Review: Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Title: Today Tonight Tomorrow
Author: Rachel Lynn Solomon
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publication Date: Jul 14, 2020
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow … maybe she’s already fallen for him.

Review:

Today Tonight Tomorrow was just as cute the second time around as it was the first. I’m so happy I took the time to read the finished physical book cause now it’s all prettily tabbed and full of love!

I read this as an eARC, but I never got around to reviewing it, so here’s my thought after my reread!

First off, if I ever visit Seattle, this book will be my exploration guidebook – I loved learning about the city and its quintessential landmarks (some of which RLS acknowledges are now shut down, with likely even more now that 2020 happened), but it was a great way to immortalize a snapshot of the city and all it’s nooks and crannies.

I had so much fun with Rowan and Neil through this story. I loved getting to know them as they got to know each other. We love a good rivals-to-lovers romance and this was perfection. The paperback also has the first chapter of the book from Neil’s point of view and ugh, he’s adorable and I love him. The man falling first? Also a top-tier trope. Their banter and comfort with each other was so cute and I found myself grinning, laughing, and crying as they grew and their perspectives changed.

Two things I absolutely loved beyond the pair – the first is Rowan’s love for romance novels. Like yes, scream it from the rooftops, romance novels are superior in everyway and I hate when people look down on them. This might’ve been a love letter to Seattle, but it was also a love letter to romance books.

The second thing I loved was the growing pains – the finality of senior year and graduation looming and the realization that there are different ways to be successful, and present, and happy. I loved seeing Rowan kind of shaken out of her high school stupor only to realize she didn’t achieve everything she had set out to achieve in high school – she raced towards this finish line, but somehow disconnected from her friends, missed out on some hallmark events of high school (like prom) and didn’t know how to deal with that. That felt so real and relatable and I loved how she grew from that mentality, even in the short time span of this book – I enjoyed her self-reflection and her acceptance as things changed and different factors came to light. That growth was impeccable and I adored Rowan more for it.

All in all, T3 is another homerun for RLS. Absolutely adored it and I’ll definitely return to this story again in the future!

TWs: incarcerated parent, anti-Semitic remarks, bullying, recreational drug use

Plot: 5/5
Characters: 5/5
World Building: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Pacing: 4.5/5
Overall: 5/5
GoodReads Rating: 4.19/5

eARC gifted via NetGalley by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers via Simon and Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale [The Winternight Trilogy #1]
Author: Katherine Arden
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publication Date: Jan 10, 2017
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Synopsis:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Review:

This was like reading the scenes of a Russian Studio Ghibli movie. I loved the Russian mythology and the cultural elements throughout the story. It felt like opening up a storybook to a very different wintery world.

That being said, aside from these mystical elements, the story starts very slowly, with the narrative unfolding not unlike a black rose – there’s beauty in it, but also a darkness that you don’t quite see coming until fear has you in its grips. The way the religious bigotry is used to contrast and contradict the mythical element really added another layer to it. I HATED Konstantin, but I understood the purpose of his character and he lives that purpose til the very bitter end. The worst.

Through the first part of the story, we get to see Vasilisa grow up and into herself, quirks and all, and we get to see her family ebb and flow as siblings marry off or leave, and her stepmother comes to their home. It very domestic and very quiet feeling, the calm before the storm.

The second part is more of the relationship building – seeing the loyalty of Vasilisa’s siblings, her friendship with the spirits in her home and in the forest, her growth to her character as her village turns to fear and darkness.

And the last part, arguably the best part, of the book is all that coming together. I adored the end of this story, and I can’t wait to read it’s sequel. There’s so much magic and mythology packed into its pages that I’m excited to see how the magic manifests in book 2 after the events of this one.

A stunning, educational, and mythical story. I absolutely loved the prose and I’m excited to read on!

TWs: death of a parent, death, religious bigotry, child death, animal death, violence, mentions of rape and sexual assault, corporal punishment

Plot: 4.5/5
Characters: 4.5/5
World Building: 5/5
Writing: 5/5
Pacing: 4/5
Overall: 4.5/5
GoodReads Rating: 4.1/5

eARC gifted via NetGalley by Del Rey via Random House Publishing Group – Ballantine in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Swap by Robyn Harding

Title: The Swap
Author: Robyn Harding
Genre: Adult Thriller
Publication Date: June 23, 2020
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Canada
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging…that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.

Review:

This was definitely not my usual genre, but it was a fascinating read. There was something so addictive about the writing that pushes you through the chaos and the toxicity to reach that pivtol climax. What a wild ride.

Freya is like a starburst on a quiet island – where many have settled in and hunkered down into their lives, Freya shines bright and new, especially to Low, an outcast teenage girl craving connection, and Jamie, also a new resident on the island who’d just left home after being scammed (more to come on this). It was interesting seeing their different views of Freya and her glittering life – married to a hot but now disgraced former hockey player, a beautiful and confident influencer, and artist – it wasn’t easy to fall for her, as a reader, but we all know those types of people who seek the spotlight and those who attract it.

There was a lot going on between the Low and Jamie. Low lives with her polyamorous, hippe parents (which is what got her ostracized in school to begin with), is named after a bird (Swallow, equally as horrifying as a child growing up in a world of bullies), and is generally friendless. She fixates on Freya, craving her attention, and doesn’t like that she has to share Freya with anyone.

Jamie and her husband Brian just moved to the island after their adoption turned out to be a scam run by a seventeen year old. Sad about the loss of their unknown baby, they try to chase other dreams – her owning her own shop, and him being a YA novelist. She meets Freya through her art, and they become fast friends.

The characters were interesting, but the way the plot unfolds with its back and forth between Low and Jamie (both in their narrative perspectives and their possession of Freya’s attention) it was like watching a high speed ping pong game with all bets in. It was riveting, kind of scary, and way out there. The last 20% had me hooked, but the book as a whole kept me enraptured throughout!

Interesting diversion, might give some of Robyn Harding’s other books a shot now too!

TWs: Recreational drug use, infidelity, suicidal ideation, toxic friendship, toxic marriage, domestic abuse, fertility issues, mentions of miscarriage, masochism, death

Plot: 4.5/5
Characters: 4/5
World Building: 3.5/5
Writing: 5/5
Pacing: 5/5
Overall: 4/5
GoodReads Rating: 3.66/5

eARC gifted via NetGalley by Simon and Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Review: My Mechanical Romance

Title: My Mechanical Romance
Author: Alexene Farol Follmoth
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publication Date: May 31, 2022
Publisher: Holiday House
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Bel doesn’t want to think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. Joining a robotics club filled with boys who ignore her or–even worse–constantly ask if she needs help? Please, anything but that. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering in class, she has no choice.

Enter Mateo Luna, the handsome captain of the club, who instantly recognizes Bel’s talent. He needs her on the team. And not just because he can’t stop thinking about the tiny dusting of freckles around her eyes, or how she got him hooked on Taylor Swift–it’s because Bel sees him. She challenges him. But when they seriously start butting heads, Bel wonders: Is there really room for a girl like her in STEM?

In her YA debut, Alexene Farol Follmuth, author of The Atlas Six (under the penname Olivie Blake), explores both the challenges girls of color face in STEM and the vulnerability of first love with unfailing wit and honesty. Told from dual points of view, My Mechanical Romance is not only swoonworthy–it’s downright empowering.

Review:

Okay, I absolutely adored this book!

Story time: I was a STEM student in high school – I was in the tech stream, I learned CAD (hated it, like Bel), and I did robotics (we didn’t get far as a school team lol). So when I say this was my jam, it 100% was.

First of all, I loved the diversity – there was a fantastic mix of female and male characters, diversity in cultural backgrounds, and in future goals. I loved seeing that because it felt so realistic – maybe it’s cause my team and friends were a diverse crew, but it worked well and I adored them all!

Bel is a bit lost in life. She has people telling her what she needs to do, who she needs to be, but she’s directionless when it comes to her future. This was so real on so many levels and I loved seeing her find a mentor in her teacher, Ms. Voss, and growing into herself and her interests. Bel eventually finds her own, non-traditional way to pave her future and I loved seeing that represented. I also loved seeing her have a large group of friends, and close girlfriends who have different interests, but they support one another’s goals. How sad is it that that is so rare to see?? There was no jealousy with her friends, just love and support and fun.

That being said, I loved the Neelam dynamic – the fact that WOC, especially in tech, are generally forced to band together just because of those two facts is kind of BS. I appreciated the dynamic they had – respectful (over time) of each other’s skills, but never close, and that’s FINE. I know people will hate Neelam, but I loved her and what she was fighting for. In the end, her and Bel’s fight against the patriarchy and set gender normative roles and interests was amazing and I loved seeing their two different paths to figuring out how to take up their own space in the discipline.

Teo was a lot. A high school kid with the world on his shoulder trying to be all things to all people. His growth was also fantastic through the story and I loved how him and Bel helped each other better themselves throughout the story and build each other up (again, over time) to become better versions of themselves. It was really satisfying to see and I adored the epilogue. This is very much an opposites-attract love story, and like an I-misunderstood-you-and-made-a-bad-impression-to-lovers-type story. This is also a PG book (lots of kissing and cuteness; no sex, etc.) for those who are not into that, but there’s some underage drinking.

As a whole, this is a book focused on building robots and finding yourself with your friends. The robotics aspect was so much fun and I do truly hope that more women, especially WOC, get into design technology, mechanical, and mechatronics, they’re fun disciplines, but too many women are turned away from them before they even get a chance to explore it.

I wish there was more depth to the secondary characters, but also respect that this was Teo and and Bel’s story. Their friend group was a lot of fun, but because Teo and Bel are busy all the time (and so were their friends) they felt a little shallow on the character dev side. Not a bad thing, but it would’ve been a nice-to-have. I also wish there had been a bit more depth with Teo’s family. In contrast, Bel’s family came to life on page!

All in all, this was a fun book. Admittedly, it felt longer than its 272 pages, but I was never bored!

TWs: underage drinking, bullying through alienation (short, but you still feel it), sexism, divorced parents due to infidelity

Rep: Jewish Mexican MC, Filipino MC, diverse friend group, women of colour in STEM

Plot: 4.5/5
Characters: 3.5/5
World Building: 5/5
Writing: 4.5/5
Pacing: 4/5
Overall: 4/5
GoodReads Rating: 4.15/5

eARC gifted via NetGalley by Holiday House in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Bodyguard by Katherine Center

Title: The Bodyguard
Author: Katherine Center
Genre: Women’s Fiction
Publication Date: July 19, 2022
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
GoodReads

Synopsis:

She’s got his back.
Hannah Brooks looks more like a kindgerten teacher than somebody who could kill you with a wine bottle opener. Or a ballpoint pen. Or a dinner napkin. But the truth is, she’s an Executive Protection Agent (aka “bodyguard”), and she just got hired to protect superstar actor Jack Stapleton from his middle-aged, corgi-breeding stalker.

He’s got her heart.
Jack Stapleton’s a household name—captured by paparazzi on beaches the world over, famous for, among other things, rising out of the waves in all manner of clingy board shorts and glistening like a Roman deity. But a few years back, in the wake of a family tragedy, he dropped from the public eye and went off the grid.

They’ve got a secret.
When Jack’s mom gets sick, he comes home to the family’s Texas ranch to help out. Only one catch: He doesn’t want his family to know about his stalker. Or the bodyguard thing. And so Hannah—against her will and her better judgment—finds herself pretending to be Jack’s girlfriend as a cover. Even though her ex, like a jerk, says no one will believe it.

What could possibly go wrong???
Hannah hardly believes it, herself. But the more time she spends with Jack, the more real it all starts to seem. And there lies the heartbreak. Because it’s easy for Hannah to protect Jack. But protecting her own, long-neglected heart? That’s the hardest thing she’s ever done.

Review:

Okay, this was super cute. Admittedly a little contrived and tropey at times, but I needed a fun romance and this delivered!

Hannah Brooks is sarcastic and serious, while Jack is more sunshiney than he wants to admit. While both of them carried a huge emotional weight, I loved their interactions and ability to make each other laugh. Their banter was so cute and I laughed out loud so many times

The plot itself is enjoyable, I didn’t see some of the twists coming, so that was fun, and they fit the story too which helped.

The secondary characters could’ve been fleshed out a bit more but they were funny and generally had their own voice and personality. Glenn especially, while a hard ass, was so funny cause he loved forcing his employees to face up to their mistakes and suffer – in like totally harmless, not dangerous ways.

A couple things that felt off – Hannah’s odd inability to keep her chill and the women vs women hate. Starting with Hannah – she’s supposed to be the best but she doesn’t manage to keep herself closed off very well, and she seems surprised a lot despite saying that she’s always prepared and never surprised (thus the feeling of being a bit contrived and tropey). With the women vs women hate, it was kind of annoying the way they were shaming people for being overly made up or for trying too hard or for being too pretty, or too ordinary. Idk, it felt off, especially for a new release. Aren’t we done with this yet?? This is probably where it lost a star.

All in all, this was a fun read and I flew through it. It was so easy falling in love with Jack and Hannah, and this is perfect if you’re looking for a lighter read. Note that this is categorized as Women’s Fiction, so there are emotional elements, but it mostly focuses on the happy moments.

TW: death of a parent, parent with cancer (breast cancer), death of a sibling due to fatal car accident, mentions drowning, attempted suicide by a side character, body shaming (specifically cosmetic surgery, not contested), alcoholism, domestic abuse, mentions of vomiting

Plot: 5/5
Characters: 3/5
World Building: 4/5
Writing: 4/5
Pacing: 5/5
Overall: 4/5
GoodReads Rating: 4.35/5

eARC gifted via NetGalley by St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.

Book Tour + Excerpt: Remember Love by Mary Balogh

Title: Remember Love [Ravenswood #1]
Author: Mary Balogh
Genre: Historical Romance
Publication Date: July 12, 2022
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Synopsis:

As a child, Devlin Ware thought his family stood for all that was right and good in the world. They were kind, gracious, and shared the beauty of Ravenwood, their grand country estate, by hosting lavish parties for the entire countryside. But at twenty-two, he discovered his whole world was an elaborate illusion, and when Devlin publicly called his family to account for it, he was exiled as a traitor.

So be it. He enlisted in the fight against Napoleon and didn’t look back for six years. But now his father is dead, the Ware family is broken, and as the heir he is being called home. It’s only when Gwyneth Rhys—the woman he loved and then lost after his family banished him—holds out her hand to help him that he is able make the difficult journey and try to piece together his fractured family.

It is Gwyneth’s loyalty, patience, and love that he needs. But is Devlin’s war-hardened heart even capable of offering her love in return?

Buy Links:

Amazon | B&N | Indigo

Excerpt:

But Gwyneth scarcely noticed. For Devlin, elegantly dressed in a dark blue tailed evening coat with gray knee breeches and white waistcoat, stockings, shirt, and neckcloth, was standing before her and extending a hand for hers.

“Gwyneth?” he said. “My dance, I believe?”

He was not smiling. Not openly, at least. But there was a glow in his eyes and behind his face that suggested he was smiling inside. Not just a social smile, but something for her alone. Or so she fancied. Ah, she had so looked forward to this moment, and now it was here. She set her hand on his, palm to palm, and he closed his fingers about it and led her to the head of a new set, the original one having already stretched the full length of the ballroom. She stood next to Susan Ware, Devlin’s cousin, in the line of ladies while he took his place opposite her next to Dr. Isherwood in the line of men. He continued to look at her across the space between them with that same expression. Almost, she thought, as if he wanted to devour her. It was a look that sent shivers of pleasure through her body. She smiled back with all the sparkle that was inside her, and his eyes crinkled at the corners.

Soon there were four long parallel lines of dancers, two of women, two of men. A few adults, mostly elderly people, and a crowd of children stood or sat off to the sides, watching. Gwyneth remembered those days of childhood and the longing to be grown up and able to participate.

The orchestra struck a chord and the dancing began.

The pounding of several dozen feet on the wooden floor set a rhythm with the music of violins and cello and flute and pianoforte while partners joined hands and promenaded to their left and then to their right, both pairs of lines moving in unison with one another. They formed arches of hands with their immediate neighbors like mini maypoles as they paced in a full circle, changed hands, and paced back again. At the end of each pattern of steps the couple at the head of the line joined hands crosswise, and twirled down between the lines to take their places at the foot before the whole thing began again.

Devlin smiled fully at Gwyneth as they twirled, the first couple in their line to do so, and she laughed while everyone else in the lines clapped in time to the music. The earl was laughing in his own set as he twirled the countess. And ah, she had never, ever been happier, Gwyneth thought. Not even this afternoon in the rose arbor. As happy, maybe, but not more so. How absolutely . . . exhilarating it was to be eighteen years old and in love and full of hope that perhaps she was loved in return.

But inevitably the music came to an end, and there was only a leftover ball to enjoy for the rest of the evening. She tried not to feel sad about it. How ungrateful that would be.

“Thank you, Gwyneth,” Devlin said as he offered his arm and led her in the direction of her parents, who had danced the set together. “Have you promised every other dance?”

“Only the next and the one after it,” she told him.

“Are you willing to keep the set after supper for me?” he asked.

She looked at him in surprise. The Wares never danced more than one set with the same partner, either at this annual ball or at the Christmas ball or at any of the assemblies. It was a point of strict etiquette with them.

“Yes,” she said.

“It will be dark by then and the air ought to be cooler,” he said. “Perhaps we can step outside.”

Step outside? To dance on the terrace? To take a stroll beyond it? He did not elaborate.

“I would enjoy that,” she said. She had not noticed until this moment how breathless the dancing had made her.

“As would I,” he said.



Excerpted from Remember Love by Mary Balogh Copyright © 2022 by Mary Balogh. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

About the Author:

Mary Balogh has written more than one hundred historical novels and novellas, more than forty of which have been New York Times bestsellers. They include the Bedwyn saga, the Simply quartet, the Huxtable quintet, the seven-part Survivors’ Club series, and the Westcott series. Learn more online at marybalogh.com.

Photo by Sharon Pelletier

Review: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Title: Tweet Cute
Author: Emma Lord
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publication Date: Jan 1, 2020
Publisher: Wednesday Books
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Review:

Okay, I love this book so much. I was the worst and didn’t post my review right away, so here I am rereading it and loving it more the second time!

First of all, there is nothing I love more than the they-can-tell-us-apart twin trope. With all the twins I know, this has always been a big sticking point for them, so this felt relatable and real. I loved seeing Pepper and Jack’s relationship grow in real life and within their anonymous digital life, too. Their banter is fun and hilarious, with pop culture references that pull me into their world easily.

The Twitter war was a fun time – full of recognizable memes and sassy replies – but also a great jumping point for the interpersonal issues throughout the book. The way Pepper is constantly pressured by her mom to work on the social media, with the pressure of academic success and extracurriculars, all amidst her parents’ divorce – it was a lot and I really felt for Pepper and understood her frustration. It also was a good place to reflect Jack’s defensiveness over their family business and his wish to do more and be more than his family business (despite also loving it with all his heart).

Between the two characters, I definitely related to a lot of Jack’s perspective, but I respected Pepper’s growth as a character more. They both had to deal with different familial stressors and I honestly related so much to their frustration, to their growth, and to their joy.

A few things I wish were different. The first, I wish there was more depth to the secondary characters. I wanted to know more about everyone around them, especially Paige and Ethan since they made such an impact on Pepper and Jack’s lives.

The other thing I didn’t love was how much the Twitter war overwhelmed the story. I understood why, but I really wanted to throttle Pepper’s mom at some points. The lack of communication is so realistic, but also drives me bonkers. The ending resolution, when everyone finally sits down to talk, was so enlightening, and I loved the little epilogue we got!

All in all, this is nice a mix of haters-to-friends-to-lovers and anonymity to make a cute story that’ll make you both laugh and cry!

TWs: cyberbullying, vomit

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4/5
World Building: 4.5/5
Writing: 4.5/5
Pacing: 4/5
Overall: 4/5
GoodReads Rating: 3.97/5

eARC gifted via NetGalley by St. Martin’s Press and Wednesday Books in exchange for an honest review.

Review: An Arrow to the Moon by Emily X.R. Pan

Title: An Arrow to the Moon
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Genre: YA Mythology Romance
Publication Date: April 12, 2022
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Hunter Yee has perfect aim with a bow and arrow, but all else in his life veers wrong. He’s sick of being haunted by his family’s past mistakes. The only things keeping him from running away are his little brother, a supernatural wind, and the bewitching girl at his new high school.

Luna Chang dreads the future. Graduation looms ahead, and her parents’ expectations are stifling. When she begins to break the rules, she finds her life upended by the strange new boy in her class, the arrival of unearthly fireflies, and an ominous crack spreading across the town of Fairbridge.

As Hunter and Luna navigate their families’ enmity and secrets, everything around them begins to fall apart. All they can depend on is their love… but time is running out, and fate will have its way.

Review:

I absolutely adored this book – it was also such a quick read – the short chapters made it so easy to fly through!

I loved the parallels between the mythology story of Houyi and Chang’e with the story of Romeo and Juliet. It was a very nice fit and I loved how some structure from the original story was incorporated – particularly the different POVs.

Luna and Hunter were so much fun to read about. I loved their teenage innocence and their adoration for one another, how they just click. Their love story felt special, like something that should be coveted and kept safe – the two characters were strong and bold in their own right, but truly brought out the best in each other.

The family POVs were super interesting. It was a cool way to better understand how they were all tied together and build the backstory for the current plot without feeling like too much. Instead, each character felt fully fleshed out and real making them utterly relatable and human.

Something that caught my eye was that the mothers’ maiden names were always included in their chapter headings. I also loved the open discourse Luna had about how much of a pain her period was. It was refreshing to see that reflected in a book, where the subject isn’t always touched on.

I appreciated seeing a strong brotherly relationship in this story as well – I so often see stories about sisters, but this was a nice change and I adored Cody and Jadey so much, as well as how Hunter would dote on them both. It was cute and loving and beautiful.

I will admit that the end was a bit confusing – a lot happens in a very short period of time, but I was satisfied with how the story panned out and the utter peace at the end. It felt good after all the chaos and build up!

All in all, I absolutely loved this book, and I can’t wait to pick up more by Emily X.R. Pan!

TWs: domestic abuse, descriptions of bodily mutilation, ideation of death/murder, gaslighting, arguments about China versus Taiwan independence

Rep: Chinese MCs, discussions around period pains

Plot: 4.5/5
Characters: 5/5
World Building: 4.5/5
Writing: 5/5
Pacing: 4.5/5
Overall: 5/5
GoodReads Rating: 3.63/5

eARC gifted via Edelweiss by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers via Hachette Book Group in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe by Preston Norton

Title: Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
Author: Preston Norton
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: June 5, 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Cliff Hubbard is a huge loser. Literally. His nickname at Happy Valley High School is Neanderthal because he’s so enormous — 6’6″ and 250 pounds to be exact. He has no one at school and life in his trailer park home has gone from bad to worse ever since his older brother’s suicide.

There’s no one Cliff hates more than the nauseatingly cool quarterback, Aaron Zimmerman. Then Aaron returns to school after a near-death experience with a bizarre claim: while he was unconscious he saw God, who gave him a list of things to do to make Happy Valley High suck less. And God said there’s only one person who can help: Neanderthal.

To his own surprise, Cliff says he’s in. As he and Aaron make their way through the List, which involves a vindictive English teacher, a mysterious computer hacker, a decidedly unchristian cult of Jesus Teens, the local drug dealers, and the meanest bully at HVHS — Cliff feels like he’s part of something for the first time since losing his brother. But fixing a broken school isn’t as simple as it seems, and just when Cliff thinks they’ve completed the List, he realizes their mission hits closer to home than he ever imagined.

Review:

I originally read this before it was released and never got to writing my review. My original response was 5 stars, and that was likely a reflection of my reading experience and my age/life stage at the time I was reading it. Now, in 2022, I’d give this one a 3.5. Clearly, time and life has had an impact on my rating and how I viewed this story.

I enjoyed it – then and now. Neanderthal is a lot about loss and brokenness – being unhappy about who you are and where you find yourself. Both Cliff and Aaron needed a change in their life and Aaron’s accident truly brought that to them both, enriching and changing their lives and others’.

I loved the positive (overall) impact they had on people – they were very bad at making their school better (high school boys, I mean makes sense), but they put the effort in to find ways to do so, even if they had to punch it into submission.

That brings me to trigger warnings. There’s a lot of them. I’ll be listing them all below, but there are a few I wanted to talk about. A big part of this book is grief due to a sibling’s suicide, mixed with homophobia and domestic child abuse. That’s A LOT to handle, and it’s important you’re aware of that going into the book.

In addition, one of the items on the list is taking down a hateful Christian group within the school (who later protests at an LGBTQ+ club meeting), so that’s another thing to be aware of going into this one.

As a whole, I think the overall messages in this book are valuable and important. However, this books tried to do a lot and be a lot in such a short time that it was overwhelming and chaotic. I’m still where I’m at in 2018 where I definitely enjoyed the book, but idk if it’s for everyone. Either way, take care when picking this one up and read trigger warnings!

TWs: suicide (recounted and discussion of), suicidal ideation, loss of a sibling, drug abuse/addiction (especially heroin), grief, seizures/epilepsy, traumatic brain injury, domestic abuse (on-page), alcoholism, absent parent, body shaming, homophobia (including slurs), bullying, hacking, kink-shaming, oppression in the name of religion, violence (physical & gun), vomiting, off-hand comments about bulimia, near death experience (off-page)

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 4/5
World Building: 4/5
Writing: 3/5
Pacing: 4/5
Overall: 3.5/5
GoodReads Rating: 4.26/5

eARC gifted via NetGalley by Disney Book Group via Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao

Title: Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor
Author: Xiran Jay Zhao
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Publication Date: May 10, 2022
Publisher: McElderry Books
GoodReads

Synopsis:

Zachary Ying never had many opportunities to learn about his Chinese heritage. His single mom was busy enough making sure they got by, and his schools never taught anything except Western history and myths. So Zack is woefully unprepared when he discovers he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China for a vital mission: sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it wide open.

The mission takes an immediate wrong turn when the First Emperor botches his attempt to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead, leading to a battle where Zack’s mom’s soul gets taken by demons. Now, with one of history’s most infamous tyrants yapping in his headset, Zack must journey across China to heist magical artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth, all while learning to wield the emperor’s incredible water dragon powers.

And if Zack can’t finish the mission in time, the spirits of the underworld will flood into the mortal realm, and he could lose his mom forever.

Review:

This book is a lot, a lot – and I say that with a lot of love.

Zachary Ying is a first gen Chinese American – his mom works hard for their livelihood, his father was killed because of his faith (their family is Muslim), and China has basically been the big bad ever since. As such, Zack is a bit behind on his knowledge of Chinese myths. So, when he’s dragged into fight fueled by mythological knowledge, he’s at a loss.

As a second (and a half??) gen Chinese Canadian, I related so much to Zack – I have a negative amount of knowledge when it comes to Chinese mythology. Negative, because I probably remember the ones I know wrong and spread misinformation everytime I talk about them. But my family also has a bad history with China so it’s a whole thing.

I DIGRESS – Xiran Jay Zhao captured the feeling so well within these pages – the feeling of not belonging, the need to garner people’s friendship like a begger instead of being wholly ourselves, the idea of not being one or the other, but lost in between. I loved that (and hate that so many people go through that).

The thing that held back this book was the overwhelming amount of information – there was a lot of mythology to digest, and despite my being aware of some of it, it was easy to become lost. They even tried to ground it with Western references and while I appreciated it, they were a reminder of how much of these important historical figures and myths were lost over time – particularly among the diaspora. Each time a comparison was made, I felt myself being pulled out of the pages because the comparisons were often so Western it felt like it didn’t fit with the setting or the story. That being said, I definitely did learn a lot (though how much I’ll retain is up for debate). My hope is that as more books in the series come out and I continue to learn more about these myths and historical figures, I’ll be able to enjoy this book more!

The action scenes through really were on point – they helped to get the story moving and really applied all those myths into a Yu-Gi-Oh style battle! They were all so unique and wildly fun that those scenes really got 110% of my attention!

Another thing I absolutely loved was that Zack’s religious beliefs weren’t just an offhand comment, but something consciously practiced in his meals and his lifestyle. This story also speaks out against China’s oppression of Muslims (specifically Uyghurs), and the lengths they go to to restrict them. This was a surprise to see, but I love that it was included so more people can become aware of it.

As a whole, this book depicts the precarious balance of good and evil and all the greys in between – the beauty and rich history of China contrasted with their treatment of Muslims and other minorities; the egotistic emperors who did bad things, but truly care for the country; who we are versus who we are when we have power. It was a fantastical adventure and I truly am excited to read on!

TW: mentions of war and death, racism, mentions of China’s oppression of ethnic minorities, attempted murder (particularly drowning), mentions death of a parent, parent in a coma

Rep: Hui Chinese American Muslim Gay MC, Chinese secondary characters, own voice Chinese author

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4.5/5
World Building: 4/5
Writing: 4.5/5
Pacing: 4/5
Overall: 4/5
GoodReads Rating: 4.32/5

ARC gifted by Simon and Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.