ARC Book Review: North of Happy

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Synopsis:

His whole life has been mapped out for him… 

Carlos Portillo has always led a privileged and sheltered life. A dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, he lives in Mexico City with his wealthy family, where he attends an elite international school. Always a rule follower and a parent pleaser, Carlos is more than happy to tread the well-worn path in front of him. He has always loved food and cooking, but his parents see it as just a hobby.

When his older brother, Felix—who has dropped out of college to live a life of travel—is tragically killed, Carlos begins hearing his brother’s voice, giving him advice and pushing him to rebel against his father’s plan for him. Worrying about his mental health but knowing the voice is right, Carlos runs away to the United States and manages to secure a job with his favorite celebrity chef. As he works to improve his skills in the kitchen and pursue his dream, he begins to fall for his boss’s daughter—a fact that could end his career before it begins. Finally living for himself, Carlos must decide what’s most important to him and where his true path really lies.

Purchase From:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Review

*I won a free advanced reader’s copy of this book from Harlequin Teen. This did not influence my review of this book in anyway. This is an honest review of the novel as I saw it. This novel will be released on April 25, 2017.*

Honestly, I’d never read a book by Adi Alsaid before but I love giveaways so I entered without a second thought and was happily surprised when I won. The book then sat on my shelves for a while but after reading two Ellen Hopkins books back to back I wanted to read something happier. Obviously, I forgot what this book was about.

The story follows Carlos, after his older brother Felix was tragically killed. Felix was the “wild child” of the family, meaning instead of going the traditional route and go to college like his parents wanted him to, he decided to travel the world instead. Carlos, did the very opposite, and planned to intern at his father’s company after graduating high school and then go to the University of Chicago, even though he loved to cook. However, after Felix’s death, Carlos, at the advice of Felix, who he keeps seeing everywhere and in everything, decides to head to an island by Seattle instead.

There, he goes to a restaurant his brother wanted to visit and finds himself meeting Emma, a girl who helps him feel less crazy about seeing his dead brother, and he also finds his way into the kitchen at the restaurant. However, Carlos unfortunately can’t have both the girl and the job. At least, he’s not supposed to, but being the new reckless teen that he is, he dates Emma anyway, which I loved. Forbidden romance is my jam.

Of course complications arise, and there’s some drama, both romantic and familial for Carlos, and overall I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I really liked that Carlos seeing Felix everywhere isn’t really explained so you can take it as you want to. I personally like to think Felix was indeed a ghost and Carlos wasn’t tripping, but that could just me. Additionally, I really liked Emma and Carlos’ relationship. I thought they were cute and funny but it was also realistic and didn’t feel forced.

Chef, Emma’s mom, annoyed me to no end but by the end of the novel I at least felt like I understood where she was coming from. I still didn’t like her but I respect her. I also really liked the side characters, especially Carlos’ roommates on the island; even Matt, who is kind of a jerk.

Although I was satisfied with the ending, I do think some people won’t be. It’s one of those endings where you can kind of decide for yourself what happens next, which I love but I know some people don’t. Still, I think this is definitely a must read. The way Alsaid handles grief, familial obligations, and just family in general, was great. I also enjoyed that every chapter started with a recipe, which was a constant reminder of Carlos’ love for food (and made me very hungry).

If you’ve never read Alsaid’s books like I hadn’t, I highly recommend this one. It was a quick read and I couldn’t put it down. Now I want to read his other novels. If you’ve read any of his books, which one should I read next? Let me know in the comments below.

Stars:

4 stars

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Book Review: By Your Side

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Synopsis:

When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.

Only he doesn’t come. No one does.

Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn at first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?

Purchase From:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Review

I love Kasie West’s novels because they’re quick reads that usually make me swoon, and By Your Side was no different. The novel is told in Autumn’s first person POV and begins with her getting trapped in the library over the holiday weekend. Little does she know she’s not there alone.

Trapped alongside her is resident “bad boy” Dax, who Autumn only kind of knows. Although they don’t get along at first, due to their own presumptions about each other, they quickly find that the other isn’t so bad after all.

I really liked the romance between Dax and Autumn but more than that I really liked Autumn as a character on her own. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll just say that Autumn has a secret that she’s been keeping from her friends but she’s able to confide the truth to Dax and he’s able to be there for her in a way her friends can’t.

I also liked that although there kind of is a love triangle between Autumn, Dax, and Autumn’s friend Jeff, there really isn’t. Again I don’t want to spoil it but basically Jeff isn’t around that much and when he does come around Autumn’s pretty much already head over heels for Dax.

Still, there is conflict so this book wasn’t boring and despite it’s predictability it still took me by surprise a few times, mainly because unlike so other books the whole plot isn’t given away in the synopsis. In fact, this book was actually more complicated than I expected and I really liked it.

West deals with some heavy issues in this novel, quite possible her heaviest yet, and she did so with care and the same level of romance you expect from her novels. This is definitely a must read.

Stars:

5 stars

Favorite Line:

“You won the best heart in the world, so take care of it.”

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Book Review: The Distance Between Us

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Synopsis:

Money can’t buy a good first impression.

Seventeen-year-old Caymen Meyers learned early that the rich are not to be trusted. And after years of studying them from behind the cash register of her mom’s porcelain-doll shop, she has seen nothing to prove otherwise. Enter Xander Spence—he’s tall, handsome, and oozing rich. Despite his charming ways and the fact that he seems to be one of the first people who actually gets her, she’s smart enough to know his interest won’t last. Because if there’s one thing she’s learned from her mother’s warnings, it’s that the rich have a short attention span. But just when Xander’s loyalty and attentiveness are about to convince Caymen that being rich isn’t a character flaw, she finds out that money is a much bigger part of their relationship than she’d ever realized. With so many obstacles standing in their way, can she close the distance between them?

Purchase From:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Review

I can’t believe I forgot to review this book. I read it a while back and I really liked, even though it wasn’t my all time favorite Kasie West novel. Let’s dive in.

First, if you’re making your way through Kasie West’s books like I’ve been doing recently I recommend reading The Distance Between Us before On the Fence because they take place in the same town so there’s some overlapping characters and The Distance Between Us was released first. Truthfully though it doesn’t really matter, which order you read them in since nothing’s given away but I would’ve preferred if I’d read them in order.

Moving on, I loved Caymen and Xander. They were so cute together and made me swoon. I also liked that we got to see their relationship play out. A lot of romance novels wait to the end for the characters to get together and then there’s only like a chapter where they’re actually together but this book wasn’t like that. You actually get to see their romance play out, which was nice. I also really liked Caymen’s humor. She’s super sarcastic and witty and I loved how Xander played off that but could also see through it when she was using her humor to deflect.

My biggest issue with this novel was Caymen’s mom. I found her to be super irritating but thankfully she’s not around that often so it didn’t bother me too much. Other than that I really like this novel and want to buy it so I can read it again. Once I finally read By Your Side I plan on doing a full ranking of all of West’s romance novels and I’m pretty sure The Distance Between Us will be close to the top. Definitely give it a read if you haven’t already.

Stars:

4 stars

Favorite Line:

“Sometimes it’s the little things that bring that special someone back to us in some small way.”

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Trish Cook

Author Spotlight: Trish Cook

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I had the wonderful opportunity to interview YA author Trish Cook about her writing and her new novel, Outward Blonde, which will be released on Oct. 18, exclusively at Barnes and Noble. Check out the interview below and make sure to grab a copy of her new book.


What made you first start writing?

I’ve always loved reading and have a super-active imagination. Those two qualities seem to lend themselves really well to the writing life. In grade school, I was always writing short stories. In high school, angst poetry. In college, personal essays. From there, I really wanted to tackle a novel. It’s all a journey but long story short: I’ve always loved to write and have always done it for enjoyment.

What is your writing process like?

My process is that an idea captures my imagination, whether it’s a wild story I heard that happened to someone or something in the news or just a snippet that comes to me organically. I use whatever idea has sparked my interest as a jumping off point and the story starts to shape around that. Once I have a general idea of the plot—maybe I’ve let the idea run around my brain for a good week or so—I sit down at my computer in my neon green, hot pink, and orange office and start to write. I don’t outline or try to get too down and dirty with details in the beginning, because I like to see what turns the story takes naturally as it goes along. My characters often surprise me and I love it. That’s one of the most exciting and interesting parts about writing for me.

Your latest novel, Outward Blonde, is about a teen sent to a kind of rehab camp. How did you come up with that idea?

My publisher, Adaptive Studios, has a really unique way of approaching YA books: They take unmade film projects and ask YA writers to create novels based on them. Outward Blonde was originally a movie set to star Hilary Duff!  Adaptive came to me with what they call a “spark page”—just the most basic outline of what the story is: A spoiled, rich New York girl gets in trouble and gets sent to wilderness camp. I never read the script for the movie that was never made. I just developed the story based off the spark page and had so much fun doing it.

If you had to summarize Outward Blonde in three words how would you summarize it?

Funny, fierce, and deep.

You’re currently writing a memoir. How is writing that different than writing YA novels?

Writing a memoir is actually pretty similar to writing a YA novel. For both, you have to create a definitive story arc, complex characters, interesting dialogue. Where they differ, though, is that you have to try and recreate moments exactly as they happened in a memoir, as closely as you can—you are going for total truthfulness. In YA, you can let your imagination run wild and make up whatever you want to. But they are both fun in different ways!

You also co-wrote A Really Awesome Mess with Brendan Halpin. How was co-writing with someone different than just writing by yourself?

Writing with Brendan was awesome. He is married to my best friend from junior high school! We live in different cities, halfway across the country from each other, so we did it all over email. We wrote in alternating chapters, with him writing the guy’s part and me writing the girl’s part. It was like improv. I would hand him off a chapter and wait. I never knew what was going to happen next and it was always such a surprise because all sorts of things I never expected happened. I loved having to be flexible and just go with whatever he’d thrown out there, and vice versa.

I thought collaborating would be this easy and fun no matter who your writing partner is but as it turns out, no. I’ve tried co-writing with other people and it’s never matched the experience/vibe/flow I have with Brendan.

Are you working on any other YA novels right now?

I am! I have this big idea I’m just starting to put on paper that was sparked by a crazy news story. It’s still very much at the fledgling idea stage so we’ll see if it works out!

Who are some of your favorite authors right now?

In YA, favorites right now are Joelle Charbonneau, Christa Desir, and John Green. If we’re going old school, Judy Blume. My favorite book in high school was The Cheerleader by Ruth Doan MacDougall, which no one has ever heard of but it was thrilling to me, to think teens back in the 1950s were the same as teens when I was growing up, which are the same as teens now. The milestones you have to go through are universal, no matter what generation you grow up in. Also, the best book I’ve read lately, while not strictly YA, is a memoir called Look at You Now by Liz Pryor. It’s about a pregnant teen sent to a lock-up facility to have her baby, and it is beautifully written and so compelling.

Besides writing, what other hobbies are you interested in?

My biggest hobby outside of writing is that I row with a master’s crew. Right now, we’re training for the Head of the Charles regatta in Boston. I also love traveling, going to concerts, watching the Chicago Blackhawks and high school/college field hockey, [eating] sushi, and hanging with my family.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

OMG YES. Write. And keep on writing. And don’t let anyone make you stop. Share your writing with friends you trust, or find an online community. Writing is a lonely sport, but we do it to connect with others through words. So let someone see what you’re doing. You’ll get better because of it and find a sense of camaraderie too. Join clubs at school, like the newspaper or literary magazine, and share your talents with others. Be brave and submit your writing to contests. There are even summer programs and literary conferences that are like writing camps where you can go and bond with other creative people. Dream big. Why not? You never know what you can do unless you try. Trust that you know yourself well enough that you’re probably not going to grow out of whatever it is you dream of doing. If you’re scared—even more reason to give it a shot. That just means you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and that’s okay. Be brave. Start now.

September Wrap-Up

‘Kids of Appetite,’ ‘Crooked Kingdom,’ And Other Books I Read This Month (September Wrap-Up)

September was a good reading month for me. In total I read nine books and I liked almost all of them. Here’s the run down.


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Number of Books I Read This Month: 9

Top Three Books I Read This Month

1. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

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Why it took me so long to finally read this book will forever be a mystery to me but I’m kind of glad I waited because if I read this sooner I would’ve had to wait so long for Crooked Kingdom and that’s unacceptable. Basically, I loved this book. The characters were great (Kaz and Inej are my faves), the plot was fast paced and engaging, and it kept me on my toes the whole way through. Definitely a must read.

2. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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If Six of Crows was great then Crooked Kingdom was jaw dropping phenomenal. It was the perfect ending to this duology but I also desperately wish there was another book because I’m so in love with these characters. I miss them so much already and I know I’m going to end up rereading this book very soon. Amazing!

3. Hopeless by Colleen Hoover

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Can someone find me a Holder please? I need one desperately. He was hot, sweet, a little brooding but overall a great guy. He’s so good to Sky (not always but like 97 percent of the time; he makes some silly mistakes) and I just fell head over heels for him. Also for some reason I was under the impression that reading a Colleen Hoover book would be a nice happy read to get me through all the emotions I felt with Crooked Kingdom. Obviously I forgot who CoHo is and Hopeless tore my heart out but in the best way. Anyway, my point is, read this book!

Other Books I Read This Month

  1. The Young Elites
  2. Shadow and Bone
  3. Siege and Storm
  4. Ruin and Rising
  5. Eleanor & Park
  6. Kids of Appetite

Books I Received This Month

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I actually received an absurd amount of books this month but that’s only because my friend who works in publishing sent me a care package of books as a belated birthday gift. Otherwise, I actually only bought two books this month, one of which I preordered. So really I only bought one book. Here’s to a successful book ban!

'Crooked Kingdom' Review

Spoiler-Free Book Review: Crooked Kingdom

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Synopsis:

Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn’t think they’d survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they’re right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and badly weakened, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz’s cunning and test the team’s fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city’s dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of the Grisha world.

Purchase From:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Review

*Warning: There will be minimal spoilers about Six of Crows in this review. Read at your own risk.*

I went to the NYC launch for Crooked Kingdom so I got the book a day early, which was awesome. As soon as I got it I dived in and loved it immediately. Crooked Kingdom begins pretty soon after the end of Six of Crows and the main mission is obviously to save Inej from Van Eck, which of course is easier said than done but if anyone can do it it’s the Dregs. Right? Naturally Kaz has a plan up his sleeve but what I really liked about this book and Six of Crows is Bardugo doesn’t just tell us what it is, she just let’s it unfold in front of us. Also, if you were hoping this book would begin in Kaz’s point of view, with him being totally distraught over Inej’s kidnapping then you don’t know Kaz or Bardugo. We don’t even get to Kaz’s point of view until part two, which let me tell you, almost killed me. But it’s worth the wait.

I won’t go into the plot because I promised no spoilers but I will say Bardugo wove this story together perfectly. I was excited, nervous, proud, a little sad, and swooning. There are so many swoon worthy moments in this one but still not so many that it was overkill and seemed out of character for the Dregs. Everyone was still their typical selfs and though it was frustrating at times (I’m looking at you Kaz) I’m glad that Bardugo made us work for the swooning because in the end it was worth it.

My favorite part about this novel was we learned so much about everyone’s pasts, particularly Inej, Jesper, and Wylan. We really got to know the Dregs in this novel and that was awesome. I think Six of Crows was really about establishing the team but Crooked Kingdom is about really getting to know them and what brought them to where they are now. I also thoroughly appreciated the throwbacks to the Grisha trilogy that appeared in this novel as well as the little Hamilton references.

The dialogue was great and I loved how the Dregs all interacted with each other and play off each other. There friendship is simple but it’s filled with love and trust. As with Six of Crows, Kaz’s schemes always surprised me, which made this novel really fun. The writing was superb and I couldn’t skim because every word was worth something. Overall, I loved this novel and I stayed up until 4 a.m. reading it because I just couldn’t put it down. It’s now filled with post its because I found something to love on almost every single page of this book.

Even though this is the lsat book in this duology I desperately need more of this world. In particular there’s one of the Dregs that I’d love to see more of but I won’t say who because I promised no spoilers. So I’ll leave you with this: read this book! It’s so good and I’ve been resisting the urge to pick it up and read it all over again. This is definitely a contender for my favorite book this year and that’s saying something because I love A Court of Mist and Fury with all my heart. But Crooked Kingdom is amazing. Definitely give it a read immediately!

Stars:

5 stars

Favorite Line:

“I would come for you. And if I couldn’t walk, I’d crawl to you, and no matter how broken we were, we’d fight our way out together—knives drawn, pistols blazing. Because that’s what we do. We never stop fighting.”

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'Six of Crows' Book Review

Book Review: Six of Crows

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Synopsis:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction―if they don’t kill each other first.

Purchase From:

Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

Review

I don’t even know how long I’ve had Six of Crows on my bookshelf but it was too long. I could’ve read this book ages ago. I could’ve fallen in love with these characters so long ago. Why did no one force me to read this book? For why? Seriously, Leigh Bardugo has truly outdone herself with this novel and I loved it so much more than the Grisha trilogy.

First of all, the cast of characters in this novel is amazing. Kaz gave me serious heart eyes and I fell for him almost instantly and I don’t know what that says about because to be quite honest Kaz is not a good person. He has some great qualities, don’t get me wrong, but overall he’s not a great person. Still, I’m able to see past his hardened exterior to his nicer interior that he tries to keep buried but unfortunately for him keeps rising to the service.

Besides Kaz, there’s Inej, also known as the Wraith. She’s probably my favorite character, although Kaz is a very close second. Then we have Nina who’s such a badass and I love her. She’s so fierce but also really cares deeply about her people and just wants a better world for them. There’s also Matthias who I had mixed feelings about but grew on me. I absolutely loved Jesper even though he’s got a lot of problems he needs to work through. Finally there’s Wylan who I just wanted to hold close and protect at all costs. He’s too sweet and precious for this world. #KeepWylanSafe2016

More than anything I just loved how diverse this group of characters were. Besides just racially, there’s a character with a physical disability and a character with a mental/learning disability. Characters deal with sex trafficking, PTSD, addiction, and so much more. It’s truly amazing!

Not only were the characters great, this book’s plot was also amazing and fast paced. I always wanted to know what was going to happen next and loved that I was never really quite sure. Kaz schemes surprised even me and the end left me a bit stressed but in the best way. That’s one of the only benefits of waiting to read this book; I literally finished it as I was waiting in line for the Crooked Kingdom signing. Talk about perfect timing.

This book was way better than I thought it would be to be honest. Not that I thought it would be bad I just didn’t love the Grisha trilogy as much as I thought I would so I didn’t want to go into Six of Crows with high expectations. Thankfully Six of Crows is definitely worth all the hype and I’m already making my way through Crooked Kingdom and loving it. Make sure to grab both books as soon as possible. You won’t regret it; trust me.

Stars:

5 stars

Favorite Line:

“She’d laughed, and if he could have bottled the sound and gotten drunk on it every night, he would have. It terrified him.”

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