YA MYSTERY MEETS THRILLER: Very Bad People Review

very-bad-people-9781534449732_hrSummary (from the publisher): Six years ago, Calliope Bolan’s mother drove the family van into a lake with her three daughters inside. The girls escaped, but their mother drowned, and the truth behind the “accident” remains a mystery Calliope is determined to solve. Now sixteen, she transfers to Tipton Academy, the same elite boarding school her mother once attended. Tipton promises a peek into the past and a host of new opportunities—including a coveted invitation to join Haunt and Rail, an exclusive secret society that looms over campus like a legend.

Calliope accepts, stepping into the exhilarating world of the “ghosts,” a society of revolutionaries fighting for social justice. But when Haunt and Rail commits to exposing a dangerous person on campus, it becomes clear that some ghosts define justice differently than others.

As the society’s tactics escalate, Calliope uncovers a possible link between Haunt and Rail and her mother’s deadly crash. Now, she must question what lengths the society might go to in order to see a victory—and if the secret behind her mother’s death could be buried here at Tipton.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

I had been on a YA mystery & thriller kick and after finishing Holly Jackson’s  A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and not having the sequel on hand, I immediately needed another YA mystery. I was fortunate enough to have an ARC of Kit Frick’s Very Bad People and wow, this book couldn’t have come at a better time. Kit Frick & had always been on my TBR radar, since I killed Zoe Spanos was everywhere in 2020 (update that since reading Very Bad People, I’ve also read I killed Zoe Spanos & really enjoyed that one too!) , so I knew I had to check out her books. 

A YA murder mystery meets thriller, Very Bad People is set at a Hudson River Valley private school, Tipton Academy, following our main protagonist, sixteen year old Calliope. Years ago, Calliope’s mother drove herself, Calliope, and Calliope’s two younger sisters, Lorelei and Serafina, into a lake in their family minivan. Calliope and her sisters survived, but her mother unfortunately passed and no foul play was suspected. In an effort to get away from the small town she’s always known and try to solve the mystery behind her mother’s death, Calliope attends the same private high school that her mother attended. Calliope is soon recruited into a secret society that fights for social justice on campus. As Calliope digs into her mother’s mystery and the society’s plans to expose scandals at Tipton escalate quickly, Calliope begins to question if she’s meant to be at Tipton and what’s at stake.

 

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HISTORICAL FICTION MUST-READ: I Must Betray You Review

Summary (from the publisher): 

9781984836038Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

Ruta Sepetys is one of my favorite all-time authors and hands-down my favorite historical fiction author. As a Holocaust Studies minor in college and now English teacher, I’ve been more selective about the historical fiction I’ve picked up over the past few years, and I definitely favor non-fiction over historical fiction when it comes to history. However, Ruta Sepetys is such an auto-read author for me because her books always bring light to neglected or less discussed historical events. 

Her latest release, I Must Betray You, is set in 1989 Romania until the communist regime led by dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. I’ve learned about communism and the Eastern Bloc post World War II, but I had never particularly learned about the horrifying conditions and totalitarian government in Romania in the 1980s before reading this book. The book follows seventeen year old Cristian, who is forced to become an informer for the secret police. In exchange for finding out information on the American family his mother works for, the secret police will provide medicine for Cristian’s ill grandfather. Cristian wishes for the atrocities committed in Romania to be unveiled & risks his life in doing so, while not being able to trust anyone around him. 

I read I Must Betray You within 24 hours, based on the book’s writing style and the fact that I just needed more. The book has very short chapters, anywhere from 1-5 pages each, that make it easy to just keep going. Ruta Sepetys’ writing style is among my absolute favorites – she has such a way of being straight-to-the-point & plot driven while also using such vivid figurative language Every time that I contemplated putting the book down, the chapter would end with a cliff hanger or revelation that made me want to keep reading until the end. There’s twist after twist, even through the book’s ending. 

As mentioned before, I Must Betray You is an absolute shock to those who have not learned about Romania in the 1980s. I was absolutely horrified by the events and crimes committed by the Romanian secret police & government against people like Cristian, along with the general life conditions then. While terrifying to think about, I liked how we mostly received Cristian’s first person POV while also reading the secret police’s reports on Cristian and other informers & people the government was watching. 

Overall, I highly recommend reading I Must Betray You and Ruta Sepetys’ entire collection. Always, ALWAYS read the author’s note, research, & acknowledgment pages in Ruta Sepetys’ books because she provides so much background information and her overall experience researching and writing the book. Although I always want more of her writing, her books are always worth the wait based on the dedication and research she puts into each of her extremely well-written novels. 

Have you read I Must Betray You? Have you read any of Ruta Sepetys’ books? Which is your favorite? Share in the comments! 

All the Right Reasons Review

all-the-right-reasons-9781534499034_hrSummary (from the publisher): The Bachelor meets Gilmore Girls in this laugh-out-loud young adult romance about a girl who joins her mother on a reality dating show for single parents—only to fall for a contestant’s son.

 

Cara Hawn’s life fell apart after her father cheated on her mother and got remarried to a woman Cara can’t stand. When Cara accidentally posts a rant about her father online, it goes viral—and catches the attention of the TV producers behind a new reality dating show for single parent families.

The next thing Cara and her mother know, they’ve been cast as leads on the show and are whisked away to sunny Key West where they’re asked to narrow a field of suitors and their kids down to one winning pair. All of this is outside of Cara’s comfort zone, from the meddling producers to the camera-hungry contestants, especially as Cara and her mother begin to clash on which suitors are worth keeping around. And then comes Connor.

As the son of a contestant, Connor is decidedly off-limits. Except that he doesn’t fit in with the cutthroat atmosphere in all the same ways as Cara, and she can’t get him out of her head. Now Cara must juggle her growing feelings while dodging the cameras and helping her mom pick a bachelor they both love, or else risk fracturing their family even more for the sake of ratings. Maybe there’s a reason most people don’t date on TV.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

I am always in the mood for a reality TV inspired read, so it’s no surprise that I was really excited to read Bethany Mangle’s All the Right Reasons. This YA contemporary follows seventeen year old Cara, whose life fell apart when her parents & gym co-owners in Ohio divorced after her dad cheated on her mom. While recording a digital video journal talking about her frustration with her parents, Cara accidentally publishes it for everyone to see, attracting a reality TV show for single parent family. After a whirlwind audition, Cara and her mom find themselves in Key West and stars of the reality show, Second Chance Romance, where Cara’s mom will choose a new husband and stepchild for their family. Cara and her mom are basically best friends, but the two go head-to-head over Cara’s mom’s love interest. 

All the Right Reasons was a fun & light-hearted take on the reality TV storyline. There have been more & more The Bachelor inspired books over the past few years (I list some of my recs at the end of this review), but this was the first YA book I’ve read with the inspired synopsis, and the family angle was very unique. I really enjoyed Cara and her mom’s relationship, especially as its put to the test on the show. There is a slight Gilmore Girls feel to their relationship, as Cara and her mom have been a duo ever since Cara’s parents separated. There’s ALL the drama expected from a Bachelor like show, from choosing who gets eliminated to on-set sabotage and so much more. It’s overall such a fun read, and I loved again diving into the on-set events and behind-the-scenes action (I do admit that I predicted Cara’s mom’s final choice from the get-go). There was also representation surrounding race (Cara identifies as Korean & white), and there’s also disability representation. 

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YA MAMMA MIA LOVE LETTER: When You Get the Chance Review

51ec6MjgywS._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Summary (from the publisher): Nothing will get in the way of Millie Price’s dream to become a Broadway star. Not her lovable but super-introverted dad, who after raising Millie alone, doesn’t want to watch her leave home to pursue her dream. Not her pesky and ongoing drama club rival, Oliver, who is the very definition of Simmering Romantic Tension. And not the “Millie Moods,” the feelings of intense emotion that threaten to overwhelm, always at maddeningly inconvenient times. Millie needs an ally. And when a left-open browser brings Millie to her dad’s embarrassingly moody LiveJournal from 2003, Millie knows just what to do. She’s going to find her mom.

 

There’s Steph, a still-aspiring stage actress and receptionist at a talent agency. There’s Farrah, ethereal dance teacher who clearly doesn’t have the two left feet Millie has. And Beth, the chipper and sweet stage enthusiast with an equally exuberant fifteen-year-old daughter (A possible sister?! This is getting out of hand). But how can you find a new part of your life and expect it to fit into your old one, without leaving any marks? And why is it that when you go looking for the past, it somehow keeps bringing you back to what you’ve had all along?

My Rating: 5/5 Stars 

My Thoughts: 

 It goes without saying that I love Emma Lord’s books so much. Her YA books balance romance, friendship, character development, family, & more with such unique settings. If Tweet Cute was a love letter to food and You Have a Match was a love letter to sisterhood & The Parent Trap, then Emma Lord’s latest release, When You Get the Chance, is an absolute love letter to Mamma Mia, musicals, & NYC…& yes, I am definitely listening to the Mamma Mia soundtrack while writing this review!  

When You Get the Chance follows rising high school senior, Millie Price, who dreams of becoming a successful Broadway actress. When Millie gets accepted into a precollege theatre program across the country, her single dad isn’t so keen to send her. Millie knows that her mother would’ve supported Millie’s desire to jumpstart her career training… except that Millie has never met her mother, only knowing that her mother left Millie at her father’s doorstep when she was a baby. When Millie & her best friend, Teddy, come across her dad’s LiveJournal from his college days, Millie identifies 3 potential women who could potentially be her mom and is determined to spend her summer in NYC finding the one, while also competing against her high school rival, Oliver, for a competitive talent agency internship. 

I just have to mention that Emma Lord has some of the BEST book covers in the YA book game. Not that a book’s cover affects my opinion, but I just love the brightness & pink scheme of the book cover & I absolutely want Millie’s outfit. 

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Never Saw You Coming Review

51g-kPXZvBL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Summary (from the publisher):Raised by conservative parents, 18-year-old Meg Hennessey just found out her entire childhood was a lie. Instead of taking a gap year before college to find herself, she ends up traveling north to meet what’s left of the family she never knew existed.
While there, she meets Micah Allen, a former pastor’s kid whose dad ended up in prison, leaving Micah with his own complicated relationship about the church. The clock is ticking on Pastor Allen’s probation hearing and Micah, now 19, feels the pressure to forgive – even when he can’t possibly forget.
As Meg and Micah grow closer, they are confronted with the heavy flutterings of first love and all the complications it brings. Together, they must navigate the sometimes-painful process of cutting ties with childhood beliefs as they build toward something truer and straight from the heart.
In Erin Hahn’s Never Saw You Coming, sometimes it takes a leap of faith to find yourself.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars 

My Thoughts:

I FINALLY picked up one of my most anticipated YA books of 2021 last week with Erin Hahn’s Never Saw You Coming — and yes, totally my fault for not picking this one up sooner since I ordered it around its September release. I’m a huge fan of Erin Hahn’s first two books, You’d Be Mine and More Than Maybe, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this YA novel following Vada’s best friend, Meg, (Vada is the female lead in More Than Maybe) who is reeling after finding out that her dad isn’t her biological father after all and decides to change her gap year plans by going to Northern Michigan to connect with her biological father’s family. While there, Meg connects with Micah, who is dealing with his own family struggles as his former pastor father has been in prison for the past few years. 

I just also wanted to note before diving into my thoughts that I did reread More Than Maybe before reading Never Saw You Coming, partly because I love that book SO much and that I did want to re-familiarize myself with that world before picking up this book. I don’t necessarily think that you have to read More Than Maybe before picking up Never Saw You Coming, but much of the plot & ending of More Than Maybe is spoiled in the book.

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2022 Most Anticipated Releases: YA Edition

As I’ve been writing & researching for my 2022 most anticipated releases, I have been really enjoying scouring Goodreads, Instagram, and book blogs to gain some insight on the Young Adult books coming out in 2022. Although contemporary romance has become my favorite genre over the years – I shared my most anticipated 2022 contemporary romance & adult fiction releases on Monday-, I am still often in the mood for a good YA contemporary (or royal-inspired read or historical fiction or fantasy). SO many of my favorite YA authors are coming out with new books in 2022! 

When You Get the Chance by Emma Lord | RD: January 4

I have basically been anticipating Emma Lord’s 2022 YA release, When You Get the Chance, since it was announced – I’m SO excited for this Mamma Mia meets Broadway inspired read!

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys | RD:February 1st

I am a huge fan of Ruta Sepetys’ YA historical fiction books, as they are always so well-written and extremely well-researched and often center around a neglected or forgotten about part of history. I Must Betray You is set in 1989 Romania, following a teen who is forced by the secret police to provide the dictatorship with information about everyone & everything he knows and loves.  

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DID THIS MEET THE HYPE?: The Inheritance Games Review

51Gv-CkrYOL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Summary (from the publisher): Avery Grambs has a plan for a better future: survive high school, win a scholarship, and get out. But her fortunes change in an instant when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne dies and leaves Avery virtually his entire fortune. The catch? Avery has no idea why–or even who Tobias Hawthorne is. To receive her inheritance, Avery must move into sprawling, secret passage-filled Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man’s touch–and his love of puzzles, riddles, and codes.Unfortunately for Avery, Hawthorne House is also occupied by the family that Tobias Hawthorne just dispossessed. This includes the four Hawthorne grandsons: dangerous, magnetic, brilliant boys who grew up with every expectation that one day, they would inherit billions. Heir apparent Grayson Hawthorne is convinced that Avery must be a con-woman, and he’s determined to take her down. His brother, Jameson, views her as their grandfather’s last hurrah: a twisted riddle, a puzzle to be solved. Caught in a world of wealth and privilege, with danger around every turn, Avery will have to play the game herself just to survive.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

A ton of books have well-deservedly gotten so much hype and praise through Tik Tok this year, & I’d argue that Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ The Inheritance Games was one of the top YA books (if not the #1 book) to get so much love & attention. I was kind’ve mixed on reading The Inheritance Games because it had been described as an escape room type book which made me not-so interested in, but something finally made me give in. & I’m so glad I did because The Inheritance Games is one of the best YA books I’ve read this year!

I’ve read Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Debutantes duology, another really addicting series, and definitely recommend checking out that mystery series if you’ve already read book #2, The Hawthorne Legacy, & you’re waiting for Inheritance Games book #3). The Inheritance Games definitely fits into the YA mystery category with a ton of suspense & a touch of romance (hello love triangle).The book follows Avery Kylie Grambs, who has had a ton of misfortune in her life, but her life completely changes when billionaire Tobias Hawthorne leaves nearly his entire estate to Avery, much to the Hawthorne family’s dismay. Avery has never met Tobias Hawthorne, and there’s another catch to the inheritance: she has to live in the sprawling, secret passage & puzzle-filled Hawthorne mansion with his four grandsons and other family members for one year before getting the estate. Avery and the Hawthornes all want to know why Avery inherited the fortune and not themselves, so the book mainly follows Avery stepping to her new role as Hawthorne and heiress and searching the mansion for clues.Read More »

THEATRE MEETS ENEMIES TO LOVERS: As If on Cue Review

Summary (from the publisher):Lifelong rivals Natalie and Reid have never been on the same team. So when their school’s art budget faces cutbacks, of course Natalie finds herself up against her nemesis once more. She’s fighting to direct the school’s first ever student-written play, but for her small production to get funding, the school’s award-winning band will have to lose it. Reid’s band. And he’s got no intention of letting the show go on.

But when their rivalry turns into an all-out prank war that goes too far, Natalie and Reid have to face the music, resulting in the worst compromise: writing and directing a musical. Together. At least if they deliver a sold-out show, the school board will reconsider next year’s band and theater budget. Everyone could win.

Except Natalie and Reid.

Because after spending their entire lives in competition, they have absolutely no idea how to be co-anything. And they certainly don’t know how to deal with the feelings that are inexplicably, weirdly, definitely developing between them…

 

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

After falling head over heels from Marisa Kanter’s debut in 2020, What I Like About You (featuring a book blogger & bookish baker), I had to get my hands on her upcoming sophomore novel, As If on Cue.

This YA novel takes on one of my all-time favorite tropes, enemies-to-lovers, set against a high school musical that needs to go well in order to save Natalie’s drama club and Reid’s school band. Natalie and Reid have been rivals since their middle school days, competing for clarinet first chair and Natalie’s music instructor of a dad’s attention. After a prank gone wrong in middle school, Natalie and Reid’s high school rivalry escalates even further when their high schools’ arts budget is cut, with Natalie losing the drama club… but more than enough funds still allocated for Reid’s award-winning band, led by Natalie’s dad. When a prank goes too far once again, Natalie and Reid are forced to convert Natalie’s play into a musical and create a production that will convince the school board to bring back money for the arts. 

As If on Cue was a fun enemies-to-lovers that felt really unique for its musical premise. I love a good enemies-to-lovers featuring school rivals (hello Rachel Lynn Solomon’s Today Tonight Tomorrow) and As If on Cue reminded me why I love this trope so much through Marisa Kanter’s storytelling. The book transitions between Reid and Natalie’s current prank war and being forced to run the school musical together, while going back to their middle school years and the prank that cemented their rivalry for good. I love revisiting their past while seeing them working through their issues and coming together in the present (with a few bumps down the road of course).

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ENEMIES YA CONTEMPORARY : It All Comes Back to You Review  

Summary (from the publisher):

56304328After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close. Then out of the blue, Amira announces that she’s dating someone and might move cross-country with him. Kiran is thrown.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his older brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend, even if it’s getting serious quickly. Maybe now their parents’ focus will shift off Deen, who feels intense pressure to be the perfect son.

When Deen and Kiran come fact to face, they silently agree to keep their past a secret. Four years ago–before Amira and Faisal met–Kiran and Deen dated. But Deen ghosted Kiran with no explanation. Kiran will stop at nothing to find out what happened, and Deen will do anything, even if it means sabotaging his brother’s relationship, to keep her from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

My Thoughts: 

You might know that I haven’t been reaching for YA as frequently this year as I have in the past, BUT the YA books I have read this year have been super fantastic reads, including Farah Naz Rishi’s It All Comes Back to You. This is one of the strongest YA books I’ve read in 2021, following former couple Deen and Kiran as they watch their brother and sister respectively get engaged to one another. Deen has never explained why he ghosted Kiran three years ago around the time Kiran’s mother was diagnosed with ALS and his family unexpectedly moved from Philadelphia to New Jersey. Three years later, Kiran’s sister, Amira, and Deen’s brother, Faisal, are now engaged and Kiran is willing to do nearly anything to break the couple apart by figuring out Faisal’s hidden past, much to Deen’s dismay. My reading pace has definitely developed over the past two years, but I binged It All Comes Back to You in about two sittings because I couldn’t put it down! 

It All Comes Back to You is split between Kiran and Deen’s present day perspectives, their texts from their relationship three years before, and their chats from an online game they both play together (unbeknownst to them due to their nicknames/usernames). I think it’s easy to put It All Comes Back to You in the enemies-to-lovers category (or lovers-to-enemies-back-to-something-else category) because Deen and Kiran still have chemistry years later, but this book doesn’t scream romance and I mean that in the best way possible because I loved the direction of the story! Without being too spoilery, I loved the ending of the book for not focusing on the romance. Kiran and Deen’s progression throughout the book felt right – I do think the reveal about Faisal’s past was a tad predictable, but the conclusion made up for it. Throughout, Kiran is really about trying to figure out what went wrong with her & Deen years ago (and yes, maybe getting some revenge through figuring out the secret him & Faisal are hiding from her sister), while Deen wants to earn back Kiran’s trust while protecting his brother.

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MUST-READ YA FT. KOREA & ROMANCE: XOXO Review

Summary (from the publisher):

81Kz+Kr3LRLCello prodigy Jenny has one goal: to get into a prestigious music conservatory. When she meets mysterious, handsome Jaewoo in her uncle’s Los Angeles karaoke bar, it’s clear he’s the kind of boy who would uproot her careful plans. But in a moment of spontaneity, she allows him to pull her out of her comfort zone for one unforgettable night of adventure…before he disappears without a word.

Three months later, when Jenny and her mother arrive in South Korea to take care of her ailing grandmother, she’s shocked to discover that Jaewoo is a student at the same elite arts academy where she’s enrolled for the semester. And he’s not just any student. He’s a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world—and he’s strictly forbidden from dating.

When a relationship means throwing Jenny’s life off the path she’s spent years mapping out, she’ll have to decide once and for all just how much she’s willing to risk for love.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars 

My Thoughts:

Nearly any book that I read cover to cover while floating around my pool IN one afternoon is a fantastic book for me – and if this scenario seems oddly specific, the book I am talking about is Axie Oh’s YA contemporary, XOXO! This YA contemporary following Jenny’s semester abroad at a performing arts school in Seoul, South Korea, and yes, falling in love a K pop star along the way, completely grabbed my attention as I floated around the pool on a hot afternoon. I would not go inside until I had this book completed – if you’re looking for a cute read to read in less than four hours, this is the book for you. 

The book is narrated by Jenny, a rising cellist who spends an unforgettable night with a cute guy, Jaewoo, in her hometown of LA….only to never hear from him again. Three months later, Jenny and her mom move temporarily to South Korea to help take care of her grandmother, and Jenny enrolls in a prestigious performing arts high school there.. only to discover on the first day that not only is Jaewoo one of her classmates, but he’s also one of the members of a rising K-pop group. While improving her cello playing skills, forming friendships, and falling in love with a new city, Jenny and Jaewoo begin to develop a relationship while trying to avoid the spotlight and the strict expectations he must follow as part of the K-pop group.  

Something (aka everything) about XOXO grabbed me from the get-go. The book was so well-balanced between Jenny’s family life, her friendships, discovering Seoul, her dream to study music and keep performing in college, and of course, her romance with Jaewoo. I admit that I was a bit hesitant going into this one because of the slight K-pop premise since I’m not a K-pop fan, but you totally don’t need to know too much about K-pop to enjoy this one (even though you’ll probably catch some inspired references that I likely missed). 

XOXO doesn’t immediately jump into South Korea, but I though the transition from Jenny & Jaewoo’s first night together & Jenny’s life in LA to Seoul was really well done and added to Jenny’s character growth. I loved all the friendships she made there, along with the growth in her relationships with her mother & grandmother. The book reminded me of Abigail Hing Wen’s Loveboat, Taipei and even Jenny Lee’s Anna K:Away, likely because of the setting and performing arts school. 

Overall, XOXO is a YA contemporary release not to miss this summer! If you love books set in other countries and a cute romance that well balances so many other elements, check this one out!

XOXO comes out on July 13th, 2021. 

This review is based on an advance reader’s edition provided by the publisher. By no means did receiving this ARC affect my thoughts & opinions.

Is XOXO on your TBR? What YA books have you been loving lately? Have you read any books by Axie Oh? Share in the comments!