Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Review: Don’t Date Rosa Santos

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

The Santos women are cursed by the sea, and Rosa Santos knows better than to get involved with anyone involved with the sea. As her college deadline looms over her, she is caught between the town she calls home and the island of Cuba, a familial past her abuela refuses to talk about. But when her town falls into trouble, Rosa must work fast to save her town and face her fear of the shore before it swallows her whole.

It has been a while since I’ve picked up a book with little expectations, only to have them exceeded way beyond my imagination. From the description, I have to admit I wasn’t too sure about this one but, wow, I really liked Don’t Date Rosa Santos.

The world-building was rich and vibrant. Port Coral really opened up with each new chapter. The community was so unique and its residents were so lively. The community of Port Coral truly felt real and not just a static background for Rosa’s story. The main theme of Don’t Date Rosa Santos is how Rosa struggles to connect with her Cuban roots, and through the entire novel, she worries that her connection is not enough and she can’t access more of it due to her family’s past. Her experience is very rooted in Cuban culture, but I found myself really relating to her thoughts about diaspora and her disconnection to her family. Moreno did a really great job here, evoking such strong emotions in such a digestible way.

The people around Rosa make their mark as much as Rosa herself. Her grandmother, Mimi, whose loss in the past leads her to close her heart when Rosa comes calling with questions. Her mother travels to run away from the grief that always seems to follow her. The family trauma runs three generations deep, and Rosa tries to get her family to finally face their fears together. Her neighbours are sweet, her schoolfriends hilarious, and a love interest that I actually really loved and rooted very strongly for.

I was not expecting to be so emotionally affected by this book. Rosa’s monologues, her worries about her future and her own self-imposed expectations, it all hit really close to home. Rosa undertakes an internal journey to better understand a culture she yearns to learn more about. And while doing that, she works towards understanding this so-called “curse” on her family that follows the women in her family. If I’m being honest, the curse is a hit or miss aspect because it frustrated me a lot as it concealed so much information, so watch out for that. But everything else was brilliant.

Overall, Don’t Date Rosa Santos was delightful and moving. Its emphasis on family and community makes it such a touching read, and one of my most surprising reads of the year. It really was something special.


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Review: Defy Me

Review: Defy Me

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)

This review is not spoiler-free

Juliette thought she had everything under control until she didn’t. And now she’s alone with no one but herself as she’s forced to rediscover the world around. A lifetime of lies unravels before her and Juliette has no choice but to remember the past she had long forgotten. Narrated by Juliette and other familiar faces, the fifth instalment brings to light information that continues to shake the very foundation of the world they thought they knew.

A lot of people love this, and a lot of people hate this. As a reader who despised the original trilogy, my expectations for these new books were extremely low, but I was fairly impressed by Restore Me and I could say the same things for Defy Me: entertaining yet at the same time, so, so disappointed.

In term of story, there’s not much to unpack. Juliette discovers the truth behind her family, her parents and sister, and it is heartbreaking. Hearing about her sister and the truth behind her past was a standout moment, especially in a powerful scene between the sisters at the end. On the other end, we follow Warner and Kenji as they scramble to pick the movement back up after Juliette’s sudden disappearance. Memories of certain characters are restored and suddenly, they all don’t know what’s happening. I really enjoyed Restore Me, but Defy Me felt like it’s filler counterpart.

In my (poorly written) series review, I named Kenji the series saver. But I don’t know if he truly gave this story the pick up it sorely needed. I really enjoyed his chapters despite my overall feelings. He was always so hilarious and relatable, and often the only person who made any sense in the series. That Juliette and Kenji reunion was enough to save the book for me. I found it weird that Mafi decided to pair him up with Nazeera. In Restore Me, it was so cringey and embarrassing, especially when Mafi basically pulls an almost insta love on the readers with them. But I really did enjoy their overall dynamic in Defy Me. Do I love it or do I hate it? I don’t even know. I’ll withhold final judgements until Imagine Me.

I feel really bad that I could not, for the life of me, remember anything significant about the Omega Point group. Tahereh Mafi withholding Brendan and Winston from getting together made no sense. I legit forgot about Castle for most of this book. I am glad he got his family back. I feel like Adam was a completely new character. It’s like Tahereh really didn’t need him in this book, and kept him being an ass in the background.

I have to say Tahereh writes this series in such an addicting way, that’s only in this series alone. In all her other works I’ve read was good, but none really had that pacing that the Shatter Me series has that whether you love it or hate it, you find yourself speeding through. I feel like this whole series is just one big adrenaline rush. But note, this book is like 80% rambly flashbacks and a lot was missing. Especially when Juliette was locked away, there was a huge potential to develop those scenes further, but we lose a lot of valuable information. The dialogue was so melodramatic. And I wasn’t a huge fan of that. To be honest, this book could’ve been shortened, and split back into Restore Me and added onto Imagine Me. Everything was stretching a little thin for me in this book.

I have to say this: I didn’t get the engagement scene. I knew it was coming up and it just didn’t feel right. And don’t get me started at that sex scene. I’m all for making more sex-positive YA books but I’m pulling out that iconic Pokemon line, “There’s a time and place for everything, but not now.” Was this an attempt at fanservice because I was lost for words at how lost I was when I was reading it.

Overall, I don’t know even know what to expect for this series and how it will actually end. I felt bad for Tahereh at first because adding three new books to a beloved YA series that had ended ages ago was a bold move on her part. But I feel like, in that time, the actual fans of this series have consolidated their own thoughts and ideas of what happens next and the past two books so far have thrown a lot of them off. I personally enjoyed the general direction this series has taken after Restore Me but I feel like Tahereh’s decision to write three more Shatter Me books has polarised her own reader community a lot. I would say if you loved the series, then go ahead continue the series, but if you were never a fan of the originals, then stay away, this won’t do any good for you.


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Review: The Surface Breaks

Review: The Surface Breaks

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

Beneath the sea, Muirgen patiently counts down the days to her fifteenth birthday where she can finally see the world above hers, but only for a quick moment as her controlling father urges her to keep her head down below. On what should be her first and only visit, she is drawn to a human boy and decides that she too wants to be a part of his world. But doing so risks her place in the sea, but this little mermaid will do anything to find her place.

The Surface Breaks is an O’Neill novel for a YA audience, and she has done a brilliant job with it. Often described as a “feminist retelling” of The Little Mermaid, and it definitely does fit the description. Muirgen and her sisters live under the controlling thumb of their father, the Sea King. Angered by the loss of their mother years ago, his controlling behaviour and treatment of his daughters as mere property has them competing for his attention.

When Muirgen is enthralled by the human world, she finds herself asking for the help of the Sea Witch, an enigma of a character, a guardian of the Rusalkas — underwater creatures who were once human women that were abused. The merfolk despised them for their unruly behaviour but the Sea Witch assures they are but themselves which highlight a key theme to the novel: women who reclaimed what had been taken from them and unapologetically raise their voices when they’ve been told to stay quiet.

If I had to think of any flaw, it would be the depiction of the world and setting. I didn’t really find myself falling for the merfolk’s kingdom and the human world too felt underdeveloped. But the effect is minuscule and doesn’t affect my overall opinion of the book. The strength of the book is in the characters and journey of Muirgen.

Overall, The Surface Breaks is an interesting retelling of The Little Mermaid O’Neill has used the original tale brilliantly and adding her own flair and originality. I especially loved the added backstory to their mother. If you’re looking for a fairy tale with a touch of darkness and empowerment, this one is definitely for you.


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Review: Piecing Me Together

Review: Piecing Me Together

Rating: ★★★☆☆ (3/5)


“I don’t know what’s worse. Being mistreated because of the colour of your skin, your size, or having to prove that it really happened.”

High school junior Jade attends an elite school on scholarship in a predominately white area where she is the only person from her “bad” neighbourhood in Portland, OR. With her mother struggling to make ends meet, she reminds Jade that every opportunity must never be wasted if she wants to book it out her neighbourhood someday. However, Jade can’t help but feel like some of these opportunities make her feel like a charity case. More than anything, she wants to join her school’s study abroad week to improve her Spanish skills. But instead, she is invited to a mentorship program for people from her background and is partnered up with Maxine, a school alumnus who has made a name for herself and wants to give back to her community. She has nothing in common with Maxine and her privileged background, but this is an opportunity that Jade can’t turn down. 

Piecing Me Together is a standout novel about a teen’s journey of awareness and self-empowerment through art. Readers will find Jade’s story thoughtful as she navigates the world as a Black girl. The microaggressions she faces in her everyday life is powerfully nuanced and incredibly realistic. Race, privilege and identity are key themes that string through the entire novel. I feel like this book will get some slack for being “quiet” but, honestly, this technique works best in this circumstance. It lacks in an explosive conflict, opting for a story that focuses on the minute reproduction of Jade’s reality. Watson touches upon a lot in so little space which makes the story so layered and put together. Because of this, I wasn’t a massive fan of how quickly the conflict Jade had with one of her white peers had resolved.  This is just a heads up to readers who prefer a more fast-paced read. 

The way Watson create Jade’s voice was indeed on point and brought to life the way Jade’s experiences differs to say Sam, her new friend, who is white and comes from the same impoverished background as her. Jade can see how, despite their similar experiences, they are given different opportunities. Sam benefits a lot from white privilege but fails to see to truly understands its impact until Jade points it out. You’ll undoubtedly find yourself frustrated with Sam but opens your understanding of how she thinks what she does.  Jade grows up a lot in this, and I appreciated her development. She starts by not wanting to rock the boat but slowly realises that she is allowed to speak out when in discomfort and she shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about it. Maxine is a little tricky. It took some time to appreciate her, mainly because she doesn’t begin taking the mentorship seriously, which impacts how Jade feels about her. (and me!) Slowly, over time, they realise they can relate to each other. Jade’s home community is quite precious. I love her uncle and her mum. They’re often on edge with each other, but do care genuinely and want the best for the other. 

Overall, I found Piecing Me Together quite touching and realistic. Jade’s story is colourful as her art and well put together. The characters come alive and become people that we might already know in our lives. Watson has created a story that gives a voice to often silenced Black voices and creates an exciting story that can be completed in one sitting. 


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Review: I Wish You All The Best

Review: I Wish You All The Best

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

“Whatever happens, I wish you all the best, Ben De Backer.” 

Just three words have Ben De Backer kicked out of his family home and living with their estranged sister and brother-in-law. After coming out as nonbinary, they are forced to start life anew in a different school, aiming to keep a low profile. But any attempts by Ben to live their life unnoticed is quickly interrupted by Nathan Allan, a charismatic student, who decided to take Ben under his wing. Slowly, Ben comes out of their shell and what began as a horror story could very well have a happy ending. 

When Ben is rejected by their parents, they are taken in by their older sister, Hannah, who has also left home suddenly due to their parent’s judgemental behaviour. With ten years lost between them, they begin to work fixing the gap they have between them. I appreciated Hannah and how she finally had enough of her parent’s actions and decided to make a move to leave. Deaver portrays her struggle well, and I enjoyed how it intertwined with Ben’s life, and her actions still resonate in the current story. Hannah and Thomas, her husband, try their best to help Ben get settled into a new school and create a healthier and affirming environment for Ben to thrive in. They’re learning, and doing their best to do it right. 

A shining point in this story is Ben’s support system. It begins with Hannah, but it doesn’t stop there. Mariam is their online nonbinary mentor who provides much-needed support, but the online space creates some disconnect. They also meet with a therapist who allows Ben to address what they’ve faced in a safe environment, allowing them to tackle their anxiety in a space that suits them. Ben also meets unlikely friends in school, including Nathan who brings in his friends and Ben thrives in their new environment. Ben still has trouble, but that’s okay because for once, they can think of a future that isn’t so unstable. 

I managed to get this book down in under three hours, and it was time well spent. Ben’s story is a much-needed one. Ben’s fear felt so real, and it showed on-page. They may have left their home, but their parent’s reaction isn’t far off from their mind, reminding them that everything they have now could go in an instant. Deaver’s debut begins with a tragic outcome but ends with a wholesome promise of a new beginning on one’s own terms. 

Overall, I Wish You All The Best is quiet but satisfying. A story about a nonbinary teen by a nonbinary author; this is a story that celebrates life amidst terrifying circumstances and is a shining example of what future contemporary YA literature has to offer. 


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Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Review: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Rating: ★★★★☆ (4/5)

*I received a copy via the publisher and NetGalley in return for an honest review. This in no way affected my opinion of the book.*

After growing up under the watchful eye of her wealthy benefactor, Cornelius Locke, who employs her father to travel the world in search of unique oddities and treasures to add to his growing collection, January Scaller can’t help but feel part of the furniture: well kept but mostly ignored. However, when her father disappears, she discovers a book that sends her into the new worlds which lay behind secret doors. With an unlikely crew including the grocer’s son and a mysterious woman hired by her father, January begins her search which will ultimately question what she knows and the world around her.

It’s been a few days between finishing the book and writing the review you read now, and I’m kept thinking about it. So I’m not even sure how to explain what worked so well with this book. I didn’t even have any expectations for this book, and its cover mainly enticed me. However, when I finished reading, I was utterly enthralled. The open concept of the story seems so simple, but Harrow does such a great job at making it so unique, spinning a tale of love and loss and finding yourself after a long time. The characters stood so well on their own, but when they come together, they are a team to adore. This book is what I’d call a quiet read: nothing loud nor brutal. Harrow creates such an atmospheric tone that shone through this book entirely. As a child, a common daydream of mine was finding doors to new worlds, so January’s journey truly felt like a love letter to my own childhood dream. 

January is a young girl who feels lost until she accidentally discovers a book that opens her world beyond the Locke estate. Set in the early 1900s, January is aware of her privilege and her ability to live a life of wealth that most mixed-race girls would never have been granted. I also appreciated that the book didn’t shy away from racism, classism and sexism, especially for the period its set in. She discovers the existence of Doors that open into new worlds and learns about the true circumstance of her family history. Reading this book felt quite dreamlike, the writing so lyrical and immersive, a calling to those who wish to wander to lands beyond our wildest dreams. 

January as our protagonist is incredible, a fish out of water and must survive on her own for the first time in her life. I felt for her need to leave and discover life on her own terms. Jane, hired by January’s father, is equally compelling. Samuel, the grocer’s son, is lacking in characterisation but can’t really give it much fault as he isn’t as crucial to the story as the two leading ladies. The book also follows two others: Adelaide and Yule Ian, two people who cross many worlds to find each other, their story the most heartbreaking in my opinion. The villains are corrupted, faceless men who move in the shadows they have created, and are hellbent on making sure January doesn’t bring a flame to their power. 

Overall, I adored the Ten Thousand Doors of January. A charming and magical adventure about a girl who persevers in the face of resistance. A story I didn’t know I needed, but I will appreciate for a long time. 


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