Book Review: I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston

Book cover surrounded with white roses and a green book

I Kissed Shara Wheeler book coverTitle: I Kissed Shara Wheeler
Author: Casey McQuiston
Genre: Romance, Young Adult, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: May 3, 2022
Publisher: St Martin’s Press


Synopsis

From the New York Times bestselling author of One Last Stop and Red, White & Royal Blue comes a debut YA romantic comedy about chasing down what you want, only to find what you need…

Chloe Green is so close to winning. After her moms moved her from SoCal to Alabama for high school, she’s spent the past four years dodging gossipy classmates and a puritanical administration at Willowgrove Christian Academy. The thing that’s kept her going: winning valedictorian. Her only rival: prom queen Shara Wheeler, the principal’s perfect progeny.

But a month before graduation, Shara kisses Chloe and vanishes.

On a furious hunt for answers, Chloe discovers she’s not the only one Shara kissed. There’s also Smith, Shara’s longtime quarterback sweetheart, and Rory, Shara’s bad boy neighbor with a crush. The three have nothing in common except Shara and the annoyingly cryptic notes she left behind, but together they must untangle Shara’s trail of clues and find her. It’ll be worth it, if Chloe can drag Shara back before graduation to beat her fair-and-square.

Thrown into an unlikely alliance, chasing a ghost through parties, break-ins, puzzles, and secrets revealed on monogrammed stationery, Chloe starts to suspect there might be more to this small town than she thought. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—more to Shara, too.

Fierce, funny, and frank, Casey McQuiston’s I Kissed Shara Wheeler is about breaking the rules, getting messy, and finding love in unexpected places.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Casey McQuiston’s young adult debut is just as riveting and beautifully written as her adult books! 

Like with One Last Stop, this book has a cast full of lovable, three-dimensional characters who (sometimes) steal the show. Any one of them could be an engaging protagonist in a book about their own life story, which to me shows the depth with which McQuiston writes everything, even side characters.

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Book Review: A Far Wilder Magic by Allison Saft

A Far Wilder Magic book surrounded by yellow flowers, pine cones, a green candle, and stacks of books

48909025Title: A Far Wilder Magic 
Author: Allison Saft
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Date of Publication: March 8, 2022
Publisher: Wednesday Books


Synopsis

When Margaret Welty spots the legendary hala, the last living mythical creature, she knows the Halfmoon Hunt will soon follow. Whoever is able to kill the hala will earn fame and riches, and unlock an ancient magical secret. If Margaret wins the hunt, it may finally bring her mother home. While Margaret is the best sharpshooter in town, only teams of two can register, and she needs an alchemist.

Weston Winters isn’t an alchemist–yet. Fired from every apprenticeship he’s landed, his last chance hinges on Master Welty taking him in. But when Wes arrives at Welty Manor, he finds only Margaret and her bloodhound Trouble. Margaret begrudgingly allows him to stay, but on one condition: he must join the hunt with her.

Although they make an unlikely team, Wes is in awe of the girl who has endured alone on the outskirts of a town that doesn’t want her, in this creaking house of ghosts and sorrow. And even though Wes disrupts every aspect of her life, Margaret is drawn to him. He, too, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. As the hunt looms closer and tensions rise, Margaret and Wes uncover dark magic that could be the key to winning the hunt – if they survive that long.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

A Far Wilder Magic is a unique, epic young adult fantasy with a splash of romance. 

The world that Allison Saft has created is unique and intricately crafted. As a somewhat casual fantasy reader, the level of depth of the worldbuilding was at times overwhelming. The beginning of the book had quite a bit of information for me to consume and interpret before the action begins. Once I pushed through that part, the book became compelling enough that I wouldn’t have been able to stop reading if you’d paid me. 

The novel’s world is full of magic and mystery, and the writing style reflects this original approach. The book feels like it could be set in a present day world where magic reigns. There’s mention of modern technology, but the book has a bit of a medieval fantasy edge to the plot, setting, and language used. The author’s writing style, while antiquated, has quite a bit of dry humor and hilarious lines interspersed in the descriptive language. 

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Book Review: Belle Morte by Bella Higgin

Belle Morte book on a red book, with dark red roses, a black skull, and a lit candle

smaller belle morteTitle: Belle Morte
Author: Bella Higgin
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Date of Publication: April 5, 2022
Publisher: Wattpad Books


Synopsis

There’s only one way out

Belle Morte. One of five houses where vampires reside as celebrities and humans are paid to be their living donors. While others came here seeking fortune, I came in search of my sister who walked into Belle Morte five months ago . . . and never walked back out.

Now that I’m here, the secrets about this world have proven to be much bigger than I ever anticipated. And lurking around every corner are shocking insinuations of what happened to my sister.

There’s only one person who might have the answers I need, and the undeniable pull I feel toward him is terrifying: Edmond Dantès―a vampire, and my mortal enemy.

The harder I try to resist him, the further I fall under his spell. And in one instant my life is irrevocably changed. My past becomes prologue and my fate becomes sealed behind these doors.

Belle Morte has spoken. And it may never let me go. 

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Belle Morte is a young adult vampire romance with thrills and espionage thrown into the mix. Renie Mayfield is an eighteen-year-old girl living in a world where vampires are not only known about, but are basically celebrities. Renie’s sister was selected to become a blood donor and moved into one of the UK vampire mansions months ago, and Renie hasn’t heard from her in months. Desperate to find her sister, Renie applies to become a donor and go undercover at Belle Morte. 

This book is told from two points of view. Renie’s POV is first person and dominates the narrative, but we also occasionally get the third=person point of view of Edmond, one of Belle Morte’s handsome vampires. While I enjoyed knowing what Edmond is thinking, and we find out right away that he’s keeping secrets, I would have preferred to have had only Renie’s POV, as that would have increased the suspense. Knowing that Edmond–and the other vampires–aren’t terrible monsters right away muted some of the story’s suspense. 

The romance between Renie and Edmond is sweet and slow-burn, and I could definitely see a heavy influence from Twilight in the nature of the story. That said, the author is a fan of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and I was delighted to spot some references to the horror classic. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but Renie Mayfield sure sounds a lot like Renfield! (Why else would you shorten “Irene” to “Renie”?) Fortunately, Renie is completely different from Renfield in personality and she isn’t doomed the same fate as that Stoker character. (Otherwise this wouldn’t be a romance!) 

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Book Review: She Gets the Girl by Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick

She gets the girl book cover surrounded by daisies and a blue candle

58437812Title: She Gets the Girl
Author: Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick
Genre: Young Adult, Romance, LGBTQ+
Date of Publication: April 5, 2022
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers


Synopsis

She’s All That meets What If It’s Us in this swoon-worthy hate-to-love YA romantic comedy from #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of Five Feet Apart Rachael Lippincott and debut writer Alyson Derrick.

Alex Blackwood is a little bit headstrong, with a dash of chaos and a whole lot of flirt. She knows how to get the girl. Keeping her on the other hand…not so much. Molly Parker has everything in her life totally in control, except for her complete awkwardness with just about anyone besides her mom. She knows she’s in love with the impossibly cool Cora Myers. She just…hasn’t actually talked to her yet.

Alex and Molly don’t belong on the same planet, let alone the same college campus. But when Alex, fresh off a bad (but hopefully not permanent) breakup, discovers Molly’s hidden crush as their paths cross the night before classes start, they realize they might have a common interest after all. Because maybe if Alex volunteers to help Molly learn how to get her dream girl to fall for her, she can prove to her ex that she’s not a selfish flirt. That she’s ready for an actual commitment. And while Alex is the last person Molly would ever think she could trust, she can’t deny Alex knows what she’s doing with girls, unlike her.

As the two embark on their five-step plans to get their girls to fall for them, though, they both begin to wonder if maybe they’re the ones falling…for each other.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

This book was everything! I absolutely LOVED every part of this book. There’s just the perfect amount of angst, there’s a lot of humour, and the slow-burn romance is perfection. Alex has difficulty connecting with others, and her relationship with her girlfriend is on the rocks. She needs to convince her girlfriend that she can make–and keep–a friend. Molly has anxiety and wants things to be different in college than they were in high school, where her mother was her best friend and she spent way too many evenings curled up with her label maker. Her high school crush is going to school at the same university, and Molly has decided to make her notice her. But how can she do that? With Alex’s help of course! 

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Book Review: Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli

Edgewood book cover surrounded by Grimms Fairy tales, white candles, pine cones and beige flowers

57693515Title: Edgewood
Author: Kristen Ciccarelli
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance
Date of Publication: March 1, 2022
Publisher: Wednesday Books


Synopsis

No matter how far she runs, the forest of Edgewood always comes for Emeline Lark. The scent of damp earth curls into her nose when she sings and moss creeps across the stage. It’s as if the woods of her childhood, shrouded in folklore and tall tales, are trying to reclaim her. But Emeline has no patience for silly superstitions.

When her grandfather disappears, leaving only a mysterious orb in his wake, the stories Emeline has always scoffed at suddenly seem less foolish. She enters the forest she has spent years trying to escape, only to have Hawthorne Fell, a handsome and brooding tithe collector, try to dissuade her from searching.

Refusing to be deterred, Emeline finds herself drawn to the court of the fabled Wood King himself. She makes a deal—her voice for her grandfather’s freedom. Little does she know, she’s stumbled into the middle of a curse much bigger than herself, one that threatens the existence of this eerie world she’s trapped in, along with the devastating boy who feels so familiar.

With the help of Hawthorne—an enemy turned reluctant ally who she grows closer to each day—Emeline sets out to not only save her grandfather’s life, but to right past wrongs, and in the process, discover her true voice.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Two years ago, Emeline Lark left her small town of Edgewood to move to Montreal to pursue a career in music. But when she hears that her grandfather–her last remaining family–has gone missing, she’s compelled to return to find him. Her grandfather suffers from dementia, and she’s worried that he’s wandered into the woods. Nobody else seems to be trying to find him. The neighbours all say that he was tithed by the Wood King, but Emeline doesn’t believe in the stories that she grew up listening to. So, when she heads into the woods to search for her grandfather, she’s far from prepared when she steps into the world of ember mares, shiftlings, and other mytholological–yet dangerous–creatures. 

This book has it all. It’s a fantasy, a coming of age story, and a romance. It’s a story of family and love and betrayal. It’s one of those books that’s on the cusp of being young adult and new adult, and I can see why it was marketed as young adult, because of the strong self-discovery themes. 

This book gave me serious The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert vibes. Like Emeline, the reader is not sure of what is real and what is merely fiction. The stories that Emeline grew up listening to in Edgewood are just that–stories. Or are they? 

Continue reading “Book Review: Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli”

Book Review: Whiplash by Morgan Quaid

Whiplash book cover with a red candle, red flowers, and a black skull

Whiplash book coverTitle: Whiplash
Author: Morgan Quaid
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult
Series: Rust # 1
Date of Publication: November 8, 2021, originally published 2016
Publisher: Markosia Enterprises


Synopsis

Someone or something is killing people in their sleep. The world teeters on the brink of chaos as nightmares begin to spill out into the waking world and 16 year old Jack Flint is about to have a very bad night. Abducted in the dead of night by a mountainous thug and a ginger-haired dwarf, young Jack soon finds himself at the center of a war of cosmic proportions, fighting for survival among religious zealots, an underground black ops unit known only as The Bunker, and a renegade assassin with a penchant for over-sized weaponry. Whiplash is a spin off novel within the Rust Chronicles universe. It follows the first collected volume of short stories; Rust Chronicles Volume One.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Whiplash is a fast-paced young adult, science fiction thriller and the first book in the Rust Chronicles.

Jack is a sixteen year old boy that is kidnapped and thrust into a world that he never could have imagined. He’s been hand-selected to be a warrior in a battle to save the world from dying in their sleep. He seems quite like an authentic sixteen year old boy, from the way that he talks to his crush on a fellow captive/warrior. He’s constantly piping in with smart-ass comments that he makes during every single interaction he has with other characters, even sometimes when he should be keeping his mouth shut for his own safety. I love sarcastic characters, and Jack does not disappoint! Side characters were also quite interesting and memorable, though for me, Jack really steals the show. 

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Book Review: Gaslight by Rachael Rose

Gaslight book cover with orange book, beige candle, and a little chalkboard that says 5 stars

Gaslight book coverTitle: Gaslight
Author: Rachael Rose 
Genre: Young Adult, Drama, Romance
Date of Publication: March 29, 2021
Publisher: Wattpad Books


Synopsis

Everyone has a limit.

It’s a six-hour flight from New York City to Los Angeles.

For Maddie Goodwright and her mom, it’s six hours that will change their lives as they leave behind broken relationships and shattered dreams. But a new school, a new home, and a new group of friends can’t heal the wounds of the past. To move forward, Maddie will have to reinvent herself.

When Madde’s step-cousins take her to the local underground fight club, it’s only a matter of time before boxer Hayden Walker catches her eye. Strong, powerful, and confident—he’s everything Maddie isn’t, but definitely wants to be. Convincing Hayden to train her is hard, not falling for him will be even harder.

As Maddie transforms both inside and out of the ring, her past returns with a vengeance determined to ruin everything. Except this time he’s not ready for her to face him head on.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

In the opening of this book, Maddie and her mother leave her father and move across the country to stay with her aunt and her family. Her father was manipulative, cruel, and controlling in some subtle and some not-so-subtle ways, known as “gaslighting”. When Maddie is reluctantly dragged by her cousins to a boxing match, she sees the boxers on the stage gaining a control over their lives that she covets. She decides to train at the local gym for a charity boxing match. The cute bad boy Hayden from her school becomes her trainer, and Maddie finally starts to learn how to live her life. 

The author has done a fabulous job of showing, not telling, what it’s like to suffer from gaslighting. Throughout the entire novel, Maddie questions herself. We’re given dozens of little anecdotes throughout the narrative, stories and memories that she has of her father and her mother. Some are good. Some are… not so good. In every instance, she questions herself, questions her memories, and questions her father’s intentions. Her perpetual confusion and distrust of herself is woven so intricately into the narrative, and as a reader, I genuinely felt these emotions alongside her. 

Continue reading “Book Review: Gaslight by Rachael Rose”

Book Review: Blue Shadows Fall by Lenore Stutznegger

Blue Shadows Fall book surrounded by white roses, skeleton hand, vase, and a white blanket

Blue Shadows Fall Book CoverTitle: Blue Shadows Fall
Author: Lenore Stutznegger
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 11, 2021
Publisher: Immortal Works Publishing


Synopsis

“They wear the faces of your loved ones, but are more beautiful than you could ever imagine. Lovely things shouldn’t draw you in and kill you. You almost want them to.”

Seventeen-year-old Blue Haven, gifted with superhuman sight since birth, dreams of becoming a warrior—not that anything’s happened near the wall since Old Man Amos was attacked by that beaver. The Shadow Elves—humans infected by a zombie apocalypse-like plague—have died out over the past 150 years, leaving life altogether boring. In her quiet farming village nestled in the shadows of the Smoky Mountains, warriors are no more than a formality.

But Blue’s unique sight is beginning to show her some troubling things. A suspicious green-eyed outsider. A strikingly beautiful Shadow Elf. These visions can’t be real—because if they are, that means everyone’s been wrong. Dead wrong. They are not the last survivors in the world. And they aren’t prepared for the reality Blue’s eyes are showing her.

The outsiders want in, and they’re hungry.

A Quiet Place meets Shadow and Bone in this southern, post-apocalyptic, dark fantasy.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

Blue Shadows Fall is a prime example of a genre-blending young adult book done right. It’s a dystopian thriller set in the future. It’s a fantasy. It’s a romance. It’s a coming of age story and it even has humour in it. 

The book is set a couple of hundred years from now, after wars and a virus (SE-23) wiped out a good number of people and transformed others into “Shadow Elves”. I love that the world has a fantasy-vibe to it, but it’s grounded in science fiction. The protagonist, Blue, is obsessed with Lord of the Rings, and there are other “historical” pop culture references, like Harry Potter and Jurassic Park, which help to ground the book’s realism.

Blue has enhanced sight, which she has hidden from the world for fear of persecution by others in her town. Her abilities are so unique and fascinating, and I loved the way that they’re portrayed, and how they give her a bit of an edge when she’s dealing with others (For instance, she can see someone’s heartbeat in their neck, the formation of a bead of sweat, and other indicators that they’re lying to her). Blue is a relatable and strong heroine, one who wants to become a warrior to defend her town, but has been discouraged from doing so by her parents out of fear that it will be found out that she’s “different”. 

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Book Review: Seven Dirty Secrets by Natalie D. Richards

Seven Dirty Secrets book surrounded by blue flowers, crime scene investigation books, and a white box with a white ribbon

Seven Dirty Secrets book coverTitle: Seven Dirty Secrets
Author: Natalie D. Richards
Genre: Thriller, Young Adult
Date of Publication: November 2, 2021
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire


Synopsis

I know seven secrets:
One caused the fall. One did nothing. One saw it all.
One didn’t care. One used their head. One played the hero.
One was left for dead.

On her eighteenth birthday, Cleo receives a mysterious invitation to a scavenger hunt. She’s sure her best friend Hope or her brother Connor is behind it, but no one confesses. And as Cleo and Hope embark on the hunt, the seemingly random locations and clues begin to feel familiar.

In fact, all of the clues seem to be about Cleo’s dead boyfriend, Cyrus, who drowned on a group rafting trip exactly a year ago. A bracelet she bought him. A song he loved. A photo of the rafting group, taken just before Cyrus drowned. And then the phone calls start, Cyrus’s voice taunting Cleo with a cryptic question: You ready?

As the clock on the scavenger hunt ticks down, it becomes clear that someone knows what really happened to Cyrus. And that person will stop at nothing to make sure Cleo and her friends pay. Can they solve the hunt before someone else winds up dead?

Goodreads

My Thoughts

This is a compelling and well-crafted mystery. 

Cleo is a high school student who’s about to graduate and has grand plans of going to college for forensic science. I did my undergraduate degree in forensics, and I couldn’t help but relate to her. The authenticity of her personality and her chosen career path rang true throughout the narrative, from the way that she occasionally chastised herself for not being observant enough in her personal life, to when she off-handly referenced Locard’s principle, which is the basic tenet on which all forensic science is based. 

At first, Cleo is intrigued about having a scavenger hunt for her birthday, despite the creepy way that it starts. But her excitement is quickly dampened when it becomes clear that it has something to do with her abusive boyfriend’s suspicious death almost exactly a year earlier. Clearly someone wants her to pay for what happened – but who? 

This novel is rocket-fast paced, and every single one of the clues is both ominous and intriguing. The chapters are short, making it easy to fall into the “just one more chapter!” trap that good thrillers lay out for unsuspecting readers like myself. 

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Book Review: Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

Well Matched Book photo - picture of the book surrounded by princess bride funko pops, yellow flowers, and a yellow book

cover222764-mediumTitle: Well Matched
Author: Jen DeLuca
Series: Well Met #3
Genre: Romance, Chick Lit
Date of Publication: October 19, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group


Synopsis

An accidentally in-love rom-com filled with Renaissance Faire flower crowns, kilts, corsets, and sword fights.

Single mother April Parker has lived in Willow Creek for twelve years with a wall around her heart. On the verge of being an empty nester, she’s decided to move on from her quaint little town, and asks her friend Mitch for his help with some home improvement projects to get her house ready to sell.

Mitch Malone is known for being the life of every party, but mostly for the attire he wears to the local Renaissance Faire–a kilt (and not much else) that shows off his muscled form to perfection. While he agrees to help April, he needs a favor too: she’ll pretend to be his girlfriend at an upcoming family dinner, so that he can avoid the lectures about settling down and having a more “serious” career than high school coach and gym teacher. April reluctantly agrees, but when dinner turns into a weekend trip, it becomes hard to tell what’s real and what’s been just for show. But when the weekend ends, so must their fake relationship.

As summer begins, Faire returns to Willow Creek, and April volunteers for the first time. When Mitch’s family shows up unexpectedly, April pretends to be Mitch’s girlfriend again…something that doesn’t feel so fake anymore. Despite their obvious connection, April insists they’ve just been putting on an act. But when there’s the chance for something real, she has to decide whether to change her plans–and open her heart–for the kilt-wearing hunk who might just be the love of her life.

Goodreads

My Thoughts

This book is marketed as a rom com, but it’s much closer to women’s fiction, (but with that expected Happy Ever After that we expect in romance novels). While the book is broadly about April finding love, she’s also finding a renewed purpose in life and figuring out who she really is in the process. While the pacing of this book is quite slow, the introspection gives us the opportunity to really get into April’s head and dive into the life she’s built for herself in Willow Creek. Her daughter is graduating from high school, and then she’ll be going off to university. April should be ecstatic–she’s wanted nothing more than to sell her house and leave this town behind. But this summer, she’s forced to confront what she really wants, and the true reason why Willow Creek has never truly felt like home, which has nothing to do with the town or its residents and everything to do with her and her outlook on life. 

The atmosphere of this book is tinged with melancholy. April is a forty-year-old divorcee. She broke up with her husband shortly after her eighteen-year-old daughter, Caitlin, was born, and she hasn’t had any serious relationships since. They moved to Willow Creek, but April resisted setting down roots. She has her book club, and her sister recently moved to town (Read Well Met for that epic tale!), but she doesn’t have much else tying her to this location. Even Mitch, who was delightful and cheery in the previous two books, seems a lot more subdued in this novel. He’s still got charisma, but it isn’t enough to make the contents of the book match its cheery blue cover.

Like the previous two books in this series, DeLuca has taken a common trope as the basis for this story. Mitch Malone asks April to be his fake girlfriend for a family gathering, and a lot of the expected clichés come out of it (sharing a bedroom–and a bed, etc.). My favourite part of the previous two books in this series–and subsequently this book–is the parts set at the Renaissance Faire. Unfortunately, the first half of this book is set before the faire rolls into town, and those chapters lacked the colour and flavour that I have come to love–and expect–in this series. Once the Faire does start, it’s still not quite the same, because the book is from April’s point of view, and she’s never been a huge fan of the Faire (or anything requiring any kind of participation or fun). DeLuca does make up for this later on in the book, but I was hoping for more than a few chapters set at the Renaissance Faire. It’s what makes this series truly unique, and it otherwise is just a rehashing of old tropes without a fresh new take on them.  Honestly, the scenes with Captain Blackthorne (the first book’s hero’s alter ego), made me nostalgic for the fun and renaissance faire-filled goodness from the first instalment in the series.

All in all, this is a quick read for fans of the fake girlfriend trope, but don’t go into it expecting the usual Willow Creek Renaissance Faire shenanigans.

Well Matched Book photo - picture of the book surrounded by princess bride funko pops, yellow flowers, and a yellow book

*Thank you to the publisher, Netgalley, and the author for the ebook to review*

Three stars

Find the book:

Goodreads | Amazon