Mini-Reviews: Norse Mythology, We'll Fly Away, and I Capture the Castle

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 7, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Neil Gaiman, long inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction, presents a bravura rendition of the Norse gods and their world from their origin though their upheaval in Ragnarok.

In Norse Mythology, Gaiman stays true to the myths in envisioning the major Norse pantheon: Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki—son of a giant—blood brother to Odin and a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator.

Gaiman fashions these primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds and delves into the exploits of deities, dwarfs, and giants. Through Gaiman’s deft and witty prose, these gods emerge with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to duping others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again.

Way back in 2012, I DNFed American Gods about three times. I tried really hard to like that book, but it just wasn’t happening. After that, I avoided Gaiman even though I’ve consistently heard that his writing is amazing. Well, I needed a book set in Scandinavia for a reading challenge, so what better than some Norse mythology?

This book was so good! I don’t really have any background in Norse mythology — I think the extent of my knowledge comes from the Thor movies — but you don’t really need any prior knowledge to enjoy this book. Gaiman writes a funny, engaging story of all the Norse gods interacting with each other and getting into shenanigans.

Norse Mythology gave me hope for other books by Gaiman, so I went out and got The Ocean at the End of the Lane for myself and added a bunch of his other books to my library wishlist.

#ps19: a book set in Scandinavia


We’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 8, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Uniquely told through letters from death row and third-person narrative, Bryan Bliss’s hard-hitting third novel expertly unravels the string of events that landed a teenager in jail. Luke feels like he’s been looking after Toby his entire life. He patches Toby up when Toby’s father, a drunk and a petty criminal, beats on him, he gives him a place to stay, and he diffuses the situation at school when wise-cracking Toby inevitably gets into fights. Someday, Luke and Toby will leave this small town, riding the tails of Luke’s wrestling scholarship, and never look back.

But during their senior year, they begin to drift apart. Luke is dealing with his unreliable mother and her new boyfriend. And Toby unwittingly begins to get drawn into his father’s world, and falls for an older woman. All their long-held dreams seem to be unraveling. Tense and emotional, this heartbreaking novel explores family, abuse, sex, love, friendship, and the lengths a person will go to protect the people they love.

I actually DNFed We’ll Fly Away last summer, not because it was bad, but just because it was a much heavier book than I was in the mood for. I ended up picking it back up (audio this time) and connecting with it a lot more.

Still, it was a lot heavier of a book than I normally read. In general, I’m not a big fan of stories that pack a big emotional punch, and this one, a book about a teenage boy on death row, his neglectful mother, and the physical abuse his best friend endures, definitely fits that description. I really felt for both Luke and Toby, and, though I knew it was impossible, I just wanted everything to turn out okay for them in the end.

I saw the ending coming, but I don’t really think it’s supposed to be a surprise. I mean, the whole book builds up to the climax of what exactly landed Luke in prison. So, I don’t love the theme, I saw the ending coming, it’s no wonder I didn’t love this book. But the characters really made it worth the read. I loved reading about their friendship. It’s so rare in YA to find a supportive friendship like this between two boys, and it was so nice to read about.

If you’re in the mood for heartbreak and strong friendships, I’d highly recommend this one.


I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: 1948
Source: Borrowed

Through six turbulent months of 1934, 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain keeps a journal, filling three notebooks with sharply funny yet poignant entries about her home, a ruined Suffolk castle, and her eccentric and penniless family. By the time the last diary shuts, there have been great changes in the Mortmain household, not the least of which is that Cassandra is deeply, hopelessly, in love.

I checked out I Capture the Castle solely because I needed a classic romance for one of my 2019 reading challenges. It’s not something that I would have checked out otherwise, but I ended up really enjoying it!

Cassandra was such an upbeat, fun narrator. The whole book is told through her journal entries, and despite everything going on around her, she keeps a positive attitude. For being written in journal entries, the book does a surprisingly good job of setting the scene. I felt like I was in that crumbling castle with the Mortmains, watching everything unfold right along with them.

I didn’t really expect to enjoy this book, but it was a lot of fun.

#romanceopoly: austen row


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson

Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
Source: ARC via Publisher

A forbidden attraction grows even more complicated when the guy Lane Jamison has crushed on for years suddenly becomes her step-brother in this sexy and gorgeously written debut novel about the lines between love, desire, and obsession.

What happens when the boy you want most becomes the one person you can’t have?

Lane Jamison’s life is turned upside down the week before her senior year when her father introduces her to his new fiancée: mother of Grey McIntyre, Lane’s secret, longtime crush. Now with Grey living in Lane’s house, there’s only a thin wall separating their rooms, making it harder and harder to deny their growing mutual attraction—an attraction made all the more forbidden by Grey’s long-term girlfriend Sadie Hall, who also happens to be Lane’s friend.

Torn between her feelings for Grey and her friendship with Sadie—not to mention her desire to keep the peace at home—Lane befriends Sadie’s older brother, Connor, the black sheep of the strict, evangelical Hall family. Connor, a metal working artist who is all sharp edges, challenges Lane in ways no one else ever has. As the two become closer and start to open up about the traumas in their respective pasts, Lane begins to question her conviction that Connor is just a distraction.

Tensions come to a head after a tragic incident at a party, forcing Lane to untangle her feelings for both boys and face the truth of what—and who—she wants, in this gripping and stunningly romantic debut novel.
 

The book starts with an extensive list of content warnings, and so will I.Taken from the book:

This story contains content that might be troubling to some readers, including, but not limited to, depictions of and references to death, suicide, cutting and self-harm, vivid nightmare imagery, substance abuse, homelessness, childhood trauma, and PTSD.

I hadn’t heard anything about Together We Caught Fire before Simon Pulse reached out about an ARC. I’m so glad that they let me know that this book exists.

Together We Caught Fire is not the kind of book that I’d normally pick up on my own. I don’t go for heavy books. If the first thing I see when I open the book is an extensive list of content warnings, I’m probably going to stick it right back on the shelf. Life is dark enough as it is, and I don’t usually like that darkness to spill over into the books I read. But sometimes a synopsis will grab me and I’ll give it a shot. That’s what happened here.

There’s a lot going on here. Not only is Lane struggling with her long-time crush suddenly and unexpectedly becoming her stepbrother, but she’s dealing with PTSD, the debilitating pain of endometriosis, and an entire high school that thinks they know everything there is to know about Lane Jamison — and oh, they have opinions on her. And Lane’s only one character in this story. The other characters have their own issues, from controlling parents to insomnia to being disowned and kicked out of the house by their parents. Nobody’s issues are ever minimized. We didn’t play the “who has it worse” game. There are so many ways that this book could have gone wrong, but Gibson handled everybody’s situation with so much respect and absolutely no judgement.

I’ve read a lot of stepbrother romances over the years, and they usually follow a pretty predictable path. I thought I had this book figured out within the first 25 pages, but believe me when I tell you I was wrong. This book has so many twists and turns, so many wrenches thrown in Lane’s life, that even by the last few pages, I wasn’t entirely sure how things would end. I had to know, though, so I stayed up well past by bedtime to find out.

I’m so glad I gave this book a chance, and I can’t wait to see what’s next for this author.


#wian20: one of the 4 natural elements


Have you read Together We Caught Fire? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Lucky in Love by Kasie West
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Source: Borrowed

Maddie’s not impulsive. She’s all about hard work and planning ahead. But one night, on a whim, she buys a lottery ticket. And then, to her astonishment —

She wins!

In a flash, Maddie’s life is unrecognizable. No more stressing about college scholarships. Suddenly, she’s talking about renting a yacht. And being in the spotlight at school is fun… until rumors start flying, and random people ask her for loans. Now, Maddie isn’t sure who she can trust.

Except for Seth Nguyen, her funny, charming coworker at the local zoo. Seth doesn’t seem aware of Maddie’s big news. And, for some reason, she doesn’t want to tell him. But what will happen if he learns her secret?

With tons of humor and heart, Kasie West delivers a million-dollar tale of winning, losing, and falling in love.

I’ve had the same TBR for like three years, so I decided that 2020 is my year. I’m going to read as many books from it as I can. I started with Lucky in Love by Kasie West. Now, I can go either way with her books. I loved The Distance Between Us and cringed all the way through Listen to Your Heart. I wasn’t sure which way this one would go, but I figured that her books are short and easy, so why not.

Well.

It turned out to be pretty bad, honestly.

The whole premise of this book is that newly eighteen-year-old Maddie has the worst birthday ever — her brother eats her birthday cereal (yeah, I don’t get it either), her parents take her out to eat and can’t afford the bill, her best friends all stand her up and don’t even come to her birthday party — so she goes out to a gas station and buys a lottery ticket on a whim. There’d be no book without her winning, so she’s suddenly $30 million richer.

She proceeds to do exactly what you might expect an eighteen-year-old high school student to do with $30 million. Waste it. Wildly. Illogically. Stupidly. I’m talking a Corvette, a yacht party, designer clothes, a diamond necklace, half a million to a relative she’s never met… the list goes on. Maddie, who once just wanted to do well in high school so she could get a scholarship to a good college, completely forgets about her classes and fixates on being popular. I was annoyed.

But what was possibly even more annoying than her wildly irresponsible wasting of money was her family. Was I supposed to empathize with any of these people?

  • A father who has sat at home, unemployed, for three years because he claims he can’t find a job? Right, I’m sure there are zero companies hiring in California. You might not be able to find a job in your field or a job making as much money as you want to be making, but you know what? Making something is better than making nothing. (And somehow his teenage daughter found a job with no experience so what’s his excuse??)
  • A mother who’s worked double shifts for years because her husband can’t be bothered to find employment? I should have been able to sympathize with her, but all she ever did was complain and argue and yell. And she has the audacity to ask her daughter, the new multi-millionaire, if she’ll be able to take care of them in the future after that daughter already gave them TWO MILLION DOLLARS and PAID OFF THEIR DEBTS? WHAT?
  • And don’t even get me started on the brother. (Really, I can’t even get into him without spoilers.)

The majority of the book is just Maddie spending money, Maddie angsting over whether to tell her love interest that she’s won the lottery, Maddie wondering if everybody who knows she won the lottery is using her for her money, and a romance that kind of feels like an afterthought.

I added a star because I appreciated that the love interest was Vietnamese and that there was a conversation about the very racist “no, where are you really from” question. I also liked the zoo. But overall? Definitely not recommended.


Have you read Lucky in Love? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 5, 2015
Source: Borrowed

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

I’ve really enjoyed all of the Sarah J. Maas books I’ve read before, so I decided I might as well try out A Court of Thorns and Roses. I bought this book a year or two ago but ended up listening to the audiobook while I was at work. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it. At all, really.

I had a lot of problems with this book, but I’m going to try to keep this review short and as non-ranty as possible because I know that a lot of people love this series and I don’t want to make them sad.

The first problem I had was that nothing that happens makes sense. I mean, I guess things are sort of explained at the end, but Feyre literally kills a fae and then she’s just whisked away to a life of luxury as “punishment.” I mean… okay?

The second problem I had was that Feyre needs to go see a gastroenterologist because all she ever does is throw up or get watery bowels and I got really sick of hearing about it.

The third problem I had was that I couldn’t even tell if Rhysand or Tamlin was supposed to be the love interest because Feyre seemed equally obsessed with them.

I’m not going to lie, I’ll probably read the next book in the series. I’m just not sure if it’ll be any time soon.

#romanceopoly: mystery #1


Have you read A Court of Thorns and Roses? Is it on your TBR?
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Book Review: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 3, 2019
Source: Borrowed

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is seven years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

Now, in The Secret Commonwealth, we meet Lyra Silvertongue. And she is no longer a child . . .

The second volume of Sir Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust sees Lyra, now twenty years old, and her daemon Pantalaimon, forced to navigate their relationship in a way they could never have imagined, and drawn into the complex and dangerous factions of a world that they had no idea existed.

Pulled along on his own journey too is Malcolm; once a boy with a boat and a mission to save a baby from the flood, now a man with a strong sense of duty and a desire to do what is right.

Theirs is a world at once familiar and extraordinary, and they must travel far beyond the edges of Oxford, across Europe and into Asia, in search for what is lost – a city haunted by daemons, a secret at the heart of a desert, and the mystery of the elusive Dust.

Okay, so here’s the thing. I loved His Dark Materials. I can’t say that I loved La Belle Sauvage, but the ending was good enough to pique my interest in the rest of the series. I waited (and then waited a little more for my hold to come in at the library) and unfortunately, I’m done with this series. I don’t say this often, but this book was a waste of my time.

Click through for spoilers.So, what was wrong with this book? Let’s see.

1. Men Writing Women. Pullman did a fine job of writing Lyra as a young girl. She was a great, strong character who was capable of doing anything that needed doing. As a grown woman, I don’t even know what to think. Everything in this book is sexualized. Lyra tries to determine whether or not she’s sexually attracted to various men. She thinks about how she’s only attracted to older men. Every man is attracted to her. There’s a weird scene where Pullman talks about how Alice, another female character, isn’t beautiful or attractive but has “an intense sexuality” and it’s just… so off-putting.
2. Lyra’s relationship (or lack thereof) with Pan. Listen, I cried when Lyra and Pan separated in the original trilogy. Now they hate each other, argue a lot, Pan runs away, and that’s the book. Sure, Lyra eventually realizes that she’s being really unreasonable and tries to find Pan, but this just seemed so out of character for the two of them. After everything they’ve been through, are they really going to let some petty disagreement over a book change their lives like that?
3. A random, completely unnecessary rape scene(?!). This was absolutely disgusting and honestly, came out of nowhere. It’s incredibly detailed and incredibly upsetting. I can’t even imagine how someone who’s experienced sexual assault would react to it. Even worse than the unnecessary detail is the fact that the scene serves no purpose other than to upset Lyra.
4. Malcolm’s weird attraction to Lyra. In general, age differences don’t really bother me. But Malcolm literally cared for Lyra when she was a baby. He was her teacher as she grew up, and he just casually mentions that he’s had a crush on her since her early teens. Is this going to be a thing now? I don’t want it.
5. Nothing actually happens. This book is nearly 800 pages and I can summarize it in a few sentences. Lyra and Pan are mad at each other so Pan runs away. Lyra gets over herself and decides to find him. There’s some stuff about a rose oil crisis and refugees thrown in for good measure, then it ends. We know no more at the end than we do at the beginning.

This wasn’t the worst thing that I’ve read, but it was way too long for the amount of plot we got and Pullman made a lot of questionable decisions, both plot-wise and character-wise. Two stars because it’s not like the actual writing’s bad, but this book was wholly unnecessary.


Previously: The Golden CompassThe Subtle KnifeThe Amber SpyglassLa Belle Sauvage


Have you read The Secret Commonwealth? What about any of Pullman’s other books?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Parental Guidance, Fix Her Up, and The Bride Test

Parental Guidance by Avery Flynn
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 31, 2019
Source: Borrowed

All I want is to play hockey on the Ice Knights, instead, I’m in a viral video for all the wrong reasons and my mom—yes, my mom—has taken over my dating apps. Then, when I think it can’t get any worse, the fates deliver Zara Ambrose, a five-feet-nothing redhead with more freckles than inches and who’d rather be anywhere other than on a date with me.

Now a bet with her friends and my PR nightmare have us both stuck in this go-on-five-dates-with-the-same-person hell situation. But if we band together, we can get the whole thing over with and go on with our lives. It’s perfect! No feelings. No future. No fuc— *ahem* fun. No naked fun.

What could go wrong? Nothing—as long as I remember the rules. Don’t notice the way she looks in a dress. Don’t react when she does that little shivery sigh thing whenever we touch. Don’t think about the fact that she’s never had a toe-curling orgasm that wasn’t self-delivered and just how badly I want to change that.

Five dates—that’s it—and then we go our separate ways. At least, that was the plan…

Sports romance isn’t usually my thing, so I was happy to find this cute-sounding book about a hockey star for 2019’s romanceopoly reading challenge. It’s an interesting concept for a romance novel: through an app, people are set up to go on dates with someone of their parents’ choosing, and I thought that the reasons both Zara and Caleb agreed to use this app were interesting.

Of course, plenty of drama ensues, including the typical “we’re not going to fall in love so five dates is our limit” trope that I’ve seen many times before. The writing was fine, but everything was a little overdramatic. I think every conflict in this book could have been resolved in about two minutes if the characters would have just acted like adults.

This book might not have been exactly my cup of tea, but it wasn’t bad. If you’ve enjoyed any of Avery’s other books, which one would you recommend I try next?

#romanceopoly: mystery #3


Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Georgette Castle’s family runs the best home renovation business in town, but she picked balloons instead of blueprints and they haven’t taken her seriously since. Frankly, she’s over it. Georgie loves planning children’s birthday parties and making people laugh, just not at her own expense. She’s determined to fix herself up into a Woman of the World… whatever that means.

Phase one: new framework for her business (a website from this decade, perhaps?)

Phase two: a gut-reno on her wardrobe (fyi, leggings are pants.)

Phase three: updates to her exterior (do people still wax?)

Phase four: put herself on the market (and stop crushing on Travis Ford!)

Living her best life means facing the truth: Georgie hasn’t been on a date since, well, ever. Nobody’s asking the town clown out for a night of hot sex, that’s for sure. Maybe if people think she’s having a steamy love affair, they’ll acknowledge she’s not just the “little sister” who paints faces for a living. And who better to help demolish that image than the resident sports star and tabloid favorite?

Travis Ford was major league baseball’s hottest rookie when an injury ended his career. Now he’s flipping houses to keep busy and trying to forget his glory days. But he can’t even cross the street without someone recapping his greatest hits. Or making a joke about his… bat. And then there’s Georgie, his best friend’s sister, who is not a kid anymore. When she proposes a wild scheme—that they pretend to date, to shock her family and help him land a new job—he agrees. What’s the harm? It’s not like it’s real. But the girl Travis used to tease is now a funny, full-of-life woman and there’s nothing fake about how much he wants her…

Toward the end of 2019, after I finished my reading challenges, I just checked out a ton of books that my Goodreads friends had rated highly. I do love a good “brother’s best friend” story, so I was doubly excited for Fix Her Up. I can see why so many people loved this book! The three-star rating doesn’t mean that it’s bad or that I had any huge problems with it.

The beginning of the book was really good. I loved the characterization of both Georgie and Travis. They were wildly different people who bought out the best in each other. I sympathized with both of their struggles. I also loved the idea of the Just Us League.

It had all the makings for a great book, and then it kind of fell apart at the end. What ended up being the main conflict felt so contrived to me. After everything these characters had been through, I’m really supposed to believe that they’d just throw their relationship away? Not buying it. It goes on to end in possibly the most stereotypical way, and it wraps up so quickly that I thought I’d missed something.

I might give Love Her or Lose Her a try, but it’s not really at the top of my TBR.


The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 7, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

The Kiss Quotient was one of my favorite books of 2018, so naturally, The Bride Test was at the top of my 2019 TBR. My expectations were high, and this book ended up meeting most of them.

As expected, The Bride Test ended up being a really well-written romance. And, as expected, it featured a romance that falls outside of society’s norm. While The Kiss Quotient was about a woman who hires (and then falls for) a male escort, The Bride Test is about an arranged marriage.

Where The Bride Test lost points with me was the level of smut. Was The Kiss Quotient this smutty? I felt like basically all that happened after the halfway point was smut. And don’t get me wrong, it’s well-written smut, but it kind of surprised me. It also had a bit too much drama for me in the second half — I just wanted to reach into the pages and force Esme and Khai to have an actual conversation.

But, overall, I liked this book! I have hope that The Heart Principle will be on the same level as The Kiss Quotient.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good romances recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Dear Sweet Pea, Small Spaces, and The Lightning Thief

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The first middle grade novel from Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’ (now a popular Netflix film), is a funny, heartwarming story perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”

Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.

Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.

What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”

This was my first book by Julie Murphy, and I really enjoyed it! I only picked it up because of a reading challenge but I ended up really enjoying it. I’d been a little skeptical of her books because of all the hype, but I’m definitely planning on trying out her YA novels now.

Sweet Pea was a really charming character and I liked all of the casual diversity — I think that’s so important in books, and books for younger kids in particular. It tackles some big topics like divorce and homophobia, but it does it in a really natural way. I did feel that some things were resolved a little too easily, but then again, this is middle grade and less than 300 pages, so all in all, it was pretty great.

#ps19: a book with a title that contains “salty,” “sweet,” “bitter,” or “spicy”


Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Source: Borrowed

New York Times bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn’t think–she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man,” a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn’t have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN. 

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver’s warning. As the trio head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: “Avoid large places. Keep to small.” 

And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.

I hadn’t actually planned to read Small Spaces when I did, but it was available at the library, I had finished my other audiobooks, and I remembered Kristen recommending it, so I decided to go for it. It was really good! This is the kind of creepy, spooky story that would be perfect for Halloween.

Just like with Julie Murphy, this was my first book by Katherine Arden. Since I’m pretty picky about MG books, I’m taking it as a really good sign that I liked this! I’m excited to eventually read her YA series.


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 1, 2006
Source: Borrowed

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse – Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena – Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

Over the years, so many people have told me to read the Percy Jackson books. Multiple children have told me that this is their favorite series, and I can understand why. This book is a lot of fun. It has a quest, it has betrayal, it has mythology. I can see how Percy would be easy to relate to.

The problem was that I just didn’t care.

I’m not really sure if this was a problem with me not typically loving middle grade stories or if it was more that the hype killed this book for me, but I don’t really feel like continuing on with it. I will, however, try out The Lost Hero.

#ps19: a book with at least 1,000,000 ratings on Goodreads


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