California Winter | November Wrap-Up & TBR Update

This month hasn’t been great blogging wise (you might have noticed) but it’s been pretty good reading wise! I was able to snag some library copies of a couple of my anticipated November releases, so that was awesome. It always feels like I’m slogging through a book that’s taking me too much time, so then I’m surprised when I see how much I’ve actually read in a month.

monthly tbr

Also read/reading:

Books finished this month: 12
Books currently reading: 
3

Overall TBR:

TBR at the beginning of the year = 383
TBR at the beginning of November =305
Books added to TBR = 2
Books read/deleted from TBR = 7
Total on TBR now = 300

How did your reading go this month?

November ARC Mini-Reviews

mini-reviews
Secrets & Suitors by Joanna Baker

I’m always down for a good Regency romance–I love the feel-goodishness of them. There’s something about the propriety of the time that somehow makes the leading men that much more swoon-worthy too. With that being said, it’s still important to have a feisty heroine and I mostly felt like Nora was a wet blanket. I hoped that she would develop and mature as the book went on, but I was to be disappointed. Honestly, I think Susanna would have been a MUCH more interesting protagonist. I just thought Nora was too down on herself! She can’t be charming and desirable while simultaneously being COMPLETELY oblivious to any of her good qualities. Nora also had an unbearable amount of angsty internal dialogue. If I had a dollar for every time she thought something like, “We are only friends” or “I must control my heart” or “He doesn’t feel the same” I would have much money. In the end, I didn’t think this book was SO bad, but it wasn’t great either. Just okay. 3/5

Order: Paperback | eBook

Deadly Little Scandals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I really liked the first book in this series (Little White Lies) and I was super excited to continue the story. From the beginning, I’ve found Sawyer to be an extremely likable protagonist (if somewhat overly capable). In this book especially, I really liked Sawyer’s relationship with both Lily and John David. I love how protective Sawyer is of Lily and their relationship. Sawyer grew up without any extended family, so that relationship is really precious to her. I also liked the main friend group of Sawyer, Lily, Campbell, and Sadie Grace. They’re all supportive and mostly nice to each other which is refreshing. Unfortunately, the plot in this book was just so complicated. There are two main plot points that get mashed together and I feel like the author should have just picked one of them. It almost feels like this book just got away from her? There are elements of it too that I don’t feel like jive with how characters were portrayed in the first book. I still liked the book (Sawyer really carries it for me) and I’ll read the next one (if there is one) but man, some really weird stuff went down in this book. 4/5

Order: Hardcover | eBook

Sisters of Shadow & Light by Sara B. Larson

I thought this book was maybe going to be a Sleeping Beauty kind of thing (I mean, there’s a giant hedge) but it’s not. So if you thought that too, just know it’s not. Zuhra as a main character was…okay. I really wanted to like her, but I just found her to be a little whiny and overdramatic at times. I also thought she lacked consistency? I hoped this book would be really focused on the sister relationship and while that was semi-present, it felt like both Zuhra and Inara’s romances got in the way of developing that. And (as is often the case in YA unfortunately) there was almost no basis for the TWO romantic threads that we’re given. Literally, almost no context for why the romantic interests are drawn to our leads. *sigh* I guess I’ll just keep waiting for a well-developed YA romance. My main issue with the book, though, was pacing. It took me SO LONG to read this book. Honestly, I felt like the author could have cut out half the words and it still would have been a well-written book. HALF THE WORDS. At around 70%, I just started skimming. In addition to that, hardly anything happens from chapter to chapter and a lot of them alternate perspectives between the sisters which does NOT help–it just makes the story end up feeling really jerky. In the end, I’m a little intrigued by where the story goes next, but I probably won’t continue the series. 2.5/5

The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever read a King Arthur retelling…? At the very least, I haven’t read one in a long time. I mostly liked Guinevere as our main character, but she kept coming to these conclusions that just seemed completely wrong to me and barreling full steam ahead. I mean, I recognize that the reader usually has more information than the characters do, but she just really needed to slow her roll. It was also difficult to fully embrace Guinevere because she doesn’t really know who she is (literally). Her memory of her past is super spotty and it made it hard for me to get a good sense of who she is as a character. So while I liked her, I didn’t feel like I could get completely on board with her. The plot was intriguing enough and we’ll see where the next book goes. I have one big issue with this book, but it’s kind of spoiler-y so I won’t talk about it, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. I’ll just close by saying that book two better have like five times as many Arthur/Guinevere moments. 3.5/5

Order: Hardcover | eBook

Note: I received copies of these books free from NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.

Twins, mountains that are castles, and evil princes | Crown of Coral & Pearl by Mara Rutherford [ARC]

Crown of Coral and PearlOnce a generation, the Varenians send their most beautiful girl to Ilara to marry the prince. It is a great honor and twins┬áNor and Zadie have been groomed their whole lives to become a princess. However, because of a childhood accident involving some blood coral, Nor’s cheek is scarred and she knows she could never be chosen. Nobody is surprised when Zadie is selected, but she’s in love with a boy from home and begs Nor to help her get out of it. In the end, Nor takes Zadie’s place, but she is unprepared for what she will find on the mainland and what she will need to do to save her home.

TL;DR – Nor says many unwise things and makes many unwise decisions, but is still a likable character. Some things don’t make a┬áton of sense, but can be ignored.

Preorder: Hardcover | eBook

This book was a little different than I thought it would be but at the same time is also exactly what I thought it would be. Does that make sense? Plotwise, there were many things that the reader knows is going to happen (because of course) but the author takes her sweet time getting there. For example, it took FOREVER for Nor to come to the conclusion that she needs to take Zadie’s place. I understand in the context of the story that it wasn’t that simple, but we probably could have saved at least 50 pages. It’s when Nor gets to Ilara that things take some interesting turns that I didn’t really anticipate.

I thought the relationship between Nor and Zadie was a really interesting one. The author herself is a twin (as I found out in the Acknowledgements section) and that gives authenticity to the sister relationship. Never having been a twin myself, I felt like I understood better what it would be like to go through life with someone always at your side. I appreciated that there was no jealousy between the girls. They were legitimately the best of friends and sisters.

There were some minor plot points that didn’t quite make sense to me. Some of them were explained (kind of), but some weren’t. There were times when Nor’s plans didn’t make sense and I can’t tell if that was purposeful to show her naivety or…what. I also felt like she didn’t act or speak with the appropriate amount of caution, especially when Talin was involved. Ceren is this seriously dangerous dude and she’s just randomly mouthing off to him or snubbing him in favor of Talin whenever possible. HE COULD END YOU, NOR.

As far as the other characters, I felt like the author was maybe trying to create some moral grey-ness with Ceren? But then she also wanted to make sure we knew he was a BAD GUY. It just made his character seem inconsistent and I didn’t feel like that worked with the story. Also, his and Talin’s relationship made approximately 5% of sense to me.

Overall, I actually liked this book quite a bit and will definitely be reading the second. Though, I’m not really sure where the plot can go from here? I have some suspicions, but if my suspicions are correct, I don’t like it. I guess we’ll see!

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Probably the darkest 12 Dancing Princesses retelling you’ll ever read | House of Salt & Sorrows by Erin A. Craig [ARC]

House of Salt and SorrowsAnnaleigh just wants her sisters to stop dying. There used to be twelve of them but now that Ava, Octavia, Elizabeth, and Eulalie are all dead, there are only eight of them left. As she struggles to mourn the latest death, Eulalie’s, Annaleigh must also find a way to comfort her younger sisters when the town starts theorizing about a family curse. Frustrated that all of the young men are too afraid of “the curse” to court them, the sisters realize they must try to find young men that have never heard of them or their dead sisters. They think they might have found a way, but what will it cost them?

TL;DR – The story of the 12 Dancing Princesses darker than you’ve ever heard it. Part mystery and part fairytale retelling, it comes together better than expected even if a little confusing at times.

Order: Hardcover | eBook

Sometimes I request books on NetGalley and then when it’s finally time to read and review, I’ve forgotten what the book was supposed to be about. I went into this book pretty blind–I didn’t realize at first that it was a retelling until they were buying their “fairy shoes”. With that being said, I love a good retelling and I’ve actually read quite a few retellings of the 12 Dancing Princesses. This one was different. A lot of the ones I’ve read stick to the “secret door in their room that leads to another place” outline. I’ve even read one or two where the princesses are forced to dance against their will. Craig’s take on the story felt a lot more insidious. I think part of it was Camille’s desperation and refusal to let go of this outlet she’d found and part of it was the spooky stuff that was going on with Verity.

Annaleigh was a likable character from the beginning. Her sisters varied in likability depending on what was going on, but they were all enjoyable. The only thing I wished was that we got to see the softer, kinder side of Camille. Annaleigh states that they grew up as best friends, but we never really see that side to their relationship. Camille is mostly just bratty and grumpy the whole book. Craig did a good job of making a lot of the secondary characters feel kind of grey. I wasn’t sure who was supposed to be good and who was supposed to be bad until almost the very end. It seemed like maybe we were getting set up for a love triangle, but the author managed to turn that on its head as well. I wasn’t super into Cassius as the love interest. I mean, he seemed perfect, but (as is often the case) we’re not really given any concrete reasons as to why he likes Annaleigh. He seems like this perfect guy (too perfect) so what exactly does he want with or flawed main character? Authors! We need an explanation for this!

The plot was twisty and suspenseful. I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen next or what the conclusion was going to be until it was upon us. Without giving anything away, I will say that I’m a little disappointed by some character resolutions…I’ll just leave it at that. I thought the religious system could have used a little more explanation. Maybe the author could have started each chapter with a myth or legend about the gods that these people believed in. It’s just that almost nothing is said about their gods in the first 2/3 of the book, and then all of the sudden they start playing this huge role.

Overall, I would recommend this book for people who are looking for darker fairytale retellings. While it has a happy(ish) ending, I wouldn’t say that it’s feel good at all. It was definitely darker and creepier than I had anticipated–I was surprised by the touch of horror! I would definitely say this could be a good book to read in late September or in October to get ready for Halloween.

Overall Rating: 4
Language: None
Violence: Moderate
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Summer Releases | NetGalley Mini-Reviews

Call It What You WantCall It What You Want by Brigid Kemmerer

I really enjoyed Kemmerer’s other book Letters to the Lost┬á(only $2 for the eBook right now!) so I was really excited when I got approved for this one. It did not disappoint. I found the two main characters to both be likable (Rob a little more so for me than Maegan). I thought the book dealt with some tough topics like teen pregnancy, abortion, and race and crime in a really mature, sensitive, and realistic way. The plot wasn’t as cut and dry as it first seemed and I enjoyed the depth there as well. I didn’t feel like the characters’ choices always made a ton of sense, but in the end, the author really made me try to examine how I would react if I were in Rob’s shoes. 4/5

Hardcover | eBook

Wilder GirlsWilder Girls by Rory Power

This book was being marketed as a Lord of the Flies type story which so happens to be one of the only required reading books from High School that I actually enjoyed reading. So I was all in. Unfortuntely, I was to be disappointed. This book had so much hype around it and I found the premise to be really intriguing and I liked the eerie and unsettled tone that wove throughout the book, but I felt like there was too much that was just weird. The Tox itself doesn’t really make much sense. Why does it effect everyone differently? What causes the flare ups? And then in the end, the explanation for it is unsatisfying, comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t really fit the tone of the rest of the book. It actually would have been a more satisfying ending if there HADN’T been an explanation. Another issue for me was Byatt. I just 100% did not understand her as a character. Lastly, I had a hard time with Hetty and Reese’s “relationship”. I felt like so much of their currently existing relationship is backstory that we never get to see and we’re more told how they “feel” about each other rather than shown. They kind of just get slapped into this relationship and then just as quickly slapped out of it. 3/5

This book was a ticking time bomb | Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen [ARC]

Happy Messy Scary LoveOlivia loves horror movies and wants to be a horror screenwriter one day. Unfortunately, she sabotaged herself when she was applying for a prestigious NYU screenwriting summer program so now she’s left with nothing to do over the summer except hang out at her family’s cabin. At least she has her Reddit pen pal to keep her company. She thinks that’s the plan until her mom surprises her with a summer job at a ziplining company knowing full well that Olivia is TERRIFIED of heights. Not only that, but now her Reddit pen pal wants to swap photos. And the summer is only beginning.

TL;DR – So many lies that were easily avoidable and are just not going to end well for anyone involved.

I’m just going to start by saying that I felt like I was too old for this book. There were so many times when I was face palming at Olivia’s poor choices. Now, part of the problem is that this is a book so you KNOW certain things are going to happen. Ordinarily, I might not have had much of a problem with Olivia sending a picture of her friend Katie to Elm, but since this is a book you know that she and Elm WILL meet in real life and that Katie WILL also show up at some point. The same applies to other decisions made throughout the book.

The characters were just okay for me. I didn’t find Olivia to be a super sympathetic main character (perhaps because of all of her poor choices) and Jake wasn’t really a compelling love interest. Their relationship would have been a lot more fun if Jake knew that Olivia was Carrie from the beginning, but then of course we wouldn’t have had a story. Olivia’s parents/aunt were kind of non-characters? I mean, they were there and every once in a while would play a role, but honestly they could’ve been any nondescript adult character. Same with the other employees at the ziplining company–they could’ve all just been “generic summer camp employees”. Katie at times was a really great and supportive friend for Olivia, but then at other times she was TERRIBLE. I wasn’t convinced by their friendship–they both seemed pretty selfish and I don’t actually see how their friendship works.

The plot wasn’t wholly original, like I said, there were many things that you KNEW were going to happen. So while this book was still a ticking time bomb (waiting for all of Olivia’s lies to catch up with her) the book still lacked suspense. You KNOW that Jake is going to find out everything and waiting for the “when” isn’t super suspenseful. One thing I didn’t like is that there was no acknowledgement of how Jake might feel being torn between two girls (Carrie and Olivia). Even though the reader knows they’re the same person, he doesn’t, so I feel like that should have played into it more. Like, he should have had more conflict hanging out with Olivia or he should have been pulling away from Carrie or something like that. Also, it’s ridiculous that Olivia based many of her screenplay characters on her coworkers and then sent it to Jake expecting him not to recognize anyone? Like, come on.

Overall, this book was just pretty meh for me. It took me a lot longer to get through it than it should have. I liked the setting and the overall premise was fine, but don’t be expecting any surprises, because there are none.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: None

Note: I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book made me feel 100% Latina | Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno [ARC]

Don't Date Rosa SantosThe Santos women are cursed by the sea. Any man that they fall in love with will be claimed by the ocean. Rosa has grown up her entire life with this knowledge and has never really grappled with it until now. She’s about to pick which college she wants to go to when she meets Alex. He’s tall, has a beard, ocean tattoos, and…a boat. Rosa knows it’s a bad idea to fall for him, but how can she resist especially when she finds out that he bakes too?

TL;DR –┬áThis book will make you wish you had an abuela. The Cuban culture is so authentic throughout that it makes my heart hurt.

eBook | Hardcover

My ethnicity is a mixed bag. I’m a quarter white, half Chinese, and a quarter Hispanic. The grandparent I grew up closest to is my mom’s mother who was born and raised in Panama. Rosa’s abuela, Mimi, reminded me so much of my own grandmother. I could see her doing and saying so many of the things that Mimi did. There are more similarities as well that I’ll address later on. Seriously though, this book made me feel so much more Hispanic than I actually am. During and after reading I found myself gesturing at things to my husband with my lip/chin. I never do that!

First, I just want to say that I absolutely adored this book. It was so close to being a five star read for me! I thought Rosa was a really enjoyable character right off the bat and I loved her dynamic with all of the other characters. She was so interesting and really felt alive for me. I also loved the dynamic and tensions between Rosa, Mimi, and Liliana (Rosa’s mom). All three women were incredibly strong in different ways. I enjoyed that the author was able to portray that differing strength in women. Women can be strong, even if they’re not all strong in the same way.

Secondary characters were amazing! They all felt like they had depth to them and I felt they contributed to the story in an important way. I especially enjoyed Rosa’s best friend and the viejos. Please, I would follow their Instagram in a heartbeat!

The atmosphere of the book also felt so real. The weather was almost another character and I loved how that played into the slight magical/mystical thread throughout the book. It was all very fun. The weather also contributed to the raw emotions that came out at times. There are a few scenes throughout this book where the emotion is just so heavy. Despite that, this isn’t a heavy book and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a Summer read.

***Slight Spoiler Ahead***

This book hit me especially hard because my grandmother just passed away last month in a way that was similar to Mimi. It was kind of sudden and like Liliana, my mom was the one there performing CPR on her own mother until the paramedics arrived. There were some other similarities as well that I won’t go into. It just felt eerily similar to me. When Rosa was dealing with Mimi’s death, I felt it so hard. I saw myself in Rosa and parts of my mom in Liliana. The emotions felt so real and it’s obvious that the author has lost someone close to her. I still forget some days that my grandma isn’t around anymore. I hope, like Rosa, that I can one day make that pilgrimage back to my grandmother’s homeland. The sacrifices that she made to come to America amaze me every day and I would literally not be here without her. I love you, Llaya.

***Spoiler End***

Anyway…I highly, highly recommend this book. I appreciate the call for diversity in YA, but a lot of times I think it’s done poorly or in a way that’s inauthentic. That is NOT the case with this book. If you want to read diversity in YA, then this is the kind of thing you should be reading.

Overall Rating: 4.5
Language: Mild
Violence: None
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild

Note: I received a copy of this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.