P.S. I Like You (2017)

by Kasie West
ISBN: 9780545850971
Publication: July 26, 2016

This is a recommendation that originally came from the Trope-ical Readathon to fulfill the secret messaging trope.  Obviously, it’s too late for the readathon but I had to wait a few weeks for it to become available through the library.  I am glad I followed through with the library loan (Libby is awesome) because I ended up enjoying the book. 

The book isn’t overly complicated.  It’s about a girl who finds a connection with a fellow student through anonymous letters in chemistry class (chemistry in chemistry…what a perfect set up right??). Initially, the connection is enough but it is inevitable that Lily starts to wonder who it is she has been sharing so much of herself with. Who is it that seems to understand her so well? I’m a bit of a romantic so I started to look forward to the letters as much as Lily did.  I also shared her anxiety at the realization that weekends and vacations meant no letters to read or to write back. (Where are my letters??)

The book gives us the upside of communicating anonymously, tapping into the romantic ideal of falling for someone for who they are rather than what they look like. The letters aren’t terribly deep or introspective but they’re intimate. Within the letters are things neither writer would probably tell anyone else, even to best friends for that matter. That’s the beauty of being anonymous. You can be vulnerable in a way that you’d be afraid to be in real life; you don’t have to be self-conscious.        

Of course, when dealing with a trope about communicating anonymously, it cannot be helped that the author tries to have readers do a bit of guessing —whoever could this person be??? Thankfully, West does not drag it out too long and if she had, I might have stopped reading it or skipped pages. As much as I liked the anonymity, I think I like what happens after a bit more. It calls for certain discussions that I can’t exactly talk about without giving things away. (But if you’ve already read it and want to discuss it, we should definitely do that.)  

Having read so many stories with absent parents or bad familial relationships, it was nice to have a main character with a loving family despite life being somewhat chaotic–Thanksgiving with her family was fun.  I generally liked Lily even though she could be flaky at times. Because she has to fulfill family obligations, she constantly has to reschedule hanging out with her best friend, who seems to just have to take it in strides. Of course, I sympathized with Lily just a bit more than her best friend because of my own experiences with trying to balance family expectations with anything outside of the family.

A few events leading up to the ending weren’t necessary. But, that’s just my opinion. The book would have been fine without the additional hurdle. Also, the book ends rather abruptly. I had to swipe to back and forth to make sure I hadn’t skipped over anything, to make sure there were no more pages.  (This is it? It’s really over?) Despite this, I think it ends on a note that will leave readers somewhat satisfied. I mean, I eventually came to terms with it but would not have minded a few more pages to close it off a bit more neatly. Overall, it was a good book.

Coming Up Roses (2019)

by Staci Hart
ISBN: 9781082579479
Publication: August 1, 2019
Series: Bennet Brothers #1

I’m an Austen fan so you’ll probably see Austen-related titles here and there. If you’re a Pride and Prejudice fan, you may want to check out Hart’s Bennet Brothers series.  This isn’t a retelling of P&P—that’s a separate book called Pride and Papercuts—but a contemporary reimagining of the Bennet sisters as brothers, flipping genders with the exception of Elizabeth (Laney in the series).  Luke returns home after a whirlwind marriage and divorce to help revive the family business, Longbourne Flower Shop.  Luke is Lydia’s male counterpart, and this is the story of Lydia after her divorce to Wickham. 

Hart manages to remain true to Lydia’s original character.  Luke is fun, flirtatious, popular among the opposite sex, and a bit insufferable. (Sounds like Lydia, right?) Similar to Lydia, Luke is fickle in his emotions and jumps headfirst into situations without really thinking things through.  Luke is steady in his devotion once he realizes what or who he wants, and it could be argued that Lydia also has this quality—she did fall for Wickham and commit to him.  Luke puts his energy into winning over Tess, an employee of the flower shop and a former friend—yes, this is an enemies to lovers story. Unlike Lydia, Luke can recognize his foolishness and is more than willing to try to fix his wrongdoings. Luke is a more mature Lydia.

Luke is more likable than Lydia will ever be, but I never quite rooted for him—he was just okay. I would have liked a lot more bantering between Luke and Tess to build their chemistry with each other. It started to lose a bit of steam once our lead characters got together (this is both a spoiler and not a spoiler because it is a romance novel after all). I think what did it for me was that the problem that arises between our leads and its resolution is predictable.  

This is an interesting take on P&P, giving life to the other sisters, or brothers in this case. I liked the premise of the series but didn’t find this particular story to be compelling.  I liked it enough to finish reading it but it wasn’t a page-turner. If you’re a P&P fan, it is an acceptable book to pass the time, to see Hart’s take on Lydia and how Lydia potentially matures, but you’re not missing much if you pass it up.

Firefrost (2020)

by Camille Longley
ISBN: 978192795008
Publication: September 21, 2020
Series: Flameskin Chronicles #0

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

The book revolves around two individuals, Sol and Kenan, who are forced to rely on one another after an avalanche leaves them the only survivors.  While this may not seem so bad—I mean, it is better to be in the wild with company than no one at all—Kenan is a flameskin and Sol has been taught to fear and hate people like him.  Flameskins are humans who share their bodies with a pyra, a fire spirit or demon, that hungers for violence and death.  It gives the human host immense power but it can take over their lives.  Through much of the book, Kenan struggles to maintain his humanity while Sol only sees him as a demon.  The more time they spend in each other’s presence, the more Sol starts to question her views of flameskins.  As they get closer to their destination, the decision to go their separate ways becomes increasingly more difficult.   

I enjoyed the book largely due to it being character-driven. Sol is clearly the more capable of the two protagonists. She is a hunter (huntress as the book calls her) and a tracker able to survive in nature whereas Kenan is a soldier who would otherwise have been lost without her.  I immediately liked Sol but it was hard to justify my partiality to her after the way she treats Kenan during their trek to the city of Olisipo. She constantly refers to him as Demon and initially refuses to see him as human.  Throughout the first half of the book, she is constantly struggling with her feelings for Kenan, contrasting the person that Kenan is with a hatred of the “unnatural” that her father (someone she idolized) has instilled in her.  It doesn’t necessarily give her a free pass, but it tells us a lot about what she has to overcome when she finally makes up her mind. Because of this, Sol is the one that experiences the most growth throughout the novel. Kenan doesn’t change very much from beginning to end with the biggest difference being how he feels about Sol.

The romantic buildup, at least in the beginning, lacked chemistry.  Kelan’s attraction to Sol happened pretty quickly, and it initially surprised me. Sol spends much of the beginning trying to reconcile her feelings for him, mostly fighting her attraction, so it was surprising to me when it was love.  Once the initial bumpiness of their attraction is overcome, the development of the relationship becomes much better. In all honesty, I am back and forth about whether the romance was a necessary component. At the outset, it doesn’t feel organic to the story. I wonder if it was possible that another type of relationship may have fit with the story better and would have still served as an impetus for Sol to make the same decisions. Four weeks alone together is a lot of time but romantic love does not necessarily always need to be the outcome.     

With romance dominating the book, the world building is a bit lacking in some aspects and is not very complex. It’s just all very surface level but a few cool things do happen (I know, I know…I’m being pretty vague but I cannot spoil the maybe 3 things that I really liked that happen). How magic works is interesting. It is channeled through stones and limited by how much it can store. Wielding magic comes with a price (Once Upon A Time anyone? Anyone?), individuals will lose their emotions.

While I can go on and on, I should probably stop here. I ended up liking the book more than I thought I would.  This likely has a lot to do with some revelations I didn’t catch onto until just before they happened as well as an explosive ending.  This book is a prequel, noted as #0 in the Flameskin Chronicles, so I hope to read the rest of the books as they come out. I would like to know what happens to Sol and Kenan.

It seems like I am nitpicking at everything, and it seems like a tossup in being a worthwhile read. The book has it’s shortcomings but what it comes down to is that after I finished reading, I was left with an overall feeling of contentment. I’m not sure how else to describe it. It’s like what the book tries to tell us about love–when you know, you just know. In this case, I knew it was a 4 star.

The Bone Shard Daughter (2020)

by Andrea Stewart
ISBN: 9780316541435
Publication: September 8, 2020
Series: The Drowning Empire #1

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**
**Also, let me apologize ahead of time because my review for the book feels a bit disjointed. (bones…joints…harharhar…sorry again.)

Bone Shard Daughter is told from the perspective of multiple characters, with the bulk of the story alternating between the emperor’s daughter Lin and smuggler Jovis.  Having suffered from a sickness that erased her memories, the emperor is unwilling to give Lin the throne and has her compete against her foster brother instead.  Lagging behind her foster brother in the competition, she takes things into her own hands to prove to her father she is the rightful heir. In a different part of the country, Jovis, a wanted smuggler, searches for his missing wife but his search is delayed when the people begin asking him to smuggle their children out before bone shards can be taken.  As Lin struggles to retain her title and Jovis tries to find his wife, rebel forces gather to overthrow the emperor.

The book immediately pulls the reader into its world and into Lin’s current problem—trying to convince her dad she does remember things, at least enough to stay in competition with her foster brother.  Multiple questions formed as soon as I began reading.  What is shard magic?  How does it work?  What exactly is going on here?  Why can’t Lin remember anything?  Answers to these questions are slowly given in here and there, which frustrated me mostly because I wanted them right away but worked well to keep me moving forward.  Even when the book ends, there will be many questions that remain unanswered along with new questions that arise, leaving readers aching for the next book—unfortunately that won’t be for a while.

There is much to like about the world Stewart has created.

Sex, for instance, doesn’t appear to be a barrier to ascending the throne nor is one’s sex viewed as a setback for different occupations. Women are not set into the traditional gender roles and are not viewed only as pawns to garner alliances with other nations or families.  Lin can become the emperor and it is unlikely that this would be called into question simply because she is a woman. The emperor’s concern over Lin being named heir is not due to her sex but her memory.

Sexual orientation is not viewed negatively either. The book has an established same sex relationship and it is out in the open. People do not question it. It does not appear to serve as a barrier to holding office either. I liked that these are not specifically pointed out in the book but are just the norm. It was refreshing in this sense.

Stewart adds novel elements to make the old new again. Piecing parts of creatures to form constructs is a plot we’ve seen before like Frankenstein or The Island of Dr. Moreau—there’s probably newer stuff out there but these were the first two I thought of.  Stewart’s twist on this is the bone shards that make up these constructs, particularly how they are collected and how the constructs receive their instructions.  Shards are taken from children in a ceremony and commands are written on the shards when used to create constructs.  It isn’t exactly clear whether shards are taken from all children or if those who are wealthy are exempt.  There isn’t very much information given about how these constructs are animated either.  Is it magic or is something else powering them to give them life?

While I did like the book, I expected the book to be about Lin and told from her point of view and was a bit disappointed when there were multiple perspectives, five to be exact—Lin and Jovis in first person and the rest in third person.  With so many perspectives, less time is allotted to Lin and to finding more about her. Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, again encouraging readers to continue reading to the end. Eventually about mid-way, I settled into the structure of the book but I would have liked more from Lin. 

I found the emphasis in the book is not so much on the ethics of creating these constructs (to an extent, I think we are to assume it is); it is more about agency.  Do these constructs have independent thought?  Do they have free will?  If they do, can they act on their free will?  Should they be treated as more than constructs?  If they are to be viewed as more than just a construct, what happens to the owners of those shards?  Should the owners also have some opinion in the matter?  I hope future books will delve into this some more. 

I liked the book a lot and thought it to be an excellent debut.  The book touches on themes of class inequality and agency that I hope will see more of in the later book(s). The novel kept me engrossed and I am ready for the next installment. I’m badly suffering from having so many questions that need answers.

Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the review copy.

In Case You Missed It (2020)

by Lindsay Kelk
ISBN: 9780008384654
Publication: August 4, 2020

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

After a few years producing radio shows in Washington, Rosalind (Ros) Reynolds returns to England to try to reestablish herself, but things are not as they once were.  Her parents have rekindled their love.  One best friend is having a baby. Another has a successful career, and the other is falling in love for the first time.  Ros needs to move forward but it’s difficult because she keeps dwelling on the past. Then, she accidentally reconnects with her ex, the one who broke her heart before she moved out of the country.  Maybe, just maybe, things can go back to the way they were? But, “ ‘you know what they say when you wear rose-tinted glasses, all the red flags are just flags.’ ”

Throughout the book Ros is preoccupied with how things were before she left to the States.  When she returns, she wonders why she’s not meeting her friends at the old bar they used to frequent when they were all living together.  The shed she now occupies in her parents’ yard is full of relics from her old bedroom.  She throws a party for her best friend, but it’s also an attempt to capture the past. The past is everywhere she looks and she actively tries to engage with it, but she doesn’t internalize that just as the people and her surroundings have changed, she has changed as well.  This is very much the reason why the relationship she pursues is at once the same and different but she just doesn’t recognize how different it is until later. 

I like the message the book is trying to convey: “you should never go back, that your old life was the past and the past was over.”  My variation on this message would be that in order to move forward, we need to understand the past but it doesn’t necessarily mean we need to continue living in it. Ros tries to capture the magic of the past, because she is convinced the past was much better.  The problem with believing in the magic of the past is that we sometimes forget the times we were miserable; it wasn’t all unicorns and cotton candy.  There were many storms that had to be weathered.  There’s a quote that I love that is attributed to Kaci Diane.  “I love the woman I’ve become because I fought so hard to become her.”  It’s a slight variation Diane’s the original quote but I think we have to remember this when we recall the past. 

I have to admit that I’m like Ros in many ways.  While my glasses are not exactly rose-tinted, I cannot help but be wistful about how things used to be, often looking back on the past and wishing some things were still the same.  The problem is that it can’t be the same; things change. Often times, things change for a reason, we just forget why and remember the outcomes.  Things are complicated because our memories and our feelings are complicated.  Ros eventually comes to learn this. 

I liked the theme and the messages but the book was a bit too slow for me.  I was halfway through and I wasn’t exactly sure what the author was trying to get at or what was really going on with Ros.  She wasn’t just closed off to her friends upon her return but she even felt closed off to me at times.  Additionally, I kept trying to figure out when it would pick up the pace and it never really does until about nearly three-quarters of the way.  There were moments I was immersed in what was going on but these moments were rare.  The conversations she had with her friends and the disco were probably my favorites.  The last quarter of the book was also the most entertaining.  By the time the book finally picked up the pace and I made an effort to connect the dots, I was wondering if I could actually make it to the end –I did but it was a little difficult. 

Overall, the book was just okay with 2.5 stars.  I really wanted to like this book because the message resonated with me but it was difficult trying to maintain interest due to pacing.  While I might not necessarily have enjoyed it as much as I wish I could have, I still think others might find it entertaining–there are some scenes that made me laugh loudly.  Because I liked the message, I might be willing to reread to see if it might read better the second time around…but maybe not any time too soon.  

Trope-ical Readathon: August 2020 Wrap Up

I participated in my first readathon, Trope-ical Readathon. The organizers JenJenReviews and Rob did such an awesome job. The bar has been set high and I look forward to more readathons in the future. It was fun to feel part of a community and reading together especially because my IRL communities do not read very much.

In total, I read a whopping 38 books…and a half. I didn’t think I would make the 16 for the readathon and then I created a reading log…Needless to say, I was surprised. Don’t even get me started on the half because my friends decided it would be fun to reconnect just as I was trying to finish the other half (I love them…but why….) and then the clock struck 12.

I knew I was a mood reader but this confirmed it. I always joke that I am afraid of commitment. To an extent, I guess that’s true. I was set on reading all the books on my list but I couldn’t do it because it depended on how I felt at that particular moment. Of the original 16 books I planned to read, I switched out 9. Down to My Soul (trope: part of series) was moved to fulfill a different challenge (trope: strange names). What does this mean? I have a commitment rating of 43.8%, but if Down to My Soul is not counted, my rating would be 50%. Not bad for reading but relationships…well, I’d even be scared of me. (HAHAHA)

I won’t go into detail for each book except for a few.
My ratings are below.

500+ Pages
Part of Series
New Kid in
Forbidden Love
Dead Parent(s)
Mixed Media
Fake Dating
Strange Name
Enemies to
Anonymous Text
Blast from Past
Forgot on
Team Read

Today Tonight Tomorrow
I knew it was going to be good but it was even better than I expected. I’m still trying to finish my review on this one because I loved it so much.

My Soul to Keep
Kennedy Ryan is heading into favorite authors territory. After I finished reading, I kept rereading parts of it because I was still trying to come to terms with the feelings it stirred up. It was by no means perfect but it was close. And, to feel a love like that…sigh.

The Sun is Also a Star
I’m a serial rereader but I think this is a book where the first time will always be the best. I’m not even sure if I will be able to reread this. I’m trying to put my review for this one together too. I have to admit that I spent a few minutes bawling after I finished it.

Waiting for Tom Hanks
I enjoyed it but it was not as good as I hoped it would be. I connected with the main character and her love for the holy trinity (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, and You’ve Got Mail). Mine is more of a dynamic duo because I leave out When Harry Met Sally but I was annoyed by her as well. I wonder if it was because I saw myself in her…that would mean I’m annoying…hahaha

I’m probably slowing down a bit in September since school has started and grading will take up more time. With school fully online, it also seems like meetings are lined up nearly every few days so, again, less time to read for fun. With what time I do have, I might concentrate on bringing my Netgalley ratio up since I was approved for a few more books. I am also committing myself to reading The Poppy War (September) and The Dragon Republic (October) to get ready for The Burning God (November). I joined a Discord group so I hope that will motivate me to read it.