Review: Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen

Middle school can be tough and with big changes in her life, Willow clings to the familiar: her love of learning and what her mother taught her about nature, including everything she knows about her mother’s favorite magnolia blossoms that grow in their backyard.

But there’s still a lot to deal with and one day she runs away into the woods where she meets Pilu, a nature spirit who lives in the very magnolia grove that Willow’s visited countless times. Will helping Pilu find her way home and reconcile with her mother help Willow deal with the hurt inside herself? Find out in Pilu of the Woods.


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Published: 16 April 2019

Publisher: Oni Press

Category: Sequential Art/Fantasy/Middle Grade

A heartwarming story of friendship, loss, and finding your way home from debut author/illustrator Mai K. Nguyen!

Willow loves the woods near her house. They’re calm and quiet, so different from her own turbulent emotions, which she keeps locked away. When her emotions get the better of her one day, she decides to run away into the woods.

There, she meets Pilu, a lost tree spirit who can’t find her way back home—which turns out to be the magnolia grove Willow’s mom used to take her to. Willow offers to help Pilu, and the two quickly become friends.

But the journey is long, and Pilu isn’t sure she’s ready to return home yet—which infuriates Willow, who’s determined to make up for her own mistakes by getting Pilu back safely. As a storm rages and Willow’s emotions bubble to the surface, they suddenly take on a physical form, putting both girls in danger… and forcing Willow to confront her inner feelings once and for all.

Rating: 4 Stars

CW: bullying, death of a parent

The art, first and foremost, sets a wonderful tone for the book. It’s beautiful rendered from the humans/humanoids creatures in the book to the various nature scenes. Combining that with seamless scientific facts regarding the plants that Willow encounters along her journey with Pilu, such as how mushrooms grow and how a fairy ring is formed, was really interesting.

The tension was very real between Willow and her older sister, Linnea. Their relationship reminded me a bit of Lilo and Nani what with the sibling dynamic, though their father was around and spoken of often by Willow, such as how he taught her about nature. Linnea’s caretaker role, though, and her scenes with Willow highlight the early stress that the family is feeling before the first page due to her behavior, how she was trying to keep the stress of Willow’s school problems their father, and she reacted to yet another phone call from Willow’s teacher regarding her punching a bully.

This segue into Willow’s running into the forest, meeting Pilu, and starting her journey to bring Pilu home, to learning more about herself, was heartbreaking even as it was a necessary catalyst for the rest of the story.

I like the conversation the book brings up about “little monsters” (bad thoughts/feelings). Willow and Pilu have an important conversation about how they (the monsters) can be so loud, “louder than your heart”, and can be set off by anything and only brought back by saying terrible things. That feeling might be familiar to many readers because who hasn’t said something in anger?

Talking about emotions, being open about the things that made one upset, whether it is loneliness or a significant loss, and giving a sort of embodiment to them, became a starting point of realization for how to deal with feelings for Willow and Pilu. This situation, the monsters and the keeping them bottled up, was an analogy that is a good one to translate to the real world and talk to young readers in a way that makes sense to them, especially if they don’t understand outbursts or why they feel angry.

There’s an enjoyable re-readability quality to Pilu and I look forward to reading it again in the future when the finished copies are published. The artwork, the prose, all of it deserves a place on shelves and in hearts.






I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


A Chapter by Chapter Release Week Blitz: Eyes on Me by Rachel Harris

All this week Chapter by Chapter is celebrating Rachel Harris and the release of her new book, Eyes on Me, a novel about stress, dancing, secrets, and falling in love. There’s a lot to take in and enjoy in this book.

Out 26 March, you can pick up a copy from any of the linked retailers below. Also, be sure to check out the giveaway in this post for your chance to win a copy of Rachel’s new book. 🙂



Amazon AUS | Amazon CA | Amazon US | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Goodreads | iBooks | Indiebound | Kobo

Published: 26 March 2019

Publisher: Entangled Teen

Category: Romance/Young Adult

Look up the word “nerd” and you’ll find Lily Bailey’s picture. She’s got one goal: first stop valedictorian, next stop Harvard. Until a stint in the hospital from too much stress lands her in the last place a klutz like her ever expected to be: salsa dance lessons.

Look up the word “popular” and you’ll find Stone Torres’s picture. His life seems perfect—star of the football team, small-town hero, lots of friends. But his family is struggling to make ends meet, so if pitching in at his mom’s dance studio helps, he’ll do it.

When Lily’s dad offers Stone extra cash to volunteer as Lily’s permanent dance partner, he can’t refuse. But with each dip and turn, each moment her hand is in his, his side job starts to feel all too real. Lily shows Stone he’s more than his impressive football stats, and he introduces her to a world outside of studying. But with the lines blurred, can their relationship survive the secret he’s been hiding?



About the Author



New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Rachel Harris writes humorous love stories about sassy girls-next-door and the hot guys that make them swoon. Vibrant settings, witty banter, and strong relationships are a staple in each of her books…and kissing. Lots of kissing. An admitted bookaholic and homeschool mom, she gets through each day by laughing at herself, hugging her kids, and watching way too much Food Network with her husband. She writes young adult, new adult, and adult romances, and LOVES talking with readers!


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Giveaway Details


One (1) winner will receive a physical copy of Eyes on Me by Rachel Harris (US Only)


A Rafflecopter Giveaway








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Review: Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

For fans of late night horror films, the cheesier the better, Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee reaches out to embrace you. Two best friends who highlight a different oldie-but-“goodie” horror film each Saturday night on public access television, Josie (Rayne) and Delia (Delilah) bond over these films and the friendship that blossomed because of them. However, now with graduation approaching, family problems growing larger by the minute, and personal relationships becoming something of a quagmire, will their Televison Six show be enough to hold them together or is the future too tenuous?


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Published: 26 February 2019

Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers

Category: Young Adult/Contemporary

From the Morris Award-winning author of The Serpent King comes a contemporary novel about two best friends who must make tough decisions about their futures–and the TV show they host–in their senior year of high school.

Every Friday night, best friends Delia and Josie become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, hosts of the campy creature feature show Midnite Matinee on the local cable station TV Six.

But with the end of senior year quickly approaching, the girls face tough decisions about their futures. Josie has been dreading graduation, as she tries to decide whether to leave for a big university and chase her dream career in mainstream TV. And Lawson, one of the show’s guest performers, a talented MMA fighter with weaknesses for pancakes, fantasy novels, and Josie, is making her tough decision even harder.

Scary movies are the last connection Delia has to her dad, who abandoned the family years ago. If Midnite Matinee becomes a hit, maybe he’ll see it and want to be a part of her life again. And maybe Josie will stay with the show instead of leaving her behind, too.

As the tug-of-war between growing up and growing apart tests the bonds of their friendship, Josie and Delia start to realize that an uncertain future can be both monstrous…and momentous.

Rating: 3 Stars

Rep: depression

I wasn’t really aware that horror hosting was a thing before Rayne & Delilah. Sure I’d heard of Elvira, but beyond that not so much. So the concept was super interesting, adding to the fact that I love horror movies and I don’t get to indulge in them as much as I’d like because I don’t have anyone in my immediate real life to share them with.

I wasn’t thrilled with the execution of the story, though.

It may have had something to do with so much of the opening having to do with Josie & Delia filming an episode of their show Midnite Matinee, but even once the action moved  past the filming it still felt kinda flat. The voices of the main characters were very similar, like if they were changed Delia and Josie’s voices would be indistinct. There was even a point where, in a Josie chapter, this was highlighted by a p.o.v. signifier being wrong with no notice being given. I don’t think it happened more than once in the rest of the book, but it strengthened my problem with Josie & Delia’s voices being too alike.

Once they were apart and talking to others, it was easier to see Delia and Josie opening up into their own persons. As a reader it became a better experience and there was more opportunity to enjoy their interactions, conversations, and internal thoughts.

Some of the other issues that I had, even with these improvements, included the distinct lack of communication between Josie and Delia. Their friendship felt a bit unbalanced because of this, especially when thinking about Josie’s dream of being on television (as unrelated to horror hosting) or Delia’s attachment to Midnite Matinee and staying in their town.

Delia was complicated, messy, interesting. She had a lot going on, such as searching for the father that abandoned her and her mother ten years prior to the start of the book; her mental health (depression) as well as that of her mother (also depression); the stability and possibility of Midnite Matinee, the only sort-of link she has to her father. There were difficult times, what Delia referred to as dark days, whether for her or her mother. On some level I was able to see why why Delia didn’t want Josie to go to Knoxville for college, for the internship. Her sick mother & abandonment issues, her best friend & the Midnite Matinee are vital parts of her identity. Without them, who is Delia? That’s the question she struggles with throughout Rayne & Delilah, even as she’s asking questions like what’s wrong with her or why don’t people stay with her if nothing is actually wrong?

Josie was something else. After much of the book, I found myself really wondering: who was she? Reading the book, we know she wants to be on t.v., wants her own show, but other than that and Midnite Matinee, who is she? What does she like? There are some Netflix titles dropped that she watches away from Delia, but her individuality seems almost non-existent until Lawson showed up.

Lawson, who is ostensibly a side character, had more dimensions than she did. He was a MMA fighter, he enjoys reading fantasy novels, he even gets into a bit of horror hosting because of Josie. It felt like there was more thought put into his dream track of being a professional MMA fighter than Josie’s television industry person. As much as I liked Lawson, this feels like a failing of Josie, one of the main (titular!) characters. It would have been nice to get a better idea of her personality, heck, even more depth of her t.v. aspirations.

This wasn’t a terribly written book, but there was an overwhelmingly feeling of “meh” when I was finished and looking for a word to describe how I felt about Midnite Matinee. It could be enjoyable, but I think it’s just under the border of character driven enjoyable and not really near any kind of mark as far as plot driven. Some humor in the form of extreme cringe alleviates the third act, but it’s not enough to raise my estimation of the overall work.


Favorite Quotes


Here’s the thing with dreams…

…they’re carefully tailored to the only audience who will ever see them, which is you. So I’m not big on telling people about my dreams for that reason.


I love mediocre people. The ones who try their hardest to make something beautiful, something great, something that people will remember and talk about when they’re gone—and they come up short.


We laugh at them, but you really have no choice in this life but to believe with all your heart that you’re extraordinary. You have to hold this conviction against all evidence to the contrary. Living is too sad otherwise.


Most of all, I think it’s people who love to be reminded that sometimes you do your best and you come up short, but there’s still a place in the world for people like that.


There’s nothing in this world worse than a phone notification that’s not for the thing you need.






I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


Review: The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson

Books about libraries or bookstores are usually a go-to for me, something I usually love because their subject matter is something so dear to my heart. The Bookshop of Yesterdays sounded like it would surely be among that sort, after the main character, Miranda, inherits a bookstore from her uncle. Sad circumstances, surely, but inheriting a bookstore could provide an interesting backdrop for a literary journey.

While reading the actual book, however, I found that the actual experience wasn’t really all that pleasant.


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Published: 12 June 2018

Publisher: Park Row

Category: Fiction/Contemporary

A woman inherits a beloved bookstore and sets forth on a journey of self-discovery in this poignant debut about family, forgiveness and a love of reading.

Miranda Brooks grew up in the stacks of her eccentric Uncle Billy’s bookstore, solving the inventive scavenger hunts he created just for her. But on Miranda’s twelfth birthday, Billy has a mysterious falling-out with her mother and suddenly disappears from Miranda’s life. She doesn’t hear from him again until sixteen years later when she receives unexpected news: Billy has died and left her Prospero Books, which is teetering on bankruptcy–and one final scavenger hunt.

When Miranda returns home to Los Angeles and to Prospero Books–now as its owner–she finds clues that Billy has hidden for her inside novels on the store’s shelves, in locked drawers of his apartment upstairs, in the name of the store itself. Miranda becomes determined to save Prospero Books and to solve Billy’s last scavenger hunt. She soon finds herself drawn into a journey where she meets people from Billy’s past, people whose stories reveal a history that Miranda’s mother has kept hidden–and the terrible secret that tore her family apart.

Bighearted and trenchantly observant, The Bookshop of Yesterdays is a lyrical story of family, love and the healing power of community. It’s a love letter to reading and bookstores, and a testament to how our histories shape who we become.

Rating: 3 Stars

It was difficult to like the main character, Miranda. She continually had this air of selfishness. She was always barging ahead, wanting to know her family’s secrets, regardless of how much it was hurting her mother (Susan) and how much these were her mother’s own secrets (and, thus, her right to tell or not). There were also moments like this where Miranda seemed utterly baffled when someone (her mother or her boyfriend, Jay) didn’t react in a way that would make her feel better. She expected the world to revolve around her and as a nearly 30 year old person, this made her an infuriating character to have to view the story through. What redemption was there for her?

What could, in theory, be called the romance aspects of the book were not enjoyable in the least. Miranda is, technically, involved with a man named Jay from the beginning of the novel. There was so little chemistry between Miranda & Jay throughout the book as to make their “relationship” irrelevant. Then, however, there was a drunken, cruel phone call introduced that one can only assume is meant to make the reader sympathetic to Miranda’s situation when, really, it highlights how poor the two of them have been treating each other.

It seemed such a poor choice, especially when coupled with Miranda’s interaction with the manager of Prospero Books, another “love interest” (if he could be called that). Basically, no one made good choices here and it was so frustrating because it didn’t feel like the author was intending for these characters to be so unlikeable, but that’s what they were. I felt no sympathy for anyone’s romantic situation, more bafflement than anything.

Something that was interesting was the way that the author played with memory. I wasn’t sure at first if it was intentional. I thought perhaps it was a continuity error, but by the end I think there are a few examples of the author playing with not only a somewhat unreliable narrator, but other characters who misremember “facts” that they relate to Miranda.

One of the biggest problems I had, however, affected the tone of the book from fairly early on. At around the 17% point, the author tipped her hand and revealed what I would say is basically the answer to the “secret” of the entire book. There was a conversation between Miranda and her mother regarding Billy, the former owner of Prospero Books, that was quite significant and, like I said, it affected the tone of the rest of the book. There was then almost no tension regarding Miranda’s search, this quest that seemed to supposedly be her main point. It was such a disappointment.

I’m a bit conflicted about The Bookshop of Yesterdays overall. The people in it that were the focus of the book were not particularly nice people to read about, especially since readers are seeing the events of the book through their eyes. The writing was not truly awful, so it’s not a thoroughly unenjoyable read. I just find it hard to find anyone in this book to root for that’s actually present in the book and isn’t talked about off page.




I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


A Rockstar Book Tour: The Shadow’s Watch Series by S.A. Klopfenstein, with a Fancast by the Author

Today’s feature is about The Shadow’s Watch series by S.A. Klopfenstein. Rockstar Book Tours brings a tour of interviews, spotlights, and more together to celebrate the newest book in the series, The Rage of Saints. I want to thank Rockstar for having me on the tour and S.A. Klopfenstein for their guest post, a fancast of characters from the series.

Be sure to check out all the stops on the Tour Schedule below as well as the giveaway, in which one winner (US only) will win finished copies of the first two books in the Shadow’s Watch series.


The Shadow’s Watch (Book One)


Book 1

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Published: 15 May 2018

Publisher: Guardian Grey Publishing

Category: Fantasy

For centuries, the Oshan Empire has ruled the New World with terror and blood. The Watchers have been eradicated, and their sorcery is but a whispered myth. But the heart of magic beats on, and as it surges back to life, three young people will determine the fate of the world…

Tori Burodai, a strong-willed slave girl. Her magic could ignite a revolution, but only if she resists the ruler who wants to use her powers to restore the empire to its former glory.

Darien Redvar, the idealistic soldier she loves. His rage leads him down a dark path to power that could turn him against the one person he cares for.

Kale Andovier, a lordling rebel with a torturous past. His quest for a weapon of dark sorcery will thrust him into a twisted game of power that could change the world forever.

Will the return of magic transform the New World, or bring it to ruin?


The Rage of Saints (The Shadow’s Watch Book Two)


Book 2

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Published: 26 March 2019

Publisher: Guardian Grey Publishing

Category: Fantasy

The thrilling second installment in the Shadow Watch series!

The Shadow Watch has been undone. Their captain lies in the dungeons of the White Citadel, and the Gallows Girl has disappeared. Most of the surviving Watchers have joined the chancellor’s new magical army, the Sky Guard, led by Darien Redvar, but the Gallows Boy is shaken from the return of the monsters of the Old World, and he must soon choose, once and for all, where his loyalties lie.

Tori and Mischa trek to the Great White North with an Alyut shaman, who believes Tori is the one who will bring Restoration to his people. A resistance is growing in the North, but Tori may not be the god the people are looking for, and the price of revolution may cost Tori her heart as well as her life.

Meanwhile, another threat grows in strength. Old World monsters are rising up across the New World, and no one knows how they’ve returned. As nations ready themselves for a magical war, their return threatens to change everything.

New alliances are set in place, new friendships are forged, new loves kindled. But no one is safe, for there can be no war without betrayal.

Don’t miss this the latest installment in the epic fantasy series readers are comparing to Mistborn and Throne of Glass!


Guest Post by S.A. Klopfenstein


What’s one thing readers do as we read? Picture the characters in our heads and fancast them! For this post, I asked S.A. Klopfenstein who they’d fancast as characters from the Shadow’s Watch series. Take a peek below for some insight into the choices and see if they match up with what you think as you read along with The Shadow’s Watch and The Rage of Saints.


Tori Burodai (Rosa Salazar)



Darien Redvar (Bob Morley)



Cyrus Maro (Iwan Rheon)



Kale Andovier (Tom Felton)



Ren Andovier (Richard Madden)



Mischa Sufai (Lana Condor)



Vashti Burodai (Ivana Baquero)



Kirra Fehn (Malese Jow)



Valeria Sardona (Hera Hilmar)



Ashi Burodai (Amber Rose Revah)



Salla Burodai (Pedro Pascal)



Seren le Tal (Clemence Poesy)



Tes Falzen (Dafne Keen)



Skya dul Baruk (Louisa d’Oliveira)



Alyk dul Baruk (Ben Barnes)


About the Author



S.A. Klopfenstein grew up on a steady dose of Tolkien and Star Wars. As a child, he wrote his first story about a sleepwalking killer who was executed by lethal injection.
He lives in the American West with his wife and their dog, Iorek Byrnison. He can be found exploring the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, or daring the halls of the middle school where he teaches Language Arts.


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1 lucky winner will win a finished copy of THE SHADOW WATCH & THE RAGE OF SAINTS, US Only.


A Rafflecopter Giveaway



Tour Schedule


Week One



Lone Tree Reviews – Excerpt

Literary Gold – Spotlight



Kelly P’s Blog – Excerpt

TMBA Corbett Tries to Write – Interview



Life With No Plot – Review

The Hermit Librarian – Guest Post



Adventures Thru Wonderland – Review

Graced with Books – Interview



Lauren is Reading – Review

❧Defining Ways❧ – Guest Post


Week Two



Sincerely Karen Jo – Excerpt

BookHounds YA – Guest Post



Colorimetry – Guest Post

Two Chicks on Books – Interview



Owl Always Be Reading – Excerpt

Jaime’s World – Excerpt



D. Books and Reviews – Review

4covert2overt ☼ A Place In The Spotlight ☼ – Excerpt



Abooktropolis – Review

Lisa Loves Literature – Excerpt






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Review: The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding *Spoilers*

Who wouldn’t want to put on a cute dress and eat some delicious burgers in the warm sunshine? Abby’s certainly got a lot to look forward to this summer, between cute looks, eating burgers around Los Angeles with her new friend Jax, plus an internship at hip boutique Lemonberry. With the possibility of a job at the end of the summer, the last thing Abby expects is to fall in love with Jordi, the other intern, but love isn’t a blog post you can schedule.


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Published: 7 April 2018

Publisher: Forever Young Audiobooks

Category: Young Adult/LGBT+/Contemporary Romance

Seventeen, fashion-obsessed, and gay, Abby Ives has always been content playing the sidekick in other people’s lives. While her friends and sister have plunged headfirst into the world of dating and romances, Abby has stayed focused on her plus-size style blog and her dreams of taking the fashion industry by storm. When she lands a prized internship at her favorite local boutique, she’s thrilled to take her first step into her dream career. She doesn’t expect to fall for her fellow intern, Jordi Perez. Abby knows it’s a big no-no to fall for a colleague. She also knows that Jordi documents her whole life in photographs, while Abby would prefer to stay behind the scenes.

Then again, nothing is going as expected this summer. She’s competing against the girl she’s kissing to win a paid job at the boutique. She’s somehow managed to befriend Jax, a lacrosse-playing bro type who needs help in a project that involves eating burgers across L.A.’s eastside. Suddenly, she doesn’t feel like a sidekick. Is it possible Abby’s finally in her own story?

But when Jordi’s photography puts Abby in the spotlight, it feels like a betrayal, rather than a starring role. Can Abby find a way to reconcile her positive yet private sense of self with the image that other people have of her?

Is this just Abby’s summer of fashion? Or will it truly be The Summer of Jordi Perez (and the Best Burger in Los Angeles)?

Rating: 3 Stars

Rep: F/F romance

Abby is a conflicting person. On the one hand, she has a blog that’s meant to be powerful and pro plus size, not to mention some internal monologue about how the world sees her and some discourse with others (“fat’s not a bad word”). Then, on the other hand, she makes a lot of self deprecating comments that clash. She also doesn’t like her photograph being taken, though especially not it being posted anywhere. This becomes a point of contention between her and others throughout the novel and a big one later one.

After reading this book, I would believe that Abby was fashion obsessed, but that she was focused on her blog? I’m not too sure about that. I think that that might have been the intention originally, to make it something that she wanted to pursue professionally and I think she could have, but in the text I didn’t see her mention it all that much. It felt like a very casual thing even while fashion itself remained important.

Jordi’s artwork and her enthusiasm, her passion for it, felt real. It would’ve been great to see the photographs that were described because they sounded amazing. Her family was also fun to read about, from her father who sent leftovers like pollo verde and and caldo de pollo to share with Abby or her brother Christian playing video games.

Beyond characters and into narrative, there were times when scenes felt rushed, like conversations and interactions that felt like they were speeding by as though the author didn’t quite know what to do with those people or that instance so needed to get through them asap. It happened at least once with Jax and Abby when they were out on one of their burger excursions (the timing was off in how things played out), which was odd because their relationship had been so well developed until then, almost more so than her relationship with Jordi, so why skimp then?

There’s a betrayal at the climax of the book on Jordi’s part that, while others in the book found to be not a big deal, for Abby’s part I found to be heartbreaking. It goes back to her self image and while that might have needed some improvement, it doesn’t excuse the act. I thought, from other reviews, that Abby’s reaction would be something overreaching but nope. It was actually about right. If I’d been betrayed like this, I’d be at least as pissed as Abby. I hate having pics taken of me and to trust someone to take them & then put them on public display? That’s HORRENDOUS.

There’s also an issue about the levels of story in this book: Abby, Jordi, and the internship at Lemonberry (Story A), Abby, Jax, and the burgers (Story B), and Abby and her mom, Norah (Story C). The first two were decently developed, with fluctuating levels of interest throughout. The conflict between Abby and her mother, however, felt like it was being shoehorned in, especially at the last minute. It could have been an important one, especially with the commentary on body image, Abby’s body positivity & her blog, and Norah’s health food movement, but it was buried below Story A (Abby, Jordi, & Lemonberry) and Story B (Abby, Jax, & burgers).

I also had an issue with the wrap up of the endings. With regards to Jordi’s photographs at the gallery & Abby’s reaction…Jordi takes them down, puts them back up, between the two of them they invite everyone back and Abby gets over all her insecurity in a snap? Just like that? It really didn’t make sense that something that was so deeply ingrained was so quickly, basically swept away.

Then the internship that they were competing for the whole summer, which was supposed to be a whole source of tension through the book? It was literally solved with a simple “Maggie asks Jordi and me if we just want to split the part-time hours in the fall. We’ll both barely make any money but we all feel silly that we didn’t think of this solution sooner.” That was SUCH a take-away-the-stakes thing to do. If this had been a physical ARC, I think I would have flung it away from me in frustration.

The Summer of Jordi Perez had its cute moments for sure and reading it had good moments. I don’t know that I’d read it again, but there’s some fun to be had in that initial read, so anyone looking for a reasonably quick, cute f/f with some delicious food asides and some definitely adorable fashion looks can turn to this book.






I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


Review: The Queen of Cups by Ren Basel

Theo’s family has long set sail on the ocean, all with the blessing of the Oracle. What will they find when they make their own trip to visit the woman in the dunes?


Amazon | Amazon – Paperback | Goodreads 

Published: 1 March 2019

Publisher: Self-published

Category: LGBT+ Fantasy

A mysterious woman known only as The Oracle resides on the seashore, blessing ships and telling fortunes for those who can pay her price. For new-made ship captain Theo Marinos, the price is higher than it first seems.

If Theo has any hope of surviving their ship’s first voyage, they must trust not just in The Oracle, but in themself–for the journey is long, and the ocean’s tests are many.

Rating: 4 Stars

Rep: Gay, lesbian, trans, nonbinary, autistic, and asexual; MC with synthesia

One of the first things I noticed and loved about Ren’s story was the attention to detail they paid to setting.

The shack was small but not uninviting. Garlands of shells dangling from braided grasses adorned the whitewashed walls. There were shelves lined with gnarled bits of driftwood, wave-polished stones, tiny bits of colorful glass scoured by the sea, and other little treasures turned up by the tides. A scrubbed wooden table and matching chairs rested in front of a modest hearth, and there was a small bed tucked away in a corner.

From the Oracle’s shack to the world around Theo, there were beautiful descriptions that brought to mind these images with ease as the characters moved through Basel’s world. It was almost like the world popped up around me and renewed my love of the sea.

Aside from setting were the characters. I was sad that this was a short story because I could easily have read a full length story about Theo, their crew, and/or their family. Theo, an autistic asexual non-binary ship captain with synthesia, was interesting in and of themselves as they prepared to take to the sea with their own ship. With a family, two fathers and multiple siblings, who all have histories on the ocean, there’s a lot of possibility for tales beyond The Queen of Cups.

Without going into many details and thus potential spoiler territory, I’ll say that Theo learns a lot in their interactions with the Oracle, such as how there are many aspects to a story. The Oracle may have heard many tales and many adventures from across the seas, told to her by those that seek their fortunes, but the color of an individual’s perspective can mean so much more.

Ren Basel’s writing was engaging and made me look forward to more from their repertoire.




I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


Yummy Read: A Guest Post with Lillie Vale, author of Small Town Hearts

Babe’s got a viable side business working out of Busy Bean’s, the coffee shop in her hometown of Oar’s Rest, creating all sorts of tasty treats from sandwiches to baked goods for the people in her small beach town. Can sweets and savories heal hurt hearts, though, in a summer full of turmoil and new love? It’s hard to say, but in Lillie Vale’s debut novel readers will be treated to not only delicious dishes, but to a deliciously intricate story of friends and emotions, of the summer before the rest of their lives start, and a town that feels like home.

I want to thank Vicky from Vicky Who Reads for facilitating this partnership & Lillie for her guest post today on the tummy rumbling food in Small Town Hearts and much more!


From Lillie Vale


Hi Harker! Thanks for hosting me on your blog today! So excited to chat about my YA debut, Small Town Hearts, all the yummy food Babe conjures up in her kitchen, and, of course, the foods that mean the most to us!
Everybody else: Hi! I’m Lillie Vale, the author of upper YA contemporary Small Town Hearts. It’s a messy BFF breakup + found family novel taking place in the summer after high school, the last summer 19yo bi baking barista Babe thinks she’ll have before her friends Penny and Chad start college in the fall. She has a somewhat co-dependent relationship with the people she loves, and change has never been a good thing, in her experience, so she’s trying to hold on tight during a time when she has to learn how to let go. Matters are further complicated when her ex-girlfriend Elodie returns to their sleepy Maine village of Oar’s Rest at the same time as a mysterious summer boy shows up to rent Babe’s mom’s cottage on the beach.

“It’s hard to figure out if you want something to be a career. Like when people find out I’m not going to college, they get all awkward. They think staying at Busy’s and being a barista is . . . a stepping-stone job. And for most people, it is.” I shrugged. “But I’ve never wanted to do anything else in my entire life. Making people happy with food is something special.”

Small Town Hearts (pg. 124)

Food plays a huge role in Small Town Hearts. Babe loves taking care of her found family with sweet treats, steaming chowders, fresh-baked bread, and experiments with flavors like goat cheese that her author is way too chicken to try! Nope, nuh uh, sorry, I have an adventurous palate but it does not extend to goat byproducts! 🙈

I joke all the time that Small Town Hearts should come with the disclaimer that it will make you really hungry, and I hear this A LOT from readers that they were craving snacks (or actually went out to get some!) while reading! Which, to my foodie heart, is top-shelf praise.

“The sweetness of a slice of cake has the ability to turn a bad day around. There’s a lot of memories in food, you know.”

Small Town Hearts (pg. 225)

So I thought I’d chat with Harker about comfort food, and why it means so much to us!

I live on a steady diet of Asian food: khow suey, chicken biryani, shrimp/egg curry, vegetable korma, pad thai, thai basil chicken, and so many more. This stuff takes FOREVER to prepare if you are a turtle at chopping vegetables like me, and in general there’s a lot of prep involved with Asian dishes, and sometimes a very specific order in which to add ingredients, so all in all it can be time consuming.

My mom makes the best chicken gravies/curries. It reminds me of my childhood whenever I smell frying onion. Her butter chicken and chicken tikka masala is *chefs kiss*. Rich, smooth tomato gravy with lots of onion and garlic, oh my gawdddd. Paired with white rice or naan? THE BEST. Also, Indian recipes that require only one clove of garlic? DO NOT TRUST. Who doesn’t love garlic? It’s doing double duty! Not only is it making your food delicious, it serves a very medicinal purpose of keeping you safe from vampires (;

Crisp vegetables, tender meat (or your choice of protein! I often substitute tofu!), the bite of ginger and the sweetness of onions, crunchy bean sprouts and sugar snap peas, chewy re-hydrated mushrooms (my favorite!!!), flavorsome lemongrass and curry leaves, garlicky noodles and sauces, fragrant coconut milk mixed in a delicious, savory broth…I could wax poetic about this all day! Eating any of this is like being enveloped in a warm hug. I know how much time goes into meals, so I appreciate it even more when it’s made for me. It soothes me to a degree I sometimes didn’t know I needed. Sometimes, food can be love.

As a diaspora Indian-American, food is the best way I know how to connect to my heritage. I associate my favorite Indian dishes with stories my mom tells me of her childhood in India, of a world and a time and a place I have never known, yet still feel wistful for.

And when I don’t have the time/energy to cook for myself or can’t beg/bribe my mom to make me something? Nothing beats packet ramen with a ton of veggies and a fried egg (gochujang and pickled radish and greens if you’re feeling fancy)! Wendy’s chicken nuggets, fries, and chili! You haven’t lived until you’ve dipped fries in their chili. So. Freaking. Good. And…corn flakes. I just really like corn flakes.

Harker, what are your favorite comfort foods, and why are they so evocative? Any special memories you associate with food? (Also, I am really hungry right now!!! Why did we think talking about food was a good idea!!! I have no idea what to make for lunch!!! I JUST WANT ALL THE THINGS!!!)


From Harker, the Hermit Librarian


Oh Lillie, I don’t know! Just reading your post made me hungry all over again. Each dish sounded better than the last. 😀

I feel very basic in saying that two of my comfort foods is mac n cheese or Chef Boyardee, both of which are super easy to make when I’m feeling low energy. However, I also enjoy Asian food quite a lot, especially from my local restaurants: brisket ramen, bool go gi, takoyaki,  and butter chicken. I haven’t made many of these dishes myself at home because, as you mentioned, these and similar can take a long time to prepare and I often don’t have the energy or the strength (my hands cramp easily when chopping/mixing). I’ve tried some jarred butter chicken sauce which I know isn’t the same as homemade but it suffices and it still quite delicious.

Reading Small Town Hearts made me ache to try some of the dishes that Babe was making. Whether it was the sweets or one of the savory dishes, pretty much everything she made sounded delicious, even if it had an ingredient I’m not partial to (blue cheese is apparently to me what goat cheese is to you, Lillie! *lol*).

Babe’s fare was a bit easier to replicate at home.


(Left to Right – Babe’s “Grilled Cheese” Toastie, Ham & Cheese, Dark Chocolate Chip Pistachio Cookies)


There was one sandwich that jumped out first: a grilled cheese that Babe made with blue cheese, arugula, and apricot jam. I made my twist on this by switching out the blue cheese for gouda and using an arugula/spinach mix. Omg, this was SO good! I’d never thought of putting jam on  sandwich before! What a joy! This was supposed to be a grilled cheese and I kind of failed on that in all the iterations I made, so it became more of a toastie, but even only semi-melted the smokiness of the gouda was a real nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the apricot jam.

Since I had the apricot jam and the arugula/spinach mix already and I wanted to make something that Babe would be proud of, I tried to think of a sandwich that would utilize many of the same ingredients. I paired the aforementioned items with some deli ham and sliced swiss cheese to make another sandwich. If you’ve got the energy you can toast it, but if you want something quick late at night, this Ham & Cheese can also be enjoyed cold.

And, of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t try and recreate Babe’s dark chocolate chip pistachio cookies. In Small Town Hearts, Babe includes sea salt in her recipe, which I nixed because I thought that the pistachios would be a bit too salty in the cookies. Next time, though, I would include it and also put more pistachios on top. All in all they were quite tasty! The recipe is the one on the back of the Nestle Tollhouse bag with the addition of the nuts if anyone would care to recreate them for yourself. 🙂

Food is only one part of Lillie’s book, of course. There’s so much more to it, from setting to the characters. Check out the synopsis, purchase links, and my review for more on this debut novel.

Once again, thank you, Lillie, for joining me for this wonderfully delicious guest post!



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Published: 19 March 2019

Publisher: Swoon Reads

Category: Contemporary/Young Adult/Romance/LGBT+

Rule #1 – Never fall for a summer boy. 

Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.

And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy?

Rating: 3 Stars

Rep: Bisexual MC, Black SC, biracial ex-LI, Chinese American SC

CW: manipulative friendship, mention of casual drug usage (weed, not shown on the page), alcohol consumption (on page), alcohol abuse (a character drinks and parties to the point of dehydration and sleep-deprivation; two characters get wasted and are too drunk to fully consent to sex with each other); in this edition use of a racist term (tr*be – “It always felt like once people had their tribe, they didn’t have a lot of time for new friends.”) during the included quote. Note: having spoken to the author, she’s accepted this note and while it’s too late to change the current edition, she mentioned correcting it in further print runs.

From the get go, Small Town Hearts had a great knack for setting. At the heart of it was The Busy Bean, the coffee shop where Babe sells her baked good and works as a manager. It has a certain eclectic charm that is illustrated well in the furniture from various patio sets and alternating lettering styles displaying the daily specials on a board.

Vale constructs a comforting setting. Oar’s Rest comes to the reader’s mind not only through visuals that she sets out for them, but through scents that are described and used to round out the image of the town. It almost makes it a 3D image and puts the reader that much more in the story than any other.

There were some characterization choices that I thought were interesting, such as when Babe & Penny compare Penny & Chad’s relationship to Rory and Logan of Gilmore Girls. Penny/Rory, in their respective works (book/show) don’t tend to notice what they’re asking of others, the demands that their actions place on others, and I found this a super apt comparison.

Penny did not end up being my favorite person. There’s some growth on her part, but it was difficult to read her interactions with Babe. There’s language she uses that’s subtly manipulative of Babe & Babe’s feelings as well as judgment toward Levi when “first meeting” him at a houseboat party and offering him weed/alcohol but also “water if you’re not into having fun”.

I wasn’t sure, at first, if the tension between Babe & Penny was casual friends depending upon one another or something else, but as one scene plays out (Penny asking Babe to, essentially, cement a breakup with Chad) it becomes clear that Penny knows what she’s doing. Events spiral from that one request, and from the past decisions that have happened between Babe, Penny, and even Chad, to create a whole mess that intertwines the entire narrative.

Babe & Levi had some sweet moments, despite the tension that was running between them for a variety of reasons. Their dates around town, their conversations, there were some truly lovely, intimate moments that bolstered the quickly formed relationship.

There is something I found slightly odd, maybe offputting, about the tone of the characters. Before their ages were explicitly stated, and perhaps even a bit after that, I would’ve said based on the way they acted, the situations they were in (living conditions, certain freedoms, etc.), that this was more a New Adult novel and that most of the main cast was in their early twenties rather than late teens. Like, there was a disproportionate amount of young people to older (late twenties and up) residents. These characters were all 17-19 and not quite acting like it. They had jobs, “houses”, and responsibilities that didn’t quite mesh with the personalities that had been presented on page.

There is a brief explanation given as to where Babe’s mother is (she works on a cruise ship most of the year) and why Babe is able to afford living in a lighthouse (given funds). It felt a rather convenient way, though, to avoid developing a familial relationship between Babe and her parents because both are essentially absentee what with her mother working on a cruise ship and her father being a relative unknown to the reader.

Overall, while the action seem choppy/repetitive at times, creating a sometimes rough reading experience, what was good was good and what wasn’t awful. I really could see Oar’s Rest in my head and sinking into a setting isn’t always easy. I wish that it was possible to visit such a place, get a picnic lunch at Lorcan’s seafood shack, and wander down to the beach. Small Town Hearts is a wonderfully atmospheric novel and getting to settle down with a snack and a good read is totally something to look forward to with this debut.


About the Author



Lillie Vale, upon discovering she could not be one of Santa’s elves or attend Hogwarts, decided to become a writer to create a little magic of her own. Enjoying the romantic and eerie in equal measure, she’s probably always writing a book where the main characters kiss or kill. Born in Mumbai, she has lived in many U.S. states, and now resides in an Indiana college town where the corn whispers and no one has a clue that she is actually the long-lost caps lock queen. She can be reached on Twitter @LillieLabyrinth and Instagram @labyrinthspine. Small Town Hearts is her debut novel.







I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


Review: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Helen Hoang began her The Kiss Quotient series in 2018 with Stella and Michael. Now, in The Bride Test, her story continues with the tale of Khai and Esme. Their clashing personalities and behaviors, opportunities, unfolding feelings…the many avenues Hoang’s story takes make The Bride Test an un-put-down-able book because you need to know what happens next.


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Published: 7 May 2019

Publisher: Berkley

Category: Romance/Contemporary/Fiction

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.

Rating: 5 Stars

The first thing I need to say is that I have not read Helen’s book The Kiss Quotient. I wasn’t wholly aware of the fact that it was related to this book; whoops on my part. The Bride Test  can be read on its own, but there are spoilers for The Kiss Quotient, as characters from that book appear and have threads of their story continued. I am very excited now, of course, considering how much I enjoyed this book, to go back and see where their stories began.

Now, back to Khai and Esme.

I found it hard to set this book down. The story was very engaging. I always wanted to know more about the two central characters, Khai and Esme, whether it was about them as individuals or about what they were like when they were becoming two people together.

Things start out rather awkwardly. There are preconceptions about each other; Khai’s past and his autism both inform choices that he makes throughout the story and especially choices he makes regarding Esme; and Esme’s family always in her mind, holding her up when things seem hopeless in this new situation that she is in not just for herself, but for them as well.

Some of what I liked best were the little moments of trust that you could see developing between Khai and Esme. It could be something like Khai realizing he was sort of looking forward to eating the breakfast that Esme prepared, but I found myself smiling at them multiple times.

There were also personal developments being made for each character. Khai opening up as a person, figuring out how to assess his emotional state in the face of past events and in conjunction with his autism. It was interesting to see how the story navigated his narrative, particularly with his family being from Vietnam and having a specific point of view regarding his mental health.

Ever since his elementary school teacher insisted his parents take him to a psychologist, he’d known he was different. The majority of his family, however, had discounted the resulting diagnosis, saying he was merely “a little strange.” There was no such thing as autism or Asperger’s syndrome in the countryside of Vietnam.

Then there was Esme, coming from the slums of Vietnam and her position as a cleaner, learning about the ways she could accomplish more for herself and her family. The risks she took, the challenges she faced, made her a strong person even before the book began and set her up as someone I loved even more she met Khai’s mother and accepted the offer to come to America.

I did think that the balance of Esme’s personal developments (i.e. outside of her relationship with Khai – education, work) as written throughout the book felt a little heavy handed toward the end of the book and could’ve done with being spread out a bit more, but overall they were well written so were still enjoyable.

With the announcement that there will be five more Helen Hoang books in the future, I can say that I’m super excited to see where characters from this world will go in their own stories. Until then, going back to The Kiss Quotient and shouting praises for The Bride Test will do. 🙂




I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.


Review: The Ballad of Yaya, Vol. 1: Fugue by Jean-Marie Omont, Charlotte Girard, Golo Zhao, Patrick Marty

A historical fiction graphic novel starting in Shanghai 1937, The Ballad of Yaya is a nine volume story of a young girl who meets a young boy and, together, a story of the odds these two children must face in a world at war.


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Published: 23 April 2019

Publisher: Lion Forge

Category: Graphic Novel/Historical Fiction

Shanghai, November 1937.

Yaya, the eight-year-old daughter of a diamond merchant, lives a life of luxury in the French Concession in Shanghai. Her one great passion is the piano. While she is preparing for an important audition, her father decides that the family must leave town in the face of the imminent Japanese invasion.

The evening before all the family is to leave, stubborn Yaya, unaware of the danger, runs away in an attempt to make it to her audition come what may. On the way, in the midst of the crowd fleeing the Japanese offensive, she is caught in a bombardment. She owes her life to Tuduo, a street urchin who discovers her unconscious in the ruins of a house.

Rating: 4 Stars

This historical fiction graphic novel tells the story of two children, Yaya and Tuduo, from wildly different backgrounds who are facing the onset of WWII. When war comes to Shanghai and Yaya is separated from her family due to an ill-fated trip away from them of her own machination, it is Tuduo who comes to her aid.

Fugue is the first volume in a nine-volume series, so it takes the time to introduce the cast. Yaya is a pampered child, the eldest and beloved her her wealthy father and mother. She will soon have a younger brother, but this joyous event is overshadowed by the war that is coming to Shanghai. Not even her father’s wealth can protect them, but this is not something that Yaya understands as the threat that it is, being as young as she is. All she knows is that something so vital to her person, an important piano audition, is no longer possible because the family needs to flee. It it this that causes her to runaway and attempt to get to the audition on her own, ultimately leading to her meeting with Tuduo.

The reader will have a greater understanding of the events surrounding Yaya’s situation, not only because of potential knowledge of history, but because of the artwork, showing a city preparing for war, people preparing cars & other vehicles with their worldly possessions in order to leave before the Japanese arrive. The level of detail the author went to, conveying not only Yaya’s feelings in the narrative but the feeling of anxiety, worry, and horror of those around her, filled the book with many levels, interconnected stories that may not have seemed important to Yaya but were more prevalent than she realized.

Then, too, there is Tuduo, counterpart to Yaya. He is a street urchin under the thumb of Zhu, who uses lackeys and threats against Tuduo’s younger brother to make sure Tuduo uses his skills as an acrobat to bring in money every day. One day, in order to protect his brother from Zhu’s dangerous clutches, Tuduo runs away, entrusting his brother to a nun he’s befriended and fleeing the city himself, knowing Zhu will be on his heels. This is, of course and unfortunately, the day the Japanese arrive and the day Yaya runs away to her audition.

What these two children face as the city is being bombed is unimaginable. There’s no blood, but the buildings coming down around them, the utter destruction, conveys so much that I think it was a good choice by the artist. Not only for the audience that will be reading this, but because there are many ways to convey the depths of sadness and terror of the situation and Tuduo and Yaya suddenly being alone in a war-torn city….it was poignant.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the next volume picks up because the cliffhanger prompts the reader to want to know more, to need to know how how Tuduo and Yaya will fare when they are still so small in the face of such a wide world that is at war. Will Tuduo’s street knowledge be enough? Will Yaya’s determined spirit see her back to her family?



I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.

All media belongs to the respective owners and is used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.