New Adult/Adult, Paranormal

Haze by Rebecca Crunden

Pages: 265

Publisher: Independent

Release Date: August 6, 2018

Genre(s): Contemporary with Paranormal Elements

Format: PDF Copy from Author

*** I received a copy of Haze from the author in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts/opinions in the review below are all my own and have not been influenced by this exchange in any way.***

Goodreads Synopsis

“When Eliza Owens gets a phone call in the middle of the night from a girl she’s never met, she doesn’t know what to think. The girl introduces herself as Paige, and says she used to date Erik Stern, Eliza’s fiancé. What’s more, she has something important to discuss.

The only problem? Paige has been dead for years.

Believing it to be a sick prank, Eliza tries to force it from her mind until Sam, Eliza’s older sister, tells her she met Paige only a few weeks before. And, according to Sam, Paige has nothing nice to say about Erik.

The fight which follows shatters the lives of everyone involved, and Erik disappears without a trace.

Five years later, Erik returns to town after his father’s death. Old wounds quickly resurface, and with them several burning questions. None the least of which is: Who spoke to Eliza and Sam if it wasn’t Paige? And why?” 

What Did I Think?

To describe this book in a few words …. dark, mysterious, and downright spooky!

The overall concept of Haze fascinated me from the get-go. The vibe is probably split 50/50 between contemporary and paranormal, which I found really intriguing, given that I haven’t encountered other books with such an even mix of both before. Though the narration isn’t truly alternating between our main protagonists, I found myself really enjoying learning about what Erik and Eliza were doing separately just as much as I liked the moments when the story was being told with them in the same location. I’m a total sucker for anything in books that breaks from the normal text, so seeing those journal entries pieced into Haze was so cool to see. Though the main plotline of the book is pretty intense and serious, I think the humor in the dialogue between characters kept me engaged and from getting too sad about the events that sparked our characters’ adventures. While Haze isn’t something I likely would have picked up on my own due to it being on the darker side of things, I thoroughly enjoyed the change of pace and exploring a novel with an overall concept so different from anything I’ve read before.

Though I’ve never experienced half of what Eliza, our main protagonist, has gone through in her life, I found myself so sympathetic to her cause, even when she turned to not-so-great habits to cope with these hardships. After the death of someone very close to her and another just up and leaving, it seemed perfectly reasonable for Eliza to crack and sink to her lowest point. I appreciated the realness we got to see from her character during this time even though it totally did break my heart to read about. However, Eliza’s fiery personality we see at the very beginning of the book is never fully smothered. I lived for the moments when she would put her foot down and stand her ground, even when I thought she was totally crazy for doing whatever it was she insisted on — it’s the effort and drive that counts, right? My favorite moments from Eliza were those where she used her inner strength to help pull others out from under the control of their own personal demons (though it was a little hypocritical in some instances). It didn’t happen often, but I couldn’t help but appreciate this compassionate yet insistent side to Eliza that I also think helped her move past her anger and bitterness for life. As a whole, I liked Eliza’s character okay, though I did find it difficult to connect with her in any real way outside of just being sympathetic to the struggles she has been going through since tragedy struck.

I found that I had a stronger connection with our second main protagonist, Erik. While I couldn’t connect with the tragedy he’s had to face and the people of Riverside’s general wariness of him due to his father’s past sins, I think his reserved yet sincere personality is similar to mine, making it easier for me to understand his motives (even if I didn’t always agree with how he approached things). I appreciated the fact that while Erik has made some pretty terrible choices in life, he does his absolute best to atone for his actions and make it up to the people he’s hurt. I also loved the fact that he didn’t hide what he was feeling or mince words — he’s always quick to tell Eliza how he feels about things, even though she did her best to avoid any emotional topics (to her own detriment, I think!). Overall, Erik’s charismatic nature was kind of hard to resist, and I couldn’t help but respect him all the more for how hard he tries to make up for time lost in Riverside with those he cares about.

I’ll be the first to admit that if there had been no Miles in this book, there’s a good chance it would have been way too dark for my psyche to handle. This dude brought all the humor, laughter, and a good time to all the situations he was put through and did so with a great attitude. I loved the banter he carries on with both Eliza and Erik, as well as how he wasn’t afraid to give them a piece of his mind when they needed it. I think everyone needs a friend like Miles in their life — funny, loyal, and ready to face whatever comes his people’s way right along side them!

While I very much enjoyed Haze, there were some things I wasn’t super keen on. One of the main issues I had dealt with the lack of development from the main characters. I thought there were so many times where a moment would help one of our protagonist start to change course but never did. While not all characters have to have a huge amount of development, it just seemed like all of them stayed relatively stagnant throughout the course of the novel — I just expected so much more from them, in the end. I also had some issues with pacing. I’m a huge fan of fast-paced plots, but this one almost moved TOO fast, leaving some plot holes and the storyline feeling rather incomplete in the end. I think slowing down the action and spending some additional time on transitions (i.e. making it clear when a character left one place to go to another, as one example) would have made the plot a little more clear and easier to follow. The only other component of Haze I just wasn’t sold on was the ending bit. No spoilers, but it just went too far into the paranormal. Did I enjoy it? Totally, but it didn’t work for me in terms of consistency with the rest of the book.

Haze is a quick read sure to satisfy any reader’s paranormal contemporary romance craving! It was spooky, funny, and a whole barrel of mystery I had a blast uncovering alongside our crew of characters. If you’re looking for a dark, ghostly read to get you in the mood for the fall season/Halloween, Haze would be the perfect choice!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

***NOTE: While nothing is necessarily explicit, there are certainly mature themes mentioned on more than one occasion (drug usage, some components of romance, and violence) that you should be aware of before giving Haze a read!***

If you are a fan of the New Adult/Adult paranormal/paranormal romance genres and don’t mind a substantially dark read, Haze is the perfect choice for you!

I’d also recommend Haze to fans of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Don’t Look Back and Becca Fitzpatrick’s Hush, Hush series.

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.

Bonus Content

If You Liked That, Try This: Contemporary Romance Edition

Hello, fellow booklovers! For today’s post, I’ve decided to suggest books similar to those you’ve already read and loved. Since we’re in the throes of summer, I decided to start this bonus content series off with a list of YA contemporary romances — my go-to genre for summer reading! Let’s jump right into this thing, y’all!

If you liked To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, try Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

While this may seem like an out-there pick, I promise there’s a method to my madness! Eleanor & Park combines the elements of quirky and flawed characters we can’t help but love while also tackling the complicated topic of a person’s first time falling in love. Not only that, but both To All the Boys and Eleanor & Park do so in a realistic way as opposed to idealizing life and love like a lot of other YA contemporaries tend to do, making them that much more relatable to their audience.

If you liked Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, try Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welsh.

One of the parts of Anna and the French Kiss readers can’t help but love is the protagonist traveling abroad and finding themselves in a country that’s completely new to them. If you were one of these readers, Love & Gelato is going to be right up your alley. Both of these reads also have some pretty sweet romances, and while they weren’t all that realistic at times, I couldn’t help but ship these cute couples. If you’re looking for books that take you on international summer adventures right from the comfort of your own home, definitely check these two beauties out!

If you liked Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, try Just Listen by Sarah Dessen.

If you were a big fan of the playlists Matson included in Since You’ve Been Gone, you are sure to love the musical tie-ins in Just Listen. In addition to this obvious connection, both books highlight two teens who are trying to figure out who they are without the support of their best friends (who have basically become their sisters) behind them. If you’re looking for a similar read to Since You’ve Been Gone that gives you all the feels and has you rooting for the protagonist as they struggle to figure out who they are and become who they want to be, Just Listen might just be the perfect pick-me-up for you!

If you liked Nowhere But Here by Katie McGarry, try The Lovely Reckless by Kami Garcia.

Nowhere But Here is one of those books that has it all: a unique concept, multi-dimensional characters that constantly surprise you, and a whole truckload of romance. If you’re looking for a book with similar features, The Lovely Reckless would be the perfect choice! Similar to Emily and Oz in Nowhere But Here, Frankie and Marco both have tough exteriors as a result of their negative past life experiences, but as they get to know one another, they manage to let their guards down just enough to begin healing. Oh, and did I mention that there’s street racing in The Lovely Reckless? Not exactly the same as the motorcycle club situation in Nowhere But Here, but if you’re an adrenaline junkie (or, like me, live vicariously through fictional characters as they do risky things you’ve never have the guts to do in real life) and are looking for a fix, The Lovely Reckless may do the trick!

If you liked Until Friday Night by Abbi Glines, try The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout.

Until Friday Night and The Problem with Forever both have an element to them that’s rare in YA: the main character refuses to speak after experiencing a traumatic event. While the protagonists in these books come from different backgrounds, their journeys are similar in that they’re both trying to overcome the pasts that have held them back and move forward. While there are romantic interests in both books, the romances are placed on the back burner, which I appreciated because I found the characters’ individual journeys much more compelling than the relationships. If you’re looking for another book that places most of the focus on character development but still have romantic undertones, The Problem with Forever is a good option for you!

If you liked Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, try Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett.

Awkward first encounters and undeniable connections the protagonists try to pretend don’t exist, but to no avail? Yeah, I’m a big fan, too! While Emergency Contact focuses mostly on communication via text between Penny and Sam and Serious Moonlight on in-person interactions, many of the things we all love about Emergency Contact also ring true in Serious Moonlight: witty characters that are fully aware of their quirks doing their best to adjust to their new-found independence, the characters’ willingness to dream big and go after what they want in life regardless of the struggles it takes to get there, and stunning writing that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.

If you liked My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, try No Place Like Here by Christina June.

As you’ve seen from some of my other posts, My Life Next Door is one of my favorite contemporaries of all time. However, a good many of the elements I fell in love with can also be found in Christina June’s No Place Like Here. If you enjoyed the complex family dynamic in My Life Next Door as well as the sweet romance that blossoms from a strong friendship and mad respect for the other person, No Place Like Here is your cup of tea! I don’t have all that much to share about these because I want you to get to experience the awesomeness that are these two books for yourselves. Trust me when I say you won’t be disappointed with No Place Like Here, especially if you are a My Life Next Door mega-fan like I am!

If you liked The Last Thing You Said by Sara Biren, try Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally.

Oddly enough, I was totally shocked that I enjoyed both The Last Thing You Said and Breathe, Annie, Breathe as much as I did, and for similar reasons. Both of these books tackle the tough topic of the protagonist losing someone they were close to unexpectedly, and the guilt they feel about being alive while their loved one is not. In both instances, the person lost was very young at their time of passing, making it that much more difficult for those living to overcome their grief and continue living like the person they lost would have wanted them to. If you liked the fact that the healing of the characters took precedent over the romance that bloomed in The Last Thing You Said, you should definitely give Breathe, Annie, Breathe a shot!

Well, there you have it, folks! I’ve always loved reading these types of posts and seeing what books other readers suggest. Do you have a favorite contemporary that didn’t make the list, or maybe you have an alternative rec for a book I’ve listed above? Let me know below! Until next week, lovelies! 🙂