Making Vampires the Stuff of Nightmares Again: Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

Until this month, I’d been waiting to read EotV for forever. Okay…in truth, it was more like a few months short of 3 years, but this led to some pretty high expectations – something I generally try to avoid for fear of heartbreak. Yet, to my complete surprise, this book managed to meet them, mostly.

Who, What, Where?

EotV is set in the world of Elidaen – an empire conquered by vampires after its sun disappeared one day twenty-seven years ago. In a prison cell, awaiting his death for murdering the vampire emperor, Silversaint Gabriel de Leon, the last of a holy order dedicated to defending humans against monsters of the night, is compelled to tell his life’s story to a vampire historian. Gabriel details his youth at the monastery of San Michon, rise to fame as a Chevalier of the realm against invading vampire forces, forbidden love, and journey with a small band of allies to find the Holy Grail, prophesised to bring an end to the eternal night.

It’s a Vampire’s World

First off, the world building in this book is fantastic! It’s complex, intriguing, intricate, and somehow JK breaks it down for the reader in ways that are easy to understand without bogging down the story. I was engaged in the world right from the very beginning and really enjoyed learning about its vampire lore and bloodlines, the Silver Order, Elidaen’s religion, and how the loss of the sun and vampire invasion affected people’s lives (a diet involving lots of potatoes, apparently). There were a couple of things raised and not fully explained but there’s got to be material left for the sequels, right? The one thing that bothered me a little was the use of random French words like ‘oui’ or ‘ma famillie’. It’s weird because the spoken language isn’t really discussed so it looks like they’re there purely to try and French-ify things.

Nevernight Vibes

I think it’s safe to say that if you loved JK’s Nevernight books it’s likely you’ll enjoy EotV. While there aren’t any footnotes (thank God), it’s similarly full of violence, revenge, corruption, foul language, moody-vibes, smut, religious themes, and emotional moments. It’s DARRRKKK. Vampires bathing in the blood of babies dark. The kind of dark and scary vampires should be. However, part of my reasoning for dropping that .5 of a star is that some of these things were slightly overdone in places. In the case of gore and violence, over time I felt myself becoming desensitised to the horror described, having read so much of it. Dead children littering the ground? Well, alrighty then! Likewise with the swearing and crassness, in that some lines came off feeling forced and excessive – we get it, they’re badasses with dirty mouths. And for the love of all that’s holy, please, no more ‘your mother/wife’ jokes. The audience is not a bunch of twelve-year-old boys.

Full Steam Ahead

There was no point while reading this book where I felt bored, and for a 700+ page novel, that’s pretty darn impressive. The plot of EotV is like if The Name of the Wind, The Witcher and The Last of Us had a threesome in a vampire nest with a twist from The Da Vinci Code thrown in. I have no idea if that sounds appealing, but it was. Gabriel’s tale switches back and forth between two different parts of his life. The first details his teenage years, during which he studied with the Silver Order and built his legend as The Black Lion. The second looks at more recent events – Gabe’s journey with a small group protecting a teenage street urchin named Dior in connection with the Holy Grail. At first, I was bothered by this structure but after seeing that it didn’t negatively impact the momentum, I realised it was a clever narrative choice. This is because it: a) stopped the book from being stuck in one place for too long, and b) allowed JK to slowly unfold certain plot elements to dramatic (and heartbreaking) effect. My only minor complaint is there were a couple of character-oriented moments in the first timeline which were summarised rather than shown to allow the book to move on to other events that I wish we’d actually seen.

A Grumpy “Hero”, Talking Sword and Scrappy Pickpocket

Talking about EotV’s characters without spoilers is a minefield, but I can safely say I liked a lot of them. Our lead, Gabriel, has been through a great deal and is akin to a more broken, bitter and arrogant Geralt of Rivia. He’s lost his faith and self-respect, and generally adopts a ‘F*** off’ attitude. While Gabe frustrated me early on, I came to understand and appreciate his interesting mix of heroic and asshole-ish qualities. His relationship with Dior was one of my favourite parts of the book and I loved seeing them come to trust and care for one another despite negative original perceptions. The surrounding cast of characters were also good but time with them was limited in some cases. A few standouts for me were Aaron, Gabe’s Silversaint nemesis turned friend; Ashdrinker, Gabe’s crazy, talking sword; Bellamy, basically Dandelion from The Witcher but more battle adept; and of course, Dior, our locking picking, smart-mouthed dynamo.  

Magical Illustrations

It would be a crime not to mention the stunning illustrations by Bon Orthwick in this book. As someone who doesn’t see books play out like movies in their head, these artworks truly enhanced my reading experience and helped me to feel and visualise scenes. HOWEVER, that one piece – you’ll know when the time comes – how DARE you squash my heart like that?


As I’m sure you already know, I had a blast reading this crazy, bloody, vampire ride of a paperweight and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in the series, whenever it finally makes an appearance.

4.5 Stars

Note: Thank you to Harper Collins AU and Netgalley for a large sampler of this book which allowed me to get started early!

Mini Reviews | Let’s Get Romantic: Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle and Life’s Too Short by Abby Jimenez

Fun fact: I recently noticed there are quite a few 2021 contemporary romance releases with yellow covers. Weird. Clearly everyone decided that yellow was the must have look for this year. Can’t say I’m mad because yay for cheerful looking books. But are the insides as cheerful? Not always.

Over the last few weeks I’ve ticked two 2021 romance novels off my TBR, both of which I was super keen for. The first was Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle, which I added to my to-read shelf as soon as I knew it existed because I loved Hogle’s debut in 2020, You Deserve Each Other. The second is Abby Jimenez’s third entry in her The Friend Zone collection. I haven’t read either of the previous two books but apparently you don’t have to read them in order. I’d heard good things about her novels and this one sounded good, so why not? Here’s how things went…

Twice Shy – Sarah Hogle

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Maybell Parish is a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. But living in her own world has long been preferable to dealing with the disappointments of real life. So when she inherits a charming house in the Smokies from her Great-Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start. Yet when she arrives, she realises not only is the house falling apart around her, but she isn’t the only inheritor: she has to share everything with Wesley Koehler, the grouchy & gorgeous groundskeeper who has a very different vision for the property’s future.

Convincing Wesley to stop avoiding her and compromise is a formidable task. But when Maybell uncovers something unexpectedly sweet beneath his scowls, and as the two begin to let their guard down, they learn that sometimes the smallest steps outside one’s comfort zone can lead to the greatest rewards.

It’s official: Sarah Hogle is now one of my auto-buy romance authors. Because, darn if this wasn’t just the sweetest, most adorable, uplifting book. Yes, it might start to verge into corny at times but I can’t even be bummed about it, because this novel is a cinnamon roll if there ever was one.

The characters in Twice Shy are super endearing and loveable. Both have such a great level of depth. You really understand who they are, where they’ve come from, and what they want for their future. On the one hand, we have Maybell who’s this big-hearted dreamer, romantic and optimist who hasn’t experienced a lot of genuine love and care in her life and is trying to recapture the one time in which she did. On the other, there’s Wesley – a soft, sexy, vulnerable artist/gardener who cares deeply about animals and suffers from severe anxiety. Marry me already.

The interactions between Maybell & Wes, once I got past their early conflicts, were warm-fuzzy wonderfulness. Their note chain conversations were especially adorable. There was this lovely, gradual development of their relationship as they came to understand each other better and look beyond the surface. While their exchanges didn’t have the same degree of banter or snarky-ness as Nicholas and Naomi’s in You Deserve Each Other, I enjoyed them just as much but in a different way. I particularly loved how the characters were able to talk about their issues in a healthy way and be there for one another. Ugh, they’re just so ridiculously perfect together, okay?

Plot wise, most of the book revolves around Maybell and Wesley working to fix up Maybell’s Great Aunt Violet’s large and run-down house after they co-inherit it. FORCED PROXIMITY TROPE FOR THE WIN. They both have different ideas about what they want to do with the house but that’s part of the fun. This one is more of a character journey type book (e.g. Wesley dealing with his anxiety, Maybell realising her worth) than an external complication type thing, which means the climax is akin to a small speed bump rather than a major drama and this might feel underwhelming for some people.

I will admit, I didn’t find this one as laugh out loud funny as I did Sarah’s debut, but I can forgive that. Not every book needs to be jokes to the max. The one thing I did find somewhat…weird was Maybell’s tendency to slip into romantic day-dream interludes about her ideal man and imaginary café. Sure, it’s part of her charm and helps drive home her eventual realisation that reality can be better than imaginary perfection, but still…odd.

Basically, I read this in about a day and it’s the perfect medicine for when you’re feeling crappy.


Life’s Too Short – Abby Jimenez

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Vanessa lives every day to the fullest and isn’t willing to waste a moment when she has no idea whether she might share her sister’s fatal genetic condition. But when her half-sister leaves Vanessa custody of her infant daughter, Vanessa must put her life as a successful travel Youtuber on hold. The last person she expects to show up to help is Adrian Copeland, the hot lawyer next-door. As they get closer, Vanessa realizes that her carefree ways and his need for a structured plan could never be compatible for the long term. Then again, she should know better than anyone that life’s too short to fear taking the biggest risk of all.

Life’s Too Short was one of my most anticipated romance reads for 2021. I’m not sure whether I just wasn’t in the right mental space for it or couldn’t reconcile my expectations with the reality, but either way I have mixed feelings.

One of the things I wasn’t super keen on was the plot. I’m not averse to darker, heavier reads, but that is not what I come to romcoms for. While I want them to have depth and I’m fine with serious undertones, I found this one to be too tonally unbalanced, especially being marketed the way it is. Vanessa’s story is A LOT and the book would have benefited from her family baggage being stripped back somewhat. She believes she may have the terminal illness which killed her sister, her half-sister is a drug addict and has left her baby for Vanessa to deal with, her mother died in a car accident, her father is a hoarder and was a negligent parent, her step-mother abandoned them, and her half-brother is a lazy moocher. To top things off, the novel’s main complication is that Vanessa is convinced she’s going to die in about a year. Pretty bleak for something the blurb claims is: “A brilliant and touching romantic comedy”, huh?

In terms of the romance itself, I enjoyed Adrian and Vanessa’s opposites attract, strangers-to-friends-to-lovers relationship. Their scenes together were nice, had a good level of back-and-forth and felt weirdly comforting. I found the balance between their sexual tension and sweet bonding solid and really liked the dynamic being responsible for Vanessa’s niece, Grace, brought to their romance (even though she felt like a flat plot device at times). On the downside, there are some early insta-love vibes, the book really doesn’t need to drive home how attracted Vanessa is to Adrian as hard as it does, and some of the dialogue is super over the top and not how people would speak, but, on the whole, it’s a tentative thumbs up.

As individuals, I liked both Vanessa and Adrian, yet didn’t fall in love with them the way I have many other romcom leads. I enjoyed Vanessa’s sense of humour, adventurous spirit, and love for her family. However, this was tainted by my immense frustration with her stubborn unwillingness to consult a medical professional about her self-diagnosed ALS. Meanwhile, Adrian is the straight and narrow lawyer – organised, tidy, likes routine, not great with work-life balance, but caring and kind. I liked Adrian’s family subplot and interactions with his assistant Becky, but I feel as though the character’s anxiety could have been handled better than it was.

Another thing that didn’t really click with me on this one was the climax and ending, which felt extremely melodramatic, cheesy, and too neatly resolved. I think the reason it feels so exaggerated is because of how much heavy “reality” is crammed into the rest of the book. It’s a big, crazy romcom ending for a book that isn’t really a romcom.

Overall, Life’s Too Short has some good underlying parts but didn’t really hit the mark for me as much as I would have hoped.

Alternate History, Shapeshifting and an Epic Motorcycle Race: ‘Wolf by Wolf’ by Ryan Graudin

Something I have difficulty coming up with recommendations for is underrated or hidden gem type books. Because, let’s be real, when it comes to my reading choices, I have a strong tendency to stick to novels and authors which are popular, talked about or considered “good”. This is extremely silly because I’m likely to miss out on some amazing books. Books like Wolf by Wolf for instance, which is now officially my “hidden gem” pick.

What If…?

Wolf by Wolf is an alternate history story set in 1956 in a world in which the Nazis and Japanese won WWII. Between the two powers, they now control most of the world. To honour their victory, each year the legendary Axis tour is held – an epic, cutthroat, and gruelling motorcycle race from Berlin to Tokyo. Eighteen-year-old Yael is a survivor of the camp at Auschwitz where she was experimented on, leaving her with the ability to shapeshift. Now part of the resistance, Yael is set the almost impossible task of assassinating Adolf Hitler. However, in order to get close enough, she must first disguise herself as former tour winner, Adele Wolf, and win the race. It won’t be easy though, especially with Adele’s brother, Felix, and Luka, who has history with Adele, among the competitors.

On the Road

I’m not usually drawn to travelling/journey type plots, but Wolf by Wolf is a wonderful exception. This is a book with both a fantastic premise and great execution. The bulk of the novel follows Yael through the different legs of the Axis Tour as she deals with the elements, potentially life-threatening sabotage attempts by other racers, and maintaining her cover as Adele. I loved the competitive aspect. It was exciting, fast paced and a lot of fun. Plus, the couple of unexpected moments thrown into the mix made it even more enjoyable. Even better, the book managed to sustain this degree of momentum right til its last moments.

Slowing things Down

Graudin balances out the action-packed sections with plenty of slower, character-oriented moments. The book flicks back and forth between the present and flashbacks to Yael’s past. These start with her arrival at Auschwitz at five years old and lead up to her resistance training before the race. Yael’s memories are heartbreakingly centred around the people she’s lost and reveal the evolution of her character in an emotional way. I’ve found that books which utilise this method of storytelling sometimes end up feeling a bit choppy but the transitions here were well done.

In the present, the book also works at developing Yael’s relationships with both Luka and Felix during pit stops and rest breaks. Both these characters were very likeable in different ways. I couldn’t help smiling at Luka’s cocky, flirty, bad boy persona and sympathising with Felix who is desperate to avoid losing another sibling. Each brings out something different in Yael and often forces her to rethink notions about Germans and herself.

A Touch of Romance

Yes, there’s a romantic subplot in this book but to my immense relief, it (a) isn’t cheesy and (b) doesn’t take over the main story. It’s there, but just enough to add to the story and aid in Yael’s character development/journey.

Lone Wolf

As far as leads go, I really liked Yael. She walks the line between strong and vulnerable very well – physically and mentally very capable, but at the same time with deep emotional baggage. Also, major point in her favour, she’s not stupid. As a character, Yael has a complicated relationship with identity in that she no longer remembers what she actually looks like, often has to act out other personas (as she does with Adele), and has been separated from her family, culture and heritage. The events of the novel really force her to think about who she is and how her past & abilities define her.

A Few Extra Points:

  • The book takes a couple of chapters to kick into gear but once it finds its stride, it really gets going
  • Some of the side characters are somewhat like window dressing – they pop up when needed and fade into the background the rest of the time
  • The writing style gets a little bit “artsy” at points but as someone who’s not usually a fan of this, I found it alright for the most part

Wolf by Wolf was a huge surprise for me – the really good kind, and I’m so glad I stumbled across it. If you like historical fiction, competition-based plots and well written heroines, I can’t recommend this book enough.

4.5 stars

A Hero Doesn’t Choose Her Trials: Starsight by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward was my favourite read of 2019, so to say that I had high expectations for Starsight is verging on understatement. In the end, was it as good as the original? No, but I can safely say it was a very enjoyable ride all the same.

Who, What, Where?

Yeah, I can’t do this section for this particular review because the spoilers would be out of this world. Ha. Get it? Out of this…okay, moving on.

A Different Type of Adventure

Story wise, Starsight was a very different experience to Skyward. I’ll admit, I panicked when I first realised the direction the narrative was taking, but in the end I really needn’t have worried. Where book one was focused on a straightforward path of training and survival with clear heroes, enemies and goals, Starsight is more about subtlety, politics, and subterfuge. Because of this, the pacing is a lot slower at points. Still, despite the lack of ‘I-must-keep-reading’ momentum, I was never bored.  And if you’re someone who really enjoyed the battles in book one, don’t worry. Spensa spends plenty of time in the cockpit.

A Whole New World…or Universe

Over the years, something I’ve found that frequently ruins a good concept is an author attempting to take their stage from small to big. When I saw this was about to happen here, a large part of me wanted to scream: ABORT MISSION. As it turned out, I should have trusted a phenomenal world builder like Sanderson not to let me down. Starsight is the big bang of world building. It introduces new races, technology, planets, histories, culture, politics, everything you could possibly think of, and it does so fantastically. These inclusions are not only interesting but exponentially raise the stakes for the characters and expand the story in an exciting (and MAJOR) way. Even better, they make logical sense. Now that the door has been opened, I’m really looking forward to seeing what else is out there.

New Faces & Missing Familiar Ones

Starsight introduces us to a bunch of new characters. I can’t say much because of spoilers, but these new faces are very different to those we found in Skyward. They’re also completely distinct from one another in personality, physical appearance, and backstories. You can tell that Sanderson had a lot of fun crafting these characters and throughout the story they provided some great moments of humour, sadness and excitement. I really enjoyed them, both the “good” and the villainous.

Yet, while I liked the new characters, I have to say that I missed Cobb and the Skyward Flight gang in this book. For plot reasons, they don’t get much page time other than a few scenes here and there. Jorgen makes some bread (really) and gets the beginnings of a character arc, which will be expanded later, but for the others, it’s almost a blink and you’ll miss it situation. Although, I am happy to report that our faves, M-Bot and Doomslug, were very much along for the ride (complete with an existential crisis on M-Bot’s part) and gave me the usual snort laughs. And bonus, they even got some development of their own!

Spensa the Spy

Something I really loved about this book was just how much growth Spensa underwent. I loved Spensa and her crazy dramatics in Skyward, but in Starsight she becomes far more self-aware, realises the value of discipline and pre-planning, and re-evaluates her perspectives on war and what it means to be a hero. It was also great to see her tackle challenges in new, subtler ways and have to utilise skills not previously part of her strengths. By pushing Spensa out of her comfort zone, Sanderson has created an even better lead that I can’t wait to see develop further.

Sanderson, You Suck

That ending. I knew it was coming, but I’m still mad. How could you do this to me? And with at least a year to wait for the next book? Like, really? REALLY?


Although distinctly different from its predecessor in terms of scale, plot and pacing, Starsight is another fantastic read which massively expands the series’ overarching story and universe. While I may have enjoyed Skyward better, Starsight was still a great mix of action, humour, and heart that I’m sure I’ll re-read in years to come.

Now, someone wake me up when book three is out…

4.5 Stars

You’ve Got Mail with Added Emotional Baggage: Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

Since I first started getting into YA contemporary a few years back, there have been some misses, some solidly enjoyable reads, and a few books that have made me sit there and go, ‘Wow, I really loved that’. Letters to the Lost falls squarely within category three. This is a story that’s honest, emotionally deep, fantastically written, and somehow enjoyable, despite its often sad content.

Who, What Where?

LTTL follows high school seniors Juliet and Declan. Juliet, still grieving the death of her mother killed in a hit and run several months ago, is having difficulty moving on with her life. She takes comfort in writing letters to her mother as if she were still alive and leaves them at her grave. Declan is serving community service at the local cemetery as punishment for drunk driving a car into an office building. After finding one of Juliet’s letters among the headstones, Declan finds himself writing a reply. And so begins an exchange of anonymous letters that will have a profound impact on them both.

Dealing & Moving On

I thoroughly enjoyed the plot of LTTL. The novel has three main overarching storylines: 1) Juliet coming to terms with her mother’s death and trying to engage in life again, 2) Declan dealing with his past family trauma and current family difficulties, and 3) the relationship between the two characters. Each of these stories is given a great degree of attention and depth, and all three are seen through to a satisfying conclusion. As a reader, seeing Juliet and Declan work to overcome their demons and emotional weights is extremely cathartic, and I’ll admit, there were several scenes towards the end that had me feeling some intense…things. Yet, I will say that there are some aspects of the story that do verge into melodramatic territory, but if you can get on board with this early you’ll likely enjoy the ride.

You Get Me

The relationship between Juliet and Declan is beautifully handled and layered. On the one hand, we have their written relationship in which the two feel comfortable to share their guilt, grief, secrets and thoughts about life within the safety of anonymity. At the same time, we also have their real-life interactions which, while starting off on very shaky ground, eventually grow and develop as they come to know more about one another. It’s the perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge someone before you truly know them or what they’ve been through.

Characters, Big & Small

Although the writing is amazing, it’s the characters that really made me fall in love with this one.

Declan: On the surface, Declan seems very much like the aggressive, angsty bad boy with a terrible reputation and we see this clearly from Juliet’s early interactions with him. However, Kemmerer wonderfully pulls back the layers on Declan bit by bit to reveal this caring, smart and guilt-wracked person who I so badly wanted to see find some peace, kindness and closure.

Juliet: Unlike Declan, I took some time warming up to Juliet as her grief makes her a little prickly in the earlier stages of the book. As the story goes on though, we get to understand and empathise with her a lot more. I loved seeing her open up to Declan in her letters/e-mails and using these conversations as encouragement to make changes in her life, especially where it came to her friends, family and photography.

Rev: Declan’s friend, Rev, was easily one of the best characters in the book. As an abuse survivor, Rev has his own internal battles to deal with, but he’s also a great friend, kind of awkward, very sweet, and in possession of a dry sense of humour. With this much potential, I’m really looking forward to seeing him in a lead role in More Than We Can Tell.

Wonderful Adults Galore: Can I just give a big shout out to all the gorgeous adult characters in this book. Sure, there’s definitely a few…not so good ones, but the others definitely make up for them in spades (especially since I find that adults frequently get the shaft in YA contemporaries). There’s Mr. Gerardi, who encourages Juliet to get back into photography, Mrs Hillard, who pushes Declan academically and persists despite resistance, Juliet’s dad, a massive sweetheart just trying to do the best for his daughter, and “Melonhead”, Declan’s community service supervisor, who helps him talk through some of his feelings and experiences.

You’ve Got Mail

The writing in LTTL is A+. The story alternates between Juliet and Declan’s first-person perspectives and their letters/e-mails to each other. These letters were one of my favourite parts of the novel as they showcase Juliet and Declan gradually opening up to and trusting one another with intimately personal details about their lives as well as thoughts they’ve never spoken about with anyone. This style choice also allowed for the seamless transition between the two characters’ POVs. These were fantastically done as well, with each character possessing an individual voice and Kemmerer able to perfectly capture their emotions on the page in a way that I couldn’t help but connect with them. 


While I may not have been able to fully get aboard the Kemmerer fantasy train with A Curse so Dark and Lonely, I am 100% full steam ahead when it comes to her YA contemporaries. LTTL is not a light book by any means, but despite its moments of over the top drama, it always feels true, raw, and compelling. After a book that’ll make you feel some things but is still enjoyable? This is the ticket.

4.5 Stars

Waffles, Glitter, & Heartbreak: ‘The Boy Who Steals Houses’ by C. G. Drews (ARC)

Take some soft boys, sassy girls, a lot of heartbreak, piles of waffles, and a touch of glitter. Mix it all together and you get…well, pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a book written by Paper Fury. In the best possible way, of course.

Who, What, Where?

Sam and his autistic brother Avery have had it tough – an absent mother, abusive father, and an aunt who kicked them out. Ever since, the brothers have been stealing to get by, but not just wallets and phones. Sam also steals houses. Using his lock picking abilities and powers of observation, Sam’s great at choosing places to hold up in for a couple of days. That is, until the empty house he crashes in one night becomes not so empty the next morning. Enter the De Laineys – the big, crazy, and wonderful family that’s everything Sam’s ever wanted. Mistaken as one of the sibling’s friends, suddenly, he’s hanging out with twins Jeremy and Jack, and day dreaming about spunky, fashion designer Moxie. But Sam knows it can’t last and if they only knew the secrets he’s hiding…

I’m Happy, I’m Sad, I’m a Mess

TBWSH is a bizarre mix of different tones. One minute you’re reading about Avery getting abused and wanting to rip your heart out of your chest it hurts so bad, the next, pure happy, fluffdom hits, such as Moxie showing Sam how to eat waffles properly (*spoiler* with lots of caramel sauce!). I’ve read a few books where these different moods haven’t been integrated very well, leaving you with severe emotional whiplash. However, I can safely say that this is one book in which it just works effortlessly. For something with such dramatic highs and lows, it somehow always feels smooth and natural.

Speaking of these highs and lows, I have to say just how well written they are, especially the sadder ones. There are moments of genuine joy and others that are unexpectedly dark. Both hit you hard in a fantastic (or is it awful?) way.

Can I Join the De Lainey Family?

Just like Sam, I unexpectedly fell in love with the De Lainey family. Some members are more prominent/better developed than others, but I thoroughly enjoyed every scene in which members of them were around. Each person is different and sweet, and it’s very easy to believe a family like them exists out there somewhere. Plus, the banter is so good. I cracked a smile on many occasions during this book – it’s all so easy and amusing, particularly if it involves Jack and his swearing.

Loose Ends

While I enjoyed TBWSH, one of the things that bugged me a little were the few loose ends it finished up with. There’s the issue of some stolen money, a someone who does something to Sam and just disappears, and then, (although it’s still adorable) the sort of open-ended-ness to the ending itself. Yes, I understand I can’t always have all the answers but I’m a curious (aka. nosy) person, okay. I just have to know everyone’s alright! 

Writing Style

Something I was worried about going into this book was the writing style. I love Cait’s photography on Bookstagram, however, I’m only able to read her captions and reviews in small doses. I just find her writing very… energetic? Overwhelming? It’s not about quality, just personal preference. For this reason, I wondered if her books would read like her reviews. The answer is yes, and no. The writing still definitely screams Cait, but it also feels a little calmer somehow. Yet, there are a few choice phrases and similes that I found myself going, ‘huh?’ in response to, or finding a little grating with time. For example:

  • “Caseworkers made of black ink and hard lines”
  • Their kiss tasted of “salty tears and bloody memories and empty boxes”
  • “He can build a bridge of moons and caramel cakes”

Autistic Representation

Not only does TBWSH prominently feature a character with autism but, although this is just one expression on a broad spectrum, the representation here is done very well. Avery’s movements, speech, and behaviours are consistent, realistic and never feel gimmicky or thrown in for extra colour. He’s a well-developed and sympathetic character, and the violence and misunderstanding he faces over the course of the book truly hurt me.

You, Me, We

The relationship between Avery and Sam is great and I love how Cait was able to perfectly depict the complicated emotions associated with having a loved one with a disability. There’s love, a desire to protect them, and feelings of responsibility, but also guilt, frustration and resentment. The novel has some lovely moments between Sam and Avery and this bond really is the heart of the story. Sam just wants to protect his brother from the world but he can’t, and that’s the worst part.

Other Thoughts:

  • The book has a great start – it introduces the characters well, has a good degree of tension and really grabs you.
  • Moxie is a boss and I only want amazing things and many boxes of caramel chocolates for her.

TBWSH is a sweet but emotional read. If you’re looking for a YA contemporary about belonging, brotherhood, acceptance (and yummy snacks) that’ll break your heart and put it back together again, all in the space of 300 pages, this is the perfect choice.

4.5 STARS

Let the Backstabbing Recommence: The Wicked King by Holly Black

Spends a year waiting for it, finishes it in less than 24 hours. I only have myself to blame here. Well, myself and Holly Black. Basically, if the book hangover from this one doesn’t kill me, it’ll be the wait for The Queen of Nothing cause, good lord. How do I even review this book? My brain is mush. MUSH I TELL YOU.

Who, What, Where?

The Wicked King takes up five months after the end of The Cruel Prince. Cardan is High King and Jude is running things behind the scenes as his second in command with the help of the rest of the Court of Shadows. However, just as before, everyone in faerie is playing their own game in their quest for power. Jude’s just got to worry about keeping it. But with the sea queen plotting against them, a vengeful prince keen on finding his way out of prison, a dangerous high general to watch, and Cardan himself to manage, it’s easier said than done.

More Momentum & Just as Many Twists

“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.

When I first read The Cruel Prince, I found it took a little while for it to reach the main gist of the story (and hit peak political warfare and stabby-ness). TWK is a little similar in the fact that not a lot happens for the first part of the book but at the same time, because the base tension level is so much higher than in book one it never gets boring. Now that Jude holds so much power, and is desperate to keep it until she can safely pass it on to Oak, she has to be on her game constantly or risk losing everything. For this reason, she’s got a lot on her plate – controlling Cardan, Madoc’s future plans, the council, Balekin, the Sea Queen, handling Locke… Even though there isn’t major progress on a lot of these things for a while, because there’s so many of them it always feels like the story is chugging along and it’s entertaining enough to keep you engaged. You’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And, of course, in spectacularly, twisty, Holly Black fashion, drop it does.

I don’t want to spoil any of the big moments, of which there are several (gotta love a good betrayal, or two, or three), but I will say, that ending. My god. You’d think that after the climax of The Cruel Prince anything else would fall short but noooooppe. This stands right up there with it. I did not see it coming and I have no idea where things are headed going into book three, but it’s NOT GOOD.

However, if there were two things that bugged me about TWK’s plot they would be: first, Locke’s role feels unnecessarily distracting and pointless (hopefully there’s a reason in book 3), and second, the drama queen within wishes there had been a more dramatic pay off to a misapprehension Balekin & the Sea Queen have about Jude late in the book.

A Better, Bigger Picture

Something I felt was lacking and difficult to visualise in book one was the world building. TWK improves on this a fair amount and having read it, I feel I have a much better idea of how many of the pieces of Faerieland fit together. I’m still lost on some of the geography and court hierarchies/relationships but as they aren’t necessary for the story, it’s not a big deal. The minor courts play a greater role this time around and we learn about how the world is generally governed. We’re also given more info about the King’s role and powers. What’s also very interesting is the addition of immensely powerful magical objects, aside from the crown, which will surely play a big role in The Queen of Nothing.

Jude x Cardan

“I hate you,” I breathed into his mouth. “I hate you so much that sometimes I can’t think of anything else.”

Why, hello there, enemies-to-lovers trope, and in the best possible way. I love and am crazy addicted to this twisted, tension-filled relationship. Cardan and Jude go through a lot in this book and do make some great progress, even though where they stand with each other is always a confusing mess. Still, whether they’re sniping at each other, working in sync, or being surprisingly tender, I enjoy every minute that they’re together because they’re honestly just so equally matched. I love that over the course of the novel both Cardan and Jude begin to understand and appreciate each other in a way that no one else does, to the point that they’re willing to give up tactical advantages to save the other. It’s not easy or linear, but it’s worth it. If these two were ever able to fully trust one another, and perhaps sort through their complicated romantic feelings, Faerie would tremble at their feet. It’s just going to take a while to get there.

The Shadow Queen

“His mouth curls into a smile. His eyes shine with wicked intent. “Look at them all, your subjects. A shame not a one knows who their true ruler is.”

On my first read of The Cruel Prince, I wasn’t a fan of Jude but on my recent re-read, I gained a new appreciation for her. Stick a sword in her hand and she kicks serious ass despite being physically inferior to her opponents. She’s smart, cunning, able to redirect her fear into productivity, and goes after what she wants. Sure, Jude isn’t a purely, good-hearted character – she’s power hungry and has no qualms about murdering or screwing people over if she has to, but I can’t help but appreciate just how well she’s able to play the game as someone with built-in disadvantages.

In TWK Jude doesn’t undergo much development. She shows her inexperience and has a habit of making silly decisions as well as letting her power go to her head in a way that produces a great deal of arrogance, particularly where it comes to Cardan (so stupid). She also spends a lot of the book scrambling around, trying to do things on her own when she shouldn’t, and this bites her in the ass multiple times. While her lack of foresight disappointed (and frustrated) me in this book, I’m expecting an epic comeback in book 3.

The Not So Wicked King

“Why was I cruel to Folk? Why was I awful to you? Because I could be. Because I liked it. Because, for a moment, when I was at my worst, I felt powerful, and most of the time, I felt powerless, despite being a prince and the son of the High King of Faerie.”

Comparatively, Cardan goes through a great deal more change than Jude. While he’s a cocky party-boy that does little more than lounge around during the first half, as the book goes on he displays some surprising moments of maturity, fairness, affection, and strategic thinking (what are you talking about Cardan, don’t you know that murder is always the answer?). TWK continues to build on the backstory to Cardan’s characterisation begun in TCP and it does make him a more sympathetic character. What also helps is the fact that no longer bound by the need to impress, disappoint, or shame his disdaining family members, he starts to shed the frivolous and “cruel” protective mask he’s crafted, and do some self-reflection. As a result, by the end, he becomes more of an actual player in the game as opposed to the pawn he’s been previously. This does lead him to some shattering actions but somehow I’m still all for it because PLOT DRAMA.

Other Characters

Taryn, Locke, and Nicasia can all just piss right off. That is all.


In summary, this series is addictive and I love it. Bring me more twists, drama and backstabbing. Now to start the countdown to The Queen of Nothing *cries*.

4.5 Stars

In a Well-Ordered Universe: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

If there were a perfect way for me to explain the way I feel about Since You’ve Been Gone, it would be to say that it’s the same as listening to Taylor Swift’s song, Fearless. It’s sweet, innocent, reminds you of hot summer days, and makes you feel young and free. This book is summer in literary form and, in the best possible way, it’ll remind you of your best friends – the crazy things you’ve done together, the adventures you’ve had, and the intimate moments you’ve shared.

Who, What, Where?

Since You’ve Been Gone centres around the friendship between reserved Emily and wild child Sloan. Emily and Sloan do everything together and they’ve got plans for a fantastic summer. That is, until Sloan just up and disappears. The only clue Emily has is a list – thirteen tasks that Sloan has left for her which Em would never even think of doing alone. Some are easy – ride a horse, break something. Others, such as steal something and kiss a stranger, not so much. With the help of a few new friends, Emily sets out to complete the list in the hopes that somehow it’ll bring her best friend home to her.

Why You Should Read this Book

Emily’s Character Arc

I love character growth. It’s honestly my favourite thing in the world. Ignore the fact that I’ve probably said this about fifty-million other things already this year. Emily’s character arc is honestly one of the most wonderful parts of this book. She starts off the novel a bit of a wallflower, really awkward (as in, cannot hold a conversation past ‘Hello’) and lacking in self-confidence. Emily’s used to relying on Sloane to take the lead in interactions and encourage her to try new things, almost to the point of it being annoying when the book first starts. However, as she makes her way through Sloane’s list and the associated events, she slowly grows in confidence and gains a far better understanding of who she is. She starts to speak up for herself, take risks, and ends up forming several new and unexpected friendships. Watching young women come into their own is pretty much the best thing ever so you can see why I loved this one.

Friendship & Romance

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, there is not enough of a focus on amazing and well-developed friendships in YA. Romance is great, but fab friendships make my little book-loving heart sing. Sloane and Emily’s relationship is at the centre of the story and their friendship is developed quite well through the use of flashbacks. While I wish there would have been maybe one or two more, the novel still manages to show how close the girls are, the value each places on their bond with the other, and establishes Sloane’spersonality, too. The relationship isn’t perfect but the fact that it’s able to adjust to Emily’s changing sense of self is the true measure of its worth.

As Emily completes the list, she also makes several other friends – Dawn, Collins & Frank. Each character is decently fleshed out, very likeable, and feel distinct from the others. What’s also lovely is watching the four come together as a group, not only to help Emily in her quest to complete the list, but to just generally spend quality time together as well.

Before you ask, yes, there’s a romance plotline, too. And yes, I really liked it. Emily and Frank just mesh. They have this wonderfully subtle dynamic that’s slowly built up over the course of the book from acquaintances to friends to maybe something more. Frank is a love interest you can easily get behind – he’s kind, honest, supportive, and in the face of a moment where he could have acted like a complete dick, he aces the obstacle with flying colours. You go, Frank.

Completing the list

The concept for this book is cute – it’s pure YA contemporary adorableness and I unashamedly loved it. It’s fairly simple, complete the list of challenges, but Matson executes it very well. It’s just so much fun seeing what will come up next on Sloane’s list and how Emily will manage to tick it off, even though it’s something ridiculously out of her comfort zone. Some of the things on the list are a bit ambiguous and need Emily to interpret them so there’s also a degree of mystery. The reason it all works so well is that a lot of the challenges end up leading Emily to something unexpected and more significant than she originally expects – new friends, a summer job, quality time with her brother, party crashing, a run-in with an ex, and a whole host of other things. Yet, the real appeal is that completing the list is just so full of fun, weird, and crazy experiences that they can’t help but make you feel young and adventurous just reading about them.

Why You Might Want to Skip It

Fluffy, Summer Fun

If you go into this book looking for something super deep and heavy, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s just simply not this novel’s vibe. Does it deal with real emotions, of course, but this is a story about finding yourself and not letting fear stop you from living life to the fullest. If you’re looking for big life questions, move right along.

Cheating

A few people have commented on this so, heads up, there is a cheating incident at the end of the book. Some people are going to have a problem with it. Sure, the actual event of is sucky but I think the aftermath is handled very well by the character doing said cheating. No stuffing around and the situation is resolved quickly &maturely. Yet, at the same time, the book doesn’t skirt around it being cheating as shown by one character very clearly calling the other out for their actions so there’s that.

The Romantic Drama Complication/Ending

You’ll see the way the romantic storyline unfolds in this book from a valley, mountain and ocean away. Predictability is fine, but I do have to admit to slight feelings of frustration when I reached this part of the book. Why? Because it annoys me when conflict is created in books simply because characters won’t talk to each other or one won’t let another explain something when this would SO easily fix said conflict! That’s the case here, and I think it’s largely because resolving it would deprive us of a cute ‘skip into the sunset’moment right at the end. Those scenes are great, but I feel ending this earlier would have been a better choice. My reason for this is that it would have left the resolution to Sloane and Emily’s story as the last moments of the book, which fits the overall theme of the novel so much better. After all, this friendship is the driving force for the entire story.


Since You’ve Been Gone is easily one of my new favourite YA contemporary books and I can see myself going back to re-read this on holiday, lazing around during Summer, or even when just in the need for something light, fun and comforting. I’ll definitely be recommending this one to friends!

4.5 Stars

Survival, Sisterhood, and Female Empowerment: Grace & Fury by Tracy Banghart

4.5 stars

Grace & Fury

I received this ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I am woman, hear me roar.

If there’s one thing I never grow tired of reading about, it’s women supporting one another and finding their inner strength, even when all the odds are stacked against them.  As Banghart’s author’s note says, this is:

For every woman who has been told to sit down and be quiet…and who has stood up anyway.

Who, What, Where?

Grace & Fury is set in the kingdom of Viridia – think Gilead from Handmaid’s Tale without the fertility issues and religious nut jobs.

Women were forbidden to read. Women were forbidden to choose their husbands, their jobs, their futures. Forbidden to dive for pearls or sell goods at market to help their families. Forbidden to cut their hair unless a man told them to. Forbidden to think for themselves. Forbidden to choose.

At the country’s head is The Superior. Every three years he selects three women to join his household as Graces (basically, glorified concubines). It’s the highest honour to be selected and although it’s a life of subjugation, it’s also one of luxury.

The novel alternates third person POV between two protagonists: Serina & Nomi. Serina, beautiful and soft-spoken, has spent her life training to be a Grace, while her sister, Nomi, smart and strong-willed, desires more from life than simply being Serina’s handmaiden. When it’s announced that the Superior’s heir, Malachi, is to make his first ever Grace selections, the girls travel to the palace. However, plans are turned on their head when instead of Serina, the Heir selects Nomi.

Things go from bad to worse when Serina is caught in a compromising position and sent to Mount Ruin, an island prison designed to house the worst of Virdia’s female offenders. Here, women are pitted against each other in violent matches to the death for sport and rations, and every day is a struggle to survive.

In the palace, Nomi is forced to adjust to her new life as a Grace, knowing that one wrong step could prove fatal. She soon comes to realise that her position may, in fact, present the perfect opportunity to create permanent change in Virdia, and the Superior’s second son, Asa, could prove her ticket to freedom.

Why you Might want to Skip it (But Please don’t!)

Normally I start off with the positives, but let’s change things up, shall we?

Pacing

While Serina’s story jumps into gear quickly and remains engaging right to the end, Nomi’s takes until at least halfway to find it’s purpose. Following Serina’s departure, Nomi spends a frustrating period of time trying to find out what happened to her. It makes sense for the character but it offers zero interest to the reader. The search eventually leads her to Asa and kicks off her main storyline but I would love to have seen more of an investigative and active element on Nomi’s part and earlier on, too.

Will the real Nomi please stand up?

I have to say, I feel a bit disappointed in Nomi. At the beginning of the story, she’s rebellious, questioning, and sassy. During her first conversation with Malachi, I was like, YES, you go girl. And then poof!  Where did you go spunky Nomi? WHERE? I get that you’re sad Serina’s gone and terrified The Superior is going to murder you but what happened to your spirit? The promised Nomi does emerge later on but I wish she’d been a stronger character throughout.

Why You Should Read this Book

Balance

One of the things I loved about Grace & Fury was the contrast and balance between Serina and Nomi’s stories. Setting wise, with Serina, Banghart gives us a very harsh environment in which women have to be both physically and mentally tough to make it through. Then we have Nomi, living in the most glamorous place in the country, but which, to her, feels just as much like a cage.

Serina’s path is very much action-oriented and involves a lot of big, bold moves to get her to where she needs to be at the end. Comparatively, Nomi’s relies on secrecy, a bit of cloak and dagger, and thinking her way around problems.

The ending of these storylines is also in stark opposition – one a triumph, the other a complete disaster. These differences are great in that they give the novel fantastic variety in terms of plot and tone which keeps the book engaging and in motion.

Likeable MCs & Bonds of Sisterhood

Grace & Fury’s success stems largely from its well written and distinct leads. Both Nomi and Serina are very likeable and you have no difficulty rooting for them. Serina, in particular, starts the novel off quite soft and submissive, but over time, we watch her transform into a strong, brave, and resourceful, young woman who’d rather die than compromise her own humanity.

Both girls are also very different from one another. The wonderful thing is that despite this, and a situation that should make them resent one another (as a sister, trust me, I know), they remain loyal. Each desperately wants to break free of their situation, not just for themselves, but because they believe they need to rescue the other. It’s a quality that only makes you love them more.

The absence of her sister was a hole in her chest, growing larger and larger the longer they spent apart. She had to save Serina. If she didn’t, there’d be nothing of her left.

Twist

If you’ve read Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, you’ll be able to predict this twist from a mile away. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, no way! But don’t get me wrong, even though I saw it coming, I loved the direction. Once I realized this was where the story headed, I was really excited, even impatient, to see it play out and it completely changed how I viewed interactions between certain characters. It ended up being interesting and dramatic, provided more character depth, gave Nomi a chance to shine, and left us in an exciting place for the sequel.

Female Empowerment

“We are not flowers,” she said firmly. “Like you said, Oracle, we are concrete and barbed wire. We are iron.”

This is a book that showcases the power of women in so many ways. Seriously, Grace & Fury will make you want to take on the world and more importantly, believe you can win. This is a novel about women surviving and even triumphing under adversity. It’s about refusing to just accept your situation. It’s about striving for more and overcoming fear. And most of all, it’s about women supporting other women.

My Mother raised me never to trust other women because we would always be in competition. But it’s not true. Look at how we take care of each other here…We heal each other…We share food…We die for each other…We need to stop killing each other and fight them.

 

 “In all the stories, women give up everything,” Maris said, her voice tight. “We are always supposed to give. We are never supposed to fight. Why do you think that is?”…

“Because they’re afraid of what will happen if we do.”

I wish I could say more but that would be spoiling it. What I will say is, read this book. You won’t regret it.

4.5 Stars

Love Ashley

A lot Better than Fruit Cake Cookies: ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ by Jenny Han

TATBILB

Well, hello there you adorable, sweet, lovely, bubbly, fun, all the cute adjectives in the English language, book. Why yes, I do see your flaws, of which there are many, but for some reason, my brain seems to have short-circuited to the point where I can’t seem to get enough of you.

TATBILB (gosh, what an acronym, I need a breather after just typing that), is one of those young adult contemporaries that people seem to bring up among a couple of choice favourites every time the genre is mentioned in conversation. You know the ones, Anna and the French Kiss, Fangirl, The Fault in Our Stars, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens AgendaI’ll Give you the SunAll the Bright Places, etc, etc. I’ve had some good experiences with YA contemporaries and some not so good. So even though I’d already committed to giving this one a go, I went into it expecting it to be silly, childish and disappointing.

Apparently, I really need to stop going into things so cynical because occasionally the hype train does, in fact, pick some winners. And yes, I know basically everyone out there has already read this one but eh, I’m going to review it anyway because cute contemporary. And yes, I’m going to use heaps of completely unnecessary gifs.

Who, What, Where?

Our story’s protagonist is sixteen-year-old Lara Jean. She’s half Korean, dresses in outfits almost bordering on costume, bakes great cookies, is the middle child of three sisters, and has never had a boyfriend. She has, however, been in love – five times. And for every boy she’s loved, she’s also written a letter. Not to send of course, because that would be embarrassing. She keeps these love letters hidden away in a hatbox in her closet, where no one will ever find them.

That is, until one day the letters are mysteriously sent out in the post. Can you say, awkward?

The bigger problem is the fact that one of LJ’s five happens to be her older sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh, which is a big no-no in any sense of the girl code. In order to convince Josh her feelings are long over, Lara Jean makes a deal with Peter, another of her letter receivers. By pretending to be in a relationship, LJ can throw Josh off the scent and Peter can hopefully show his controlling ex, Genevieve, that he’s over her. It’s the perfect plan, because neither of them has feelings for the other, right?

Yeah, right.

Reasons You Should Read this Book

Finally, an Asian Protagonist!

Alright, half Asian but still! Just like with Simon, it was nice to have a little bit of diversity going on in the MC department for a change and to see some representation of families that don’t often get featured at the forefront of YA. Lara Jean being mixed race also provided the chance for Jenny Han to raise a few of the more frustrating parts of being of Asian descent in a western country. Some of these are small such as feeling the pressure to dress up as only Asian characters on Halloween. However, others are bigger, like having to deal with the constant insensitive questions about where you come from (no really, where? No, I mean, where were you born?) and trying not to lose connections to your heritage whilst being surrounded by another culture 24-7.

The Romance is Adorable

Come on, this is not the sort of book you read if you aren’t keen on romance. Don’t try to deny it, you care. As I’m sure you worked out from the synopsis, there are two main love interests to Lara Jean in this story, Peter and Josh. Yes, it’s the beginnings of a love triangle but don’t worry, it never really becomes an annoyance here as LJ’s focus is always on one person at any given time and there’s none of that annoying ‘who do I choose’, ‘oh, woe is me’.

Josh is sweet, if a little boring, but as I’m in the camp of if you’ve dated someone’s older sister you MUST NOT go after their younger sister, I can’t root for him to win this one. You move that little butt on, mister. Peter, on the other hand, is that cocky, amusing guy who acts like an ass but actually has deeper emotions and a good heart. In other words, he’s the character archetype I’m a real sucker for. Every damn time. I was a goner from the moment he showed up with his fancy car wearing that stupid grin.

“That’s when I see him. Peter Kavinsky, walking down the hallway. Like magic. Beautiful, dark-haired Peter. He deserves background music, he looks so good.”

The relationship development here is predictable but it’s still really nice to watch the two characters bounce off one another in cute sections of dialogue. While Peter encourages LJ to get out into the world instead of just fantasizing about it, LJ brings out more of Peter’s sweet side. Even just seeing Peter hang out with Lara Jean and her little sister Kitty is delightful and by the time feelings develop, they feel well earned.

It has it’s Giggle Moments

Is it even a good YA-contemporary if you don’t let out a few snorts once in a while? A few of my personal favourites:

“Oh, I used to lie all the time as a kid.” I didn’t think of it as lying, though. I thought of it as playing make-believe. I told Kitty she was adopted and her real family was in a travelling circus. It’s why she took up gymnastics.” 

“That’s the biggest lie I’ve ever told him, even bigger than the lie about my so-called dead twin Marcella. Until a couple of years ago Josh thought I had a twin sister named Marcella who died of leukemia.” 

“Your house is lovely,” I say, even though it isn’t. It’s old; it could use a good cleaning. But the things inside it are lovely.
“It’s empty now. All my things sold up. Can’t take it with you, you know.”
“You mean when you die?” I whisper.
He glares at me. “No. I mean to the nursing home.”

Easy, Breezy, Short and Sweet

TATBILB is your typical YA-contemporary. It’s a short read and despite some sad moments for LJ, it’s still light and fluffy. Jenny’s writing is really easy to read – there’s no unnecessary descriptions, Lara Jean’s internal monologues never drag on for too long, and even the quieter plot sections still feel like fun time with the characters. The book is a great choice if you’re looking for something to break up some of your denser reads or if you’ve been stuck on another less engaging book for a while. Read this one in only a few days (or one sitting) and you’ll feel ready to tackle the rest of your TBR with enthusiasm.

Why You Might Want to Give it a Miss

The issue of Lara Jean

Alright, let’s deal with the big one first. On the whole, I didn’t mind LJ as a protagonist (her cringey use of “Daddy” aside). She’s relatable, sweet, and tries her best to do the right thing. BUT. LJ hasn’t really experienced much of the world. She’s never been in a relationship and her sister, Margo, has protected her from a lot of responsibility since their mother’s death. Because of this there are moments when her narration comes off a lot younger than sixteen. She’s naive, romanticizes things, doesn’t handle awkward situations very well, and is a little over the top at times.

For this reason, a lot of people are going to find her childish and annoying, and that’s completely okay. If you can’t handle a slightly sheltered protagonist with a lot of learning to do, then maybe this one isn’t for you.

What Mystery?

The whole reason the events in the book kick off is because someone decides to send out Lara Jean’s box of love letters. With this in mind, you’d think that part of the story would be devoted to figuring out who send the darned things, yes? Wrong. While LJ considers this very briefly at the beginning of the book, she then forgets about it completely until the answer is given to us at the very end. The culprit is ridiculously obvious but it would have been nice to have a little mystery and some more potential suspects.

Wait, it’s Over? (Except not Really)

Everyone knows that the best part of a rom-com is the end, the happily ever after where everything is resolved in an unrealistic but still love-heart eye worthy reconciliation. Well folks, if that’s what you want here, better move along because there ain’t none of that. TATBILB, unfortunately, ends in a blunt and somewhat unresolved fashion. Yes, we all know there’s a sequel but would it kill you to give a girl a bit of temporary closure. I feel like the Rolling Stones, where be my satisfaction Jenny Han?


Despite its flaws, I had a great time with this one. Perhaps it’s a little bit of a guilty pleasure read but TATBILB is just one of those books that I can’t help but love because of its tone and the fluffy, warm feelings it gave me while reading. It’s cute, and makes you feel good about the world for a little bit, so plot issues withstanding I’ll unashamedly admit that I’m so excited to read the rest of the series. Sue me. Lara Jean and Peter forever.

4.5 Stars