Book Review: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

An adorably fluffy romance that got me in the holiday spirit (in the middle of January) while making me laugh out loud.

3.5/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

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This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read forever, so when I got it for my birthday, I didn’t let it sit on my TBR shelf. I expected it to be a cute, ridiculous love story, and it was.

I loved the premise of this book. Two teenagers united by a book of dares and a favorite bookstore? I’m in. And while the story takes place during Christmastime and is full of holiday cheer, I did not have any problem reading it in January.

Dash was by far my favorite character. He’s an honest-to-God introvert, something that I don’t see a lot of in YA. And while he hated the idea of going to Macy’s two days before Christmas and genuinely loved being alone, he wasn’t cringey or awkward the way most introvert characters are. He’s wordy (which might come off to some readers as pretentious), but I loved it. Add in a whole lot of sass and there was no way I wouldn’t fall in love with Dash.

I did not connect as directly to Lily, but I did enjoy her character. She was optimistic and energetic in an endearing way, but she also had her fair share of insecurities and frustrations. She wanted to be daring and ridiculous, but she also struggled to form friendships or break out of her comfort zone. I liked this take on extroversion—another character type that I haven’t read often.

Parents played an interesting role in both characters’ stories. Neither set of parents is in town, or paying much attention to their children. The specifics of how each teenager accomplished this was a little ridiculous, but I rolled with it. Still, the parents affected Dash and Lily from afar, adding subplots and forcing their characters to develop, which I appreciated.

Of course, the maybe-romance between Dash and Lily was the central focus of the book. The two of them bounce off each other for most of the book, interacting through the notebook while living their own lives separately. I enjoyed the way that the romance was handled in this book. Romance didn’t overpower the story, and it definitely wasn’t instalove, but it was there.

Let’s be honest, if I left a notebook full of dares in a bookstore and a guy decided to take me up on it, I would spend a lot of time trying to figure out if he was someone I could date. And if I picked up said notebook, I would do the same. But while both Dash and Lily think about the possibility of their relationship, neither falls head-over-heels for the other, and both remain skeptical about the chances of a random passerby being The One.

I loved the constant uncertainty of the romance. For most of the book, even couldn’t decide if I thought they were meant for each other or if they should go their separate ways. This kept me reading more than instalove ever would have, and was another part of this book that I appreciated for breaking the contemporary romance mold.

Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares was paced really well. There were enough subplots that I was always worried about what would happen next, but also enough lighthearted moments that I got the fluffy feels I wanted. The plot was not long or overly complex, but it was not so simple that I got bored. The story was filled with humor (some, but thankfully not all, cringe humor), literally making me laugh out loud—which I never do.

Side characters make this book. None of them played major roles in the story, but all of them collectively made the book what it was. I loved the contrast between Lily’s massive family and Dash’s more reserved group of friends, as well as how both of those groups worked to bring the two of them together.

On a side note, I loved this book for all of the LGBT+ side characters. While this book is definitely not Diverse™, it destroys the idea that a straight contemporary romance needs to exist in an entirely straight universe. It’s a small step in the right direction that made reading this fluffy book infinitely more enjoyable.

I would recommend this book for anyone looking for a fluffy story that will make them smile. It is not a heart-wrenching romance, nor it is even a transformative book about self-discovery. It is simply a sweet book that has romance, self-discovery, and lots of allusions to authors and poets. I will definitely read Dash and Lily’s Twelve Days of Christmas, but I might wait for the 2017 holiday season.

Have you read it? What did you think?


Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic Moments: While DALBOD didn’t strike me as very problematic, is is not perfect. In one scene, Dash is really flippant about Hanukkah. Comment if you want more specifics.

Trigger warnings: parent with alcoholism, drinking, semi-blackouts

Book Review: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, and Jodi Meadows

A hilarious alternate historical fiction novel that was just so much fun.

5/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane is about to become the Queen of England

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From page one, this book was hilarious. I have rarely read a book that reveled so completely in being ridiculous. There are references to Shakespeare, The Princess Bride, and the Monty Pythons. (Full disclosure: if you don’t know the source material, this book will be way less funny.) The narrators talk directly to you and sometimes even point out plot holes. I laughed out loud throughout the book.

I loved the alternate historical premise of this book. The authors re-framed the Catholic-Protestant divide under Henry VIII as a conflict between humans that turn into animals (Edians) and those that hate Edians (Verities). From there, they took further liberties with the chronology of history, which the narrators call them out on in a hilarious fashion. Overall, the way that the authors twisted history created a perfect backdrop for the rest of the absurd story. (If you love this time period and will be pained by historical inaccuracies, I don’t blame you, but probably don’t read this one.)

My Lady Jane is told from three perspectives: Lady Jane, the future queen; Edward, Jane’s childhood friend and the dying king she will replace; and G, the cursed aristocrat that will marry Jane as a part of his father’s power grab. I loved that all three perspectives had clear voices and personalities, and that they were all equally important to the story. Also, the switch from perspective to perspective felt natural and never broke up the flow of the story.

I’ll start with Jane. She was bookish and introverted, and she had always known that she would not be important to court life (she was wrong). She got thrust into an arranged marriage, then into a position of power, but all she really wanted was to read. (Relatable.) I loved her optimism and her stubbornness, even if they were frustratingly naive occasionally.

Edward was equal parts infuriating and endearing. Infuriating because he’s a spoiled, sexist prick. Endearing because once the plot knocks him off his feet, he starts to realize just how spoiled and sexist he was, and he grows. He never wanted to be king, and he was surrounded by people that let him have the power without actually doing anything. He hid from responsibility, and in the face of his own mortality, he had to grow up a lot. So while I hated parts of his character, I loved watching him grow into a character that I didn’t hate.

If you’re worried about the sexism, I’ll say two things: 1) the narrators call him out on his sexism, and 2) his voice is not focused on being sexist, so you won’t have it shoved in your face constantly while reading. (If that’s not good enough for you, I don’t blame you.)

G was possibly my favorite character (maybe tied with Jane—I’m indecisive). Cursed to turn into a horse whenever the sun is up, G’s entire life is pretty ridiculous. Still, I loved his a clear, emotional voice. I was able to connect with his character’s frustrations and longings. He was surprisingly down-to-earth and honest, and I loved how those character traits juxtaposed with his horse curse’s humor.

The plot of My Lade Jane was equal parts court intrigue, romance, and rebellion (all of it humorous, of course). Most of the plot consisted of Jane, Edward, and G unwittingly getting caught in a web of power plays and faction rivalries and then trying to survive the mess. The pacing of the plot was just fast enough to keep me reading and to prevent the nearly 500 page book from feeling long, but not so fast that I felt dragged along.

The romance was a large part of the book, but it did not overshadow the political side. Watching Jane and G fall in love was adorable, but it was not the only thing forcing both characters to develop. I appreciated that romance was often used to support and comfort characters, rather than to tear them down. Additionally, Edward’s less-than-perfect love life helped to keep the book from feeling like a rom com.

Still, it would be a lie to say My Lady Jane is not heavily oriented about romance, or to say that the romance never gets cheesy. I let myself get carried away by the story and chose to enjoy the more middle-grade romantic arc, and I had a blast.

I would recommend My Lade Jane to anyone that needs a break from the stress of reality. You have to be able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the ridiculousness of the story. This book gets 5/5 stars for being unabashedly hilarious, not for any deep themes or gorgeous writing. My Lady Jane does not take itself seriously—at all—and if that sounds like fun, then you should definitely pick it up.


Problematic Moments and Trigger Warnings: (A new section where I call out books for problematic moments and alert readers to possible triggers. Please note I am by no means an expert on either, but I will do my best to research the books I review as I write this section. I added this to help readers, but I cannot promise it will be perfect. I am still learning, and any critiques you have will be greatly appreciated. If I missed something in either category, tell me and I’ll edit the review to include it.)

Problematic things: It’s straight and white. There’s no sugar coating it: this is not a diverse story. It’s just not.

Trigger warnings: sexism, violence against people/animals, terminal illness, (recreational) drinking

Book Review: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

I read this book years ago, and after reading a series of tear-inducing fantasy novels, I decided I needed this cheerfulness in my life again.

4/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

Carmen got the jeans at a thrift shop. They didn’t look all that great: they were worn, dirty, and speckled with bleach. On the night before she and her friends part for the summer, Carmen decides to toss them. But Tibby says they’re great. She’d love to have them. Lena and Bridget also think they’re fabulous. Lena decides that they should all try them on. Whoever they fit best will get them. Nobody knows why, but the pants fit everyone perfectly. Even Carmen (who never thinks she looks good in anything) thinks she looks good in the pants. Over a few bags of cheese puffs, they decide to form a sisterhood and take the vow of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants . . . the next morning, they say good-bye. And then the journey of the pants — and the most memorable summer of their lives — begins.

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I can’t tell you how happy I am that this book was as good as I remembered. After being slightly overwhelmed with my recent reading choices, this book was a perfect dose of real life.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is four stories in one, one for each of the friends as they explore their first summer apart. Each summer takes unexpected twists and forces the characters to face parts of themselves they had previously ignored. It was never hard to keep their stories straight, and I liked how the narration jumped back and forth between stories often.

Carmen’s story was incredibly relatable. She thought her summer was going to be filled with father-daughter bonding time, only to find out that her father is remarrying and that she is a guest in his new perfect life. She feels rejected, and even though she knows she’s being petty, she doesn’t want to take the high road. And you know what, I didn’t blame her, because I understood what she was feeling. Every part of her story grabbed me, until I couldn’t tell where her emotions ended and mine began.

Lena’s story was more simplistic. I loved that she is intensely introverted, and I thought that her relationship with her own beauty was a really interesting addition to her character. Like Carmen, I felt Lena’s emotions alongside her as she spends the summer with her unfamiliar relatives in Greece. Looking back on her plot line, though, I wish that a little more had happened.

Bridget’s story was the most intense. She’s the extrovert of the group, wild and determined in a wholehearted way that I associate more with fantasy protagonists than contemporary ones. While I couldn’t relate to her character as much as I could to the others, her story was written in a way that at least made me understand what was going on in her head.

I cared about Bridget, and I was genuinely worried for her as she chased down the coach she had a crush on at her soccer summer camp. Her plot line was rough and unforgiving, never romanticizing or condemning her actions, just letting the story speak for itself.

Finally, Tibby’s story was the most emotional. Stuck at a crappy job while her friends are off exploring the world, Tibby sought solace by making a documentary about her summer. She ends up befriending a preteen with cancer who pushes her to reevaluate her life. It sounds cliche, but it really wasn’t. Instead, it felt real and important, and I know that plot line will stick with me for a while.

There is something gloriously refreshing about this book. It is teenage girls being teenage girls, with no extra glamour. This isn’t a book about cute meets or perfect romances; it’s a book about real life happening to four people at once. If you’re expecting an entirely cheerful book, then I should warn you that I quietly cried through the last quarter of the book. Fundamentally, this is a book that will grab your heartstrings, for happiness and for sadness.

I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a story about friendship and real life. It isn’t solidly happy or sad, it is more complex than that. For me, it was exactly what I needed to read right now.

Book Review: Empire of Storms (TOG #5) by Sarah J. Maas

My heart. Is. In. Pieces.

5/5 stars

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No spoilers for EOS, but I can’t avoid spoilers for the previous books. Sorry!

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The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.

Aelin’s journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down?

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my thoughts for reviews 1

This book was amazing. There was not a second of this book that did not completely enthrall me. And that ending—I SOBBED.

I knew this book would break my heart, and right on schedule, it did. But that’s not to say that EOS only broke my heart. It made me laugh, grin, and curl up into a ball of happy feels just as often as it destroyed me.

I love Aelin. Her character is a force of nature. She’s brilliant and brave and strong and selfless, but most of all, I believe in her. She’s not one of those incredible characters that is too perfect for real life. Even when she is raising armies and battling the forces of evil, she still feels human. She is larger than life and intensely realistic at the same time.

Elide also became a stand-out character for me in EOS. I had liked her in QOS, but it wasn’t until this book that I truly fell in love with her. She is a great compliment to Aelin, strong and determined like the queen, but with a very different underlying personality. I loved that she is simultaneously an introvert and a hero, a combination you don’t see a lot of in YA.

Lorcan was an interesting addition to the story; I didn’t expect him to be a part of the plot, but I ended up enjoying his presence. I am fascinated to see what happens with his character in the next book after that ending.

Manon’s character grew on me a lot. I had always liked her well enough, but it was in this book that she finally won me over. I’m trying not to spoil anything, but if you’ve read it, you probably know the moment I’m talking about. (I cheered.) Aelin and Manon working plotting together is my new favorite thing, especially if Lysandra is also involved.

Lysandra remains one of my favorite characters in the series. If possible, she becomes more badass in this book. I loved her interactions with Aedion, how they showed a different side of her that helped round out her character. Aedion himself continued to grow on me; I think I have finally let go of my initial (and somewhat random) annoyance at his existence.

Dorian has been a weird character for me. I always liked him more than Chaol (#sorrynotsorry), but in recent books his plot line had felt kind of tacked-on to the rest of the action. In this book, however, we get to see him interact with Aelin and the rest of the gang and grow into his own. His story finally melded with the rest of the book, and I started to like him again. I love how broken and imperfect he is; he has come such a long way from the cheery prince that he was in the first book.

I cannot say that I love Dorian and Manon together. It was fascinating to read, adding a dark and reckless vibe to the story, but I feel like their relationship needs to do more to convince me that the relationship should last.

And then there’s Rowan. Words cannot describe how important Rowan is to the story. Yes, he’s a big ball of swooniness, but he is also exactly what Aelin needed as she grew into her own in EOS. I loved finally reading a YA story where the romance is incredibly important to the characters’ growth without being the only reason they grow. Aelin and Rowan complement each other really well, but they each have their own individual characters as well—which only strengthens the romance between them.

Wow, there are a lot of characters. I didn’t even start to touch side characters (though those were also the perfect balance of interesting without overpowering the story). The beauty of EOS, though, is that the massive cast of characters doesn’t stop the story from fully exploring each one’s personality and arc. Of course, that means that the book is ridiculously long, but it also gives it the emotional power needed to break my heart in every possible way.

I don’t know what to say about the plot of EOS, mainly because so much happens. The plot is fast-paced and addictive. All of the subplots weave together well, better than in previous books, creating a continually powerful narrative. I never wanted to put the book down, though I had to force myself to take a break from the story so I could get schoolwork done.

The incredible thing about EOS is that it feels real. I have read countless stories of wars, revolutions, and diplomatic sparring matches, but none of them made me feel like I was actually in the middle of power plays between entire nations.

EOS just has this indescribable feeling of enormity. I could feel just how important every decision was, that each move Aelin made would affect hundreds of thousands of people. I don’t know how SJM did it…but it is awe-inspiring.

I need to talk about the ending, though I’m not going to spoil anything. Basically, the ending is a series of intense reveals that change the way that you see the entire series, and then a heartbreaking cliffhanger that sets up what will surely be an amazing sixth book. I sobbed for the last hundred pages, literally unable to control myself. I almost wish that the book had had a few more chapters, just to give me some time to absorb everything that was revealed in the last pages. As it was, I was left tear-stained and ruined, with a gaping hole in my chest that won’t be filled until the next book is released.

I know, that sounds overly dramatic. Trust me when I tell you it is an understatement.

I would recommend EOS to anyone who has enjoyed the TOG series so far. If you didn’t like HOF or QOS for character reasons, then I would honestly say don’t read EOS. You probably won’t like it, and it seems kind of pointless to put yourself through so many pages for such a little reward. But if you enjoyed HOF and QOS, READ EMPIRE OF STORMS RIGHT NOW. And then we’ll cry together.


Have you read EOS? If you have, have you recovered yet?

Book Review: Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle #2) by Libba Bray

An amazing continuation of the Gemma Doyle series with creepy paranormal elements and even stronger characters.

4/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

Ah, Christmas! Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy, spending time with her friends in the city, attending ritzy balls, and on a somber note, tending to her ailing father. As she prepares to ring in the New Year, 1896, a handsome young man, Lord Denby, has set his sights on Gemma, or so it seems. Yet amidst the distractions of London, Gemma’s visions intensify–visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened, something only the realms can explain…

The lure is strong, and before long, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world of the realms that Gemma alone can bring them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

But all is not well in the realms–or out. The mysterious Kartik has reappeared, telling Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic, else great disaster will befall her. Gemma’s willing to do his intrusive bidding, despite the dangers it brings, for it means she will meet up with her mother’s greatest friend–and now her foe, Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task.

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Rereading this series was honestly so much fun. I love knowing that the books that blew me away when I was younger are still impressive, even after I’ve read hundreds more books.

The defining characteristic of these books is the idea of imperfection. If you like stories where the characters make the right decisions and everything fits together nicely…this isn’t your book. But honestly, imperfection is so much more interesting.

Gemma and her friends are as imperfect as always in this book. They have the power to bring magic into the real world and they use it to make their lives better, even if it’s an illusion. It’s somewhat frustrating to read, because as the reader you know that magic won’t solve their problems, but I have to admit, I would do exactly the same thing in their place.

We get to see Gemma’s character grow more. She is trying to be a better person, taking on responsibilities in the realm and being a nicer daughter in the real world, but she cannot get over her jealousies and fears completely. She has magic, and she’s a teenage girl, and she’d rather have everything seem perfect than have to deal with life’s imperfections. I don’t blame her for her weaknesses, though, because her character is written so vividly that I could feel exactly what emotions drove her to make her choices.

Ann’s character becomes a larger part of the story in Rebel Angels. Her dreams of being accepted into rich society come true—with magic, of course—and it reveals fascinating parts of her character. As with Gemma, Ann has her pettiness and her fears, but they are portrayed so well that I understand her instead of hating her.

The realms become more sinister in this book, no longer the flowering garden that Gemma discovered. Pippa returns to the story, giving the plot creepy, uncertain undertones. Dead but alive, Pippa brings both joy and fear to the plot, and Gemma’s distrust of her threatens the group dynamic.

Gemma’s new task in the realms is to find the Temple, where she can bind the magic and restore order to the realms. New visions and a friendship with an insane girl named Nell help Gemma on her search while keeping the reader on their toes, uncertain of who they can trust. The search for the Temple is a good mystery that adds suspense and terror to the plot.

As with the first book, however, Rebel Angels is about more than the realms. Gemma’s life in the real world is just as important a part of the story as her quest in the realms. I loved that Gemma leaves Spence for the winter holiday; this changed the focus of the story from her education to her place in polite society and showed a different side of Gemma. She is simultaneously desperate to be accepted and disgusted with the society.

Her courtship of Simon Middleton was one of my favorite parts of the book. More than just a love interest, Simon represents a crossroads for Gemma, forcing her to choose between being the Good Girl and being herself. Simon’s own imperfections are an interesting commentary on rape culture—something I missed the first time I read this series but that I appreciate now.

Gemma’s father’s addiction is a major part of this book. The plot line is unforgiving and painful, showing Gemma the worst side of her family right when she wants nothing more than for everything to be perfect. These scenes were some of the most emotional ones of the whole book.

My only complaint about this book would be that it is a little long. It is paced well, but that pacing is a long walk to the climax. I love that the length of the story allows every character to develop and every subplot to be complex, but it also makes the book a little slow at times.

I would recommend Rebel Angels to anyone who read A Great and Terrible Beauty. The story gets creepier and realer, destroying the few remaining niceties that existed in Gemma’s life. The combination of paranormal and historical plot lines makes this series unique and a must-read.

Book Review: Nevernight (Nevernight Chronicle #1) by Jay Kristoff

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that this book contains harmful racial themes and imagery. This review was written before I realized this, and my current view of the book has been severely hampered by not only the racial problems, but by the author’s unwillingness to own up to his flaws. I do not plan to continue the series.

For a comprehensive breakdown of the problems and Kristoff’s responses: http://anjuliewritesstuff.weebly.com/blog/racism-author-accountability-and-nevernight


An addictive fantasy novel that is complex and badass in equal measures.

4/5 stars

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synopsis for reviews 2

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

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From page one, I was in love with Mia’s character. She starts off the book your typical badass, hard-as-stone protagonist, which I loved. But as the story progresses, her softer side starts to show, and it made her a really unique character that I loved even more. She is ruthless, bloodthirsty, and vengeful, with a twisted set of morals and an unpredictable merciful side. I loved that though I expected her to be exactly the same protagonist I had read about a dozen times, her personality managed to break the mold.

The plot of Nevernight surrounds Mia’s training as she tries to become initiated into the Red Church, basically an assassins’ guild. I loved that Mia actually didn’t know everything already. Sure, she’s been trained for years already, but she isn’t a natural at anything in the training. I wouldn’t say that the fact humbled her—nothing can do that—but it definitely made the plot more interesting.

The one thing that sets Mia apart from the rest of the assassins is her darkin powers, which allow her to manipulate shadows. In a refreshing turn from the Chosen One mold, Mia’s powers do not earn her the respect or awe of her teachers. She does not receive special training for her powers, and though she actually is more powerful and special than the other initiates, she is never treated that way.

I loved Mia’s powers anyway. Her control over the shadows was interesting, especially because they were not a perfect weapon. Mr. Kindly, her shadow cat, was one of my favorite characters—he’s Sass Incarnate—and his ability to take away her fear added more layers to her character. Nevernight explores the ideas of courage and fear in a way I haven’t seen other books, never getting excessively preachy about the need to face your fears to be strong.

Nevernight’s world building is really complex, but also fascinating. The world has a complicated history, a nuanced government, a layered mythology, and an almost sci-fi physical organization. However, the way Kristoff wove the world building in—with footnotes and slang, mostly—made it easier to absorb. I still feel like there is more to learn, but I also trust that the footnotes will remind me of whatever I need to know for a particular scene.

I have a love-hate relationship with the footnotes. They are long and usually happen right in the middle of a scene. It would annoy me that I needed to stop in the middle of the action to read the footnote…but then every footnote is hilarious, so by the end I was not annoyed anymore.

The rest of the characters of Nevernight are also a mixed bag for me. There are some obvious pros: 1) There are a ton of interesting and strong female characters. 2) Mia has feelings for Tric without falling in love with him, a refreshing plot twist in the YA world.

Unfortunately, I feel like a lot of the side characters were missed opportunities. I could tell they were part of larger subplots, but those subplots never really emerged. I trust that some of them will be important in the second book, but I wish that they had been more influential in the first one.

Nevernight was addictive, pure and simple. I read most of it in one day, unable to put it down (which screwed me for homework, but that’s okay). There were lots of surprising moments. And yet, the pacing was missing something. As much as I could not stop reading the book, I still wanted more from it. Hopefully the second book will grab me more completely.

I would recommend Nevernight to fans of assassin stories, who are willing to read about ruthless and unforgiving characters. Though it was not perfect, I loved Nevernight and I cannot wait for the next book.

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

A heartwrenching story of four teenagers and their darkest secrets that did a number on my emotions.

4/5 stars

cover salt to the sea

synopsis for reviews 2

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

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my thoughts for reviews 1

I rarely read historical fiction, but this book was everything I want from the genre rolled into one: strong characters, an emotional plot, and writing that brings the past to life.

Salt to the Sea is an incredibly character-driven book. Told from four different POVs, the book contains four separate stories that slowly weave together. The short chapters ensured that I never got bored with any of the POVs.

Emilia was my favorite character. She is simultaneously extremely young and battle-hardened. Her observation skills were realistic considering her backstory and helped make the rest of the characters more interesting because we got to see them through her inquisitive lens. When we finally discovered the entirety of her backstory, it ripped out my heart and made me love her even more.

Alfred was definitely my least favorite POV. He’s supposed to be annoying and unreliable—and he REALLY succeeds at it. I am both impressed at how well Sepetys was able to craft his character and annoyed by having to be in his head. Still, his character is definitely not what you normally see in YA fiction, and for that, I have to appreciate his character.

The interactions between the characters made this book special, especially because we got to see every interaction from both POVs. Joanna and Florian’s characters slowly develop feelings for each other; thankfully, though, their romance never overwhelms the rest of the plot.

Emilia’s hero-worship of Florian was interesting and refreshing. She does not fall in love with him, but she develops a strong bond with him nonetheless. I thought it was really interesting that even though all of the characters are young adults, there is a clear age divide between Emilia and Florian/Joanna. That age divide made their relationships more complex than they would have been if Sepetys had made them all “peers.”

For most of the book, Emilia, Florian, and Joanna travel together. Though they are working together to get to a port and to flee the Soviets, they never become an intensely loyal Team; they each have their own motivations and fears holding them back. Again, this added realism to the story and was a refreshing break from what I expected, which was them to become a tight-knit group instantaneously.

Though Salt to the Sea is set in WWII, it focuses on aspects of the war that most people do not know about. Each character is from a different area of Europe, bringing four different refugee stories to life. Also, historical events that do not get as much attention—like the Nazi art theft and the Wilhelm Gustloff tragedy—are major parts of the plot. Because of this, the book felt new and enlightening, even though I have read lots of WWII historical fiction.

The ending of this book freaked me out. It was terrifying. Knowing that it actually happened made it even worse. Somehow, I didn’t cry, which still confuses me. Maybe I was just too destroyed emotionally to cry.

My only problem with this book is the pacing. The plot does not have a clear arc; it is really just their journey to the ship, and then what happens on the ship. Because of this, there is no sense of build-up or anticipation dragging you through the plot. Salt to the Sea is almost entirely character-driven, which worked because the characters are so vividly portrayed, but that kept it from been perfectly paced.

I would recommend Salt to the Sea to fans of historical fiction or character-driven novels. It is a truly incredible story that brings the suffering of war to life.