Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi Review

Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi (Perfectly Parvin #1)

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (Penguin Teen)

Release Date: May 18, 2021

Pages: 320

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Designer: Jasmine Moshiri (Photography) & Samira Iravani

Summary: Parvin has just had her heart broken when she meets the cutest boy at her new high school, Matty Fumero–with an emphasis on fumero, because he might be the smoking hot cure to all of her boy troubles. If Parvin can get Matty to ask her to homecoming, she’s positive it will erase all the awful and embarrassing feelings He Who Will Not Be Named left her with after the summer. The only problem is Matty is definitely too cool for bassoon-playing, frizzy-haired, Cheeto-eating Parvin. Since being herself has not worked for her in the past (see aforementioned relationship), she decides that to be the girl who finally gets the guy, she should start acting like the women in her favorite rom-coms. Those girls aren’t loud, they certainly don’t cackle when they laugh, and they smile much more than they talk. Easy enough, right?

But as Parvin struggles through her parent-mandated Farsi lessons on the weekends, a budding friendship with a boy she can’t help but be her unfiltered self with, and dealing with the ramifications of the Muslim Ban on her family in Iran, she realizes that being herself might just be the perfect thing after all.

My Rating: ★★★★☆ ½

Perfectly Parvin was truly a marvelous, funny, and all-around SPECTACULAR YA debut that deserves more hype! Following 14-year-old Parvin Mohammadi, she’s a girl whose starting high school with a broken heart, so she decides to reinvent herself in order to get the ultimate homecoming date!

I’ve realized hyping up my favorite books on social media is a lot harder than it looks. Trying to capture the sheer brilliance of an author’s words and storytelling putting it into your own words (for me anyways) is always difficult. So perhaps my review can convince you to read this fantastic book! If you love a witty protagonist, plots about friendship, romance (of course), but ultimately a journey about accepting yourself as you are, then you MUST pick up Abtahi’s debut!

Iranian-American Parvin thinks everything is going well with her summer boyfriend Wesley, pulling pranks and hanging out at the beach…that is until, he breaks up with her for being “too much.” Now feeling devastated and hurt, Parvin’s gearing up to overcome this obstacle into freshman year by asking out her cute sophomore classmate, Matty Fumero, to homecoming! But when she decides to use romantic heroines from her favorite movies to accomplish her goal, will she accept her new “quiet” self and be willing to sacrifice the true Parvin to find love?

Throughout this journey, she’s not alone! She’s got her supportive best friends Ruth Song and Fabian Castor by her side at ever step of the way. However, when Parvin becomes consumed with her plans on winning over her crush, she doesn’t even realize she’s ignoring and missing the special moments with her bffs, leaving them to the side.

I mentioned this in my June TBR and am still thinking about the amazing friend group that Parvin has, despite its ups downs there’s never a moment when these friends aren’t supporting and sticking by one another!

In addition to her new start at James K. Polk High, she’s also attending Farsi classes and confronting her anxieties about not being “Iranian enough.” Despite her fears though, her parents and favorite aunt Sara especially, help her to juggle it all. Being 1/2 white and Iranian, Abtahi explores the deep bond and connection Parvin has with her parents as she uncovers more about what it means to be the “real Parvin,” who loves hot cheetos, pulling pranks and has a clever sense of humor. Being biracial as well, the story explores the hardship that Parvin’s mom endures as she realizes she can’t always help her daughter connect with her Iranian side, but assures that family (and friends) are always there to assist.

As the fall semester is well underway and prepping for homecoming, Parvin meets Amir in her Farsi class and slowly begins to realize she’s more herself around him. While I won’t spoil how the romantic storyline ends, both of boys are so well developed and I genuinely loved seeing the delightful Parvin navigate her feelings + personal journey with her oh so brilliant and witty humor amid her boy-focused goals (this book is SO funny, adored it being told through her POV). Her character felt incredibly relatable and real because Abtahi builds so much depth, giving Parvin a distinct voice that carries throughout the novel. She’s hilarious both introspectively and outward as well making tons of scenes, even with something as simple as school feel utterly hilarious and charming!

Abtahi built such a distinct voice to her characters, especially for our hilarious protagonist that it was one of my many favorite parts about this book! Parvin felt like such a real character and kind of like a friend too, I genuinely loved reading from her perspective (I’m also not usually a rereader, but this book is one I wouldn’t mind experiencing all over again <3). Despite the story focusing on Parvin’s search for love, friendship and family are just a big (if not bigger) pieces of her story that Abtahi takes her time to develop throughout the novel. She also covers big topics such as the Muslim ban and racism, creating a conversation that Parvin deeply explores through her internal pov.

The setting of Parvin’s Northern Virginia town, home, alongside her high school just come to life on the page. No matter what the setting was, Abtahi’s great writing built Parvin’s world with each and every chapter (though another FUN tidbit here is that the “chapters” are more split up by days / time which adds a unique flow to the story).

This novel also features an incredibly inclusive cast where main characters include: Parvin whose 1/2 Iranian, Fabian is Mexican-American who is gay, Ruth is Korean-American who identifies as pan, Matty is Argentinian-American, and the novel of course follows an Iranian-American family / culture.

Luckily this is the first of a duology, so there’s many more hilarious hijinks with Parvin to come and I could not be more thrilled! The ending, though feels like it does wrap up just a bit too quickly, just has the reader feel joy and hope for Parvin who grows so much over the course of the story. All in all there’s so much love I have for these characters, setting, impactful messages, storytelling, each of which come to life through Parvin’s eyes. Abtahi has crafted a genuine treasure of a book in the span of just 300+ pages leaving me eager to know where Parvin’s high school adventure is headed next!

Perfectly Parvin is a true gem in 2021 YA Contemporary you don’t want to miss! Hilarious hijinks, great storytelling, and lots of meaningful messages make this a fantastic debut that promises more friendship, family, and uplifting Parvin adventures to come!

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean ARC Review

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean (TEA #1)

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Release Date: May 18, 2021

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: John Ed De Vera

Summary: Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.

In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.

Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after?

My Rating: ★★★

[Received an ARC through a giveaway]

Tokyo Ever After is an incredibly fun, heartwarming tale about an ordinary girl named Izumi who learns she’s actually a PRINCESS, yes that’s right! Through a witty, charming voice, great storytelling, a bit of romance and pivotal themes of self-discovery plus family to name a few, Izzy figures out who she wants to be in this charming YA Contemporary!

Izumi Tanaka lives her daily life with her single, very supportive mother in a small northern California town, loves being with her friends and is ready to finish up her final year of high school in Mount Shasta. But when her friends help her uncover clues as to who her father is, she’s soon thrust into the spotlight and given the opportunity to discover more about her royal lineage with a trip to Japan when she learns that her father is in fact – a crown prince!

I think what stayed with me the most about Jean’s novel was Izzy herself. There’s an “ordinary-ness” to her, which is part of the charm about her character! She’s always grown up comfortably with her mom and now realizes there’s this other side to her family that she never knew. Through a first-person POV, Izzy feels so incredibly real. She has insecurities about whether she has the potential to live up to thousands of years of tradition, be “enough,” and ultimately discover who she wants to be along the way.

Getting accustomed to the bustle of being a royal for her two-week stay she’s introduced to her cousins, handmaiden, assistants, etc. and Izzy is learning where she fits in as she’s attending events, keeping up appearances for the press, even doing visits to surrounding areas. As she’s trying to understand more about her heritage, there’s an underlying humor that stays throughout the book making her journey so very endearing and relatable.

Family and friendship (the AGG’s were so supportive) are such important parts of Izzy’s life and Jean does a fantastic job at merging these two that help steady Izzy whenever she’s feeling unsure about taking up her role as princess. Her parents just want her to be happy and although each dynamic is different (her father is just as nervous as she is), there’s important moments where she feels like she can finally embrace who she is. I think one of my FAVORITE scenes is when she was readying to leave her visit to Kyoto and she learns that the town has welcomed her. After a series of mistakes, missteps and blunders, this one moment makes her realize her significance and strength as a ruler.

Another one of my favorite parts about this novel was just how incredibly funny it was. Izumi is quite silly and her blunt, comedic honesty makes her journey feel relatable being introduced to all these royal protocols while finding her footing little by little. In addition another relatable part to her character was when she mentioned feeling like she’s always in the background and now as someone who is in the spotlight 24/7, it made following her journey feel familiar. A line from the book that also stuck with me and reminded me of Izzy’s clever humor was when she says something like: did parents really have lives before their children? Not sure why, but I still think about that quote and it was just overly silly, but very witty too.

Now onto the romance! When Izzy first heads to Japan, she’s assigned a royal bodyguard named Akio. While it definitely starts off as a kind of disliking-to-understanding then lovers kind of dynamic, it slowly becomes a bigger part of Izzy’s story which while it is incredibly sweet, I do wish there was more of a focus on her connecting with her relatives. She has this whole other side to her family that she’s LITERALLY just learned about and I’m sad there wasn’t more page-time given to her trying (or Yoshi and the twins) to reach out just a bit more. I think focusing more on her building those connections with her family would have added another great layer to her story to build that bridge with her Japanese heritage.

Naturally though, a story this delightful couldn’t possibly end after just one book right? So after a bit of research I learned from a Publisher’s Weekly interview that Emiko is in fact writing a SEQUEL coming in 2022 titled ‘Tokyo Dreaming.’ I’m so incredibly happy about this because the ending of course leaves in a very hopeful place for Izzy and her future. Overall this was so delightful, filled with charm, humor, and just awesome storytelling, had so much fun reading this!

Tokyo Ever After is a sweet, comedic, and heartwarming YA Contemporary about an ordinary girl turned princess, whose trying to figure out her place in the world! Delivering a funny, witty protagonist, immersive story and inspiring messages, you’ll be left wanting to know more about what’s next for Izzy!

Those Not-So-Sweet Boys Vol. 1 by Yoko Nogiri {Manga Review}

Those Not-So-Sweet Boys Vol. 1 by Yoko Nogiri (TNSSB #1)

Publisher: Kodansha Comics

Release Date: February 16, 2021

Pages: 208

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Summary: A DEBT OWED

Midori drops her wallet on her first day of high school, but her new classmate Ichijo swoops in to help. She wants to thank him, but he’s part of a tight-knit trio and none of them are ever in class! Rumor has it that they all got expelled for acting up, and studious Midori’s actually at risk of expulsion, too… In order to help support her family, she has a part-time job, which is against the school rules. When the chairman of the school board catches her leaving work, he says he’ll let it go—but only if she’s up to the task of bringing the three boys back to school. Well, why not? It’ll be a piece of cake…right?

My Rating: ★★★★☆

Having recently finished Yoko Nogiri’s previous series Love In Focus, I was incredibly eager to see what her new series would be about! As someone who doesn’t read a whole lot of shojo titles, Nogiri makes unique stories that are perfect for a beginner like me.

So, Those Not-So-Sweet Boys is the newest series from Nogiri that follows high school student Midori who after dropping her wallet, befriends a tight-knit group of guys who never show up to class and end up getting into trouble. But when the school’s chairman figures out she has a job outside of school, he makes her a deal…get them back to class for upcoming exams and activities and he’ll help her get an alternative job approved by the school.

The only question is can she figure out why Rei Ichijo, Chihiro Goshima, & Yuki Nojo-Ieiri are so determined to stay away from school to figure out a solution in time?

There’s a lot of page-time given to developing Midori and the boys backstories which not only builds their character, but also makes it easy to see that they are not who they appear to be, which adds an element of mystery to the story as you learn more about them and learn why they feel so disconnected from school.

I like how the manga establishes the family ties / dynamics when it comes to the guys lives outside of school, especially since they come from wealthy families. Midori realizes she has to rebuild their reputation and to her surprise, she realizes how happy she is hanging out with Rei, Chihiro, Yuki and their adorable corgi! Since they were closed off to her in the beginning, its nice to see them build a solid friendship and offer Midori an unexpected hand along the way when she needs help.

While the romance can seem quite obvious as its building with Midori and Rei, the way the plot is unfolding is what’s really keeping me interested. This first volume really builds the relationships / friendship between the characters that makes Nogiri’s shojo manga stand out to me every time.

The artwork has a unique style to it, especially when it comes out through character designs. The paneling on each page never feels repetitive or under-utilized either which is a plus.

I think my biggest issue is that although the story has an interesting concept and the wonder behind where the cast’s stories will go is what’s keeping me invested, YET there’s no actual strong connection I feel for the cast in general. There was nothing too memorable (for me at least) that specifically stands out about their characters. There were times that the writing could be a bit repetitive at points and plain. So for me, it came across as a bit bland in the execution.

But I found this to be a lot of fun and am very interested to see where Midori and the boys next adventure will take them! Also, in true Yoko Nogiri fashion despite how cliche it may be, the ending always leaves on a surprising note!

Those Not-So-Sweet Boys Vol. 1 is an engaging, unique shojo, being the newest series from Yoko Nogiri! The artwork and plot especially will hold your interest, with the story giving lots of focus to the characters. Although the characters feel rather plain, it’s the page-turning story that will leave you wondering where the story is headed!

I’m also shouting a fellow book blogger review! I recommend reading Joanna at The Geekish Brunette‘s Review if you’re looking for a post that dives right into the characters and what to expect from them.

Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce Review

Hot British Boyfriend by Kristy Boyce

Publisher: Harper Teen

Release Date: February 9, 2021

Pages: 336

Available Through The Book Depository & Bookshop

Cover Artist: Jacqueline Li and Chris Kwon (designer)

Summary: After a horrifying public rejection by her crush, Ellie Nichols does what any girl would do: she flees the country. To be more precise, she joins her high school’s study abroad trip to England. While most of her classmates are there to take honors courses and pad their college applications, Ellie is on a quest to rebuild her reputation and self-confidence. And nothing is more of a confidence booster than getting a hot British boyfriend.

When Ellie meets Will, a gorgeous and charming Brit, she vows to avoid making the same mistakes as she did with the last guy she liked. Which is why she strikes up a bargain with Dev, an overachieving classmate who she’s never clicked with, but who does seem to know a lot about the things Will is interested in—if he helps her win over her crush, then she’ll help him win over his.

But even as Ellie embarks on a whirlwind romance, one that takes her on adventures to some of England’s most beautiful places, she still needs to figure out if this is actually the answer to all her problems…and whether the perfect boyfriend is actually the perfect boy for her.

My Rating: ★★★☆☆ ¾

My Thoughts: Hot British Boyfriend is a fun, entertaining YA romcom filled with adventure, academia, and friendship! Ellie joins a study abroad program in England after a humiliating video goes viral. But, along the way she learns to boost her self-confidence and discovers what she’s truly passionate about. A light-hearted, fluffy debut!

Before going into my review I will say that despite my 3-star rating, I liked this debut a lot because I could see what the author was trying to do in terms of Ellie’s development throughout the book and it surprised me by putting a focus on friendship for about 50% of the story!

So, Ellie has recently moved to Washington DC with her mother and is anxious of what the new year will bring now that her friend Crystal is joining a study abroad program. However, she’s convinced her crush Andy is going to ask her to be his girlfriend at a party. After misreading the situation and humiliating herself, she can no longer face her classmates. Then, when a spot opens up for Waterford’s study abroad program at Emberton Manor in England, Ellie takes the opportunity to step away for a bit and also gain some self-confidence along the way.

As she adjusts to her new surroundings for the semester, higher-level classes, and her studious roommate Sage, Ellie quickly finds herself hatching a plan sure to give her the confidence she’s looking for, by finding a British boyfriend!

After meeting Will and his best friend Hank at a flea market, she believes in order to reinvent herself during her time there, the only thing she can do is slowly lie to her boyfriend, which in turn leads her to not be fully honest with him about her interests like unicorns and fairy gardens. There’s this underlying anxiety she feels that he may not embrace the real her, which propels her emotional arc. There’s an authenticity to this as Boyce portrayed both Ellie’s anxiety and lack of confidence consistently to emphasize her development throughout the story.

However as Ellie begins to hang out with Will more, she can’t help but feel a pull towards the new friends she’s made. Even with the help of her classmate Dev, they team up to help each other win over their crushes/loves which adds a fun layer to their dynamic. But as Ellie begins to realize Dev is really the one she can be honest with, will she make the right choice and follow her heart?

This is a nice YA Contemporary. Boyce builds in the wanderlust / adventure and academic atmospheres very well through Ellie’s perspective. From the descriptions of the locations they visit, classes, and lots more, the setting becomes such an integral part of how the character dynamics are explored. While the summary doesn’t hint at this too much either, there is a lot of focus + development on friendship and Ellie’s new friend group. Established early on, Ellie only had one friend (now ex) and has moved a lot in the past, so she’s never really had many.

Seeing how Ellie connects more and grows in ways she never realized because of her friends like Sage who inspires her to be more studious and appreciate the uniqueness of her hobbies, Dev for how they can be so honest with each other, even Huan for just being a supportive friend…these dynamics were such strong layers and I appreciated how Boyce gave this theme such an important role in Ellie’s story.

Now in England, she’s given the opportunity to meet new people and classmates she never really bonded with before. Also I know friendship is a big part of the story here, but her moments with Dev were very adorable and the slow development of their relationship kept me wondering what would happen next.

A relatable element and also interesting observation of this novel was how everyone around Ellie seems to have some sort of life plan heading into senior year, but she is still learning to accept her hobbies (gardening, building fairy houses, etc.) and learning to embrace them, while at the same time figuring out what her own academic future holds.

There’s a relatability to that feeling that consistently builds Ellie’s character as well while she’s trying to figure out what she wants to do after high school. Not many will know, but I appreciated how Boyce normalized that idea and showcased the importance of using your passions and hobbies to guide you.

Another observation I had was my personal interpretation into some “privilege” that certain characters had. Where Ellie’s classmates like Dev, Sage, and Huan are there to prepare themselves for college/uni, there’s many scenes that remind her they are there to focus on their studies. While Ellie struggles and does improve along the way, little by little, she does mostly spend that time to think more about her love life, while leaving her studies at the back of her mind. Then with Will, he comes from a rather privileged family and he is eager to break away from his family’s business to start his own, however he doesn’t have much of a solid plan and does have advantages of not needing to worry about schooling (or finances) for the time being. This isn’t necessarily a good or bad thing but an interesting observation that stuck with me as I read.

Overall I think what left my rating is left at 3.75 stars despite how much I liked it, was the more I realized seeing Ellie’s relationship progress with Will throughout the book not only felt too fast, but also rather hollow? Whenever she would meet up with him, I would think ‘what is even the point?’ He’s nice and all, but there’s literally nothing interesting about his character the more I read. He was also at points being unintentionally self-centered and was always focused on his own issues not really listening to Ellie that much anyways (in my opinion). Then coupled with the fact that Ellie and Dev has a WAY better dynamic, there was this superficial/pointless feeling to her relationship with Will. Then it was only about waiting about 100 pages left in the book where Ellie could finally realize that too.

However, above all I personally loved seeing the focus on Ellie’s growth as a character in figuring out what she wants to do with school and her life after high school was a nice arc to explore. Despite being the point of the book, I still think her romance with Will, surprisingly, bogged it all down. While this novel was just an okay, fun read for me personally, wouldn’t mind checking out the author’s 2nd book in this “series” (which she recently announced in March). Despite my overall feelings on it, what will stick with me was the personal journey that Ellie took and the focus on friendship!

Hot British Boyfriend is a fluffy, light YA romcom that despite some flaws, puts a focus on friendship, boosting self-confidence, and discovering ones passions!

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! 🎉💚📚