ARC Review: Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Title: Tweet Cute
Author: Emma Lord
Series: N/A
Pages: 368
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 21st 2020
**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review**

      “A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.
      Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.
    Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.
      All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.
      As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.”

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Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute is just as delightful as its title implies. Pepper Evans is drowning under the weight of school work, her swim captain responsibilities, and pressure from her mother to help with Big League Burger’s Twitter account, their once-small family business. Pepper’s only solace has been her correspondence with “Wolf” a classmate she’s been messaging on an anonymous app for students at her prep school. Unbeknownst to anyone, Jack is the creator of said app and is Pepper’s mysterious penpal, a fact that he himself doesn’t even know. When Big League Burger tweets about a new sandwich that’s way too similar to one that’s been on Jack’s family’s deli menu for years, a Twitter war starts between the two company accounts. When Pepper and Jack end up striking up an unlikely friendship in real life, it’s only a matter of time before truth about their online personas comes out.

Pepper is the very definition of an overachiever. She’s spent the last few years of her life trying to fit into this new world her mother brought her to after the company’s franchise expansion. Her father is still back in Nashville, running the first Big League Burger. Her home life hasn’t been the best; though her parents had an amicable divorce, her older sister, who is off at college, has a rocky relationship with their mom. Pepper has always played peacemaker between the two and as a result hasn’t been able to stand up to her mother herself because she is afraid of ruining their relationship. She’s never developed any lasting relationships in this new place because she’s always felt out of place and fitting in in a superficial kind of way felt easier than finding out where she actually belonged.

Jack has always been the guy who goofs around too much, the guy who doesn’t have a lot of ambition. The truth is he’s been living in his twin’s shadow for so long, it’s always seemed easier to embrace the narrative than counteract it. Even his parents seem to believe that Ethan is meant for bigger and better things. On the other hand, Jack is already stuck behind the family’s deli counter, making him the perfect person to stay behind and take over when the time comes. Jack’s been keeping his passion for app development a secret because why reveal this side of himself when everyone has already made up their minds about who he is? One of the bright spots in his life is his relationship with his grandma, who started Girl Cheesing. She is one of the only people he can really open up to and one that sees him for who he is and not just a less impressive version of his twin.

I love how organic Jack and Pepper’s friendship developed in this one. They are very different people and at first glance, you can’t see how the two would work but they do. Jack breaks through that very small bubble Pepper has made for herself and Pepper is one of the few people that not only sees Jack for who he is, but sees through all the things he’s pretending to be. The storyline, while familiar, never felt like it was too predictable. I expected to get to know both characters more through their online interactions, but was happy to see that the novel focused more on how their relationship developed in real life. I love when contemporaries give us multiple POVs and even more when it’s well done. Tweet Cute‘s dual POV is well-done. The author does a wonderful job of dividing chapters and giving both characters their own worlds and hang ups that it didn’t feel like it was more Pepper or Jack’s story. They each had their own journeys that just happened to converge. Both perspectives and characters were equally engaging and I loved that both had their own lessons to learn apart from each other.

Emma Lord’s Tweet Cute is an adorable, sweet, satisfying contemporary with characters with undeniable likeability and chemistry.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri

Title: Realm of Ash
Author: Tasha Suri
Series: The Books of Ambha, #2
Pages: 496
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: November 14th 2019

      “The fate of an empire rests in the hands of a young woman with magical blood and nothing left to lose, and an outcast prince determined to save his family at any cost, in this “dark, melodious, and memorable” new fantasy (Library Journal, starred review) from the author of the award-winning Empire of Sand.
    The Ambhan Empire is crumbling. A terrible war of succession hovers on the horizon. The only hope for peace lies in the mysterious realm of ash, where mortals can find what they seek in the echoes of their ancestors’ dreams. But to walk there requires a steep price.
      Arwa is determined to make the journey. Widowed by a brutal massacre, she’s pledged service to the royal family and will see that pledge through to the end. She never expected to be joined by Zahir, the disgraced, illegitimate prince who has turned to forbidden magic in a desperate bid to save those he loves.
      Together, they’ll walk the bloody path of their shared past. And it will call into question everything they’ve ever believed…including whether the Empire is worth saving at all.”

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“The dagger sank hard and fast into the soil. The shadows of its body surrounded her, the daiva shattered into a dozen smaller birds. Wings battered her face and her hair—even her arms, as she raised them to protect herself. Her hand was still bleeding freely. She was lightheaded with pain.”

Tasha Suri returns to her luscious fantasy world of the Ambha Empire with Realm of Ash, the companion novel to her debut Empire of Sand. This newest installation focuses on Mehr’s younger sister Arwa. Having recently been widowed, Arwa as taken refuge in a sanctuary for widows of nobility. But no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the memories of how her husband and everyone at his fort perished, leaving her the only survivor. Around her the Ambhan Empire is collapsing, a consequence of their Maha’s demise a decade earlier. When Arwa’s bloodline is discovered, she agrees to aid one of the Emperor’s sons in an effort to save the Empire. Zahir is the illegitimate son of the Emperor, unacknowledged and hidden away by his sister. He’s spent years trying to find a way to save the Empire, seeking out knowledge only the Maha possessed. Together Arwa and Zahir traverse the realm of ash in search of a way to keep the Empire from crumbling, but on their journey they uncover truths that call to question whether they can or should save the Empire at all.

Suri has created one of the most profound, multi-layered worlds I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The Ambhan Empire has prospered largely in part because of the mystical Maha. As long as the Emperor showed reverence, the Maha blessed the land. Since his death, however, the Empire has been in decline and mysterious illnesses have plagued its people. In Darez Fort a darkness found its way inside, consuming its inhabitants and turning them against one another. Arwa, because of the secret of her bloodline, being Amrithi on her mother’s side, was spared. The Amrithi people have been a part of this land, but have been driven out and their religion has been regarded with distrust. The Emperor and the Maha have collectively taken part in ethic cleansing. Amrithi have been driven to their deaths or forced to hide away. Descendants like Arwa have been taught their heritage must be kept hidden, that her blood has made her a curse upon those around her. In reality the Maha has used these people for the Empire’s advancement, tapping into their special relationship with the gods of old. He and those in power have villainized and dehumanized them, so in the end their receding numbers are regarded justly or indifferently.

Arwa is one of the few people left who straddles both worlds, born from an Amrithi mother and a Ambhan father. Her ties to her maternal side are tentative at best. Her adopted mother has drilled it into her that she must shape herself into someone worthy. She’s spent years molding herself into someone more gentle, someone vulnerable who is subject to the will of others. In truth, she struggles to rein in her anger and her sharp-tongue. Her relationship with Zahir develops into more of a partnership and both are finally able to be who they are without consequence. Zahir, much like Arwa, has grown up in a kind of cage. As the illegitimate son of the Emperor he has been regarded as a threat, but his sister has done her best to keep him safe. He has spent years in study, trying to prove his worth to the Empire, but knowing that one day the favor of his sister may not be enough to keep him alive. Both of these characters have been used as pawns, taught that they are unworthy, and stripped of their agency. Together they find the strength to forge their own paths.

Realm of Ash is the perfect companion novel in a superlative duology that showcases the quiet yet fierce strength of its characters with a magical system that will steal your breath.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)

ARC Review: Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

Title: Dark and Deepest Red
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 320
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: January 14th 2020
**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

TW: contains a slur for Romani people

      “Summer, 1518. A strange sickness sweeps through Strasbourg: women dance in the streets, some until they fall down dead. As rumors of witchcraft spread, suspicion turns toward Lavinia and her family, and Lavinia may have to do the unimaginable to save herself and everyone she loves.
      Five centuries later, a pair of red shoes seal to Rosella Oliva’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. They draw her toward a boy who knows the dancing fever’s history better than anyone: Emil, whose family was blamed for the fever five hundred years ago. But there’s more to what happened in 1518 than even Emil knows, and discovering the truth may decide whether Rosella survives the red shoes.
      With McLemore’s signature lush prose, Dark and Deepest Red pairs the forbidding magic of a fairy tale with a modern story of passion and betrayal.”

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Anna-Marie McLemore’s latest novel, Dark and Deepest Red, is equal parts magical and horrifying as the novel shifts between two timelines where young women are caught in a never-ending dance, unable to stop. In 1518 Strasbourg, France, a fever takes hold of the residents. First it is a small group of women, fallen under a spell that compels them to dance. As the frenzy continues, some of these women begin to dance themselves to death. With each passing day, more are brought under the spell, losing themselves while their families become desperate for a cure. Lala and her aunt have done their best to blend into this small town, have hoped they have hidden their Romani heritage deep enough in order to escape persecution. But as the townspeople grow more desperate to put a stop to the sickness and find someone to blame, suspicions turn to those who’ve never quite fit in.

Five centuries later, “the glimmer” has once again fallen over the town of Briar Meadows. This strange phenomenon overcomes the town every year, bringing about both innocuous and life-changing magic. This year pairs of red shoes begin turning up, casting a kind of love magic on their wearers. For Rosella Oliva, donning these red shoes has unforeseen consequences. They take hold of her, refusing to let go, forcing her dance and putting her life in danger. The only person who might help is Emil, a boy who has done his best to tuck away the parts of himself that others in his town once whispered about. He’s closed himself off from his own history, like the story of his ancestors once being blamed for a dancing plague. But in order to help Rosella, Emil will have to reach across centuries to find the truth of what happen to those before him.

Dark and Deepest Red explores various marginalized identities and how these have influence the way characters move about the world. McLemore’s stories are always unapologetically brown and queer and this one is no exception. McLemore has a knack for forcing their characters to see beyond the surface, to splay themselves open and prod all those little things they keep hidden from the world. Much like the dancing plague, these characters have been forced into a kind of dance where they must deny a part of themselves. I loved how McLemore uses these biases and turns them on their head, allowing their characters to turn powerlessness into a moments of cunning and strength. The story is a reminder than even one small act of defiance can have a ripple effect, how one small act may not be small at all, but may have ramifications that transcend time.

Plenty of parallels can be drawn from the two timelines in Dark and Deepest Red. Lala has learned to make herself more gadjo, non-Romani, tucking parts of herself away and folding herself into the circle of young women in town who are looked upon with envy rather than suspicion. Her aunt and her have explained away their brown skin with rumors of Italian nobility. Their proximity to whiteness has become their only defense against the prejudice shown to their people throughout the region. But there is always danger in their very existence, as it is for the trans boy they took in years ago. Alifair’s almost mysterious appearance from the woods has never been fully explained, but Lala and her aunt made him family when he had none. Lala knows that while loving Alifair may always have been inevitable, her love for him might also be his downfall. Scenes between these two range from beautiful to heartbreaking and I’m always in awe of McLemore’s ability to write love stories that both devastate and uplift.

Rosella, like Lala, has discovered that in order to keep the people of Briar Meadows from treating her family as less than (at least more than they already do), she has to make herself more like the girls around her. She may not be able to hide her brown skin, but she can dress like them and talk like them. The only other person who ever understood what it was like to be othered in this town was Emil, but that was years ago when they were both children and understood their place in the world a little less. For Emil, keeping himself from his people’s history has been a way for him to protect himself. Rosella has always been a reminder of the things he was only beginning to realize as a child, that the town he called home was only ever going to look down at his family and their culture if he shared too much. I loved that their story isn’t just about each other, but about who they are individually in relation to their ethnic identities.

Anna-Marie McLemore’s Dark and Deepest Red fused magic and terror into an enthralling tale that will leave you breathless with its piercing truths.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

(5/5)

ARC (Snapshot) Review: Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez

Title: Woven in Moonlight
Author: Isabel Ibañez
Series: N/A
Pages: 384
Publisher: Page Street Kids
Release Date: January 7th 2020

**I received an ARC of this book from the publisher which does not influence my review**

      A lush tapestry of magic, romance, and revolución, drawing inspiration from Bolivian politics and history.
      Ximena is the decoy Condesa, a stand-in for the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the usurper, Atoc, used an ancient relic to summon ghosts and drive the Illustrians from La Ciudad. Now Ximena’s motivated by her insatiable thirst for revenge, and her rare ability to spin thread from moonlight.
      When Atoc demands the real Condesa’s hand in marriage, it’s Ximena’s duty to go in her stead. She relishes the chance, as Illustrian spies have reported that Atoc’s no longer carrying his deadly relic. If Ximena can find it, she can return the true aristócrata to their rightful place.
      She hunts for the relic, using her weaving ability to hide messages in tapestries for the resistance. But when a masked vigilante, a warm-hearted princess, and a thoughtful healer challenge Ximena, her mission becomes more complicated. There could be a way to overthrow the usurper without starting another war, but only if Ximena turns her back on revenge—and her Condesa.”

  • Magical system – Ximena’s magic is tied to the moon and the Illustrians magic all reflect this. There is a character who can read the stars and Ximena weaves moonlight into her tapestries. It’s a very beautiful and almost delicate kind of magic.
  • Unlearning harmful prejudices – I do have some criticism when it comes to how this is done in Woven in Moonlight, but I did appreciate the concept of people belonging to certain oppressive groups having to reevaluate their worldview.
  • Ximena and Catalina – Though we only get small glimpses into their relationship before Ximena is whisked away, I loved how close these two were. They grew up as each other’s families and even though you sense tension, at least from Ximena’s side, you can tell how much they care about the other.
  • Rich cultures – It was interesting to see the Llascans from an outside perspective and even though Ximena remains bias for much of the narrative, it was hard not to be pulled in by the vibrancy of their world.
  • Ximena’s POV – I struggled with the narrative for one reason in particular. The story from a privileged person’s POV, learning to confront their prejudices and realizing a marginalized group of people actually have value is one I’ve grown tired of. I question the novel being told only from Ximena’s perspective when there was another character whose story had more value. This would have been a very different read for me if we got a different POV to balance out Ximena’s prejudice. I was really disappointed that Ximena’s views really didn’t feel challenged on paper enough until the latter half of the novel and that readers as a result are forced to center her views for so long.
  • Characterization – Unfortunately I didn’t feel like many of these characters were fully formed. Ximena, for example, was introduced as the Condesa’s decoy who struggles to find an identity outside of this performance she’s been doing for years. This could have also been a book about identity, but instead of being a running theme, it’s merely a cursory observation made at the beginning and never revisited again.


Isabel Ibañez’s Woven in Moonlight, while having a really unique magical system, falls short when it comes to its commentary on colonization.

★ ★
(2/5)