Unpopular opinions | With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on HighEmoni has only really loved two things: her daughter and cooking. When her high school announces a new culinary arts course, it seems tailor-made for Emoni. Unfortunately, the chef who’s teaching the course seems a little more interested in how precisely Emoni can stick to the recipe than he is in actually making food that tastes good. Not only is her culinary class going poorly, but as a senior Emoni is feeling pressure from all sides to decide what she wants to do after high school. Balancing education with her passion for food and her responsibilities as a teen mom may prove to be more than Emoni can handle right now.

TL;DR – I know everyone loves this book, but for me it was just okay. I questioned many of the MC’s decisions and that made things less enjoyable for me.

Purchase: Hardcover | eBook

I was so excited for this book–anticipation was at an all-time high. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t done it for me. I know, I know, everyone else LOVES this book *shrugs*. Let’s start with the things I liked. Emoni’s passion for cooking is amazing. I loved all of the scenes where she’s cooking. She’s an extremely likable character and I enjoyed her relationships with her grandmother, Emma, and her friend Angelica. I also thought Chef Ayden was a gem–one of the few characters who displays some common sense in this book imo. As a new-ish mom, I especially appreciated Emoni’s interactions with her daughter. I could feel the love she has for Emma on a really deep level.

Things I didn’t like so much…basically any decision that Emoni made. First, she has this weird combination of extreme short-sightedness (NEEDING to go on the Spain trip and going out after school without telling her grandmother) and being really concerned with Emma’s future. Like…you have a kid, but you thought you could just go get ice cream after school without telling anyone? Come on. Also, how does she expect to hold a job at a restaurant if she can’t make herself follow a recipe in class when she has been EXPLICITLY TOLD TO DO SO. Again, come on. It is literally ridiculous. Contradictions abound.

I also didn’t love the way she was with her grandma in relation to watching Emma. She talks like she’s trying to be considerate, but all of her actions are super inconsiderate (see ice cream after school above). I thought Emoni’s relationship with Malachi was pretty flat as well. Malachi’s initial attraction to Emoni was 100% based off of her looks–that just rubbed me the wrong way. And then Emoni is talking about how she doesn’t want to be in a relationship right now and she needs to let Malachi know in no uncertain terms that this thing isn’t happening. But then she goes out for ice cream with him! I’m realizing now that I just had A LOT of issues with the ice cream date scene. Just…again, a lot of contradictions. Maybe this is just the reality of being a teenager? I really wanted Emoni to be more firm as far as Malachi was concerned and also to have like…two ounces of common sense. One for her, one for her daughter. Alas, her willpower to stay out of a relationship with Malachi proved to be tissue paper thin.

I feel like I might take some heat over this last issue, but I’ll try to explain myself the best way I can. This book has an unmistakable urban feel to the writing and dialogue and that’s just not something that I feel super comfortable reading. When trying to explain this to my husband, I compared it to reading classic books. The language of Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, etc. is just different from what I’m used to reading and speaking. That makes it harder for me to read those books. I can’t slip into them as easily and get lost in the story. That’s how books that are more urban feel for me as well. The language and feel don’t come as naturally for me and so reading a book like this doesn’t feel smooth. I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but I felt the same way about The Hate U GiveĀ as well. Does that make sense? Obviously, I realize that for a lot of people this does feel more natural. And for others, they’re looking for books like this to mix things up with what they usually read–they want something different and perhaps more difficult. At this point in my reading life, I’m looking for books that I can easily get lost in and this didn’t check that box for me.

In this case, the fact that the book was harder for me to get into plus my issues with Emoni made the entire reading experience less enjoyable than I thought it would be. I was so excited for this book but ultimately feel some disappointment.

Overall Rating: 3.5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate

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Morally grey characters dressed in black | Vicious by V.E. Schwab

ViciousVictor has been thinking about the moment he would confront his former best friend Eli for a long time. For 10 long years while in prison to be exact. He wants to punish Eli but unfortunately for Victor, Eli is a little…unkillable. With Victor’s former cellmate Mitch and a runaway named Sydney by his side, Victor will put his plan into motion and finally find the justice he’s been seeking.

TL;DR – Schwab’s storytelling devices keep the plot moving quickly and the suspense high. While there are no good guys in this book, there are plenty of likable characters.

Purchase: Hardcover | Paperback | eBook

I loved this book so much–possibly more than her Shades of Magic series (which I also LOVED). I first encountered this author’s YA books (under the name Victoria Schwab) and was immediately hooked on her world-building. I had no idea what was to come when I made the leap to her adult works. Her skill in creating likeable “bad guys” is out of this world. Victor is not a good guy. He’s done bad and questionable things, but I still REALLY LIKE him. It’s the darnedest thing. All the characters, in fact, are incredibly well fleshed-out. They all have depth and I felt like the reader gets to know them on a deeper level than we do most characters in books. And don’t even get me started on the antagonists… (so evil, but also evil isn’t quite the right word?).

The world that Schwab has created for this story isn’t that different from the one we’re currently in except for the existence of EOs (ExtraOrdinaries). The entire concept of EOs isn’t necessarily revolutionary (think X-Men) but the way that they get created in her world seems entirely too plausible. What Eli and Victor do with that information also seems extremely realistic (without being too spoilery).

This story could have been told in a really linear, straightforward way, but that’s not how Schwab has decided to tell it. Chapters all start with a reference to an event: “6 hours before”, “10 years ago”, “The day before”. That kind of thing. This lets the reader know that we’re building up to some big event, but we don’t know exactly what it’s going to be until it’s almost upon us. This creates an almost unbelievable amount of tension as we’re left trying to figure out what we’re building up to. The way the different timelines and the story is woven together is just plain genius.

You guys. This book is GOOD. Highly, highly recommend if you’re looking for something a little sci-fi-y but not like, too sci-fi-y. I would also recommend if you’re just plain looking for a good book to read.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Moderate
Sexual Content: Mild

I ate so much toast while reading this book | The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen

The Rest of the StoryEmma Saylor has never really spent time with her mom’s family (except for that one Summer when she was four, but she doesn’t really remember that). But when all other options fall through, Emma finds herself heading to Calvander’s–the motel on the lake that her mom’s family owns and operates. As she arrives and the Summer progresses, Emma (or Saylor as her mom’s family calls her) finds out things she never knew about her mother and herself.

TL;DR – Another great Summer read from Sarah Dessen. It doesn’t blow your socks off, but it’s comfortable and the new setting of the lake is fun and I can’t wait to see what else she does with it in the future.

Purchase: Kindle | Hardcover

While this book isn’t going to break into my top five Sarah Dessen books, I still found it enjoyable. Saylor (or Emma) is a likable character even if she’s quite similar to past Dessen protagonists. She battles with identity in the form of her name throughout the book (reminiscent of McLean in What Happened to Goodbye) but I’ll refer to her just as Saylor throughout the rest of the review. I liked the cast of secondary characters even if some felt mildly superfluous (Taylor, April, and Vincent). I might be wrong, but I think this is our first Dessen protagonist who has a large extended family? That we get to see anyway. And I liked that dynamic. I’m someone who comes from large extended families on both sides, so I enjoyed seeing the cousin interactions. I didn’t always love Bailey (she’s pretty self-centered) and we don’t see a ton of Jack, but I loved Trinity. I thought she was a really fun and dynamic character and I would have loved more interactions between her and Saylor. I also thought Gordon was extremely precious and I wanted more of her as well.

As for the characters on the Emma side of things, her friends Bridget and Ryan, again, seemed mildly superfluous. I love that Dessen’s characters usually have strong female friendships, but this time that was mostly shown through the cousins instead of Saylor’s school friends. Tracy was nice enough and I like that she didn’t try to insert herself into things. Nana rocked. I thought she was going to be stuffy and annoying, but she’s actually the best. Saylor’s dad however…I had such a hard time with him for 95% of the book. I never felt like I totally understood his perspective and some of his actions completely enraged me. That being said, I still felt like he was a good guy and I was glad that Saylor had a good father in her life.

I’m realizing now that this is like three paragraphs on characters when I usually just do one, but there were a ton of characters and this book was seriously character driven. Anyway, here we go: Roo. I liked Roo as a person–I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love how almost all of Dessen’s romantic leads are GOOD GUYS. Like seriously, just nice boys. So from that perspective, I really liked Roo and I liked that Roo and Saylor had history. However, I don’t feel like we got to see Roo and Saylor spend much time with each other. In contrast, in The Truth About Forever (my ultimate Sarah Dessen fave), Macy and Wes spend a TON of time together and the reader gets to see it. But because of how busy Roo always was among the other things that Saylor was dealing with, they didn’t spend that much time together. So while I still bought their relationship, I didn’t feel super invested in it.

Lastly, I’ll just go over a few minor things that bugged or didn’t make sense. There was a lot of reflecting and introspection in this book. Like, Saylor would be out on the porch reflecting on an experience she’d had earlier with Mimi or something. But like…why not just write the scene? Why have it be a flashback? With all of the reflecting and such, the timeline seemed really screwy. I would be reading and think that an entire week had passed only to find out that it had been like…two days. Another thing is that I don’t understand why Calvander’s is so short staffed? I mean, it’s the Summer so it seems like they’d have at least two seasonal hires (which they’ve had in the past). I think maybe that should have been explained. Even if Mimi was just like, “Oh, we couldn’t get anybody this year!” Something like that. Another random thing is that I felt really confused by the Sergeant. Like, why did he even “exist” as a character? We literally never see anything from him but that dang toaster! Anyway, I just found him to be very confusing. The last thing is that I was EXTREMELY disappointed in the number of cameos in this book. I know that none of our previous characters have visited the lake before, but that doesn’t mean they can’t visit it now!

In the end, I still really enjoyed this book even if it’s not quite a top five for me. It’s still a solid Dessen book and I really enjoyed the new setting that she’s created with the lake. I’m excited to see what she does with it in the future. Definitely would recommend!

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

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.

You get a gang, YOU get a gang, EVERYBODY GETS A GANG!!! | King of Fools by Amanda Foody [ARC]

King of FoolsEnne and Levi are in trouble after the Shadow Game has ended. Not only did they kill two of the most influential people in New Reynes, but they still have to deal with Vianca’s omertas. With an election coming up, Vianca has some things that she needs them to do. When Levi is approached by her estranged son, Harrison, and given a counter-offer, he will have some tough decisions to make including whether or not to let Enne know what’s going on. Meanwhile, Enne is out for revenge and she wants it in blood. As the election gets closer, the stakes keep getting higher.

TL;DR – While this book contains much intrigue and action, most of the “why” was unclear.

Hardcover | ebook

I had a really hard time getting into this book in the beginning. I just felt like the story took a while to get going and I couldn’t remember why I liked any of the characters from the first book. They all seemed annoying and there were plot points that were confusing to me. Vianca wants Levi and Enne to set up profitable gangs…why? I mean, I know she takes money from them, but was that the only reason? And then I’m not sure about Harrison’s deal either. Why does he need to know who the next don is? It’s all just kind of confusing.

As far as characters go, again, in the beginning I found everyone annoying. Over time, Enne grew on me–I think the same thing happened for me in the first book too. I really liked who she ended up being, but I don’t think her developmental arc made a ton of sense. I wasn’t super convinced. I don’t like Levi very much at all and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I don’t really buy him and Enne together, so that might be part of it. Neither character gives a convincing reason why they want to be together. Their relationship has no base, no foundation. What do they even like about each other aside from looks? I’m just not a fan of their relationship. There are a ton of secondary characters too who are all fine. I thought character diversity was done pretty well and authentically.

Overall, this book was just LONG and kind of confusing to me. Plot points and character reactions didn’t always seem logical. There were also all these excerpts from the legends of the North Side scattered throughout and I couldn’t see how they related to the story at all. The ending was intriguing and confusing and while it does make me want to read the third book, I’ll probably feel the same way about it as I do this one.

Overall Rating: 3.5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Heavy
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy
Sexual Content: Moderate

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

 

Apparently, I’m a Seattle snob | Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett [ARC]

Serious MoonlightBirdie and Daniel had possibly the most awkward first encounter of all time (they had sex and then Birdie ran away). Birdie would have been fine to never think about the experience again, except that Daniel is working at the hotel where she just got her first job. Determined to push past their initial encounter, Birdie and Daniel embark on a journey to solve a local mystery.

TL;DR – Not as good as Alex, Appoximately.

eBook | Hardcover

My first problem with this book is the cover. It’s great that they were able to get a model with long hair for Daniel, but where is Birdie’s flower? That’s such a key part of her character and I don’t feel like it would have beenĀ thatĀ hard to include that in the cover, but whatever. I mean, they’re eating pie, Birdie has a book…how did they miss the flower???

Some of you might remember that I LOVED Alex, ApproximatelyĀ so I was fully prepared to love this book too. Unfortunately, it seemed a little too reminiscent of Alex, Approximately and wasn’t as enjoyable to me. Obviously there were some different plot points, but it was the same formula of “sheltered and somehow damaged girl meets extremely charismatic and attractive boy, boy pursues reluctant girl, girl discovers boy is also damaged, girl and boy get together”. It just felt too the same to me.

Then we get to the setting. I was born and raised in a suburb near Seattle and I just felt like this was a very tourist portrayal of the city. I mean, I guess maybe people who live in the city proper are different? But I don’t think so and I found it detracted from the book for me. I mean, Daniel calls Safeco Field “The Safe”. Literally nobody calls it that. Okay, I googled it and apparently some news stories have called it that, but I have never heard a local call it that. Literally never. Besides, it’s T-Mobile Park now so that “nickname” is already dated. There’s also a line where Birdie mentions that a Fremont Troll sized weight is lifted off her back or something. What. Who thinks stuff like that? It’s literally only in there to namedrop another Seattle landmark. And the weather is mentioned by Birdie way too often. Growing up, I would never think about the weather. If it’s raining, I’d grab my jacket and that was it. I never dwelt on the fact that it was raining in June or whatever. I hardly even noticed if the sky was overcast. Locals also never talk about the “Seattle freeze”. So there we go. Apparently I’m a Seattle snob or whatever. Don’t @ me.

Besides those things, I thought the side characters were okay. I liked Mona, Birdie’s grandpa, and Joseph, but we never really get time to know much about any of them. I thought the setting of the diner was good too (every pie sounded AMAZING). I didn’t love Birdie as a character, however. She complained about her grandmother A LOT and never seemed to really think about why her grandmother was so overprotective–she just kind of complained about it. I also never understood why she was so resistant to learning about and dealing with her narcolepsy? I guess maybe I didn’t realize that there was a stigma around it. Daniel was okay as a character if a little too perfect.

Daniel and Birdie’s relationship wasn’t super compelling to me. There was just too much angst (created by Birdie). It was so obvious the entire book that Daniel was SUPER into her, but Birdie was really hesitant and kind of held back the entire time. Even after she and Daniel “got together” and his mom hadĀ told Birdie that he was super into her, she was still really paranoid and doubtful. It just made Birdie not make much sense to me as a character.

Overall, I just didn’t find this book, the characters, the subplots, or the setting as enjoyable as Alex, Approximately. I probably shouldn’t be comparing the two, but I can’t stop myself. I will say, this was a very sex positive book portraying teens practicing safe sex and consent, so it’s got that going for it. I haven’t read Starry Eyes yet, but I’m a little more hesitant to pick it up now.

Overall Rating: 3
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Moderate

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

True Crime + LA + Libraries = Heart Eyes | The Library Book by Susan Orlean

The Library BookOn April 28, 1986 there was a huge fire at the LA Public Library. While this was obviously a big deal, the news got lost as Chernobyl happened the same day. When Susan Orlean moved to LA with her husband and son, she discovered this largely untold story and started doing some investigating. This book details the history of the LA Public Library, the fire itself, and the arson investigation that took place afterwards. Woven throughout that narrative is Orlean’s love letter to libraries themselves.

TL;DR – Orlean seamlessly intertwines several narratives. LA history, arson investigations, and the day-to-day of public libraries are all presented as equally fascinating.

eBook | Hardcover

First, let me say for anyone thinking about purchasing this book, it is GORGEOUS. Definitely bookstagrammable. However, if you decide to get the hardcover on Amazon (link above) just be warned that it does come with that “Reese’s book club” stamp (eye roll) which is not removable. If you would like an unmarred copy, I’d suggest getting a copy in person and B&N or something.

On to my review. My love affair with non-fiction continues! My husband helped me to discover recently that I’ve really been enjoying non-fiction books written by journalists (see Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, and recently Kirk Wallace Johnson). Susan Orlean was a journalist for the New York Times before writing this book so she fits right in my wheelhouse. Plus libraries, so it was always going to be a slam dunk.

This story is actually so fascinating, but the parts I loved most about this book were the descriptions of the day-to-day life of the library. At the very beginning when she’s writing about the library opening for the day, I legitimately got chills. I loved seeing all the different departments from her perspective and I could definitely relate to some of the stories.

I also really liked how she opened each chapter with some catalog listings that fit what the chapter was going to be about. I just thought it was a really nice touch and I liked guessing what kind of stuff was going to be in each chapter.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book. If you love libraries, read this book. If you love true crime, read this book. If you love LA, read this book.

Overall Rating: 5
Language: Moderate
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Mild
Sexual Content: Mild