Sunday, April 23, 2017

Review: Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh


Flame in the Mist by Renée Ahdieh
Book One of the Flame in the Mist series
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she's quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she's ever known.

What I Liked:

Flame in the Mist has been one of my most anticipated publications of 2017, and I had been looking forward to reading it for a long time. You know that feeling when you finally get a much anticipated book, and you're so excited, but you just can't seem to open it to start reading? I had this book over almost two months. I was scared. But honestly, I don't know what I was so afraid of, because this book was excellent, and I loved it.

I'm going to go ahead and tell you all that 1) this review will not do this book justice, 2) I won't be able to capture the complexities and intricacy of the plot, and 3) I will do my best not to spoil anything, because my goodness there is a lot of things that are unveiled slowly and could definitely be spoiled. Ahdieh has readers guessing right and wrong at every turn!

Mariko is on her way to Inako to marry the second son of the emperor. Her marriage has been arranged and she must bring honor to family. Her family is highly regarded, with her father being a samurai lord, and her twin brother being a powerful samurai with the nickname "Dragon of Kai". But her procession is ambushed, leaving everyone dead except Mariko. She escapes, and is determined to find out who tried to kill her. The Black Clan is the likely suspect - a bandit gang of warrior-like men who serve none but themselves. Mariko decides to try and infiltrate the Clan, dressed as a boy, and kill them all. They kidnap her, which works in her favor because she gains access to their encampment. But the longer she gets to know the Clan, the harder it becomes to kill them. What if Ranmaru and Okami weren't the ones that ordered her death? And who are these men, so clearly regarded by the Clan they lead? Mariko slowly discovers that no one is who they seem - and not just within the Black Clan.

First thing I want to address - I've heard people throw around the phrase "Mulan retelling" when describing this book. The thing is, I don't know how true this actually is. I will make attempt to hide the fact that I am quite ignorant in the facts of feudal Japan (the setting of this book), and dynastic China (setting of Mulan). I don't know enough about the history of China and Japan to really give you all a good discourse on the differences between the story of Mulan, and Flame in the Mist. But... I'm fairly certain that Flame in the Mist is inspired by Mulan, and not actually a Mulan retelling? Do you see the difference? Some aspects of this story seem to mirror those of Mulan (cross-dressing female, bring honor to the family, etc.). But this story is very clearly its own (in my opinion), and very clearly based on Japanese setting and culture (and not Chinese). Again, I'm no expert. There are many others who have spoken about this book and its culture/setting who know better than me. But in my opinion, I don't think this is a Mulan retelling. And if it is, it is very, very loosely written retelling. 

That being said, I loved how rich and vibrant the world-building of this book is. I've never read a book set in feudal Japan, and I was quite swept away. Ahdieh did a lot of research for this story, and it shows, with all of the italicized uses of Japanese words, all of the subtle and obvious references to Japanese culture, the names, the customs. 

Most of the story is set in the Jukai forest, where the Black Clan encampment is. The forest is creepy! There are magical beasts with yellow eyes and blood-thirsty trees who exact punishment on wrongdoers. Oh, you read that correctly. Has anyone watched Grimm? In the final season, there is an episode involving something called the jubokko. Look it up! The jubokko appears in this book. Thanks to Grimm (who decided to feature this Japanese legend in the show) and Ahdieh's imaginative writing, I could really picture the jubokko and its horrifying ways. 

So, this book isn't just a historic type of fantasy. It's a fantasy with magic and magical beasts and magical entities. I actually was not expecting that, so I was pleasantly (and unpleasantly) surprised when I came across the nightbeasts, and the jubokko, and strange abilities that some of the Black Clan members have.

I adored Mariko from the start. She is extremely willful and headstrong, and she is so intelligent and clever. Her clever mind is one of the things that saves her over and over, and earns her a place in the Black Clan. Mariko kept dwelling on the fact that everyone at home thought she was weird and strange, and to be honest I think that inner monologue could have been cut back a little (girl, we know, you're different from the other girls), but I liked her strength and uniqueness in character. She grows a lot in this book, though not all of it is obvious. I liked watching her open her eyes and see the world for what it actually is. Mariko has always been brave and strong, but she becomes a different type of brave and strong as the story progresses.

Okami is a fantastic hero/male protagonist. He is easily as important to this story as Mariko. While Ranmaru is the leader of the Black Clan, Okami is the best fighter, and the one that you can't get anything past. Okami seems hard and unyielding to Mariko, all leashed power and coiled tension. He has quite a bit of secrets, and the most important is revealed very, very slowly. I had an inkling about this one thing, and while I wasn't quite right, I liked the foreshadowing and seeds the author planted throughout the book, to make you think one thing or the other. Okami is an intelligent, intuitive, calculating, noble warrior who has been running from a certain decision. Okami's character growth is subtle, but it becomes a very real thing towards the end of this book.

Other secondary characters were so interesting to follow! Kenshin, Mariko's brother, plays a bigger role in the book as the ending creeps closer. Kenshin is honor-bound and duty-bound and he will stop at nothing to get his sister back. And then there are the members of the Black Clan - Yoshi, the jolly but deadly cook; Ren, the rude boy who is not as bad as he initially seems; Ranmaru, the leader of the Black Clan who has just as many secrets as Okami. I love how Ahdieh shapes all of her characters (primary or secondary) to be so unique and interesting, even when some are a little crazy.

I like that this book is written in third-person - the author does so well, writing in third person. We get Mariko's POV mostly, but occasionally we read Kenshin's, Okami's, and Ranmaru's. I wish there had been a few more Okami scenes, but oh well!

I found this book to be incredibly different from The Wrath & The Dawn/The Rose & The Dagger, in terms of the romance. You know how that duology had a sort-of (but not really) love triangle, in which Khalid and Shahrzad clearly love each other and only each other, but then there is the pesky and annoying fly that is Tariq, who has been in love with Shahrzad since childhood? Well, I am happy to tell you all that Flame in the Mist does not have any love triangle. No childhood friend-turned-love-interest. Not even the emperor's second son, who is Mariko's betrothed, is a love interest (we don't really see much of him). It's all Okami and Mariko! This book in general was not nearly as swoony romantic as Ahdieh's previous two books - especially with Okami not knowing that Mariko is a girl, for most of the story. But when he finds out, it all makes sense to him, why "the boy" is so odd and makes him feel uncomfortable and something. Okami and Mariko are fire together! I loved their interactions, when Mariko was "the boy" and especially when she wasn't. Again, this book isn't as romance-heavy as Ahdieh's previous books, but the romance is there and it is swoony. And love-triangle-free! Swooooon!

I was worried that I would have issues with the pacing of the book, because rich fantasy novels are often pretty slow, in the beginning. But no, this book starts off very quickly and takes off. I like that the author didn't waste any time starting the story - the first scene (besides the "prologue" scene) is Mariko's procession getting ambushed. Talk about an entrance! I was never bored while reading this book - if anything, I was highly entertained and really enjoyed myself!

You all must know the direction of this story, even by reading the synopsis of the book alone. Mariko cannot hurt the Black Clan members, which she decides towards the end of the book. But her brother can, and so can the emperor's second son. The emperor himself has a plan set in motion, as does his Royal Consort... as does his wife the Empress. Everyone has an agenda, even Ranmaru and Okami. The ending of this book is nonstop action and intensity, and the story does end in a sort-of cliffhanger. It's not a painful cliffhanger, but it will leave you wanting the next book immediately. 

What I Did Not Like:

There was nothing terrible about this book - for me. You'll come across some three-star reviews on Goodreads; I've read some of them and I think they're fair, and everyone is going to have their own experience with this book. If I'm being honest, I read those reviews before reading this book, and they deterred me a little from starting the book sooner. But I ended up loving the book. I didn't find Mariko annoying, I didn't really care to question her decisions (I would have done the same in many instances), and I didn't find the story slow or boring.

I would have loved more kissing, and more scenes from Okami's POV. He is so smart and shrewd, and reading in his POV was always incredibly intriguing. So there.

Would I Recommend It:

I loved this book and I recommend it to fellow fantasy lovers, anyone who thinks they might enjoy a story set in Feudal Japan, anyone who loves heroines who don't like to be pushed around by men, anyone who loves smart girls and clever boys, anyone who wants to be left in a state of constant hunger while reading the book (seriously, the food references. Gaaaahhhh). This is a huge publication in YA this year, and so there will be a lot of excited people and a lot of "meh I don't care for the hype" kind of people. I think that, no matter which type you are, you should read this book!

Rating:

4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars. I don't know that I can give this book five stars but hey, I might change my rating, depending on how much I like book two (I know, that is weird). I loved this book and I am looking forward to reading the sequel. I'm a little nervous about the sequel, but I have no doubt that Ahdieh can (and hopefully will) deliver a fair and mostly happy ending to the story. 


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Stacking the Shelves (#226)


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews, in which bloggers share the books and swag they've received in the past week!


So, what did I get in the week of Sunday, April 16th to Saturday, April 22nd?


(all links to Goodreads are provided!)


In the mail:

I'm not going home this weekend, so I have nothing to show you! There are three packages at home. I really cannot wait to be finished with school, so I don't have to keep doing this random schedule with mail and going home! 


Gifted:



The first book of the Psy-Changeling series that has taken the world by storm! I've not read any of Singh's books, so this will be an experience for me. Thank you, Cora!


Reviews from this week:

    
(Reviews are linked!)


JHU Commencement in 31 days! I'm sorry, friends, but all I can think about is graduating and moving on to better, more stable/consistent things. Life is okay but stressful (academically) and I'm just trying to push through everything and graduate! 

Have a great week, everyone! =)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review: Highland Hellion by Mary Wine


Highland Hellion by Mary Wine
Book Three of the Highland Weddings series
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication Date: June 6, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

KATHERINE CAREW
Illegitimate daughter of an English earl... Abducted to Scotland at age 14... No family, no reputation... No rules

ROLFE MCTAVISH
Heir to an honorable Highland laird... Can't believe how well tomboy Kate can fight... About to learn how much of a woman she really is

Scotland is seething with plots, the vengeful Gordons are spoiling for a fight, and the neighboring clans are at each other's throats. All it takes is a passionate hellion with a penchant for reckless adventure to ignite the Highlands once more.

What I Liked:

I really enjoyed Highland Spitfire and Highland Vixen, the first two books in this series and the first two Mary Wine books that I've read. So far this series has yet to disappoint me! While I freely admit that I liked but didn't not enjoy Highland Vixen as much as I'd liked Highland Spitfire, I can safely say that I liked Highland Hellion a great deal, possibly as much as I'd liked Highland Spitfire.

In Highland Vixen, we met fourteen-year-old Katherine Carew, bastard daughter of an English earl, who Marcus MacPherson saved from arranged marriage. Six years later, Katherine is a woman now - but she is a woman who knows how to wield a weapon and handle herself against a man. Unfortunately this leads her to a bit of trouble, but it also leads her to Rolfe McTavish. Rolfe saves Katherine but he isn't going to let her go - not when he wants to protect her, teach her a little lesson in Highlander etiquette, and, well, he wants her in general. A stubborn, reckless English girl and an honorable, protective Highlander will take the Highlands - and England - by storm.

At first I wasn't sure if I would Katherine, because she seemed almost too headstrong. She has had too many freedoms granted, in which she knows nothing about running a home or raising children, but she knows more than enough about standing someone with a dagger or fighting them off. In the beginning, Katherine is excessively reckless, almost stupid, and very selfish. But she begins to see the error in her ways, and how set in her ways she has become. She sees how selfish she has been, and how easy she had it. I love that the author made her headstrong, fierce, and stubborn, but eventually, smart enough to recognize when she was wrong. 

Rolfe! Rolfe is a sweetheart, and a little different compared to the other heroes of this story. You can see how similar the ladies are - they are all stubborn and tough. But Rolfe is a little different from the other men. Yes, he is an alpha and he is protective, big, muscular, handsome, attractive, and commanding. But Rolfe is also very honorable, and follows a strict code of honor. He refuses to do anything that would dishonor his father, his clan, and his reputation. Rolfe is a good, good man, and he does right by Katherine every single time. He is all kinds of swoony, and not just physically!

I like this unlikely pair! The stubborn, tomboy-ish girl, and the honorable, duty-bound warrior. One is reckless and impulsive, the other is more stoic and occasionally wicked. It's almost an opposites attract romance (pretty much, it is)! From the start, Rolfe and Katherine have a great connection.

The romance is very sexy and swoony and delightful! Like the previous two books, the chemistry hits hard from the start, but unlike the previous two books, the sexy times erupt a little earlier (though not super early - just earlier than in the first two books). I liked this change in pace! Sometimes the romance in books one and two were frustrating, because you kept waiting for the characters to get it on. Rolfe and Katherine fall in lust very quickly, but falling in love takes a little more time. One thing that surprised me was Katherine's nature in the bedroom - I liked that both characters preferred things a little rough. You don't always see that type of chemistry in historical romance. 

The story was very engaging and sometimes a little tense. Katherine is captured by the Gordons, then rescued by the McTavishes, but Rolfe has plans that don't involve depositing her to the MacPhersons. But then Rolfe's father decides that he also has plans for Katherine, and so Katherine and Rolfe are back on the road, to England. It's a busy, busy story! An entertaining one, at that. I love how the author has so many Scottish clans interacting (either fighting, or calling temporary truces but still stealing each other's cattle). Part of the story is about bringing peace to Scotland and having the clans cease their warring, and so far, the author is moving that plot along really nicely.

I really enjoyed this third book in the series, despite being slightly wary of Katherine (from the beginning of this book - but that changed)! From book two, I expected her to be paired with a different love interest (her best friend, but he is not interested in her at all), but he isn't even in this book. I must say, Rolfe redeemed himself wonderfully, and I adored him. This book was great!

What I Did Not Like:

I can't think of anything specific that I didn't like. Maybe one small detail - calling those in the Lowlands "barbarians"? I always hate when the term is "barbarians", in any context.

Would I Recommend It:

If you historical romance, especially Scottish/Highlander romance, you should give this book a chance! The series in general (though maybe Highland Spitfire and/or Highland Hellion - you can probably skip Highland Vixen, though it definitely is good too). This is a really fun and sexy Highlander romance series that I've enjoyed so far!

Rating:

4 stars. I can't wait to read Highland Flame! We meet the hero of that book in this one - Diocail Gordon - and he is PERFECT. So swoony! I am so excited. Will I like him more than I liked Bhaic? Rolfe? We'll see!


Was this review helpful? Please let me know in the comments section!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Swoon Thursday (#221): What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum


- From the book you’re currently reading, or one you just finished, tell us what made you SWOON. What got your heart pounding, your skin tingling, and your stomach fluttering

- Try to make the swoon excerpt 140 characters (or less), if you are going to tweet about it. Use the hashtag #YABOUND when tweeting


This week, my swoon is from What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum!


I am kissing David Drucker. I am kissing David Drucker. I am kissing David Drucker.

I  was wrong. I had assumed this would be his first kiss, that it would be fumbling and a bit messy but still fun. No way. Can't be. This guy knows exactly what he's doing. How to cradle the back of my head with his hands. How to move in soft and slow, and then pick up the pace, and then slow down again. How to brush my cheeks with even smaller kisses, how to work his way down to my jaw, and to soften the worry spot in the center of my brown. How to pause and look into my eyes, really look, so tenderly I feel it all the way down in my stomach.

He even traces the small zigzag scar on my eyebrow with his fingertips, like it's something beautiful. 

I could kiss him forever.

I'm going to kiss him forever.

I am kissing David Drucker, and yes, I've forgotten everything else.

Because his lips are back on mine.

Because this, right here, is the best kiss of my life.

- ARC, pages 233-234




I loooooooved this book! David is 😍 and Kit is 💜 and David and Kit are 😍💜😍💜

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Exclusive First Look and Giveaway: Forbidden Promises by Katee Robert


Happy Wednesday, friends! I know what you all are here for - the exclusive first look at Forbidden Promises by Katee Robert! Keep scroll to read it!


About the Book:


Forbidden Promises by Katee Robert
Book Four of the O'Malleys series
Publisher: Forever
Publication Date: May 30, 2017

Official Summary:

Some lines should never be crossed . . . not even for love.

Sloan O'Malley just left her entire world behind-her family, her wealth, and even her real name. For the first time in her life, she's free. She can live the "normal" life she's always wanted. A life without fear. But there's nothing safe about her intensely sexy next-door neighbor.

Jude MacNamara has no room for innocence in his life. Only revenge. Still, he's never been able to walk away from the forbidden, and Sloan-who is every inch of pure, mouthwatering temptation-has forbidden written all over her. Only after it's way too late does he discover the real danger: claiming Sloan as his puts a target on her back. To protect her, Jude is willing risk everything . . . and to hell with the consequences.



Check out the series:




About the Author:


New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Katee Robert learned to tell her stories at her grandpa’s knee. Her 2015 title, The Marriage Contract, was a RITA finalist, and RT Book Reviews named it 'a compulsively readable book with just the right amount of suspense and tension."  When not writing sexy contemporary and romantic suspense, she spends her time playing imaginary games with her children, driving her husband batty with what-if questions, and planning for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 



The Excerpt:

She nearly tripped over Jude when she opened the door, and that was the last straw. “What is your problem?”

He raised a single eyebrow, not looking perturbed in the least. “Sorry?”

“No, you’re not. You’re not sorry that you turned me down last night, or that you left in a hurry, or that you were an…an insufferable jackass this morning.”

If anything, his eyebrow inched higher. “You’re in a mood.”

“Are you kidding me?” She pushed at his chest, but he didn’t even pretend she had the strength to move him. “You weren’t interested last night, so you don’t get to waltz into the diner and order me to go out with you. I’ve taken orders my entire life, and I’ll be damned before I take one from you.” The outburst left her feeling deflated, but she clamped her mouth shut and refused to apologize. Maybe she was being the slightest bit dramatic, but that didn’t mean she was wrong.

Jude took a step closer, towering over her, his shoulders so broad, they filled the doorway. “Are you done?”

Just like that, she had a whole lot more to say. “Actually—”

“That was a rhetorical question, sunshine.” His big hand cupped the back of her neck, his thumb tracing over her jaw and up to drag against her bottom lip.

The touch shocked her into silence.

For a moment. “Jude—”

Apparently he wasn’t finished. “I didn’t say no last night because I wasn’t interested. I wouldn’t have apologized—twice—if I wasn’t interested.”

“But—”

“You want to know the truth? The truth is that I can’t look at you without wanting to strip you down, to run my hands over that tight little body of yours, to spread those sweet thighs and fuck you with my tongue until you’re screaming my name and begging for mercy.”

She swayed, her anger, her ability to think or move or talk or do anything except stare helplessly at him, all gone. She licked her lips, forgetting that his thumb was there, and stroked him with her tongue instead. His chocolate eyes went even darker, and he suddenly seemed larger.

Say something.
“You shouldn’t say things like that.”

“It’s the fucking truth, sunshine.” He stroked her bottom lip with his thumb, his hand gentle yet holding her in place easily. “You’re a good girl. I don’t have to spend any time with you to know that. You deserve better than the likes of me, even for a fuck. But that’s the difference between us. I’m not good. I might as well be the goddamn devil as far as you’re concerned, but I’ve never been good at walking away when I have my mind set on something. And, sunshine, I have my mind set on you.”

She couldn’t speak, couldn’t take a step, though she was at a loss if she’d move away from or toward him. It was like he held her captive with only a single hand, stalling out any and all reasoning ability.

Jude’s grip tightened, ever so slightly. “I was going to take you out. It’s not my scene, but I was willing to give it a shot. I changed my mind.” He stepped into her, his chest lightly pressed against her breasts, his thighs bracketing hers, his…Oh my good lord. His hard length pressed against her stomach, and it felt perfectly in proportion with the rest of his massive body, not that she was an expert on these matters.

His other hand came to rest on her hip, fingers bunching the fabric of her dress as he kneaded her. “Tell me to stop, and it’s done. I’ll walk away, and I’ll do my damnedest to leave you alone. Tell me to walk away, sunshine. Just say the words.”

She knew he was right. He was no good for her, and this would only end in tears on her part. The man wasn’t asking to date her. He didn’t want to get to know her. He was telling her all the things he’d do to her body.

But she couldn’t say the words to make him leave.

Sloan had never taken anything for herself in her entire life. She’d stayed in the background and gone with the flow and done everything in her power to play least in sight. Her brothers ran off any boy remotely interested in her, and she’d allowed it to happen. If her father had decided to move forward on his plans to marry her off, she would have walked down the aisle to a man of his choosing.

She’d never done a single selfish thing in her life until she asked Teague to help her escape.

Until she tentatively ran her hands up Jude’s chest, sucking in her breath at the way his muscles tensed beneath her fingers. Until she looked up into his stormy dark eyes and said the word that would damn them both. “Stay.”


The Giveaway:

Enter to win a $15 Amazon Gift Card from Katee Robert!

Waiting on Wednesday (#225): The Knowing by Sharon Cameron


"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.


This week, I'm featuring:


The Knowing by Sharon Cameron
Book Two of The Forgetting series
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: October 10, 2017

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sharon Cameron returns to the rich world of The Forgetting with a companion novel as thrilling and intricately crafted as the first.

Samara doesn't forget. And she isn't the only one. Safe underground in the city of New Canaan, she lives in a privileged world free from the Forgetting. Yet she wonders if she really is free, with the memories that plague her and secrets that surround her. Samara is determined to unearth the answers, even if she must escape to the old, cursed city of Canaan to find them.

Someone else is on their way to Canaan too . . . a spaceship from Earth is heading toward the planet, like a figment of the city's forgotten past. Beck is traveling with his parents, researchers tasked with finding the abandoned settlement effort. When Beck is stranded without communication, he will find more in Canaan than he was ever trained for. What will happen when worlds and memories, beliefs -- and truths -- collide?

This pulse-pounding, evocative companion to Cameron's highly acclaimed The Forgetting explores the truth and loss that lie within human memory, and the bonds that hold us together.




Can you tell that I love all of Sharon Cameron's books? Because I do. I can't wait to read this new one!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Review: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum


What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: July 11, 2017
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sometimes a new perspective is all that is needed to make sense of the world.

KIT: I don’t know why I decide not to sit with Annie and Violet at lunch. It feels like no one here gets what I’m going through. How could they? I don’t even understand.

DAVID: In the 622 days I’ve attended Mapleview High, Kit Lowell is the first person to sit at my lunch table. I mean, I’ve never once sat with someone until now. “So your dad is dead,” I say to Kit, because this is a fact I’ve recently learned about her. 

When an unlikely friendship is sparked between relatively popular Kit Lowell and socially isolated David Drucker, everyone is surprised, most of all Kit and David. Kit appreciates David’s blunt honesty—in fact, she finds it bizarrely refreshing. David welcomes Kit’s attention and her inquisitive nature. When she asks for his help figuring out the how and why of her dad’s tragic car accident, David is all in. But neither of them can predict what they’ll find. Can their friendship survive the truth?

What I Liked:

My sincerest apologies to the publisher, who sent a review copy to me, probably with expectations of me reviewing this book about a month before publication. It is April 18th and I hate to review a book almost three months in advance, but I had been dying to read this book for so long and I've had it for months and I couldn't wait any longer! I had fairly high expectations for this standalone, after the perfection that was Tell Me Three Things, and I was not disappointed.

David can best be described as a loner in high school - he is always by himself, in his own world, with his headphones and his notebook and his incredible IQ. David is on the autism spectrum, with high-functioning autism, possibly Asperger's. No one outside of his family and his guitar tutor really talks to him. Until one day, when Kit Lowell sits at his table at lunch. Kit's father died a month ago, and she is grieving in her own way. She pulls away from her friends and wants peace and quiet - which is why she chooses to sit with David, on the day one month after her father died. David is incredibly honest and he doesn't quite have social skills like everyone else. But Kit likes this about him, and realizes that she enjoys his company. And David - David realizes that he enjoys talking to Kit. He has always liked her, but talking to someone like they do is new for him. This unlikely friendship blossoms, but it's not without its problems. But both Kit and David will learn things that they were not expecting, when it comes to Kit's father's death, and they may not be prepared to deal with what comes next.

I think I loved pretty much everything about this book. David, Kit, David and Kit, friendships, family, the "story" (that's a vague term) - everything about this book clicked for me. I don't usually like tough-issue YA contemporary novels, but I really enjoyed this book. Though the book should have carried a dark, depressing tone, it didn't, and I think this definitely boosted my enjoyment. This is a light book (though not fluffy), but it also addressed the deeper issues with a more serious tone. I also loved that it was written in alternating POVs (David and Kit's first-person POVs). 

I'm going to start with David. Ahhh, David! I adored David. You can tell right from the start that he is different. He is incredibly intelligent, and extremely literal, and his social skills and mannerisms are very different compared to many of the other high school students. David has high functioning autism, but you might never know. Unfortunately, the kids at school have always known, and in middle school, many boys were really cruel to him. But David has really grown since then, and he is doing much better in terms of discerning "good" people from "bad" (in terms of their intentions toward him). David is a sweetheart! He is also kind of a superhero - he practices karate and krav maga (though why he learns/practices is heartbreaking). 

Also, I think Buxbaum really captured the struggles of being autistic (David) and having an autistic child (David's parents). So much prejudice and judgment rolled off everyone around David, which infuriated me - but it happens in real life all the time, which is a big part of why it made me mad. The author included so many obvious and subtle reminders of the way society treats those who are intellectually different or "weird".

On the other hand, we have Kit Lowell. Her father died a month ago in a car accident, and Kit has not been handling his death well (that sounds insensitive, I'm sorry!). Kit shuts out everyone, including her best friends and her mother. Talking to David helps Kit, and his friendship matters a lot to her. Kit is such a strong and tough girl, and my heart hurt for her over and over. But I also loved how kind and "normal" she was with David (i.e. she didn't really treat him any differently compared to anyone else). Kit is a good person as well.

And what's neat is that Kit is half-Indian! Her dad is (was) white, and her mom is Indian (as in India). I'm Indian and I always get tickled pink when I stumble upon an Indian main character. You wouldn't  be able to tell (sorry to stereotype, but "Katherine Lowell" doesn't scream Indian girl), and she's half-Indian (as opposed to "full" Indian),  but I love how important her's mother culture is to Kit. Well, the food definitely is. But there are lots of sprinkles of Indian culture and Sikh religion throughout the story, which were subtle and much appreciated. Kit's identity isn't really part of the story (meaning, she isn't struggling with her mixed ethnicity), but I like that it comes up every now and then. 

Also, it's cool that the author did her research in terms of Indian culture, to really nail down Kit's mom. Kit herself isn't as "Indian" as her mom, but the author still made a point to make Kit's mother's culture and past a part of the story. I think the author did just fine with that.

I loved seeing David and Kit's friendship develop! At first it's tentative and awkward, with the two of them trying to navigate each other's worlds. But they fit well together, and they understand each other. I've not read too many books with a protagonist with autism (of any part of the spectrum), so it was very interesting for me to read from David's POV. I loved seeing Kit through his eyes, as odd as his mind is. The progression of their relationship is sweet, from friendship to something more. 

The romance was swoony in a subtle way. There isn't a ton of kissing in this book, but it's a swoony book nonetheless. David is such a sweetheart. Kit is great, but guys, DAVID.

Did I mention that David is seriously good-looking and tall and super muscly from all of that karate and krav maga? Yeah. Intelligent, sweet, tall, muscular? He's my type, I can tell.

Another thing worth pointing out is Kit's relationship with her (existing) friends. She pushes them away, and you would have thought that they would turn into mean girls and ignore her and whatnot. And they did for a second, but I love that they were patiently waiting for her to come back to them (so to speak), and they stuck with her. And they eventually accepted David, which was nice (although took them long enough). I hate Kit's male friends - they are walking cliches of high school douchebags that I hated (sorry not sorry). Buxbaum captured those guys pretty well.

The climax comes up pretty quickly, and it involves something about Kit's father's death. Buxbaum put the together such that Kit's father's death was slowly unveiled to readers, and you knew a big thing was going to be revealed at the end. It seemed periphery compared to all of the changes happening to and between Kit and David, so the big thing took me by surprise. It was heartbreaking, but it made sense. The ending in general is bittersweet, but also hopeful. It made me smile. It's the type of ending that is incredibly realistic, but also very satisfying. I loved it - and the book!

What I Did Not Like:

More kissing! This book is fairly short (though incredibly dense), and what better to plump it up than with kissing scenes? (This is most definitely an Alyssa complaint, don't mine me!)

Would I Recommend It:

I highly recommend this book, YA contemporary fan or not. Guys, I'm not a YA contemporary fan. I haven't read anything by Sophie Kinsella or Jennifer Niven, or any of those other powerhouse "tough-issue" YA contemporary authors. I haven't read anything by Jennifer E. Smith or Sarah Dessen or John Green or Morgan Matson. YA contemporary is not my thing. But Julie Buxbaum's YA books are so wonderful and so touching. Her books explore so many issues (grief, friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships), and are always very engrossing. This book is different compared to other YA contemporary novels, and not just because of its autistic lead.

Rating:

4.5 stars -> rounded down to 4 stars. I'm a picky rater. I can't wait to read more from Buxbaum! She is wonderful and so are her books. I think I may try her adult books, though I am on cloud nine with her YA books and might stay content with just these. Heart eyes for days!



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