Books, Reviews

A Gathering of Shadows, by Victoria Schwab

4 Stars

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Okay, it took me forever to get to this book. Not because it was boring or anything, but because it wasn’t out when I originally read A Darker Shade of Magic, and after waiting a year for the book, I didn’t remember enough of its predecessor to pick it up. I stalled on rereading ADSOM, and only just got to it when I saw that Haven was reading it on her Goodreads feed.

Man, did I realize what a mistake I had made. ADSOM, despite having earned a spot on my “favorites” years ago, didn’t actually strike too deep a chord with me. I knew the world building was fantastic, but not until rereading did I realize how fantastic. The world building, plot, and characters were beautifully and expertly crafted, more so than I’ve seen in a while, and I couldn’t pick up the second book fast enough.

But this review is not about A Darker Shade of Magic (but if you haven’t read it yet, go read it now), but rather the second book in the series. A Gathering of Shadows picks up four months after the events of the last book, with Kell and Lila having gone their separate ways in Red London. We’re quickly introduced to what our beloved characters have been up to, and they’re just as awesome as ever. Lila is one of the coolest kickass characters I’ve ever read about, in a way that doesn’t actually seem forced; one of my pet peeves these days is authors forcing a character to either be kickass or useless, with no in between, and it irks me to see female characters reduced to two generic genres. Lila has squirmed her way onto a ship in AGOS, and introduced to an extremely likable character: Alucard Emery. Alucard is a great addition to the series, and his and Kell’s rivalry is adorable, at least once they meet in this book. Rhy and other favorites are also back, with varying levels of page time for each.

But as much as I adore this series, I can’t ignore this book for what it was: a filler. In my opinion, this entire book could have been scrapped and pertinent details crammed into the other books in the series, because all this novel does is set up the final installment. The plot of this book revolves around The Element Games, which is exactly what is sounds like, but with no real stakes. The villain just sits back and plots ominously the entire time, and the Games don’t even start until around the 60% mark, and Kell and Lila don’t reunite until much later in the book. It’s infuriating, how little stakes there are, and how long it took for anything to get done, because this was a filler book. The only reason to read it is for you to become deeply acquainted with Alucard (who is awesome, especially with Rhy) and for the last 10% of the book where stuff gets real, and the stakes are finally raised.

It’s still a great series, and I’m admittedly biased because I zipped through these books so fast I’m writing this review right now having already read through the last book (which is SO. FREAKING. GOOD). The series as a whole has one of the best world building and plot of all time, and the side romances are barely there, just a bit to complement the plot, not take over the plot. Read this book, if you’ve read the first one and aren’t sure to continue, because this and the third book will absolutely blow you away.

-Liz

Books, Original Post, YA Fiction

May 2017 Wrap-Up – Haven

Hey guys! This is my first wrap-up post and I’ve actually been meaning to do this since April, but due to testing it was pushed back. Anyway, I read 9 books this month, which is pretty amazing considering all the projects I’ve had to do (why do teachers insist on overloading us with work when the school year is coming to an end?).

Books I’ve read this month

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History Is All You Left Me, by Adam Silvera (3.75-4 stars): I quite liked this very emotional and honest LGBTQ contemporary. There have been so many positive comments on Silvera’s More Happy Than Not, making him out to be a very hyped author. I was not disappointed with History Is All You Left Me, if you are looking for a diverse and raw read on love and loss, this is the one for you. You can find my full review here.

The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater (4 stars): This was a great sequel, and while it take a bit of time for me to truly get into it, it did not disappoint at all. I loved the introduction of new themes and characters, and the writing was totally upgraded. This series is already becoming one of my favorites and hopefully the next two live up to expectations I have. You can find my full review here.

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas (4 stars): I remember being extremely excited yet anxious when picking up this book, but it definitely lived up to the hype. This book reaches out to a range of messages on courage and hope, while detailing some necessary truths of the society we live in. Everyone should read it. My review can be found here.

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson (2.25 stars): Unfortunately, I wasn’t huge fan of this much-loved contemporary. While I appreciated the attempt to combine deeper themes and a lighthearted road trip, I couldn’t find the balance between the two and the execution was simply not for me. I’m disappointed in my disappointment, but I’m still looking forward to reading Matson’s other contemporaries. You can find my in-depth review right here.

A Gathering Of Shadows, by V.E Schwab (5 stars): This was easily the best book I’ve read this month and probably one of the best I’ve read this year so far. After re-experiencing the glory of A Darker Shade Of Magic, I started this one and had the time of my freaking life. I adore these characters, this plot, this writing, everything. While it can be classified as a ‘filler’ book, I loved it nonetheless. I’m going to start A Conjuring Of Light soon and am totally not ready for the emotional destruction I’m about to face.

All The Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven (1 star): I strongly disliked this book, and most of my dislike stemmed from plain disinterest in the pretentious themes that are forever running through YA contemporary. The book’s view and depiction of mental illness was also quite off-putting, and while this aspect is praised and put down among readers, it simply made me uncomfortable for a number of reasons. Not for me guys, nope. You can find my in-depth review here.

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer (3.5 stars): So, I decided to re-visit this classic this month. Interestingly, I had never read Winter, so catching up on the rest of the series was necessary. Cinder didn’t really capture me the same way it did in the past, but it definitely brought up a wave of nostalgia. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series though.

Shadow And Bone, by Leigh Bardugo (3.5 stars): I read this book way back in 2014 when the hype was just picking up, and remember being very ‘meh’ on it. I decided to give it another try this month and found myself enjoying much more this time around. Yes, it’s an older book so many of the events that took place are reminiscent of the tropes found in YA fantasy today, but I don’t regret picking it up again.

Radio Silence, by Alice Oseman (5 stars): This book totally took me by surprise and is actually one of the easiest 5-star reads ever. The messages it means to convey are told so subtly and earnestly, and the whole book simply exudes charm through its characters, themes, and writing. Look out for my review coming soon. 🙂

May was an incredibly scattered month, but interestingly, I’ve read the most books this month in the year so far. Hopefully the summer helps me prioritize so I can read and blog a whole lot more than I am doing now. Thanks for reading, guys!

-Haven

Books, Original Post, YA Fiction

It’s Monday! What are you reading? #1 (6/5/2017) – Haven

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week.  It’s a great post to organise yourself. It’s an opportunity to visit and comment, and er… add to that ever growing TBR pile! So welcome in everyone. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date. And here we are!

Hey peeps! I hope you all had a great weekend. School has officially ended and I surprisingly don’t have much to do before my summer schedule kicks in. So I decided to inform you guys on what I’m reading now and what’s coming up next through this meme, considering I’ll have more time to read and blog now. Well, if my summer activities don’t kill me first.

What I read last week (the most recent one)

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Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer (Lunar Chronicles #2): I finished Scarlet in about 7-8 hours on the day before school ended (we just had so much freaking time y’all), and I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed it this time around. Scarlet was always the weakest book out of the series to me before, but now I like it far more than Cinder.

Radio Silence, Alice Oseman: Everything you need to know about this book will be said in my review coming in a few days, but here’s a spoiler: I loved it. It’s brilliant, truly. I don’t mean to add to the hype, but I kind of do.

Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo: Second time around, it’s still a 3-star read, but considerably more entertaining than last time. Glad to see that this finally grew on me (somewhat).

What I’m reading right now

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Siege And Storm, by Leigh Bardugo (Shadow and Bone #2):  I’m actually liking this one much more than I thought, even if I don’t think I’ll ever love it fully. But, Alina is a pretty snarky heroine and Nikolai is bae.

Up next

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These are the books I’ve borrowed from the library recently, along with Siege and Storm and Scarlet. It’s a pretty weird assortment, two contemporaries and a random high fantasy. But, expect these disjointed combinations throughout the summer as I’ll be making use of the time by catching up on all the series’ and standalones I’ve been meaning to read since forever.

Thanks for reading, guys! Feel free to leave a comment and tell us what you’re looking forward to reading this summer!

-Haven

Books, New Releases

New Releases in YA for June 2017

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Summer is here! You will not believe how excited I am to sit back and relax, and…. go on college visits and do summer homework. Well, homework is an August problem, so might as well read now!

1. Our Dark Duet, by Victoria Schwab – Coming June 13, 2017

Kate Harker is a girl who isn’t afraid of the dark. She’s a girl who hunts monsters. And she’s good at it. August Flynn is a monster who can never be human, no matter how much he once yearned for it. He’s a monster with a part to play. And he will play it, no matter the cost.

Nearly six months after Kate and August were first thrown together, the war between the monsters and the humans is terrifying reality. In Verity, August has become the leader he never wished to be, and in Prosperity, Kate has become the ruthless hunter she knew she could be. When a new monster emerges from the shadows—one who feeds on chaos and brings out its victim’s inner demons—it lures Kate home, where she finds more than she bargained for. She’ll face a monster she thought she killed, a boy she thought she knew, and a demon all her own.

This is the sequel to This Savage Song, a book by one of my favorite authors ever, Victoria Schwab. Although her Shades of Magic series is better, the first book of this series was super enjoyable, and I look forward to reading this one.

2. Now I Rise, by Kiersten White – Coming June 27, 2017

Lada Dracul has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself. After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won . . . and souls will be lost.

I read most of the first book in this series, And I Darken, before it was due at the library and I forgot to get back to it. I hear this book is super good, though, and I always love to read about underrepresented regions of the world (Eastern Europe, in this case).

3. Once and for All, by Sarah Dessen – Coming June 6, 2017

As bubbly as champagne and delectable as wedding cake, Once and for All, Sarah Dessen’s thirteenth novel, is set in the world of wedding planning, where crises are routine.

Louna, daughter of famed wedding planner Natalie Barrett, has seen every sort of wedding: on the beach, at historic mansions, in fancy hotels and clubs. Perhaps that’s why she’s cynical about happily-ever-after endings, especially since her own first love ended tragically. When Louna meets charming, happy-go-lucky serial dater Ambrose, she holds him at arm’s length. But Ambrose isn’t about to be discouraged, now that he’s met the one girl he really wants.

Sarah Dessen’s many, many fans will adore her latest, a richly satisfying, enormously entertaining story that has everything—humor, romance, and an ending both happy and imperfect, just like life itself.

Sarah Dessen is about as classic as it gets, when it comes to YA romance. Her books follow a very specific formula, but they’re always cute, and always fun. I’m sure this next book from her will be the same.

Continue reading “New Releases in YA for June 2017”

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

All The Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven || nope nope nope

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Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
 
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.
 
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.
 
This is an intense, gripping novel perfect for fans of Jay Asher, Rainbow Rowell, John Green, Gayle Forman, and Jenny Downham from a talented new voice in YA, Jennifer Niven.

I’ve always intentionally ignored All The Bright Places for some unknown reasons. There are so many things I’ve heard about this book, and I always had the notion that I would hate it if I ever did read it. Well, I did read it eventually, and I did strongly dislike. I was so disinterested in this novel and something felt totally ‘wrong’ with it as I was reading it. What directly bothered me about it is hard to pinpoint, but I felt very uncomfortable with the story and the romance and … everything, really. I hate to give it such a negative rating, but it is what it is.

The writing + plot: The writing was fairly typical of a contemporary novel, however I couldn’t get into at all. It lacked the emotion behind discussion of serious topics such as depression and suicide, as well as the popular dark comedic flair that is frequently seen in the likes of The Fault In Our Stars or Side Effects May Vary. It felt as though the prose was missing something very significant to bring the characters, story, and message to life. The writing obviously would have struck a cord within other readers, but it wasn’t doing anything for me and largely contributed to my disinterest in the story. While the plot/storyline progressed slowly, much of the events that took place seemed driven by the overelaborate and pretentious themes penned by Finch, and I was not here for it. The whole thing felt very superficial and shallow, despite claiming to discuss mental illness and other deeper subjects.

Mental illness: There seems to have been much controversy over the way mental illness is depicted in this novel, and while I do not doubt Jennifer Niven’s knowledge and experience with the subject (her author’s note is proof that she kind of knows what she’s talking about), something does feel very wrong here to me. Theodore is obviously mentally ill in some way, as we see in his frequent thoughts on death and suicide, as well as his narration. However, it seems as though his condition (later revealed to be bipolar disorder) is covered up in a set of quirks that is intriguing to everyone around him. His ornate narration and quirky, showy persona are meant to make him stick out to capture Violet and intrigue everyone else, yet his actual mental illness is never expanded on or portrayed realistically in the face of others. Nearly nobody in this book treats Theodore realistically when it comes his mental health, and while it shows the misunderstandings and poor handling of mental health in our society, Theodore’s issues with death and suicide are merely used as ‘quirks’ to make the character different. His bipolar disorder seems almost ignored and it creates a false image of mental illness through romanticizing Theodore’s condition. I don’t know if that conveys how I truly feel, but I felt very uncomfortable by the depiction of mental illness in this book. The topic seemed to only serve the purpose of moving the plot along, not creating a realistic and relatable picture of mental health conditions and how it is handled.

Characters: Many readers have also stated that the characters become their illness and problems in this book, and I can see that. Theodore’s narration is essentially a collection of cheesy metaphors, Virginia Woolf quotes, and pretentious and unrealistic musings on Violet and life. His voice sounded like a mix of Holden Caulfield and Augustus Waters, and I could at least try to get past that if Theodore sounded like a realistic teenager who was struggling with undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Throughout the entire story, I could never reach the true Theodore, past all the ‘quirks’ of his. Violet is an extremely flat character, the emotion and grief she supposedly felt for her sister lacked depth and was so toned down, it was barely there. I could not connect with her at all, but at least her narration was a tad more bearable than Theodore’s. Every other character hardly serves a purpose but to scrutinize Theodore, Violet, or Theodore and Violet. The adults are hilariously incompetent, they take completely unrealistic actions and seem to be oblivious to everything around them, and they are probably that way to allow these teenagers to say and do all the stupid shit that took place in this book.

The romance: Theodore and Violet’s relationship is the weirdest, confusing, most disturbing thing ever. All Theodore ever does is lust after Violet and responds to her ‘leave me alones’ with further harassment. He creates a Facebook account just to talk to her, messages her constantly, and even stalks her. It’s creepy and weird, and even weirder that Violet manages to fall for him so soon after telling him to leave her alone. One second she’s openly refusing his attention and the next she’s ripping her clothes off. Their romance is a mix of insta-love and every indie-romance cliche you could think of. And this whole idea of them ‘saving each other’ feels so fake because their whole relationship is built upon emotional manipulation.

I hate the uneasy feeling All The Bright Places gives me, and it’s not even an uneasy feeling I like, where I read something so profound yet raw that makes me feel uncomfortable in the best way possible. Everything about this book feels so false, and I would urge readers to look elsewhere for a story which portrays mental illness correctly and does not romanticize it.

-Haven

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman

3 Stars

Thou shalt kill.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I am a ginormous fan of Shusterman’s Unwind, and I rank it among some of my all time favorite books. I was used to his style of dystopia: the ones that were so well crafted, they barely felt like a teen dystopian novel in how much they made you think. Scythe’s premise contains all of these trademark Shusterman elements and after hearing him read the first chapter put loud when he visited my school (it was an interesting experience), I was thoroughly intrigued. However, this book, although enjoyable, fell flat in so many ways: the characters, the predictable plot twists, and just the way it dragged.

Scythe is about a utopian future where humans have achieved everything they’ve ever aspired to achieve (such as immortality), and as a result, need to curb population growth by installing scythes, who are the only people who can cause death by “gleaning” (aka killing) people. Our main characters are Citra and Rowan, who have been chosen as scythe apprentices- a position they don’t want, according to the blurb.

This premise sounded great to me, but immediately after starting the book, I began to see some discrepancies. Citra and Rowan, while they do dislike the act of gleaning, both accepted the position of scythe’s apprentice, meaning they absolutely had a choice in this, unlike what the blurb implies. Their characters are not too three-dimensional, and I didn’t care much about them until they started diverging and going on different paths. My biggest problem with this book, and what probably contributed to a certain degree of boredom, was the lack of risk in anything. In this utopian world, anyone who accidentally dies is automatically brought back to life in revival centers, and can only be truly killed if they are gleaned by a scythe. This eliminated any concern I had for the characters, because their lives were never really at stake.

However, despite what I may have implied so far, I didn’t dislike this book. Scythe Curie and Scythe Faraday were fascinating characters, and the world did feel like a utopia. The plot did move slowly, but wasn’t unbearably so, and was overall an enjoyable book.

Writing this review a few weeks after reading the book has changed my initial view of it, I would have to say, as the faults seemed to rise above the fray and distinguish themselves more so in my mind with time. However, I would be remiss to disregard the Neal Shusterman spark that his books always have. Despite Scythe being one of his more subpar works, it does make you think to some regard, and that, I believe, is the most important trait of them all.

-Liz

Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Amy And Roger’s Epic Detour || a surprisingly deep contemporary that is surprisingly not for me

7664334Amy Curry is not looking forward to her summer. Her mother decided to move across the country and now it’s Amy’s responsibility to get their car from California to Connecticut. The only problem is, since her father died in a car accident, she isn’t ready to get behind the wheel. Enter Roger. An old family friend, he also has to make the cross-country trip – and has plenty of baggage of his own. The road home may be unfamiliar – especially with their friendship venturing into uncharted territory – but together, Amy and Roger will figure out how to map their way.

I had a certain image of Amy And Roger before starting it. I expected fluffy, cute, tons of witty banter between our leading characters, and an overall lighthearted vibe. Boy, was I wrong. To put it bluntly: Amy And Roger could be considered an exact opposite of everything I’ve listed above. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad, it could actually be a good thing because I love deeper contemporaries too. But, among the occasional well-written and emotional moments, Amy And Roger’s Epic Detour was executed in a way that isn’t my cup of tea.

That writing + plot: The writing is on the wordy side. It often read very formally, specifically toward the beginning, but managed to capture me well enough. It wasn’t too much, not too little. There were many moments in which the emotion was strongly enhanced by the prose, specifically when it came to Amy and how she deals with her grief. Unfortunately, this wasn’t kept up throughout the novel and I found myself skipping paragraphs every now and then. The “not too much not too little” can have a downside to it and it shows in this book, because the writing was only mildly engaging. Not without personality, but not too memorable either. But I suppose the characters play a part in that debacle too.

Despite a surplus of events and characters, the book did have a direction in all of its detours. What was even more surprising, was the amount of depth that the story possessed. Here I was, ready to go into a happy-go-lucky adventure and a totally adorable romance when all of a sudden Matson starts hitting me with all this grief discussion and death and guilt and deep shit in general. I don’t mind deep shit at all, in fact I like emotional contemporaries more than fluffy romances. Unfortunately, I have some issues with the execution of this concept and it mostly has to do with the fact that Amy and Roger’s EPIC detour, was not actually that epic. While the documentation of their trip is certainly present, there aren’t any groundbreaking events that truly challenge Amy and Roger’s relationship or cause any sort of realistic unsettlement. They never seem to struggle with money or gas or food and most of their feelings are kept to themselves, which creates a huge lack of excitement. I commend the story for trying to explore deeper themes, but the events taking place and the people Amy and Roger met tended to be forgettable. There wasn’t much propelling the emotional elements of the book besides the parts where the prose kicked in, and those actually turned out to be great scenes.

The characters: Amy and Roger are both likable and relatable characters, but aren’t really that memorable. Amy is clearly struggling, she’s dealing with the sadness and guilt caused by her father’s death. She isn’t the most lively person, and her quiet and unintentionally awkward nature is out in the open. But, she wasn’t very interesting to me. I just couldn’t connect that deeply with her grief, her character, her personality and this happens from time to time, it just doesn’t work out. I couldn’t connect with the ‘old her’ itself because it was barely shown, which leads me to say that Amy doesn’t entirely stick out from all the other heroines in YA contemporaries. I expected Roger to be the traditional funny guy that brings Amy out from her sadness, and while it didn’t really work out that way at first, I liked it anyway. Roger’s ‘baggage’ isn’t as deep, but I liked how Matson managed to create a fleshed-out conflict for him too.

The romance: Amy and Roger seemed to evade the rules of typical contemporary pairings, as they weren’t constantly talking about shared interests, engaging in witty banter, or being adorable while doing childish things together. Hell, they hardly spoke to each other in the beginning because Amy hardly says anything out loud. They were simply a boy and girl forced to go on a road trip together, without much complications at all. It wasn’t the most entertaining, but it was certainly realistic and not as predictable as it could have been. They did start bonding progressively though, and while it was slow journey, they ended up being a pretty likable and realistic couple. Realistic, however, is a tad disappointing in a book such as this because I didn’t want them to be as individualistic. The title has the word ‘epic’ in it and the cover shows a couple holding hands, I expected Amy and Roger to be cute and funny in a non-cheesy way, much like a fluffy contemporary. But, this book was not a fluffy contemporary and I shouldn’t judge it as one (you would’ve thought I’d get it by now).

Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, is unfortunately, another book I’ve ruined for myself due to expectations. Not necessarily high expectations, but … different expectations. There are better stories out there that mix lightheartedness with emotional themes, and hopefully Matson’s other book (which I will hopefully obtain soon) achieve that better than this one did.

-Haven