YOU’VE REACHED SAM by Dustin Thao

If I Stay meets Your Name in this heartfelt novel about love, loss, and what it means to say goodbye.

Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend, Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cell phone to listen to his voicemail. And Sam picks up the phone.

What would you do if you had a second chance at goodbye?

Filled with a diverse cast of characters, the heartache of first love and loss, and the kind of friends that can get you through anything, plus a touch of magic, You’ve Reached Sam will make an instant connection with anyone looking for a big emotional romance of a read.


Title : You’ve Reached Sam
Author : Dustin Thao
Format : eARC
Page Count : 304
Genre : YA romance
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : November 2, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ .5


Hollis’ 1.5 star review

I am totally shocked that a book I expected to love, or at least like, barely rates the latter. Once again, the concept is better than the execution.

It’s really hard to be invested in a tragedy, and in grief, when the main character is just.. unlikeable. Not because she’s meant to be. But she just fails to be charming, sympathetic, consistent, or.. well.. likeable. I couldn’t understand why this poor dead boy had loved her for so long or why people were so inclined to be so nice for her. I know, it sounds harsh, but I’m not being mean for fun. I’m truly baffled. I kid you not, there’s a line in the book that says ‘the empathy from being a writer’ is what makes her connect to another person’s pain. Pain she had been happy to ignore twice before; not to mention.. you don’t need to be a writer to feel for other people? And she routinely would forget to do this all the time in light of her own feelings? So.. make it make sense?

Listen, everyone’s grief journey is valid. I’m not saying she isn’t allowed to throw away her boyfriend’s things, delete any and all texts, voicemails, and photos, and literally purge his existence from her life.. all of which she does in the opening chapters. But she would also act surprised every time someone else was sad, or mentioned him, or was processing their own grief, and in between those bizarre realizations, she could be unfeeling, rude, oblivious, and just self-absorbed, all while being sad and processing her own grief. Eye twitch.

Despite this enduring connection to Sam after his death — I mean this literally, he picks up the phone when she calls him, after he’s died — I never once understood the connection (I said it twice in one sentence on purpose because it was used something like sixty times in this book and I swear I’ll see the word “connection” on the back of my eyelids when I sleep tonight). We had numerous flashbacks to their early days, some bits in the middle, and honestly they were both pretty much bland potatoes. No character, really, had much of a personality which I mean sometimes does happen with the window dressing second characters but I didn’t quite expect it from the romantic force driving the book, too.

Also, can we talk about the fact that this special connection.. wasn’t so special after all? Like, I don’t want to say more because spoilers but that.. I mean, why? How? Why? So many little things just don’t line up or seem to make sense, really.

We’ll just call this what it was : a flop. Between the uninspiring writing combined with the lack of emotional resonance, this is a story that has a mishmash of the most basic YA tropes, though not even done well, with the unique hook of having a magical phone that connects to a lost loved one to reel you in. Nothing more. Would not recommend.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

ALL’S WELL by Mona Awad

Miranda is a theatre professor whose life is less than satisfactory. After falling during a performance early in her acting career, she finds herself in constant, seemingly incurable pain and struggles to even sit still. When she hopes to revisit the glory of her acting days by having her class stage Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, she is met with a mutiny from her students, led by her least favourite undergrad–the devious Briana. Forced instead to put on Hamlet, Miranda is devastated at the duplicity of her students, underhandedness of her boss, and is consumed by frustration at the lack of control she has over her own body and life.

When she’s drowning her sorrows at the local pub one night, her path takes a sharp turn. Three mysterious men in suits who seem to know everything about her–her pain, her glory, and her deepest desires–offer to help her. After drinking a glowing, golden liquid, she wakes up the next morning with no memory of the night before, and her chronic pain has lifted. Miranda’s life starts falling into place: she is not only walking but running with ease; Briana has become gravely ill; and a twist of fate allows Miranda to stage her beloved All’s Well That Ends Well. But as a lover of the Bard, Miranda should know that sudden streaks of luck always come at a price… 

All’s Well is a searing exploration of chronic pain and depression through the classic tensions between saints and sinners, healers and witches, revenge and jealousy, love and lust to craft a completely modern and truly unique rendition of a Shakespearean play


Title : All’s Well
Author : Mona Awad
Format : eARC
Page Count : 368
Genre : contemporary / magical realism?
Publisher : Hamish Hamilton
Release Date : August 3, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ 


Hollis’ 1 star review

All’s well.. now that I have finished this book. Because this was not for me.

I don’t quite know what I expected from this; well, okay, this was one of those rare cases where I did read most of the blurb before requesting. So I expected the summary. Which does sound good. And yes, I had heard some strange and varied things about Bunny, the author’s previous release, and thought, of the two, this might be more my speed to test the waters on a new-to-me author.

But no.

While the commentary surrounding chronic pain and how it is treated in the medical community, particularly with women patients, was definitely frustrating, and heartbreaking, the writing was.. manic? Stream of conscious strangeness? And that was before the was-it-magic-or-delusion-who-even-knows.

This was just so strange, and often uncomfortable — in the sense that it was visceral and I did, often, find myself in Miranda’s shoes as if I, too, was haunted by her pain; at least in the beginning, before I started to check out. So I did feel things but I didn’t like anything I felt and, again, the rest just felt like it went a bit off the rails. It was also a bit repetitive with the actual preparation of the play, which made it feel dragged out, and.. yeah, obviously, I didn’t like this so why I’m still trying to justify the reasons, I don’t know.

I can’t make myself round up on this and definitely can’t recommend it, either.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI by Akwaeke Emezi

What does it mean for a family to lose a child they never really knew?

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son’s body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family’s struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens—and Osita struggles to understand Vivek’s escalating crisis—the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom. 

Propulsively readable, teeming with unforgettable characters, The Death of Vivek Oji is a novel of family and friendship that challenges expectations—a dramatic story of loss and transcendence that will move every reader


Title : The Death of Vivek Oji
Author : Akwaeke Emezi
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 248
Genre : contemporary/magical realism/LGBQTIAP+
Publisher : Riverhead Books
Release Date : August 4, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

This review is difficult because on the one hand I want everyone to read this but on the other I don’t want to put this in the hands of anyone who would be made uncomfortable by it. I also don’t want to give spoilers. But nor do I tend to list content warnings because a lot of people find them spoilery (as do I). So I’ll just do what I always do : if the summary sounds like something you would want to read, but you are now concerned about the content within the space around said plot, please seek out the warnings. There are lots of reviews that list them, even if mine won’t.

If, on the other hand, you’re impervious to much or all as long as it’s in a fictional setting, and you’re SOP is going in knowing nothing.. at least you’ll go in braced for anything. So I guess you’re welcome? No refunds.

Some people can’t see softness wihout wanting to hurt it.

Jokes aside, the one spoiler I’m okay going into is, well.. the title. It’s right there. Watching the story play out both after, and before, and during, the death of Vivek Oji was.. so many things. Haunting and heartbreaking, lonely and lovely, painful and proud, unthinkable and unflinching. See? So many.

Temporarily occupying this world, this town in Nigeria, this family, the little communities within the community, these issues, I was just completely swept away. Emezi’s writing is so incredible. It honestly lulled me into a safe place even as I read about things I would otherwise (and still did, don’t get me wrong) feel disconcerted by. There was such warmth and gentleness at the core of this story even as it broke your heart. Shocking everyone (!), though, I didn’t actually cry while reading this but one part in particular got me very close.

The are quite a few POVs and storylines that split off from the main story and I was fine being taken away, even though I didn’t want to be, because I just wanted to keep reading. I didn’t care what strange path we were diverted onto. And then by the end.. you see the pieces as one whole. Not just one angle, many, not just one complicated and complex life, but many. We’re all part of a bigger picture and I felt that so strongly here.

Again, I won’t be recommending this, but oh am I glad I read it. That I’ve discovered this author. And that I have more books from them to read.

WATCH OVER ME by Nina LaCour

Mila is used to being alone. Maybe that’s why she said yes to the opportunity: living in this remote place, among the flowers and the fog and the crash of waves far below.

But she hadn’t known about the ghosts.

Newly graduated from high school, Mila has aged out of the foster care system. So when she’s offered a job and a place to stay at a farm on an isolated part of the Northern California Coast, she immediately accepts. Maybe she will finally find a new home, a real home. The farm is a refuge, but also haunted by the past traumas its young residents have come to escape. And Mila’s own terrible memories are starting to rise to the surface.



Title : Watch Over Me
Author : Nina LaCour
Format : hardback
Page Count : 272
Genre : contemporary / mystery / magical realism
Publisher : Dutton Books for Young Readers
Release Date : September 15, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 



Hollis’ 3 star review

Right off the bat, I have to say : if you’re longing to fill a hole left by The Haunting of Bly Manor, I think you should absolutely pick this book up.

This story is less about jump scares and actual ghosts, though, and is more about being haunted by your own past, your own memories, and the grief we all carry around that follows us throughout our lives. It might actually be the perfect kind of fall/spooky read for those who really can’t handle big spooks, scares, or horror. This is more melancholy than anything else.

I feel the length of the read, which was short, both worked for it and against it. You want to know so much more, want some clarity (or at least I did..), and yet I wonder if more explanation, more time, would’ve ruined some of the magic of it all. It’s obviously hard to say.

This is not a new favourite read, though it is my first by this author and definitely won’t be my last, but it did satisfy that craving for more Bly Manor as well as leave me feeling a whole bunch of things. I don’t know if I can quite parse all said feelings but I felt them anyway.

If you want something haunting and heartbreaking, lovely and lonely, strange and sad, with a found family dynamic for those who have been cast adrift, look no further.

INSTANT KARMA by Marissa Meyer

In this young adult contemporary romance, a girl is suddenly gifted with the ability to cast instant karma on those around her—both good and bad.

Chronic overachiever Prudence Daniels is always quick to cast judgment on the lazy, rude, and arrogant residents of her coastal town. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, after a night out with her friends, she wakes up with the sudden ability to cast instant karma on those around her. Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from public vandals to karaoke hecklers, but there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire: Quint Erickson, her slacker of a lab partner and all-around mortal enemy. Soon, Pru begins to uncover truths about Quint, her peers, and even herself that reveal how thin the line is between virtue and vanity, generosity and greed . . . love and hate. 



Title : Instant Karma
Author : Marissa Meyer
Format : eARC
Page Count : 400
Genre : YA contemporary / magical realism
Publisher : Feiwel & Friends
Release Date : November 3, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 



Hollis’ 2 stars review

It’s not like I asked for this gift, so I figure I must’ve done something to deserve it.

So, full disclosure, I didn’t remember requesting this and when it popped up for download I did experience some minor trepidation. I’m not sure why. I just wasn’t sure about this one, even knowing as little about it as I did, so again, why on earth did I click? I blame quarantine brain.

I can punish and I can reward. It makes perfect sense. I’d just been so eager to right wrongs before that I hadn’t considered how karma flows in two directions.

And ultimately I guess my gut instinct was right. But not quite to the extent I expected. Because Prudence? Completely and utterly insufferable — even before she’s given the power to award and punish those around her for situations she infers at a glance. No context, no understandings, just snap judgments and bam, a bird shits on your car, bam you fall and break a leg, bam a baby pukes on your feet, and on and on. The reward element of her magical powers are very underutilized as is to be expected from someone who assumes she knows all and not only has a right to judge others but has somehow earned it.

So you’re officially volunteering at an animal rescue centre for the next month. How very selfless of you, dear Prudence.”
Hey, I can be selfless.
I know you can, but don’t you see the irony? You’re only doing this for the grade.
So? Actions make a person good, not motives.”
I’m not sure I agree with that.”

^^ additionally the irony is Prudence’s whole argument definitely feeds into her delusion of thinking she knows best. But also.. doesn’t the fact that she’s directing the universe to work through her to punish others also mean her actions, despite her motives, make her a bad person?

The frustrating thing is there was such a lovely element to this story, which thankfully did take up a lot of page time and is what kept me reading, regarding the animal rescue centre and all the animals requiring care and rehabilitation and, occasionally and happily, even a return to the wild. There is a big emphasis on the environment and conservation and protection of animals, both those in the wild but also farming practices and the meat industry too. It worked to ground the story, yes, but was also a nice distraction from everything else.

Ultimately, though, even though Prudence undergoes many little epiphanies and realizations that she’s erred in judging others, I’m just not sure she ever really overcame where she started from. I liked Quint, the love interest, but do not think he deserved half of what he put up with. Though he did have a line regarding his feelings towards Pru that summed it up perfectly, I think. I won’t spoil it though. It’s worth experiencing in the moment.

And, to make matters worse, there ended up being a person who deserved true karmic justice and ultimately didn’t get it. So after putting up with all Prudence’s choices for the whole book, when she finally gets the chance to make an informed decision and enact justice and retribution — even though I don’t agree with someone having that kind of power, particularly an entitled sixteen year old — the one person who does deserve it? Doesn’t get it. Arg.

This definitely wasn’t a win. It wasn’t quite terrible. But it definitely skirted the line for me. It was frustrating, and there were a few too many things left unresolved, but it wasn’t toss-the-book-across-the-room rage inducing. Plus, the image of big eyed seals are keeping me from rating this any lower. So, thank the seals.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

MISS METEOR by Tehlor Kay Mejia & Anna-Marie McLemore

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history. But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or why her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands. So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

Witty and heartfelt with characters that leap off the page, Miss Meteor is acclaimed authors Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia’s first book together.


Title : Miss Meteor
Author : Tehlor Kay Mejia & Anna-Marie McLemore
Format : ARC
Page Count : 396
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ contemporary/magical realism
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : September 22, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

If you’re looking for a lovely, heartfelt, and heartwarming story about friendship, about accepting who you are even in the face of judgment and ridicule, about taking risks, about friendship blossoming into more..? You need this book.

I am a girl worth the space I take up.

I won’t say it’s a walk in the park to read. As mentioned RE judgment and ridicule, there is a significant amount of bullying, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia within the pages of this book. There were times this was hard. There were times I wanted to set fire to certain characters. But those who were being targeted found their voices, they pushed back, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the bullies don’t win this one.

You guys aren’t, like, mad? You don’t think I’m a weirdo?
Honey, we’re not even surprised. I mean, at first I didn’t know what [pansexual] meant. I thought maybe we’d left you alone in the kitchen to wash the skillets too many times and..

This story has a magical realism element that is just.. well, magical. A little strange. A bit whimsical. A whole lot of wonderful. It helped, too, that said magical element was also surrounding my favourite POV. While Chicky’s sibling dynamic was a huge highlight of this story, and I loved that she broke out to claim something of herself, I’ll admit I didn’t quite love being in her head. At least not compared to Lita. Lita who also had the sweetest of love interests (though actually I liked both romances, yes, two for the price of one!) and.. yeah, Lita just completely won me over. I feel very soft.

“I called Kendra. She said it was okay.”
She what?
She said, ‘Yeah, sure, why don’t you just move in while you’re at it?’
Do we need to have a discussion about what sarcasm is?

This whole experience, even the hard bits, was just a delight. There are familiar elements at work — small town, battle of the classes/jocks vs not-jocks, popular kids picking on the not-populars, etc — but this’ll stand out not just because of the representation, of which there is much, but because of how lovely and supportive this group of friends are. You know me, I’m trash for an ensemble, and throw in a cause (in this case, challenging the status quo of the beauty pageant), and it all just.. works.

When you look at me, I know you see more than the shortstop, or the trans guy, or whatever people call me when they forget my name. Do you know how much I need that? Do you know what it’s like to have that when you usually don’t get it?

I highly recommend finding some #ownvoices reviewers, as their opinion should definitely take precedence over mine, but I also highly recommend you just read this book.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **