Review: Relative Strangers by Paula Garner // GIVEAWAY!

RSAfter reading some early reviews of Paula Garner’s new book, Relative Strangers, I was intrigued, to say the least. I’m sometimes skeptical of YA contemporaries because I’ve encountered so many that seem to tell the same, formulaic story, complete with the same clichéd lessons and realizations. That sounds a little harsh, but feeling like you’re reading the same book over and over can get old real quick. I was hoping that this book would be a different, refreshing read, and luckily, I was right! 😊

Here’s a synopsis:

Eighteen-year-old Jules has always wished for a close-knit family. She never knew her father, and her ex-addict mother has always seemed more interested in artistic endeavors than in bonding with her only daughter. Jules’ life and future look as flat and unchanging as her small Illinois town. Then a simple quest to find a baby picture for the senior yearbook leads to an earth-shattering discovery: for most of the first two years of her life, Jules lived in foster care.

Reeling from feelings of betrayal and with only the flimsiest of clues, Jules sets out to learn the truth about her past. What she finds is a wonderful family who loved her as their own and hoped to adopt her — including a now-adult foster brother who is overjoyed to see his sister again. But as her feelings for him spiral into a devastating, catastrophic crush — and the divide between Jules and her mother widens — Jules finds herself on the brink of losing everything.

What I Liked:

  • This book starts off really strong. I was immediately hooked!
  • The story feels messy (in a good way!) and real. Although I couldn’t exactly relate to Jules’ situation, I was eager to see where her search for answers led and how it might change her.
  • I really liked most of the characters, and I appreciate the fact that none of them are perfect. Jules, in particular, is described so well that I almost expected to bump into her on the street.
  • There is an honesty to Garner’s writing that made me even more invested. She never avoids difficult situations, and the narrative has profound emotional depth.
  • As someone who’s occasionally frustrated by YA contemporaries that seem too clichéd, predictable, or one-dimensional, Relative Strangers was a nice change of pace. It challenges readers to go on a very personal journey with the main character, and it never feels stale or already-done-before.

What I Disliked:

  • I’m still not sure how I feel about Luke and the whole romance subplot. 🤔 Yes, he’s her former foster brother, and they’re not biologically related. But it still feels… weird? And it all seemed to happen really fast, sort of bordering on “insta-love.”
  • While I liked Jules, I did question some of her choices. This isn’t me saying she can never screw up — she’s a teenager. She’s going to do some questionable things. But there were times where I couldn’t stop thinking, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! 😬
  • I do think that this book would benefit from more of a balance between emotion and action. It’s important to know how characters are feeling, but we also need more than just that.

If you love YA contemporaries — especially coming-of-age stories — I would definitely recommend giving this book a shot! It’s a unique story, the writing is excellent, and the characters are interesting and memorable. Garner has crafted a complex, heartfelt tale of family, friendship, and finding yourself. ❤️

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author: Paula Garner
Other Books by This Author:
Phantom Limbs

**Thank you to Candlewick Press for providing me with a free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Want to win a copy of Relative Strangers? You’re in luck! Read below to find out how you can enter the giveaway. (Please note that this giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada only.) This giveaway will end at 10 AM EST on Wednesday, April 18th. A winner will be randomly selected and contacted later that day.
All you have to do is leave a comment on this blog post and tell me a book you’ve read recently that you loved! That’s it! 😄

Be sure to visit the other blogs participating in the Relative Strangers blog tour!
April 9th: Cracking the Cover
April 10th: Chelsea Palmer Book Reviews, Recommendations & Hauls
April 12: YA Bibliophile
April 13th: Swoony Boys

Review: Love & Luck by Jenna Evans Welch

LALAfter reading Love & Gelato, I was really excited to read about Addie and her adventures in Jenna Evans Welch’s follow-up, Love & Luck. This book takes place in Ireland, and although Addie assumes her trip will be brief, she ends up on a road trip that not only inspires her to explore some of Ireland’s most famous sites, but also a lingering heartache that has followed her all summer. 🍀❤️

Want to read a full synopsis? Click here! And I’ve tried to keep this review spoiler-free, but there may be a few small spoilers here and there. You’ve been warned… 😁

What I Liked:

  • I think Addie’s story is relatable, even if you haven’t been in her exact situation. (I’m not going to talk about this very much since it would spoil an important reveal later in the book.) She’s a girl who feels like she made the wrong choices, and she carries that embarrassment and shame very close, fearful of letting anyone else in.
  • While the guidebook narrator’s somewhat-simpering tone was occasionally irksome, I think it was a unique addition to this book. If you’ve read Love & Gelato, you’ll know that it contains excerpts from the main character, Lina’s, late mother, Hadley. The guidebook in Love & Luck serves a similar purpose, as it takes Addie on her own journey and forces her to confront and think about her heartbreak.
  • I can never resist a good road trip story, especially one that takes place somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. And some of the travel-related hijinks were entertaining, albeit a little predictable at times. 🚘
  • This book seems to attempt to make up for the clichéd “insta-love” of Love & Gelato. (Addie even, at times, seems a little jealous or resentful of Lina’s sudden transition from single girl to I’M-IN-LOVE girl.) I appreciated the emotional connection Addie made with Rowan more than anything else.

What I Disliked:

  • I know I just said that Addie’s story is relatable, but I had a very difficult time warming up to her as a character. Her fights with her brother, Ian, went on and on and on, to the point where they were just obnoxious. 😑 Both of them spent way too much time being sulky and immature, and yes, I know they’re just teenagers, but COME ON. Doesn’t it get exhausting? I was only reading about it, and I felt exhausted!
  • Something about this book just didn’t grab me in the same way that Love & Gelato did. 🙁 Maybe it was the constant fighting, or the clichéd set-up of, “Oh, Addie’s just going to one road trip stop with us, and that’s it! OH, NO, WAIT, SHE MISSED HER FLIGHT!” Some parts of this book felt more forced, and that made it hard for me to really become invested in the story.
  • I’m not going to reveal Addie’s secret, but I will say that I was… disappointed with the way it was handled. The reader is led to believe that’s it’s a Big Deal, and it most definitely is. But then it’s handled quickly and over with, just like that. It felt like a lot of build-up for a too-easy conclusion. And again, they’re teenagers, I totally get it. But Ian’s initial behavior re: the secret incident pissed me off. Instead of focusing on what his sister is going through, he often makes it all about himself. Luckily, his tune changes as the book goes on, but those initial chapters did not make me care about him. 🙄 (There may have been moments where I wished that Rowan would just kick him out of the car and leave him behind…)

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Love & Gelato, but I think this is still a good, quick spring or summer read, especially if you’re into road trip stories and YA contemporary romance. (It’s also worth checking out if you want to see more of Lina and Ren post-Love & Gelato.)

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Publication Date: May 8th

About the Author: Jenna Evans Welch
More Books by This Author:
Love & Gelato

**Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

LAGI’ve never traveled to another country. Wait, no. I’ve been to Canada! And it was lovely! 😄 But I’ve never been to another continent, and I’ve never had a passport. (It’s clearly been a while since I’ve been to Canada, considering they began requiring passports in 2007… 😅) I think this is why I’m always interested in reading about other countries. And Jenna Evans Welch’s Love & Gelato allowed me to do just that, all while enjoying a super-cute love story set in the stunning city of Florence, Italy. I think fans of Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss will fall head over heels in love with Lina, her friends, and beautiful, historic Florence.

Not sure what this book is about? You can find a short synopsis here!

And while I’ve tried to keep this review spoiler-free, one of my dislikes is a little spoiler-y, so just keep that in mind!

What I Liked:

  • This book made me want to travel to Italy immediately. 😍 From the gorgeous scenery to the incredible food (I lost count of how many times I felt hungry while reading this book), I could absolutely imagine being there. I do wish we had been able to see more of Rome, but I was perfectly happy with Welch’s descriptions of Florence.
  • I love that this isn’t just a love story, but also a mystery. Having been given one of her mother’s old journals, Lina is trying to follow in her footsteps and unravel the secrets Hadley was never able to share. I’ll try not to spoil the big reveal, but I think the ending resolves things pretty well, and Lina seems to get some of the closure she’s been searching for.
  • This book was compulsively readable, at least for me. Like gelato, it was hard to put down, and I think readers who enjoy YA contemporaries and adorable romances will feel similarly. It can feel predictable at times, but it’s a familiar sort of predictable that carries you through the story. Even though you can probably guess how it will end, the journey is still worthwhile.
  • I think Welch handled Lina’s grief very deftly. It never seemed over-the-top or unrealistic. It’s hard to imagine how she felt, losing her only parent and feeling adrift in a world that suddenly seems darker. But I like that we were given glimpses of the pain she carries with her, and how it can feel dull one minute and sharp and lingering the next.

What I Disliked:

  • If you’re not a fan of “insta-love” stories, you maaaay feel a little frustrated while reading this book. 😬 Lina’s romance with Ren develops over the course of just a few days, to the point where they both say they love each other. While I don’t want to be the person that yells from the rooftops, “LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT IS A LIE!” I do think that everything moved too quickly to be entirely realistic. Also, I was getting some clichéd Cinderella vibes near the end, and while it was still cute, it was almost too cute.
  • I know Lina’s still a teenager, and she probably wasn’t thinking too much about the situation, but what she does to Thomas is really crappy. She basically agrees to go on a date with him, but only so she can find Ren at the party and confess her feelings to him. 😐 On top of that, she wears “The Dress,” and I’m sure poor Thomas thinks it’s all for him, when it really isn’t. I liked Lina a lot overall, but she uses Thomas. She knows what she did is wrong — she says it was “lame” of her. But despite his shortcomings, Thomas isn’t a bad guy, and he honestly deserved better.
  • Some of the timelines were hard to keep track of. While Hadley’s journal entries were dated, I struggled to keep up with how much time was passing in the present day. As it turns out, not much. 🤔 This is a story that seems like it should have played out over a longer span of time, not just a few days.

Overall, I think this YA romance is definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a sucker for love stories so sweet, they feel like cotton candy melting in your mouth. ❤️ And now is a great time to read Love & Gelato since its companion novel, Love & Luck, comes out on May 8th! It follows Lina’s best friend Addie as she travels to Ireland. 🍀

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author: Jenna Evans Welch
More Books by This Author:
Love & Luck

April TBR

You won’t find any April Fool’s Day jokes here… 😜 But Happy Easter! 🐰 And cheers to a brand new month full of great books. As I mentioned in my March Wrap-Up, I’d like to try to slow my reading pace this month — even just a little. But, as always, I have a lot of books I really want to read, so we’ll see how that goes! 🤷🏻‍♀️

In April, I’m confident that I’ll read…

*These are ARCs that I’ve received in exchange for an honest review, so they’re a high priority.

I would also really like to read…

What books are you looking forward to reading this month? Any new releases that you’re excited to get your hands on? 😃📚

March Wrap-Up

Well, guys… I think this is a new record for me. I read twelve books this month! 😱 How crazy is that?! I’m excited that I was able to read so many good books — most of them were 4- or 5-star reads for me! — but I might try to slow down a little more next month. March sort of felt like a whirlwind, and I really like taking my time as I read.

Here are my ratings for this month’s reads:

  • Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton   ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Ember Burning by Jennifer Alsever   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris   ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer   ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Texts from Jane Eyre by Daniel Mallory Ortberg   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

NOTE: I did not review Annihilation or Texts from Jane Eyre. And because The Last Time I Lied won’t be published until July 10th, my review won’t go up until mid- to late June. But seriously, IT’S SO GOOD. 😃 My reviews for the rest of my March reads are linked above!

Did I read everything on my March TBR?
Nope! And that’s okay! I didn’t end up reading Scythe, Children of Blood and Bone, Inkmistress, or The Astonishing Color of After.

Did I read anything not on my March TBR?
Yes! I read Obsidio, The Last Time I Lied, Annihilation, and Texts from Jane Eyre.

What were my favorite reads of the month?
My favorites were Illuminae, To Kill a Kingdom, Obsidio, The Last Time I Lied, and Aru Shah and the End of Time. ❤️

What were my least favorite reads of the month?
The Price Guide to the Occult and Annihilation were both a little disappointing for me, but I still think they’re worth checking out if you’re a fan of paranormal romance and weird sci-fi, respectively.

What did you read this month? What were some of your favorites and/or least favorites? Let me know! 😊

Review: Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi

ASATEOTI don’t typically read middle grade books, but I was so entranced by the synopsis for Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time that I had to pick up a copy. I was immediately hooked, and it was a serious struggle to slow down and savor each chapter. ❤️ (Because we won’t be getting the second book in the Pandava Quartet, Aru Shah and the Song of Death, until next year! 😭) This is the first book published by Rick Riordan’s new imprint with Disney — Rick Riordan Presents — and it’s a delightful tale full of Hindu mythology and familiar coming-of-age themes. To read more about Rick Riordan Presents, click here! And to read a short synopsis of Aru Shah and the End of Time, click here.

What I Liked: This book was so much fun! 😄 Aru and Mini — her “sister,” another reincarnated Pandava — are sent on a quest to awaken their celestial weapons and stop the Sleeper from stealing them. It’s a pleasantly fast-paced adventure, and we meet so many funny and memorable (and occasionally scary!) characters along the way. One of my favorites was Boo — short for Subala. He’s stuck in the form of a pigeon (much to his irritation) and charged with guiding and protecting Aru and Mini. While this book was partly inspired by Sailor Moon, Boo reminds me a lot of Kero from Cardcaptor Sakura — prone to crankiness, with a strong sense of duty and a weakness for sweets. 😋🍬

If, like me, you’re reading this book as an adult, it’s helpful to remember that Aru and Mini are just kids. I say this because there were definitely moments that had me like, “Why would you do that?!” or, “Uh, that’s sort of rude to say… 🙄” But this is what makes these two girls so real! I’m sure I was the same way when I was a kid. Their quirks and shortcomings make them human, and it shows that even heroes — I’m sorry, as Aru and Mini would say, “heroines” 😁 — struggle and grow.

Chokshi makes Hindu mythology very accessible, and I appreciate that the book has a glossary, just in case you’re feeling a little lost. While I’ve never read Riordan’s books, I imagine that he’s done much the same for both Greek and Norse mythology, and readers who are interested in learning about different gods, stories, and traditions will likely enjoy this book.

Oh, and Aru wears Spider-Man pajamas for pretty much the entire book, which, speaking as a big superhero fan, is pretty awesome. Just saying…

What I Disliked: That I have to wait a WHOLE YEAR to find out what happens next! But in all seriousness, I can’t think of anything that bothered me or jolted me out of the story. I’m very excited to meet Aru and Mini’s other “sisters” and see where their next quest takes them. 😊

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author: Roshani Chokshi
More Books by This Author:
The Star-Touched Queen
A Crown of Wishes
Star-Touched Stories

Review: Obsidio by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

ObsidioObsidio was not originally one of my most anticipated books of this year, but after speeding through both Illuminae and Gemina, I NEEDED IT. (Also: My pre-ordered copy was stolen off my front porch, and Amazon was kind enough to send a replacement. But it took a few extra days, and I was watching everyone’s unboxings and experiencing some major book FOMO. 😓 THE STRUGGLE WAS REAL.) I don’t know if I can adequately describe my level of excitement, but it was pretty much through the stratosphere. Almost a week has passed since I finished it, and I’m still reeling. But I’m going to try to make this review as coherent (and spoiler-free!) as possible.

That being said, there will, inevitably, still be some spoilers — especially for the previous two books. If you haven’t read any of these books and would prefer to remain completely, 100% un-spoiled, STOP READINGGGGG. Instead, maybe check out my reviews of To Kill a Kingdom or Let’s Talk About Love! 😁

What I Liked:

  • This book is possibly both the greatest and most devastating thing I’ve ever read.
  • Seriously, this book will rip your heart out repeatedly. 😭
  • But in a good way…? 🤔

Okay. Deep breath. Let’s do this…

Much like Illuminae and Gemina, this book is fast-paced and intense to the extreme. This time around, there’s no Phobos virus or hungry lamina. Our main characters — Kady, Ezra, Hanna, Nik, Ella, and AIDAN — are on their way back to Kerenza IV, which has become a devastating war zone. It’s a race against the clock, because BeiTech has nearly completed repairs on Mobile Jump Platform Magellan, which will allow them to jump to a Core system… and eliminate the remaining “nonessentials” on Kerenza IV.

More so than the previous books in this series, Obsidio is about war. After the attack on Kerenza IV, thousands and thousands of colonists were murdered. We see one of the mass graves. We see families ripped apart, hoping against hope to survive and be reunited. We see others, with nothing left to lose, die in an effort to aid the growing rebellion. We see soldiers do terrible things in the name of “orders.” Some of these incidents feel as if they’re seared into my brain. I think it’s important that we see these things, and that we remember them and carry them with us. One of the most powerful — and heart-wrenching — things about this book is that it feels so real. Because, it many ways, it is.

Every single character has an important role to play in this book, and we see each of them struggle with and ultimately overcome their apprehension, their fear, and their heartache. Everyone has lost something, or someone. In some cases, everything. And everyone is ready to risk it all for one last shot at making it out alive — and making sure that BeiTech suffers the consequences for their actions. The character development in this series is phenomenal, and it speaks volumes when one of the most complex, fascinating, and morally-questionable characters is an AI system that, as it frequently says, is “not what [it] once was.”

I feel like I could write so much more about this book, and this series as a whole. These have quickly become some of my all-time favorite books, for many, many reasons. ❤️ They tell an incredible story, the writing is simply fantastic, the format is compulsively readable and unique, and it’s just… Wow. Just wow. Seriously, give these books a shot. I know the presentation can seem intimidating or strange, or maybe it’s just not your thing. If that’s the case, definitely try the audiobooks, because I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about them!

What I Disliked: THIS BOOK IS SO FREAKING STRESSFUL. 😱 But, again, totally worth it. So really, nothing. It was perfection. All the stars, forever and ever. ✨

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Other Books in This Series:
Other Books by Amie Kaufman:
Elementals: Ice Wolves
Unearthed (co-written with Meagan Spooner)
These Broken Stars
This Shattered World
Their Fractured Light
Other Books by Jay Kristoff:

Review: My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris

MLCHave you ever wished that you could star in your own regency-era romance? Perhaps win the heart of an aloof yet dashingly-handsome duke? Or even journey to a far-away, foreign land in search of adventure? Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris’s My Lady’s Choosing offers you the chance to do just that! Well, within the pages of a book, that is. They’ve created a choose-your-own-adventure book inspired by classic tales of romance and the romantic tropes that we all know and (for the most part) love.

If you’d like to read a synopsis (or pre-order* this book!), click here. 🙂
*I personally recommend the paperback copy since it’s easier to flip through than an ebook.

What I Liked: I’ve always found choose-your-own-adventure books to be fun, and this one was no exception. There’s always something exciting about being faced with a choice and seeing where your decision takes you. (And it helps when there aren’t any real-world consequences. 😂) In the beginning, many of your choices have to do with which gentleman you’re interested in pursuing. The three options are reminiscent of famous romantic leading men, including Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (or really any strapping, soulful highlander), and Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

I enjoyed the references to classic romance stories and common romance tropes. And I think the book’s structure entices you to keep reading. I mean, how can you stop when you have to find out how your story ends? Will you get the happy ending you’ve always wanted? Or will your efforts end in despair and ruin? It’s also entertaining to start all over again and again, just to see where the other choices would have taken you.

What I Disliked: While I do think this book will appeal to romance fans, some parts of it feel too much like a parody. Of course it’s meant to be funny, but it lacked a certain subtlety that instead left many of the jokey parts feeling like a forceful shove towards humor rather than a gentle nudge. It also began to feel repetitive after a while, and I think this might just be one of the unfortunate downsides to choose-your-own-adventure books.

While I kept reading and exploring the other stories, it was mostly out of curiosity and not exactly a strong desire to keep going out of enjoyment. There were slower parts that left me feeling more bored than intrigued, and I would have liked to see the authors inject certain stories with more creativity and unexpected twists. Because this book functions as sort of a romantic parody, nothing feels truly fresh or exciting.

I was intrigued by the concept of a choose-your-own-adventure book for adults, and I have no regrets about checking this one out. I just don’t think it ended up being for me. If, however, you’re a romance reader who’s itching to go on an adventure of your own (even one that only takes place on the page), I think this might just be your cup of tea. Perhaps with a brooding, aristocratic love interest on the side…? 😉❤️

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Authors: Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris
You can read more about Kitty Curran’s comics and books here, and you can read more about Larissa Zageris’s writing here!

**Thank you to NetGalley and Quirk Books for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann

LTALI haven’t always been a fan of YA contemporaries, but I’ve learned that I sometimes need a break in between epic fantasies or sci-fi sagas, so it can be nice to jump into something completely different. Claire Kann’s Let’s Talk About Love had been on my radar for a while, even before it was released, and I was won over by the gorgeous, jubilant cover. 💜 It’s a story that explores sexuality, identity, and the difficulties of relationships both platonic and romantic. And it’s like a giant, gooey cinnamon roll of sweetness and — as Alice would say — squee!

Not sure what this book is about? You can find a short synopsis here!

What I Liked: This book is so, so cute. Much like Takumi, it exceeds the Cutie CodeTM! I was totally ready for a fun, contemporary read, and this story exceeded all of my expectations. Whenever I have trouble putting my thoughts into cohesive, sensible paragraphs, I use bullet points, so:

  • Alice is the best — adorable, genuine, heartfelt, and my exact brand of nerdy. (For example: “She hadn’t cried this hard since she had watched the Fringe series finale.” I SCREAMED. 😱 Fringe is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and if you haven’t watched it, WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE???) She’s occasionally awkward but so completely and utterly full of love and warmth. I just want to hug her. 💜
  • Alice is a biromantic asexual, and she experiences aesthetic attraction. I’m not extremely familiar with asexuality, so I appreciated the insightful glimpses into Alice’s thoughts and feelings — her desires, her fears, her struggles. She discusses and contemplates what it means to be a young black woman who is also queer and asexual — the microaggressions, unwanted sexual advances, people’s unrealistic perceptions of her (and lack of personal boundaries)…
  • We see Alice and Takumi establish a solid friendship and communicate openly with one another about most anything, including assumptions people often make about them. Sure, it takes Alice some time to tell him that she’s asexual, but up until that point, she’s only told three people, including her counselor. (More about him below.) And they’re just so freaking cute together! The scene where they discussed pizza preferences? (And really, many, many others.) SWOON. 😊
  • Alice starts seeing a counselor recommended by her friend Moschoula, and we see her go from being hesitant to talk to him to completely opening up and taking advantage of the safe space he provides for her. As someone who very recently began seeing a therapist, I can’t tell you how great it is to see a main character go through the same thing. There’s no stigma, no shame, no fear of being judged. What Alice learns is that asking for help can be hard, but it can also be one of the best decisions you can make for yourself.

What I Disliked:

  • For some reason, it took me a few days to really get into this book. (It probably didn’t help that I stepped away from it for a few days to deal with some boring real-life stuff.) I don’t think the structure is all that different from a typical YA contemporary, but some of the transitions seemed too quick or abrupt. I also kept thinking that certain passages could have benefited from further editing; there were quite a few sentences that just… didn’t sound right? 🙁
  • I’m still not sure how I feel about the parentheticals. I know they’re meant to be asides, separate from whatever is happening in that moment, but I wish they had been used a little more sparingly. (This might be one of my teacher pet peeves. 🤓)
  • I went back and forth a lot about my thoughts on Feenie. It’s clear that she has a great deal of love for Alice — she even said she would die for her — and that Alice helps to keep her grounded. But man, she was hard to like sometimes. 😐 On the other hand, isn’t that how it is with some people? And Alice had her own flaws, too. I don’t know. I’ll have to think on it some more. I may have just felt for Alice so much that all of Feenie’s harsh remarks and criticisms triggered some defensiveness.

I’m so glad I picked up this book, and I would recommend it to most anyone. It’s a book with fantastic representation, a believable and relatable character arc, and a fluffy, cotton-candy-sweet protagonist who will win your heart almost instantly!

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author: Claire Kann

Review: Ember Burning by Jennifer Alsever

EBI couldn’t wait to get my hands on the first book in Jennifer Alsever’s Trinity Forest series — Ember Burning — because it sounded like something I would definitely enjoy. It’s a book about loss, grief, survival, and a mystery that slowly pulls you in, beckoning you further into the forest.

Here’s the Goodreads synopsis, which is a little more detailed than the one on Amazon:

Senior year was supposed to be great — that’s what Ember’s friend Maddie promised at the beginning of the year. Instead, Ember Trouvé spends the year drifting in and out of life like a ghost, haunted by her parents’ recent, tragic death.

At home, she pores over her secret obsession: pictures of missing kids — from newspaper articles, from grocery store flyers — that she’s glued inside a spiral notebook. Like her, the people are lost. Like her, she discovers, they had been looking for a way to numb their pain when they disappeared.

When Ember finds herself in Trinity Forest one day, a place locals stay away from at all costs, she befriends a group of teenagers who are camping. Hanging out with them in the forest tainted with urban legends of witchcraft and strange disappearances, she has more fun than she can remember having. But something isn’t right.

The candy-covered wickedness she finds in Trinity proves to be a great escape, until she discovers she can never go home. Will Ember confront the truth behind her parents’ death, or stay blissfully numb and lose herself in the forest forever?

What I Liked:

  • As I started reading this book, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And I honestly think that may be the best way to go into it. It’s strange and captivating and intense, and even if, like me, it takes some time for you to really become invested in the story, it’s a wild ride with a cliffhanger that will leave you eager for the next book.
  • I think Alsever handled the pacing very nicely; this book never felt like it was dragging or speeding by too quickly. The pace picks up considerably towards the end, but you’ll understand why if you read it. (No spoilers here! 😀)
  • For the first time in what feels like an eternity, I can finally say that I like a romantic plot line in a story. Ember and Tre just grew on me, and I couldn’t help but feel something for them. It seemed realistic and reasonable, and it worked well within the story.
  • I loved the inclusion of synesthesia in this story. It’s a perceptual condition that’s always interested me, and I really like the way this book handled it.
  • Other things I liked: the Egyptian mythology, the thriller vibes, Trinity Forest (fascinating and unique setting — I’m also a huge fan of creepy/magical/weird forests 🌳✨), and the supporting characters (Alsever gives them distinct personalities and motivations).

What I Disliked:

  • This might have something to do with the fact that I was a boring, not-impulsive/exciting-in-the-slightest teenager (seriously, so boring), but Ember’s impulsiveness began to bother me at some point. Overall, I think she’s a great character, and seeing her have to deal with difficult emotions like guilt and grief was one of my favorite aspects of this book. But there were a few moments that made me want to sit her down and try to talk some sense into her.
  • It took me a while to get into this book — probably until the middle, to be honest. But once I got to that point, I was all in. Basically, if you’re not totally feeling it at the beginning, give it some time.
  • Some of the content might not be appropriate for younger teen readers, and that might be good to know before reading it. But it’s not mature content for the sake of mature content — it all serves a purpose within the story, and it doesn’t seem out of place.

I really enjoyed this book, and I will likely be picking up the next one in the series sometime soon! 🙂 If you’re a fan of paranormal romance, definitely check it out. I’ve heard the audiobook is pretty great, too!

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

About the Author: Jennifer Alsever
More Books by This Author:
Oshun Rising
Venus Shining

**Thank you to Jennifer Alsever and Melissa Robles for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.