Tea & Book Chat: Fireworks by Katie Cotugno

Personal Thoughts:  As I may have (definitely) mentioned, Katie Cotugno is one of my favorite contemporary YA authors.  In fact, she’s definitely in the top three.  I love her words to pieces so when I heard that her newest novel would be set in Orlando in the 1990’s during the boy band craze, I couldn’t possibly be more on board.  And the cover! And the endpapers! While Fireworks didn’t end up being my new favorite of her’s (the number one spot still belongs to How to Love), I did thoroughly enjoy it, especially for the setting. And possibly the most exciting part (for me) is that a character in the girl band is named Kristin! Spelled the same way as me! I didn’t even care that she’s kind of a bitch because I’ve never read a book with a character that has my name and for it to have been in a Katie Cotugno book just amplifies my excitement.

Plot Summary:  Best friends Dana and Olivia leave their small Georgia town and head to Orlando where Olivia is going to be auditioning to become a pop star in a new all girl band being formed and Dana is there as her moral support.  During the audition, Dana gets picked out of the crowd to show off her skills and both girls end up being chosen to move to Orlando to start rehearsing.  But things get complicated when Dana’s lack of formal training start inhibiting what has always been Olivia’s dream and the girls start to become each other’s competition.

Critique:  Fireworks is yet again, another messy and complicated story from the brain of Katie Cotugno.  I love the way she tackled the evolution of Dana and Olivia’s friendship as the girls begin to grow up and their circumstances change.  It’s so easy to fall into a routine and to believe that one person is your be all and end all when you haven’t experienced anything else and Orlando really opens up both of their eyes about what else is out there in the world.  There’s also an adorable love interest named Alex who’s a member of Hurricane State, a boy band similar to N’SYNC who’s just starting to make waves in the industry.  Alex is honest and supportive and quite honestly, he put up with a lot for someone just starting a relationship.  The best part of the novel is hands down the setting.  I love the little nods to the 90’s and just Orlando in general.  I felt like I was reliving my own early childhood while reading and I could perfectly picture myself running around in jean shorts and eating ice cream cones on hot summer nights.

Do I Recommend?:  Yes! Especially if you are a fellow fan of the Britney Spears / Christina Aguilera and Backstreet Boys / N’SYNC era.

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Kristin

Tea & Book Chat: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Personal Thoughts:  To be completely honest, I had no intention of reading Thirteen Reasons Why.  I had the book on my Amazon wish list for years without ever purchasing it and I just felt like I got to the point where I lost interest and wouldn’t ever get to it.  Then Penguin Teen was kind enough to mail me the cutest promotional package in celebration of the Netflix adaptation of Thirteen Reasons Why (which actually airs today March 31st!).  It came with a plastic popcorn container (I’ve always wanted one of these for some irrational reason), a box of Mike & Ike’s (my deceased uncle’s favorite candy), a pack of tissues (because have you read the premise?!) and a copy of the TV-tie in edition of the book.  After one of those brief crises where I’m incapable of choosing what to read next, I remembered that the show would be releasing in just four days and so the book called to me.

Plot Summary:  Thirteen Reasons Why follows Clay Jensen, an average teenage boy who returns home from school one day to find a mysterious unmarked package waiting for him.  The package is full of seven cassette tapes and when he begins playing the first one he instantly recognizes the voice as that of Hannah Baker, a classmate of his who committed suicide two weeks earlier.  Hannah explains that there are thirteen reasons that contributed to why she made her decision and whoever receives the tapes is one of the reasons.  Clay spends the entire night following a map that Hannah left and listening to each tape, anxious to discover how he was a contributor to such a tragic end for a girl he really liked.

Critique:  It’s hard to say that I enjoyed Thirteen Reasons Why because of the sensitive subject matter, but I can say that I am very happy I chose to read it.  It was heartbreaking to hear Hannah’s narrative explaining the reasons that snowballed into her reaching her eventual end.  I liked that Clay’s internal commentary is given to us in real time instead of having to wait for pauses to understand what he’s thinking or how his viewpoint differed from Hannah’s.  It really makes the reader think about such seemingly little moments in our own lives and how they can affect others in ways that we would never foresee ourselves.  There were definite wrongs committed by the people Hannah places blame upon and I like to imagine that many of them would’ve acted differently had they known what would happen, (even though it’s doubtful because so many of these high school boys she interacted with are garbage humans).  The book talks about very important issues like rape culture, underage drinking and of course, suicide (including signs and prevention tactics).  There are so many pivotal moments in Hannah’s narrative that could’ve changed and prolonged her life if only anyone had been persistent about offering help.  I’m so curious to see how faithful the adaption is, even though it’s going to be difficult to relive Hannah’s story two times in one week.

Do I Recommend?:  I do.  Thirteen Reasons Why covers incredibly important subject matter and I think all teenagers should be required to read this as part of their school curriculum.  If it could impact even half of the kids in a way that makes them more sensitive to their peers, I would argue that it’s worth it. I’ve since finished watching the Netflix adaptation and I actually think I liked it better than the book.  The changes they made worked really well to modernize the story and I appreciated that we’re given insight into the other characters that have effected Hannah.

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Kristin

Spines With Wines: Caraval by Stephanie Garber + April Book of the Month

This month Cassie and I finally coordinated our schedules to discuss Caraval by Stephanie Garber for the Spines With Wines book club!  Caraval was supposed to be our February book of the month, but we just couldn’t get it together for our liveshow until the first weekend of April.  So we’ve decided to skip March (since it’s over already anyway) and we’ll be resuming with our April book of the month.  You can view the full video below:

April Book of the Month:

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Kristin

Tea & Book Chat: We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han (Summer #3)

Personal Thoughts:  To say I’d been putting off reading We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han would be an understatement.  Being my last currently published unread work of Jenny’s, I found myself unable to pick it up because I was so not ready to say goodbye to Cousins, Belly, Jere and Conrad nor to the prospect of having another book of hers to read should the mood strike.  Since Always and Forever Lara Jean is releasing in just over a month, I finally decided to go for it.  I can also say that my subconscious fully backs up the above reasoning because the night that I finished We’ll Always Have Summer, I had a dream that I was vacationing at Zoella’s house, eating an ice cream cone and perusing her bookshelves when I found a never before seen Jenny Han YA book (the cover had a boy and a girl laying in the grass- the girl was wearing a red polka dot dress and heart sunglasses) and I was in all my glory.  Imagine the disappointment when I awoke to find that I had no ice cream, nor the new Jenny book that my mind invented to fill a deep need.

Plot Summary:  I think this goes without saying but as this is the third and final book in the series, there will be spoilers ahead.  We’ll Always Have Summer picks up two years after It’s Not Summer Without You ends.  Belly and Jere have been dating and attending college together and Conrad’s been off at med school in California.  After Belly and Jeremiah’s relationship hits a really rough patch, things between them start accelerating and then Belly must decide once and for all which brother her heart belongs to.

Critique:  This book definitely won’t be for everyone.  Heck, if Jenny Han hadn’t written it, chances are it that it wouldn’t have been for me either.  It’s hard to get behind a series that leans on the angsty side of teen romance and who’s plot revolves around a love triangle.  As if that weren’t enough, it’s a sibling love triangle to boot.  But nonetheless, Jenny Han has once again gotten me invested in the characters she crafts.  No matter how immature Belly may act, how self destructive Conrad can be or how possessive Jere is, I had to read their story through to the very end.  There were a ton of moments where I wanted to slap each one of them, especially in this final installment, but still, I needed to know the outcome of their story.  I don’t want to get into the plot of this final book because there’s an event that sets the whole thing in motion and I don’t feel right spoiling either the trigger or the actions taken afterward for you.  I can tell you that this is the most satisfying conclusion I could’ve hoped for.  My ship has sailed!

Do I Recommend?:  I thoroughly enjoy Jenny Han’s characters and storytelling so if you’re in the same boat I would recommend you give this series a try.  As I mentioned above, the Summer series revolves around a sibling love triangle for all three books so this book is definitely not for everyone.

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Kristin

Tea & Book Chat: My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

Personal Thoughts:  I made it a goal of mine to read at least one book from several different authors this year (I actually made a video about it if you’re interested!) and Huntley Fitzpatrick was one of the names I planned on crossing off my author bucket list.  I think it’s good to branch out and try new authors because you never know if you’ll find a new favorite which is what happened to me with Huntley when I finished reading My Life Next Door.  I decided to read her books in publication and after finishing, I found out that her second novel, The Boy Most Likely To is actually a companion novel (following one of my favorite characters!!!!) so now I’m even more thrilled to have more to look forward to.

Plot Summary:  Samantha Reed is the daughter of a politician with a seemingly perfect life, and yet, she takes nothing for granted.  Despite money being no object, Samantha works several jobs, studies hard and always follows the rules her mother has set forth.  But still, Samantha has spent a lot of her time sitting outside her window watching the family next door, the Garretts, with their many children live life in a way that her own mother has always deemed irresponsible.  Still Samantha, yearns to get to know them and everything changes for her when Jase Garrett climbs her roof and the pair start falling deeply in love with one another.  Samantha keeps Jase at arms length from everything and everyone in her life but she has no issue falling into Jase’s.  And as most stories go, once everything seemed perfect, tragedy strikes and Samantha is torn between Jase’s family and her own.

Critique:  This book is just full of swoons.  Samantha is a really likable protagonist.  She always tries to do the right thing, plus she’s responsible, caring and trusting.  When Samanatha’s sister leaves for the summer and her mother hires a new campaign manager / much younger boyfriend, she finally opens up to the incredibly handsome boy next door about her life. Jase is such a sweetheart- the quintessential nice guy- who does everything he can for the people he loves.  Jase is great with his younger siblings and he works hard and trains hard to make college an attainable future path for himself.  Despite how different Jase and Samantha are, they form such an incredible bond and it is a pleasure to see their love for each other grow.  Sam also has twins Nan, a nut about getting into the perfect college, and Tim, an addict who is basically a ticking time bomb to contend with.  What I loved most about this book is the big family aspect.  Every member of Jase’s family has such a distinct personality and I love how open and accepting they are of everyone.  Their house might not be the tidiest, but there’s just so much love there!  Each character had an intriguing story arc- whether on a personal level or as a contributing factor to the overall story- and there were some really high stakes conflicts that I did not see coming.  While this may seem like a cute fluffy contemporary, do not be fooled! There is depth galore and some really high stress moments.

Do I Recommend?:  Yes! I really and truly loved this book and I cannot wait to read the companion novel!  The Garretts are not a family that I’ll be letting go of anytime soon.

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Kristin

A Court of Thorns and Roses Wrap-up Post + Giveaway

Welcome to the first wrap up post which is part of the A Court of Thorns and Roses re-read organized by Alexa of Alexa Loves Books, Cristina of Girl in the Pages and myself!

  1. What were the differences between your first and second experiences reading A Court of Thorns and Roses?

Well, the most obvious difference is that my initial impressions of Tamlin have been completely changed.  When I first read A Court of Thorns and Roses, I was so enchanted by the Spring Court and everything going on there.  By the end of the book, I already had my suspicions that Rhysand would play a bigger role, but I never expected to love him more than any other male character in any book series in existence.  This time around, it was pretty evident that Tamlin is a possessive fae with no regard for female freedom.  Some of the lines that he said that stuck out to me most are “So, if Feyre can’t be bothered to listen to orders, then I can’t be held accountable for the consequences.”  He also says “No, I don’t want you to live somewhere else.  I want you here, where I can look after you- where I can come home and know you’re here, painting and safe.” The first statement comes off as completely rapey and the second proves that he doesn’t care what Feyre wants, he just wants her to be his female accessory to the throne.  I also loved the beginning conversation between Lucien and Feyre where she says that if she were fae, she would fit in with the weaker servants and he doesn’t disagree… boy are they in for a surprise!

  1. What parallels can you draw between ACOTAR and Beauty and the Beast?

The are several parallels to be drawn between A Court of Thorns and Roses and Beauty and the Beast.  My favorite of which being the curse in the Spring Court.  Amarantha tricked Tamlin and his court into attending a masquerade ball and since then, no one has been able to remove their mask (except for Tamlin who can shapeshift into a beast which frees him).  I had forgotten that Lucien is stuck in a fox mask but it makes sense since that’s my favorite animal and he was my favorite character in ACOTAR.  Another parallel is the fact that Tamlin takes Feyre away from her family and her old life.  He “saves” her from the life she’s been leading, all the while keeping her as a captor in his own home.  Feyre ends up falling in love with him despite their beginning just like in Beauty and the Beast.

  1. What aspect(s) of the world building in ACOTAR is your favorite?  What world building elements do you hope to see expanded upon in ACOWAR that have not been explored yet?

My favorite part of the world-building is the world of Prythian in general! I live for all of the different descriptions of the courts and the events that take place in them.  Between A Court of Thorns and Roses and A Court of Mist and Fury, we’ve gotten a pretty good idea of the way things are run in the Spring Court, the Night Court and the Summer Court so I’m really hoping for more information about the Autumn Court, the Winter Court, the Dawn Court and the Day Court.  I feel like I already have a clear vision of them in my head based on the names, but I want to get to know the characters running them and see how they’ll play into the eventual war.

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Kristin

Tea & Book Chat: Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare (Dark Artifices #1)

Personal Thoughts:  If you watch my YouTube channel at all, you’ll know that I spent a lot of last year catching up on the extensive backlist of Cassandra Clare’s world of Shadowhunters in anticipation of Lady Midnight.  I thought I had been all caught up until Tale From the Shadowhunter Academy came out of seemingly nowhere and I begrudgingly read that one as well before finally reaching for the first Dark Artifices book.  I’ve had a rocky relationship with the Shadowhunters books (I didn’t love The Mortal Instruments until City of Heavenly Fire, I lived for The Infernal Devices, and the short stories are always hit or miss to me) but I’ve definitely found a new favorite in Lady Midnight.  I’m glad I’ll be all caught up for the release of Lord of Shadows because I have so many questions!

Plot Summary:  Lady Midnight takes place five years after the events of City of Heavenly Fire unfold at the Shadowhunter Institute in Los Angeles.  We meet the new cast of characters in CoHF, an endearing family of Blackthorns, some with ties to the fae, and the middle Blackthorn Julian’s sassy best friend Emma Carstairs.  Julian and Emma become parabati in the short stories preceding Lady Midnight and we find them on their home turf as mysterious murders start plaguing LA.  Emma has reason to believe that the recent murders are tied to that of her parents which occurred five years prior and were blamed on Sebastian but the Clave is uninterested in hearing any other theories so the gang takes it upon themselves to start investigating with an unlikely ally.

Critique:  GUSH. I loved Lady Midnight.  I am so happy that I read everything else prior to picking this one up because there are SO many references to earlier storylines, characters in the previous series and little Easter eggs that wouldn’t have meant anything to me had I not had that emotional attachment to their history.  Does Lady Midnight work as a standalone series? Yes, you do not *need* to read everything else but I would highly recommend it.  I cannot even express how much I love the Blackthorn family.  They are now second to only the Weasley’s in my heart.  Teenage Julian has spent his life from twelve years old and beyond acting as the father to all of his younger siblings and covering for his not-all-there uncle as head of the LA Institute.  He’s shouldered more responsibility than any young person should ever have to deal with and he handles everything with such a level head.  Emma is now my second favorite female in the Shadowhunter realm (Tessa holding the top spot).  Her love for Julian and her love for the kids she helped raise combined with her no-nonsense attitude is something to be admired.  Emma and Julian both do everything they can for the people they love and they’re completely in tune with each other, which is why in theory they would be the perfect parabati.  But, parabati falling in love with one another is strictly forbidden by Shadowhunter law with no explanation as to why (the law is hard but it is the law).  For a pair of teens who suffered a traumatic experience together, took on parental roles of Julian’s brother and sisters, and made a rash decision to become parabati so they would never be separated, you can bet there’s some major conflict as they start to discover the feelings they’ve been suppressing for each other.  Then there’s also the lovable Cristina, who is the Shadowhunter equivalent of studying abroad at the LA Institute while simultaneously running from a past that she’s not yet ready to discuss.  As with all Shadowhunter books, we also run into vampires, faeries, warlocks and more.  Part of what makes Lady Midnight stand out from the other sets of Shadowhunter stories is that Cassandra Clare doesn’t need to rebuild the world.  We’re all so familiar with it at this point that the main focus is on the characters and the story she’s crafting.  Plus, the character cameos from other series just sent my heart fluttering like mad!  I could go on and on but I’ll just say that I really loved this book and I have so many questions after everything that went down.  My conspiracy theories are running wild with me and I need Lord of Shadows in my life as soon as possible.

Do I Recommend?:  So much yes! I really really really recommend you make yourself push through all the previous books though.  I don’t think this one will resonate as much if you don’t have the emotional attachment to certain characters or the Shadowhunter lore to guide you through the current state of their world.

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Kristin

Tea & Book Chat: Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Themis Files #1)

Personal Thoughts:  As you may remember from my Dark Matter review, I’ve been focusing on reading more adult books this year, particularly sci-fi and fantasy.  After binge-watching the first season in The Expanse series, I had a craving for more sci-fi and I didn’t yet want to fill it with Leviathan Wakes (although that is the next adult sci-fi book atop my TBR).  I landed on Sleeping Giants because 1) that cover! 2) that cover without the dust jacket! and 3) Penguin was kind enough to send me the second book in the series, Waking Gods, which is being released on April 4th so I thought this would be a good time to catch up! And FYI because I know you’re curious, Waking Gods also has a beautiful cover with an sans dust jacket.  (But question! If you know whether this series is a duology, trilogy or series, please let me know! I only see two books listed on goodreads but early reviewers seem to be saying that the second book ends on a cliffhanger).

Plot Summary:  It’s almost difficult to summarize the plot of Sleeping Giants because it’s such a strange story.  It begins with a prologue about a young girl at her birthday party who wants nothing more than to sneak off and use her new bike.  Once she does so, she bikes into the woods, only to crash and land in a really strange room atop a giant metallic hand.  Seventeen years later, the mystery of the giant hand is no closer to being solved and the young girl grows up to be a physicist who takes over as the leader in learning the origins of the hand.

Critique:  Sleeping Giants is told through a series of case files, each one documenting an interview between a nameless and mysterious interviewer and various members of the hand team, government officials and a couple of other people of interest.  The intrigue is real in this book as the team lead by Rose Franklin, works to decode the otherworldly symbols and learn more about the origins and metal used in crafting the giant hand with an unlimited amount of government funding and an incredibly tangled web of countries vying for control of such an anomaly.  While the air of mystery surrounding literally everything (the narrator, the hand, why the team chosen is qualified) kept me interested from start to finish, I did feel that it was a bit challenging to connect with the characters since we really only get a limited view of their psyche through the answers to the questions they’re asked (with the exception of a handful of journal entries, all of which the characters know are being monitored so there’s not much free thinking going on there either).  I totally understand that this is a “bigger picture” kind of story and the characters are mostly replaceable with the exception of the narrator but it was still missing any kind of human connection that I could get behind.  When the story ended, I left feeling almost as clueless as I had at it’s beginning which is why I am eager to start Waking Gods but also nervous that it won’t answer all of my burning questions!

Do I Recommend?:  If you like adult sci-fi, then I do! I think Sleeping Giants is definitely worth a read and it will keep your mind reeling with questions and thinking on a global and solar system wide level.  But if you prefer character driven tales, I would steer clear.

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Kristin

Tea & Book Chat: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Personal Thoughts: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon was high upon my list for most anticipated contemporary releases in 2017 so when a beautiful red box containing the ARC and some other goodies arrived at my house, I was physically jumping up and down.  It was the best surprise to come home to!  Like most of the book community, I have been making an effort to read more diversely and I became particularly interested in When Dimple Met Rishi when I learned that it featured two Indian protagonists who are computer programming nerds.  Consider me sold! (PS. Every single time I look at the beautiful cover I find myself craving an iced coffee.)

Plot Summary: When Dimple Met Rishi follows two Indian protagonists at a computer programming summer camp as they struggle with balancing the expectations their parents put upon them with finding their own happiness.  The pair end up at the program for two hugely different reasons- Dimple is a complete and total computer programming nerd.  She’s going to Stanford in the Fall for programming and she basically lives and breathes computers.  She sees this opportunity as the chance to meet her programming idol, start making a name for herself early on in her field and escape her mother’s incessant nagging that she find the Ideal Indian Husband.  Then there’s Rishi, a kind hearted guy who packs his bags and heads to San Francisco to meet his potential future wife.  As it turns out, Rishi and Dimple’s parents thought they could be a good match and Rishi, who is all about traditions and pleasing his parents, sets out in the hopes of meeting the girl he’ll marry.

Critique: I’m happy to say that When Dimple Met Rishi not only lived up to the hype for me, but also far surpassed it.  The book is told in dual perspectives, from both Dimple and Rishi, which allowed the reader to get two very polarizing views of the same culture.  I love both Dimple and Rishi equally and as much as I disliked some of the side characters, they added so much to the overall story.  There were a ton of moments where I was laughing at the dialogue, the situations and the awkwardness of everything occurring.  Rishi is the sweetest, most adorkable male love interest and his optimism and self confidence are so admirable.  Then there’s loud, outspoken Dimple who is a force to be reckoned with.  She’s so sure of herself, her vision for her future and the misogynistic boundaries others have tried to place on her.  Seeing the two of them open up to one another and let the best of their personalities positively influence the other one is such a joy (especially after their catastrophic first encounter).  The way that Menon perfected such complex relationships and seamlessly wove Indian culture into the story makes it difficult to believe that When Dimple Met Rishi could possibly be a debut novel.  The friendship dynamic between Dimple and Celia who decide to be roommates but end up having completely incompatible sets of friends and how they handle it is something I would love to see more of in YA. And of course, the whole reason they’re in San Fran, the competition to develop the most promising app, kept me hooked the entire time.

Do I Recommend?: Absolutely! When Dimple Met Rishi is such a heartwarming and real contemporary story and I’m so excited for it to be released into world so we can all talk about how much we adore these characters!  I’ll also most definitely be picking up any future books that Sandhya Menon writes!

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Kristin

Tea & Book Chat: By Your Side by Kasie West

Personal Thoughts: I have yet to read a Kasie West book that I don’t fall utterly in love with so reading By Your Side was a complete no-brainer.  I’ve heard people talking about it and saying that it didn’t quite capture the magic of the rest of her backlist but I completely disagree.  I actually would rank By Your Side as my second or third favorite book of hers.  I loved that in addition to all of the swoons, she touched upon a much more sensitive topic that I relate to greatly.  That being anxiety.  That and the premise of a girl getting locked in a library with a cute guy was more than enough to push it to the top of my TBR upon it’s debut.

Plot Summary:  By a string of unlucky (or lucky?) circumstances, Autumn finds herself locked in a library over a three day weekend while the rest of her friend group has fled to the mountains for one long party.  At first, Autumn thinks she’s alone but she quickly realizes that there’s someone else “trapped” in there with her.  His name is Dax and he’s a cute loner boy who everyone knows of for having gone to juvie.  On top of being stuck with Dax, Autumn also has to keep her anxiety under control so she can survive until the librarians come in on Tuesday morning and free them from this nightmare.

Critique:  As I stated above, I really loved this one! I thought Autumn was such a great character and I really loved the way she handled herself.  I found her to be extremely relatable in regard to her anxiety disorder (having an attack, not being able to stop it from happening even when she recognizes it coming, and needing to leave wherever she is to get fresh air and deal with it).  Autumn seems perfect on the outside, she hasn’t even told any of her friends about what she struggles with and she’s constantly worried about letting them down so she agrees to events that she knows will trigger her.  Then there’s handsome misunderstood Dax.  After their time together locked in the library, they forge a special bond but they both have other things going on in their lives that need to get sorted out before they can see if being together is even an option.  I’ve heard others say that the locked in a library scenario was underused which I suppose I can see but I think it was done well (because really, if Autumn and Dax had just read for three days straight that wouldn’t make much of an interesting story for the reader).  I found myself rooting for Autumn in every area of her life (romantically, friend-wise and with family) and I just feel like I really bonded with her among the pages.  I would honestly be disappointed every time my train ride would come to an end because I didn’t want to put down this book!

Do I Recommend?: I think that’s a pretty obvious yes! Kasie West is one of my favorite contemporary authors and so far she can do no wrong as far as I can see!

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Kristin
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