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!

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

Pages: 440

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Emma Saylor doesn’t remember a lot about her mother, who died when she was ten. But she does remember the stories her mom told her about the big lake that went on forever, with cold, clear water and mossy trees at the edges.

Now it’s just Emma and her dad, and life is good, if a little predictable…until Emma is unexpectedly sent to spend the summer with her mother’s family—her grandmother and cousins she hasn’t seen since she was a little girl.

When Emma arrives at North Lake, she realizes there are actually two very different communities there. Her mother grew up in working class North Lake, while her dad spent summers in the wealthier Lake North resort. The more time Emma spends there, the more it starts to feel like she is divided into two people as well. To her father, she is Emma. But to her new family, she is Saylor, the name her mother always called her.

Then there’s Roo, the boy who was her very best friend when she was little. Roo holds the key to her family’s history, and slowly, he helps her put the pieces together about her past. It’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of North Lake—and Saylor finds herself falling under Roo’s spell as well.

For Saylor, it’s like a whole new world is opening up to her. But when it’s time to go back home, which side of her will win out?”

What Did I Think?

I’ve read a good many of Sarah Dessen’s books, and they’re usually either a HUGE hit or a big miss for me. Her latest release, The Rest of the Story, falls into the latter category, and dare I say it, there’s a good chance it’s my favorite book of hers yet!

The overall concept of The Rest of the Story appears pretty simplistic at first glance, but is actually super intricate as you delve deeper into the book. I thought that having the lake have “two sides” was super unique and realistic, as I think there are high and lower-end parts of real recreational destinations. The rivalries between the two sides also nicely reflects Emma’s/Saylor’s internal battle of figuring out who exactly she wants to be, which was a really interesting touch that continued to pop up throughout the book in great ways. I really enjoyed that the reader sees both the points of view of locals and tourists, as their perspectives on things are totally different even though they are essentially in the exact same place. As a whole, I thought that while some components of the overall concept were pretty traditional for a summertime contemporary (i.e. the setting), the amount of detail that lay beneath the surface made this book something unlike those I’ve read in the past in the best ways imaginable.

I am so excited to talk to you about these characters because they were so much fun to read about! Let’s start with our main gal, Emma Saylor Payne. I don’t know why exactly this was, but I found myself drawn to her from the very first page. Like me, Emma/Saylor tends to organize and clean things when she gets overwhelmed or anxious (undiagnosed OCD friends, unite!), and also tries to stay out of the limelight in an attempt to please others and avoid conflict. I loved every moment of watching her character figure out who she wanted to be (Emma or Saylor? You’ll have to wait and see for yourself!) and how her time at North Lake seemed to change her for the better. As hard as it may be to believe, Emma/Saylor’s character developed more in 440 short pages than many of the characters I’ve read about in other books developed over four, 440-page books, and did so in a way that was realistic and believable. I had so much fun experiencing Emma/Saylor’s adventures at North Lake with her, as well as watching her learn more about her mother through her time with that side of her family.

While I wish we could have gotten to see more of Roo, I’ve got to take a second to rant about what an awesome catch this guy is! First of all, his nickname comes from his childhood love of kangaroos. How adorable is that? Other than that fun fact, I generally loved everything about Roo’s character. He’s naturally charismatic, hilarious, hardworking, understanding, ridiculously respectful of his elders (even when I totally think he should have opened a can of kick butt on a certain someone who was a total JERK to him for no reason) and deeply invested in the relationships he has with his family and friends. He’s just one of those people that everyone’s naturally drawn to, which I think is rare in a fictional character. I mean, usually you can find at least one flaw, but I literally could not when it came to Roo! Whenever his name would pop up, I was immediately excited to see what he was up to, and when he wasn’t around, I was wishing he was. He balances out Emma/Saylor so well, and I think they both learned a little something from each other: Roo to be more in-tune with how he feels about his dad not being around and to let loose a little bit and have some fun, and Emma to block out what everyone’s been telling her about her mother and instead do some digging on her own to fill in the gaps in her mom’s story. I love both Roo and Emma/Saylor separately, I love them together, I love them any way we get to have them because they are simply superbly written characters with so much depth to them!

If I had to pick just one, the standout of this entire book has to be the supporting characters, including but not limited to Bailey, Jack, Trinity, Gordon, Vincent, Taylor, April, and so many more. Each of them added so much fun to the story’s more serious moments. I literally lived for when the entire gang was together, having a good time! The fact that they took Emma/Saylor under their wing and included her in their summer fun (and work, as well!) was so sweet, and that they were able to recognize that her lack of visiting them in North Lake was not her doing but rather her father’s was really mature of them given their ages. If I had to pick one fictional family/friend group to be a part of (aside from a magical, fantastical one, of course!) it would be this one, hand’s down!

One of the things that hold me back from giving this book five stars is that I felt like there were some elements that were introduced at the beginning that weren’t fully explained by the end or that didn’t reappear until the very end after originally being mentioned. For example, the reader learns that Emma/Saylor likes to organize things when she gets anxious, as establishing in the opening chapter. However, it’s rare that this point is blatantly mentioned again until the very end. I think I would have just liked to have seen these moments a tad bit more developed. I also found a few aspects of the book to be pretty unrealistic, such as why Emma/Saylor’s dad would let her stay with her grandmother on her mom’s side when they don’t know each other at all and him thinking they are bad influences. While these are relatively small issues, they did impact the reading experience and left some things to be desired from my perspective.

The Rest of the Story had everything I always expect in a Sarah Dessen book and more: a strong focus on the family dynamic, a little dash of romance, a main character on the cusp of adulthood whose trying to embrace their new-found independence, and a beautiful summertime setting that is sure to bring a smile to every reader’s face. The pacing was well done with the exception of a few places that were a little too detailed for my liking, and the plot and characters were so compelling that I honestly wished the book was longer or that there was a second one! Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of reading The Rest of the Story, and I think there’s something to be learned from and appreciated by anyone who gives it a chance.

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you are looking for a summery, coming-of-age read that’s all about adjusting to change and embracing what’s to come, The Rest of the Story is the perfect read for you!

If Sarah Dessen’s other books are your jam, why haven’t you given this book a read yet? Just kidding, but I highly suggest bumping this book to the top of your ever-growing TBR!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Morgan Matson, Jessie Kirby, and Jenny Han’s sweet and summery contemporaries.

Fantasy, Young Adult

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (Folk of the Air Series #1) by Holly Black ...

Pages: 370

Series: The Folk of the Air #1

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: January 2, 2018

Genre(s): Fantasy with Romantic Elements

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.

And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.”

What Did I Think?

I was totally down for some fey folktale reading when I hit this book up, and it did not disappoint. Other readers have said that Holly Black’s fey worlds are virtually unmatched, and after reading this book, I can see why! I love how Black’s writing style matches the whimsical setting she’s writing about, as well as all the beautiful world-building she manages to do in just a few short chapters. I was totally entranced when learning about the grandiose lifestyles of the fey, which made up for my lack of love towards a good many of those that lived there (sorry not sorry to say, because some of them are JERKS). I also thought the family tree situation was intriguing (and slightly depressing), particularly when we learn how Jude and her sisters ended up with Madoc in the first place. As a whole, I thought the overall concept of The Cruel Prince was unique and well constructed.

*Let me just preface this section of my review by saying that these characters weren’t exactly my cup of tea. Sure, I enjoyed some elements of a good many of them, but overall, I struggled to connect and appreciate their personalities (I know, I’m terrible, but bear with me and hear me out, kayy kayy?).*

Let’s start with Jude. One of the things I really admired about Jude was the fact that she was quick to stand up for herself and her family when the fey would talk smack about them, as well as her willingness to fight for those in a place she wasn’t even born in (and, at times, doesn’t even particularly like). Even though Jude is a human living in Faerie, she fiercely tries to make it the best place it can be when push comes to shove. I found myself appreciating the fact that she was a total spitfire and was quick to follow her instincts, even when others tried to dissuade her from what she believed to be true. However, I have to say that the biggest issue I had with Jude was her jealously of the fey. At first I thought, “Okay, this makes sense. They have a lot of things she never will,” but this point came up so much that it made her seem immature, when for the rest of the book, I thought her characterization made her more mature than most people her age would have been. This was more of an issue of moderation for me, rather than just not understanding or liking the fact that Jude was jealous of the Fae. Other than that, I found Jude’s character appealing, and I look forward to seeing how her character evolves in the next book.

Oh, Cardan. One of my least favorite tropes in YA basically sums up (almost) the entirety of his character: the misunderstood male character. Ughh. While I think the goal was to show that Cardan isn’t as cruel as he appears at face-value, the damage was already kind of done by the time I realized this was the point of his character. I didn’t find myself wanting to know all that much about him because he just seemed to be a terrible dude. However, a trait I did find myself appreciating was the fact that he would secretly perform acts of kindness for other people — at least then I knew he really did have a heart in there, which was questionable for a good chunk of the book. I also have to point out that he has a pretty dope fashion sense that I couldn’t help but admire, so here’s to hope that saving grace continues to be around in the next book! I’m also hoping (begging, really) for some development and more background on Cardan so then I can sympathize and, heck, maybe even like the guy by the end of the series.

While I had some issues with the main characters, I thought the supporting characters were awesome! Madoc has so many layers to him, and I look forward to seeing how his character keeps progressing as the series goes on, particularly when it comes to his relationship with Jude. I also found myself really enjoying learning more about Jude’s sisters, Vivi and Taryn and seeing how they react so differently to each of the events that took place.

One of the major issues I had with this book were the romances. I didn’t feel invested in who was with who, and in some cases, I found the partnerships completely unhealthy for both individuals involved. I’m definitely looking for more development here in the other books in the Folk of the Air series because I’m always look for more couple to make ship names for, but at this point in time, the romance is a no-go for me.

Overall, I had a lot of fun reading The Cruel Prince. I’m a sucker for books about fey, and this book totally fulfilled my dream of learning more about them and the super magical lives they live. The plot was fast-paced, and the plot twists were very well positioned — I never knew when they were coming! With the exception of a few (somewhat large, now that I reflect?) issues, I really enjoyed The Cruel Prince and I’m looking forward to continuing this highly-loved series!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re like me and looking for a book that takes place in a magical world full of fey, I’d highly recommend this book to you!

I’d also suggest fans of Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series and Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series give The Cruel Prince a shot.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett

Amazon.com: Serious Moonlight (9781534425149): Bennett, Jenn: Books

Pages: 426

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: April 16, 2019

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Advanced Reader Copy

Goodreads Synopsis

“After an awkward first encounter, Birdie and Daniel are forced to work together in a Seattle hotel where a famous author leads a mysterious and secluded life in this romantic contemporary novel from the author of Alex, Approximately.

Mystery-book aficionado Birdie Lindberg has an overactive imagination. Raised in isolation and homeschooled by strict grandparents, she’s cultivated a whimsical fantasy life in which she plays the heroic detective and every stranger is a suspect. But her solitary world expands when she takes a job the summer before college, working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel.

In her new job, Birdie hopes to blossom from introverted dreamer to brave pioneer, and gregarious Daniel Aoki volunteers to be her guide. The hotel’s charismatic young van driver shares the same nocturnal shift and patronizes the waterfront Moonlight Diner where she waits for the early morning ferry after work. Daniel also shares her appetite for intrigue, and he’s stumbled upon a real-life mystery: a famous reclusive writer—never before seen in public—might be secretly meeting someone at the hotel.

To uncover the writer’s puzzling identity, Birdie must come out of her shell…discovering that the most confounding mystery of all may be her growing feelings for the elusive riddle that is Daniel.”

What Did I Think?

This book had it all: a SUPER awkward first (err, second?) encounter, some unauthorized detective work, an octopus named Octavia, and a whole lotta pie-eatin’, and I LOVED IT!

I don’t now how she does it, but Jenn Bennett always manages keep readers on their toes when it comes to the overall concepts she constructs. Serious Moonlight was totally unlike any other contemporary I’ve ever read. While I don’t normally read mysteries or detective stories, I absolutely loved the main plot of this book, which centers around Birdie and Daniel becoming the modern-day versions of Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew as they try to learn more about a reclusive writer they think is staying at the hotel they work the overnight shift at. The majority of the book takes place in and around Seattle, WA (a place I’ve never been to before but felt like I had by the end of the book), and having Birdie take the ferry in and out of the city from the island she lives on was a super creative touch. I also really appreciate the fact that both Birdie and Daniel have such wonderful support systems standing behind them to provide guidance when they need it. Overall, I thought all of these tiny little details worked together to create a super intriguing concept that would appeal to a wide variety of readers.

I saw a lot of myself in Birdie’s character. She’s very connected to her family, and I love the bond she has with her late mother’s (frick frackin’ hilarious) best friend, Mona, who Birdie grew up living with. She also, like me, tends to sweat the small stuff. Throughout the book we see Birdie struggle to work through quite a few things, including her anxiety, another health condition she’s been avoiding dealing with, grief after losing family members, and trying to break out of her introverted shell. While I’m not a huge fan of mysteries myself, I had so much fun learning about Birdie’s love of reading about and solving mysteries. I found myself appreciating the fact that Birdie’s character didn’t have a whole lot of new development, but instead just became more in tune with and honed her true personality over the course of the novel. I will say that it took me a little while to connect with her because the concept of the novel was so complex and took a little bit to establish before the reader really gets to know her, but once I did I really enjoyed Birdie’s character!

As if this book couldn’t get any better, Serious Moonlight also has its own personal magician– Daniel! There was not one thing I didn’t love about his character. He’s sweet, funny, witty, charismatic, and overall, just a great guy. The fact that he has a man bun is also a nice touch, and likely means that yet another fictional character has better hair than I do (le sigh). After he and Birdie reconnect at the Carlisle Hotel (now as work buddies, yayy but AWKWARD!), he’s convinced that their meeting again was an act of fate, which irks Birdie to no end, as she really wants to just sweep the whole situation under a rug. However, I’m totally with Daniel on this one, because I think they balance each other out really well, and let’s face it: they were meant to be from the get-go. Daniel also gets bonus points from me because he knows and is invested in what Birdie is interested in and makes an effort to take her on adventures in Seattle that are geared toward those interests. I’m thinking of one outing in particular and really want to spoil it for you guys, but I’m gonna keep it to myself and let you enjoy the moment yourselves when you give Serious Moonlight a read!

I cannot sing the praises of Serious Moonlight enough! I found Bennett’s storytelling so compelling and the overall concept she created brilliantly unconventional. The pacing of was right on the money, and I enjoyed all the little plot twists that managed to sneak up on me when I least expected them. I couldn’t help but love and relate to all of the characters and their quirks, and I’m hard-pressed to find two people that suit one another better than Birdie and Daniel do. The romance that sparked between these two was constructed in a way that made it so realistic and believable, given all the awkwardness their past experience with one another brought to the table. I enjoyed every moment of reading Serious Moonlight, and I have a feeling it will go down in history as one of my favorite contemporary romances of all time!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

Looking for a book with a truckload of mystery, romance, and some quirky, flawed characters you can’t help but love and relate to? Give Serious Moonlight a try. You won’t regret it, I promise!

If you’ve read Jenn Bennett’s other contemporaries (Starry Eyes and Alex, Approximately), I’m almost 100% sure you’ll fall in love with Serious Moonlight! I’d also recommend Serious Moonlight to fans of Rainbow Rowell, Kasie West, and Jenny Han.

Fantasy, Young Adult

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Amazon.com: Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass series Book 1) eBook ...

Pages: 406

Series: Throne of Glass #1

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Release Date: August 7, 2012

Genre(s): Fantasy with Romantic Elements

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.

Her opponents are men-thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the king’s council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for four years and then be granted her freedom. Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilarating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her … but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.

Then one of the other contestants turns up dead … quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined.”

What Did I Think?

 If I had to pick one word to describe my feelings about Throne of Glass, it would have to be WOW.

The overall concept of this book is darker and has more elements of mystery than I usually look for in the books I pick up, but let me tell ya: I am so glad I still decided to give Throne of Glass a read! I thoroughly enjoyed all the moving parts this book has to offer, from the competition that kicks off everything to the literal magic going on behind the scenes as one of many subplots. While the plot line was a little more intense than what I traditionally read, I enjoyed that the more serious moments of the book were balanced out by the funny wit and sarcasm of the characters. The overall concept of this book is very complex, and I loved the fact that I had to be an active reader (i.e constantly thinking about everything that was happening, just like the characters had to be) in order to fully enjoy and understand the world Maas created.

If I had a red carpet, I would literally roll the thing out just for Celaena Sardothian because she deserves it, baby! Not only is she physically strong, but she’s also got some serious mental toughness about her, too, given the baggage she has from her past experiences. This young woman has been on quite the journey before the reader even gets to meet her, and I had such a great time watching the stories of her past unfold little by little as the book went on, as sad as some (err, most) of them were. I still can’t believe how she has been able to retain such a compassionate side to her when so many people around her have betrayed her and done her wrong. It’s very rare that I read about characters who are constantly able to think on their feet and come up with creative solutions to problems, but Celaena doesn’t miss a beat when something unexpected is thrown her way. While I can’t say that she has drastic amounts of character development in this book, I don’t think Celaena really needs it at this stage of the game, as we learn a whole lot about who she was prior to going to Endovier and how various experiences in her life have made her who she is when the reader gets to meet her. It was almost like reverse character development, which I thought was a unique approach to establishing Caelena’s characterization and not something that typically doesn’t steals the show in other YA novels.

Moving right along to one of my favorite bromances out there: Dorian and Chaol! Being the Price of Adarlan and Captain of the Royal Guard, these two certainly have a whole of responsibility on their shoulders, and being so young, I can’t even imagine the pressures they must feel to perform their duties spotlessly. While I enjoyed their individual journeys, I fell in love with the little moments where these two would spend time together, responsibilities aside, as best friends– goofing off, picking on each other, and even having a little bit of fun! As a whole, I thought Dorian and Chaol were both very likable for totally different reasons: Dorian, because he has a subtle, admirable strength to him that hides underneath his charming exterior, and Chaol because his serious, get-down-to-business attitude cracks to show a softer side of him, especially when it comes to his interactions with Celaena. While I’d love to share my thoughts on who I ship with Celaena, I think I’m going to save those for a later review (you’ll thank me later, trust me), but I will say that I really enjoyed the romantic themes that were established in Throne of Glass thus far. No spoilers from me, dearies, so you’ll have to pick your ship pairing for yourselves!

Clearly I can’t help but rave about Throne of Glass! I thought it was very well paced, and I found myself completely engrossed in what was happening from beginning to end. I loved the characters and the intricately detailed world Maas created and established so clearly for us so we will be ready to go for the other books in the series and won’t need too much background moving forward. The characters were so much fun (I even liked the villains, as twisted as that sounds), and I am absolutely stoked to share my thoughts on Book #2, Crown of Midnight, with you all in the very near future!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*Due to mature content (i.e. violence, romance, and some language) I would only recommend this book to individuals who are 16/17+ years old!*

If you’ve read Maas’ ACOTAR series and/or House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1) and thoroughly enjoyed the world-building and intriguingly mysterious and witty characters, I highly recommend you give Throne of Glass a shot!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout, Leigh Bardugo, Holly Black, and Brigid Kemmemer.

And lastly, if you’re in the mood to read a more mature YA fantasy that requires a while lot of thought so you don’t miss any important details, Throne of Glass will definitely be the book that’ll keep you on your toes!

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines

Until Friday Night (A Field Party Book 1) by [Abbi Glines]

Pages: 337

Series: Field Party #1

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: August 25, 2015

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“To everyone who knows him, West Ashby has always been that guy: the cocky, popular, way-too-handsome-for-his-own-good football god who led Lawton High to the state championships. But while West may be Big Man on Campus on the outside, on the inside he’s battling the grief that comes with watching his father slowly die of cancer.

Two years ago, Maggie Carleton’s life fell apart when her father murdered her mother. And after she told the police what happened, she stopped speaking and hasn’t spoken since. Even the move to Lawton, Alabama, couldn’t draw Maggie back out. So she stayed quiet, keeping her sorrow and her fractured heart hidden away.

As West’s pain becomes too much to handle, he knows he needs to talk to someone about his father—so in the dark shadows of a post-game party, he opens up to the one girl who he knows won’t tell anyone else.

West expected that talking about his dad would bring some relief, or at least a flood of emotions he couldn’t control. But he never expected the quiet new girl to reply, to reveal a pain even deeper than his own—or for them to form a connection so strong that he couldn’t ever let her go…”

What Did I Think?

Until Friday Night had the perfect blend of traditional contemporary romance and elements that were totally unique to this story. The small town feel of this book made me feel right at home, and given that I live in a little town myself, I could totally relate to the characters’ experiences in living in an area like Lawton — both the good and bad! While it’s not my favorite trope in the world, I enjoyed the whole “good girl meets bad boy” element that was established right from the get-go because it’s a pretty large misconception the reader gets to see unravel right before their eyes. One of the more unique parts of this book’s overall concept concerned Maggie and West’s backgrounds, even though they were super emotional to read about. I also really enjoyed that the chapters alternated between Maggie and West’s POVs, and that Glines ensured that the wording and dialogue stayed true to their characters while flip-flopping speakers.

Maggie’s characterization contained an element I’ve never seen before in YA– she refuses to speak after tragedy strikes her family, and she ends up moving in with her cousin, Brady, and his family to start a new life. Given the trauma she’s experienced, Maggie does her best to say out of the limelight and keeps to herself a lot. Overall, I have mad respect for Maggie, as even though she doesn’t talk, she still manages to strongly communicate her thoughts and feelings to those around her, and it’s clear that she’s so much braver than she looks and feels. By the end, it was so great to see her come out of her shell and to feel comfortable in her own skin and in the presence others. I also really appreciate Glines using Maggie’s character to make the point that a person being over-possessive in a relationship is a total no-go by having Maggie crack down on West when he oversteps.

Let’s talk a little more about West, shall we? His personality and coping mechanisms are the total opposite of Maggie’s– he’s super outgoing, kind of a jerk at times, and distracts himself from the issues he has going on at home by hanging out with people and participating in activities he would be far better off avoiding. The parts of West’s character I was drawn to the most were the way he loves and treats his teammates like family, and how the progression of his opening up to Maggie about his own struggles is done gradually and in a realistic way. The only big issue I really had with West is the way he talks about other girls with his teammates (while it makes the book more realistic because I’ve hear the whole “locker room dude talks” in real life before, I still found the comments totally unacceptable and feel like I need to make that clear in this review). He also had some Alpha-male tendencies, which I didn’t find appealing, but it wasn’t for Maggie, either, so these moments were very limited in number. I’ll be the first to admit that the bad should have outweighed the good in West’s character at times but by the end, I still couldn’t help but have a soft spot in my heart for him.

Until Friday Night was the perfect late summer, early fall read that had just about everything I was looking for. The plot was well-paced, and it was a quick read that had so much packed into 337 short pages. As you can probably tell, there were an awful lot of moving parts, but somehow they all worked together to form one cohesive story that was compelling, emotional, and uplifting all at the same time. If I had to pick one aspect that totally stole my heart, I would have to say that the character development was beautifully constructed for both Maggie and West, and watching their emotional bond with one another blossom as they each worked through their own issues was really special to watch. While there were some issues in this book I really couldn’t overlook, I can’t let them take away from the fact that I really enjoyed my time reading it!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*NOTE: Given the VERY mature themes in this book (romance, violence, language, and some drinking/partying), I would NOT recommend this book to anyone under the age of 16/17! It’s all about the high school experience and beyond, and words are not minced, so definitely keep this in mind when deciding if you should pick it up or not.*

If you’ve read some of Abbi Glines’ other works and enjoyed the romantic and small town vibes, there’s a really good chance Until Friday Night will be your cup of tea!

Fans of Katie McGarry, Morgan Matson, Jenny Han, and Jenn Bennett would also fall in love with this book.

Paranormal, Young Adult

Storm and Fury by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Amazon.com: Storm and Fury (The Harbinger Series Book 1) eBook ...

Pages: 512

Series: Harbinger #1

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Release Date: June 11, 2019

Genre(s): Paranormal Romance

Format: Hardcover

*Note: While you do not need to read the Dark Elements series before picking this book up, I highly suggest it because many of the characters from those books pop up in Storm and Fury! However, there are no spoilers for the Dark Elements series in my review below!*

Goodreads Synopsis

“Eighteen-year-old Trinity Marrow may be going blind, but she can see and communicate with ghosts and spirits. Her unique gift is part of a secret so dangerous that she’s been in hiding for years in an isolated compound fiercely guarded by Wardens—gargoyle shape-shifters who protect humankind from demons. If the demons discover the truth about Trinity, they’ll devour her, flesh and bone, to enhance their own powers.

When Wardens from another clan arrive with disturbing reports that something out there is killing both demons and Wardens, Trinity’s safe world implodes. Not the least because one of the outsiders is the most annoying and fascinating person she’s ever met. Zayne has secrets of his own that will upend her world yet again—but working together becomes imperative once demons breach the compound and Trinity’s secret comes to light. To save her family and maybe the world, she’ll have to put her trust in Zayne. But all bets are off as a supernatural war is unleashed… “

What Did I Think?

Let me just preface by saying that this is one of my favorite first books in a series to date! The overall concept of this book was really something I had never seen before in the YA before. I mean, come on! How many books have you read with real-live gargoyles that can shift back into human-ish form in .2 seconds? I also thought the dynamic between all the different groups of creatures– humans, Wardens, demons, etc.– was well-constructed and explained concisely enough so that the world and events that were taking place made sense to the reader, but didn’t go into so much detail that the reader became uninterested in the overall storyline.

I love the way Trinity, our main character, is immediately established. Right from the get-go, the reader can tell that she is a force to be reckoned with. She’s a kick-butt warrior who sticks to her guns. She is never afraid to push back against those who try to coddle her because of her unique gift, and I have mad respect for the fact that she was always willing to put herself in the line of fire to save the people she cares about, but not in a self-sacrificial, martyr type of way that you often see in YA. Instead, she’s confident in her abilities and knows she can easily take care of the problem, and that if she stepped aside and let others fight her battles for her, then they likely wouldn’t make it out alive. Usually this part of a character is what they develop into, and seeing this already present in Trinity straight off the bat was a nice change of pace! It also made Trinity’s journey of connecting with the more raw, vulnerable side of her character that much more compelling because she is such a tough cookie whose been through a lot just in the last year of her life. While I can’t say her character had an astronomical amount of character development in this book, I can say that the parts that were developed (i.e. becoming more in touch with her emotions and understanding that sometimes people aren’t always as they seem) were done beautifully. Needless to say, I am Team Trinity all the way, and so excited to see how much further she comes as the series goes on!

You didn’t think I was going to miss out on a opportunity to rave… err, I mean talk, about Zayne, did you? While we do meet Zayne in the Dark Elements series, I can honestly say that his character has changed drastically since then, and for the better. In Storm and Fury, his character had so much more depth while still maintaining some of his original, totally lovable qualities: witty, kind, understanding, and always a gentleman, regardless of circumstance. Like Trinity, Zayne’s established as super strong and powerful from the start, and the growth in his character comes out as he begins to come to terms with the more emotional parts of his past and present. I appreciated that Zayne’s maturity shone in this book, and how even though his feelings for Trinity emerged kind of quickly (and hers for him), he thought logically about the circumstances instead of just jumping in head-first when really, they both have a lot of baggage they need to sort out individually. As a whole, I really enjoyed Zayne’s character, and there’s no denying that he and Trinity make a dynamite team (and yes. I know I’m being super vague here, but I TOTALLY ship them, in case you were wondering!).

I thought the pacing of Storm and Fury was right on the money and there were so many moments where I got chills because the phrasing was that beautiful. The ending of the book was CRAY, don’t get me wrong, but it felt satisfying and, in some ways, almost complete in the sense that the reader knows that while there’s more to come, what we have is good enough for now to hold us over. If I had to pick just one aspect of this book to be my favorite, I would have to say that the characters– both main and supporting– were what really stood out to me. Their personalities were all so distinct, and I found myself connecting to each and every one of them, even if we aren’t all that similar. There are so many more journeys ahead for Trinity, Zayne, and the rest of the crew, and I’m excited to see what kind of trouble they manage to get themselves into next!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

*NOTE: This book does have a few select PG-13+ references and scenes, so just be aware of that going in!*

If you read the Dark Elements series and fell in love with Zayne, Storm and Fury was literally made for you so you have got to check it out! If you haven’t read the Dark Elements series but love JLA’s other works, I think you’ll really enjoy this book, as well!

If you are someone who likes books that rely somewhat heavily on romantic elements to balance out the fantasitical/paranormal genre, it’s very likely you’ll enjoy this book.

While there are not many books I can think of that are SUPER similar to Storm and Fury (which is one of the reasons I love it so much), if you’re a fan of Sarah J. Maas’ characters and world-building and Alexandra Bracken’s unique concepts, I think you’ll feel right at home reading Storm and Fury!

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Amazon.com: Save the Date (9781481404570): Matson, Morgan: Books

Pages: 417

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Release Date: June 5, 2018

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster. There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo. Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractedly cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.”

What Did I Think?

Let’s jump right into the overall concept of this beauty, shall we? This book was seriously jam-packed with a little bit of everything. I loved how the Grant family dynamic was placed right at the core of this book and how the reader gets to see the Grant’s fraying edges get put back to together (and start to unravel more, at times, too). There were also great coming-of-age aspects of this book, mostly surrounding Charlie and how so many things in her life begin changing at once as she prepares to leave home for college. Aside from the writing itself, I thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations of Charlie’s mom’s comics. I think this added yet another unique touch to a book that already has so many elements that help it stand apart from the crowd.

Charlie’s character really surprised me in a lot of ways. At the beginning of the book, her characterization seemed pretty standard for someone her age (i.e. thinking about college, exploring new relationships, so much teenage angst, etc.). Later on, though, it became clear that Charlie had some seriously drastic character development going on, particularly when it came to the relationships she has with her siblings and parents. It was so interesting to me to see Charlie come to the realization that everyone in the Grant family has their own secrets that she doesn’t know about, regardless of how tight-knit of a family they are. I appreciated that this aspect of her character was very well-developed, rather than Charlie just doing a complete 180 without any kind of doubt or emotional reaction to what she was having to come to terms with once these secrets were exposed. This progression of Charlie’s character development and her reactions to various events going on around her made her that much more lovable and relatable. It also didn’t hurt that when I was reading this book, I was experiencing and working through a lot of the same things Charlie was having to and could totally understand where she was coming from!

Gotta give Bill the credit he deserves, right? I LOVED Bill’s character! It’s clear that he’s hardworking, funny, and just such a sweetheart, even when he’s having to deal with a freaked-out Charlie while they try and find alternatives for things at the wedding that have fallen apart. While it was clear that he and Charlie were feelin’ some type of way about each other, I thought the friendship they were able to form with one another was a connection that would last a lifetime, if nothing else were to happen with these two. Plus, they also make such a dynamite team!

There were so many deep moments that led to great life lessons the reader can take away that I wasn’t expecting from this book. Because of this, I feel like I have to share one of my favorites: Betrayal sure can cut deep, especially when it comes from someone you’re close to. Matson does a brilliant job of highlighting both the pain and anger that comes along with that, but also shows the reader that if you truly care for someone, you shouldn’t let that stop you from trying to mend bridges, especially if you know the person genuinely loves and cares for you. It’s easy to hold a grudge, but the only thing that comes out of that is two hurt people, and why be that way, when you can both take the high road and grant each other forgiveness when it’s deserved? This lesson is so important, yet also quickly forgotten in our day-to-day lives that I just felt a need to share it specifically in this review!

The only issue that’s holding me back from a five-star review is that there were elements of the book that felt unrealistic to me. A really good example of this was the fact that there were so many issues with the wedding preparations that l happened on the exact day of Charlie’s sister’s wedding. Trust me when I say that I’ve seen my fair share of last minute wedding day disasters, but the ones in this book were just too much to be realistic. It’s not that I didn’t find some of them funny/really unfortunate, because I totally did, but it was just TOO MUCH.

Overall, the pacing of Save the Date was nicely done with little lag. I really enjoyed the characters and Charlie’s development totally stole the show for me. I fell in love with the Grant family dynamic, even though all members of the family had their flaws that they had to work through on their own and together as a unit. As a whole, I thought Save the Date was a super cute, fluffy, adorable read that throws some serious curveballs at you when you least expect them, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time reading it!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

I’m going to start with the obvious first: If you’ve enjoyed Morgan Matson’s previous books, it’s likely you’ll fall in love with Charlie, the rest of the Grant crew, and Bill, so definitely give Save the Date a shot!

Fans of Sarah Dessen, Jenna Evens Welch, Siobhan Vivian, and Kasie West will also likely take a liking to this book.

And, if you’re like me and love a good contemporary with a strong emphasis on family over romance, this may be a great option for you. I also highly recommend this book to anyone who is going through any kind of big change in their life (i.e. heading to college, moving away from home, etc.). I think readers adjusting to brand new things life has to offer will greatly benefit from giving Save the Date a try!

Science Fiction, Young Adult

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

Pages: 464

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Release Date: September 26, 2017

Genre(s): Science Fiction

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

Time flies when you’re plundering history.

Farway Gaius McCarthy was born outside of time. The son of a time-traveling Recorder from 2354 AD and a gladiator living in Rome in 95 AD, Far’s birth defies the laws of nature. Exploring history himself is all he’s ever wanted, and after failing his final time-traveling exam, Far takes a position commanding a ship with a crew of his friends as part of a black market operation to steal valuables from the past.

But during a heist on the sinking Titanic, Far meets a mysterious girl who always seems to be one step ahead of him. Armed with knowledge that will bring Far’s very existence into question, she will lead Far and his team on a race through time to discover a frightening truth: History is not as steady as it seems.”

What Did I Think?

Rewriting some jacked up history with time-traveling thieves heading up the mission? Yes please!

I can honestly say that the overall concept of Invictus was unlike anything I’ve ever read in my entire life… and I LOVED IT. This book had a whole plethora of things going on: time travel, forbidden romance, and all the repercussions that these two things create in a world like this. Not only was the concept unique, but it was also executed pretty dang close to perfectly. Ever element of the plot flowed smoothly into the next, but there were still plenty of plot twists to keep the reader on their toes. It’s rare that I even pick up sci-fi books because I typically just don’t enjoy them, but I am so glad I went out on a limb and gave this one a shot!

Let’s talk about our main character, Far. Poor guy has had a rough life, exacerbated by the fact that he failed his time-traveling test– literally something he’s spent his entire life studying and preparing for. While his life didn’t exactly turn out like he planned, I was so happy that he got to go on an even bigger adventure that I’m sure he ever imagined he’d be a part of! While there were elements of romance between Far and his girlfriend, Priya, I appreciated that the main focus of the book was on Far trying to figure out who he really is (and on the actual adventure he and his crew are on, of course).

Speaking of the crew, they are one DOPE group of misfits, let me tell ya, complete with A RED FREAKING PANDA named Saffron! How much cooler could it get? Priya was one of my favorite members of the crew, and I was shocked that she’s as young as she is for being such a great medic. Eliot was a freaking creeper when she first joined the party, but she’ll grow on you, I swear! Gram was definitely one of the sweetest dudes ever and I really enjoyed his perspective on things, and Imogen, Far’s cousin, was just kinda there (yeah, she’s not my favorite by any stretch of the imagination, but that’s because the other characters were just so much more fun!).

Time to wrap this thing up with some final thoughts! The pacing of this book was spot on. In a lot of sci-fi books, the writer spends an astronomical amount of time telling us how the world works and it drags on for WAY too long, causing the reader to become uninterested in the story. The opposite happened in Invictus– the reader got the perfect amount of insight into the world Graudin created to set the stage for an adventure that transcends time, literally! The storytelling was captivating and I was rooting for Far to accomplish his mission from the very first page. Overall, this book was full of adventure and suspense, and I couldn’t get enough of it!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

I highly recommend this book to anyone like me who says sci-fi is just not for them. There’s a good chance that Invictus will completely change your perspective on this genre (at least for me it did!).

If you enjoyed the plot twists, adventurousness, and #squadgoals of the Six of Crows duology and the Lunar Chronicles, this book is for you, 100%.

I’d also recommend this book to literally ANYONE. Yeah, it was that good, y’all.

Contemporary Romance, Young Adult

Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills

Pages: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Release Date: December 5, 2017

Genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“When Claudia accidentally eavesdrops on the epic breakup of Paige and Iris, the it-couple at her school, she finds herself in hot water with prickly, difficult Iris. Thrown together against their will in the class production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, along with the goofiest, cutest boy Claudia has ever known, Iris and Claudia are in for an eye-opening senior year.

Smart, funny, and thoroughly, wonderfully flawed, Claudia navigates a world of intense friendships and tentative romance in Foolish Hearts, a YA novel about expanding your horizons, allowing yourself to be vulnerable, and accepting–and loving–people for who they really are.

A contemporary young adult novel by Emma Mills about a girl whose high school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream leads her to new friends–and maybe even new love. “

What Did I Think?

To sum this book up in a few words: boy band obsession, video gaming with the squad, and a whole lot of life changes being thrown at our characters!

The overall concept of this book is what drew me in from the start (other than the gorgeous cover, that is!). Between touching on building new relationships with people you least expect to connect with, working through the speed bumps that arise between childhood friends as they get older, and acknowledging how challenging adjusting to change can be for people at any stage of life, this book has all the makings of a great coming-of-age story that readers across the board will find relatable. I also love the fact that a school production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was the glue that brought and held the story and its characters together, and overall a total plus since it just so happens to be my favorite Shakespeare play!

One of my favorite elements of this book is the fact that Claudia’s family is present and plays a crucial role in her life. Sure, I love the snippets of romance that are scattered throughout as well, but something about the family dynamic is what really stuck with me long after finishing Foolish Hearts. I also appreciate that the reactions and events that involved Claudia and her family members are presented in a way that’s appropriate for each of their ages and the phase of life they’re in. For example, Claudia and her sister, Julia, are 11 years apart in age. The reader is able to see the differences in their life experiences and reactions to various events while still having the opportunity to appreciate how strong of a bond they have with one another regardless of their difference in age. The same goes for each of the girls’ relationships with their brother. Alex and Claudia’s relationship reminds me a lot of the one I have with my brother: when one of us needs help, the other is always there for the other to lean on, regardless of circumstance. As a whole, it was lovely to see an involved family in a YA contemporary, as usually they are there, but pushed to the side!

I’m always looking for characters that have their own little “things” about them that set them apart from others I’ve read about, and this book was full of unique personalities, particularly in the characters with supporting roles! I absolutely loved Gideon’s quirkiness that he makes no attempt to hide from those around him and how loyal he is to his best friend, Noah. Their relationship seemed almost like a carbon copy of the one Claudia has with Zoe, but contrasts in that the two girls go to different schools, adding in a completely different dynamic from the boys’. I also enjoyed seeing Iris’ character for who she really is as she and Claudia got closer.

While I really wanted to give this book five starts, the pacing was just a little bit off for me, specifically when it came to the explanations of the video game everyone was playing together. They were a little too long for my attention span, given that I’m not much of a gamer. I also wanted to know more about Claudia’s past relationship with Will Sorenson, and why his reasoning for not being with her upset her so much. Something about that just didn’t click for me. I also had some issues with Claudia’s character development. Sure, she needed to backpedal sometimes in order to help her put things in perspective, but I felt like in the end, her character just didn’t come far enough for me to constitute true character development.

Regardless of these issues, I found this book to be a very quick, easy, and enjoyable read that is full of great advice for readers of all ages who are learning to find their own way in this crazy world!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re looking for a fantastic coming-of-age tale with THE TINIEST dash of romance thrown into the mix, this book is for you!

I’d also recommend this book to fans of Jenn Bennett, Kasie West, and Miranda Kenneally!