REVIEW: Legendary, Stephanie Garber (May 29, 2018)

Helloooooo, one of my most anticipated reads of 2018. You were brilliant. The day I received this book in the mail, I screamed and did a little spin in my desk chair. Apologies go out again to my coworkers for disturbing the peace, but I will not hold back my glee.

LEGENDARY is the hotly anticipated sequel to last year’s CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber. And I’m just going to make the wait even more difficult for you (#sorrynotsorry) because I loved this so much.

The 411: Let’s backtrack just a tad. If you’re unfamiliar with this series, here’s a brief rundown: In CARAVAL we are introduced to sisters Scarlett and Donatella “Tella.” Scarlett has long dreamed of attending Caraval, a renown performance spectacle that happens once a year. What makes Caraval special, is that it requires audience participation. Think a murder-mystery party amped up to the extreme. Scarlett found herself deeply immersed in the game when Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind, Legend, and must play to get her sister back…

So here we are. *spoiler* Tella may be rescued, but still not free. She made a seemingly impossible deal with an anonymous Friend in exchange for her freedom: the true identity of Legend. To discover this, Tella must rejoin Caraval and uncover the mystery behind its maker.

Ok. Okokokokokokok this is a near perfect sequel. And I only use “near perfect” because I’m super picky about my five star ratings. I read this book in a few short hours and I’m confident there will be a reread in the future, especially since it was announced yesterday that there will be a third book in the Caraval series and I am throwing confetti in excitement.  I’m super interested to see where Garber ends this story.

The world of Caraval is incredible. I love the magic, the deception (oh the deception!), and the complex relationships between our “players” and “actors.” If you liked CARAVAL, I (obviously) highly suggest LEGENDARY. If you didn’t like CARAVAL, I still suggest giving LEGENDARY a try. It’s the same atmospheric feel, but Tella as the main gives it a different tone (in my opinion). And I found myself enjoying Tella’s POV more than Scarlett’s. Tella’s a bit more feisty and sarcastic, which is my personal fave in a narrator.

Ooh and the love story, peeps. If you are a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope, you will be immensely happy.

MY RATING:  ✰✰✰✰1/2

Thank you Flatiron Books for my galley! Legendary is available May 29.

REVIEW: Baby Teeth, Zoje Stage (July 12, 2018)

Hi all. Long time no talk. Reeeeally long time. To be honest, I’ve been in a little of a reading slump. I’ve read a fair amount of books, but they’ve all hovered between the 2.5-3 star range. I enjoyed them, but nothing to write home about. I am so happy to say that I’ve broken the rut.

Holy CRAP, this book.

The 411: Alex, Suzette, and their daughter, Hanna, live a normal, domestic suburban life.  Hanna has selective mutism, but uses her few words to scare the living daylights out of her mother, who is convinced that Hanna is out to get her. And, spoiler alert, she is. Hanna goes out of her way to ruin her mother’s life and undermine her, all the while remaining the image of absolute innocence with her father. And Alex doesn’t believe Suzette that Hanna is a little different.

This book alternates perspectives between Suzette and Hanna. Hanna’s chapters are chilling and creepy and there were several times where I actually said out loud, “What the fuck?!?!” Suzette’s chapter are equally hard to read but in a completely different way. Suzette is a mother just desperately trying to connect with her daughter. And her daughter is a budding psychopath.

Feels very Rosemary’s Baby, right? Well, here’s the thing. Hanna’s not possessed. She’s just a sadistic kid. And quite honestly, that makes it even the more scarier for me. At the moment, I have no interest in kids, and quite frankly, I’ve never been the biggest fan of kids. Especially babies. But thanks to Damien and now, Hanna, I am more than happy to prolong the time before I am a mother. Because this book encapsulates one of my worst nightmares: What if I’m not a bad parent, but my kid just doesn’t like me?

This is going to a polarizing book, I can feel it. It’s going to be a 5-star or a 1-star read for you. I’m a horror junkie, so I highly enjoyed this book. My knowledge of psychopathy ended in freshman year Psychology I in college, but Hanna’s thought-process seemed very realistic and well-researched to me. I would definitely categorize BABY TEETH as a horror novel. And it’s hands down the best horror novel I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for the nightmares, Zoje. Dark and twisty just like I like it.

MY RATING:  ✰✰✰✰1/2
RECOMMENDED FOR: fans of Nick Cutter and Stephen King

Thank you St. Martin’s Press for my e-galley! Baby Teeth is available July 12.

REVIEW: Picture Us in the Light, Kelly Loy Gilbert (April 10, 2018)

PICTURE US IN THE LIGHT, like THUNDERHEAD, is a book I will shoving down everyone’s throats for the rest of the year my life. I was initially drawn in by the beautiful cover and then I was captivated from the first page and finished in my usual fashion: crying uncontrollably into my teddy bear and pillow.

So, #sorrynotsorry for name-dropping this book up the wazoo…because I will not rest until everyone has read this beautiful book and we can all gush together.

The 411: Danny Cheng is a high school senior and talented artist, who has already been accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). But ever since his acceptance, he’s felt uninspired and unable

Danny’s parents are immigrants from China. He also has an older sister who died prematurely. Even though he barely knew her, Danny has always felt an emptiness in his life where she should be. One day Danny unearths a box hidden away in the closet, full of files detailing the whereabouts of a powerful Silicon Valley family, and his parents refuse to explain.

As Danny begins to put the pieces together, he starts reflecting on things from his past that just didn’t add up. Like the time his parents moved them from Texas to California overnight with no warning. Along for the ride is Danny’s best friend, Harry, for whom he harbors a deep, hidden attraction.

First off, 90 percent of the cast of characters are of Asian descent. *insert squee here* Any typical stereotypes of Asians, i.e. Asian parents all want their kids to be doctors, are addressed head on. (And Danny’s parents are more than supportive of his future in art).

If you like getting your heart ripped out by love stories (or just in general), you’re in for a reeeeal treat. Danny’s feelings for Harry definitely aren’t the focus point of this book, but play a large role. Danny’s sexuality is also never specifically labeled, which I love. The word “gay” is never used. Danny is just Danny. And he loves Harry. (#HANNY <—  Yes, I just did that).

With all the current political conversations regarding immigrants to the US, this book feels extremely timely.  For a book that tackles many hard-hitting topics, Gilbert does it with grace. Her writing is lyrical and eloquent and her first novel, CONVICTION, skyrocketed to the top of my TBR.

Now, unfortunately, the “swerve” of this novel that touched me to my core is a spoiler and I won’t mention it more here. But just know my origin story begins the same way and it’s a storyline I’ve read very little about in YA. Once I surmised that the story was going in this direction, I actually had to hold in my gasp because it’s perfect. (Once you read, message me on Goodreads and LET’S TALK).

MY RATING:  ✰✰✰✰✰ (one of my fave books of 2018 so far)
RECOMMENDED FOR: anyone with a heart and/or soul. So everyone.

Thank you Disney Hyperion for my galley! Picture Us in the Light is available April 10.

REVIEW: Ace of Shades, Amanda Foody (April 10, 2018)

Last year, I read Amanda Foody’s debut, DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, and it was fabulous. Carnival/circus/traveling show-type books seem to be a popular setting in YA books nowadays and I found DOTBC incredibly fresh and original.

So, obviously, I’ve been coveting Foody’s sophomore novel (and first in a new series!), ACE OF SHADES. I was very fortunate to receive a surprise ARC *throws confetti at Harlequin TEEN* and I really, REALLY enjoyed this.

The 411: Enne Salta is a member of the elite dancing family (The Saltas)–who enters New Reynes aka The City of Sin after her mother, Lourdes, goes missing. New Reynes is riddled with crime and populated by three rival gangs, the Irons, the Scarhands, and the Doves, as well as two main mafia fams, the Augustines and the Torrens. And as you can probably surmise, there isn’t a lot of agreement between all of these different parties.

Acting upon a tip from Lourdes, Enne searches out Iron Lord, Levi Glaisyer, who she is told can help her reunite with Lourdes. Levi, however, enormously in debt, gets caught up in an executive-style game with the infamous Phoenix Club. Time is running out for both Enne and Levi, and they must work together to get what they want.

As I mentioned above, I had so much fun with this. Amandy Foody is excellent at world building. Both the descriptions of the Gomorrah Festival in DOTBC and New Reynes in ACE OF SHADES are incredibly atmospheric and well-written. You feel the grittiness of New Reynes in your bones. Because this world is so dense, I recommend creating a character map. I’ve been doing this for a while and it definitely helps keep track of characters, their relationships to each other and how they relate to the world as a whole. These are also great to refresh your memory before starting a sequel.

Ok, so from a diversity standpoint: lots of win here. Levi is African-American and very open about his bisexuality. We can also surmise that Lourdes is genderfluid, or does not identify as any gender. And there is tons more diversity in the side-characters. The best part? Foody doesn’t call excessive attention to these labels. These characters simply are who they are, unapologetically, and it’s wonderful to see.

I’ve also seen some dissenting opinions about Enne, but I personally really liked her. She goes through a bit of an identity crisis after learning some hard truths about her family history, and although she starts out as a strong woman from the get-go, continues to grow even more as the story progresses.

Jac is also a delight. I heart him very much.

There’s also the promise of a romance and lots of pining (which I actually LOVE), but the love story is definitely not the primary focus of this book. It’s very much an adventure, caper-type book. And, um, that ending. Rude, Ms. Foody, just rude. I’m going to need Book 2 ASAP.

MY RATING:  ✰✰✰✰
MAY I ALSO SUGGEST: anything by Leigh Bardugo and Marie Lu

Thank you Harlequin TEEN for my galley! Ace of Shades is available April 10.

[I’m also 95 percent positive this book is April’s OwlCrate pick as well. I can’t wait to see how they do this box.]

REVIEW: The Astonishing Color of After, Emily X.R. Pan (March 20, 2018)

Today I am coming to you with another five-star read for me. I knew going in that THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER was going to be up my alley–but holy emotions, Batman, I didn’t expect to be a stuttering pool of salt water. But what’s new?

And also looooook at that B-E-A-U-tiful cover.

The 411: After Leigh’s mother dies by suicide, she is visited by a large, strange bird at night. Afterwards she comes to the impossible but amazing realization: her mother isn’t dead. She’s been reincarnated into a bird.

Leigh makes the trip to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents, with whom her parents had a falling out with due to their interracial marriage. Leigh sorts through her family history, all the while experiencing recurring visits from the bird she’s convinced is her mother.

Oh boy. Ohhhhhhh boy. This book is so beautiful.

Leigh’s mother’s depression feels achingly real–and speaking as someone who was diagnosed with depression at age 14, I connected with her so much.  Her depression and her death are not romanticized, compared as to say, 13 REASONS WHY.

I’ve only recently gotten back into reading fantasy, and I haven’t had a lot of experience with magical realism–but if all magical realism books are like this, I may have found a new favorite genre.

It makes me so intensely happy to see how much representation there is in YA lit nowadays. And if it means so much to me now at 27, I can’t even imagine how much it would have meant to 10-year-old Kate. Reading a cast of characters 90 percent Asian or of Asian-descent is still amazing to me.

And the romance is friends-to-lovers. My absolute favorite thing in the entire world. *throws all the heart-shaped confetti at Emily X.R. Pan*

NOTE: I’ve had several conversations with people who are interested in this book but are wary of the YA label. I have a lot to say in regards to this snap judgment as a whole, but for now just know:

A) Yes, the character is a teen but very mature
B) No Insta-love or love triangles if that’s not your jam
C) YA is awesome no matter your age. So just do yourself a favor and pick up the book.

** Trigger warnings for depression, suicide ideation, and suicide.

MY RATING:  ✰✰✰✰✰
RECOMMENDED FOR: lovers of magical realism, family intrigue, and beautiful writing
MAY I ALSO SUGGEST: anything by Anna Marie McLemore and BEASTS OF EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCE by Ruth Emmie Lang

Thank you LBYR for my galley! The Astonishing Color of After is available March 20–and is also a Book of the Month pick for March.

REVIEW: A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara

My face looked exactly like the cover for the 820 pages of this book.

Imagine every single horrific thing that could happen to a person. They happen to Jude. Yes, everything. The entire time you’re itching to reach through the pages and give the poor guy a hug.  Dude has been through the wringer.

And if you’re looking for a “I get by with a little help from my friends” sort of story, you’re only going to be marginally satisfied. This book is brutal. B-R-U-T-A-L.

A LITTLE LIFE follows four friends, Willem, Malcolm, J.B., and Jude, from college (where they meet) into old age.  Each guy has their individual challenges: J.B. is a drug addict, Malcolm is questioning his sexuality, and Willem is an aspiring actor (I think that’s ’nuff said).

Then we have Jude. The mysterious, ever elusive Jude.

Throughout the first section, we learn as much about Jude as his friends know: he’s an extremely quiet person who reveals little to none of his past. His racial background is ambiguous. His sexuality is never defined.  All they know is that they feel an innate desire to protect him from the world, Willem in particular.

Starting with section two, our POV switches to Jude and we get an extremely detailed first hand account of the horrors he experienced as a child, as a grown man, and how they’ve shaped him into the person he is today.

You’re either going to love this book or you’re going to absolutely hate it. I am positive that there is no in-between here.

Ok. Real talk: this is hands down the most depressing and emotionally-wrought book I have ever read. And I live for depressing and dark books. The trigger warnings are up the WAZOO. Self-harm, emotional abuse, pedophilia, rape, suicide…Basically you are even the slightest bit iffy about any of these things, this is NOT the book for you.

Yanagihara writes beautifully, but it’s graphic. No holds barred. By the time you close this book the final time, you will feel like you know Jude on an extremely intimate level. While covering the lives of Willem, J.B., and Malcolm, as well, A LITTLE LIFE is a 800+ page character study of Jude. And it’s brilliant in its simplicity and portrait of a broken man.


Over the course of his life, Jude attempts suicide multiple times and the book finishes with him finally succeeding. Throughout A LITTLE LIFE, Jude tries over and over to make the best of his life. He tries to get better and he just doesn’t. By the time he actually does kill himself, it feels like an inevitable conclusion. Yanagihara said in an interview,

“It’s not that I don’t think people can’t overcome great trauma, but I think for some people, there is a line. There’s an amount. And they’re not able to come back from it.” 

Whether you agree with this statement or not, the death of Jude feels like a release. And then you’ll sit with your pool of tears and mangled heart and contemplate the meaning of life.

The bottom line: If you can stomach it, I highly recommend A LITTLE LIFE. You’re going to cry and you’re going get angry and you’re going to feel emotionally spent. But the payoff is so worth it and completely deserving of being a National Book Award finalist. ✰✰✰✰✰