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 Give¬†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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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.

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 been¬†that¬†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, Approximately¬†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 had¬†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

A country music love story | You’d Be Mine by Erin Hahn [ARC]

You'd Be MineAnnie Mathers is country royalty. Her parents were both popular country singers and songwriters, but due to their tragic deaths, Annie is wary of following them into the spotlight. Clay Coolidge is currently country music’s hottest up-and-coming bad boy and when he asks Annie to join him on tour, she reluctantly accepts. As the tour and the summer progresses, Annie will have to decide just how far she wants to follow in her parent’s footsteps and whether her journey might have the same ending.

TL;DR – Flawed main characters have a surprising amount of depth. The author did a great job of creating emotion when I wasn’t expecting it.

Preorder: eBook | Hardcover

First, I’m just going to say that I really don’t like this cover. When I saw it on my Netgalley list I was like, “Man, why did I request¬†this?” But then I read the synopsis and remembered. I’m always down for a good celebrity romance book, but I was actually really surprised by how into this book I was. I could not put it down! As a new mom, I don’t really have time to read for hours at a time and I don’t always feel like picking up a book when I’ve got a spare 15 minutes, but I just kept coming back to this book. I wanted to know what would happen, but I also just really liked the characters–especially Annie.

The overall plot is nothing special, but I thought Annie’s conflict was really compelling. She kept seeing herself and Clay as an echo of her parents and she (obviously) didn’t want to end up like them. I thought she was realistically hesitant about getting into a relationship with Clay.¬† Hahn also did a good job creating this tragic backstory for Clay without it being too much. Secondary characters were pretty good, but they didn’t have a ton of depth. They were mostly around to support the main characters, but they were still enjoyable.

I also liked that for once we’re given a Christian character in YA who isn’t holier than thou or super prude–Annie is just normal! She mentions her faith a few times, but it isn’t overdone and this isn’t a Christian fic book. I also loved how Annie told Fitz that she doesn’t drink and he was super respectful of that. He just said, “I won’t ask again”. I love that!

I did have a few issues with the book, but they were super minor compared to everything else. First, I couldn’t tell if the author is a fan of country music or not? It mostly reads like a love letter to country, but every once in a while I felt like there was a little dig at the genre. Second, books about/with music are always hard for me because inevitably we get some lyrics, but there’s no melody so it just feels like something’s missing–I’m not getting the full effect. And sometimes I just really want to hear these songs! Lastly, when Annie writes and sings her song “You’d be Mine”, I feel like the first half of it is obviously about her parents while the second half is about her and Clay. But the characters only ever focus on the Clay section–I wish that Annie and the other characters had discussed that this is the first song she’s writing about her parents. It just felt really significant but it’s literally never addressed.

Overall, I was very surprised by how deep this book was. I thought it would be a light, summery celebrity romance, but there was so much more emotion than that. Hahn does a fantastic job exploring grief and how different people choose to deal with it. There were several parts in the book where I legit cried and I just wasn’t expecting that from this book. It was very close to a five star book for me, but not quite.

Overall Rating: 4.5
Language: Heavy
Violence: Mild
Smoking/Drinking: Heavy
Sexual Content: Moderate

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

A girl on the boys hockey team–what could go wrong? | A Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren [ARC]

41044784Holland has been playing hockey with her brothers and other boys as soon as she could skate. It was only natural for her to try out for the boys hockey team, so when she made it onto the boys varsity team, it felt like it was meant to be. Unfortunately, there are others in her small-town community that don’t feel that way. Some people say Holland took the place of a boy who deserves it. Some say that she thinks she’s too good to play for the girls team. Others say that she’s just going to be a distraction. Holland is determined to prove them all wrong, but when her captain Wes (Hot Sauce) wants to spend more time with her off the ice, Holland finds that sticking to her rules might not be so easy.

TL;DR – Main character has a HUGE chip on her shoulder and that make the overall story less enjoyable.

I always have a hard time when I feel like characters have too many “things”. I think authors do that to try to create an authentic and well-rounded character, but in reality I think she would just be over-scheduled and wouldn’t have time to be good at any of her things. That was the case for me with Holland. She plays varsity hockey, she’s on the school newspaper, AND she’s super into music and has a blog. I felt like the author just needed to pick two of those three extra-curriculars and focus on those. I think the story still could have been the same, pretty much.

Holland as a character was just okay for me. She was overly defensive about everything. Anytime someone said something remotely misogynistic, she would bite their heads off. For example, if someone were to say, “Good hustle, guys!” she might say, “What? Only guys can hustle? Just because you’re a boy means you’re better at hustling?” Literally. That is a reaction she would have. It was super off-putting. Obviously, I thought it was important to stand up for herself, but…let’s have a little common sense here. I just kept thinking about Jackie Robinson. As the first black player in the Major Leagues, it was important for him to keep his cool and not freak out at people every time they said something negative. I think this is (a small) part of why we remember him in such a positive light today. Holland? Not so much.

Secondary characters were okay. I liked Holland’s brothers but her parents were really non-characters. It seemed like there should have been a point in time where one of her parents (probably her dad) sat her down and just talked to her about hockey and being a girl on the team, etc. I also had an issue with her best friends Cora and Morgan. I liked them as characters, but there was absolutely no backstory as to how they became friends. With Holland spending so much time playing hockey, it didn’t seem like a natural friendship unless they grew up together? But that’s never explained.

As a love interest, Wes was decent. But I didn’t like that he would respect Holland’s wishes. Firstly, I thought her reasons for not wanting them to date/their relationship to be public were SUPER valid. But he just kept pushing and pushing. Secondly, even if her reasons weren’t valid, they’re still her wishes! If he really cares for her, he should respect that. Holland had no reason to apologize to him, in my opinion.

My last thing is just a couple of things that didn’t site quite right with me. First, wouldn’t the obvious solution to Holland and Wes’ problem be to just…wait until the season is over to date? Are your hormones that strong that you can’t wait a couple of months? But they never bring up this possibility. It’s either right now or never. Second, Holland is obsessed with Old Donnie’s letter to the editor because he claims she’ll be a distraction. But she completely ignores the fact that he’s essentially saying he wouldn’t care if something happens to her because she’s pretty much asking to be sexually assaulted (with the whole girl in the boy’s locker room thing). Like, what? How is that not the issue for her?

At the end of the day, I thought the premise for this book was pretty solid, but it needed both more and less. That’s not super helpful to say, but I thought it needed more developed relationships with secondary characters and just less…Holland.

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.

Food and drama and family, oh my | Love √° la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm [ARC]

Love a la ModeRosie and Henry are both on their way to Paris to live at the Ecole. It’s a culinary high school for teens around the world who love to cook. Rosie is from a small town in Ohio and isn’t sure if she really belongs at the Ecole since her passion is baking, not cooking. Henry is from Chicago and just wishes that his mom would get off his back and let him do what he loves–cook. Both Henry and Rosie will need to prove to themselves that they really belong in Paris and along the way, they may find something else as well–it is the city of love after all.

TL;DR – Loved the food aspect, but everything else (characters, drama) felt exaggerated and shallow.

I really, REALLY liked the premise of this book. I’m not an awesome cook or anything, but I can appreciate good food and I love watching Food Network. Honestly, this book read like it was written by somebody who also just enjoys watching Food Network and doesn’t know much about the culture of cooking, etc. The main characters were in awe of a chef who won Chopped four times…I just have a hard time believing that’s actually what Michelin star winning chefs actually care about. I also questioned teenagers being sent to Paris for high school? But I guess people send their kids to boarding schools all the time, so maybe it’s not that weird.

The characters were okay for me. They seemed relatively immature and there was a bit of an instalove component between Henry and Rosie. I thought the friend group had the potential to have a great dynamic, but in the end it fell kind of flat for me. I felt like each secondary character was a stereotype or caricature of their culture…they all just felt so exaggerated.

Plotwise, again, the book was just okay. The drama between Henry, Rosie, and Bodie felt SUPER fabricated. Henry and Rosie are pretty much with each other 24/7 and they can’t find two seconds to talk and clear the air? I also didn’t appreciate how angry Henry would get at Rosie doing things with Bodie. Henry and Rosie weren’t actually dating and Rosie doesn’t owe him ANYTHING. I mean, she does end up liking Henry, but even if she did like Bodie, Henry has NO RIGHT to be upset about that.

The last criticism I have is how the author treated Henry’s “tiger mom”. Henry is Korean and his mom is super involved with his academics–even going as far as to email his teachers in Paris. To me, it feels like an Asian tiger mom can really be portrayed in a bad light and I feel like Henry’s mom was mostly portrayed negatively in this book. I feel like the tiger mom thing was used as a plot device to inject more drama into the story. Henry’s mom felt like just another character exaggeration and I didn’t really appreciate that coming from a white author.

Overall, this book was just okay. I liked the descriptions of food (hard to go wrong there), but the book itself didn’t really have any weight or depth. I’d probably advise a pass on this one.

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

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