Girl Gone Wild: a review of “Not If I Save You First”

Hey there. Was that blog title clever or absurd? Leaning toward the latter. But I’m back today with another ARC review that I couldn’t be more excited about. I’ve mentioned before that I get ARCs (advanced reader copies) of soon-to-be-released novels at the bookstore where I work, which is super amazing and makes me all *heart eyes*. Well, my heart nearly couldn’t take it one day recently when I walked into work and saw the newest release from Ally Carter, one of my favorite authors since I was in middle school! I had to take a moment and compose myself before promptly devouring the awesome read that was Not If I Save You First. I’m so pumped to review it here today!


Is a flashlight the most survival-y prop I own? That’s one secret I’ll never tell.

Let me just go ahead and say that Not If I Save You First is Ally Carter at her best. All of her books are very girl-power-heavy — one series about an all-girls spy school where the students take down bad guys left and right, another series about a girl from a family of international art thieves who turns to the good side, and her most recent series about the granddaughter of an ambassador who uncovers this crazy government conspiracy with her family at the center. Carter’s latest is a standalone novel, but it does not deviate from the precedent she’s set for badass female protagonists.

Not If I Save You First follows Maddie Manchester, a 16 year-old girl whose father was once the head of the U.S. president’s secret service and who grew up as best friend to the First Son, Logan. Everything changed for Maddie and Logan when they became caught in the crossfire of a near-international-incident six years ago. Logan was shot but recovered; Maddie’s life changed even more drastically as her father resigned and whisked her away to the wilds of Alaska (thus my post title, okay?), where they’ve lived on their own ever since in a cabin with no internet, no cell phones, and no letters from the best friend who promised to write her.

Maddie has adjusted, becoming independent and adept at everything from fishing to boiling her own bath water to throwing her hatchet (which she bedazzled in a moment of extreme boredom and creativity). But when Logan suddenly appears on their doorstep, everything is thrown off balance. When the Bad Guys of their childhood trauma reach him even in the off-grid locale, he’s quickly ripped from Maddie’s life again — but this time, she has to find and save him. Most of the action takes place as Maddie seeks to rescue Logan in the wilds of Alaska, as well as to keep them both alive as the environment becomes as big of a threat as his kidnappers. Action-packed with some romance to boot, Not If I Save You First is a book that I could hardly put down.

One of the things I loved most about this book is the character of Maddie. She has a healthy dose of teenage angst, to be sure, but she is still a super strong protagonist. She is strong not in spite of being a girl, either, but because of it, which in my opinion makes her the type of modern feminist character that young and old readers alike need to see more often. She appreciates the girly, glittery aspects of her pre-wilderness-isolation life and still incorporates them into her newer, more survivalist habits (enter bedazzled hatchet). But she is also way smarter than anyone — even Logan, who knows her better than most — gives her credit for. She uses this to her advantage, playing the superficial girly girl when it’s a convenient cover-up for whatever master plan she’s working at behind the scenes. For example, she shocks Logan the first time she kisses him out of nowhere and looks for all the world like a silly, lovestruck girl in a moment of weakness…but he quickly learns that the kiss is just her way to covertly slip him the key to the handcuffs his captor put on him. The gears in Maddie’s mind are always turning and she almost always has another, deeper and more covert angle to her actions and words. She also shows that strength and femininity are not mutually exclusive, something that (somehow…in 2018…) is too often forgotten. I love her character and the way she drives the entire novel.

Secondarily, Logan plays his role as her sidekick well. He is as charming/dreamy/swoon-worthy as the best YA love interests, but it never feels like Maddie is entirely dependent on him. I love that the whole premise is her saving his life. And any time he has doubts about whether she is in control or knows what she’s doing, he’s proven wrong without his pride being wounded. He is a good counterpart to her and I really enjoyed their best-friends-turned-barely-friends-turned-maybe-more-than-friends dynamic.

All that being said, I highly recommend Ally Carter’s fantastic standalone YA work, Not If I Save You First! Its release is set for March 27th, but I bet our pal Ally would appreciate if you pre-ordered, too.

Let me know in the comments about some of your favorite girl power books! Always in the market for new Maddie-Manchester-type heroines to fangirl over. 🙂

Happy reading!

K. Hill


The #MeToo conversation begun 2 decades ago: a review of “Speak: The Graphic Novel”

Hi friends! I’m back today to talk about one of the best reads of 2018 so far, Speak: The Graphic Novel written by Laurie Halse Anderson with artwork by Emily Carroll. TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, rape, sexual harrassment.


This is a new rendition of Halse Anderson’s iconic 1999 young adult novel, Speak. The graphic novel uses images and more abbreviated text to tell the same original story, that of high school freshman Melinda Sordino and the secret she carries in silence. In the summer before the start of the book, Melinda was raped by a popular senior boy at a party. In shock after the fact, she called the cops to the house — a decision that immediately made her peers resent and ostracize her. She tells no one what really happened, how she was attacked, why she called the police, which only serves to isolate herself further. The story follows Melinda through her difficult first year of high school and the months after her rape as she tries to process what happened. Readers see how devastating the aftermath can be for assault victims, how resistant others can be to understand or even to ask what could be wrong, and why it’s so difficult for victims to report, among other lessons about the ruinous effects of sexual violence. It is also a story of a victim eventually learning resilience and starting to find her voice once more.

I was amazed when I realized that Speak was first published almost 20 years ago, as it was a story so ahead of its time. Sure, the late 90s weren’t exactly like the 1950s in terms of gender disparity or anything, but sexual violence was not a common theme in media or something people discussed much at all. If anything, discussions of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are only becoming super prevalent…now? Seriously — in the midst of our “me too” and “time’s up” awakening, I’ve seen some perspectives along the lines of “this is too much” or “speaking out and making these allegations is just becoming a pop culture fad.” In reality, it only seems that way because NO ONE was talking about it until recently. Sexual violence and harassment have been happening for a looooong time; it is only in the past few years that brave women have felt comfortable enough to come forward and talk about their experiences, and (quite importantly) that society has started to believe them.

Needless to say, for Halse Anderson to start this conversation at all in a story based on her personal experiences two decades ago was incredible; to do so through a book for teens was monumental. Its popularity quickly spread, leading to its assignment as mandatory reading in high schools across the country. It made many people uncomfortable, of course, but in a way that opened up necessary conversations about sexuality and consent between children and their adult guardians/mentors. By releasing a graphic novel version of Speak last month, I believe Carroll and Halse Anderson are making their story even more accessible to today’s teens and especially to readers more receptive to a nontraditional novel format. The shortened text made the novel itself a quick and easy read for me, but combined with the artwork became even more compelling, sucking me in and causing me to linger on each page and fully ingest all of the images. The artwork, in my opinion, enhances the original story and makes it all the more powerful, putting a face with Melinda’s thoughts and feelings. We see her appearance deteriorate with her mental state and she shrinks further inside herself and away from friends, family, and teachers. The darkening circles under her eyes and her increasingly hunched stance make for an even more raw and visceral reading experience, allowing us to more easily imagine ourselves in her shoes and feel her hurt as much as a bystander could.

In essence, I think that Speak: The Graphic Novel breathes new life into a story that is more relevant and important now than ever before. I am so thankful that Halse Anderson rereleased her original work in this fresh and interesting way with the help of Carroll, and I’d highly recommend this book to readers young and old as we continue the conversations held within its pages.

Do you have a novel, graphic or otherwise, that has really spoken to you with its handling of important issues? I’d love to hear about it in the comments or on social media!

Happy reading to all, and to all a good night (that’s how the quote goes, right?),

K. Hill

Final February Love Story Spotlight: A review of “Emergency Contact”

Hi there! It looks like this will be my last love story spotlight of the month, as I don’t think I’ll get another review out before Thursday, but don’t despair — I read and talk about love stories just as much every other month of the year. What was the point of the spotlight then, you ask? Ummm because this is my book blog and I do what I WANT and a month-long theme sounded cool. Let me live!

I’ve had a lot of caffeine today. Anywho, this review is special to me because it’s going to cover my very first ARC, which means “advanced reader copy” for anyone like KHill-of-6-months-ago who has never heard of such a thing. ARCs are sent out by the publishers to bookstores, bloggers, other authors, and anyone else they want to read (and hopefully review) the book before its release date. They are “uncorrected proofs” rather than the polished final copies that will be sold in stores, but the main content of the books are basically the same. My access to ARCs is through my new job at my local independent bookstore (yay!) where there are shelves upon shelves of lovely not-yet-released books for employees to take home, read, and recommend to our customers when they eventually come out. It’s maybe the coolest part of the job to me and I might have almost teared up when I learned about it.

Without further ado, the first ARC I’ve read and am now reviewing is Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi. I have to admit that I was first drawn to this one purely based on its GORGEOUS cover. I mean, look at this:


And fortunately, the stuff behind the cover did not disappoint one bit. I was shocked to learn that this was Choi’s very first novel because she writes like she has been in the YA romance game for years and I already want more of her work! Emergency Contact is a sweet and subtle love story following two newly minted adults, Penny and Sam. Penny is starting her freshman year of college and meets Sam, a local coffee shop employee, through her alarmingly outgoing roommate. Their second meeting, however, is under much stranger circumstances through which they exchange numbers and begin to text, joking that they are each other’s “emergency contact” and making sure the other is okay.

The texting becomes more frequent, which works well for socially awkward, highly anxious Penny and slightly lovesick and very down on his luck Sam. Slowly, they each come to depend more on the texting relationship than on any of their “IRL” friends and family, and readers get to watch the realization of this unfold in a fashion that is equal parts awkward and adorable.

In chapters alternating between their two perspectives, readers see a couple of main characters that are far from any Prince-and-Princess-Charming ideal. Penny and Sam each have so many flaws and issues they’re dealing with. Their story is not just a simple romance, but also touches on cultivating familial love in spite of a far-from-perfect upbringing, learning to exist in an unfamiliar social environment — and in the world itself — when you’re used to letting anxiety hold you back, and finally, allowing your true self to show in spite of your fear that no one will like what they see.

It may sound like a lot to compress into one book, but Emergency Contact doesn’t feel like it’s trying to do too much; rather, it feels like an authentic display of the complex, multifaceted feelings and experiences that the average 18-to-22 year old confronts in everyday life. It’s one of the more relatable and honest modern love stories I’ve read and I highly recommend it!

Emergency Contact will be in stores on March 27th, so be sure to pick up your copy then (or even better for the author, pre-order from anywhere books are sold today)!

As always, I’d love to hear in the comments about your favorite love stories, or any other book recommendations you have for me. Thanks for reading 🙂

Until next time,

K. Hill

February Love Story Spotlight: “Meet Cute” and How I Fell In Love With Love Stories

Happy belated Valentine’s Day, everyone! I hope that your day was filled with love of all sorts and hopefully some candy, too — the best things in life, ya know?

For today’s love story spotlight, I’m reviewing Meet Cute, a collection of short stories from 14 different YA authors centering on love interests meeting for the first time. I’ve been so excited to read this one since I first heard it was coming out and it did not disappoint!


Shoutout to one of my favorite meet-cutes from childhood – nothing like finding your true love while singing with woodland creatures in the forest, ya feel me?

Let me start by saying that I have a thing for YA short story collections; I’ve read a couple before Meet Cute that have been curated by Stephanie Perkins, My True Love Gave to Me and Summer Days and Summer Nights, and they just make me happy. There’s something so special about being able to grab the reader’s attention, make them connect with the characters and the action, and create a compelling and satisfying story in a limited amount of space. There are a couple of factors that, in my opinion, make Meet Cute extra special. The first is that most of the stories contain main characters that are people of color of part of the LGBTQ community. As I’ve said before, this kind of representation is SO important and I love that young readers from these populations are starting to see themselves more and more in popular literature. And these characters’ race/sexual orientation/gender identity do not become the focus of their stories; rather, we see them doing and experiencing things that any other teenager would do or experience — and oh, they just happen to be (insert marginalized status here). This shows young readers of all backgrounds that being gay, or being trans, or being black, and so on, does not make you any less “normal” or valuable or deserving of your own adorable love story. While that should be a given, it isn’t yet for everyone in our society. Books like Meet Cute are slowly but surely helping to make the embracing of differences the norm, and I think that’s so important.

Another thing that makes Meet Cute so distinctive is that it catches its characters at the *verrry beginning* of their relationship — in some, the story ends as the two MCs are meeting for the very first time. Rather than diving deep into the struggles of a relationship, readers see characters at the jittery, exciting point in which they first connect with each other. And it’s so…for lack of a better word, CUTE. Rather than diving into all 14 stories and spoiling the whole thing for you, I’ll talk about a few of my favorites here:

  • Print Shop by Nina LaCour — This one follows a girl starting her internship at an old-fashioned, locally owned print shop. She quickly learns that the owner’s attention to craftsmanship and detail leaves some customers frustrated. While trying to get one customer’s order delivered on time, she finds that she doesn’t want their conversations to be finished when the poster is. Also, LaCour just won the 2018 Printz Medal for her novel We Are Okay, which has been on my TBR for forever and after this story, I’m extra excited to read more of her writing!
  • Click by Katharine McGee — In this story set in what seems like the not-too-distant future, there is an app called “Click” that scans the entire internet, all your social media likes and follows and online shopping purchases, and uses that information to form a thousand-question survey. From the info gathered online and through your survey, it predicts your romantic potential with other users with “terrifying accuracy” and provides you with “matches,” each assigned a compatibility rating to you. Our two main characters meet up as a result of the app and some unexpected adventures ensue, showing them that data can’t predict everything about a romantic connection.
  • Something Real by Julie Murphy — Okay, this story has only solidified my recently-acquired Julie-Murphy-fangirl status. Incidentally, her main character is a fangirl herself, heading up the international fan club for the pop star, Dylan. She ends up on a reality show where she is supposed to compete with another girl for a chance to go on a date with Dylan. In a day of filming that entails one mishap after another, she finds that Dylan is not quite as great as she had hoped or expected…but her fellow competitor is a different story.

These three and the other eleven short stories in Meet Cute are sweet, clever, funny, and so worth a read! I highly recommend this collection if you love love like I do. 🙂

On that note, I also want to highlight a Buzzfeed piece I recently read that resonated with me SO MUCH. Author Cecilia Vinesse wrote “How I Fell In Love With Love Stories,” wherein she describes how much love stories, and YA romances in particular, mean to her. I seriously adore the words she put to her perspective. I think the world spends so much time telling us (especially girls and women) that stories about romance — whether rom-coms, romance novels, or that TV couple you ship so hard — is a frivolous and silly media genre to care about. In reality, love and romance make up a key part of our lives and enjoying reading about and watching those subjects does not make us foolish or shallow. Vinesse describes how she was so embarrassed by her Twilight books for the longest time and tried to hide them away, tried to make herself enjoy literature that is more highly valued in society. She eventually came to realize that “stories like these weren’t babyish at all. They were witty and wise and insightful, and they showed me that I could be those things, too, without sacrificing my romantic, wistful self in the process. I didn’t have to choose between being smart or sentimental, clever or whimsical — I could be all those things at once. I’d always been all those things at once.” !!! Yes. THIS. We have the capacity to be brilliant and thoughtful while also emotional. I would even argue that devoting some energy to our emotional depth only adds to our intelligence and capacity for understanding the world around us. Whew, okay, getting off my soapbox, but the point is that there is no need to be ashamed of loving love stories. So pull those Twilight books out from under your bed. 😉

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Vinesse’s piece in the comments and as always, any book recommendations that you have!

Thanks as always for reading and until next time,

K. Hill

February Love Story Spotlight: A review of “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before”

Hey book lovers! Continuing February’s theme of reviewing love stories, today I’m going to talk about the cutest series I’ve been reading recently. The series is named after the first book, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han. This book felt like a hug and I want all my friends to read it and fall as in love with the characters as I am!


TABILF (wow, long and weird acronym. I wonder if anyone ever uses that?) tells the story of Lara Jean Song Covey, a high school junior who loves love. While she’s never actually had a boyfriend, Lara Jean has “loved” five different boys in her life. She has also gotten over each of these loves with each boy never being the wiser as to her feelings. When she wants to move on from a boy, she writes him a (usually heartfelt and maybe even a little bit sappy) love letter in which she also tells him goodbye. Since middle school, she has written, sealed, and addressed five letters and left them in a hatbox in her closet. One day, she embarrasses her little sister Kitty and in retaliation, the sneaky Kitty steals and mails those letters that were never meant to be sent. What ensues as a result is funny, sweet, and unlike any other love story I’ve read as we see Lara Jean fumble through some awkward encounters with boys from her past and learn that loving someone up close is pretty different than loving them from afar.

One distinctive part of Lara Jean’s story is that her mom was Korean while her dad is white. There is so little Asian-American representation in popular media, so I love that Han makes Lara Jean’s race so present in the novel and shows readers of all races and backgrounds what kinds of experiences Asian-American teenagers have, both similar to and different from kids of any other race. For example, Lara Jean only dresses up as recognizable Asian characters (i.e. Cho Chang from Harry Potter) for Halloween because when she’s tried other types of costumes, people have defaulted to thinking that she’s dressed as a manga character. She has a great sense of humor about it, but she is still very aware of and sometimes self-conscious about the stereotypes people place on her because of how she looks. At the same time, readers get to see that she’s proud of her mother’s background and the fun and special Korean traditions that are still a part of her life.

Lara Jean’s story is also one of strong familial love. Since her mother passed away when she was young, her father has never remarried and takes care of her and her sisters, Margot and Kitty, on his own. She and her sisters have also become incredibly close and learned to take care of each other in the ways that their father can’t. The relationship between the four of them is as tight as a family could have. Even as difficulties arise and cracks form, they find ways to come back to each other and are stronger than they were before. The love story between Lara Jean and her sisters is at least as important to the whole narrative as her romantic love story, and I found that really wonderful. It made me want to go hug my sister (and apologize retroactively for how annoying I was sometimes when we were teenagers).

Finally… Peter Kavinsky. He is one of the boys who gets a letter in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and he is maybe my biggest literary crush ever, with my love for him nearing the love that I have for my own boyfriend, who is — blessings on blessings — not fictional. And that’s all I’ll say about that. The emphasis on multiple kinds of love being equally valuable in a YA romance like To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before as well as its successors, P.S. I Still Love You and Always and Forever, Lara Jean, is excellent, and I strongly recommend this series!

Like before, I’d love to hear about your favorite love stories — romantic, familial, or otherwise — in the comments or on social media!

Hope everyone is having a lovely February so far, pun intended,

K. Hill

February Love Story Spotlight: A review of “Dumplin'”

Hi bookish friends! I’ve decided that with Valentines Day coming up and all this ~love~ in the air, I’m going to focus on reviewing love stories this month! Fortunately, I read a lot of love stories and have found some especially great ones recently. I’m starting with a YA novel that I really appreciate, not least because of its spotlight on my queen and hero, Dolly Parton. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is a sweet, funny, and especially real story of loving another person, but even more about learning to love oneself. Dolly and self-love — does it get any better?


Dumplin’ tells the tale of Willowdean Dickson, a self-proclaimed fat girl. Willowdean lives in a small southern Texas town where the biggest things to happen are high school football games and and the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. While her mom is a former Miss Teen Blue Bonnet who devotes a majority of her life to the pageant, Will could not care less for it and would rather spend her time with her best friend Ellen or working her fast food job at Harpy’s with her handsome coworker, Bo. She has always felt comfortable with being fat, in spite of the rest of the world thinking she shouldn’t be, and espouses body-positive beliefs about things like swimsuits (“There’s something about swimsuits that makes people think you have to earn the right to wear them. Do you have a body? Put a swimsuit on it!”). Everything changes for Will when she starts up a romance with her longtime crush and suddenly finds herself in a state of self-consciousness that she’s never known before, dreading when he touches her and feeling gross in her own skin. In an effort to regain the confidence and sense of self that she once knew (and a little bit to prove to her critical mother, the creator of the nickname “Dumplin,” that she can), Willowdean enters the Miss Teen Blue Bonnet pageant. Some try to bring her down, others say she’s brave and want to follow her lead in a sort of unlikely beauty queen revolution. But she doesn’t want it to be shocking or courageous for a fat girl to think she’s as worthy or beautiful as a skinny girl; she wants it to be normal.

I felt like this novel was very true to what it’s like to be a teenage girl and having to learn how to love yourself for what you are when the world is telling you all of the things that you “should” be. Willowdean is not some flawless, body-positive superhero; she frequently bounces around from “I’m a badass,” “I look amazing,” to “I hate my thighs” and “I feel huge in my swimsuit.” …which reflects the feelings of most every girl I’ve ever known. Our insecurities can show up even when we’re at our absolute best. But Willowdean also represents the power that girls and women have to push through all the forces telling us that we can’t or shouldn’t and showing the world that we can and should — even if our knees tremble and our voices shake while we do so.

Oh, and there’s a cute but realistic romance along the way. 🙂 Additionally, Dolly Parton has a huge presence from beginning to end and I just love that! Growing up, I was a frequent visitor to her theme park, Dollywood, and I love me some “Jolene.” Willowdean encapsulates her love of Dolly so well — “It wasn’t just the look of Dolly that drew us in. It was the attitude that came with knowing how ridiculous people thought she looked, but never changing a thing because she felt good about herself. To us, she is…invincible.” ❤

Last thing, there is a Dumplin’ movie coming out this year and you should totally still read the book first, but I’m so excited to watch the big screen interpretation! The cast looks awesome, and Dolly herself has apparently written new music just for the movie. Julie Murphy is probably fangirling so hard and I don’t blame her.

What are some of your favorite love stories? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on social media, linked on my homepage!

Happy February everyone! Until next time,

K. Hill

A review of “Truly Devious,” which was also Truly Delightful

Hiya, bookworms — exciting post for you today (I’m excited, anyway, and I hear that stuff is contagious) because I’m writing about a BRAND NEW book! I pre-ordered Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson about a month prior to its release last Tuesday and had been anxiously awaiting its arrival! Some snow in my area delayed it a bit, but I was thrilled to receive my ~*signed copy*~ and ~*special sticker*~ as soon as the mail was able to make it. LOOK HOW BEAUTIFUL!


Convenient that I happened to be working a Disney villains puzzle this week, huh?

Besides being beautiful, Truly Devious was a really entertaining read. It’s a YA mystery that takes place at a boarding school in Vermont called the Ellingham Academy. Ellingham is famous for its founder, the wealthy businessman Albert Ellingham, and for the kidnapping of Ellingham’s wife, daughter, and a student that took place at the school in the 1930s. The crime remains unsolved to the present, in which the story is primarily set.

Each student at the Ellingham Academy ends up there because they are in some way exceptional — one has written a book, another is constantly building and inventing things, one more has produced and starred in his own viral YouTube show. Stevie Bell finds herself at Ellingham because she is obsessed with murder mysteries, and she intends to solve the school’s own. Throughout the story, readers see Stevie get a feel for the place that her friend Nate refers to as her own personal “Murder Disney World,” a place about which she has studied every detail, educated herself on all the information available about what took place there one night in 1936. While she seeks the clues and answers that others have overlooked in the past 80 years, she finds herself unexpectedly wrapped up in a new mystery. There has been another murder at Ellingham.

Dun dun DUUUNNN. Johnson is truly one of my favorite YA authors, and her latest did not disappoint. Her characters are relatable, the dialogue clever and funny, and the plot captivating. In addition to getting straight to the heart of what it’s like to be a lover of all things murder mystery and true crime, she depicts through Stevie and friends a number of other circumstances faced by real people, young and old, such as living with an anxiety disorder, having parents/family/important people in your life with whom you completely disagree politically, and being a creative professional. She does all of this seamlessly, without it ever feeling like too many different topics are being dumped on the reader. Rather, it all made me feel more invested in the characters and like I was very much a part of Stevie’s world and life at Ellingham.

Finally, what I love/hate about Truly Devious is that it is the first book in a series. Okay, I don’t really hate it, but cliffhangers!! I now have to wait until next January to find out what happened where Johnson left me dangling. But the positive side of this is that there is still more story to come. And that’s definitely enough positive to outweigh my distaste for waiting.

While I wait, I may also revisit another Johnson mystery series that I love, Shades of London. I gave a brief review here but I definitely recommend once again that anyone who is into YA mystery/crime/sci-fi-ish things check that one out. And naturally, go pick up your copy of Truly Devious!

I’d love to hear about your favorite mysteries, YA, etc. in the comments! Always appreciate recommendations. 🙂

Happy reading until next time,

K. Hill