Early Review: SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Jenn Bennett

Early Review:  SERIOUS MOONLIGHT by Jenn BennettSerious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Starry Eyes
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on April 16, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT Review

 

Jenn Bennett has quickly become one of my favorite YA contemporary authors.  Her stories are always so heartfelt and filled with wonderful characters in relatable situations, as well as a strong focus on family and friendships.  I have yet to read a Jenn Bennett book that didn’t leave me with a smile on my face and her latest book, Serious Moonlight, was no exception.

Serious Moonlight follows Birdie Lindberg, an 18-year old teen, who lives with her grandfather on Bainbridge Island, just outside of Seattle.  Birdie, who was orphaned at the age of 10, has lived a very sheltered life out on the island, and was home-schooled by her overly strict grandmother. She therefore hasn’t had many opportunities in life to make friends and/or date.  Birdie’s grandmother has recently passed away when the story opens and her grandfather has agreed that it’s time for Birdie to “spread her wings” a bit and thus he gives her permission to get a summer job.  She lands a job at a historical hotel in Seattle, working the graveyard shift.

When she starts her new job, Birdie finds herself immediately drawn to the hotel’s van driver, Daniel Aoki, a handsome young man she had a chance encounter with a few weeks earlier, but that ended on a most awkward note.  Daniel is drawn to Birdie as well, but neither of them is sure how to proceed after that first less-than-stellar meeting.

Can they figure out a way to move from awkward acquaintances to friends and then maybe even to more than friends?

Honestly, I loved pretty much everything about this book.  I was on my way to a serious reading slump when I started reading it, and Birdie and Daniel’s story just pulled me right out of it.  They were both just so adorable!

Birdie was my favorite character.  She’s an introverted, mystery-book loving teen who aspires to be a real-life Nancy Drew. I loved getting glimpses into her fantasy life where she imagines that she’s following clues and solving mysteries, and where she creates Nancy Drew-like profiles in her head to describe everyone she meets.  She also always wears a flower in her hair every day, inspired by the legendary jazz singer, Billie Holiday.  Just thinking about Birdie and how endearing of a character she is makes me smile.

Also endearing though is Daniel. Daniel is this sweet, soft boy who loves to do magic tricks and who is so obviously hung up on Birdie.  He is so tuned in to what her interests are and even arranges what can only be described as the absolute perfect outing for her, a live action game of Clue.  What could possibly be more perfect for a mystery-loving girl?  I just loved that he recognized how unique and special Birdie is and was so patient with her in every way.  Some of their heart-to-heart conversations as they get to know each other better are my favorite moments from the book.

Bennett is a master at creating secondary characters that add even more life to her stories, and in this story, Aunt Mona is that character.  Mona is Birdie’s aunt and godmother, and she is just a force to be reckoned with.  She’s an artist with a personality and fashion sense that is larger than life.  Mona literally just brings so much color into Birdie’s life. For you Gilmore Girls fans out there, personality-wise, she reminds me so much of Miss Patty.  She’s not just an aunt or a godmother either; she’s also Birdie’s best friend and confidante.

The setting of Serious Moonlight was also a huge draw for me.  I loved the Seattle location, but I especially loved that Birdie lived on Bainbridge Island and took a ferry to and from the city every day.  The view from her home is literally the Seattle skyline with its iconic Space Needle.  It was so easy to visualize that spectacular setting and I loved that the ferry ride provided moments for Daniel and Birdie to spend even more quality time together.

I also really loved the Moonlight Diner, a neighborhood diner in Seattle where Birdie would hang out whenever she needed to wait for the next ferry home.  Before Birdie’s mom passed away, she worked at the Moonlight and she and Birdie lived in an apartment upstairs.  Birdie, therefore, practically grew up in this diner and everyone there was part of her extended family.  I loved that the diner had such character and especially that they served the most delicious sounding pies.  Seriously, this book will have you craving pie like you would not believe!  I was practically drooling at the descriptions.  And the pie names are so great too!  They had me hoping Birdie would stop by the diner every single day just so that I could see what the pie of the day was called, lol.  I think my favorite was the Beyonce-inspired name, a cherry pie called “Put a Bing on It.”

The mystery subplot involving the famous reclusive writer was probably my least favorite part of Serious Moonlight.  That’s not to say there was anything really wrong with it, more just that some of the situations Birdie and Daniel found themselves in as they tried to solve the mystery seemed a little far-fetched.  It was still a fun subplot though so I wasn’t too hung up on it.

Serious Moonlight is everything I want in a contemporary read.  It’s a sweet story about two people trying to find their way in the world and their way to each other.  It’s also a heartfelt story about family, friendship, and love.  If you’re in the mood for a story that will leave you with a smile on your face, Jenn Bennett’s Serious Moonlight is the book you’re looking for.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

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

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

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

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

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Early Review: SKY WITHOUT STARS

Early Review:  SKY WITHOUT STARSSky Without Stars (System Divine, #1) by Jessica Brody, Joanne Rendell
four-stars
Series: System Divine #1
Published by Simon Pulse on March 26, 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 592
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

SKY WITHOUT STARS Review

 

Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is a favorite of mine – I’ve read the book, seen the movie adaptations, and I’ve watched the Broadway show. I’m also a big sci-fi fan so I when I heard that Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell is a retelling of Les Miserables set in outer space, it immediately became a must-read for me.

Sky Without Stars is a dark and intense story of oppression, rebellion, and revolution.  It features three main characters – a thief, an officer, and a young woman who is guardian to the last surviving library.  These three seemingly unrelated characters will find their lives unexpectedly intertwined as the poor and oppressed citizen of the planet Laterre threaten to rise up against those who would keep them down.

In an atmosphere filled with danger and destruction, who will survive?

The worldbuilding in Sky Without Stars is top notch.  The story is set in outer space on the fictional planet of Laterre.  The authors did a brilliant job of reimaging the tense social climate in France at the time of the French Revolution, the way the filthy rich and the authorities built themselves up on the backs of the poor, while at the same time, turning their backs on them and letting them live in slums or starve in the streets. The descriptions were so vivid that it was easy to imagine the horrid conditions the poor were stuck in while the rich lived in their opulent homes. They also added in lots of futuristic gadgets and weapons, including a modernized version of a guillotine that reminded me a lot of a Star Wars lightsaber.

Chatine was my favorite character. She’s street smart and feisty, and all about doing whatever she has to do in order to survive.  Disguising herself as a boy, Chatine works as a thief, picking pockets all day.  She lives with her con artist family, but there’s no love lost there so Chatine is trying to thieve her way into getting enough money to buy her way onto a better planet.  I live for a good underdog, so I was cheering Chatine on every step of the way.

Marcellus was another interesting character.  He’s a military officer who is in training to take over leadership of the military.  He begins to question his loyalty to the government, however, after receiving a cryptic message from his father, that implores him to go and visit an old friend – an old friend who happens to be suspected of being one of the masterminds behind a rebel faction hiding amongst them.  It was interesting to watch how complicated things got for Marcellus as he struggled to figure out if his loyalties should lie with the government he works for or with the people, who are clearly suffering.

Alouette is the third voice we hear in the story and like, Chatine and Marcellus, she is an easy character to sympathize with.  At first I’ll admit that I found her a little dull compared to the other two characters, but once she is confronted with the fact that her whole life has been a lie, she gets a lot more interesting.

There is also a secondary character that I fell in love with, a young boy named Roche.  He’s a little thief like Chatine, but he has more personality in his body than all of the other characters added together.  He’s clearly modelled after Gavroche, who stole the show in the original story.

The main issue I had with Sky Without Stars was that I found myself constantly comparing it to Les Miserables.  I kept trying to match up every character in the retelling with who they were inspired by in the original and it actually started to get very distracting, especially if I thought the new character fell short of the original, case in point Alouette as Cosette and Marcellus as Marius.  Although I liked both Alouette and Marcellus overall, I just found them a little flat if I thought of them in relation to Cosette and Marius too much.

I also found myself missing characters like Fantine and Valjean, one who was not included in the retelling at all and one who seemed severely underused, even though I considered their roles to be pretty vital in the original.

It can be hard to measure up to a beloved classic, but I think Sky Without Stars stands on its own as a pretty exciting space opera.  I actually think I would have enjoyed it even more than I did if I had been less familiar with the original Les Miserables.  I guess what I’m trying to say there is I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys science fiction, even if you’re not at all familiar with the original classic.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A thief. An officer. A guardian. 

Three strangers, one shared destiny . . .

When the Last Days came, the planet of Laterre promised hope. A new life for a wealthy French family and their descendants. But five hundred years later, it’s now a place where an extravagant elite class reigns supreme; where the clouds hide the stars and the poor starve in the streets; where a rebel group, long thought dead, is resurfacing.

Whispers of revolution have begun—a revolution that hinges on three unlikely heroes…

Chatine is a street-savvy thief who will do anything to escape the brutal Regime, including spy on Marcellus, the grandson of the most powerful man on the planet.

Marcellus is an officer—and the son of a renowned traitor. In training to take command of the military, Marcellus begins to doubt the government he’s vowed to serve when his father dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that only one person can read: a girl named Alouette.

Alouette is living in an underground refuge, where she guards and protects the last surviving library on the planet. But a shocking murder will bring Alouette to the surface for the first time in twelve years…and plunge Laterre into chaos.

All three have a role to play in a dangerous game of revolution—and together they will shape the future of a planet.

Power, romance, and destiny collide in this sweeping reimagining of Victor Hugo’s masterpiece, Les Misérables.

four-stars

About Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. She started self “publishing” her own books when she was seven years old, binding the pages together with cardboard, wallpaper samples, and electrical tape.

After graduating from Smith College in 2001 where she double majored in Economics and French and minored in Japanese, Jessica later went on to work for MGM Studios as a Manager of Acquisitions and Business Development. In May of 2005, Jessica quit her job to follow her dream of becoming a published author.

Since then, Jessica has sold over twelve novels for teens, tweens, and adults including 52 Reasons to Hate My Father, The Karma Club, My Life Undecided, and the three books in the Unremembered trilogy, the first of which is currently in development as a major motion picture by the producers of The Vampire Academy, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, and Slumdog Millionaire. In 2016, she will release two new contemporary novels, A Week of Mondays (August) and Boys of Summer (April), and in 2017, her debut middle grade novel entitled, Addie Bell’s Shortcut to Growing Up, will hit bookstore shelves.

Jessica also writes books for the Descendants: “School of Secrets” series, based on the hit Disney Channel Original movie, Descendants!

Jessica’s books are published and translated in over twenty foreign countries. She currently splits her time between California and Colorado.

About Joanne Rendell

Joanne Rendell is the author of three novels and holds a PhD in English Literature. She teaches fiction writing to teens and kids, as well as online writing classes at Udemy.com and Lynda.com. Joanne is a board member for the youth Shakespeare company, New Genesis Productions. With her husband and son, she divides her time between New York City and New Paltz, New York.

Review: CROWN OF FEATHERS

Review:  CROWN OF FEATHERSCrown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto
three-half-stars
Series: Crown of Feathers #1
Published by Simon Pulse on February 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 496
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

CROWN OF FEATHERS Review

 

Nicki Pau Preto’s Crown of Feathers is an epic fantasy that centers on a world that has been torn apart by a war between two warrior queens who also happen to be sisters.  The legendary Phoenix Riders were the heroes of that world until the war between the sisters destroyed everything.  Years later, many are still struggling to make ends meet and keep food on the table, including main character Veronyka, who is an orphan because of the war.  Veronyka is also an animage, which means she can communicate with animals. Animages are considered dangerous by the new empire, so Veronyka lives in hiding.  As an animage, however, Veronyka’s biggest dream is to find and join the Phoenix Riders.  She knows they’re still out there somewhere and is willing to do whatever it takes to become one of them, especially if it will get her away from her psychologically abusive sister, Val.

When Val betrays Veronyka in a most heinous and cruel way, Veronyka abandons her and sets out on her own, determined that she will either find the Phoenix Riders or die trying.  She finally locates a compound where apprentices are being trained to become Phoenix Riders. It’s everything she hoped it would be, except there’s a catch.  They aren’t taking new apprentices because they don’t have anymore available phoenixes and even if they were, they only train boys.  To join their ranks, Veronyka disguises herself as a boy, Nyk, and signs on as a stable hand.  She makes friends with Tristan, the son of the Phoenix Riders’ commander, who promises to sponsor Nyk as an apprentice Phoenix Rider the next time they’re taking on new apprentices.

Can Veronyka keep her true identity hidden?  Where’s Val during all of this?  Are the Phoenix Riders safe from the new empire?  What will happen if they’re discovered?

My favorite character, by far, in Crown of Feathers was Veronyka.  The author had me in her corner from the first moment we meet her and see how poorly her sister Val treats her.  And as much as I hated it when Val betrays Veronyka, I loved the growth we get to see in Veronyka when she sets out on her own.  She’s determined, she’s fierce, and just a real force to be reckoned with, especially the closer she gets to making her dream come true.  She had my sympathy right away but eventually she earned my respect and admiration as well.

I also really liked the other two main characters, Tristan and Sev, and thought they also had interesting journeys in this book.  As I mentioned earlier, Tristan is the son of the Phoenix Riders’ commander.  He is under tremendous pressure to live up to his father’s high expectations so that he might lead the Riders someday. In addition to watching his relationship with Nyk/Veronyka grow, much of Tristan’s journey focuses on him desperately trying to overcome his fears and make his father proud.  Sev, like Veronyka, is an animage in hiding.  Unlike Veronyka, however, Sev is hiding in plain sight, working as a soldier in the empire’s army.  His life takes an interesting and even more dangerous turn when he is approached by someone who knows what he is and is tasked with spying on the enemy from within.

Having the story unfold from these three unique perspectives added so many complex layers and interesting relationship dynamics. I really enjoyed watching all three of these characters grow and mature.

Aside from the characters, I also loved the whole concept of the Phoenix Riders.  The visual of these fierce warriors riding on fiery phoenixes gave me chills, and I also loved the way the author describes the unbreakable bond that forms between a phoenix and his or her rider of choice.  Everything about this was just so well thought out and well written. The author made it very easy to see why becoming a Phoenix Rider was Veronyka’s dream.

The ending was actually my absolute favorite part of Crown of Feathers.  If you’re into epic battle scenes, this book is for you.  I don’t want to spoil anything but think along the lines of the battle in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows or even the battles to protect the wall in Game of Thrones.  It was so intense and had me flying through the pages to see who would come out on top.  Regardless of my overall rating, I’d give the last 100 or so pages 5 stars.

My biggest issue with A Crown of Feathers centered on the worldbuilding.  As I mentioned, I thought the world itself was fantastic, especially the Phoenixes and the whole idea of the Phoenix Riders.  I just had a hard time with the way all of the background information was inserted in large clumps throughout the story.  It’s probably just me but getting the information that way really slowed the pacing of the story for me at times and just felt in the way of the action.

I also wanted more interaction between Val and Veronyka.  I have a thing for complicated sibling dynamics and was so excited by the way this story started off with Val betraying Veronyka in such a big way.  Then she just disappeared for hundreds of pages.  I spent much of the book wondering when she was going to make an appearance and either redeem herself or make things even worse between herself and Veronyka.

Even though I struggled with the pacing in the first half of the book, I still think Crown of Feathers is a very solid series opener and a stellar debut effort.  The way this first book ended has me very excited to find out where the story is going next. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys epic fantasy, fierce female protagonists, and of course, those beautiful fiery phoenixes.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

I had a sister, once…

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders—legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire—until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart.

I promised her the throne would not come between us.

Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders—even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

But it is a fact of life that one must kill or be killed. Rule or be ruled.

Just as Veronyka finally feels like she belongs, her sister turns up and reveals a tangled web of lies between them that will change everything. And meanwhile, the new empire has learned of the Riders’ return and intends to destroy them once and for all.

Sometimes the title of queen is given. Sometimes it must be taken.

three-half-stars

About Nicki Pau Preto

Nicki is a YA fantasy author living just outside Toronto, Canada. After getting a degree in visual arts, a masters in art history, and a diploma in graphic design, Nicki discovered two things: she loves to escape the real world, and she isn’t interested in a regular 9-5 life. Luckily, her chosen career covers both.

Her YA fantasy debut CROWN OF FEATHERS is coming February 12, 2019 from Simon Pulse.

Early Reviews: WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECT

Early Reviews:  WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECTWatch Us Rise by Renée Watson, Ellen Hagan
four-stars
Published by Bloomsbury YA on February 12, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Jasmine and Chelsea are sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women's Rights Club. They post everything online—poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine's response to the racial macroaggressions she experiences—and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by online trolls. When things escalate, the principal shuts the club down. Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices—and those of other young women—to be heard.

Review:

Watch Us Rise is a timely and powerful read that focuses on Chelsea and Jasmine, two teens who are tired of the way women are treated even at their own high school, a progressive school in New York City that has received awards to recognize its dedication to social justice.  Their frustration boils over and they decide to start a Women’s Rights club, which they name Write Like a Girl, and which centers around a blog they create where they share videos, poems, and essays they have written, and where they spotlight female authors, and pay special attention to those who are women of color.

What I really loved about this story is the determination Jasmine and Chelsea show as they use their club and blog to make sure all women’s voices are heard, to speak out against sexism, racism, and even against those impossibly perfect standards of beauty and fashion that contribute to low self-esteem in so many young women.  I also liked that the story itself included excerpts from the blog, including some incredible resistance poems as well as comments from readers of the blog.  As a blogger myself, I just found this element of Watch Us Rise easy to relate to and loved that all of their hard work was paying off.

Watch Us Rise also explores some of the obstacles that the girls run up against as their blog grows in popularity.  They have their fair share of trolls, both online and in their school, and their principal isn’t nearly as supportive as he should be. I’ll admit I was not completely sold on the idea that the principal of such a progressive school wouldn’t be supportive of a Women’s Rights club, but I still thought that showing how the girls approached any obstacles that got in their path was very effective.

With Watch Us Rise, Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan have written a thought-provoking story that is sure to resonate with and empower many young women.  4 STARS

 

 

Early Reviews:  WATCH US RISE and GOODBYE, PERFECTGoodbye, Perfect by Sara Barnard
Also by this author: A Quiet Kind of Thunder
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on January 29, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

When I was wild, you were steady . . . Now you are wild - what am I?

Eden McKinley knows she can’t count on much in this world, but she can depend on Bonnie, her solid, steady, straight-A best friend. So it’s a bit of a surprise when Bonnie runs away with the boyfriend Eden knows nothing about five days before the start of their GCSEs. Especially when the police arrive on her doorstep and Eden finds out that the boyfriend is actually their music teacher, Mr Cohn.

Sworn to secrecy and bound by loyalty, only Eden knows Bonnie’s location, and that’s the way it has to stay. There’s no way she’s betraying her best friend. Not even when she’s faced with police questioning, suspicious parents and her own growing doubts.

As the days pass and things begin to unravel, Eden is forced to question everything she thought she knew about the world, her best friend and herself.

Review:

In Goodbye, Perfect, Sara Barnard poignantly explores the intricacies of family, friendship, and what happens when one friend puts another in an impossible situation. When 15-year-old Bonnie and her music teacher suddenly decide to run away together, Bonnie tells no one, not even her best friend, Eden.  This leaves Eden behind to deal with the fallout, because no one believes Bonnie would run away without confiding in her best friend.  When Bonnie finally does fill Eden in via text message, she puts Eden in an even more impossible situation because she swears her to secrecy.

What I enjoyed most about Goodbye Perfect is that even though Bonnie and her teacher-boyfriend are the ones creating the drama with their very disturbing actions, the story actually focuses more on Eden and what is going through her head.  She is so conflicted between wanting to be loyal to her best friend and wanting her to come home safely so that everyone stops worrying.  I think Barnard does a beautiful job of realistically exploring all of the emotions that are running through Eden’s mind as she tries to maneuver through what feels like a mine field.

In addition to its focus on Eden and what she is going through rather than Bonnie, I was also a big fan of the support system that Barnard has created for Eden. Eden’s adoptive family was just wonderful, as was her super sweet longtime boyfriend, Connor. All of Eden’s scenes with Connor made me smile, as did a scene when Eden’s adoptive mom stuck up for her when Bonnie’s mom confronts her.  The book is filled with lots of great moments like this.

Goodbye, Perfect is the second novel I’ve read by Sara Barnard and I have to say that she is fast becoming a favorite author of mine.  Her writing is gorgeous and the stories she crafts always tug at my heartstrings because of the emotional journeys of characters like Eden. If you’re looking for a read that will resonate long after you’ve finished the last page, I highly recommend Goodbye, Perfect.  4.5 STARS

four-stars

About Renée Watson

Renée Watson is a New York Times bestselling author, educator, and activist. Her young adult novel, Piecing Me Together (Bloomsbury, 2017) received a Coretta Scott King Award and Newbery Honor. Her children’s picture books and novels for teens have received several awards and international recognition. She has given readings and lectures at many renown places including the United Nations, the Library of Congress, and the U.S. Embassy in Japan. The New York Times calls Renée’s writing, “charming and evocative.” Her poetry and fiction often centers around the lived experiences of black girls and women, and explores themes of home, identity, and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Her books include young adult novels, Piecing Me Together and This Side of Home, which were both nominated for the Best Fiction for Young Adults by the American Library Association. Her picture book, Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills received several honors including an NAACP Image Award nomination in children’s literature. Her one woman show, Roses are Red Women are Blue, debuted at the Lincoln Center at a showcase for emerging artists.

One of Renée’s passions is using the arts to help youth cope with trauma and discuss social issues. Her picture book, A Place Where Hurricanes Happen is based on poetry workshops she facilitated with children in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Renée has worked as a writer in residence for over twenty years teaching creative writing and theater in public schools and community centers through out the nation. Her articles on teaching and arts education have been published in Rethinking Schools and Oregon English Journal. She is on the Council of Writers for the National Writing Project and is a team member of We Need Diverse Books. She currently teaches courses on writing for children for the Solstice MFA program at Pine Manor College.

Renée has also worked as a consultant within the non-profit sector, specifically around teaching for social justice and the role of art in social justice, providing professional development workshops and leadership trainings to artists, staff, executives, and board of directors. Some of her clients include Carnegie Hall, DreamYard, Lincoln Center, RAW Art Works, and Writers in the Schools-Portland.

In the summer of 2016 Renée launched I, Too, Arts Collective, a nonprofit committed to nurturing underrepresented voices in the creative arts. She launched the #LangstonsLegacy Campaign to raise funds to lease the Harlem brownstone where Langston Hughes lived and created during the last twenty years of his life. Her hope is to preserve the legacy of Langston Hughes and build on it by providing programming for emerging writers.

Renée grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently lives in New York City.

About Sara Barnard

Sara lives in Brighton and does all her best writing on trains. She loves books, book people and book things. She has been writing ever since she was too small to reach the “on” switch on the family Amstrad computer. She gets her love of words from her dad, who made sure she always had books to read and introduced her to the wonders of secondhand book shops at a young age.

Sara is trying to visit every country in Europe, and has managed to reach 13 with her best friend. She has also lived in Canada and worked in India.

Sara is inspired by what-ifs and people. She thinks sad books are good for the soul and happy books lift the heart. She hopes to write lots of books that do both. BEAUTIFUL BROKEN THINGS is her first book and a dream come true.

Email: info@sarabarnardofficial.com

For promotional enquiries, please contact: Rogers, Coleridge and White

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn Bowman

Early Review – SUMMER BIRD BLUE by Akemi Dawn BowmanSummer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman
Also by this author: Starfish
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on September 11, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

 

Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue is a heartbreakingly beautiful story about grief and how to come to terms with the loss of a loved one, especially when that loved one is the person that you’re closest to in the whole world.  Rumi Seto and her younger sister Lea are like two peas in a pod.  They’re best friends and they both share a passion for music. They spend most of their time writing songs together and dream of making music together for a living when they’re older.  But then tragedy strikes and Lea dies in a car accident.

Rumi is overcome with grief and is struggling to cope.  Then things get even worse because without any warning or explanation, Rumi’s mother decides to send her away to stay with her aunt in Hawaii for the summer.  Rumi is hurt and confused – shouldn’t they be trying to work through their grief together?  All they have left is each other and now her own mother doesn’t want her around?   Rumi doesn’t know how she’s going to get through this on her own, or for that matter, if she will be able to get through this.    The sense of loss that she feels is so crushing that she can’t even bear to play music anymore because it just makes her heart ache so much.

Rumi arrives in Hawaii feeling so lost and angry that she immediately begins lashing out at everyone around her, especially her aunt and her aunt’s neighbors.  Everyone around her sees the pain that she is in and they want to help in any way they can, including a very persistent teenage surfer named Kai.  He is determined to break down the walls Rumi has built up around herself.  Will Rumi let him, or anyone else, in?

Summer Bird Blue has so many qualities that I love in a contemporary novel.    I could probably write about my LIKES for days, but I’ll try to restrain myself to a few highlights so I don’t accidentally spoil anything.

Rumi, of course, was a favorite from the beginning.  I loved seeing her interact with her sister, especially their song writing drill where they come up with three random words and then compose a song around those three words.  They were clearly about as close as two sisters could possibly be, so it was absolutely heartwrenching when the car accident took Lea away from Rumi.

I also thought Bowman did a beautiful job portraying all the emotions that Rumi was feeling after her sister’s death.  The grief, the frustration, the anger and the confusion – it’s all just so palpable.  Some may find Rumi somewhat abrasive and unlikable because of the way she lashes out at everyone around her, but she is so clearly being crushed by this suffocating grief that I didn’t hold her words or her actions against her.  It just all felt very real to me.  I’m very close to my sister too and know that I would probably react the exact same way if I lost her the way Rumi lost Lea.

Bowman’s use of flashbacks was also very effective.  She uses them to show memories that Rumi is reflecting on about her relationship with both her mother and her sister.  We begin to see that although Rumi loved her sister more than life, their relationship was pretty complex and a lot of what Rumi is feeling is also guilt because she wasn’t always the nicest to Lea.  There’s also an intricate dynamic between Rumi and her mom when it came to Lea that also sheds some light on why Rumi’s mom has seemingly abandoned her.

Summer Bird Blue also features a wonderful cast of secondary characters.  My favorite was Mr. Watanabe, the elderly man who turns his garden hose on Rumi when she lashes out at him and his dog.  After their initial contentious meeting, Mr. Watanabe becomes an unexpected source of emotional support for Rumi.  His home, along with the music he listens to, becomes somewhat of a sanctuary for Rumi.  Mr. Watanabe has also lost loved ones and so he understands that grieving is a process and that Rumi needs to work through it at her own pace.  The friendship that develops between them is just lovely.

In addition to Mr. Watanabe, surfer dude Kai was also a favorite of mine.  I loved his persistence, his sense of humor, and his free spirit.  Kai can be kind of an adorable dork at times, but when it comes down to it, he’s there for Rumi whether she wants him to be or not.

The last thing I want to talk about is how wonderfully diverse Summer Bird Blue is.  The entire cast of characters is multi-racial, and Bowman includes culture from every race that is represented.  She does an exceptional job of sharing Hawaiian culture, in particular, and had me wanting to pack my suitcase and fly there.

In addition to being racially and culturally diverse, however, Summer Bird Blue is also diverse in that while she is trying to work through her grief and figure out who she even is without Lea, Rumi is also questioning and exploring her sexuality.  She has never had any real interest in dating or in kissing anyone, and wonders why.  She’s not interested in boys or girls in any way beyond friendship and finally begins to understand and embrace the idea that she is both asexual and aromantic.

None! 😊

Summer Bird Blue is one of those books that I could just gush about for days.  Between it and Bowman’s earlier novel Starfish, she has become an auto buy author for me.  Her books are just always so heartfelt and are filled with such well-drawn characters.  Even when they make me cry, which both of these books did, they are a joy to read and I will never hesitant to recommend them to anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Rumi Seto spends a lot of time worrying she doesn’t have the answers to everything. What to eat, where to go, whom to love. But there is one thing she is absolutely sure of—she wants to spend the rest of her life writing music with her younger sister, Lea.

Then Lea dies in a car accident, and her mother sends her away to live with her aunt in Hawaii while she deals with her own grief. Now thousands of miles from home, Rumi struggles to navigate the loss of her sister, being abandoned by her mother, and the absence of music in her life. With the help of the “boys next door”—a teenage surfer named Kai, who smiles too much and doesn’t take anything seriously, and an eighty-year-old named George Watanabe, who succumbed to his own grief years ago—Rumi attempts to find her way back to her music, to write the song she and Lea never had the chance to finish.

four-half-stars

About Akemi Dawn Bowman

Akemi Dawn Bowman is the author of Starfish (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster) and Summer Bird Blue (Fall 2018). She’s a proud Ravenclaw and Star Wars enthusiast, who served in the US Navy for five years and has a BA in social sciences from UNLV. Originally from Las Vegas, she currently lives in England with her husband, two children, and their Pekingese mix. She is represented by Penny Moore of Empire Literary.

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and LOVE & GELATO

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and  LOVE & GELATOLetters to the Lost (Letters to the Lost, #1) by Brigid Kemmerer
Also by this author: More Than We Can Tell
five-stars
Published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens on April 4, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother's death, she leaves letters at her grave. It's the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn't the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he's trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can't resist writing back. Soon, he's opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they're not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Review:

Brigid Kemmerer’s Letters to the Lost is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.  What really hooked me from the beginning is its exploration of loss and the grieving process through the use of anonymous letters.  Juliet and Declan have both lost loved ones and are struggling to move through their grief and both feel alone because no one seems to understand what they’re going through.  Juliet tries to work through her grief by writing letters to her dead mom and leaving them in the cemetery where Declan works.  When Declan sees and reads one of the letters, he relates to the sense of loss in the letter so much that he replies to it.  Declan and Juliet begin writing to each other anonymously and immediately form a deeper connection than either of them could have imagined because they are able to say things to each other that they’ve not been able to say to anyone else.  I thought this aspect of the story was just so beautifully done.  The letters themselves were so raw and emotional, like reading someone’s diary and peering down deep into their souls, and they had me in tears on more than one occasion while reading.

In addition to the powerful exploration of grief, Letters to the Lost was also a wonderfully engaging read for me because of all the relationships.  And not just Declan and Juliet’s either.  They both have two of the most amazing best friends a person could ask for.  I had already met Declan’s best friend, Rev, and knew how precious he was because I read Kemmerer’s More Than We Can Tell first and fell in love with him there, but Juliet’s best friend Rowan is equally amazing.  Plus, there are also several adults (parents, teachers, and work supervisors) trying to be as supportive and non-judgmental as possible, which was just lovely to see, especially since a secondary theme of the book is about how wrong and unfair it is to judge people without ever bothering to get to know them first.

After reading and falling in love with both Letters to the Lost and More Than We Can Tell, Brigid Kemmerer has become an auto-buy author for me.  Her writing is exquisite, and her stories are filled with such incredibly realistic characters that you won’t be able to stop yourself from becoming fully invested in their lives.  If you’re looking for a read that will tug at your heart strings, I would highly recommend something from Kemmerer. 5 STARS

 

Backlist Briefs – Mini Reviews for LETTERS TO THE LOST and  LOVE & GELATOLove & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 3, 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 389
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

Review:

Jenna Evans Welch’s  Love & Gelato follows American teen Lina, who is sent to live in Florence, Italy after her mother passes away.  Lina’s mother had cancer and knew she was dying, so she made arrangements for Lina to go to Italy and get to know her father, whom she has never even met.  Although Lina doesn’t want to leave her friends and move to Italy, she feels like she has to respect her mother’s dying wish and at least visit.  Upon her arrival, she is handed an old journal that belonged to her mother that dates back to her own experiences living in Florence as a student.  It’s this old journal that takes Lina on a journey that she never expected to – one that leads her to discover never-before-known truths about both herself and her parents.

Although she was a bit stubborn and irritable at first, I found Lina to be a very likeable and relatable character overall.  It was easy to understand her attitude, given that she was being separated from everything she has ever known and sent off to live with strangers.  At the same time, I liked that once she was in Florence, she became determined to make the best of the situation.  I especially enjoyed reading along with her as she pored over her mother’s journal.  Her mother adored Florence and so it was fun to watch Lina slowly but surely discover a similar love for the city.  It was also fascinating to follow along as Lina learned more and more details about her mother’s life that had previously eluded her.  In many ways, it felt like we were both just getting to know Lina’s mother for the first time.

While Lina’s journey is mostly about discovering truths about her family, she also meets some wonderful friends while in Italy.  Ren, in particular, was just such a charming young man and I liked the friendship that developed between him and Lina, with its promise of becoming something more if Lina were to decide to stay in Florence.

My absolute favorite part of Love & Gelato though was that the author did such a magnificent job of capturing the essence of Florence and why it’s such an easy city to fall in love with.  I’ve visited Florence once and, after reading this book, I’m dying to go back!  4 STARS

 

five-stars

About Brigid Kemmerer

BRIGID KEMMERER is the author of LETTERS TO THE LOST (Bloomsbury; April 4, 2017), a dark, contemporary Young Adult romance; THICKER THAN WATER (Kensington, December 29, 2015), a New Adult paranormal mystery with elements of romance; and the YALSA-nominated Elemental series of five Young Adult novels and three e-novellas which Kirkus Reviews calls “refreshingly human paranormal romance” and School Library Journal describes as “a new take on the supernatural genre.” She lives in the Baltimore area with her husband and four sons.

About Jenna Evans Welch

Jenna Evans Welch was the kind of insatiable child reader who had no choice but to grow up to become a writer. She is the New York Times Bestselling author of LOVE & GELATO and the upcoming LOVE & LUCK. When she isn’t writing girl abroad stories, Jenna can be found chasing her children or making elaborate messes in the kitchen. She lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her husband and two young children.

Review: LETTING GO OF GRAVITY by Meg Leder

Review:  LETTING GO OF GRAVITY by Meg LederLetting Go of Gravity by Meg Leder
four-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on July 17, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Meg Leder’s Letting Go of Gravity is a beautiful, emotionally engaging story about a young woman named Parker and her twin brother, Charlie.  When the novel opens, Parker, as Class Valedictorian, is giving a speech at her graduation.  Parker has been wildly successful in her academic life – making straight As, achieving perfect scores on her SATs, getting accepted to Harvard where she plans to study to become a doctor, and landing herself a spot at a very competitive internship at the local children’s hospital.  Charlie, on the other hand, even though he’s Parker’s twin, is not graduating.  Instead, he is being held back because he missed too much time from school.  Why?  Because Charlie has been battling cancer.  He was diagnosed with it for the first time when he was in fourth grade, went into remission, only to have it return the summer before his senior year.

Parker is obsessed with making sure her twin is safe.  She watches over him like a hawk, reporting back to her parents anytime she fears Charlie might be doing something that will cause another relapse.  While Charlie understands where his sister is coming from, ultimately he can’t stand being around her because she makes him feel like he’s a caged animal with no freedom to do anything he wants to do.  Needless to say, their relationship is quite strained and Parker begins to wonder if things will ever be normal between them again…

 

I really loved Parker.  I thought she was just such a sweetheart and even though it drives Charlie crazy, I loved how devoted Parker is to him.  I have a sister, and she’s not even a twin, but I feel that level of fierce protectiveness for her that Parker has for Charlie.  Parker has devoted most of her life to watching over Charlie, so much so that he’s actually the main reason she’s planning to study pre-med at Harvard.  She wants to be a pediatric oncologist, specifically because of what has happened to Charlie.  Her parents are giddy about her decision, with her dad already starting to call her Dr. McCullough.  Parker, however, has been experiencing anxiety every time she thinks about going to Harvard in the fall, and when she arrives at the hospital to begin her internship, she has a full on panic attack and has to leave.  At this moment, Parker begins to seriously question if this is what she really wants.

The story is told from Parker’s perspective and this was fantastic too because the author does an incredible job of portraying all of the conflicting emotions that were at war in Parker’s head.  While Charlie may feel like a caged animal because everyone watches him like a hawk, Parker starts to feel equally caged in by her fears – fear of failure, fear of disappointing her loved ones, and of course, fear of losing her loved ones.  Being inside of Parker’s head was kind of a messy place to be because she has so much going on in there, but everything she’s thinking, feeling, and fearing just felt so realistic.

The relationships in Letting Go of Gravity were beautifully written as well. The very complex and strained sibling relationship between Parker and Charlie was my favorite, but I also loved the friendships.  Parker has three incredible friends, Finn, Em and Ruby, and they are as devoted to Parker as Parker is to Charlie.  Their support is unwavering but they are also all there to give Parker a kick in the pants when she really needs it.  There are also a couple of potential romances that come out of these friendships, but the author does a wonderful job of weaving those in gently so that they don’t get in the way of what I would say is more of a coming of age story than anything else as these friends give Parker the love and support she needs to figure out who she is and what she really wants out of life.

Lastly, this story is just packed with moving, relatable, and relevant themes, which is something that always makes a contemporary novel appealing to me.  This novel tackles how cancer and other serious illnesses impact, not just the patient, but also the entire family – the fear that comes when faced with the possibility of losing someone you love, the sacrifices you’re willing to make to do everything in your power to keep that from happening, and so on.  Letting Go of Gravity also explores anxiety and the pressure of putting too much on yourself, especially if you’re doing it for the wrong reasons, but really, even if you think you’re doing it for the right reasons.  As the title implies, sometimes you just have to let go of what is weighing you down.

 

The only real issue I had with Letting Go of Gravity was that I found some of it to be a little too predictable.  I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to spoil anything for other readers, but I guessed almost immediately how things were going to go for Parker.  I can’t say that it really lessened my enjoyment of the overall story, but I always prefer it when plot twists actually surprise me.

 

Letting Go of Gravity is a beautiful and moving book.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of John Green, Jennifer Niven, and Brigid Kemmerer.  If you like emotional books that feature sibling relationships and great friendships, and that might make you shed a tear or two, give Letting Go of Gravity a try.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Twins Parker and Charlie are polar opposites.  Where Charlie is fearless, Parker is careful.  Charlie is confident while Parker aims to please.  Charlie is outgoing and outspoken; Parker is introverted and reserved.  And of course, there’s the one other major difference: Charlie got leukemia. Parker didn’t.

But now that Charlie is officially in remission, life couldn’t be going better for Parker. She’s landed a prestigious summer internship at the hospital and is headed to Harvard in the fall to study pediatric oncology—which is why the anxiety she’s felt since her Harvard acceptance is so unsettling. And it doesn’t help that her relationship with Charlie has been on the rocks since his diagnosis.

Enter Finn, a boy who’s been leaving strange graffiti messages all over town. Parker can’t stop thinking about those messages, or about Finn, who makes her feel free for the first time: free to doubt, free to make mistakes, and free to confront the truth that Parker has been hiding from for a long time.

That she keeps trying to save Charlie, when the person who really needs saving is herself.

four-stars

Review: From Twinkle, With Love

Review:  From Twinkle, With LoveFrom Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
Also by this author: When Dimple Met Rishi
three-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on May 22, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Sandhya Menon’s From Twinkle, with Love is a light and romantic YA contemporary that is sure to delight fans of her first book When Dimple Met Rishi.  It follows high school student Twinkle Mehra, who is an inspiring filmmaker but also a bit of a wallflower who is really working on trying to find her voice.  She wants to use her passion for filmmaking to tell stories to the world but feels like she really needs to work on building herself up so that the world will listen to her.  When fellow film buff, cutie Sahil Roy suggests that they work on a film project together for an upcoming school festival, Twinkle jumps at the opportunity. This could be the big break she has been looking for, to finally share her filmmaking vision with more than just her five YouTube subscribers.  If she does this project, hundreds, maybe even thousands of people will finally see her work.  An added bonus for Twinkle is that working with Sahil could get her closer to her longtime crush, Sahil’s twin brother, Neil, who in her mind, she has scripted out a picture perfect future with.

As Twinkle and Sahil get to know each other better, however, Twinkle starts to unexpectedly have feelings for Sahil.  He’s cute, sweet, and everything she could possibly want in a boyfriend…except that Sahil’s not the boy she has been fantasizing about.  He’s not the popular brother who could be the key to Twinkle climbing the social ladder and reinserting herself into former bff Maddie’s new circle of rich friends.  Will Twinkle follow her heart to Sahil or will her desire to be noticed by the popular kids stand in the way of her chance at real love?

Twinkle: I’ll admit that Twinkle was a bit of a mixed bag for me, although I did like her overall.  I loved her intelligence and her passion for filmmaking and that she has all of these stories that she wants to tell.  Where I struggled a little more with Twinkle was when it came to the relationships in her life, whether it’s friendships, love interests, and especially her family.  Twinkle is messy and complicated in these areas, which I liked in the sense that it made her come across as very realistic, but at the same time, it also made her, at times, come across as a bit juvenile.  I lost track of how many times I thought “Girl, you have some serious growing up to do.”  I did feel sympathy for her most of the time, especially when her best friend Maddie basically ditches her for some new rich friends who aren’t even remotely nice to Twinkle.  Watching that relationship fall apart was pretty painful, but even more painful, was watching Twinkle desperately cling to it and obsess over how she was going to get Maddie back.

One of the things I liked the most about Twinkle though was watching her finally find her voice.  She starts off as somewhat meek, thinking things but never saying them. But as she grows into her role as a film director while working with Sahil and her classmates on the film project, she really comes into her own and finds her voice.  This, too, is messy because she goes off the rails a bit before she finds the right balance, but again, that just made it feel all the more realistic.

Sahil:  I think Sahil could give Rishi a serious run for his money in the precious and adorable department.  I’m sure the title character of this book was the one who was supposed to steal my heart but instead, it was Sahil all the way.  Sahil is so kind, patient, and selfless, and he’s also a little reserved and sad at times because he lives in the shadow of his superstar twin brother Neil. And like Twinkle, Sahil has a passion for films.  I thought it was so sweet when he worked up the nerve to ask her to work on a film with him for the school festival, especially after learning that Sahil has had a mad crush on Twinkle since they were both 11 years old.  And my heart just ached for him knowing how he felt about Twinkle, while at the same time, knowing that she’s busy scheming how to get his brother to notice her.  I spent a lot of the novel worrying that Twinkle was going to accidentally squish Sahil’s heart into a million pieces.

Unique Structure:  One of my favorite aspects of From Twinkle, with Love is the way Menon presents most of the story through Twinkle’s journal entries.  I thought it was just brilliant that instead of just randomly writing entries in her journals, she actually addresses them to her favorite female directors such as Sofia Coppola and Ava Duvernay. As someone who has always wanted to keep a journal but consistently failed at it miserably, I couldn’t help but wish I had thought of doing something like this.  And there’s more…While most of the story is presented from Twinkle’s perspective, we do get a little of it from Sahil’s perspective as well in a combination of bro-texts to his two bffs and some not-so-anonymous posts to his blog about his love for “Sparkle.” You know, because no one would EVER figure out that Sparkle is Twinkle, lol.  (Have I mentioned that Sahil is the absolute most precious and adorable part of this entire book?  Because yeah, he totally is!)

Groundlings vs Silk Feathered Hat Wearers:  I think this is going to be one of those things that really annoyed me but won’t bother most people, but the constant use of this comparison throughout the novel really drove me crazy after a while.  At first I thought it was clever when Twinkle started writing about Shakespearean theater and comparing herself to the groundlings (those with little money who would go to see the plays but stood on the ground at the theater because they couldn’t afford to purchase a seat) vs. the Silk Feathered Hat Wearing types who could afford the seats and who pranced around in fancy clothing acting important.  Twinkle’s dream is to use her filmmaking talents to rise up from “Groundling” status so that she is no longer invisible to those of higher social status.  While I didn’t necessarily have an issue with Twinkle’s dream, it drove me batty that literally every time she talked or wrote about the dream, she mentioned the actual terms ‘Groundlings’ and ‘Silk Feathered Hat Wearers.’ It went from feeling clever to feeling repetitive.

Too Many Love Interests:  I actually think the story would have been a stronger read for me with less focus on boys and more focus on filmmaking.  There were just too many potential love interests floating around – Sahil and Twinkle, or is it Neil and Twinkle, or no, wait, is it the anonymous email-writing secret admirer and Twinkle?  For someone like me who isn’t that much of a romance reader, this was just too much for me.

One final area where I struggled a little is that Twinkle seemed very young and immature at times.  She mentions in the first journal entry that she is sixteen but there were times when I thought she came across as much younger than that, more like 14.  Thankfully she did start to show some growth and maturity as I moved through the book, but it threw me a little in the early goings and made it a little harder to connect with Twinkle than I would have hoped.  I think maybe my expectations were just misplaced because Dimple and Rishi seemed so much older and more mature in Menon’s first book.

From Twinkle, with Love explores a lot of themes that readers are sure to find relatable – love, friendship, family, finding one’s voice, and following one’s dreams. While I didn’t find it quite as captivating a story as I did When Dimple Met Rishi, I still thought it was a solidly entertaining read and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Aspiring filmmaker and wallflower Twinkle Mehra has stories she wants to tell and universes she wants to explore, if only the world would listen. So when fellow film geek Sahil Roy approaches her to direct a movie for the upcoming Summer Festival, Twinkle is all over it. The chance to publicly showcase her voice as a director? Dream come true. The fact that it gets her closer to her longtime crush, Neil Roy—a.k.a. Sahil’s twin brother? Dream come true x 2.

When mystery man “N” begins emailing her, Twinkle is sure it’s Neil, finally ready to begin their happily-ever-after. The only slightly inconvenient problem is that, in the course of movie-making, she’s fallen madly in love with the irresistibly adorkable Sahil.

Twinkle soon realizes that resistance is futile: The romance she’s got is not the one she’s scripted. But will it be enough?

Told through the letters Twinkle writes to her favorite female filmmakers, From Twinkle, with Love navigates big truths about friendship, family, and the unexpected places love can find you.

three-half-stars

About Sandhya Menon

Sandhya Menon is the New York Times bestselling author of WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI and the upcoming FROM TWINKLE, WITH LOVE. She currently lives in Colorado, where she’s on a mission to (gently) coerce her family to watch all 3,221 Bollywood movies she claims as her favorite.

Review: STARRY EYES by Jenn Bennett

Review:  STARRY EYES by Jenn BennettStarry Eyes by Jenn Bennett
Also by this author: Serious Moonlight
four-half-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on April 3, 2018
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

Starry Eyes is a young adult contemporary novel that follows teens Zorie and Lennon.  Zorie and Lennon used to be best friends but, because of something that happened at the homecoming dance, they are now sworn enemies and do everything they can to avoid one another at all costs.  I had never read a book by Jean Bennett before and knew absolutely nothing about these characters, but as soon as I read that in the synopsis, I was dying to know what happened at that dance to drive them apart.

I then read further down the synopsis and saw that these enemies somehow not only end up on a camping trip together, but somehow they end up stranded in the wilderness together.  It sounded like a recipe for disaster, but also a recipe for a fantastic read!

As if the mystery of what happened between Zorie and Lennon and whether or not they would kill each other on this camping trip wasn’t compelling enough, the synopsis goes on to describe their parents as modern day versions of the Montagues and Capulets from Romeo and Juliet.  That right there was more than enough to have me dying to read this book.  I mean, seriously…bffs who now hate each other and who have families who are also feuding?  Does that not just scream “READ ME”?  Well, it did for me anyway…

And I loved every page of it.  Jenn Bennett delivers a moving story filled with characters that I fell in love with.  Even though on the surface, Starry Eyes is a book about a camping trip gone wrong, it’s also about family, love, friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and so much more.  It captured all of my emotions and was just everything I hoped it would be.

 

Zorie.  I just loved everything about Zorie.  I found her addiction to planning and organization, along with her sense of humor and her fondness for astronomy, so endearing. I also found her incredibly relatable at times, especially when she first encounters Lennon.  They’re enemies at this point and she would rather do just about anything than have to come face-to-face with him.  Haven’t we all been in that position before?  Equally relatable was her questionable taste in romantic interests.  Zorie has a crush on a guy named Brett, and I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I’m just going to say this guy is just the worst.  I couldn’t figure out what in the world she saw in him. But again, haven’t we all been there at some point?  I think what I liked most about Zorie, however, was how much she matured throughout the story.  Again, no spoilers, but between what happened with Lennon and what has been going on within her own family, Zorie has a lot of issues that she is dealing with and I think she shows tremendous growth as we move through the story, In many ways, it’s actually a coming of age story for her.

Lennon.  Even though I thought going in that I would side with either Zorie or Lennon, I found myself equally attached to both of them.  Lennon is just this cool guy.  He’s a little dark and emo at times, but he loves reptiles and he loves camping and nature so he’s a pretty well rounded and interesting individual.  He really won me over though in an early scene where he’s working in a pet shop and showing reptiles to a young child.  He was just so great with the child that it warmed my heart and made me all the more curious about what happened between him and Zorie.  I mean, how could you not want to be friends or even more than friends with such a great guy!

Zorie and Lennon together.  Yes, you read that correctly! Even though I almost always whine and moan  when there is a romance in a book, I adored watching Zorie and Lennon together as they attempted to rebuild their relationship.  Their chemistry felt real because they already had so much history together, and I loved how authentic the awkwardness felt when they first start trying to talk to each other again, and because I liked them both so much, I just really wanted them to have a second chance, either as friend or hopefully as more than friends since they seemed so perfect together.

Great secondary characters.  Bennett does a fantastic job with most of the parents in this story.  I loved Lennon’s moms and their Toys in the Attic sex shop.  They were hilarious and also two of the best parents I’ve come across in books in a long time. I especially love how protective they are of Zorie, even though they’re supposed to be feuding with Zorie’s dad.  Zorie’s stepmom is wonderful too.  The bond she has with Zorie was lovely, especially since they aren’t related by blood.  Zorie’s dad is a different story in that I loathed him, but I will say he was not a flat character either.

Glamping.  I confess that I completely related to Zorie’s aversion to going camping because I don’t do the outdoors either, especially the whole sleeping in a tent with nothing but some canvas between you and whatever else it out there in the wild, lol. That said, however, I could totally get down with glamping.  It sounded fabulous, especially the wonderful sleeping accommodations, the showers, the chef, and the cocktail hours.  Sign me up!

I could literally go on and on about what I loved, but you get the idea…

 

Aside from wanting Brett to get eaten by a bear, I didn’t really have any issues with this book.

 

This may have been my first Jenn Bennett read, but it will most certainly not be my last.  If you’re looking for a heartwarming read about family, friendship, and first loves, I’d highly recommend Starry Eyes. 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Ever since last year’s homecoming dance, best friends-turned-best enemies Zorie and Lennon have made an art of avoiding each other. It doesn’t hurt that their families are the modern day, Californian version of the Montagues and Capulets.

But when a group camping trip goes south, Zorie and Lennon find themselves stranded in the wilderness. Alone. Together.

What could go wrong?

With no one but each other for company, Zorie and Lennon have no choice but to hash out their issues via witty jabs and insults as they try to make their way to safety. But fighting each other while also fighting off the forces of nature makes getting out of the woods in one piece less and less likely.

And as the two travel deeper into Northern California’s rugged backcountry, secrets and hidden feelings surface. But can Zorie and Lennon’s rekindled connection survive out in the real world? Or was it just a result of the fresh forest air and the magic of the twinkling stars?

four-half-stars

About Jenn Bennett

Jenn Bennett is an award-winning author of young adult contemporary romance books, including: Alex, Approximately; The Anatomical Shape of a Heart; and Starry Eyes. She also writes romance and urban fantasy for adults (the Roaring Twenties and Arcadia Bell series). Her books have earned multiple starred reviews, won the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA® Award, garnered two Reviewers’ Choice awards and a Seal of Excellence from RT Book Reviews, and been included on Publishers Weekly Best Books annual list. She lives near Atlanta with one husband and two dogs.

Review: THE WICKED DEEP

Review:  THE WICKED DEEPThe Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw
three-stars
Published by Simon Pulse on March 6th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW:

I’ve always been drawn to books that feature witches, so as soon as I saw its alluring synopsis promising “Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials,” Shea Ernshaw’s debut novel, The Wicked Deep, quickly became one of my most anticipated reads of 2018.  So, did it live up to expectations?  Well, yes and no.  The Wicked Deep is an atmospheric and engaging read — I read it easily in about a day.  That said, however, it was also the kind of read that had me yelling at the characters as I was reading because I just couldn’t believe some of the things I was reading.  I’ll try to elaborate on that without giving away any major spoilers…

Set in the cursed town of Sparrow, Oregon, The Wicked Deep is a story of revenge.  Two centuries ago, beautiful sisters Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan moved to Sparrow.  They were disliked immediately because of the way the townsmen fawned all over them and eventually they were accused of being witches and drowned in the town’s harbor.  Every summer since the drowning, on the anniversary of their deaths, the spirits of the three sisters wait for teenage girls to enter the water and then they inhabit their bodies until the summer solstice.  Their goal?  Revenge.  Like sirens, the sisters use the bodies they’ve stolen to then lure unsuspecting teenage boys into the harbor where they drown them.  No one ever knows whose bodies have been taken over and once the summer solstice comes, the spirits go back to the bottom of the sea and those who were inhabited have no recollection of what has happened. Everyone in Sparrow seems to just accept that this is their fate and they have even gone so far as to morbidly exploit the curse, even referring to it as “Swan Season.”  The curse has made Sparrow quite the tourist attraction and people come from miles around to see if what they have heard is true.  The town throws ‘Swan’ parties and then just passively waits for the ritual to play out each year, with no hope of ever stopping it.

Things change this year, however.  A young man named Bo arrives in town on the same night the Swan sisters are set to return.  Bo meets 17-year-old Penny Talbot, a local who like most others, has just accepted this as her way of life.  Penny fills him in on the curse and warns him that as a teen boy, he’s likely to be a potential target.  The two of them start to bond and, instead of passively riding out the ritual like she does every other year, Penny becomes determined to keep Bo from falling victim to the sisters.  While Penny is busy trying to keep Bo safe, seeds of discord are being sown in the town and some of the boys decide it’s time to end this curse once and for all.  Someone comes up with the idea that perhaps if they can figure out which girls are inhabited by the spirits, they can kill those girls and thus prevent the spirits from returning to the sea, thus breaking the curse.  This leads to a modern day witch hunt with the girls now in just as much danger as the boys.

Can the townspeople stop the curse?  Can they even justify taking the lives of three innocent girls to possibly stop the curse?  Can Penny protect Bo from the curse?  Why did Bo conveniently show up in town that night anyway?  So many questions….

I absolutely loved the atmosphere that Ernshaw creates in her novel.  It’s an enchanting recipe of quaint small town quirkiness combined with the haunting and creepy vibe that this two-hundred year old curse casts over everything.  Small details like the sisters using song to lure teen girls into the water to steal their bodies just added to the overall sensory experience of reading.  If I was rating on atmosphere only, this would be five stars for sure.

The legend of the Swan sisters was fascinating as well.  I really liked how Ernshaw allowed more and more details about their story to unfold as we’re watching the curse play out in real time.  The Swan sisters were actually interesting enough that I would have loved an entire book devoted just to them, but Ernshaw does a nice job of seamlessly weaving together the past and the present to show us how the curse began and why the sisters are so bent on seeking revenge against the people of Sparrow.

Out of all the characters, Bo was probably the character who intrigued me the most.  He was so mysterious and it felt like he was hiding something when he first arrived, especially the way he claimed to not be a tourist yet conveniently showed up on the first night of “Swan Season.”  I felt like I was watching him most closely while I was reading, trying to figure out if he had ulterior motives for arriving in Sparrow when he did.

Okay, so let me reiterate that I enjoyed reading The Wicked Deep.  As I’ve already mentioned, I read it in a day and literally could not put it down until I knew how it was going to end.  That said, there were some things about the story itself that just drove me crazy and had me yelling at the characters (a lot!) while I was reading…

 

  1. I could not understand, for the life of me, how an entire town of people could continue living in a place where they know the same thing is going to happen every year. You know young men are going to drown and yet even if you are the parent of said young men, you’re cool with staying in this town?  I couldn’t get past this because I just can’t fathom staying in a place like this.  It should be a deserted ghost town.

 

  1. Speaking of being a tourist haven – Even if you have accepted your fate as some kind of “collective guilt,” why would you exploit this tragedy by bringing more people to your town? Are they hoping to lure in other families so that maybe non-local kids drown instead of their own?
  1. The teenagers’ cavalier attitude toward the entire curse. Again, you know as a teen girl in a small town, you have a very high chance of being one of the three who are “chosen” by the sisters and that if chosen, they, using your body, will murder young men.  And you know as a teenage boy, that you stand a pretty good chance of being lured out to a watery grave.  So why the heck do these idiots have a huge party down on the beach the first night of “Swan Season” every year and  dare each other to drunkenly wade out into the water to see what happens?

 

Aside from not understanding why the people of Sparrow do what they do, I also guessed what was supposed to be a huge plot twist very early on, so that was a little disappointing. I will say it’s a great twist though, a total game changer, so if you don’t guess it early on, it will blow your mind when you get there.

One other area where I felt things were a bit lacking was in the area of character development.  You’ll notice that aside from Bo, I didn’t really mention any other characters and that’s because I didn’t really feel all that invested in any of them.  It felt like they were just there to advance the plot regarding the curse.  Penny probably had the most development out of any of them but I still didn’t really feel any connection to her.  Since I’m one who likes to connect with the characters, I’m reading about, this was a little disappointing.

While in many ways The Wicked Deep lived up to expectations – it’s one of the most atmospheric books I’ve read in a while and I definitely enjoyed the unique premise of the cursed town and the three sisters’ quest for revenge, the book fell a bit flat for me in other ways just because I couldn’t get past the unrealistic behavior of the people in the town and didn’t feel much of a connection to the characters. I still wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a haunting and creepy witch-themed read.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic meets the Salem Witch trials in this haunting story about three sisters on a quest for revenge—and how love may be the only thing powerful enough to stop them.

Welcome to the cursed town of Sparrow…

Where, two centuries ago, three sisters were sentenced to death for witchery. Stones were tied to their ankles and they were drowned in the deep waters surrounding the town.

Now, for a brief time each summer, the sisters return, stealing the bodies of three weak-hearted girls so that they may seek their revenge, luring boys into the harbor and pulling them under.

Like many locals, seventeen-year-old Penny Talbot has accepted the fate of the town. But this year, on the eve of the sisters’ return, a boy named Bo Carter arrives; unaware of the danger he has just stumbled into.

Mistrust and lies spread quickly through the salty, rain-soaked streets. The townspeople turn against one another. Penny and Bo suspect each other of hiding secrets. And death comes swiftly to those who cannot resist the call of the sisters.

But only Penny sees what others cannot. And she will be forced to choose: save Bo, or save herself.

three-stars

About Shea Ernshaw

Shea Ernshaw is an Oregon native and YA author. She often writes late, late, late into the night, enjoys dark woods, scary stories and moonlight on lakes. She drinks loads of tea and believes sunrises are where unicorns hide.

She lives with her two cats, a dog, a husband, and a stack of books beside her bed she still needs to read.

Her debut THE WICKED DEEP will be published by Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse in 2018.