Fantasy, Young Adult

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Amazon.com: The Shadows Between Us (9781250189967): Levenseller, Tricia:  Books

Pages: 326

Publisher: Feiwel and Friends

Release Date: February 25, 2020

Genre(s): Fantasy

Format: Hardcover

Goodreads Synopsis

“Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?”

What Did I Think?

The social season of Bridgerton meets the wickedly fierce characters of Throne of Glass in Tricia Levenseller’s The Shadows Between Us, and I am HERE for it!

My first Tricia Levenseller book was Daughter of the Pirate King, and while it was enjoyable, I could totally see how far the author’s writing has come since its publication. I was hooked on The Shadows Between Us after reading the very first chapter, and that feeling continued for a long time after I finished it. The overall concept of the book was wholly centered on enemies-to-lovers (err… kind of a twisty friends-to-lovers vibe too!), and while I usually don’t love that trope, it was perfectly suited in this context and very well executed. I quickly fell in love with the royal court atmosphere that was full of political intrigue, and I found the romantic elements to be perfectly woven into the fast-paced plotline. I don’t think there is one negative thing I can say about the overall concept and plot construction – it was dark, captivating, and purely MAGICAL!

I haven’t come across many books in which the protagonist is established as a “villain” from the very first page, but I LOVED Alessandra’s character. YA fantasy novels often give lead characters like Alessandra tragic backgrounds that explain where their evil side comes from, and it was so refreshing to have that not be the case in The Shadows Between Us. Alessandra was just 100 percent her authentically wicked self from the start, and while she did face some hardships in her life, she was never apologetic about the darker side of her personality. She’s never afraid of what other people with think when it comes to her ambition and intellect, and her fierce advocacy for women having the same opportunities as the men had me thinking “yass girl, you tell’em!” on numerous occasions. By book’s end, Alessandra was still so authentically her but had some major development when it comes to her feelings about romance, and while I normally would have liked to have seen a character grow leaps and bounds, seeing her remain true to herself was so much more powerful in this case. I seriously would give this book 5 stars just because Alessandra was that awesome, but there is plenty of more awesome to talk about yet to come!

Moving right along to our good ol’ friend, the Shadow King. I can honestly say that he really wasn’t anything I would consider overly special, but I still couldn’t help but love him. Like Alessandra, the Shadow King certainly had his dark side, but I appreciated the fact that he seemed so human, even with so much responsibility (and like five million literal shadows) on his shoulders. His humor was contagious, and I found myself smiling right along with him and rooting for him when times got tough. I think his calmer personality balanced out Alessandra’s wildness in the best of ways, and I was shipping them both from the moment they met at the ball!

The Shadows Between Us went above and beyond my expectations for a standalone fantasy novel. The plotline moved quickly, there were twists and turns galore, and the breadcrumbs of romance sprinkled in were honestly to die for! I seriously cannot rave enough about this book, and The Shadows Between Us will certainly go down as one of my favorite fantasy reads to date!

Who Would I Recommend This Book To?

If you’re on the hunt for a wickedly addictive fantasy standalone full of political intrigue amidst a court full of people who may not be as they seem, I highly recommend you give this book a read!

Fans of Sarah J. Maas, Jennifer L. Armentrout, Alexandra Christo, and Holly Black will also fall head over heels in love with this magnificent read by Tricia Levenseller.

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!

Series Reviews, Young Adult

Series Review: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Individual Book Ratings

  • The Assassin’s Blade: 5/5 stars
  • Throne of Glass: 5/5 stars
  • Crown of Midnight: 4/5 stars
  • Heir of Fire: 5/5 stars
  • Queen of Shadows: 5/5 stars
  • Empire of Storms: 5/5 stars
  • Tower of Dawn: 5/5 stars
  • Kingdom of Ash: 5/5 stars

What Did I Think?

As you all can clearly see, I am completely obsessed with the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas! Trust me when I say this series was completely worth the hype – so much so that me, a person who rarely re-reads books, has read this series at least twice, if not three times now in its entirety!

Let’s talk about all the worldbuilding that had to go into this series to make it as great as it truly is, shall we? One of the things I loved so much about the Throne of Glass series is that the reader is constantly being taken to various fantastical locations – each of which Maas spends lots of time detailing for us so we, as readers, can imagine exactly what these places look like in our minds. I greatly appreciated that so much time was devoted to these descriptions, and I don’t think I ever found myself tiring of them.

If you don’t appreciate anything else in this series, you should at least give props to Sarah for her ability to create such complex, multidimensional characters that eventually steal your heart, regardless of how much you resist it at first. Hardly any characters truly were exactly who they were on the surface – they had so much more to give than what the readers first see from them. These characters continue to shed layer after layer of themselves as they moved through the series, and seeing this process makes our “indestructible” walls around our hearts melt a little at a time as we begin to understand, sympathize, and relate to these fictional beings that feel oh so real.   

I wholeheartedly believe that Throne of Glass is one of those series that will go down in history as a true masterpiece of young adult fantasy novels. Oh yeah. I mean right up there with Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and the Shadowhunters Chronicles – it’s seriously THAT GOOD.

Is This Series For You?

If you’re a sucker for a mature fantasy novel that is so intricate and action-packed that it takes a whole lotta brain power to roll through, Throne of Glass is definitely up your alley!

Calling all the magical Fae-lovers of the world: READ. THIS. SERIES. I am convinced Sarah J. Maas is the QUEEN of Fae writers, so you definitely do not want to miss out on her books if this is your cup of tea!  

Finally, anyone who loves kick-butt female (and male!) leads, characters that you want to hate but fall in love with instead, and books that have the capability of emotionally destroying you a million times over, Throne of Glass was written just for you, my friends!   

Words of Advice?

Do NOT let the size of this series intimidate you, you guys! I know it consists of eight 400+ page books, but it’s so addictive that each book really does fly by. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you will be wishing there were more books in the series when all is said and done!

I would also highly recommend that you start the series by reading The Assassin’s Blade before you jump into Throne of Glass. By doing this, you will have some additional details about Celaena and those she encounters in her travels prior to her enslavement in Endovier, which is where the first official book in the series picks up.  

Lastly, JUST READ IT, YOU GUYS! I promise you won’t regret it one bit! 😊

Bonus Content, Favorites Lists

My Favorite “In General” YA Tropes

Howdy, bookish friends, and welcome back to the blog! If you’ve been following for a while now, you know that my love for YA books knows no bounds. Part of why I love this category of literature is because there are certain trends that pop up again and again in these works – no matter how different the pieces may be – that keep me coming back for more. Today, I’m going to share some of the tropes I come across all the time that I can’t help but love!

1) Kick-Butt Female Lead

This trope comes up SO MUCH in YA that I really did think I was going to get tired of it… but I really haven’t! I always think it’s so awesome when writers make their female leads just a tough if not stronger than their male leads. I also appreciate when these strong females aren’t just physically strong, but also have some evident mental toughness to them as well, which in many novels they need just to survive the circumstances they’re put in.

2) Epic Battle Montages

Let’s face it: the vast majority of us can hardly walk on a flat surface without tripping, much less wield a sword like a complete BOSS. There’s something so exhilarating about reading novels that have characters throwing down when they need to, and watching those moments play out over the course of even just a few chapters is always such a blast for me (even when I am also equally as terrified that my fav characters are going to be killed off in said battle scenes).

3) The Dark and Mysterious Male Lead

Haters gonna hate, but this has to be one of my favorite tropes of all time. While any character with a mysterious past intrigues me, those male leads that are super quiet, dark, and maybe even a little creepy are always quick to draw me in. I love watching their stories unravel as the novel goes on, and even though I’m no detective, I always have so much fun guessing what the heck happened to these guys that made them so heartless (well, APPEAR to be so heartless, anyway!). This trope has been around for as long as I can remember, and I can’t even fathom a world in which it no longer exists!

4) Witty Characters that Keep You Laughing… Even When the Story Gets Dark

These days, I have a hard time reading books that get super dark and intense because HELLO PEOPLE, 2020 was a mess of very upsetting for so many. Something I’ve seen a lot recently in YA are characters making jokes or continuing their sarcastic conversations in the most intense of moments, and I am all here for it! This also includes dark humor that I know I shouldn’t laugh at but simply can’t refrain from (like jokes about dying on a battlefield when they’re literally about to fight in a battle… yikesss but I can’t help myself!).

5) The Revenge Seekers

I find protagonists who aren’t afraid to obtain revenge for themselves and those they love to be quite admirable. Watching this journey unfold on the page always makes me feel like Nancy Drew – I get to try and uncover clues right alongside the protagonist who is on the hunt for the person or people that did them wrong. Books with this trope are often fast-paced, and I love a plot that moves along quickly and keeps me on my toes from beginning to end!

6) Supporting Characters Equally as Likeable (Maybe Even More So!) Than the Leads

While some supporting characters are kind of just floating around, doing whatever the protagonist tells them to do, I am a HUGE fan of authors who invest time and effort into their supporting characters. Just like with the protagonist(s), I love when I feel like I am getting to know the personalities of their sidekicks. Lucky for us, many more writers are starting to do amp up their games when it comes to this trope, and I am here for it!

7) Destroying the Corrupt Hierarchy

In many dystopian and fantasy novels, there are often various power structures/groups that have preexisting tensions with one another. Through I went through a period of time when I got so sick and tired of this trope (the Divergent and Hunger Games years brought me to my wit’s end), the way this trope has been laid out in novels published within the past couple of years has made me love it again. Nobody likes to see the bad, powerful dudes and dudettes at the top of the food chain win, am I right?

8) Characters with Super Dope Powers

Fun fact about me: I literally cannot stand watching those Marvel superhero movies. I know – I probably just crushed some hearts with that little tidbit of info! However, I think part of this stems from the fact that the powers they have are never as cool as those so many literary fictional characters have. Some of my favorite novels of all time have characters that on the surface appear human, but actually have super wicked powers that I think could really come in handy. Like how cool would it be to be able to heal someone’s injury with the touch of your hand? Ughh… so jealous of my literary pals that can do just that!

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I think that’s a wrap, you guys! I hope this list of tropes brings fond memories of some of your favorite books to the forefront of your mind. Did I miss a trope you love, or maybe you dislike some I had on my list? Leave me a comment below and let’s chat!

May the rest of this week’s reading be filled with some of your favorite tropes! 🙂

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.