Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp

The novel Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp follows the two protagonists Pen Prado and Xander Amaro through their transition into adulthood from childhood. Pen is an aspiring baker who struggles to understand why her parents don’t want to support her dream. Meanwhile, Xander is looking for his estranged father in order to move on from his lonely childhood. Together they try to live up to their dreams, even though it seems that the world is working against them. Not only do the two main characters grow throughout the story, but their parental figures are also coming to terms with the fact that they are learning to let go of their children. 

The clear and strong message of the story makes this a good Young Adult book. Elements such as the search for community and character’s assimilation feel natural and work well. However, the pacing could be improved. Initially, the story is very slow as we get to know our characters, once the reader gets through half of the story major events are thrown in and feel rushed. Personally, this story reminded me of my close community and of the support I have around me. 

All in all, I would recommend this book to others. The fear of adulthood and independence is articulated effectively, someone who is uncertain about their future could perhaps relate to and learn from the characters. – Lynda Otero

Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim

The Marvelous Mirza Girls by Sheba Karim is a novel about a mother-daughter duo, Noreen and her mom Ruby, who take a trip to Delhi. After Noreen’s aunt, Sonia, passes away, Noreen hopes to go to India to fulfill some of Sonia’s wishes that she did not get to accomplish before she died. Her trip finds her in love and more confident and happy than she was before she left. 

I thought this book was very fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also liked getting to experience Delhi through Noreen’s eyes and learn more about the culture there. I especially appreciated that the author made the #MeToo movement such a prominent theme in the book, as that is extremely important. 

I would recommend this book to realistic fiction lovers, romance lovers, and Gilmore Girls fans. – Sophie Cornish

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Author of The Sun is Also a Star and Everything Everything, Nicola Yoon, brings us another great love story called Instructions for Dancing. The main character, Evie catches her father cheating on her mother. Around the same time, a woman gives her a book that has the address of a dance studio written inside. She begins experiencing strange visions whenever she sees couples: she sees how their relationship stared and how it will eventually end. Feeling like her life is falling apart, she heads to the address written in the inside of the book, hoping that it will help resolve some of her problems. There, she meets X, another dancer, and they fall in love. After envisioning so many relationships end, Evie must decide if loving X is worth it. 

As all of Nicola Yoon’s books have been so far, this novel was very enjoyable. I thought Evie was a very relatable character. Yoon’s language was very descriptive and she made it easy for me to picture the setting and empathize with Evie’s feelings. Evie’s relationship visions were very fun and interesting to read.  

I would definitely recommend this book. It had an intriguing plot that kept me hooked. Romance fans would especially like this one. – Sophie Cornish

Of Princes and Promises by Sandhya Menon

I actually had trouble reading Of Princes and Promises simply because I was so hooked. I found myself skimming each page with clenched fingers and a pounding heart to make sure the protagonists got their happy ending and the last few chapters had me reading pages as fast as I possibly could. I loved how the story was surprisingly gripping and action-packed for a realistic romance novel (with a tiny bit of magic). 

That being said, I’m not sure I fully support the relationship between the two main protagonists, since it felt like a lot of their conflicts were resolved too quickly. To fall back on the expression “show not tell” for writing, at times it felt like the protagonists’ feelings were explained more than shown.

However, I still really enjoyed reading this book! The writing was engaging, with lots of relatable descriptions, and the characters were very well written. In addition, I love how the book promotes positive messages of self love, forgiveness, and making amends. And above all, I love the happy ending that left me feeling nourished after finishing the story. All in all I would definitely recommend it for people who like realistic fiction with a touch of high school drama. – Sophia Wright

The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga

Quinn and Cora, the main characters in The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga, used to be best friends. Until Quinn’s older brother shot himself and three others at the local high school— one of which being Cora’s older sister. Since then, Quinn and Cora have not spoken and Cora blames Quinn for her sister’s death. This all changes when Quinn begins to research the possibility of time travel. They realize they must work together to hopefully reverse what Quinn’s brother did that day. In order to make things right again, they have to put aside their past issues with each other in order to save their lives. 

This book kept me turning the pages until the very end. The storyline was very interesting. I thought that the concept of time travel being real was fascinating. It had never occurred to me that traveling forward or backward into time could be possible which made this book all the more riveting. I also thought that reading about Quinn’s life as the sister of someone who had committed such a horrible act was very unique. I had never read a book from a perspective such as this one before. 

I would without a doubt recommend this book. It was a real page turner that kept me enthralled until the end. It would be great for those interested in time travel. – Sophie Cornish

Hollow Chest by Brita Sandstrom

Hollow Chest by Brita Sandstrom is a heart-wrenching story, literally. It’s filled with darkness and unimaginable pain, yet in the midst of it all is an ever-clear message that love conquers all.

Charlie is a young boy forced to assume the role of a man as his older brother, Theo, is taken as a solider to fight in WWII. Struggling to take care of grandpa, comfort mom, and complete the daily chores and housework required, he’s grateful to hear news of Theo returning. All will go back to normal. But something’s wrong with Theo; he screams in the middle of the night, is coarse and callous, and seems empty and hollow. War wolves—ancient beasts that feast on grief and loss—have eaten his heart. Determined to save Theo, Charlie must venture into the unknown and face the wolves himself. What is he willing to sacrifice for his brother’s heart and will it be enough?

I enjoyed this book as more of a thematic and thought-provoking read than an exciting and entertaining story. The plot itself is interesting enough, but I feel like Sandstrom put more effort into the concept of war wolves and soldiers eaten hearts, than the actual story. Part of the reason I found this book so powerful and emotive was through Sandstrom’s metaphor and imagery of the war wolves. It’s not hard to imagine that the brutality and lasting effects of war—PTSD, isolation, depression—could be caused by a horrifying beast as Sandstrom describes.

I read this book in shades of gray. It was dark and gloomy with a tone of loneliness, but there was a glimmer of hope sprinkled throughout the chapters. The pure, innocent, unconditional love Charlie feels for his brother Theo pushes back against the gloom even at the worst of times. It brings balance and color to the pages, allowing our final thoughts to be hopeful and happy.

I recommend this book for anyone seeking a deeper, emotional read. Keep your mind open and your heart raw and I guarantee you will whole-heartedly enjoy this book. – Kira Kaplan

Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan

Counting Down with You by Tashie Bhuiyan is a combination of almost every rom-com storyline built into one. Bad boys turned good, enemies to lovers, fake dating turned real, these classic tropes all appear within this novel. To be honest, I would’ve found this book basic and unoriginal without the unique perspective it’s told in.

Karina Ahmed is a Bangladeshi American teen, crippled by anxiety of disappointing her parents. She feels like she’s living a lie, pretending to enjoy science and premed, when in reality her heart yearns for English and writing. When her parents leave for 28 days to Bangladesh, it’s the perfect opportunity to let down her guard and breathe. But when she gets roped into fake dating Ace Clyde, the resident bad boy, things start to spiral out of control. She realizes that her feelings matter too, about college, about freedom, about boys. As the clock keeps ticking, will she have the courage to stand up to her parents and tell them the truth? Or will she continue putting on an act and risk her happiness?

As I said before, I didn’t find anything especially new or exciting about the plot. I felt like I had read or seen the story all before, the saving grace being the different characters. Bhuiyan writes in the opening that this book was her “love letter to young brown girls.” She meant it as a way to increase representation in books, and show the strength and courage she didn’t always have as a younger girl. The vulnerability and strength in Karina’s life, specifically struggling with her anxiety, is important for all young girls to see and be able to relate. I admire and support the message behind Karina’s character, just feel that the overall plot could’ve done with a little more work.

I recommend this book for anyone seeking a classic rom-com with more representation and greater vulnerability. – Kira Kaplan

Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard

Terrifying creatures, noble quests, fearsome knights, and pure evil, Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard is exactly what a fantasy novel should be. From start to finish I devoured this book with fervor. Aveyard includes intriguing and loveable characters, fun and exciting adventures, and plenty of twists and turns to keep the pages turning.

Long ago the Spindles—gateways to other realms—were sealed to protect the Ward, but someone’s opening them up, desperately trying to find the pathway to the greatest evil the realms have ever seen. Kings and Queens refuse to fight what they feel is a hopeless battle, turning the responsibility unto an unlikely group of heroes. Corayne is a pirate’s daughter, longing for adventure and the sea. Dom is an Elder prince, immortal, noble, and full of strength. Sorasa is an exiled assassin, full of tricks and wit. Andry is a squire, the only survivor of a brutal and bloody battle. Together they form the only hope to save the Ward from complete destruction.

The plot itself is remarkable, with new ideas and concepts never seen before. The story arc keeps at a fast pace, leaving no room for dawdling or boredom. With narrow escapes, plenty of fights, and constant journeying, there’s plenty of adventure for all. Each character presents something new to the table; Sorasa with fire, Corayne with strength, Dom with duty, and Andry with innocence. The villains too are intriguing in their own disturbing way.

Aveyard has created a novel that immerses you completely in another world and makes you never want to leave. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a good fantasy novel! – Kira Kaplan

We CAN’T Keep Meeting Like THIS

by Rachel Lyn Solomon

“We CAN’T Keep Meeting Like THIS”by Rachel Lynn Solomon, is a comfort novel, an easy read that is perfect for a chilly day. Quinn, a high school graduate is a shy, sarcastic girl who decides she wants to differ from her family business of wedding planners and follow her own path, whatever that is. But when a familiar face, a man named Tarek, shows up as a caterer at one of the weddings her family planned, Quinn finds it difficult to resist her fascination with him, even though she wants to hate him. Quinn is just a girl who does not know how to leave her business without leaving her family; a girl who can’t help but fall for someone she wants to hate. 

One of Miss Solomon’s best writing traits is how she portrays the personality and emotion of her characters. Solomon did not only give her characters’ emotions but the reader as well. “We CAN’T Keep Meeting Like THIS” includes sexual, religious, and cultural diversity, which is admirable among authors. Overall, Solomon’s novel is a quick read, perfect for getting someone out of a reading slump. – Zoe Cloar