Chachic's Book Nook


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Retro Friday: Fire by Kristin Cashore

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I read both Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore when they first came out. That was a few years ago, back when I didn’t have a book blog. I recently reread them for a discussion with my online book club YAckers. I loved rereading both and realized that I have never written a review for Fire. It’s a good thing I refreshed my memory by rereading it recently because that gave me the perfect opportunity to talk about one of my absolute favorite epic fantasy novels.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

FireIt is not a peaceful time in the Dells. The young King Nash clings to his throne while rebel lords in the north and south build armies to unseat him. The mountains and forests are filled with spies and thieves and lawless men.

This is where Fire lives. With a wild, irresistible appearance and hair the color of flame, Fire is the last remaining human monster. Equally hated and adored, she has the unique ability to control minds, but she guards her power, unwilling to steal the secrets of innocent people. Especially when she has so many of her own.

Then Prince Brigan comes to bring her to King City, the royal family needs her help to uncover the plot against the king. Far away from home, Fire begins to realize there’s more to her power than she ever dreamed. Her power could save the kingdom.

If only she weren’t afraid of becoming the monster her father was.

Fire is such an achingly beautiful novel. It is wonderfully written with engaging characters, set in a dazzlingly colorful world. Fire is a human monster, an amazingly beautiful person who can read minds and manipulate people through her powers – either with just the way she looks or by compelling them to say or do things. Having seen what her cruel father Cansrel was able to do with his own monstrous powers, Fire is very cautious with hers. She has no intention of manipulating people and doesn’t even want to be involved in court politics. But the kingdom is on the brink of civil war and Fire has a role to play in all of this.

I loved Fire’s character. It was a pleasure to see her stretch as she opens herself up to possibilities. It’s understandable that she’s afraid of what she’s capable of but she has such a good heart that she doesn’t really have to worry about it. Aside from Fire, there are also plenty of fully fleshed out secondary characters to love in this novel. Can I just take a moment to say how much I love Brigan? Remarkable character and brilliant in so many different ways. I loved how Kristin Cashore portrayed the relationships in this book – they’re very messy and complicated but work so well in the context of the story. I liked seeing the dynamics of different types of relationships – romantic, platonic and within families – in the story. There’s a lot of love in there but also has some sadness and violence mixed in. Here’s a snippet that illustrates this:

“She had thought she’d already reached her capacity for pain and had no room inside her for more. But she remembered having told Archer once that you could not measure love on a scale of degrees, and now she understood that it was the same with pain. Pain might escalate upwards, and, just when you’d thought you’d reached your limit, begin to spread sideways, and spill out, and touch other people, and mix with their pain. And grow larger, but somehow less oppressive. She had thought herself trapped in a place outside the ordinary feeling lives of other people; she had not noticed how many other people were trapped in that place with her.”

Fire just has everything that I look for in my epic fantasy reads. Great characters, solid worldbuilding, a slow burn romance that I can root for and complex relationships that feel realistic. I cannot recommend it enough. It makes me happy that Fire stood up to a reread and I loved it just as much as when I was first introduced to it. In fact, I had to wait a couple of days for the story to fade from my mind before I could move on to another book. After rereading both Graceling and Fire, I am now craving for a new Kristin Cashore novel. I will be eagerly waiting for news about what she will publish next.


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Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews

The Kate Daniels series by Ilona and Gordon is my favorite adult urban fantasy (UF) series. That may not be saying much since I currently only follow two adult UF series: Kate Daniels and World of the Lupi by Eileen Wilks. I have, however, tried other series but didn’t feel compelled to continue beyond the first few books. I read more epic fantasy than UF prior to falling in love with the Kate Daniels novels but I’ve been more willing to try UF after that. I can still remember when I was first introduced to the series, there were only four books out at that time. I’ve been eagerly anticipating each new novel every year since then. If you feel like we have similar tastes in books, I think you should give this series a try. Also, see my blog banner with the huge lion and the warrior girl? That was totally inspired by Kate and Curran.

Here’s the reading order:
Magic BitesMagic BurnsMagic StrikesMagic BleedsMagic SlaysGunmetal MagicMagic Rises

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Magic Breaks by Ilona AndrewsAs the mate of the Beast Lord, Curran, former mercenary Kate Daniels has more responsibilities than it seems possible to juggle. Not only is she still struggling to keep her investigative business afloat, she must now deal with the affairs of the pack, including preparing her people for attack from Roland, a cruel ancient being with god-like powers. Since Kate’s connection to Roland has come out into the open, no one is safe — especially those closest to Kate.

As Roland’s long shadow looms ever nearer, Kate is called to attend the Conclave, a gathering of the leaders from the various supernatural factions in Atlanta. When one of the Masters of the Dead is found murdered there, apparently at the hands of a shapeshifter, Kate is given only twenty-four hours to hunt down the killer. And this time, if she fails, she’ll find herself embroiled in a war which could destroy everything she holds dear…

It’s always such a comfort to dive into a new installment of a favorite series, books that are set in a familiar world and have characters who feel like old friends. Magic Breaks was one of my most anticipated releases for this year and I was super excited to read it. The authors also announced that this book will conclude the main arc and conflict that has been building up in all the previous books. So I was also a bit nervous going in because I had no idea what would happen. I shouldn’t have worried. Ilona and Gordon are great storytellers and I had so much fun reading Magic Breaks. The humor that I’ve come to love in the series is present in this one. Certain scenes with back and forth banter cracked me up.

I also like seeing how much Kate has changed and matured since the series started. She’s a much better leader now and is more level-headed. I like her development as a character, the way she started as a lone wolf (figuratively speaking since she’s not a shapeshifter) to someone who is now in charge of a huge shapeshifter Pack and has a handful of people she trusts. She’s willing to go through so much to keep these people safe and they are willing to do the same for her. I also liked seeing the growth and transformation of secondary characters – this far into a series, we’re all bound to have our own favorites. Some of the ones I really like are Andrea, Raphael, Jim, Derek, Ascanio and Dolittle. Even the villains have such interesting personalities that it’s hard not to like them even if I know they’re evil, they come in shades of gray and we see the motivations behind the things that they do. I missed seeing certain characters but then it’s expected that not all of them will get page time in each novel. I have always been a big fan of the slow burn romance in the series and I love seeing Kate and Curran’s relationship develop over time. Even after they got together, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for them. As both of them continue to grow, so does their relationship. I’m happy to announce that their romance is on much better footing in Magic Breaks compared to Magic Rises.

It’s difficult to discuss how much I enjoyed Magic Breaks without going into details and spoilers. Let me be vague and just say that I was satisfied with how the main arc was resolved because I found it believable. I was thinking that if it went in a different direction, I might not have felt that it was realistic for the characters. Magic Breaks just really worked for me and I loved it. The Kate Daniels series remains my favorite urban fantasy series and I can’t wait to find out what the last few books will have for its fans. I felt a bit lost after finishing Magic Breaks and kept discussing it with friends who have read the book. I had a book hangover and some of my favorite scenes from the series kept running through my mind. It took a few days for me to start another novel (which is rare for me unless I’m in a slump) since I wasn’t in the mood to leave the series behind. It’s a good thing the authors have another book scheduled for release this year, Burn For Me, so I still have something to look forward to.

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe
The Nocturnal Library
Smexy Books


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The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand

Apparently I’ve had a draft of a review for The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand sitting in my dashboard for the past few months. I dusted it off and tweaked it just in time for Amour et Florand this weekend. It’s always a pleasure to read a book by one of your favorite authors. The Chocolate Temptation is part of the Amour et Chocolat series and the books can be read out of order because they stand well enough on their own. However, the characters in The Chocolate Temptation were earlier featured in The Chocolate Heart so I think it would be a good idea to read the latter first. I was intrigued by Patrick in The Chocolate Heart so I’m delighted that he got his own book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Chocolate TemptationShe hated him.
Patrick Chevalier. The charming, laid-back, golden second-in-command of the Paris pastry kitchen where Sarah worked as intern, who made everything she failed at seem so easy, and who could have every woman he winked at falling for him without even trying. She hated him, but she’d risked too much for this dream to give up on it and walk out just so he wouldn’t break her heart.

But he didn’t hate her.
Sarah Lin. Patrick’s serious, dark-haired American intern, who looked at him as if she could see right through him and wasn’t so impressed with what she saw. As her boss, he knew he should leave her alone. The same way he knew better than to risk his heart and gamble on love.

But he was never good at not going after what – or who – he wanted.

He could make magic out of sugar. But could he mold hate into love?

Out of all the Amour et Chocolat novels, The Chocolate Temptation stands out because one of the main characters is a female pastry chef. I know how male-dominated the industry is since I have a cousin abroad who works in that field, so it’s pretty interesting to get a better idea of what things are like from Sarah’s point of view. I think Sarah is a great character. I love how brave she is in terms of changing career paths. She’s an intelligent person, with an engineering degree from Caltech. She could have been living comfortably in the States while working as an engineer and yet she chooses to throw that away to pursue a culinary career. I admire her guts and her passion for what she feels is the right path for her. Patrick is also very passionate about being a pastry chef. He was once a foster child but he has risen to the top of the culinary ladder and is now one of the best pastry chefs in Paris. I liked Patrick’s easygoing nature and how he’s constantly being likened to a beach bum/surfer guy. What a contrast to the demanding and hectic workplace that they thrive in. He also has a terrific sense of humor, which he uses to relieve the pressure that everyone feels in their work environment. I also loved the dynamics between his relationship with Luc, especially after getting Luc’s POV from The Chocolate Heart.

Sarah thinks of herself as the lowly intern and she obviously looks up to Patrick as her mentor. Being attracted to each other, without knowing what the other person is feeling, gives their relationship tension that stretches out over the months of Sarah’s internship. They both feel that liking the other person is inappropriate – since Patrick is essentially one of Sarah’s bosses – and yet they can’t help feeling that way. I loved this bit of comparison of their romance to their creations:

“This thing between them was like this beautiful fairytale of a dessert constructed out of work and caution and risk and whimsy. Leaping and twirling, full of color and taste, a wrong breath could break it. And yet night after night, in the kitchens, they made such fragile magics and waiters got that fragility all the way to the tables they were meant for.”

Such a beautiful way of describing what began as a tentative romance that slowly developed into something deeper. Given how passionate they are about their work, it’s not surprising how strong their feelings are for each other. I’m not usually a fan of workplace romance but Laura Florand handles it so well. I had such a lovely time reading about Sarah and Patrick – from how they started getting to know each other outside the workplace to how much they’re willing to sacrifice to make the other person happy. At this point, I feel like I’m a broken record because I keep recommending Laura Florand’s books. But that’s only because they’re SO GOOD. Go forth and read them.


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Wildlife by Fiona Wood

I read Six Impossible Things years ago and I remember enjoying it but unfortunately, I couldn’t remember details of the story now. I would have loved to reread it prior to reading Wildlife but my copy is in Manila, I’m not even sure which friend has it at the moment. I have been looking forward to Wildlife ever since it first came out and I saw Aussie bloggers raving about it. I was able to get a copy last year when a friend from Australia passed by Singapore on his way to Manila. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it!

Wildlife in the wild

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Life? It’s simple: be true to yourself.
The tricky part is finding out exactly who you are…

In the holidays before the dreaded term at Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education camp two things out of the ordinary happened.
A picture of me was plastered all over a twenty-metre billboard.
And I kissed Ben Capaldi.

Boarding for a term in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sibylla expects the gruesome outdoor education program – but friendship complications, and love that goes wrong? They’re extra-curricula.

Enter Lou from Six Impossible Things – the reluctant new girl for this term in the great outdoors. Fragile behind an implacable mask, she is grieving a death that occurred almost a year ago. Despite herself, Lou becomes intrigued by the unfolding drama between her housemates Sibylla and Holly, and has to decide whether to end her self-imposed detachment and join the fray.

And as Sibylla confronts a tangle of betrayal, she needs to renegotiate everything she thought she knew about surviving in the wild.

Note to self: do not start reading books late at night if you have a feeling they’re going to be good. I spent a good chunk of one weeknight reading Wildlife and stayed up until 2:30am to finish it. Yes, I needed coffee to survive work the next day. Narrated from the points of view of two characters, Lou and Sibylla, this Aussie YA novel is an engaging read. My heart went out to Lou because of her loss and the grief that she’s still coming to terms with. It’s understandable how closed off she is at the start of the novel. Sibylla is a likeable character, very low-key and cares deeply for her friends. We didn’t get to see his POV but another character I really liked was genius and quirky Michael, who is also very loyal to his friends. I also found the setting refreshingly different, high school students spending a term out in the bush. It’s like a combination of boarding school and camp, away from the city and family homes. I can imagine how difficult it would be for a teenager to adjust to that kind of set-up. Constantly surrounded by others and absolutely no privacy. I find that living on such close quarters like that can either strengthen or destroy relationships. People can either become very comfortable or very annoyed with each other’s quirks. It was interesting to see how the dynamics between the characters changed as the book progressed.

I have to be honest, there was a point in the book when I got frustrated with Sibylla and how passive she is with her relationship and friendship. I was all, “C’mon girl, learn to push back a little.” But it’s not like she’s not aware of the situation she finds herself in because she definitely is. She knows that the balance is tilted in Holly’s favor when it comes to their friendship and she’s also aware of the nuances of dating a popular guy like Ben. It then occurred to me that Sibylla is still in the process of getting to know herself, she hasn’t fully settled into her own skin and as a result, she’s also not sure of how to react to and interact with those around her. It’s a very truthful and realistic portrayal of teenage life. Looking back on my own experiences, I have to admit that not all of the relationships and friendships that I’ve had were healthy or good for me but that’s just how life is. We all make mistakes and that’s how we learn and become better people. So even though I was initially annoyed by some situations, in hindsight, I loved the accurate descriptions of relationships (both romantic and platonic) in Wildlife. It’s all messy and complicated and confusing and feels very real. This is one of those books that I would gladly give to my teenage self because I know I will be able to relate to it. Wildlife reminded me of how brilliant Aussie YA is and I’m so glad I still have a couple of Aussie YA titles in my TBR pile. One of my favorite reads for this year, I recommend Wildlife to fans of realistic young adult fiction.

Other reviews:
Inkcrush
Chasing Words


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Open Road Summer

I have seen several rave reviews about Emery Lord’s debut novel Open Road Summer. Based on what I’ve heard, it seemed like a YA contemp with a sweet summer romance. It is eternally summer here in Singapore (and also in Manila) so I felt like I could read Open Road Summer anytime I was in the mood for it.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Open Road SummerAfter breaking up with her bad-news boyfriend, Reagan O’Neill is ready to leave her rebellious ways behind… and her best friend, country superstar Lilah Montgomery, is nursing a broken heart of her own. Fortunately, Lilah’s 24-city tour is about to kick off, offering a perfect opportunity for a girls-only summer of break-up ballads and healing hearts.

But when Matt Finch joins the tour as its opening act, his boy-next-door charm proves difficult for Reagan to resist, despite her vow to live a drama-free existence.

This summer, Reagan and Lilah will navigate the ups and downs of fame and friendship as they come to see that giving your heart to the right person is always a risk worth taking.

Reading Open Road Summer was a case of the right book at the right time for me. I made the mistake of starting it late at night and stayed up until 2am to reach the halfway mark. I wanted to go on but I had to get some sleep to avoid being a zombie at work the next day. What I loved about this book is that it is in equal parts a story about two best friends who have supported and loved each other for years, and also a sweet summer romance. I loved how strong the friendship is between Reagan and Dee, they’ve been there for each other throughout all the problems that they’ve had. They also don’t let their relationships come between their friendship. It just feels like such an honest and true friendship between the two of them. They planned Dee’s summer tour as the ultimate road trip which will let them spend as much time together and hopefully will heal their broken hearts. Their friendship reminded me of how thankful I am to have good friends in my life. I may not have a specific best friend like Dee and Reagan but I have girl friends who help keep me sane.

Another aspect of Open Road Summer that I really enjoyed was the romance. Oh boy, such a good slow burn romance! Sparks flew the moment Reagan and Matt meet but they couldn’t act on the attraction for reasons that you will find out when you read the book. Given how much they’re thrown together because they’re traveling on the same tour, they try to get to know each other as friends instead. Reagan has made some bad decisions in her life but she’s choosing to follow a better path. Over the years, she’s learned to develop a prickly nature as a defense mechanism for all the issues that she’s faced. Matt is quite the opposite in the sense that he’s an easygoing, friendly guy who has had the support and love of his family his whole life. Reagan and Matt have led such different lives and yet they feel a connection right after they meet – not just attraction but the recognition that someone understands life the same way you do. Because they both have experiences with loss and grief and just had different ways of coping. Because of this, it felt like the author highlighted how important it is to have friendship as the foundation of a relationship.

The tour reminded me of summers back home in the Philippines, which usually means road trips and beach trips with friends. Taking it easy, hanging out with friends and doing what you love. For Dee and Matt, that means focusing on their music – performing and writing songs. While for Reagan, it’s photography and capturing moments using her camera. A little detail that I liked was that Reagan has a Diana camera, yay for lomo! I’m always a fan of characters who are passionate about the things that they love so I think it’s great that these three characters are actively pursuing their goals and dreams. As with any book where music is a big part, I wish there was a way to hear the songs included in the story. I think it would have been perfect if there was a playlist at the end of the book, like similar songs to the ones featured within it. Open Road Summer was such a good read for me, I’ve added it to my best of 2014 list. Recommended for fans of Saving June by Hannah Harrington, Such a Rush and Going Too Far by Jennifer Echols.

Inspired by Open Road Summer, I made a collage of past trips with girl friends

Inspired by Open Road Summer, I made a collage of past trips with girl friends

Other reviews:
Alexa Loves Books
The Perpetual Page-Turner
Ivy Book Bindings


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The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Curse came to my attention when my good friend Nomes mentioned that it’s one of her favorite reads for this year. For some reason, this title flew under my radar when it first came out. I think the cover doesn’t really represent the story very well and might be one of the reasons why I wasn’t initially curious about The Winner’s Curse. I tried reading a couple of chapters just to see if it’s something that I would be interested in and I was fully absorbed. I was surprised at how easy it was to get into the story.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Winner's CurseAs a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him — with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

The Winner’s Curse is set in a make-believe world but has no magic or mythical creatures in it so it has more of a historical fantasy feel to it. Kestrel is the daughter of a well-known general, which is a pretty big deal since their society holds the military and warfare in high regard. The Valorian empire is already huge and yet it still continues to extend its reach and enslave the nations it conquers. The story is set several years after the Valorians have conquered the Herrani people. While Kestrel loves her people and she knows that slavery is part of their culture and their way of life, she doesn’t really approve of it. When she unexpectedly buys a slave at an auction, she has no idea what to with him. But she recognizes Arin’s strength of spirit and admires that. A friendship slowly develops between the two of them. Kestrel is bound by the constraints of the Valorian society – she only has two choices when she comes of age: to join the military or to get married, neither of which are very appealing to her. She’s not a good soldier even if she keeps training and she’s not interested enough in any guy to marry him. She’s great at military strategy, which is why her father keeps pushing her to enlist, but she’s not passionate about that kind of thing. What she loves is music, something which Valorians believe shouldn’t be taken seriously. A snippet to show how Kestrel feels when she plays the piano:

“Music made her feel as if she were holding a lamp that cast a halo of light around her, and while she knew there were people and responsibilities in the darkness beyond it, she couldn’t see them. The flame of what she felt when she played made her deliciously blind.”

I wish I felt that strongly about music but I don’t have the skill or talent for it. Instead, I will liken Kestrel’s passion to how I sometimes feel when I read – entirely focused in the world created by the author, paying no attention to other tasks that need to be done. Which is exactly what happened while I was reading The Winner’s Curse. To be honest, I have a hard time pinpointing why I enjoyed this book so much. I suppose it’s mostly because I like Kestrel, I like Arin and I like how their friendship developed. They’re both intelligent characters who slowly learn to respect and trust each other, in spite of their differences and the enmity between their nations. I also liked the setting and the contrast between the Valorian and Herrani cultures. How one was all about gaining power by expanding its borders, and one was a more peaceful culture centered around the arts. I was engrossed by The Winner’s Curse and yet I also feel like it could have been a stronger book. Let’s put it this way, this is a good introduction to the series and the story arc wraps up nicely but I feel like by the time the sequel comes out (maybe next year?), I would have forgotten most of the details in this one. It wasn’t mind-blowing but it was a pleasant and enjoyable read which I recommend to YA fans, even those who don’t usually read fantasy.

Other reviews:
Fantasy Cafe
Good Books and Good Wine
Ivy Book Bindings
Shae Has Left the Room
The Bookish Manicurist
Alexa Loves Books


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The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I have heard such good things about The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and I’ve been curious about it for a while now. After reading We Were Liars, I thought it would be a good idea to give E. Lockhart’s other books a try. I started reading Frankie when I felt that I needed a fun book.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

The Disreputable History of FrankieFrankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Landau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.
Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.
Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is an immensely readable contemporary YA novel. I started reading it one afternoon and was able to reach 78% before I went to bed. I then finished the whole thing the next day. Frankie is such a brilliant character – she’s academically smart, active in extra-curricular activities and diabolically clever. I loved how she wanted to shake things up and wasn’t willing to settle for the status quo because she demands to be treated with respect, both within her family and in her school. That’s something that will resonate with a lot of us. She didn’t want to be known as the family’s Bunny Rabbit, always the young girl who needed to be protected. She also wanted her boyfriend (and his friends) to see her as more than just a pretty girl. It is Frankie’s determination that makes me feel like this is a book that I would gladly recommend to my teenage self and say, “Read this and remember not to settle for anything less that what you deserve.” I really liked that while there was romance in this book, it wasn’t really the focus of the story. To be honest, the romance felt a bit thin and I wasn’t even really rooting for Frankie’s to be with Matthew.

I really enjoyed reading this and even highlighted several sections of the book in my Kindle. But I kind of feel like the overall tone is a bit young for a YA novel. Granted, Frankie is only 15 years old and is a sophomore instead of the usual junior/senior main characters in YA. It’s just that I feel like this story wouldn’t have that much staying power with me – I know I really like it now but several months down the road, I probably wouldn’t remember what happened in the book. Then again, that’s the case with a lot of contemporary novels that I enjoy reading. Usually the ones that linger are the emotionally intense novels. I probably would have liked this one a lot more if it was a little longer and the ending was stretched out a bit. I was wondering if there was more to the story after I got to the final page. I might be getting ahead of myself only to discover that Frankie will stay with me longer than I expected, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I definitely recommend this one to fans of contemporary YA novels with smart female MCs. I’m really curious now about E. Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver series.

Other reviews:
Angieville
See Michelle Read
I Like It Dog-Eared

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