I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest Review

I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina ForestI Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press (Fierce Reads)

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Pages: 272

Available Through The Book Depository: I Wanna Be Where You Are

Cover Illustration/Design: Alex Cabal and Cassie Gonzales

Summary: When Chloe Pierce’s mom forbids her to apply for a spot at the dance conservatory of her dreams, she devises a secret plan to drive two hundred miles to the nearest audition. But Chloe hits her first speed bump when her annoying neighbor Eli insists upon hitching a ride, threatening to tell Chloe’s mom if she leaves him and his smelly dog, Geezer, behind. So now Chloe’s chasing her ballet dreams down the east coast—two unwanted (but kinda cute) passengers in her car, butterflies in her stomach, and a really dope playlist on repeat.

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: I Wanna Be Where You Are is a sweet YA Romance that follows dedicated ballet dancer Chloe who goes on a road trip to follow her dreams! There’s not only a road trip, but playlists, also a cute enemies-to-lovers romance that turns into something more! Forest has delivered a must-read YA that features a wonderful journey about growth, is filled with a great cast of characters and a page-turning story!

I’ve had I Wanna Be Where You Are on my TBR for quite a bit and I’m just so happy to have finally read Forest’s lovely debut! Its such a wholesome story and I have been meaning to pick up more YA Contemporaries by Black authors. It balances fun, humor, and more serious topics so perfectly, overall this is just a very cute YA Rom-Com everyone should read. After turning the final page on Chloe and Eli’s story I know I’ll have to pick up Now That I’ve Found You (her newest release) ASAP, she’s become one of my new favorite authors.

Chloe Pierce, a dedicated ballet dancer, dreams of attending the prestigious Avery Johnson Academy (named after one of her idols/inspirations) and an audition is right around the corner. The only problem is, her mother would never let her attend.

Ever since Chloe’s father died when she was young, her mother has become very protective and yet, Chloe knows she can’t let this chance slip away. Now she’s joined by her neighbor Eli who she can’t stand and his dog Geezer on a road trip to not only get to the audition, but also getting Eli to his father’s house for an important university visit.

Luckily the perfect opportunity arises when Chloe’s mom and boyfriend Jean-Marc are headed on a quick spring vacation! But, along the way some unfortunate obstacles get in the way of Chloe’s first audition in DC, now she’s traveling cross-country from Washington D.C. to Raleigh and Atlanta. She’s even reconnecting with her childhood friend Eli and they are learning much more about each other than they expect!

Forest brilliantly sets up the mystery surrounding Chloe and Eli’s past, it leaves you wanting to know more about how they went their separate ways. They grew up together, but there’s a rift between them still. It’s wonderful getting to see them not only reconnect, but work out their past hurt.

Chloe’s journey throughout the book was beautiful to read and Forest delves into the obstacles (both internal and external) that Chloe faces as she learns to not only navigate her freedom, but also her choices! Same goes for Eli as we learn he’s a very talented artist and finds the courage to be honest with his parents about his dreams. At its heat, this novel explores the reach and power of art, from Chloe’s ballet to Eli’s sketches, Forest delves into why these passions mean so much to each of them. I loved hearing about both of their journeys as to why they want to continue pursuing art!!

Each moment of this road trip teaches them not only more about themselves, but each other as they rekindle their past friendships and become much more closer, realizing they may have newfound feelings for each other. There’s all these little pieces they are learning to understand and appreciate about one another, which makes the development so wholesome and adorable!

Forest splendidly delivers such driven protagonists who are inspired to follow their dreams, no matter the cost! Its the kind of story that leaves you feeling so connected with the main character and wholly invested at every moment, knowing it’ll be a joyful experience, your eager to follow them every step of the way!

If you are a fan of road trips, this is a perfect read! Although it is set during Spring Break, it reads like a perfect summer contemporary!

Through a first-person POV, Chloe’s voice instantly pulls you into the story. The deep emotion, passion, enthusiasm, and mystery are given such meaningful depth through Chloe in the entirety of the book. You sense her anxieties, melancholy, but above all its Black joy at its heart.

Forest uses flashbacks and the past to layer in many different meaningful messages and ideas, from fate even exploring philosophy, that gives an explanation for the things that comes our way or that happens throughout our lives! For example, Chloe and Eli’s childhood friend Trey moving away allowed for Chloe to meet Reina (her best friend). Chloe even questions whether things would have turned out differently for her and her ballet had it not been for all the little hurdles along the way.

Featuring a majority Black cast, also Dominican rep (Reina), this novel is a wonderful YA Contemporary about celebrating Black joy, love, and its an absolute-page turner.

My only gripe is that there were moments early on I could predict what would happen and then it was pretty easy for me to see how major points of the plot would play out. Other than that although it just felt like a 4-star read, I absolutely adored it!!

I Wanna Be Where You Are is the kind of heartwarming contemporary that captivates you from the very first page! So full of joy, a splendid cast of characters, a page-turning story, even a journey about independence, Forest’s debut navigates all that and so much more! This YA Contemporary all about Black love and joy, will leave you delighted to see what Forest writes next!

In today’s review I’ll also be shouting out a fellow blogger review! 📚🎉

I recommend WOC Read’s Review!! This review beautifully delves into how ballet is explored in the novel and perfectly sums up what you can expect in the story! This quote also stuck out to me when reading it“Chloe and Eli’s relationship is such a sweet portrayal of black teens that we don’t often see.”

Love In Focus Vol. 3 by Yoko Nogiri {Manga Review}

Love In Focus Vol. 3 by Yoko NogiriLove In Focus Vol. 3 by Yoko Nogiri (Love In Focus #3)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: July 23, 2019

Pages: 192

Available Through The Book Depository: Love In Focus Vol. 3

Cover Illustration: Yoko Nogiri

Summary: Swept along by Kei’s suggestion to give dating a try, Mako struggles to see where she really fits in. Meanwhile, Mitsuru has become distant, and in her attempts to get back the friendship they had, Mako discovers his hidden past. Mako, Kei, and Mitsuru now have to confront their own feelings, and they might get a little lost before they find their true answers…

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Love In Focus comes to an end in this 3rd volume! When Mako first arrived to photography club’s boarding house, she never expected to find a new  muse. Kei, and Mitsuru are navigating their complicated feelings and confronting their past as Mako tries to better understand where her heart is leading her. Balancing the romantic and quiet slice of life moments, this series is ends on a satisfying note!

You know when you finally reach the end of a series and it feels like it ended too soon? That’s exactly how I felt with Love In Focus. Even though it follows typical romance tropes, there’s just something about how it was all executed that had me falling in love with this series. Maybe it was the likable cast, picturesque art style, or layered emotional depth to the characters? Possibly a combo of all of these?

Either way, Love In Focus is a series I’ll always have such positive memories of (despite my critiques) because its a soft, quiet contemporary romance that just captivated me! Its really sweet and I loved following these characters!

This is also the first full manga series I’ve ever completed and although it feels like such an accomplishment I never thought I’d reach the end of Mako’s journey so soon…

Mako decides to confront her childhood friend Kei, even though she’s still conflicted about Mitsuru too. He decides they should have a trial period for their relationship as she’s still swept up in her uncertainty to see how it works out.

However, this also gives Mako time to reflect more on her relationships (both romantic/platonic) between Mitsuru and Kei. While Mako is new to relationships, it is kind of frustrating at points to see her rely so heavily on others opinions about how the relationship should work. It felt like (with Vol. 2) her presence as a character is there, but her development was left to the side just a bit.

Vol. 3 is essentially filled with internal and emotional development to push the story forward, keeping the reader in suspense / wonder as to who Mako will choose! I liked that this volume really filled in the gaps for the mysterious Mitsuru and what led him to end his modeling career.

Another highlight was seeing how Mitsuru not only confronted his past, but finally accepted his feelings for Mako. Kei on the other hand had this selfishness to him as we realize how desperate he is to get Mako to love him. But, it was nice for him to finally accept and even make some changes of his own (learning to move on and confronting his father). Mako herself definitely goes on an emotional journey as well as she tries to better understand how she truly feels.

No spoilers, but I loved how the story came full-circle in a way through the ‘Bonus Short.’

With each volume, I loved that there was always a new element given the spotlight whether it was the characters, writing, or art. With this final volume, the art was beautifully done. Kind of reflecting back to Vol. 1, the way it uses blank space to highlight the passage of time or reflection of emotion has been brilliantly presented throughout the whole series. In a way, that’s kind of the focus of the series and the art reflects that. Whether its been from a focus on a character’s expression, the single panel of scenery that builds the emotional depth of a scene? I loved it with each volume and it was presented in a way unlike any other manga series I’d read before.

There’s always been a subtlety to the emotions of Mako, Kei and Mitsuru too that really adds a whole other layer to them as characters! The art also has some clever, artistic style choices to reflect certain panels as if they were seen through a camera lens.

The paneling is also fantastic! It varies across each page and never feels like it has wasted space. Page 113 which features Mako headed towards a shrine is especially unique and stood out to me!

Though this series will always be memorable to me and easily one of my favorites, I think this volume was definitely rushed and also slow at the same time. While I was unsure at the end of Vol. 2, this last volume makes it more obvious as to who Mako wants to be with. So it felt like Kei was given more backstory in order to stretch out more of his past with Mako. Again, he continued to be my least favorite character at least when it comes to the last couple volumes.

I also felt like Mitsuru’s development happened within the span of like a page? And although he is my favorite character in the series, once we realize how Mako really impacted him I knew everything else was just wrapping up Kei’s story before we finally get to see what happens with Mako and Mitsuru!

Because this last volume is so focused on the main cast, the side characters did feel kind of forgettable too. But overall though, this series just wrapped up on a great note and yet, I’m still sad its over.

I loved following Mako on her journey as a growing photographer and reminising back to the first volume, this series beautifully explores the passion and impact art can have on us. Its also a beautiful series about love and growth!

Love In Focus is wonderful manga series I’m glad I took the time to read! These characters, their emotional journeys, and the beautiful art that expresses it will definitely stay with me! Although it feels like I could tons read more books with Mako and the guys, the series really does wrap up wonderfully 💖

Love In Focus Vol. 3 wonderfully concludes Mako, Kei, and Mitsuru’s journeys! The emotional growth of our main cast, metaphorical artwork, and gripping romantic story makes this volume such a page turner! The Love In Focus Series presents romance through a more quiet, emotional, slice of life narrative that really connects you to its characters! Definitely an underrated manga series that I highly recommend picking up!

Love In Focus Vol. 2 by Yoko Nogiri {Manga Review}

Love In Focus Vol. 2 by Yoko NogiriLove In Focus Vol. 2 by Yoko Nogiri (Love In Focus #2)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Pages: 176

Available Through The Book Depository: Love In Focus Vol. 2

Summary: After earning Mitsuru’s trust, Mako’s beginning to get the hang of living in Lens Inn with the high school photo club. Behind the scenes, however, Mako’s best friend Kei warns Mitsuru to keep his distance. This ominous message exposes Kei’s feelings for Mako, but Mitsuru is the only one who knows!

Later, when the club members all go on a field trip together, a sudden downpour strands Mako and Mitsuru. What will the two do?! 

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Love In Focus Vol. 2 is the continuation to the manga series that follows Mako Mochizuki’s new life in Hokkaido when she joins her childhood friend Kei in a photography club! From the focus on its characters, to the blossoming of both quiet and sweet romantic moments, this volume delves more into the emotional sides of the slowly developing love triangle! 

Love In Focus Volume 1 easily became one of my new favorite manga series in the YA Contemporary Romance/slice of life categories, when I read it last year! There was such an attention to characters, where they felt incredibly real: from our passionate photographer Mako, her easy-going friend Kei, to Mako’s new photography muse Mitsu, including everyone else in their boarding house!

The story itself just hit all the perfect notes for a contemporary that still had underlying elements of romance, without making it feel too rushed and while also bringing the main characters and the atmosphere of Love In Focus to life.

There was even a deep exploration to the beauty and impact that art can bring, alongside the wonderful art-style which brought quite a bit of emotion and metaphorical depth to the story.

At the end of Volume 1 however were left with a surprising twist about Mako’s childhood friend, Kei is in love with her and wants Mitsu to stay away!

Where the first volume introduces us to these characters on a deep, emotional and present level, Volume 2 takes its time to delve more into the emotional sides of the main characters and focuses more on the romance as we delve more into the past, specifically from Kei- not only where his love of photography came from, but how he grew up and later realized he was in love with Mako!

I found what made this volume stand out compared to the previous one, was how it managed to deliver interesting developments to both of Mako’s relationships with Kei and Mitsu, while increasing the romantic tension!

Because I absolutely fell in love with Volume 1, I reread it right before delving into this one and just have to say it wasn’t a disappointment, but more of an underwhelmed feeling when I reached the end of Love In Focus Vol. 2…

With the twist from the previous volume, we learn more about Kei’s past all while we begin to see Mako and Mitsu get closer together from going to class and it all gets even more complicated when the photography club decides to spend Golden Week at a club retreat. I just really wish there was more plot threads in this volume because I’ll probably mention this a lot in the review, but our main trio are what make this series SO good! Their interactions, the dialogue, the subtle expressions, they all shine through Mako, Kei, & Mitsu!

There’s more internal dialogue from both Kei & Mitsu, surrounding their complicated feelings for Mako and trust me, I love emotionally-driven stories, but there was just something about it in this volume that made it feel like a different departure from Vol. 1. With a mix of how romantic tropes felt more obvious to me, Mako taking a bit of step back in the story (development wise until the end at least), and including Kei’s backstory (which actually made me like him less in this volume? Which I was NOT expecting because the characters in this series are just so likeable?) overall I felt the pacing of story too was just a lot slower.

Though this series does continue to be a favorite and I will of course be reading Vol. 3, it would have been a much stronger volume for me personally if it was focused more on plot and character progression (and less of a focus on the past). Where this series really shines (aside from other elements) is through the characters, so I was hoping for more of a focus on the complex layers that make them incredibly compelling to follow.

However, I will say that one of the biggest highlights of this volume was the Mako & Mitsu dynamic (1 of my theories is that they’ll be together in Vol. 3, but we’ll see!! 💖).

Nogiri’s art as with the previous volume, just draws you in and is beautiful in many ways! The characters and their subtle expressions allow them to further develop through the art style, which I find is an incredibly unique and captivating element to this series.

Additionally what I love about the backgrounds is how they influence the emotional depth and atmosphere of a scene― they continue to beautifully showcase a depth to the series that weaves its way into many different layers of the story. The choice of nature backgrounds and specific panels that are highlighted with bigger panel space build a beautiful sense of place and emotion unlike any other manga series I’ve read before!

Nearing the end of the story, we delve more into how Mako’s making sense of the complex emotions that literally give her a cold, while also better understanding how she feels about Kei & Mitsuru. I personally really enjoy the love triangle and romance (and all its subtleties) in general throughout this series because as whole it’s our fascinating main characters and their dynamics that make the interesting development of it, so fun to follow!

The writing itself was something I surprisingly paid even more attention to in this volume and what really stood out to me was how metaphorical it was, adding in the symbolism of the panels (maybe that’s just my interpretation?), but I felt both gave a lot of emotional weight to each of the scenes. There’s also a much slower and quieter pace to the plot that does allow for more time to build on our characters in interesting ways! I’m hoping to see a lot of these great elements develop or carry over into the last volume!

There’s also more of a metaphorical and internal depth to the impact of photography, especially for Mako. Alongside that, it was layered into the story in such a beautiful way through the writing.

“…whether the picture comes out well or not, the photo will still be a precious memory…” (110).

As with the previous volume, this one also leaves you wanting to read the next ASAP! I’m sad that Love In Focus will end with Volume 3 because I’ve really grown attached to Mako and her journey, alongside Kei & Mitsu! ❤ So even though I’m very excited to see what happens next, I don’t think I’ll be picking it up right away because I’m just not ready to say goodbye to these characters!

Love In Focus Vol. 2 delves more into the emotional depth of the characters as it follows Mako and the her new life as part of a school’s photography club! The wonderful cast of characters, gripping story and impactful art continue to make this such a dynamic series! This is a pretty underrated manga series and I recommend checking it out for those of you who love contemporary romance and quiet slice of life stories!

Crier’s War by Nina Varela Review

Crier's War by Nina VarelaCrier’s War by Nina Varela (Crier’s War #1)

Publisher: Harper Teen

Release Date: October 1, 2019

Pages: 434

Available Through The Book Depository: Crier’s War

Summary: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Crier’s War is a deftly woven political fantasy, featuring stellar world building, romance, poetic writing, and a brilliantly crafted plot that will keep you hooked! 

I just finished this book over the weekend and I’m not sure how my review can do this incredible book justice! Ayla & Crier were AMAZING characters, I loved them both so much and my heart burst with joy and sadness throughout their POVs! This book swept me away from the very first page and I’m incredibly excited to see what adventures lay ahead for our protagonists in the sequel, Iron Heart!

Even well before the start of the novel, from the epigraph: “For the queer readers. You deserve every adventure” you can sense the heart and soul Varela poured into this gem of a story! The compact timeline introduced from the very first page lays the groundwork for an epic adventure, the complex dynamic and history between humans and Automae in the lands of Zulla!

Crafted by a specific Maker, the Automae soon began to rebel against their owners and quickly became in charge, turning the tides of society. Now essentially starting from scratch, the Automae rule over humans (who are now servants) and some of the monarchs even take pride in still finding the fascination in human culture they’ve oppressed.

Crier is the current heir, an Autmoae who is brilliant and politically savvy, eager to prove it to her father, the current king, Hessod. However, she’s also set to be married to Scyre Kinok, the cunning war hero who may also have secrets of his own. Yet, when she learns early on that there’s something within her that makes her Flawed, she realizes she is still not fully free herself.

Ayla has one thing on her mind…revenge! For her family that was killed, for the future that was taken away from her, and for those she’s sworn to defend. As part of a rebellion group, she finds she’s given the opportunity to make strides in their uprising for freedom when she becomes handmaiden to Lady Crier, the current heir to the Kingdom of Rabu!

She isn’t entirely alone however, she sticks by one of her best friends Benjy and Rowan a “bird of prey” who is one of the leaders in a group of human rebels who are gearing to take down the Automae and give themselves a fighting chance at a new life.

The story is tightly-plotted with a lot of intrigue, mystery, and continuously builds on story threads that showcase their importance to the world and narrative!

Both Ayla and Crier are placed in positions where the secrets they carry are vital to their futures, requiring them to keep a close eye on each other and the figures around them as well. It’s in the underlying language that we see: both girls are working to stay one step ahead and know that even the smallest slip, could mean their downfall.

The 3rd-person / dual perspective allows for insight not only into the different sides of Zullan society (both human & Automae alike), but it also connects the plot in such a seamless way where your always left surprised by what will happen next.

The other main characters from Benjy to Kinok, rebels, royalty, etc. you feel their weight and impact to the story, even from secondary characters in such a way where the political unrest brings all these different voices to the forefront in some way.

Crier’s War doesn’t shy away from the impact and ferocity of emotion that courses its way through different layers of the story: from its characters to world, the politics, and the inner journey of our main protagonists!

Ayla, her anger and rage bled through each page and you could feel it through her words, actions, and internal thoughts! All she wants is to avenge those she’s lost (mother, father, & twin brother Storme) and create a better life for people. That can only be achieved by getting rid of the Automae, starting with Crier.

I can’t put into words how much I loved following her & Crier’s journeys! They were layered with depth, growth, hurt, and healing, which became such central and emotional themes of the book!

In the world of Crier’s War, though its setting is entirely new and unique, the way Varela develops the different villages, the intricate political relations, and the layers to society feel incredibly real as if they could very well exist in our own world.

What I also loved delving into, when it comes to Automae was their own history and influence in society, their reach goes to practically every sphere of this world! Another intriguing element to the Automae themselves is how their Designed, Made, and the influence the 4 Pillars has on how it makes them who they are (Reason, Calculation, Organic, & Intellect). Again this also ties in with the world building itself, but I loved all the little details that were described really brought the setting to life!

One of my favorite parts of this world (as with any other sci-fi/fantasy) was the politics! I studied this in college and I find it utterly fascinating and I can’t count how many moments I stopped reading to take notes on it.

From Scyre Kinok’s hidden agenda for acquiring power not only within the kingdom, being a former protector of the Iron Heart, to his part within the elite guard to advance Automae, and vying for power in the Red Council (which he continues to do successfully).

Kinok was easily one of my favorite antagonistic characters in this book because, from the very beginning we know he has worked to acquire power for himself, yet we still don’t know to what extent. He was fascinating to learn about because even as we learn more about him and his mysterious motives, the way he presents himself vs. what he keeps hidden are completely different things! This allows us as readers to constantly feel unsettled by him but also fascinated by his cleverness.

Additionally, its through the heriarchy of the characters themselves and their words, Crier with Kinok, Crier with her father Hessod, Ayla with Crier, and so on!

A favorite scene of mine involved Kinok and Crier dancing and to me, I felt this scene reflected the impact their reputations have on the status which they can successfully attain in the kingdom! It was beautifully written and impacted me in ways that had me enthralled by their dynamic!

Varela’s writing is incredibly thought-provoking and she brilliantly captured the political tone and intrigue that’s teeming on the edge of revolution! Her writing just connected with me on such a deep level, it felt philosophical. As we learn about this entirely new world the words are presented in a beautifully composed and scholarly way (Like I’m not entirely sure this makes sense, but the writing kept me thinking and I felt I was learning so much? About politics, the depth of dominating emotion, etc…)

Her writing above all was beautiful, captivating, and elegant!

When it comes to the romance, its slow-burn and again, elegantly written! As you read Crier & Ayla’s beautiful descriptions of one another, your heart feels the depth of emotion where you can truly understand them on a deep, internal level.

My only minor critique is that because SO many people were emphasizing the f/f romance, I was personally expecting more just a bit more exploration to their dynamic throughout the book! But, I can tell Book 2 will delve more into that. Also, more Kinok! He was such a fantastic antagonist and I just wanted more pages from him, as I mentioned above there’s just so many layers to his agenda and I couldn’t help but be intrigued as to how he would make things more complicated for Ayla and Crier!

Crier’s War is a beautifully crafted debut that explores politics, intrigue, tackles philosophical questions on what it means to be human and what does one fight for? Against an expansive backdrop of a world led by alchemical magick and dangerous AI royalty! This is another stellar debut and its a must read for 2019!!

Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash Review

Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz TashVirtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Pages: 368

Available Through The Book Depository: Virtually Yours

Summary: How bad can one little virtual lie be?

NYU freshman Mariam Vakilian hasn’t dated anyone in five months, not since her high school sweetheart Caleb broke up with her. So when she decides to take advantage of an expiring coupon and try out a new virtual reality dating service, it’s sort of a big deal.

It’s an even bigger deal when it chooses as one of her three matches none other than Caleb himself. That has to be a sign, right?

Except that her other match, Jeremy, just happens to be her new best friend IRL.

Mariam’s heart is telling her one thing, but the app is telling her another. So, which should she trust? Is all fair in modern love?

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Virtually Yours is a fun college-set YA Contemporary that also delivers an introspective and character-driven plot! Mariam just wants to get over her high school ex, so when she tries a new VR dating service she’s completely surprised when it matches her with, her ex! This novel explores the complexities and layers to romance, friendships, relationships, told through a delightful narrative voice that immerses you from page 1!

I’m back with a book review and Virtually Yours is one I’m SO looking forward to delving more into, because it was such a wonderful read! I related to it in many ways and I just want to shove it into anyone’s hands who’s looking for a college-set YA Book with a plot that’s both unique and fun + really focuses on its characters and their dynamics!!

Mariam Vakilian is still grieving over the breakup between her and her ex-boyfriend Caleb Moore, who’d been a couple in high school for 3 years! But, she decides to give virtual dating a try when she uses an almost-expired 40% off coupon for HEAVR which promises its users their perfect match or Happily Ever After!

But when one of her potential matches is Caleb, her first year at university gets a little more complicated! She’s not just handling the complexity of romantic relationships, but friendships as well among many other uni. experiences from figuring out her major/career and forging important friendships!

Mariam Vakilian is easily on my list of favorite college-set contemporary protagonists (alongside Penny from Emergency Contact 💖), there’s such a unique spirit to her character that you can’t help but want to keep on reading! She’s funny, relatable, and just a wonderful character to follow!

With HEAVR giving her an opportunity to move on from Caleb, she feels there’s a possibility that they can maybe get back together and that a spark could still be there! But in order to do that she’ll have to disguise her VR persona! So, she pretends to be someone she isn’t  as she goes on virtual dates and hangouts with Caleb.

What made the dynamic incredibly fascinating was the mystery that unravels as you learn more about Caleb and Mariam’s high school relationship and why they broke up: Interestingly Caleb felt long distance wouldn’t be best for them? (Yet, he still tried out HEAVR).

It isn’t until you begin to piece together the story where you realize that this novel isn’t really about romance (though it is?). Its more about Mariam’s journey to better understand herself as she navigates all these different parts of her life: love, friendships, and relationships in general.

There’s this underlying theme of self as you begin to see that all Mariam really wants is to understand and find a balance to all these parts of her daily life, which I could relate to that a lot!

We see her reconnect with her ex-best friend from high school, take a social welfare class for fun and see how it inspires her potential career path, and just in general, the relationships we maintain as we juggle college life.

As Mariam tries to focus on reconnecting with Caleb, what she doesn’t realize is that her new friend Jeremy, who’s her co-worker at the local gym, could possibly be more than just a friend (and is one of her other matches!). One of my favorite parts of this book was their beautiful friendship (banter & the best hangouts– seeing them connect over music, their holiday phone calls, emails/texts, and having Jeremy invite her to see local musicians play was the cutest 💞).

If your a fan of contemporary romance alongside the “will they get together, will they not?” or the slow-burn friends maybe lovers tropes, then Virutally Yours is a must-read!!😍💖

Jeremy and Mariam’s friendship was one of the absolute highlights of this book! I loved seeing how supportive Jeremy was as he listened to Mariam talk about her complicated HEAVR situation and offer her advice! Its great to see this focus of m/f friendship and have it be such a big part of Mariam’s journey throughout the story! Also the 2 of them just have such beautiful chemistry together layered with their wonderful friendship! Though you know Mariam’s heart is still with Caleb, you can’t help but just ship her with Jeremy!!

Throughout she not only confides in Jeremy, but also her roommate Hedy as she works out her relationship troubles.

This book easily made it onto my all-time favorites list, Mariam’s narrative voice just immerses you and I quickly found myself connecting with the story and its characters.

The exploration of VR technology gave the story a speculative-fiction feel to it too― posing all the questions and complexities that come with how this kind of tech works, even how it can change the foundation of building relationships. Also, as Mariam goes on a couple dates with Caleb, it does bring into the discussion this idea of catfishing (her friends do tell her how wrong that is & it gets cleared up a bit later).

Woven all throughout Virtually Yours are all these different layers that make up Mariam’s life from family (which is such a huge part), her career goals, and how she’s better understanding how to navigate her new friendships/relationship.

I really appreciated how Tash wove into this novel as well, that former acquaintances (from HS) can unexpectedly become such bigger parts of your  friendship circle as you navigate college! That part was so relatable to me and I loved how Tash made it an incredibly layered element of the story (as well as navigating friendships in general).

As I was reading Virtually Yours and I got to a part where Mariam is at a get-together with former high school classmates (Addison, Zoe, Prisha, & ex-best friend Rose), I’d actually been reconnecting with an old high school classmate too! Just being able to relate to that in my own life, was just so heartfelt to me and its something I wish more YA College-set Contemporary books would explore, this idea of reconnecting with people from your past and how the most unexpected people can become the best of friends!

Throughout the novel I also loved seeing Mariam reconnect with her former friend Rose, being able to rebuild their friendship & rely on each other during their first year of college!

Romance and how one navigates it are major themes within this novel, but Tash does such a fantastic job at layering all these different elements of college life/ the college experience in a very relatable way as well alongside the bigger theme of romance!

Its really hard to put more of my thoughts into words because this book was just SO MUCH FUN!! I loved the story, writing, characters, romance, themes, exploration of family & friendship, college life, and dynamics between the characters too!

Virtually Yours is just an absolutely wonderful book and I fell I love with it from the very first page! ❤❤

Something I noticed as I progressed throughout the story is that the pacing is FANTASTIC!! As the story unravels you get so invested in seeing how long Mariam can keep her secret, following all the friends she makes & reconnects with, her family, college classes, etc. The plot is always developing and there’s never a dull moment! ❤

This novel is also wonderfully diverse and inclusive: This is an #OwnVoices featuring Mariam Vakilian and her family who are Iranian/Iranian-American! There’s her ex Caleb Moore who’s Black, Jeremy whose 1/2 Italian & Mexican, & f/f rep. as Mariam’s roommate Hedy has a girlfriend.

If your looking for a fresh college contemporary that explores a new concept of modern love through VR, you need to give this book a read!

Virtually Yours is a wonderful YA Contemporary that needs more hype and is a delight in every single way! Its an incredibly fun read that has great writing, a wonderful cast of characters, and exploration of romance that keeps you turning the page! If your looking for a character-driven and relatable college-set contemporary with a bit of speculative fiction, then Virtually Yours is a must read! Don’t miss out on Sarvenaz Tash’s latest YA!

Its been almost 2 weeks since I posted a review and its great to be back! Sorry for the hiatus, Virtually Yours was the first book I’ve finished in the last few weeks!! 😭📚💖When I’m not on the blog, I’m more active on Twitter if you want to talk anything bookish, etc. if I haven’t posted!

With my short hiatus from the blog I’ve been thinking more about what content to post besides reviews (for when I haven’t read for a while) and I’ve had a tough time deciding what that content would be?  Please let me know what you’d be interested in reading about, also feel free to comment on any other ideas:

  • Literary Listens or more podcast posts
  • Fictional Favorites
  • Book Tags or Bookish Discussions (Even hauls, tags, etc.)

Happy Friday!! 😍📚🎉

The Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen ARC Review

The Infinite Noise by Lauren ShippenThe Infinite Noise by Lauren Shippen (The Bright Sessions #1)

Publisher: Tor Teen

Release Date: September 24, 2019

Pages: 336

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: The Infinite Noise

Summary: Caleb Michaels is a sixteen-year-old champion running back. Other than that his life is pretty normal. But when Caleb starts experiencing mood swings that are out of the ordinary for even a teenager, his life moves beyond “typical.”

Caleb is an Atypical, an individual with enhanced abilities. Which sounds pretty cool except Caleb’s ability is extreme empathy—he feels the emotions of everyone around him. Being an empath in high school would be hard enough, but Caleb’s life becomes even more complicated when he keeps getting pulled into the emotional orbit of one of his classmates, Adam. Adam’s feelings are big and all-consuming, but they fit together with Caleb’s feelings in a way that he can’t quite understand.

Caleb’s therapist, Dr. Bright, encourages Caleb to explore this connection by befriending Adam. As he and Adam grow closer, Caleb learns more about his ability, himself, his therapist—who seems to know a lot more than she lets on—and just how dangerous being an Atypical can be.

*Relieved ARC via a book festival* *TW: brief mentions of self-harm & past attempts, bullying, & internal discussion of Depression*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: The Infinite Noise is an introspective and character-driven debut based on the fiction podcast, The Bright Sessions! Serving as both a companion for fans of the podcast and introduction, this YA Contemporary/Sci-fi debut sends readers on a deep and layered journey following the perspective of Caleb, star football player with the unique power of extreme empathy and Adam, a lonely classmate who helps Caleb find anchor in the rough wave of high school emotions! The Infinite Noise for fans of the podcast is no doubt an absolute treat, while offering moments of both joy & nostalgia being able to revisit two beloved characters from The Bright Sessions universe!

I originally started listening to The Bright Sessions podcast back in 2016 and it instantly became one of my favorites!

It was one of the earliest audio drama podcasts I’d ever heard and throughout the series, Shippen has put such care in her discussion/exploration of mental health and positive representation of therapy! In addition, her both moving + relatable storytelling, deeply complex cast of characters, and inspiring messages have stuck with me since I first started listening.

As a long-time listener of the podcast, I was beyond excited when Shippen’s book deal was first announced! Her storytelling is phenomenal and because I love these characters so so much, I was really looking forward to seeing how she’d expand on their stories in book form!

I adore the main characters Caleb Michaels and Adam Hayes in the podcast, they are the sweetest m/m couple I’ve ever encountered and getting to revisit them & their stories again in book form just left me turning page after page. Their also one of the fan-favorite couples of the series!

Shippen really knows her characters (especially in a first-person perspective) so getting to fully immerse myself into their inner thoughts didn’t feel like such a rehash of the podcast. I truly felt I learned more about these characters from a completely different perspective and I really appreciated that.

In this review I’m going to try and speak from a book perspective and leave more of my podcast-related thoughts near the end!

So, Caleb Michaels is a football player for his high school and from his very first few chapters its clear there’s something unique about him! As it turns out he has extreme empathy, which means not only can he sense the emotions of everyone around him, but he can take on those emotions too and in a way, amplifies them!

Having powers or supernatural abilities like this makes Caleb an Atypical!

Adam Hayes is a bit of an outcast, he’s quiet and doesn’t have many friends. He struggles with depression and throughout his perspective you see how it makes him feel disconnected from the world, feeling incredibly isolated and lonely.

As Caleb begins seeing Dr. Bright, a therapist for strange and unusual people like himself, she recommends he get to know Adam when they delve more into his ability and how he stopped one of his teammates from bullying Adam.

We get a deeper dive & different perspective into Caleb’s empath ability through the descriptions of color + comparison of nature to relate back to the impact of emotions that he feels.

Caleb and Adam have a slow and steady friendship that clearly develops into more over the course of this novel! Shippen incredibly weaves in the emotion, voice, and heart of these characters in such a deep and relatable way that really highlight all the complex, powerful, and distinct feelings associated with high school!

Throughout the novel, we get glimpses into all these different aspects of both Caleb and Adam’s lives and deep into their subconscious as well. Together, The Infinite Noise delivers such a balanced and relatable view as it explores family dynamics, friendship, love, and mental health.

Adam is dealing with depression and the representation of it is something directly explored and addressed throughout the novel. When both Caleb & Adam are together, Shippen doesn’t ignore the depth of those emotions and how they make Caleb feel as well (though it can be intense, he accepts those emotions and gives Adam his time when necessary). 

Similar to that of the show, I feel Shippen also highlights the importance of mental health, taking care of yourself, and brings layers and depth to that exploration in such relatable ways. Both the podcast and novel explore it a bit differently, but without a doubt its an important developed layer of the story!

From Adam’s perspective, he’s not sure what to make of Caleb. He later makes it clear he’s had a crush on him, but feels that their daily lunch hangouts together are a bit suspicious. He’s confused as to why a popular jock would want to hang out with him, but as they talk more and more, both Adam and Caleb begin to develop a special relationship!

Caleb finds himself falling for Adam too and the way Shippen develops it felt like such a steady progression, where we got to know both of them fully and how their relationship allows them to bring out the best in each other, by keeping each other green!! (its a podcast reference 😂💚)

Also, can I just say that Adam’s playlist for Caleb, their fun lunch hangouts and general moments together were the sweetest!! 💞

What is highlighted especially in The Infinite Noise that I never really gave much thought about in The Bright Sessions, was how this novel puts a focus on the connections between people and how the abilities give ways for Atypicals to connect with people in the most unlikely of ways!

However, looming over Caleb’s head are his empath powers, which he has to keep secret. With Caleb feeling in sync with Adam and Adam finding that happiness whenever he’s with Caleb, he also can’t help but feel steps behind him and can’t seem to figure out why.

Over the course of The Infinite Noise, Caleb and Adam’s relationship really cements itself in the novel alongside brewing mysteries and government conspiracies!

I’ve followed the podcast for years and learned more about Lauren’s inspirations behind TBS and her characters (with certain one’s based on different parts of herself). With that said, you can see how this novel really is a reflection on those emotions/experiences of high school and I really resonated with that.

I will say from both a book and podcast perspective, Lauren Shippen is an absolute genius when it comes to her characters and their development. Not only is every single one relatable in some sort of way, but their journeys develop in a way that leave you surprised but also leave you fascinated as to what happens next and why!

It also wasn’t until I read this book that I found this important theme also connected to the podcast, which is that of understanding, especially when it comes to one’s own emotions, and the connections we have with the people around us + why they are important!

The Infinite Noise highlights that incredibly well as we dive deep into the thoughts of Caleb and Adam!

Now onto my podcast-related thoughts:

I can’t put into words how my heart felt so connected with my soft, sweet boys Caleb and Adam again! Having already known the direction of their relationship I was just along for the ride, but loving every moment of it.

Because I already knew so much of them from the podcast, I loved being able to just appreciate the deeper introspective side to these characters & their high school journey, which are elements we never really get to explore in the show (especially Adam’s POV).

Though I love all the characters in the podcast, one of my favorites has to be Damien! I’ll tell you I legit screamed when he showed up, it was so fun to see his cameo in the book and getting Adam’s thoughts on him was the best 😂 I’m not lying when I say I’m really looking forward to his book & learning more about his past at 18! If you’ve listened to the show, you know what a clever and fascinating antagonist he is!! 😆🎉

It was brilliant how Shippen weaved podcast moments into the novel in an unexpected way for the fans, even the important plot-specific moments that non-listeners wont really pick up on (Mark, The AM, Frank, Chloe & Adam’s aunt, though her character was left pretty hidden/vague).

What I also found interesting was getting this limited perspective through Caleb on what we (the audience) already know about Atypicals, The AM, etc. because we already get  all that background through the podcast! So, it was nice to get a different view on how an Atypical would think about this other world alongside ours.

As mentioned in my interview, Shippen and I talked about the Canon of both the book and podcast. Though she said that this book does delve into certain specifics and expand on certain moments, the podcast is the truest form of the story. So, because of that you can tell she had a lot of fun changing up the timeline and it was interesting getting to read certain podcast lines at different sections of the story, giving them completely different contexts.

As mentioned in the show as well is the discussion of labels! Caleb is an example of that― he really loves Adam, but even in The Bright Sessions, he’s not entirely sure he fits into a specific label and I feel discussions like that are so important and valid because throughout life, you can’t always put an exact label on things! It was great to see that explored in the novel itself too 💞

As for the diversity of this novel, we have Adam who is Gay, biracial & Jewish, members of Adam’s family are dark-skinned, and an m/m relationship!

Now onto my critiques: Because I really love the TBS universe I would have loved to get a little more of that world woven into this book somehow, but overall it was fun to see how those elements developed through Caleb & Adam!

While the writing was strong in terms of the characters, there were detailed moments that because I’m very familiar with YA I felt taken out of the TBS world for a bit, also for me personally I found book-specific world building could been developed a bit more.

As I followed Caleb and Adam’s relationship, I realized just how strong Shippen’s writing is in terms of developing that deep emotion in ways that felt different than the podcast, but wholly familiar! Shippen just has a unique way of exploring her characters and I loved how that translated in the book.

The Infinite Noise delves into a different perspective of The Bright Sessions podcast and is a fun read for long-time listeners! Shippen puts a focus on her characters as we follow Caleb, Adam, and their relationship! Merging sci-fi contemporary, mental health, and introspective characters, The Infinite Noise is a story that delivers the relatable theme that no matter how powerful outside forces may impact you, you have the power to determine how they influence you and who you choose to be!

Today I’ll also be shouting-out a fellow book blogger’s review 😍📚🎉

Review: The Infinite Noise ARC from Gail over at Northern Plunder

As a longtime listener of the podcast, Gail goes into the depth of Caleb, Adam, and how their relationship develops organically!

Also, this is something I ABSOLUTELY AGREE with, is that Gail mentions how Lauren really understands and portrays the teenage experience! That’s something also seen through her college-aged/adult characters as well, where no matter who they are you can tell she’s portraying such an authentic character alongside their experiences!

Melding both a book and podcast perspective I recommend checking out Gail’s review as well! 🎉💚📚

A Match Made In Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai ARC Review

A Match Made In Mehendi by Nandini BajpaiA Match Made In Mehendi by Nandini Bajpai

Publisher: Little Brown Books For Young Readers (The NOVL)

Release Date: September 10, 2019

Pages: 320

Available Through The Book Depository: A Match Made In Mehendi

Summary: Fifteen-year-old Simran “Simi” Sangha comes from a long line of Indian vichole-matchmakers-with a rich history for helping parents find good matches for their grown children. When Simi accidentally sets up her cousin and a soon-to-be lawyer, her family is thrilled that she has the “gift.”

But Simi is an artist, and she doesn’t want to have anything to do with relationships, helicopter parents, and family drama. That is, until she realizes this might be just the thing to improve her and her best friend Noah’s social status. Armed with her family’s ancient guide to finding love, Simi starts a matchmaking service-via an app, of course.

But when she helps connect a wallflower of a girl with the star of the boys’ soccer team, she turns the high school hierarchy topsy-turvy, soon making herself public enemy number one.

*Received ARC from Yallwest*

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: A Match Made In Mehendi is a fantastic debut and one you definitely want to add to your Fall TBR! When Simi develops an app to match couples at her school, things get pretty interesting! Its a fun, delightful YA debut that also focuses on pursuing your dreams, friendship, and love! 

Simi Sangha aspires to continue developing and pursuing her passion as an artist, she also happens to come from a long line of female matchmakers! When she’s able to successfully match her cousin Preet with the son of a local furniture store, Jolly, her mother and aunt are certain she has the “gift.” Her mother insists she continue the family legacy, but Simi doesn’t have much interest and would rather focus on her art (primarily sketching and mehendi) as sophomore year looms closer!

When her best friend Noah Siegal insist they try to improve their popularity in the coming year, Simi’s older brother Navdeep also happens to be working on an app inspired by their family’s matchmaking business!

She see’s this as the perfect opportunity to try out her “gift” while also using her artistic skills! Simi knows this’ll not only help her best friend, but also allow her to use her family’s matchmaking knowledge in getting classmates of Mayfield High, to find their match!

I’d been looking forward to reading this lovely book for over a year and it was so good, easily on my list of all-time favorite YA Contemporary books!

(ノ◕ヮ◕)ノ💖💖*:・゚✧

Hopefully my review inspires you to look more into this debut because its just so much fun! + If your looking for a unique contemporary story that also explores many themes, while at its heart, is a story about pursuing your dreams, then please check it out! I feel this a YA Contemporary many have not read or heard of and I think everyone should read it! 💖🌸✨

A Match Made In Mehendi also shines through its first-person POV! Following Simi’s perspective brings such an energy to the story and everything else that you want to keep reading! The way the plot, character development, and journey Simi undergoes allow you to feel incredibly connected to the story― you feel your right there alongside Simi the entirety of the novel! She was an incredibly fun character to follow― she’s awkward, funny, confident in her artistic skills, and much more!

Simi is one of the more relatable YA Contemporary characters I’ve read in a while. Though I’m no longer in high school I really resonated with her on her journey of friendship, love, and the expectations we set upon ourselves + our futures: I feel people at any age are still navigating these situations, so I really appreciated Bajpai’s exploration of them and how they really connected with me!

Friendship is one of the many important themes of this novel and I loved how it was explored! Not only through Simi and Noah, but also through the camaraderie between Simi and her classmates (especially when trouble occurs). I also appreciated the focus on m/f friendships (which Simi has quite a few of), I don’t often see that explored in YA so that was really great to read about!

With a book about matchmaking, of course there’s also lots of exploration of romance! Simi finds herself learning more about the app and how it works, when her school begins using it and we see perfect matches being made!

Simi navigates some romance herself when we learn about the boy she’s had a crush on since they were little (Aiden) and how their common interest in art brings them closer together! There’s also Suraj (Jolly’s cousin) who recently transfers to Simi’s school and is good friends with her brother Navdeep! I loved their dynamic so much and this was a really cute romance as you learn more about both of the guys and Simi’s exploration with love herself! There’s some unpredictability to the romance which was really fun to read!

The Matched! app was easily one of the most clever and creative catalysts that drove many important themes, elements, and layers to this fantastic story! From its incorporation of Navdeep’s tech skills (and love of robotics) alongside Simi’s passion for art, I loved how Bajpai combined technology and family tradition that also represents Simi taking her family’s legacy and making it her own! It involves a variety of school-related and hobby questions that all come together into their algorithm, which also assigns people a unique animal (created by Simi), to see how the app changed and developed with each few chapters was incredibly fun to read about & I appreciated how it was such an important element to a lot of the growth throughout this novel.

As the story develops, while the app starts as a fun experiment for their high school, it soon causes drama when one of the matches upsets one of the popular girls in Simi’s class, Amanda! Now, Simi and Noah are navigating their newly developed popularity and the drama they get sucked into when Amanda doesn’t approve of one of the matches (which involves her ex-boyfriend)!

As I mentioned above, I really loved how Simi used her family legacy of matchmaking and turned into something completely her own! It also allows for such a big element of family to shine throughout the novel! With this legacy following the Sangha women, we see how her mother (who runs a matchmaking service for Desi families w/ her sister (Simi’s aunt)), expects so much from her in regards to the business she finds it difficult to explain how art is such a big part of her identity! It was great to see that element explored so much into the story (though I wish there could have been a bit more page time to develop their mother/daughter dynamic).

The writing is also wonderful! It not only allows for the story to progress in such a fantastic way, but it also allows for elements of humor, mystery, and overall brings everything to life off the page! Tying into the writing itself, is the atmosphere of this novel. Simi is confident in herself, skills as an artist, and as you see the expectations put upon her (both internal & external), you see that above all she is incredibly loyal to those she cares about and herself!

Simi is an incredibly inspiring protagonist and her narrative voice just leave you smiling throughout this entire book!

Next I want to talk about the characters, who are all fantastic (even the ones your not supposed to like): Navdeep, Noah, Suraj, Teá & Ethan, Aiden, Amanda, Simi’s cousins Preet & Geet, and her other friends at school. Through Simi’s narrative they all really come to life!

Overall, there was just a great cast of characters who are all given depth and developed from beginning to end regardless of how little page time they have!

I will say that, although Simi’s grandmother was a great character introduced near the last few quarters of the book, I wish her character was just a bit more developed! Because she’s part of the matchmaker legacy, it would have been great to get a little more from her!

It was such a delight to read excerpts of The Shagun Matchmaking Guide with each chapter! Not only was it an important Sangha heirloom, but I also appreciated how it wove its way into the story more near the end! Its an incredibly vital tool for her family’s matchmaking service and I loved how it was woven into the story to provide Simi with a feeling of luck and guide her as she navigated matchmaking in her school!

As for the representation of A Match Made In Mehendi, it features a mainly Indian and Indian-American cast, Gay rep (Noah), and though its not specifically stated its hinted at that Simi’s school is diverse!

A Match Made In Mehendi is an incredibly fun, heartwarming debut that explores a variety of themes, that will have you turning the page from family, legacy, love, friendship, and pursuing one’s dreams! Bajpai’s YA Contemporary debut has such great writing, a wonderful cast of characters, humor, mystery, romance, and much more! I’m looking forward to reading what Bajpai publishes next!

I was also a part of the blog tour for A Match Made In Mehendi and if you’d like to check out a Q & A where Nandini goes into more detail about her inspiration and other fun elements, you can read it Here! 🌸✨📚

Fictional Faves: Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno

Hey everyone 24hr.YABookBlog here! (~˘▾˘)~ 💞✨📚 Have you ever wondered what your favorite fictional characters would enjoy from our world? I know I sure have, that’s why today I’m so excited to share with you Fictional Faves !! 🎉🎊

Don't Date Rosa Santos by Nina MorenoI was inspired to create this post because as an aspiring YA writer, my favorite part of the creation process has always revolved around my characters!

So, the introduction into today’s post will feature Rosa Santos from Nina Moreno’s Don’t Date Rosa Santos! If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on this lovely contemporary you can check out my full review here!!

I’ll be listing books, video games, and other fun fictional stories that I think Rosa would really enjoy!

Books

Rosa has got a lot on her plate from finalizing her college plans, setting up for her town of Port Coral’s Spring Fest, while also trying to explore more about her family’s past to feel more connected to her Cuban roots, and maybe even find love along the way!

Analee, In Real Life by Janelle MilanesThat’s why I feel Rosa would really love books by Janelle Milanes! Milanes is a YA author who also writes contemporary stories centering around Cuban-American main characters (who also have anxiety)! With her most recent book being: Analee, In Real Life!

Rosa would feel such a deep connection to her books because she even mentions in Don’t Date Rosa Santos that although she’s grown up in Port Coral that has a Latinx community, on a personal level she still hasn’t found that connection to her own Cuban history!

Not only would Rosa easily devour Milanes’s books in one sitting, but she’d also be able to relate to them on such a personal level. Also considering that Rosa is graduating high school, she would find Milanes’s younger characters incredibly brave and inspiring (Victoria: 15 and Analee: 16 or 17 I think?). Reading about Cuban-American protagonists just like her that overcome their own obstacles, would also inspire her to to the same!

Podcasts

If Rosa were in the mood for a podcast, I think she would really enjoy the urban fantasy audio drama: Return Home!

return-home-podcast

Return Home, created by Jeff Heimbuch centers around Jonathan Barker who is told to “return home” to his home of Melancholy Falls, NJ. From there he reunites with his best friend Buddy and former girlfriend Amy as they uncover the mysterious and supernatural happenings of their town!

Rosa would really enjoy this podcast because coming from a small town herself, she’d relate to the tight-knit community presented in the show! Also, it would have her wondering maybe Port Coral has some of its own supernatural mysteries left undiscovered? (especially when she’s heard of the town’s hidden Golden Turtle).

Video Games

I’ll honestly find any reason to include Kingdom Hearts on my blog every now and again, but I truly believe if Rosa were to play video games, she would really love this series!

joyce-mccown-791673-unsplash books

Kingdom Hearts is a JRPG that follows Sora on his adventures to travel across different worlds inspired by the Disney films! Its a story about friendship + the bonds between, as he fight monsters and learns more about the light/darkness the tie the worlds together.

With Rosa’s dream to explore more beyond her small town, much like the themes within Kingdom Hearts, she would relate to the main characters of Sora and Riku! Also, I believe she’d appreciate a good adventure with unique and immersive fantasy lore, and complex storytelling!

I also feel she would listen to the Destiny Islands theme on repeat–I know I sure did while reading Moreno’s book (it gave me such Port Coral vibes)! 😂🎧💖

So those are the fictional stories Rosa would absolutely love!

What are your thoughts on today’s Fictional Faves? Any recommendations for another fictional character I should create a list for?

Love From A To Z by S.K. Ali Review

Love From A To Z by S.K. AliLove From A To Z by S.K. Ali

Publisher: Salaam Reads (Simon Pulse)

Release Date: April 30, 2019

Pages: 352

Available Through The Book Depository: Love From A To Z

Summary: A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.

An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry.

When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break.

Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.

Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister.

Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.

Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

My Thoughts: Love From A To Z is a marvel! This is a YA Contemporary that explores the introspective parts of ourselves and how life’s marvels and oddities allow us to navigate our world in different ways! S.K. Ali’s thought-provoking story explores family, grief, love, and deeply explores the harsh reality for many that face Islamaphobia. This novel balances the real and romantic, making it a complex and heart-warming contemporary story you don’t want to miss!

Love From A To Z is a novel that I know without a doubt were I to read again, would pick up on even more profound and deep messages that layered themselves into this gem of a story!

Zayneb Malik knows she was born angry. Its through this anger that she learns its for the right reasons, to challenge and speak up against the injustices around her. This includes speaking up against her Islamaphobic high school teacher, Mr. Fencer.

When her decision to speak up gets her suspended, she takes time to reflect and view things from a different perspective while in Doha, Qatar where she stays with her Auntie Nandy.

But as we learn from the very beginning, Love From A To Z is indeed a love story! Next, we are introduced to Adam Chen, who is tied to Zayneb in a very unique way.

What we quickly learn is that these eighteen-year olds carry a “Marvel & Oddities” journal to not only vent, but admire the world around them. Or more specifically, reflect on their own personal worlds that have shaped them in many ways.

What I loved was that there was a unique contrast to how they each used their journals. Adam is more optimistic, recording more of life’s marvels than oddities, which allow him to look at life more positively. His vow to live more, inspires him to look at these aspects of life that make it what it is. Zayneb sticks to more of the “thorns” or oddities in life, but through that it allows her to examine,ready, and prepare herself to take on the world and its wrongs.

However throughout their journey in Love From A To Z, we see these journal titles begin swapping among the two of them when destiny brings them closer together.

The use of 1st person and journal entries allowed me to connect to these wonderful main characters even more and understand them in a more introspective way! I also found that I really connected with Zayneb & Adam on a deeper, more personal level, through the fact that while I was reading I was also writing notes for each chapter, in the book’s format of diary entries.

Zayneb and Adam meet in the airport and on the same plane when their headed to Doha. Adam is taking a break from university and headed back to see his father and little sister Hanna. He’s also carrying a big secret he’s not entirely sure how to cope with himself, and its that he has Multiple Sclerosis. Throughout the novel as he tries to avoid the discussion with his loved ones for as long as possible (considering that’s also what his mother passed away from when he was 9), so Adam also goes on a journey of understanding what he wants from life going forward.

There’s an adoration they have for each other that subtly develops throughout the book and it was so beautiful to read about. I was smiling the entire time when they recognized each other and were attempting to strengthen their newly formed friendship, all while we knew how much they secretly liked each other! Their friendship/romance was easily one of the many highlights of this novel–their chemistry and dynamic was heartwarming to read and I–just loved them a lot!! Zayneb and Adam captured my heart and every time they were in scenes together…my heart couldn’t handle their cuteness!! 💖💖

This novel also explores faith in a beautiful way as we learn both Zayneb and Adam are Muslim. Faith is different for everyone and the way both of these inspiring protagonists see that to further connect them to one another and find this special bond, was heartwarming.

I loved exploring the layers and different facets to faith in this story. Zayneb is a hijabi-Muslim and proud of it. I admired her bravery and courage to correct others and just connect with the reader through her personal thoughts on faith and being Muslim.

Adam is also Muslim, but he converted around the age of 11 after his mother passed away. Faith for him is also a way to have that connection to his mother and find this deep and unique connection with Zayneb.

Going back to Zayneb and Adam as characters, I loved how incredibly real they became and when I reached the last page I was sobbing at how sad I was to be leaving these characters and their story.

Zayneb embraces her anger and its wonderful to read because its through this anger she finds the strength to combat against injustice in many forms. I respect and admire her anger and how its such an outward part of how she presents her values and beliefs on how wrongs should be dealt with. we don’t see that a lot in YA female characters and I respect/admire that a lot.

Compare that to Adam whose a more soft and quiet soul. However, its also through that we see his worries are channeled through a more reserved way of expressing the things he encounters in life.

Through Ali’s writing, not only is it beautiful and introspective, but it also allows the reader to fully understand and connect with our wonderful cast of characters on such deep level, aside from Zayneb and Adam: there’s Aunty Nandy, Zayneb’s parents, older brother and sister, Adam’s father, sister Hanna, the Emma’s, Zayneb’s grandmother (who we never actually meet), and Zayneb’s friends at home.

There’s layers to these characters that get uncovered as we progress through Adam and Zayneb’s journals and I love how Ali layered these different facets to their characters in such a great way.

One example comes that comes to mind is Adam’s sister Hanna! She becomes more of a main character throughout Love From A To Z and we see how she such leaves an impact on both Zayneb and Adam throughout their journeys.

Another quality they both share that is an essential part to their story and character was this element of hiding a facet of who they were. With Zayneb, it was keeping the angry part of her subdued for the sake of “peace” during her trip away and with that, she keeps this hidden from Adam in an attempt to reinvent this fundamental part of herself.

With Adam, it was this fear of uncertainty that he kept his MS hidden to ensure his loved ones wouldn’t have to grieve, especially his father who still struggles with the loss of his wife. From an early age, Adam learned the pain he felt with the loss of his mother had lessened over time because he kept all the vital memories of her, alive in his heart. However, throughout the book Adam learned to confront his fear with the strength of his family, faith, and memories of his mother.

They find that the more they keep these parts of themselves hidden, how increasingly difficult it became for them to come to fully embrace who they were with each other (which led to a certain point where they felt they didn’t really understand one another). That broke my heart because its clear there’s such a deeper connection between them and I turned page after page seeing where their relationship was headed.

An important part of this novel that was incredibly explored was the underlying journey Zayneb and Adam accept as they learn to better understand the vital parts of their personalities that shape who they are and want to become!

Love From A To Z is also wonderfully diverse from the story taking place mainly in Qatar, it centers around our main characters Zayneb who is 1/2 Pakistani and West Indian and Adam who is a Canadian with a Chinese & Finnish background. There’s also many facets and layers to Muslim and Hijabi culture that’s explored as well.

In addition, Love From A To Z also deeply analyzes many themes which makes it such a complex and moving contemporary story. From the exploration of grief, loss, layers of love, and the very present topic of Islamaphobia and the pain felt by those who experience microaggressions because people aren’t willing to look past their close-minded views.

Above all, Love From A To Z is about the marvels and oddities that Adam & Zayneb grasp/hold onto, which influences how they see the world around them and choose to act.

Love From A To Z a thought-provoking, romantic, and immersive YA Contemporary! Unique in every way, the fantastic cast of characters, magnificent writing, deeply explored themes, with two leads that will capture your heart! S.K. Ali’s latest contemporary story is one that will captivate you start to finish!

Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud ARC Review

Truly Madly Royally y Debbie RigaudTruly, Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud

Publisher: Point Paperbacks (Scholastic)

Release Date: July 30, 2019

Pages: 304

Available For Pre-Order Through The Book Depository: Truly Madly Royally

Summary: Zora Emerson is not here to play. She’s enrolled in a prestigious summer program, and is ready to use what she’s learning to change the world (or at least her corner of New Jersey, for now).

Zora’s not expecting to vibe with any of her super-privileged classmates. So she’s shocked to find she’s got chemistry with Owen Whittelsey, who is charming, funny, undeniably cute…and turns out to literally be a prince. As in, his parents are the king and queen of a small European country. What?

Suddenly, Zora’s summer is looking a lot more complicated — especially when Owen asks her to be his date at his older brother’s wedding. Can her feelings for Owen, not to mention her sense of self, survive the royal chaos?

*Received ARC through Bookish*

My Rating: ★★★★☆

My Thoughts: Truly Madly Royally is a YA Royal romance, perfect for summer! Zora’s summer gets a bit more interesting when her chance encounter with a boy in the library during her pre-college program quickly puts her into the spotlight. As it turns out, he’s actually a prince! From its focus on characters, to a sweet summer romance, Truly Madly Royally is a fun debut filled with heart!

You know those books that you always find yourself interested in, but never happen to pick one up? That would be me with royal romances–I see them on my twitter feed all the time and I know about a good number of them, I’ve just never taken the time to read one!

But now I have and let me tell you, Rigaud’s debut is one that was just such a blast to read and I definitely recommend it if your looking for a fun, royal romantic contemporary that really puts a focus on its main character!

Truly Madly Royally balances the fun, cute romantic moments alongside discussions of real world issues and topics, so perfectly!

I’d already been looking forward to Rigaud’s debut because I don’t often read royal romances and this was one looked like it’d be a perfect read for me! Not only is it a debut from an author of color, but its also centered around a biracial relationship, featuring a Black protagonist! I’m always here to support debut, #OwnVoices books, and especially those featuring characters of color!

Told through a first person POV, Zora Emerson is the highlight of this novel! She is such a dedicated and hard-working young woman, you  can see the vibrant energy and spirit to her character!

Zora started an organization called ‘Walk Me Home’ as a way to help kids whose parents/guardians were busy after they finished school. She’s really dedicated and dreams of getting it expanded, to make sure it continues to grow!

From the work she puts into hoping to receive more sponsorships and ensuring she see’s it expand within her community, Zora’s organization means a lot to her and nothing stops her commitment to this project!

This summer, not only is Zora busy with her organization, she’s also attending a summer program at Halstead University as a part of its college prep program.

Throughout the novel (especially from her time in the summer prep classes), she talks about the privilege the more wealthy students have compared to others and how she doesn’t ever really feel like she fits in this atmosphere of the university!

What Zora wasn’t entirely expecting either was that a seemingly normal meeting, alongside a phone mix-up with a guy in the university library, would quickly change her day-to-day life and put her in the spotlight!

The guy she meets is Owen Whittelsey, who happens to be a prince! We learn he’s the prince of Landerel, a fictional European country. Zora wasn’t all too prepared for all the attention and royal protocol that happened because of their meeting, but she does the best she can!

Truly Madly Royally is really about Zora and her development as she continues to pursue her dreams as a community organizer! The plot itself really focuses on the introspection of her as character, as she makes new friends and tries to understand what kind of relationship she wants with Owen.

She doesn’t agree to constantly meet up with him at first, but the more she gives it a try, she realizes she’s falling for him!

The story also explores her journey to navigate all these different aspects of her life that get a bit more complicated when she meets him: relationships, being in the spotlight, her organization, & so much more! She’s a really wonderful protagonist and I loved reading from her POV!

What made this novel such a refreshing contemporary, was that it was definitely a YA that’s on the younger side, in terms of voice and the lightness on romance, which was nice! Also because of that, I found the story felt more realistic!

What I loved about this book was how plot-heavy it was! For a pretty short contemporary (averaging at about 280 pages in the ARC) there were so many different plot points and threads that were explored, which was a lot of fun!

Also, while the summary does explain a royal wedding and was mentioned somewhat early in the book, it’s definitely more of a plot point nearing the end chunk of chapters.

Friendship is another aspect of the story I loved exploring! Zora & her best friend Skye keep in touch throughout the novel while their both attending different college summer programs! They always make time to talk to each other and keep updated on what’s going on during their summer apart. Their dynamic and supportive friendship was really fun to read! I appreciated that Rigaud made it such a central part of the plot!

There’s also a plot point introduced about 1/2 way through the book when secrets get out about Zora and Owen and one of her classmates Matt, wants to be her friend! I liked that a friendship randomly blossomed in this book because to me that’s pretty realistic and I loved how it showed Zora that the classmates in her summer program weren’t all the same!

As I mentioned above, this novel discusses privilege throughout, but also so many other topics that really weave their way into the plot of this story. From race, celebrating Black culture, alongside privilege in communities and education. I loved how Rigaud made these themes and their discussions present throughout, while also keeping the light, fun spirit of the story!

Alongside friendship, family is also a really present part of the story! From her mother, step-father, older brother Zach, and father, they all get pretty equal page-time and I just loved exploring the family dynamic between them all. Zach and Zora’s brother-sister dynamic was really fun to read, but what got the most page-time was definitely Zora and her mom!

Her father was also in the story in certain moments and I thought exploring the dynamic between them was super interesting because Zora knows her father doesn’t always show Zora he’s proud of her, but when he does she really takes it to heart!

In terms of writing, through Zora’s voice, the dialogue really brings the characters to life and there’s a distinct voice to each of them! Many of the characters introduced aren’t just side characters but we see they become part of Zora’s story in some way whether its new friends or people related to Owen–they all come to life through Rigaud’s writing and overall they were all fun characters to get to know!

I feel like where Truly Madly Royally struggles though, is in certain aspects in terms of character and plot! Firstly, Owen–he’s nice and his relationship with Zora is cute, but I never felt I really knew him too much…by the time I reached the end, I felt there would have been more development to him. We got a bit more into his family, the grief for his sister who passed away, and that he’s a genuinely nice person, but it felt like there was still more to know about him.

Also, Landerel is meant to be a European country resembling the UK in some way and overall it was pretty well developed, but there were moments I just wanted to know more–because it is mentioned a good number of time throughout the story and Zora gets a chance to visit!

Finally, there were certain plot threads that are left hanging throughout the book that are just dropped when we reach the wedding portion and I was left wondering what happened (like Zach & her best friend Skye & the dynamic between Zora & her father).

But overall, Truly Madly Royally is a great summer contemporary and debut to check out! Its got a dynamic main character, focus on friendship, family, and centers around a girl navigating life alongside a cute royal romance!

Truly Madly Royally is a contemporary romance that really focuses on Zora’s journey when she gets put into a royal spotlight and now has to navigate all of these everyday aspects of her life, in a new way! Rigaud’s debut is a fun summer read with a focus on its characters, a light and adorable romance, and a focus on the plot that will keep you turning the page! Fans of royal romances will definitely want to check this one out!