count keeps growing, and those calories keep burning!

3) Listen to an audiobook while doing your cardio workout

I’ll be the first to say that cardio-related physical activities are NOT my gig (especially running, yuck). But trading in your normal music playlist for an audiobook might just be the trick to redirect your attention from the fact that your legs feel like they’re burning off and the sweat dripping off your face. I’d recommend you pick a book that’s action-packed so that it holds your attention for the entirety of your workout — a good, fast-paced fantasy is my go-to!

4) Bookish yoga!

I’ll admit that reading while doing yoga is kind of cheating because you’re supposed to be clearing your mind of everything except for the task at hand (aka holding various yoga positions and concentrating on not face planting). Nevertheless, if this is the only time you have to read in the day, it won’t kill you to sometimes cheat a little and shift a tad bit of your focus to a good book. On the bright side, if you pick a relaxing, calming book to read, you will be just about as rejuvenated after your bookish yoga workout as you would your normal practice!

5) Read during stationary exercises

There nothing stopping you from reading a page or two while doing wall sits or holding a plank! If you really want to push yourself, I’d recommend that you trying holding whatever position you’re in for the amount of time it takes you to read a whole page, read another whole page while you take a break, then repeat.

6) Don’t forget: Reading is a workout for your brain!

While reading doesn’t necessarily help you burn off last night’s pizza and ice cream feast, it does wonders for your brain! Studies show that taking the time to read on a regular basis increases your vocabulary, reduces stress, improves memory, and helps fight off depression and other mental health conditions. All this being said, don’t forget to take care of both your body and your brain — both are equally important contributors to you living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life!

Well, there you have it, folks! I hope you find these unique workout tips helpful as we all try to navigate these challenging times. Do you have your own bookish workout routines? Tell me all about them below!

Until next week, bookish friends! I hope you all get to kick back and relax with a good book (or five!) this weekend 🙂

Monthly Reading Recaps

Monthly Reading Recap: July 2020

Another month has come and gone, y’all, and you know what that means…. another monthly reading recap, coming your way! Time has really been flying by for me lately, but in such great ways! In between working on home improvement projects, doing some pretty intense research for a project I’m working on for school, and some other fun yet also exhausting tasks, I still managed to accomplish my goal of reading more books than I did last month! Here;s how this month of reading went:

What I Read This Month

Let’s Break It Down

New Books Read: 2

New Novellas Read: 1

Book Re-Reads: 0

Novella Re-Reads: 0

Monthly Total: 3

Average Rating of this Month’s Reading: 3.33 stars

Favorite Read of the Month: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett

Most Surprising Impressive Read of the Month: The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Least Favorite Read of the Month: The Queen by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Ratings

The Rest of the Story

As you all saw in my review, I was shocked that I loved this book as much as I did. Sarah Dessen’s books are typically hit or miss for me, but this one was a total hit! The Rest of the Story was one of those contemporaries that keeps you laughing and smiling for just about the entirety of the book. I fell in love with Saylor, Roo, and all of the wonderfully-written supporting characters. Overall, I just loved every moment of reading this book, and if you’re looking for the perfect summery read, I highly suggest you give The Rest of the Story a shot!

The Queen (A Wicked Trilogy #3.7)

I shared some of my thoughts on this book in my Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag, so I’m going to keep this extra short and sweet: I wanted to love this final installment of Wicked novellas, but I just couldn’t because NOTHING HAPPENED (as far as action as plot go, more specifically). I think it all boils down to the fact that I had such high expectations for this book (being a total super fan of JLA and all) and The Queen fell completely flat for me. However, I will say that the epilogue was my favorite part and was beautifully written, but it just wasn’t near enough to sway my opinion of the rest of the novella.

Alex, Approximately

Jenn Bennett is my newest auto-buy author. I fell in love with both Serious Moonlight and Starry Eyes before reading Alex, Approximately, and I have not been disappointed yet! While this book isn’t my favorite of hers, it was absolutely fantastic! Given that I’m not very familiar with all the happening in California, I had so much fun learning all about life on the west coast and exploring this new territory from Bailey’s eyes. I also loved the dynamic between she and Porter and how connected each of them are to their families. A review for this book is coming very soon, so keep your eyes peeled for more of my thoughts on Alex, Approximately!

There you have it, folks — my month’s worth of reading! I’m actually really proud of how much I read, though of course I wish I could have read more (said every booklover ever!). Did you meet your reading goal for this month or read a really good book you can’t help but recommend to your fellow bookish friends? Let me know how your reading went this month and drop those recommendations below!

Dystopian, New Adult/Adult

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Handmaid's Tale (orig) - Two Dollar Radio Headquarters

Pages: 314

Series: The Handmaid’s Tale #1

Publisher: Anchor Books

Release Date: April 1985

Genre(s): Dystopian

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now . . .

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.”

What Did I Think?

Given its dystopian genre, the overall concept of The Handmaid’s Tale was both intriguing and disturbing if one takes the time to think about what it would actually be like to live in a world like Gilead. I enjoyed the “before and after” separation of the story. It allowed the reader to gain an understanding of how different things were and orient themselves in the “new look” of the world our protagonist, Offred, is living in. I enjoyed the flashback of the past that came up in the present-day parts of the story, as well as how thoroughly the logistics of Gilead were explained. While I have found myself growing out of my love of dystopian novels, The Handmaid’s Tale had the perfect blend of elements that make it dystopian and those that are completely unique to this story, keeping me engaged from beginning to end.

I fell in love with Atwood’s writing from the very first chapter. Every line is so poetic, and the way she describes this world and the happenings in it are absolutely beautiful to read — a sharp contrast to the objects and situation she’s actually illustrating using this language. The fact that she spends the most time describing things that aren’t all that relevant to the plot is an interesting twist on what a lot of modern writers do, and I found myself really enjoying it. For example, the reader finds out exactly what’s in Offred’s bedroom, though this setting is rarely mentioned again. If I had to pick one stand-out from the entirety of The Handmaid’s Tale, it would have to be Atwood’s writing style and the places she chooses to add these beautiful descriptions, hands down!

Offred’s character was so fascinating to me. At first glance, it appears that Offred it okay with just going with the flow of the standard that Gilead has for handmaids — they are to have the Commander’s children that the Wives can no longer have due to being rendered infertile. This obviously frustrated me because unlike so many of the other characters, Offred remembers what it was like in the “before,” and I kept thinking, “Why are you settling for a life like this when you know how good it used to be?” However, another side to Offred came out as she started interacting with some other multi-dimensional characters. Given how horrible Gilead’s consequences for resistance are, it makes sense that Offred would have been afraid to speak out against those who have more power than her. In an attempt to keep spoilers at bay, I enjoyed seeing Offred’s character develop more and more as she realizes that she’s not the only one looking for a way out.

The Handmaid’s Tale was a compelling dystopian read that contains many overarching themes that are still relevant today, though it was first publishing in 1985. I found the plot engaging and well-paced, and the characters (very nondescript names and all) very dynamic, as many aren’t as they first appear. Atwood’s beautiful and descriptive writing style was the icing on the cake to this masterpiece. While The Handmaid’s Tale is already considered a classic for more reasons than one, I have a feeling that past and future readers will hold onto this book and never let it go!

*UPDATE: Just saw that there is a second book called The Testaments, YAYY! Definitely going to be giving that a read in the near future, especially after the cliffhanger at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale!*

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*NOTE: This book is only suitable for mature audiences due to graphic violence and other adult themes. For this reason, I would not recommend this to readers under the age of 16*

If you’re a lover of the world-building and overall darkness of other dystopian novels, I highly recommend you give The Handmaid’s Tale a read!

I would also recommend The Handmaid’s Tale to fans of Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Alexandra Bracken’s The Darkest Minds.

Bonus Content

Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag: 2020 Edition

Welcome back to the blog, bookish friends! I’m about a month late to the game on this tag, but since I’m slowly but surely working my way towards making my reading goal for this year, I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate all that I’ve read so far and share some books I’m excited to get to by year’s end. I’m not exactly sure who created the Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag, but I saw it over on KimberlyFaye Reads’ blog, so be sure to check her version out when you’re done over here!

1) Best book you’ve read so far in 2020

Not only is this my favorite book of the year so far, it may go down in history as one of my favorite reads ever! House of Earth and Blood had everything I look for in a high fantasy: a fast-paced plot, characters that you feel completely invested in and root for from beginning to end, ALL the romance, and stunning world-building. It was seriously just SO GOOD, y’all! Don’t just take my word for it — give it a read for yourselves and then we can all anxiously await Book #2 together!

2) Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2020

Amazon.com: A Heart So Fierce and Broken (The Cursebreaker Series ...

After reading A Curse So Dark and Lonely at the beginning of this year and loving every moment of it, I booked it (pun intended!) to Barnes and Noble to grab this beauty! While it took me a little while to get used to the different perspectives in it, I found myself enjoying the change of pace. There was a good mix of fast-paced action, some great characters that I couldn’t help but love even when I was mad at them, and a little dash of romance thrown in for good measure. I’m really looking forward to reading the final book in this trilogy when it releases at the beginning of 2021!

3) New release you haven’t read yet but want to

Girl, Serpent, Thorn

I’ve heard so many great things about Girl, Serpent, Thorn that I can’t help but want to read it myself! The overall concept kind of reminds me a little bit of the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi, which I read years ago and still love to pieces, so I’m looking forward to picking this book up in the near future and seeing if it lives up to all the hype!

4) Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

The Nobleman's Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks (Montague Siblings, #3)

If you’ve been following my blog for awhile, you already know that the Montague Siblings series by Mackenzi Lee holds a special place in my heart. It’s quirky, adventurous, and completely unique from anything I’ve ever read before. When I found out there would be one final book in this series AND that it was all about the long-lost brother of Felicity and Monty, I was absolutely FLOORED. While there are so many great books releasing in the second half of this year, The Nobleman’s Guide to Scandal and Shipwrecks takes the cake for me!

5) Biggest disappointment

The Queen (A Wicked Trilogy #3.7)

I know what you’re all thinking: The biggest JLA fan on earth is saying that one of her favorite author’s books is the biggest disappointment of the year so far? Alas, it’s true, and it pains me to even have admit that this is the case. I’ll keep it short and to the point so this can remain as painless as possible for all of us: I expected action, drama, romance, and witty banter between some of my favorite characters from the Wicked trilogy, and I got almost NONE of that from The Queen. The plot felt like it didn’t even move, and the characters remained stagnant and/or annoyed me with their back-and-forth indecisiveness that led to unnecessary conflict. Overall, a HUGE disappointment, as sad as it makes me to say.

6) Biggest surprise

The Red Scrolls of Magic (The Eldest Curses, #1)

As weird as it sounds, I was actually surprised that I liked this book as much as I did. For the majority of my life thus far, I have been obsessed with the Shadowhunters series, but given that this book takes place before a lot of the stuff in the Mortal Instruments does (I know I’m being super vague but I don’t want to hit you guys with spoilers), I went into it thinking that I’d be kind of bored since I knew what was going to come next, at times. However, I had actually forgotten some of the smaller details that happened to be at the forefront of Red Scrolls of Magic, which was a pleasant surprise! It also goes without saying that it was so good to see Alec and Magnus again (MALEC, THE ULTIMATE SHIP!!!).

7) Favorite new author (debut or new to you)

Foolish Hearts

In my review, I absolutely raved about Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills. In addition to the overall concept and characters being so much fun to read about, Mills’ writing style was really appealing and beautiful to read. Going forward, I am definitely going to be checking out more of her books and encourage all of you to do the same if you’re unfamiliar with her writing!

8) Newest fictional crush

Making a Play (The Field Party, #5)

It’s cheesy, cliche, and totally obvious, but my newest fictional crush goes to Ryker Lee, the bad boy footballer from Lawton High. While he has quite the reputation in his little ol’ town, I fell in love with the hidden, more vulnerable side to his character that would come out when he would spend time with Aurora, the new girl at school who also happens to be deaf. I’m not going to spoil anything, but he really is an awesome dude. You’ll just have to read it to learn more about why I think so!

9) Newest favorite character

Hands down this award goes to Cayman from Storm and Fury! While this character was originally introduced to us in the Dark Elements series (the original that Storm and Fury is a spin-off of), I didn’t feel as connected to him until this book, and now he goes down in history as one of my favorite supporting characters of all time! He’s a hilariously loyal demon that’s impossible to forget (I think my retinas are scorched from some of his outfits… yes, they were that flamboyant).

10) A book that made you cry

I’m don’t typically cry when I read, but this one had me UGLY CRYING more than once. I can’t really go into the deets as to why because spoilers, but Rage and Ruin was FAB, so if you haven’t started the Harbinger series yet, definitely give it a read and we can all cry together! And, if you have read it, I’m sorry if this pick made brought all those emotional times for you — I know writing this did for me!

11) A book that made you happy

The Rest of the Story

As you could probably tell from my review, I absolutely loved every second of reading The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen. I couldn’t help but smile as Saylor found out more about her mother with the help of her cousins and friends that grew up on North Lake, and my smile grew even bigger every time Roo would enter the picture. Even though this book also has some underlying themes that aren’t all that happy, the majority of the book was like a bright ray of sunshine!

12) The most beautiful book you’ve bought or received so far this year

I’m cheating a little bit on this one (sorry, friends!). I actually received this particular edition of The Beholder in the May 2019 Fairyloot box, but since I didn’t read it until this year, I decided it should count, anyway. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy reading the book itself, but this exclusive model is a beautiful addition to my bookshelf. It’s metallic font on the cover and pink-sprayed edges draw my eye every time!

13) A book/books you need to read by the end of the year

While this list could go on forever (just like my TBR… ughh.), these four books are just a snippet of the books I hope to have read by the end of this year. They all also just so happen to be books by some of my favorite authors!

Even though I haven’t met my 35-book reading goal for the year just yet, doing this tag and reflecting on what I have gotten to read so far made me feel pretty proud, given all the other obligations that come along with adulting that make it hard to squeeze in time for fun reading! Have you read some good books this year so far? Let’s talk about them. And, if you’ve done the Mid-Year Freak Out Book Tag (this year or in previous years) drop your links below! I’d love to see some your version of this tag.

Until next week! May your weekend be filled with all the books 🙂