Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon: 9781524718961 |  PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Pages: 304

Publisher: Penguin (Delacorte Press)

Release Date: June 3, 2021

Genre(s): Contemporary Romnace

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“In this romantic page-turner from the author of Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star, Evie has the power to see other people’s romantic fates–what will happen when she finally sees her own?

Evie Thomas doesn’t believe in love anymore. Especially after the strangest thing occurs one otherwise ordinary afternoon: She witnesses a couple kiss and is overcome with a vision of how their romance began . . . and how it will end. After all, even the greatest love stories end with a broken heart, eventually.

As Evie tries to understand why this is happening, she finds herself at La Brea Dance Studio, learning to waltz, fox-trot, and tango with a boy named X. X is everything that Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, daring. His philosophy is to say yes to everything–including entering a ballroom dance competition with a girl he’s only just met.

Falling for X is definitely not what Evie had in mind. If her visions of heartbreak have taught her anything, it’s that no one escapes love unscathed. But as she and X dance around and toward each other, Evie is forced to question all she thought she knew about life and love. In the end, is love worth the risk?”

What Did I Think?

Don’t be fooled by the vibrant cover that gives off all kinds of happy vibes. Instructions for Dancing will tear your heart into tiny little pieces, glue it back together, and repeat this cycle a million times over before its end!

I picked up Instructions for Dancing because I was super intrigued by the whole “romantic psychic” part of the story, as well as the fact that I’m kind of obsessed with ballroom dancing (even though I’ve only taken one lesson in my entire life!). Usually it takes me a few chapters to become hooked on a story, but within the first two pages, I was completely entranced by Yoon’s writing. The whole book was written in a pretty casual voice, but then there would be moments when I would be totally caught off guard when a beautifully poetic line would pop up that made me stop and think a little harder about what the story was trying to convey. Between the super interesting overall concept, stunning writing, and this book was an absolutely gem from the get-go!

I always love when the protagonist is a fellow book lover, so reading Instructions for Dancing from Evie’s perspective made this tale that much sweeter, even though she could also be considered an anti-book lover when we first meet her. Evie’s been through the wringer over the past year, and I think anyone who has ever been through what she has would totally understand why she is so against falling in love. Though her character continued to evolve as she figured out how much she wanted to risk herself, I appreciated the fact that her dry sense of humor and love that she has for her friends and family never left her, even when she didn’t realize it. Overall, I thought Evie’s character was very well developed and I found that I could relate to her more than I originally thought I’d be able to, which was a total plus!

I was absolutely obsessed with X, his whole family, and Fifi the dance instructor. They brought so much life and light to a story that has so much heartbreak thrown into it. They always kept is realer that real, and I think that was exactly what Evie needed in her life. Seeing some of these characters’ lives play out in Evie’s visions were some of my favorite moments of the entire book, even when we got glimpses well into the future that my heart was often not prepared for. You seriously can’t help falling in love with the whole dance crew, so don’t even try to resist it – it will be to no avail!

Instructions for Dancing was the book I never knew I needed to read. I thought it was going to be a standard, fluffy contemporary, but it was so much more than that. Yoon’s writing was absolutely captivating, and through it I think all readers will learn so much about what is most important in life.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

I’d highly recommend Instructions for Dancing for anyone looking for an unconventional contemporary read with both heartbreaking and heartwarming moments that you may not even see coming. If you’ve read any of Nicola Yoon’s previous books and thought those hit you in the feels, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Sarah Dessen, Mary H.K. Choi, and John Green.

Fantasy, Young Adult

Fable by Adrienne Young

Amazon.com: Fable: A Novel (Fable, 1) (9781250254368): Young, Adrienne:  Books

Pages: 357

Publisher: Wednesday Books

Release Date: September 1, 2020

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“For seventeen-year-old Fable, the daughter of the most powerful trader in the Narrows, the sea is the only home she has ever known. It’s been four years since the night she watched her mother drown during an unforgiving storm. The next day her father abandoned her on a legendary island filled with thieves and little food. To survive she must keep to herself, learn to trust no one, and rely on the unique skills her mother taught her. The only thing that keeps her going is the goal of getting off the island, finding her father, and demanding her rightful place beside him and his crew. To do so Fable enlists the help of a young trader named West to get her off the island and across the Narrows to her father.

But her father’s rivalries and the dangers of his trading enterprise have only multiplied since she last saw him, and Fable soon finds that West isn’t who he seems. Together, they will have to survive more than the treacherous storms that haunt the Narrows if they’re going to stay alive.

Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit from it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men. Fable takes you on a spectacular journey filled with romance, intrigue, and adventure.

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What Did I Think?

Just want to start by saying I FREAKING LOVED THIS BOOK! I know that I am only giving it four stars (will explain later!), but Fable was seriously like no other book I have ever read. Somebody ship me off to the Narrows, would ya?

The overall concept of Fable had me hooked almost instantly. The world in which the story takes place was immediately established as cutthroat yet whimsical (yes, apparently it is possible to be both!). I quickly fell in love with the vivid detail Young used to describe each individual location the characters traveled to, as well as the way in which we were able to see how the various characters viewed the places they traveled to through her strong use of dialogue. It took me a couple of chapters to get hooked on the story, but that didn’t bother me too much since there was a lot about its setting that needed to be expained early on. The plotline moved at a brisk pace while still making sure that each of the plot points meshed together in a logical way. I seriously have nothing I can complain about when it comes to the concept and plotline of this book – it is AMAZEBALLS!

I have such mad respect for the protagonist, Fable. She was left to her own devices on a brutal island as a young girl, and really took the challeneges she faced in stride rather than cowering to the HUGE amounts of fear she must have felt while being on Jeval. I was so intrigued by Fable’s work as a dredger and totally found myself GEEKING each time she went diving because I love things that sparkle almost as much as the gem merchants in this series! I appreciated Fable’s tenacity, willingness to take risks to benefit the greater good of those around her, and that even though she has had a hard life so far, she managed to continue to be compassionate towards others who (questionably) don’t deserve it. Fable’s character developed slowly in this book, and I look foward to seeing how much farther she comes in Namesake.

Even though I doubt I would make it long at sea for the stints of time the Marigold’s crew manages to, I kind of wish I got to be an honorary member of their crew! West, Paj, Auster, Hamish, and Willa were such a tight-knit group that they were more like family than just a ship crew. I really enjoyed reading about each of these characters’ individual lives and how those experiences led each of them to the Marigold. Young provided so much background on each of these characters that is was almost like they were all protagonists in the story. I loved watching each of their personalities shine through just as much as Fable’s did, and I can’t wait to see more of the whole crew in the next book!

There is only one big thing that is preventing me from giving this book a full five stars: The main romance. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good slow burn as much as the next person, but the way this one is established comes across as a little unnatural. I’m hoping that this aspect of the storyline grows on me in the second book because I really want to love it, but can’t quite yet.

Fable was seriously so much more than I expected in all the right ways. The worldbuilding was absolutely breathtaking, the plot progression was smooth as butter, and I finished the book wishing I got to be a part of the Marigold’s crew myself, even though they did manage to get themselves in quite a bit of trouble! Fable was my very first Adrienne Young book and it totally solidified the fact that she will now be an auto-buy author of mine from here out. Now onto reading Namesake!

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Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re all about nautical-themed fantasy novels, such as Daughter of the Pirate King or Passenger, I highly recommend you give Fable a read.

I would also strongly encourage anyone looking for a book with an enemies-to-lovers trope and who wants to be swept away on a whirlwind of an adventure filled to the brim with plot twists to definitely check this book out!

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Chasing Lucky by Jenn Bennett

Amazon.com: Chasing Lucky (9781534425170): Bennett, Jenn: Books

Pages: 406

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: November 10, 2020

Genre(s): Contemporary Romnace

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Budding photographer Josie Saint-Martin has spent half her life with her single mother, moving from city to city. When they return to her historical New England hometown years later to run the family bookstore, Josie knows it’s not forever. Her dreams are on the opposite coast, and she has a plan to get there.

What she doesn’t plan for is a run-in with the town bad boy, Lucky Karras. Outsider, rebel…and her former childhood best friend. Lucky makes it clear he wants nothing to do with the newly returned Josie. But everything changes after a disastrous pool party, and a poorly executed act of revenge lands Josie in some big-time trouble—with Lucky unexpectedly taking the blame.

Determined to understand why Lucky was so quick to cover for her, Josie discovers that both of them have changed, and that the good boy she once knew now has a dark sense of humor and a smile that makes her heart race. And maybe, just maybe, he’s not quite the brooding bad boy everyone thinks he is…”

What Did I Think?

For those of you who have been following my blog and/or bookstagram for awhile now, you all know all about how much of an auto-buy author Jenn Bennett has become for me. As soon as I saw that Chasing Lucky was releasing, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on another one of her contemporary romances. Let me be the first to say that I REALLY wanted to love this book, but it unfortunately fell flat.

Let’s start with the overall concept and plotline. When I first read the synopsis, I was so excited to jump into a book that I thought was going to be friends-to-lovers and had a strong grounding in the workings of family dynamic. However, my expectations from the summary on the back did not align with the content of the actual book as I was reading, so that was where my confusion (and frustration!) kind of started. However, there were some elements that I really enjoyed, such as appearances from Bean the Magic Pup and the sense of adventure I felt while reading. I also found the pacing of the plot to be spot on throughout the book and appreciated the fact that for the most part, each plot point smoothly transitioned into the next. There were also some elements of the book that I have found to be very distracting in a bad way, specifically those regarding the past of the protagonist’s mother and how some of that comes rushing back to the forefront of the story every five minutes. Overall, I found to be the overall concept to be rather mehh, but the pacing of said plot to be right on the money.

The female lead, Josie, was really something else and not at all what I was expecting in some really great ways. I loved how she was immediately established as such a passionate photographer. I’ve never been a great one myself, so seeing the world throgh her creative lens was so much fun. I also think that her naivite that shone through her character as the novel progressed was very fitting for her age, even when at some points I wanted to shake her a bit. Seeing her character mature over the course of the novel was also great – love some good character development, particularly in younger protagonists! While not my favorite main character of all time, I did think Josie’s characterization made sense in the contect of the novel’s plot.

Lucky was a tough pass for me. I appreciated his dry sense of humor and love of animals, but I wasn’t a huge fan of how selfless he was. While this may seem like a great trait to have, I felt like he was just using it to get what he wanted and make other people feel bad about their actions. As I was reading, I enjoyed his banter and adventurous nature, but when I had some time to sit and think, there were just some things that rubbed me the wrong way and made me not love him as much as I thought I did in the moment. My goal whenever I am reading a book with a male love interest is to fall in love with the character myself, and I felt far from that about Lucky, unfortunately.

Overall, I though Chasing Lucky was a cute and sweet summertime contemporary read. The setting was so unique and quirky, and I thoroughly enjoyed all the moving parts that somehow all ended up working together. Even though I think this book was far from Bennett’s best, it was a quick and fluffy read that did manage to bring an occasional smile to my face.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Fans of Talia Hibbert, Sarah Dessen, and Samantha Young would likely fall in love with Jenn Bennett’s Chasing Lucky. And, if you’re already a die-hard Jenn Bennett fan (like me!), grab a copy of this bad boy!

Fantasy, Young Adult

Henry and Violet by Michelle Zink

Series: Once Upon A Time #6

Pages: 368

Publisher: Kingswell Teen

Release Date: May 8, 2018

Genre(s): Fantasy/Contemporary?

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Henry and Violet finally have a chance to be alone. Granted, it’s on a school field trip, but with some clever planning and strategic maneuvering, they can orchestrate their own adventure in New York City, a fairytale land in its own right.

While they search for a treasured item that once belonged to Violet’s father, they are met with obstacles they could never have predicted. What they thought would be a romantic getaway ends up being a true test of their relationship.

Are they destined for a happily ever after – or a new story altogether?”

What Did I Think?

My drive for giving this book a read is that I absolutely fell in love with the Once Upon A Time TV show and was so sad that I never really knew what happened to Henry and Violet. While I wish I could say I loved this book to bits just as I did the show, I had quite the opposite reaction. I am just as bummed to be writing this as you are to be reading my not-so-happy thoughts – trust me on that one!

As I mentioned above, this novel is based on the Once Upon A Time TV show created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz. The vague plot of this show is that there is a lady who puts the entire town of Storybrooke, Maine under a spell so that all of the people in the town can’t remember who they are (aka different characters from both classic and more modern fairytales). Henry, a young boy who was adopted by said “evil” lady, Regina, goes on a mission to find his birth mother, Emma, and attempts to get her to believe that the town is cursed so that the spell can be broken. Somewhere along the way, Henry and Violet end up dating each other, but things kind of dissolve between the two in an unnatural way when Season 7 of the show premiered. Zink’s novel tries to fill in this gap in their relationship timeline in her novel, Henry and Violet.  

Before I jump into my “ehh” feelings about this read, I did want to mention a couple of highlights. It’s been years now since Once Upon A Time stopped airing, and to this day I have missed the characters so so much! This book gave me the opportunity to connect with some of my favorite fictional friends once more. I loved that Zink paid close attention to ensuring the dialogue between the characters and their actions matched nicely with what the creators of the TV show laid out to begin with. I found myself thinking time and time again, “Wow… she really embodied these characters!” and even laughed out loud a few times at some of their snarky comments I’ve missed so dearly. I also really enjoyed learning more about Violet, considering the show didn’t really touch on her personality very much. I think Zink’s perspective on Violet fit nicely with the little we know about her from her life in Camelot/Storybrooke, and seeing her character come into her own throughout the book made me like and appreciate her character that much more. If I had to pick one highlight, I think it would have to be that the story was very much that of a coming-of-age tale for both Henry and Violet, and I think their struggles to figure out their futures were both realistic and relatable to readers of all ages.

Moving onto the not-so-fun aspects of this book. One of the main issues I had was the dual perspectives. I don’t mind when some information is repeated when perspectives switch off, but literally the first page (and sometimes more!) of each perspective change was dedicated to repeating what was going on at the end of the previous chapter. I did not find this technique effective at all, mostly because there would be phrases that already told us how the non-narrating character was feeling before said character started spouting the same thing when they began narrating again. Similar to this point, I found that there were numerous moments where it would have been nice for Zink to show us how each character was feeling rather than just straight-up telling us. While these are the two main issues I had with the novel, I do have one additional (rather large!) complaint to add to the list: the ending was not satisfying at all. I won’t spoil it for you, but regardless of if you’ve seen the show or not, the ending just felt empty rather than leaving me feeling okay about how things resolve between Henry and Violet. It was almost like their words said one thing, but their actions screamed another, and I just felt like my purpose for reading the novel (aka seeing what happened to those two) was not fulfilled.  

While I did have some (relatively big) issues with Henry and Violet, I thoroughly enjoyed reuniting with these characters one last time and in literary form (my FAV form), no less! Just as the characters made me love them in the show, I couldn’t help but love them almost equally as much in this book. I wish the execution of the novel had been at a higher level and that the ending would have made me feel something other than neutrality/disappointment, but this read still had some fun components that kept me reading until the end.  

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you enjoyed Once Upon A Time (the TV show and/or the other books written about the TV show), there is a good chance you will enjoy this book, as there are many familiar faces that pop up that I am sure you’d love to be reunited with!

I also recommend this book to fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood if you’re super into fairytale retellings. I would also encourage readers of any coming-of-age tales to give Henry and Violet a read.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

The Chaos of Standing Still by Jessica Brody

Pages: 432

Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: May 14, 2019

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Ryn has one unread text message on her phone. And it’s been there for almost a year.

She hasn’t tried to read it. She can’t. She won’t. Because that one message is the last thing her best friend ever said to her before she died.

But as Ryn finds herself trapped in the Denver International Airport on New Year’s Eve thanks to a never-ending blizzard on the one-year anniversary of her best friend’s death, fate literally runs into her.

And his name is Xander.

When the two accidentally swap phones, Ryn and Xander are thrust into the chaos of an unforgettable all-night adventure, filled with charming and mysterious strangers, a secret New Year’s Eve bash, and a possible Illuminati conspiracy hidden within the Denver airport. But as the bizarre night continues, all Ryn can think about is that one unread text message. It follows her wherever she goes, because Ryn can’t get her brilliantly wild and free-spirited best friend out of her head.

Ryn can’t move on.

But tonight, for the first time ever, she’s trying. And maybe that’s a start.

As moving as it is funny, The Chaos of Standing Still is a heartwarming story about the earth-shattering challenges life throws at us—and the unexpected strangers who help us along the way.”

What Did I Think?

I REALLY wanted to like this book… like, so bad. Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had for it.

The overall concept of The Chaos of Standing Still was of the variety that I couldn’t imagine myself NOT liking, and this hypothesis held true. I mean, come on! Who doesn’t love unexpected detours, finding friends in the strangest of places, and characters that have a lot of growing to do? I haven’t spent much time in an airport, but I was happy to see that the Denver airport has all kinds of bells and whistles, considering that was the primary setting of the novel. I found that I really enjoyed the wintery blizzard, “finding love/friendship while stranded in the airport” concept Brody uses here as a whole. I also really enjoyed all of the different types of people Ryn encounters in her travels, as one would in an actual airport. I think this added a more realistic competent to a not-super-realistic, “insta-love” story line, though I did enjoy it, nonetheless! As a whole, I found the overall concept and plotline of the novel stands alone as being quite original and intriguing.

Moving right along to our protagonist, Kathryn “Ryn Ryn” Gilbert. From the very beginning of the novel, the animosity and bitterness stemming from her inability to fully grieve her friend’s death is palpable, and, as one would expect, unpleasant to the reader’s senses. HOWEVER, as Ryn’s story went on, I started to warm up to her, but it just wasn’t quite enough to actually feel invested in her journey/growth as a character as she learns to cope with the loss of her best friend. I tried (and epically failed) to put myself in her shoes with the hopes of trying to understand her motives and emotions on a more personal level, but I couldn’t quite manage it. This ended up being further exacerbated when Ryn was not super nice to Xander, even when he was bending over backwards to try and make her happy. On the flipside, I did find myself enjoying the “before” chapters where the reader sees more of Ryn’s personality and the beautiful friendship she had with Lottie. I think this made my sympathetic button work (FINALLY!), and also allowed me to appreciate the growth Ryn has undergone since the beginning of the novel by its end. I always find it difficult to enjoy a novel to its fullest when I’m not 100 percent supportive of the protagonist, and unfortunately, Ryn and I just couldn’t manage to mesh for the vast majority of the novel.

Xander ended up being one of the saving graces of The Chaos of Standing Still for me! Even though he had his own issues to work though, he still managed to find joy in something as ordinary as an airport. I loved his sense of humor that I firmly believe would make even the grumpiest of people crack a grin. Though there were moments where his immaturity became evident (understandable and relatable, given that he is a teenager himself!), his ability to lighten Ryn’s mood and bring a little piece of sunshine to the story kept me reading until the end.   

We’re all about honesty here, so I can’t sign off of this review without explaining a few of the reasons why this book didn’t tick off all of my boxes. The biggest issue I had with The Chaos of Standing Still was that there were so many loose ends that I felt needed tying up that just weren’t. There were so many moving parts in the novel (many of which I found rather clever/entertaining!), but they seemed to just abruptly ended with no further explanation as to why. The other large issue is that the setting is essentially completely stagnant: THEY NEVER LEFT THE AIRPORT! While maybe I should have been expecting this based on the synopsis, I thought for sure that at some point, they’d have to get out of the Denver airport. My issue with a stationary setting for 400+ pages is definitely a personal pet peeve, as it just didn’t work for my adventure/escape-seeking brain.

While The Chaos of Standing Still wasn’t my favorite read of all time, there were still aspects that motivated me to read this tale until the end. The misfit characters Brody incorporates into the story line were so much fun to read about, and there were even moments when I wanted to join in on their shenanigans. Xander had the patience of a saint, and I lived for the moments where his humor managed to bring a little joy to Ryn’s grief-stricken face. As always with these reviews, they are simply just my opinions, and just because I wasn’t in love with The Chaos of Standing Still doesn’t mean YOU won’t be!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you enjoy contemporary reads that center on a main character’s journey of coping with grief and learning to live again, The Chaos of Standing Still may just be your next great read!

I would also recommend this book to fans of Kasie West, Jenn Bennett, and Emery Lord.

Historical Fiction, Young Adult

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Pages: 337

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 7, 2019

Genre(s): Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her.

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.”

What Did I Think?

My reading Romanov could quite easily be equated to going on a blind date – I bought the book for the cover and my knowledge of any kind of Russian history is slim-pickens. But you know what? I think it was probably the best date I have every been on in my entire life by far, so SCORE!

For those of you who have followed me for a while now, it probably comes as no shock to you that going into this book, I knew absolutely nothing about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the execution of the real Romanov family in 1918. And to be honest, I’m so glad I was completely clueless, as my lack of knowledge allowed me to just completely immerse myself san background noise in an absolutely beautiful story that I don’t ever foresee myself forgetting.

The overall concept of Romanov was so intriguing to me – the more I read, the more I fell in love with this twisted tale of both true events and the magical elements Brandes incorporates to fill in some of the blanks the history books can’t seem to fill in. I greatly appreciated the fact that the horrific living conditions of the Romanov family weren’t overly romanticized, which allowed me to sympathize with their struggles but also admire the strong bond this family had with one another that much more. It comes as no surprise that Romanov was a rollercoaster of heartbreak and triumph, and it truly was so special to be able to experience all of these events and emotions right alongside the characters.

Speaking of characters… Let’s jump into my ramblings about our main protagonist, Anastasia. We meet Nastya when she is just sixteen years old, and if it hadn’t been written in the novel, I would have assumed that she was much older. I greatly admired her maturity and ability to face challenges head-on in a logical, well thought-out way. Regardless of the hardship thrown her way, she continued to carry herself with poise and never lost sight of the fact that even in the darkest of moments, hope for a better future can never be completely lost. I also appreciated the fact that she was never quick to jump to conclusions – she was almost always willing to listen to another perspective and try to understand their side of the story, which is something even full-blown adults have difficulty doing. On the flipside of her maturity, I equally loved the moments where her teenage shenanigans came out in full force. It really showed that she wasn’t going to let the Bolsheviks take everything she loved away from her and that deep down, she was still a kid who wanted to have some good old fashioned fun from time to time. Overall, I honestly couldn’t get enough of Nastya’s narration and watching her story play out, even when it broke my heart to see her struggle through some heartache along the way.  

One of the reasons Nastya is as mature and understanding as she is has to do with her upbringing and how much she cares for her parents and siblings. I love to see strong family dynamics in young adult novels, and I can admit wholeheartedly that the Romanov family unit has to be one of the best portrayals of this I have ever seen. Their family motto speaks for itself: “The bond of our hearts spans miles, memory, and time.” I greatly admired Nastya’s Papa and how even though the Bolsheviks mistreated and misjudged him, he was the first to throw compassion and understanding back at them rather than ugly retaliation, and his wife and children were quick to follow his lead. I could see so much of him in Alexei and Nastya, and I had so many “proud parent” moments as I watched them work through their trials with as much poise and dignity as their father would have.

The most complex character of the novel would have to be Zash, one of the Bolshevik soldiers charged with looking after the Romanov family during their exile. I’m a sucker for mysterious characters that have so much more depth than what they show on the surface, and Zash totally fits this mold. I won’t go into too much detail about his character (you’ll just have to read Romanov yourself for the full scoop!), but I will say that watching his walls come down as the story went on and seeing his perspective on his role when it came to the Romanov family continued to catch me off guard, but in the best of ways. I never knew what we were going to get from Zash, and that suspense factor is honestly what made his character so enjoyable.  

Though the overall concept and characters in the novel were intriguing right from the get-go, I don’t think Romanov would have been nearly as compelling had it not been for Brandes’ stunning writing style. Each line of the novel made me feel something, and I can’t think of one word that was just placed in the story as filler. I seriously couldn’t get enough, and I am so looking forward to diving into Brandes’ other books to get my fill of all her writing has to offer.

If I were to make a list of everything I would expect to see in an ideal historical fantasy novel, I have no doubt someone would hand me a copy of Romanov. I fell in love with the dedication these characters had to their causes, the bravery that shone through in the most dire of circumstances, and how through it all, they never completely lost hope in what could be for themselves and their country. The plot was engaging and kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end, and I couldn’t help but want more by the time the tale came to a close. If you’re looking for a mysterious historical fantasy that’s quick to grab your attention and never let you go, look no further than Romanov by Nadine Brandes.   

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Romanov is perfect for readers who love standalone historical fantasy titles that are fast-paced with complex characters and strong familial relationships.

I would highly recommend Romanov to fans of Ryan Graudin’s writing style and eye for integrating fantastical vibes into her knowledge of history.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welsh

Pages: 506

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: November 10, 2020

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

Santorini felt like an island holding its breath. As if it were keeping in a secret…

Liv Varanakis doesn’t like to think about her father much, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight, leaving her with just a few painful memories of their shared love for the lost city of Atlantis. So when teenage Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father, who explains that National Geographic is supporting a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and asks if she will fly out to Greece and help—Liv is less than thrilled.

When she arrives in gorgeous Santorini, things are just as awkward as she’d imagined. There are so many questions, so many emotions that flood to the surface after seeing her father for the first time in years. Liv doesn’t want to get sucked back into her father’s world. She also definitely doesn’t want Theo, her father’s charismatic so-called protégé, to witness her struggle.

Even so, she can’t help but be charmed by everything Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the sun-drenched villages, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.”

What Did I Think?

Going into reading Love & Olives, I had previously read the other two books in the Love & Gelato series and thoroughly enjoyed them. Just like the first two, I thought Love & Olives was a super cute read, but there were a few things that made me like this read less than the other two.

Let’s jump into the overall concept of this book – a highlight for me! The tie-in to the Atlantis legend was so intriguing to me, and it was so fun watching Olive, Theo, and Nico hunt for this oh-so-mysterious underwater city. I cannot even imagine all the research that had to be done in order to make this part of the story so compelling, to huge props to Jenna Evans Welsh for all of her efforts on that front! As with the other two books in this series, I found the international travel aspect to be an absolute blast. I’ve never been to Greece, but because of this read, I have no choice but to add Santorini to my bucket list of places to visit! As a whole, I thought the overall concept of this book – girl travels to learn about why her father left through their shared love of Atlantis and come to term with who she is and where she wants to go in life – was portrayed clearly throughout the novel and, for the most part, kept me wanting to read more.

Olive/Liv/Kalamata is the main protagonist of the novel, and the primary reason why I don’t think I enjoyed Love & Olives as much as I was hoping to, unfortunately. At just 17 years old, Olive has gone through a lot and had to overcome some massive struggles. While I do sympathize and can relate to a lot of what Olive has to contend with, I was not always a huge fan of her “Debby Downer” attitude that remained consistent throughout most of the novel. In some scenarios, it made sense, but in others, it just made her seem very self-centered and immature. However, her character did have some redeeming qualities that made her not a complete bust for me. Her interest in art was so much fun to read about, and I lived for the moments where she would embrace this side of herself that she so clearly got from her dad. While I don’t think her character grew leaps and bounds, I thought she embodied the “coming-of-age” component of the novel very well, particularly when she was contemplating what to do about her boyfriend back home, where to go to college, and generally what’s important to her in life. As a whole, I don’t think I particularly enjoyed reading things from Olive’s perspective a lot of the time, but did find myself appreciating some of the smaller components of her character that I wish could have been highlighted more.

On to the reason why I read this book to the very end: Theo, the super adorable and endlessly optimistic Greek teen with no filter whatsoever! I became literally OBSESSED with Theo from the moment we meet him. His excited energy was absolutely contagious and radiated right of the page, and I couldn’t help but smile at all of his shenanigans! I don’t really understand filmmaking at all, but it was clear that Theo is meant to be a documentarian and is so passionate about creating quality content that is meaningful for the actors and viewers alike. He served as the ultimate foil to Olive’s nature, and it was so good to see him begin to rub off on her by the end of the book. Overall, I need a Theo in my life! Side note: I am still not #TeamKalameo because I just don’t think these two fit very well together. Though sometimes opposites do attract, I think this is a stretch.

Before putting a wrap on this review, I feel obligated to highlight some of the main issues I had with this read. This book was 500 pages and while I enjoyed many of the moving parts of the novel, I felt like there were so many that things got lost in the shuffle. Some rather large things (no spoilers!) were mentioned, but were never double-backed to and, in my opinion, they warranted further discussion.  I also found the wording in the first quarter of the novel to be very repetitive – descriptions were essentially given twice sometimes, and it was totally overkill and became distracting. While this is a work of fiction, I also had an issue with much of the plot being quite unrealistic. For example, Olive hasn’t seen or spoken to her father in like 9 years, and then all of the sudden, her mother puts her on a plane by herself to hang out with him for awhile unattended? I went with it, but there were so many things similar to this that made me not find this book super relatable or realistic.

Though I have some mixed feelings about Love & Olives, I have to give credit where it is due – THAT ENDING! The last 30ish pages were absolutely BEAUTIFUL and served as the most perfect conclusion to the book. I just wish the whole novel could have been like that! The plot was paced nicely, the overall concept was compelling, the setting was absolutely stunning and well-suited for the plot, and I had so much fun discovering Atlantis alongside the characters. Issues aside, Love & Olives was a solid read with qualities I believe many readers will find themselves enjoying.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

 If you read and enjoyed Jenna Evans Welsh’s Love & Gelato and Love & Luck, I highly recommend checking out the adventure she takes you on in Greece in Love & Olives.

I would also recommend this book to fans of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss, any of Kasie West’s contemporary novels, and Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty series.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories

Pages: 321

Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Release Date: October 14, 2014

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

If you love holiday stories, holiday movies, made-for-TV-holiday specials, holiday episodes of your favorite sitcoms and, especially, if you love holiday anthologies, you’re going to fall in love with My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories by twelve bestselling young adult writers, edited by international bestselling author Stephanie Perkins. Whether you enjoy celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, Winter Solstice or New Year’s there’s something here for everyone. So curl up by the fireplace and get cozy. You have twelve reasons this season to stay indoors and fall in love.

What Did I Think?

Before sharing my thoughts on my favorite (and least favorite!) stories in this holiday-themed anthology, I want to share my individual ratings for each of the twelve stories with you, which average out to the whole anthology being a 3.91-star rating: 

  • Midnight by Rainbow Rowell: 4/5 stars
  • The Lady and the Fox by Kelly Link: 1/5 stars
  • Angels in the Snow by Matt de la Pena: 4/5 stars
  • Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me by Jenny Han: 5/5 stars
  • It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown by Stephanie Perkins: 5/5 stars
  • Your Temporary Santa by David Levithan: 5/5 stars
  • Krampuslauf by Holly Black: 3/5 stars
  • What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth? by Gayle Forman: 4/5 stars
  • Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus by Myra McEntire: 4/5 stars
  • Welcome to Christmas, CA by Kiersten White: 5/5 stars
  • Star of Bethlehem by Ally Carter: 4/5 stars
  • The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: 3/5 stars

I’ll be candid with you guys since we’re all friends here: I typically don’t read holiday/season-themed books. But, as weird as 2020 has been, I felt like reading something like My True Love Gave to Me would put me in the holiday spirit, and boy was I right! I always love Christmas time (there’s just something so magical to me about the season!), and many of these stories really captured the whimsicality and beauty of the holiday and its other wintery co-holidays for me.

My favorites of the bunch (as you can see from my ratings!) are Polaris Is Where You’ll Find Me, It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown, Your Temporary Santa, and Welcome to Christmas, CA. The connecting factor among these pieces that made me enjoy them so much was that even though each of the main characters had their own trials and tribulations to contend with, they still managed to obtain joy from Christmas-y festivities and the people they met along the way. A true Christmas blessing –  you are never truly alone, even when you feel as though it’s just you against the world. I also thoroughly enjoyed the quirky writing styles each of the authors used in the tellings of their holiday tales!

Unfortunately, there were also a few stories in the anthology that just didn’t speak to me: The Lady and the Fox, Krampuslauf, and The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer. As a whole, I just didn’t get the holiday vibes I was craving. I appreciated the mystical/fantastical natures of the stories each of these writers was trying to convey, but they really just didn’t speak to me. I’m not even sure I would have been on board with these if they had just been published separately, either, unfortunately. Overall, these just didn’t mesh right with me, for one reason or another!

As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed My True Love Gave to Me. Every time there was a joke or reference to a holiday tradition I partake in myself or have heard of, I couldn’t help but grin. The joy, laughter, and moments of reflection these stories brought me made My True Love Gave to Me the perfect book to sink into for my final read of December!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re a total sucker for the holidays like I am and are looking for a light read to put you in the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year’s spirit, My True Love Gave to Me would be an excellent read for you!

I’d also recommend this book to anyone who loves a writer who contributed to this anthology. I have desperately missed Jenny Han’s writing (among others!), and was so happy to read just a few pages by her as I anxiously await her next release!

Fantasy, Young Adult

To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo

Pages: 344

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Release Date: March 6, 2018

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?”

What Did I Think?

For the past four months, I have been trying and epically failing to find a young adult novel that would keep my attention – until I found To Kill a Kingdom. I picked this beauty up because its overall concept isn’t something I traditionally find myself reading. The novel follows the story of Lira, a royal siren known as the Prince’s Bane, who gets turned into a human by her mother in an attempt to get rid of the humanity left in her so she can become the ruthless leader her people “need” her to be. Prince Elian, the prince/pirate/world-renowned siren killer, is her target. Though I’m not one for the enemies-to-lovers trope, I thought it worked very well here and fit the dynamic between Lira and Elian to a tea. This being said, though, the romance didn’t steal the show, which I found so refreshing! I also really enjoyed that the reader is taken into this fantastical world where there are various folktale-esque rumors spreading about traits only the royal lines of each kingdom possess (i.e. like Elian bleeds gold instead of red). This novel is written from dual perspectives, which I though was a really good call, as it helped me to see that while Lira and Elian may be different species, their lives are much more alike than either of them really wants to believe. As a whole, I found the overall concept of the novel both intriguing and compelling, just like a siren’s song to a sailor (ha… I knew you’d get the joke!).

If I had to pick one phrase to describe Lira, it would be “a force to be reckoned with.” At first, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about Lira’s iciness towards basically everyone, but quickly realized that she was simply a product of the environment in which she was living – the next pawn in the perpetual cycle of ruthless Sea Queens. I absolutely loved watching her perspective shift as she learned more about what it was like to be human and starts to see the flaws in her own upbringing. I feel like this is something we all experience as we live more of life, and to see this represented so well in Lira’s character was lovely. Other than her fiery temper and sass for days, the only constant in her character was her love for her cousin, Khalia. I think the relationship these two had with one another was what helped me to get over Lira’s lack of empathy at the beginning of the novel. Overall, I found Lira’s character very dynamic, the overall lessons from her journey as a human relatable, and, for the most part, generally likeable!

Onto our princely pirate, Elian. From the very first chapter told from his perspective, I knew I was going to love him. He’s got sass, he’s got class, and he’s always ready to kick some… err… you can fill in the blank for where I was going with that one. While his risk-taking often stressed me out to high heaven, his purpose behind brokering such extreme deals made my heart so happy. Though a prince, Elian is the first to think of the betterment of humanity as a whole rather than his own personal and/or princely interests. In addition to enjoying his very dark but super funny interactions with Lira, the relationship Elian has with his crew was so much fun to read about. Any time he was around them after attending to his royal duties, I could totally visualize Elian letting go of the deep breath he’d been holding in and just letting loose with his most loyal friends. While I am sure Elian is not hard on the eyes (I mean, come on. Even Lira was intrigued and she’s COLD sometimes!), I mostly enjoyed the fact that Elian, deep down, had a good heart and a willingness to risk everything for those he cares about.

Christo’s writing style is what made reading To Kill a Kingdom such a treat. I found myself reading along, completely absorbed in the plot, and then BAM! She would hit me with a line that cut deep and encourages the reader to stop and reflect on its meaning in our own lives. There were also moments that were so beautifully worded that I had no choice but to stop in my tracks and take it all in. Though I thought some lines were a little bit clunky to read through at times, that in no way overshadows how magnificently written the vast majority of novel is.

I could not have asked for a better book to help me move past my (very lengthy) reading slump. To Kill a Kingdom was full of both loveable and complex characters that were constantly keeping me on my toes. I thought the plotline flowed nicely, and though the world had to be established rather quickly, it was executed very well. The only major critique I can think of is that the ending felt very abrupt, given that the few chapters before novel’s end were very detailed – overly so, for my liking. While To Kill a Kingdom is a standalone novel, I could totally see it having spin-off stories in the future with an ending like that, and you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be reading them all should they surface!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you are a fan of YA novels that are ultimate examples of a well-constructed enemies-to-lovers trope, pirate-y adventures, and (on the outside) coldhearted characters who aren’t afraid to throw down to get what they want, To Kill a Kingdom is totally for you!

I would also wholeheartedly recommend this book to those of you who thoroughly enjoyed the overall theme and plotline of Tricia Levenseller’s Daughter of the Pirate King duology. And, if you loved the wickedly loveable characters of Holly Black’s Folk of Air trilogy and Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreakers series, you’re sure to enjoy the characters Christo has created for To Kill a Kingdom.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

It Started with Goodbye by Christina June

Pages: 269

Publisher: Blink

Release Date: May 9, 2017

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Paperback

Goodreads Synopsis

“Winner of the 2018 Young Adult Virginia Book of the Year

Sixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she’s stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF’s gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night (which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client). When Tatum discovers she’s not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela-slash-fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way.”

What Did I Think?

While the overall concept of It Started with Goodbye appears to be like other fluffy and sweet contemporaries, this book was so much more than that! The other loose fairytale retellings I’ve read have been in the fantasy genre, and I loved that June was able to create such a fabulous retelling of “Cinderella” through a modern, contemporary lens set in today’s world. The emphasis on Tatum and the relationships she has with the other members of her blended family remained at the forefront, setting the tone for the wonderful coming-of-age story that this book transforms into.

For someone as young as our protagonist, Tatum, she sure does handle all the new changes in her life like a trooper. Unfortunately, Tate was the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when some shizzz went down and has basically been forced into seclusion by her father and overly-controlling stepmother… well, except when she is out on the town doing community service. I greatly appreciated the fact that while Tate wasn’t thrilled with how her summer unfolded, she managed to find some good in what was thrown her way and took the extra time she had to focus on things that she saw value in, like honing her graphic design skills. A part of me got really upset that it took Tate so long to stand up to her stepmother in a constructive way, but given her reserved, quirky personality and her parents’ refusal to listen to her previously, I began to understand why she was so hesitant to handle conflict head-on until she really hit her breaking point. Overall, I found Tatum’s character relatable and the development we see from her very realistic for the age and stage she’s in.

I can’t help but take a moment to comment of how intriguing Tatum’s family is. She is a part of a big blended family (something so many readers can relate to!) and the personalities of each member are vastly different from that of other members. I loved how Tatum’s abuela was so free-spirited and always willing to use logic to help sort out conflict within the family. I also appreciated the fact that she wasn’t afraid to step in on behalf of Tatum when her stepmother and father were way out of line. Tilly sure had a massive attitude on her, I found it interesting to see how she and Tatum got along as sisters, as their personalities were kind of born to clash. I think it would be a hoot to see this family spending time together all at one time — I’ll bring the popcorn!

While the vast majority of the story follows Tatum and her family, there is also a very charming and endearing virtual Prince Charming we totally need to discuss. While under house arrest, Tatum works on a website for her “virtual pen pal” of sorts and they strum up a solid friendship. I enjoyed the fact that like Tatum, Secret Pen Pal was kind of quirky and certainly not what one would consider a mainstream teen. I loved the fact that both Tatum and Mystery Man were able to help and support one another from a distance and seemed to be what the other needed just in the nick of time.

It Started with Goodbye was a very sweet, wholesome, and beautiful read that highlighted the importance of forgiving those who have wronged you and mending relationships that have never quite been whole. It has the perfect blend of humor and hardship, friendship and family, and misunderstanding and learning to understand. The characters were flawed but relatable, the family dynamic was complex but so intriguing, and June’s writing was just stunning to read and totally fit the fairytale whimsicality that frames Tatum’s story. The lessons presented in this book are timeless, and I truly believe that readers of all ages can take at least a tiny morsel of wisdom with them by the end of their reading of It Started with Goodbye.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re in the mood to read a contemporary with hilarious dialogue between characters, a strong emphasis on family, and a coming-of-age tale through and through, I highly suggest giving It Started with Goodbye a read!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Jennifer E. Smith, Miranda Kenneally, and Morgan Matson.