May 22, 2018

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

“Taste, Chef said, is all about balance. The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter. Now your tongue is coded. A certain connoisseurship of taste, a mark of how you deal with the world, is the ability to relish the bitter, to crave it even, the way you do the sweet.” 

Stephanie DanlerSweetbitter

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
With all the hype surrounding the show Sweetbitter on STARZ, I knew I had to pick up the book and see what it was all about before even trying an episode. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler is a coming-of-age story about Tess, a 22-year-old girl who moves to New York City on a whim and finds herself wrapped up in the restaurant world. 

After a haphazard interview, Tess is invited to train at one of the city's best restaurants, and here she learns about the inner workings of the restaurant business and the secrets of its employees. She becomes enamored with her coworker Jake, and develops a reverent but fearful attitude toward another coworker, Simone. But Simone and Jake have an odd relationship, and Tess can't figure it out. Day by day she gets in deeper with the drugs and alcohol that come with the job. Despite being warned about Jake, Tess takes her chances and learns more about herself in the process than she ever thought possible.

I absolutely adored this story. It's very atmospheric and character driven, and not much happens outside of Tess getting to know her coworkers and learning more about her job. I identified so much with Tess...naive and willing to learn, but stronger and smarter than everyone thinks she is. I thought Simone was a fantastic character, and her cynicism just dripped off the pages. I was not a huge fan of Jake but he was definitely a necessary aspect of this story. Danler's writing flows and dances across the page, taking you with it and smothering you in Tess's new world.

The reviews on Goodreads are pretty harsh for this read, but if something draws me in by the synopsis I usually give it a shot no matter what the reviews say. In this case, I'm definitely glad I did. This book is best for those who love character-driven, coming-of-age stories, so if you're looking for an action-packed read this is probably not for you. I read this book lazily, as I liked being wrapped up inside the walls of the restaurant with it's workers. True to it's subject matter, reading this book was like enjoying a good glass of wine...wanting to drink it all but forcing yourself to savor it and consume it slowly because you want to fully appreciate it and don't want it to end.

I've only watched one episode of the Sweetbitter show so far, but I'm enjoying it, and will definitely have to do a comparison review once it's done. 

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

May 17, 2018

The Accidental Bad Girl by Maxine Kaplan

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
Books with fun and bright covers always catch my attention, so obviously as soon as I saw this book I was drawn to it! The Accidental Bad Girl by Maxine Kaplan follows teenage Kendall who, after getting caught with her best friend's ex and ruining her reputation, is dead set on finishing high school and not having to face her classmates anymore. Part of this plan includes YATS, a semester-long science program that will get her away from school and give her the experience of a lifetime. But when Kendall accidentally falls into the wrong crowd and YATS is on the line, she has to decide who she really is: a good girl or a bad girl? I will put a trigger warning on this book for drug use and rape.

I enjoyed this fun read! I really liked Kendall's character, and seeing her struggle through some tough moral dilemmas was pretty relatable. Plus she was a total badass! I loved the stance this book took on feminism, slut shaming, and rape culture, as these are some pretty relevant topics today. I thought Simone was a fantastic minor character and loved seeing her bond with and support Kendall. The villains in this book were great, not unrealistically evil for their age, and played into the storyline well.

There was a small mystery to solve in this book as well, and I was definitely thrown by the reveal! This is big for me, since I can usually figure out the answer in mystery/thriller reads pretty early on.

One thing I did notice was that this was listed as ages 14 and up on the ARC, but I definitely think there are some themes in this book that are too mature for that age. 16-17 and up would be more appropriate in my mind, as this book did get pretty dark at times. There was also a little of the oblivious parent trope here, but it definitely got better as the book progressed.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Amulet Books for an arc of this fun read! The Accidental Bad Girl by Maxine Kaplan is out now, so be sure to pick up a copy! 

May 15, 2018

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
This was definitely a unique and interesting read. Told in 100 chapters with 100 words each, What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee is a breath of fresh air in a sea of similarity. Small and mighty, this story, although short, packs a powerful punch. I do want to place a trigger warning on this book for rape and suicide before I jump into the review.

This story follows Will, a teenage boy who loves to walk. After his father's suicide, he started walking and hasn't stopped since. He walks to work through problems, to think about things, and to observe. He walks to his job at Dollar Only, and he walks to deliver presents to friends and neighbors. Will is very observant, and this story reveals his thoughts about things ranging from his boss to his family to the little boy down the street that waits for butterflies. When his childhood friend Playa is raped, Will walks to work though his feelings, deciding to deliver presents to her every day to cheer her up, and he walks to think though his father's suicide. Throughout the story, Will is also set on replicating his father's perfect cornbread recipe, but learns at the end that it was never really about the cornbread at all.

I really like the way this story was told, because although it was a short and fast read, the message of positive thinking was powerful and important. Will is such a kind character, always thinking of others. Considering everything Will has been through, I admire his positivity and his desire to cheer up those around him. I love the way that Will references music and song lyrics (especially Bowie!), and how he holds fast and true to the sayings his father left him with, no matter how cliché they may be.

Reading this, I felt an overwhelming desire to be more positive, to look on the bright side, and to appreciate everything around me. Will could have easily sunken into himself, but he instead focused on observing the beauty and people around him and appreciating them any way he knew how.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing for sending me a finished copy of this read! What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee releases TODAY, May 15th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

May 7, 2018

Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
The amount of wilderness-related books I've read over the last few months is astounding, but they've all been fantastic! Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon did not disappoint. I was lucky enough to meet her at NoVa TEEN Book Festival, and she was so sweet in person! 

This story follows Priscilla "Rilla" Skidmore, a rebel teen sent off to live in Yosimite National Park with her park ranger sister Thea to try to straighten her life out. Once there, she bonds with a group of climbers who help her assimilate into Yosimite life. Rilla falls in love with climbing and makes it her personal mission to climb a famous route in Yosimite called The Nose, to prove to both herself and everyone else that she is more than just a nobody from West Virginia.

I adored Rilla as a character and related to her on so many levels, the biggest of which was her uncertainty. She really wanted to be a climber, but she was scared and lacked confidence in herself, even after she had proven that she could do it. She kept comparing herself to seasoned climbers even though she was doing a fantastic job for a "gumby." Seeing her come into her own through climbing left me feeling proud of her even though she had some moral tumbles along the way. I loved the side characters as well, like Walker, Petra, and Caroline, and thought they all brought something unique to the story.

Not a lot actually happened in this book, but for me that was fine. It was more a telling of Rilla's personal journey than a rough and tumble adventure tale, and the few intense scenes ended quickly and without any real trouble. I liked that there was a climbing glossary in the back, in case any terms weren't explained well enough in the story (which for the most part, they were). I do think there were some loose ends that didn't get wrapped up, and I was left with a few unanswered questions. Overall this was an enjoyable, inspiring read that made me want to get outside more and test my own physical and emotional boundaries.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Amulet Books for an advanced copy of this inspiring read! Valley Girls by Sarah Nicole Lemon releases tomorrow, May 8th, so be sure to pick up a copy!

April 30, 2018

The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel is a literary fiction read that follows a cast of characters at Llamalo, a utopian summer camp out in the Rocky Mountains. Rebecca, a social-conscious college student, has been shipped off to be a counselor instead of getting to work on her family's paper. David, a seventeen year old nobody, has been coming to Llamalo for years, and hopes to move there permanently when he turns eighteen. Caleb, leader of the camp, is trying to maintain order and make everyone feel the same way he does about Llamalo and what it stands for. Don and Donnie, father and son duo and original owners of the land, are struggling with what their ranch has become and how to do something about it. 

This books is told through the points of view of all these characters. It takes place throughout the Eighties (as flashbacks) and Nineties (as present day) through the Reagan and Bush eras. The flashbacks take the reader back to times like when David and Rebecca were kids, and when Caleb first discovered Llamalo, helping the reader to understand why things are they way they are at present in the story. 

The Optimistic Decade was very atmospheric and character driven. Not a lot happens, but in this book that works well. I felt transported right into Llamalo, with its hot sun, gorgeous views, and minimalist lifestyle. I really loved both Rebecca and David as characters, and getting to see them each grow individually, as well as build their relationship with one another. I also loved a lot of the minor characters, including Suze and Georgia.

It covers a lot of challenging and thoughtful topics, including idealism, flawed leadership, and political activism. The characters in the story think a lot about whether or not their actions make a difference, and there are many eye opening moments for each of them. The writing was beautiful and the novel was well constructed. Overall I really enjoyed this novel, but I was left still wanting something more when it was all said and done.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Algonquin Books for sending me an advanced copy of this perfect summer read! The Optimistic Decade by Heather Abel releases TOMORROW, May 1st, so be sure to pick up a copy!

April 24, 2018

The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose

Cover Art Courtesy of Goodreads
When this appeared in my mailbox, I was immediately captivated. The cover is gorgeous and just drips with magic and intrigue. Reading the synopsis got me even more interested. The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose is a historical fiction intertwined with magic. Taking place after the first Wold War, the story follows Delphine Dupressi, descendant of La Lune, a famous witch and courtesan. After regaining her sight, Delphine can see people's secrets, and she has turned her gift into an almost parlor trick, painting "shadow portraits" for people on commission and at parties. After a shadow portrait goes wrong, Delphine flees New York and returns to her home in France. Here she hopes to find healing, but instead finds herself knee deep in the hunt for the writings of Nicolas Flamel.

It turns out this is actually the third in the Daughters of La Lune series, although it's said that each novel can stand on its own. I found this to be true, at least for this installment, and thought there was plenty of description and explanation that allowed this to be consumed independently of the other two books. I haven't read the other two, but now I'm so interested in the La Lune descendants that I might have to!

The writing in this novel was captivating and beautiful, transporting you right into postwar France and New York. I don't typically like historical fiction, as I simply find them boring, but the magic element completely eliminated that here.

I adored the cast of characters in this story. Delphine was strong but very human in her insecurities. Emma Calve was an outstanding side character, reminding me so much of Carlotta from Phantom of the Opera. I really enjoyed that so many famous individuals from the same era were characters, including Pablo Picasso himself. I thought the plot was good, although a little slow in the middle. 

Interspersed in the book are excerpts from Delphine's Book of Hours, where she has chronicled all her time spent with her former lover Mathieu. These were nice to read but I didn't really find them necessary overall until the last few entries. 

For the most part, the book really lived up to the beauty of the cover. With great writing, strongly developed characters, and a decent plot, I really did enjoy this read.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

A big thanks to Atria Books for sending me a copy of this beautiful read! The Library of Light and Shadow by M.J. Rose is available now in paperback, so be sure to pick up a copy!

April 22, 2018

Can Dreams Come True? by Krysten Lindsay Hager

Cute YA contemporaries are always easy, enjoyable reads for me. They take me back to an easier time in my life with full force nostalgia. Can Dreams Come True? by Krysten Lindsay Hager did exactly that and more. 

Official Synopsis

Cecily has always had a huge crush on singer Andrew Holiday and she wants to be an actress, so she tags along when her friend auditions for his new video. However, the director isn’t looking for an actress, but rather the girl next door—and so is Andrew. Cecily gets a part in the video and all of Andrew’s attention on the set. Her friend begins to see red and Cecily’s boyfriend is seeing green—as in major jealousy. 

A misunderstanding leaves Cecily and her boyfriend on the outs and Andrew hopes to pick up the pieces as he’s looking for someone more stable in his life than the models he’s dated. Soon Cecily begins to realize Andrew understands her more than her small-town boyfriend—but can her perfect love match really be her favorite rock star?

My Review

I really enjoyed this read! First, I really liked that it didn't have the typical absent parent trope that so many YA contemporaries are famous for...Cecily's parents were very involved and very protective of her. The characters were all incredibly relatable, taking me back to my own high school years comprised of best friends, backstabbers, and boyfriend stealers. I do think Cecily was a little naive compared to some of her friends, but I think a lot of that has to do with this being a clean teen novel vs having anything risque or inappropriate in it. Even though Cecily finds herself falling in love with a pop star, this was done in a realistic way. 

I also appreciate that this is going to be a series! Most YA contemporaries are stand alone novels, which is okay, but sometimes I just want more of a character or storyline. I can't wait to see what happens with Cecily and Andrew in the future! This was cute and fluffy and good as an escape from everyday adult life. I thought it was a little simple for an adult reader, but would be great for middle schoolers and younger high schoolers. It also ended pretty suddenly, but that doesn't bother me as much here as it normally would since I know there is more to come in another book.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

About the Author

Krysten Lindsay Hager writes about friendship, self-esteem, fitting in, frenemies, crushes, fame, first loves, and values. She is the author of True Colors, Best Friends...Forever?, Next Door to a Star, Landry in Like, Competing with the Star (The Star Series: Book 2) and Dating the It Guy. True Colors, won the Readers Favorite award for best preteen book and the Dayton Book Expo Bestseller Award for childen/teens. Competing with the Star is a Readers' Favorite Book Award Finalist. 

Krysten's work has been featured in USA Today, The Flint Journal, the Grand Haven Tribune, the Beavercreek Current, the Bellbrook Times, Springfield News-Sun, Grand Blanc View, Dayton Daily News and on the talk show Living Dayton.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram // Pinterest // Amazon

Can Dreams Come True? by Krysten Lindsay Hager is out now, so be sure to pick up a copy. Thanks so much to Clean Reads and Neverland Blog Tours for a digital copy of this adorable read.


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April 16, 2018

The Elizas by Sara Shepard

Cover Art Courtesy of Atria Books
As a Pretty Little Liars superfan, I'm always drawn to Sara Shepard's books. The mystery and intrigue in all her plotlines always have me hooked, and her new adult thriller The Elizas was no different. I want to put a trigger warning for mental illness and suicide on this book before I jump into the review.

When Eliza Fontaine is pulled from a pool, her parents and doctors think it's a suicide attempt after an evening of drinking too much. She does have a history of them, after all, both evenings of excessive drinking and suicide attempts. But Eliza swears someone pushed her in. When no one takes her seriously, Eliza decides to investigate her case herself, set on proving that this was not a suicide attempt. But other things are happening to Eliza as well. She's zoning out, not remembering major life details, and acting erratic. Her first novel is set to be published soon, but when her family finds out about it and reads the story, they plead Eliza to stop the publication. But why?

This book is half Eliza plot, and half excerpts from Eliza's novel, The Dots, so this almost seems like two stories in one. The Dots follows Dot, a young girl plagued with seizures, and her aunt Dorothy. When The Dots starts to turn dark, Eliza begins to uncover some of that missing information in her life that may connect the fictional Dot and Eliza herself more than she initially thought.

This may be one of the hardest book reviews I've ever had to write, simply because the book was such a trip! Also, the way the two plots paralleled it's hard to say too much without spoiling anything. There are a lot of WAIT WHAT moments, in both the Eliza and Dot storylines. It read very quickly, as you bounce between The Dots excerpts and Eliza's own narrative. I absolutely adored Eliza as a character. Her penchant for the morbid and curious reminded me a lot of myself. Her chaotic thoughts were so well written that it was impossible not to get into Eliza's head and feel the same panic and paranoia she experienced.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Thanks so much to Atria Books for a digital ARC of this great book! The Elizas by Sara Shepard releases TOMORROW, April 17th, so be sure to pick up a copy!