Review: The Winning Ingredient

The Winning Ingredient was a cute, clean YA romance read.

Bryce is a new student at George Washington High, and the new quarterback on the football team. Mia’s family owns a bakery in town. When Mia is asked to tutor Bryce in science and math, this unlikely duo wind up becoming friends.

I loved the bakery scenes and this definitely made me want to do some baking (I think some cookies might be in my future).

This story reminded me a little of a YA version of The Baker and the Beauty on Netflix. I do wish that the author had included a recipe for the cannoli cookies, because those sounded amazing!

Unfortunately I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and I did find the writing to be a little stiff at times.

As the past and the present collide, one baker and one quarterback team up.

The two might be the winning ingredient in a timeless recipe.

Mia DeSalvo is one tough cookie, who can throw a perfect spiral and bake a perfect biscotti. But, as George Washington High’s top student and ninth-grade class president, she’s thrown off her game when asked to tutor boarding school drop-out and secret-weapon-on-the-football-field, Bryce Fitzgerald. Despite his to-die-for dimples, he’s a total bore. Besides, her plate is already full, trying to save her family’s struggling century-old Italian bakery.

Determined to tackle her family’s business woes, Mia secretly devotes her free time to developing new recipes, with the help of her Sicilian great-great-grandmother’s handwritten cookbook. She soon discovers that blending her own innovations with her Nonna Antoinette’s history may be the key to the bakery’s success.

But Mia’s not the only one with a secret. As rumors swirl around Bryce’s lightning-speed exit from prestigious Chadwick Academy, she’s resolved to get to the bottom of it. Unfortunately, the star quarterback’s bad attitude, mixed with her flaming temper, is a recipe for disaster.

When Mia stumbles upon Bryce’s beautifully written journal, it’s clear his talents aren’t confined to the football field, and there’s much more to the hazel-eyed quarterback than she could’ve imagined. While the journal may hold all the answers she’s looking for, the weight of its heartbreaking words may be too much for her to carry.

With the future of the DeSalvo Bakery and the football State Championship hanging in the balance, Mia and Bryce might just have what the other is missing.

Armed with an antique cookbook and a football, this unlikely pair will discover the importance of embracing an enduring legacy and keeping cherished memories alive.

The Winning Ingredient is a lower young adult novel about unwavering friendship through loss and triumph and is the debut novel for this previously published author.


Kelly Swan Taylor is a Boston-based attorney and former laboratory scientist. As a competitive runner, racing from sun-drenched Hawaii to frigid Iceland, her first publishing credit was in Simon & Schuster’s best-selling book series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Running for Good, highlighting her experiences in the historic 2013 and 2014 Boston Marathons. Growing up immersed in beloved “Teen” novels, Kelly now crafts her own sweet stories that bridge the gap between middle grade and young adult fiction that is so often forgotten but so sorely needed in the market today. She has a soft spot for the sincere yet flawed character with a kind heart who tries to do the right thing, stumbles along the way, but eventually becomes a hero in everyday life. In her free time, Kelly enjoys traveling and collecting snow globes and race medals from around the world. A proud alumnus of Syracuse University, she cheers her Syracuse Orange from both her sofa and the metal bleachers of the Carrier Dome. She resides in Providence, Rhode Island with her architect husband, Jonathan, and two spoiled geriatric kitties.

Review: Himawari House

Himawari House is a graphic novel for young adults that focuses on foreign exchange students in Japan. The students are learning Japanese in order to work, go to university, and connect with their roots.

I have never felt some many feelings while reading a graphic novel. Anxiety when the students are taking their exams, joy, happiness. I even wept in the two-page life story of their Obaachan neighbor.

I also appreciated that the author wrote the student’s English with an accent. Students of a new language aren’t going to speak it perfectly, and writing the students with an accent made the characters feel real.

Thank you to Turn the Page Tours and First Second Books for including me on this tour and for the finished copy of this book!

Book Description: 

A young adult graphic novel about three foreign exchange students and the pleasures, and difficulties, of adjusting to living in Japan.

Living in a new country is no walk in the park―Nao, Hyejung, and Tina can all attest to that. The three of them became fast friends through living together in the Himawari House in Tokyo and attending the same Japanese cram school. Nao came to Japan to reconnect with her Japanese heritage, while Hyejung and Tina came to find freedom and their own paths. Though each of them has her own motivations and challanges, they all deal with language barriers, being a fish out of water, self discovery, love, and family.

Author Bio:

Harmony Becker was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the illustrator of George Takei’s graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy. She currently lives in Mexico City.

Book Title: Himawari House

Author: Harmony Becker

Publisher: First Second

Release Date: November 9, 2021

Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Graphic Novel 

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Review: Eat Your Heart Out

I can absolutely see Eat Your Heart Out being the next big zombie apocalypse movie. I absolutely loved the banter between characters as I read this book, and loved that the characters all had horror movie trope types.

However, because there were so many different POVs, sometimes I had difficulty remembering whose point of view I was reading (maybe it was just me?).

I did find the zombie apocalypse origin in Eat Your Heart Out to be pretty unique – a diet bar that is being tested by FannonPharma on overweight teens that will help people lose weight overnight. It did sort of remind me of the iZombie TV series, although that was an energy drink (and that’s where the comparison ends).

Vivian was by far my favorite character. She was full of action and self-esteem and kick ass-ness. Not to mention she had some of the best quips in the book.

This was such a fun, unique book that I read the whole thing in one day! Thank you to Turn the Page Tours, Kelly deVos, and Razorbill for the review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Audiobook Review: Better Together

Better Together was such a cute summer book to listen to; with definite Freaky Friday meets Parent Trap vibes. The summer camp setting had me dreaming of those long lazy, hazy days of summer.

I really liked the sister dynamic between Siri and Jamie while they were at camp and their interactions via text and phone afterwards. Not to mention the sisters’ interactions when they meet their other parent fo the first time.

There’s some cute, swoon romance in this book, but nothing too explicit – some heavy making out and sex is alluded to.

I really enjoyed the narrators Brittany Pressley and  Karissa Vacker, who really brought Siri and Jamie to life and kept me engaged throughout the entire book.

Review: A Chorus Rises

When I downloaded A Chorus Rises, I didn’t realize it was a sequel, and I think that made my experience with this book very different than if I had I read the first book (A Song Below Water). And, unlike some books, this sequel is definitely not a standalone.

When I first started listening to this book, I felt like I was dropped into the middle of the story (because, well, I was). I couldn’t figure out what an Eloko was and why they were so privileged in Portland.

As I kept listening to A Chorus Rises, I was able to get my head around the magic and the story, but it wasn’t until about half way through the book before I felt like I understood what was happening.

I really hated Naema – she is such a self centered and self-obsessed character. Many of her thoughts circled around herself first and she rarely thought about other people’s thoughts or feelings.

I almost DNF’d this, not because I felt lost in the story, but because of Naema’s character alone. The story itself touches on important topics of privilege and class, as well as social media influence in our culture.

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for the ALC in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Mazie

Mazie was such a cute read. Set in the 1950s on Broadway and had my heart swooning with song, dane and life in the theater.

Mazie is high school senior from a small town in Nebraska. Just before graduation, she hops on a train to live her dream of performing on Broadway. She has enough money to last her a few weeks while she auditions, while keeping enough money aside to be able to get back home if things go sour.

Mazie as a character both irked me and won me over. She was self centered at times – as 18-year-olds can be – but then she would do something kind and wonderful for someone else. So, I’m not sure how to asses her as a character. In the end, I did like her, but it took me a while, and I think the author wanted the reader to be unsure of their feelings for Mazie.

I did, however, enjoy seeing the theaters and experience auditions through her eyes. Auditioning is something I’ve never done. I’ve seen enough musicals and plays from the other side of the stage, though!

I also really appreciated learning about industrials in the musical theater industry – it was fascinating! This is definitely a piece of history that I never knew about before and enjoyed the author’s note with more reading about this time period.

Book Review: Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy

I enjoy a good fairy tale retelling, and Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy was a fun romp through the fairy tale realm.

Filomena is your typical middle school girl, who loves to read and is kind of an introvert. She’s a huge fan of the Never After series of books, but when she goes to the bookstore on publication day of the thirteenth and final book of the series, she finds out the book isn’t being published.

As she leaves the bookstore to head home, she notices she’s being followed – by the main characters from the Never After books!

Jack the Giant Stalker and Alistair Bartholomew Barnaby are trying to save Never After from the ogre queen – and Filomena has some connection to saving the fairy tale realm!

I loved all of the connections between fairy tale characters – like Jack Stalker and Jill (from Jack and Jill) are cousins. And the twisted fairy tales, the “real” tales as these characters call them, definitely make the reader look at the fairy tales as we’ve known them in a different way.

I read this so fast, the story was such a fun read and the writing was so fast paced. I could absolutely see this story being turned into a movie or TV show. Every time I put this book down, my thoughts were still with this crew, wanting to know what happened next in Never After, to Jack, Alistair and Filomena. 

While this is a middle-grade book, it definitely held my attention and I enjoyed this fantasy story.

Thank you to Turn the Page Tours and author Melissa de la Cruz for this gifted copy!

Giveaway Details

Enter to win one (1) finished copy of Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy by Melissa de la Cruz! Open USA only. There will be 1 winner.

Giveaway starts: Monday, November 30, 2020

Giveaway ends: Monday, December 8, 2020 at 12:00 a.m. CST

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Real life and fairy tales collide in Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy, book one in the new middle-grade Never After series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Descendants series, Melissa de la Cruz.

Nothing ever happens in Filomena Jefferson-Cho’s sleepy little suburban town of North Pasadena. The sun shines every day, the grass is always a perfect green, and while her progressive school swears there’s no such thing as bullying, she still feels bummed out. But one day, when Filomena is walking home on her own, something strange happens.

Filomena is being followed by Jack Stalker, one of the heroes in the Thirteenth Fairy, a series of books she loves about a brave girl and her ragtag group of friends who save their world from an evil enchantress. She must be dreaming, or still reading a book. But Jack is insistent—he’s real, the stories are real, and Filomena must come with him at once!

Soon, Filomena is thrust into the world of evil fairies and beautiful princesses, sorcerers and slayers, where an evil queen drives her ruthless armies to destroy what is left of the Fairy tribes. To save herself and the kingdom of Westphalia, Filomena must find the truth behind the fairytales and set the world back to rights before the cycle of sleep and destruction begins once more.

Author Bio:

Melissa de la Cruz is the #1 New York TimesUSA TodayWall Street JournalLos Angeles Times-and Publishers Weekly-internationally bestselling author of many critically acclaimed books for readers of all ages, including the Alex & Eliza trilogy and Disney’s Descendants novels.

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Review: Songs of Autumn

I’ve been reading more YA Fantasy recently – I think it’s because I want some escape from 2020 and there’s nothing like escaping into a completely fantastical world and carried along on a magical journey.

They description of Songs of Autumn caught my attention immediately:

“What if your entire life you knew the exact day you were going to die? ​Liz does.”

First – wow. So many bucket list items I’d want to check off the list. Second, tell me more!

Liz is the “Red Princess” who the prophecies told would save her kingdom from endless winter by being a blood sacrifice. However, on the day of the ceremony, Liz and her friend Tia escape the palace and run into the forest, heading for the mountains and hopefully far enough away from Liz’s husband/murderer as possible before winter hits.

I came into this book expecting my heart broken, but not as much as this book hurt my heart.

I loved Liz and Tia – their relationship so sweet. In fact, I fell in love with the entire journeying party Liz and Tia fall in with while traveling over the mountain passes.

The growing romantic relationship between with Matioch Steele and Liz is also incredibly romantic – with plenty of heat and tension. (But still very PG-13 for YA readers!)

I absolutely couldn’t put this book down and loved every minute of it. But the cliffhanger at the end. Ugh! I cannot wait until book two is released – because I need to know what happens NOW!

Thank you to Turn the Page tours for including me on this and to Lauren Sevier for providing me with this free copy in exchanging for my honest opinion.⁠

Book Description: 

What if your entire life you knew the exact day you were going to die?

​Liz does.

​Magick in the Kingdom of Aegis has almost run out. When that happens, the seasons will stop changing, the tides will cease to turn, and the sun will no longer be able to rise and set. The only way to save the lives of her people is if Liz agrees to be a blood sacrifice in a brutal ceremony that will take her life.

​The problem is, Liz isn’t ready to go.

​With the help of a mischievous wanna-be soldier, Matioch Steele, Liz dares to take her fate into her own hands. Defying a blood-thirsty sorcerer, her desperate flight teaches her how to truly live while Mat finds out what’s worth dying for. Each other.

​Love, Death, Magick, and Mystery come together to weave one girl’s epic tale of self-discovery.

​Her song will echo within us all.

Author Bio:

Lauren Sevier lives a simple life in small town Walker, Louisiana with her family and two mischievous dogs. She’s a proud firefighter wife and mother to her miracle son, born through IVF after an eight-year battle with infertility. She works full-time for a non-profit hospital in Cardiology caring for the elderly and low-income families all over the state of Louisiana in satellite and outreach clinics. Writing and being in the service of helping others are her two passions in life.

She started writing song lyrics and poems on the front porch swing of her family home nestled amidst a 200-year-old pecan tree orchard that was once part of a Civil War plantation. She’s inspired the most by Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, and JK Rowling. Her background in Theatre introduced her to classic British literature, playwrights, and poets from a very young age. This helped her to understand story concepts, dramatization, and character development the way Shakespeare once did, as an actor.

Now her biggest inspiration for writing is her son who, like all children, learns by example. Lauren is determined to set a specific example for him; to live simply, work hard, and to never stop chasing her dreams. Because, one day, you just might catch them.

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Enter to win one (1) digital copy of Songs of Autumn by Lauren Sevier! Open USA and international.

Giveaway starts: Sunday, November 15, 200

Giveaway ends: Sunday, November 22, 2020 at 12:00 a.m. CDT

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Review: Crisanta Knight: Inherent Fate

I truly enjoyed reading “Crisanta Knight: Inherent Fate.” 

I jumped into this series on this book – and  never felt lost or like I was missing part of the plot because I jumped into to series on book three.

While I wish there had been a little bit more action in the book, I appreciate that this is book, and this series, is an epic adventure quest and the story isn’t just about the action.

I loved the overarching story that focuses on finding who you are inside – finding your inner strength. (I may or may not have been humming Reflection from Mulan while reading parts of this.)

While this book focuses on Crisa and Daniel for the majority of the book, they do meet back up with their friends in the last quarter. And I really enjoyed the dynamic of the whole team together.

That said, I honestly want to go back and read books one and two because the dynamic shift between Crisanta and Daniel throughout this book is heartwarming. But, I would love to go back and see the beginning of that relationship.

Possibly my favorite part of the book, which really said a lot to me about Crisa as a person, was a very small scene when she and Daniel are in Germany. As they are getting ready to leave, she activates her Hole Tracker and leaves a cryptic note in one of Yunru’s books which will lead her to Alderon. I  hope to see Yunru again in a future Crisanta Knight book!

After reading this, if I was ever confused about the terms “antagonist” and “protagonist” I definitely have them figured out now! I truly loved that the group’s quest was to find the Author (although 100% expected the Author’s name to be Geanna! Imagine my surprise when it wasn’t!)

I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in Crisanta’s adventure. Thank you to author Geanna Culbertson for providing me with this  free review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: My Riot

⁠My Riot started out with a very scene that felt very poignant: rioting happening in the streets of what would otherwise be a quiet suburb.

I wasn’t sure where the rioting and the main character, Val, a shy, awkward high school student who finds solace in her ballet class, was going to go.

The graphic novels, set in the 90s (but feels very modern), tells the story of how Val grows and finds her voice through friends, ballet, family, and music.

I know, that sounds like a lot and some cliche, but it’s a fun read.

Val decides she wants to learn to play the guitar while she’s grounded. As she’s learning, she jams with her friend Kat over the phone, who’s learning to play the drums because they’ve decided they want to be in a band. And at their first show, they only know a few covers and are screechy and stumble over them. But they love it.

To the point where they keep rehearsing, practicing new songs, and start writing their own. Songs about women’s empowerment, about feminism, and about being a woman in the world.

I adored the illustrations and the subtle use of color in this graphic novel. Enough to give the illusion of movement and shadow while not being full color.

Thank you to @netgalley and @onipress for the review copy in exchange for my honest opinion