The Hawthorne Legacy (2021)

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9780241480748
Publication: September 7, 2021
Series: The Inheritance Games #2

**Proceed with caution. There may be spoilers for The Inheritance Games.**

At the end of The Inheritance Games and even at the beginning of The Hawthorne Legacy, I kept wondering how there were supposed to be news clues. Tobias is dead, so who created this next round? The new game managed to surprise me and was cleverly incorporated. Tobias Hawthorne was very clever when he put the games together. As Xander tells Avery in the first book, “even if you thought that you’d manipulated our grandfather into this, I guarantee that he’d be the one manipulating you.” 

The experience of the first book provides the framework for this second one resulting in a mystery and search for clues that no longer feel as novel. Of course, that didn’t mean I wasn’t going on the adventures; I still wanted to find the answers to this game. I was hoping this one would allow Xander a chance to shine and even provide greater insight into Alisa and Nash. Unfortunately, I didn’t get either.

I was disappointed because Xander kept getting left behind. Are there any Ouran High School Host Club fans out there? Xander reminds me a lot of Honey-senpai. He’s smart and often underestimated because of his generally cheery nature, but he’s actually a force to be reckoned with if given the opportunity. As with the first book, he’s not given a chance even though he tries hard to be part of the game. Don’t worry, Xander, I completely adore you!

As much as I like the sort of triangle between Libby, Nash, and Alisa, I really like Alisa for some reason–please don’t break my heart Alisa–and want better closure between her and Nash relationship. I don’t know if I will get it. I’m dying to know what happened, and there have been hints throughout both books. Can’t Alisa and Nash work things out even though they annoy the hell out of each other? There’s so much Barnes is purposely not saying that it is frustrating.

With regard to the main triangle, Avery had me smacking my head on my desk because she still has mixed feelings. It doesn’t help that Max, her best friend, doesn’t see a problem and encourages some things too. Despite Avery learning information about the boys from the first book, she doesn’t learn from it. I was not very happy about it. Again, I get it. She’s still young, and anyone can make mistakes or fight their feelings, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

The themes remain the same, emphasizing the importance of family and how money can corrupt, but the stakes are a lot higher for nearly everyone involved. The Hawthorne Legacy was nearly as engaging and fast-paced as The Inheritance Games, although the games themselves lose their luster just a bit. I was somewhat conflicted at some of the events and revelations at the end. It wasn’t seamlessly concluded and even felt a bit from left field compared to the ending in The Inheritance Games. 

If you enjoyed the first book, the second book is a must-read, especially if you want to know more about Avery and are looking for some closure. But, there is a third book, so I’m not sure how much closure may mean here…dun Dun DUN!!!! (heh…)

The Inheritance Games (2020)

by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
ASIN/ISBN: 9781368052405
Publication: September 1, 2020
Series: The Inheritance Games #1

After her mother dies, Avery is left under the care of her half-sister. She discovers her financial struggles are solved when she unexpectedly becomes the heir to billions of dollars despite not knowing the man who left it to her. With a disinherited family that calls foul on her new position, the biggest questions become what is the link between Avery and the Hawthornes and what game has Tobias Hawthorne forced them into.

The book is fast-paced and kept me engaged the entire time. I couldn’t stop reading it. While the main plot is about trying to solve the clues left behind by Tobias Hawthorne, multiple subplots helped to make the book interesting, including the dangers that come with being the heir to billions and navigating a new school and relationships. The book invokes the importance of family as well as the influence of money on behavior. Both themes are prominent throughout the book and manifests itself in different ways, but especially through Avery’s relationships with her sister and the Hawthorne boys.

I was immediately intrigued by Avery with her willingness to help those around her, despite her current means, and her personality. Avery is smart, loves puzzles, and wants to be a statisician. I liked her as soon as I read that–I’m a nerd who also loves data and stats. Avery has to learn to adjust to her new life including a new school, having a security detail, and living with the Hawthornes. While her integration into this new world isn’t without its problems, she tries to remain grounded. She doesn’t give up and tries not to let the money corrupt her. One of the curious pieces of this entire puzzle is that her mind works scarily similarly to that of the Hawthorne boys, especially Jameson and Grayson, even though she has no idea of her connection to Tobias or the entire Hawthorne family. Barnes skillfully injects clues here and there to make the reader question what they think they know.

Aside from Avery, everything is a mystery, and I enjoyed unraveling the clues alongside her. The estate immediately reminded me of the Winchester House in San Jose, CA with the many mysteries and secrets within the Hawthorne House. Of course, the Hawthorne boys are also one of the biggest mysteries in the book. I couldn’t tell whether they were genuine about helping her or if they wanted to depose of Avery in a roundabout way. When Avery’s paranoia began to set in, I thought it was smartly written because even I started to question everyone around her, especially the boys. I did have a soft spot for Xander, the youngest of the boys, and kept hoping he had nothing to do with the danger lurking in every corner.

There is a budding romance, or should I say romances, although it’s not the main focus. As someone who abhors love triangles, I feel it is my duty to report that a love triangle is brewing. Avery’s indecisiveness contributes to it and I hated that. I get it, she’s still just in high school and trying to navigate a nearly nonexistent social life with the mystery of the inheritance so I’m sorry…but also not sorry. It had to be said. I didn’t like her confusing actions.

After finishing it, I completely understand the hype around the book when it first came out. Individuals who like a good mystery and scavenger hunt will enjoy The Inheritance Games. The book ends on a cliffhanger, which I had somewhat expected, so with The Hawthorne Legacy already on hand….Let the games continue!

Yes, Chef (2021)

by Jasmine Luck
ASIN/ISBN: B09FHDM55L
Publication: September 21, 2021
Anthology: Love All Year 2021: A Holidays Anthology
Edited by: Elizabeth Kahn

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

“Yes, Chef” is part of Love All Year 2021: A Holidays Anthology, a set of multicultural short stories that feature non-Christian holidays and cultural celebrations. The short story centers around the Lunar New Year, and I completely adored it. Despite not being able to cook very well, Nate agrees to cook dinner for Lunar New Year. In need of help, his colleague connects him with her flatmate Zoey, who is a sous chef at an upscale restaurant. Within a few pages, I was convinced that Nate and Zoey would one day have their happy ending.

Rather than a full-blown romance, “Yes, Chef” focuses on the attraction between two individuals who share a cultural holiday, hinting at the potential of something more in the future. It’s a snapshot of a burgeoning new relationship, and I completely adored it. I enjoyed the pace and appreciated that the romance was not rushed. Zoey and Nate had great chemistry, which was further strengthened by inner dialogue that made me smile. (Ah, the butterflies that swarm and flutter when you find yourself liking someone and the insecurities that start lurking.) It was fun being in their heads as their attraction grew.

Lunar New Year is celebrated by more than a billion people throughout the world, but to many others, it might be a celebration they are not familiar with. Food and cooking is a clever way to not only connect Nate and Zoey but also connect readers to the celebration. Food, like music, is a universal language. We all can connect to the importance of not just any food but good food (preferably cooked by your mom…heh) during a celebration, thus making it easy to understand why Nate enlists Zoey’s help. Yes, there’s good food here. Yes, have food handy or you’ll have cravings.

The only thing I didn’t like about “Yes, Chef” was how short it was! Not only did “Yes, Chef” introduce me to a new author, but it also convinced me to read the anthology, so I’ll be doing that soon. I also have Luck’s recently released Say You’ll Stay on my TBR now. I hope I’ll be getting to that soon.

**Thank you to the author for providing me with a digital copy of the anthology.**

The Last Graduate (2021)

by Naomi Novik
ASIN/ISBN: 9780593128862
Publication: September 28, 2021
Series: The Scholomance #2

**Please proceed with caution. There may be spoilers for A Deadly Education.**

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

El has survived her first three years in the Scholomance and has just one final year to go. With graduation looming, survival training is also around the corner because graduation isn’t walking across the stage to pomp and circumstance but a fight for your life against mals that are ready to pounce and devour you. With an alliance in place and friends standing by her side, El might have a real chance at freedom.

The Last Graduate continues El’s journey to subvert the prophecy that has dictated her life and the expectations of those around her. While there are changes to El’s life and her character, her growth since A Deadly Education and during The Last Graduate doesn’t turn her into a completely different person. Thank goodness because I love her just as she is. In this book, the layers are peeled back further to reveal El’s true nature, the one she’s tried so hard to hide underneath her prickly attitude and sarcasm. Her actions in the book and her vulnerability felt true to her character.

El learning to navigate her new relationships is a highlight of the novel.  Her friendships with Liu and Aadhya, which always felt tentative to her before, are strengthened and reaffirmed. Of course, her fight or flight response continues to rear its head when conflicts arise that may affect her new relationships, but she’s learning to understand what it means to have friends. They don’t up and leave at the first sign of trouble; they stick with you, especially when times get hard. They stick with you even when you give them an out. Finding friends and realizing she is no longer alone has also led to weight being lifted off her shoulders. She can smile and laugh, imagine life beyond graduation, and even want to change the world. These changes underscore how lonely she was in the first book even though she refused to admit it. El is such a complex character, and I completely adore her.

Orion’s appearances are sparser here, but he remains a thorn in El’s side, albeit one that doesn’t hurt as much anymore. She continues to be his advocate, and I love her for seeing him and treating him like the person he is rather than the oddity his family, his enclave, and mostly everyone else thinks he is. See? She’s all prickly and sarcastic, but it’s just to hide her big, bleeding heart.

The writing remains the same as in A Deadly Education with El explaining origins and context before she gets to what is going on. Because there was a learning curve to understanding the Scholomance, I didn’t mind it in the first book, but there were a few moments in The Last Graduate where I wanted to skip forward. The amount of information provided can be overwhelming–there is so much. I just wanted to know what was going to happen rather than what led to the moment she was in. However, skipping also meant potentially missing the connection between whatever she was talking about and her current predicament, so wanting to skip never turned into actually skipping. 

The Last Graduate is not as fast-paced as the first book, but it is nearly as engaging. Attacks by mals are expected, and people trying to kill you are just a normal part of the day. These aren’t as surprising anymore. I finished it quickly, but I needed to take a break to process the damn ending. To be honest, I’m still processing it. I haven’t been able to reach out for a new book because my brain is still asking myself why I didn’t see this being the particular ending when it was one of the alternate endings I had come up with. (Any else like to think up the many possible endings to a book?) I’m giving fair warning that it is a cliffhanger. I sort of wish I waited for the last book to binge the entire trilogy, but I didn’t have any self-control. Now, I have to wait a year to know what happened. If you enjoyed A Deadly Education, you’ll enjoy The Last Graduate. A year will feel like an eternity as I wait for the final book.

**Some remaining thoughts I wanted to put out there.**

One of the reasons why I like The Scholomance Trilogy is how it illustrates the prisoner’s dilemma. The prisoner’s dilemma happens when rational individuals pursue their self-interest, refusing to cooperate, and so end up with an outcome that is not as ideal as the one they would have received if they worked together. In the book, individuals must fight for their survival and learn to increase their chances of making it out alive by becoming part of a collective. With El’s focus on reciprocation–ensuring those who might ally with her know she always pays back favors to those she receives them from–she works toward securing an alliance that can help increase her odds of living through graduation. The Last Graduate gives a glimpse of how the prisoner’s dilemma can be solved, how building trust between individuals can be the difference between life and death. Yeah, I’m nerdy like that.

Iron Widow (2021)

by Xiran Jay Zhao
ASIN/ISBN: 9780735269934
Publication: September 21, 2021
Series: Iron Widow #1

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

Zetian is a force to be reckoned with when she has her mind set on conquering an empire. She is determined to avenge her big sister by destroying the pilot who killed her, and she is willing to sacrifice herself along with her family to do it. Zetian’s desire for justice is not only fueled by love for her older sister but also anger that women are considered disposable. Enraged with her inability to dictate the choices in her life and the senseless sacrifices of women as concubine-pilots, she aims to bring down the patriarchy in any way possible. I was immediately drawn to Zetian and her struggle for agency. 

As much as I liked Zetian, it was difficult to fully support her in her one-track endeavor, and this is where the character growth comes in, however incremental it is. With few exceptions, she doesn’t believe men deviate from wanting to maintain control over women. While she aims to grab power and free women, she begins to realize that changing the status quo is difficult to do alone and that everything is not necessarily black and white. While initially resistant to most things that challenge her views, she is not immune to change, willing to broaden her views when she can see with her own eyes or someone pushes her to see the bigger picture. She wants a better world for women, and I was all for it. I understood her anger and cheered her fight against the patriarchy.

As much as I supported Zetian’s agenda, I found the story lacking in some areas. Zetian’s struggle takes place within the larger context of a war between humans and aliens called Hundans. Humans utilize mechas, or Chrysalis as they’re called here, that are powered by two individuals–a pilot (usually male) and a concubine-pilot (usually female). The mechas can take on multiple forms, which is often dependent on the connection and strength of the pilots. Despite the amount of information and description of the mechas and how they operated with chi, I wanted to know more beyond the insulated world of mechas and pilots. The context and the environment appeared hazy to me as I tried to figure out how this war began and where the Hundans came from. I was curious about the external environment. I was unsure about the government system in place, something I try to understand especially when someone is trying to topple systems and regimes. These were some points of confusion for me, and I would have liked it fleshed out better. I was also not generally fond of the writing style. Although I appreciated some of the more descriptive passages, it was difficult for me to settle into the writing but it became less of a hindrance once I became engrossed in Zetian’s story.

As fun as the mechas are, Zetian shines here with her ruthlessness and hunger for power. I loved the themes that arose as Zetian tried to dictate her life while fighting against the subjugation of women. It was enough to overcome what I found lacking in the story, things I hope will receive greater focus in the next book. I’ll be continuing with the series because, for the most part, I like Zetian and want to see her succeed. Fans of strong female protagonists and those who enjoyed Pacific Rim, which I loved, will enjoy the novel. 

His Road Home (2014)

by Anna Richland
ASIN/ISBN: B00KV5ZGPI
Publication: October 13, 2014

Last year, I found His Road Home (2014) while searching for romance novels. I was never a fan of novellas until I discovered Bettie Sharpe. With her flowery writing, Sharpe showed me novellas can be as developed and well-written as full-length novels, and, sometimes, they can even be better. This is the case with Richland’s His Road Home. I continue to be thankful that I picked it up and have since read it multiple times. At slightly over a hundred pages, His Road Home contains what some full-length novels do not: a developed plot and rounded characters with chemistry.

It’s an uplifting story of a fake engagement that turns into a wholly unexpected romance for two individuals who, despite being from the same town, may otherwise not have given each other a second glance. Because Grace is different from the girls Rey usually dates, it makes her the ideal fiancé. It seems perfectly harmless because no one outside of the situation will know about it. Living and working in Seattle, Grace is unaware of her relationship status until her sister phones. It’s an interesting predicament when the whole country knows about your relationship before you do! It was pretty amusing as Grace tries to figure out how to break the news to people that she has no idea who Rey is.

When they meet, Rey is surprised to see his fiancé has traveled across the country to see him, while Grace is looking for answers as to why she is suddenly engaged to someone she doesn’t know. Although they meet in an unconventional way (apparently one-sided fake engagements aren’t as common as romance novels tell me they are…heh), there is a spark of attraction from both sides. Grace is unprepared and should be angrier at the situation he’s put her in, but she tries to be understanding. And Rey? Well, he has no reason to get mad at Grace, who takes his lie in strides. How can you not find the woman you threw into this situation attractive when she shows up to be by your side and stays to play the part? Grace is a sweet and patient person, and I adored her. She sees Rey through this mentally and physically taxing time ahead. Rey is resilient and has a sense of humor I liked–the cheesy kind. He realizes the best thing in his life may have happened due to one of the worst moments in his life.

The circumstances under which they initially meet might sound unrealistic (it’s a romance, please let me be), but the relatively uncomplicated way their relationship develops is one I enjoyed. Where I might read full-length novels that a lack of chemistry between leads, Grace and Rey had me invested within moments of their meeting. They go from strangers to lovers over several months through text messages and a road trip back to Washington. Richland packs so much into this novel that it feels longer than it is. It’s a very good thing here because I wanted more. There are no frills and fillers, and I loved nearly every moment of it. That’s one of the beauties of novellas, they’re short and don’t have time for nonsense.

It’s a near 5-star read for me. During each read, I’m tempted to give it that extra star, but when I get to the ending, I’m reminded why I’ve been stingy with that final star. The ending was just so-so, but it has started to grow on me. If you’re a fan of romance novels, this is a soothing and uplifting one that has the potential to become a cherished favorite; it’s certainly now one of mine.

Winterlight (2021)

by Kristen Britain
ASIN/ISBN: 9780756408817
Publication: September 14, 2021
Series: Green Rider #7

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

Winterlight reminds me why I have followed the Green Rider series for over 20 years, even though it’s scarcely been that long in the Green Rider universe. Britain makes it easy to slip back into the series and return to Sacoridia as if hardly any time has passed since Firebrand was published in 2017. With so many events spanning six books, multiple moments are scattered throughout the over 800 pages as memories. I found the abundance of references helpful, and they contributed to a sense that the series was coming to an end. Winterlight is, after all, supposed to be the penultimate book in the series.

Events set in motion from prior books, specifically those dealing with Second Empire, make up a significant portion of the novel. Characters from past books make a few appearances. I was disappointed that Fastion, who I grew to adore, hardly had any scenes. Estral and Alton show up as well but are limited in their appearances. There are also several new riders. Ripaeria the eagle–the very first Green Flyer–steals all her scenes. She is my favorite new character, and I need her to show up more often in the next book. Many things are happening at once in different parts of the world, including the castle, the wall, Eletia, and a newer location, Eagle Crossing. Like prior books, chapters jump from one character to the next to provide a more holistic view of everything happening, but I ultimately wanted more Karigan. There are so many moving parts, but they all appear connected in some way, like they’re leading up to something bigger, potentially finally facing off against Mornhaven. However, I’m not really sure. Mornhaven was always set up to be the main antagonist, but he’s often been absent, except for glimpses here and there, that a final faceoff doesn’t seem definitive. This patchwork of events begins to close some loose ends, leaves some open, and even creates opportunities for others, but all contribute to the feeling that the end is close at hand.

In Winterlight, Karigan is not off on a long journey by herself nor tasked with a job that ends up being more than she bargained. For the most part, she is surrounded by her peers, but in some ways, she’s more alone than she has been in the past because of the struggles she faces here. Having parted ways with Envers in the last book, she’s slowly returning home alone when things go awry, as they usually do for her. It leads to a series of events that eventually lead her back to the castle. Winterlight might be one of the first times I can remember that Karigan performs the role of a traditional messenger and delivers messages back and forth, considering she’s never been a “normal” messenger. 

More than the impending conflict with Second Empire, the book centers around Karigan’s physical and mental struggles. She is still recovering from the effects of being tortured at the hands of Nyssa, better known to us as Grandmother. While the physical pain is slowly mending, it’s the mental trauma along with the presence of Nyssa that continues to impede her healing. Nyssa haunts her, sowing new fears and nurturing old ones. Karigan is vulnerable, battling what’s inside her head, and doesn’t seek help when it’s clear she can use it. This was a missed opportunity to showcase that individuals struggling with mental health do not have to face it alone, that even heroes like Karigan can use a helping hand.

I continue to be disappointed with the romance, mostly because Karigan deserves better, more than the lack of a relationship she is currently in. Even as potential suitors are presented, it continues to be emphasized that she loves just this one person. I would much prefer her with someone else. I’m a hopeless romantic who prefers a somewhat uncomplicated HEA and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the series will deliver that to me. 

Winterlight is a welcomed addition to the series. The worldbuilding remains tightly woven as with all previous books–I’m even including the less than well-received Mirrorsight because there were things I liked from it as well.. Just when you think you know whatever there is about the world, there seems to be more. The Green Rider universe appears limitless, leaving room for more adventures even if Karigan’s arc should end. New characters appear and old ones are remembered. At times, the book feels like a return to the first three books–my favorites of the series. There are several subplots and more than a few are left open, likely to be pursued in the next book.

Romance Interlude 2.13

Look at me venturing into (sub)genres I don’t normally read! They’re not exactly hard hitting suspense novels, but a few months ago I probably wouldn’t have wanted to read any at all. Anyhow…on to more ranting and less actual reviewing. Sorry.


Cold Secrets (2017)
by Toni Anderson
ASIN/ISBN: B01N2GB6WQ
Publication: July 31, 2017
Goodreads Summary
Series: Cold Justice #7



One liner: FBI agent Lucas Randall falls for fellow agent Ashley Chen while they pursue an international trafficking ring but Chen may be hiding something that could affect the outcome of the case.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading Cold Secrets. The topics made me uncomfortable but thankfully there wasn’t anything overly graphic. I liked Ashley and her sense of duty to protect people. I was often annoyed with the how much they disregarded her abilities despite the fact that she was assigned to the case and not the absent genius Alex. Ashley and Lucas also had great chemistry. Her backstory was done well but I don’t know how believable some of the events related to her would be.


Blind Justice (2019)
by Gwen Hernandez
ASIN/ISBN: B07P83PC9F
Publication: November 15, 2017
Goodreads Summary
Series: Men of Steele #5

One liner: Tara becomes a target after avenging her sister’s death and she’ll need Jeff the security specialist to keep her safe.

The book started off with Tara trying to capture the guy who essentially ruined her sister’s life and led her to commit suicide. Things quickly go awry when Tara becomes a target because she’s seen things she shouldn’t have. Once Tara becomes the target, unfortunately the book also drops quickly in quality. One moment they’re just colleagues and the next they can’t keep their hands off each other and then it’s definitely love. And, it’s also very complicated. It started off pretty interesting and was okay for a quick read, but I probably won’t pick it up again.


Spirit Bound (2011)
by Christine Feehan
ASIN/ISBN: B004IYIJA2
Publication: January 1, 2011
Series: Sea Haven/ Sisters of the Heart #2
Goodreads Summary


One liner: Russian undercover agent Stefan comes to New Haven to insert himself into artist Judith’s life to find information she may be holding onto for a past lover.

**I’m a bit all over the place with this one. Sorry!**
I started reading this one in January and had to put it away after the first chapter or so because I just couldn’t get into it. The pace was a bit slow. Then Stefan and Judith have instalove-we-are-mates attraction, and I just couldn’t do it to myself. After finally deciding to give it one more try, I found it to be better than my first attempt…after I set aside the whole instalove thing. But then…Stefan and his alpha maleness got to me at times. He went to extremes to protect Judith. What does he do that bothered me? **spoiler alert** He drugs her to knock her out so he can go do some assassin hunting. You see, he has lots of secrets and some trust issues because he’s never really been with anyone before or wanted to protect anyone before. Still…WTF, right?! Feehan writes well with lots of nice details. There’s some interesting things going on here with Sea Haven and the bond between the sisters–they each have elemental abilities too. One of my favorites is when they make it rain. I enjoyed the amount of detail that went into explaining how they all contributed to creating it. Then their conversations would just not be very interesting at all to me. Blythe is one of the sisters and her story is probably one I’d like to read but the others didn’t sound as interesting.

The New Kid Has Fleas (2021)

by Amy Dyckman
Illustrated by Ida Kaban
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250245243
Publication: June 15, 2021

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

There’s a new kid in town and everyone is unsure of what to make of her. According to one student, the New Kid has fleas, but no one really knows for sure. The New Kid is different but the main character realizes there’s nothing wrong being different after pairing up with her for a science project and meeting her family.

Children will enjoy it. I expect lots of giggling to ensue as soon as they meet the New Kid’s family. I enjoyed the illustrations with its muted colors. The expressions on the kids’ faces were entertaining, all a bit confused about the New Kid while the New Kid just does her own thing, howling to her own tune and climbing on trees. I especially loved the attention to diversity in the book with kids of different backgrounds on the playground together. While I enjoyed it, I couldn’t also help but wonder about the implicit comparison of new kids and their families to being wild like animals. I had to drop a star for that. Despite this, the book advocates acceptance and being open to differences. I like the message it imparts. Especially with schools going back into session, this is a worthwhile read.

The Other Side of Perfect (2021)

by Mariko Turk
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316703406
Publication: May 11, 2021

Alina’s dreams of one day joining the American Ballet Theatre are dashed when an accident leads to a shattered leg. She is forced to put away her pointe shoes and reassess her future. When she is finally able to venture outside her room, she auditions for musical theatre.

I was fully immersed in the book because Alina’s story was compelling. She tries to come to terms with her new reality while transitioning into a “normal” teenager, but it’s difficult. Her devastation was more than enough to tug at my heart, and I couldn’t help but sympathize with her even though it leads some decisions I didn’t like. I don’t think I’ve ever loved something the way Alina loves ballet, but Turk’s prose captures Alina’s grief and allowed me to experience Alina’s struggle alongside her.

Being permanently sidelined from what she thought was her future forces her to confront the racism within ballet and its traditions. It’s both difficult and satisfying to see Alina come to these realizations because it adds another layer to her current situation. Would she have eventually come to the same conclusion, taken similar actions had she not been forced to give up ballet? Maybe, but probably not nearly as soon as she should have. It’s not necessarily that Alina is completely unaware of the racism but she does have blinders on. She equates tradition with being “right” and those in authoritative roles as knowing best when it is not always the case. I found this to be an important reflection on life, especially because Alina’s sister has a different experience at her dance school. Authority figures play pivotal roles in our lives. They help shape our beliefs and values, and it can be difficult not to view ourselves through their eyes. In this case, Alina’s dance teacher was pivotal to her perception of ballet and her abilities, which helps explain some of Alina’s convictions about ballet. The trauma of forcibly giving up her dreams leads to transformative growth, allowing her to challenge her beliefs and accomplish what she couldn’t do before, speak up for herself and her friends. Although Alina hates the saying, there is some truth that “when life shatters your leg, it opens a window.”

With its emphasis on friendship, Alina meets new people and forms multiple relationships throughout the book. While her connection to each is slightly different, the most interesting one is her connection with Diya. Although Diya’s role is smaller, there are parallels between the two that are immediately apparent. The connection provides Alina with some eye-opening breakthroughs and was probably one of my favorite parts of the book to read. As with many of the elements in the book, Diya’s life provides Alina another glimpse of what it’s like on the other side.

I cannot end this without mentioning the multiple supporting characters I adored. I’ve never enjoyed so many characters popping in and out of a book before! They all contribute to making the book well-rounded.

  • Mom and Dad
    They’re professionals in their jobs but they’re loving and supportive parents who encourage Alina to keep moving forward. They’re “hip” and use words like “bae” just to get reactions from their teenage daughters. Alina’s parents only make small appearances but I loved their interactions with their daughters.
  • Laney and Ada
    These two are hilarious. Not only do they remind me of high school me but also adult me. Yes, my friends and I still play a version of what Laney and Ada refer to as Love Realism, making up a story about how your life plays out with your crush.
  • Jude
    As a potential love interest, Jude is positively swoony. He’s patient and understanding. He defies gender norms with his love of knitting and he doesn’t care who knows about it. He’s wonderful. Can there be an adult him who exists in real life?

Overall, The Other Side of Perfect was a deeply satisfying read. I meant to pick it up and read just a few chapters before bed, but I couldn’t sleep until I finished the whole thing.