Arc Review: The Poison Season by Mara Rutherford

Title: The Poison Season
Author: Mara Rutherford
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: December 6th, 2022
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Rating: ⭐⭐

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for a complimentary earc to review. All opinions are my own.

“Leelo has spent her entire life on Endla, coexisting with the bloodthirsty Forest and respecting the poisonous lake that protects her island from outsiders who seek to destroy it. But as much as Leelo cares for her community, she struggles to accept that her younger brother will be exiled by his next birthday, unless he gains the magic of enchanted song so vital to Endla.
When Leelo sees a young outsider on the verge of drowning in the lake, she knows exactly what she’s supposed to do. But in a moment that will change everything, Leelo betrays her family, her best friend, and Endla by making an unthinkable choice.
Discovery could lead to devastating consequences for both Leelo and the outsider, Jaren, but as they grow closer, Leelo realizes that not all danger comes from beyond the lake—and they can only survive if Leelo is willing to question the very fabric of her society, her people, and herself.” (Goodreads)

I keeping going back and forth with this author. Although I liked her debut duology, the last two books (this one is included in that) she has written have just not been for me. I don’t know if it is because they are standalones or the writing. It could honestly be both. The writing, especially for this one, felt on the younger YA side and I’m just not a fan of that.

The book is told from multiple point-of-views but done in third-person narrative. The point-of-views came more from Leelo though than Jaren. It does make sense as to why it is done this way since they are from different areas but she is the one who lives on a mysterious island where outsiders are not welcome.

I don’t think the characters were bad. I just didn’t connect with them. They do go through some harsh things, especially Leelo. She has to maneuver her feelings and still try to be there for her family even though it feels like some of them belittle her. A lot of the side characters had very little page time and were mostly there for certain plotlines. Leelo very much as the “not like other girls” vibe going on and it’s one trope I just can’t do.

Even though the setting was interesting I felt like the world-building lacked overall and I still had some unanswered questions. I wouldn’t say that this book was any different than others I have read with similar styles. It was just average. 🤷‍♀️

Overall, this wasn’t for me. I wanted to like it but it is hard when the writing doesn’t work for you and you can’t connect with the characters. I love the cover though!

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Blog Tour: You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith (Arc Review)

Title: You Can Go Your Own Way
Author: Eric Smith
Genre: YA Contemporary / Romance
Publication Date: November 2nd, 2021
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐✨

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an earc to review! All opinions are my own.

No one ever said love would be easy…but did they mention it would be freezing?

Adam Stillwater is in over his head. At least, that’s what his best friend would say. And his mom. And the guy who runs the hardware store down the street. But this pinball arcade is the only piece of his dad that Adam has left, and he’s determined to protect it from Philadelphia’s newest tech mogul, who wants to turn it into another one of his cold, lifeless gaming cafés.

Whitney Mitchell doesn’t know how she got here. Her parents split up. She lost all her friends. Her boyfriend dumped her. And now she’s spending her senior year running social media for her dad’s chain of super successful gaming cafés—which mostly consists of trading insults with that decrepit old pinball arcade across town.

But when a huge snowstorm hits, Adam and Whitney suddenly find themselves trapped inside the arcade. Cut off from their families, their worlds, and their responsibilities, the tension between them seems to melt away, leaving something else in its place. But what happens when the storm stops?

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Books-A-Million / IndieBound / Apple Books / Google Play

ERIC SMITH is an author and literary agent from Elizabeth, New Jersey. When he isn’t working on other people’s books, sometimes he tries to write his own. He enjoys pop punk, video games, and crying during every movie. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and best friend, Nena, and their son, Langston. WWW.ERICSMITHROCKS.COM

Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads

Eric Smith’s first book really captured my attention since it was about videogames and being a female who loves to game. I was really excited to learn about his latest book and obviously had to jump at the chance to read it! Although it didn’t surpass his first book for me, I liked a lot of aspects about this book as well as the mentioning of Blizzard Entertainment because I play their game World of Warcraft.

The book is split into two point-of-views: Adam and Whitney. Adam’s family owns a dying out arcade that is filled with pinball machines, some being a rare find. I thought this was a cool nod to the earlier years of gaming as well as giving us a cool setting for some of the book. Whitney’s family owns an esports café which is the latest craze in gaming. I liked how their businesses showed the progression of gaming. Adam and Whitney used to be friends and since they are no longer Adam has a bit of a grudge for multiple reasons against her family and because of this there is a lot of banter between the two!

If you liked Tweet Cute and the exchanges those characters had over Twitter then you may like this one as Adam and Whitney argue over social media which also brings in other people as well. Ah, the internet! Got to love it. Some of these bystanders are other businesses that are local. This was an amazing way to show community and how small acts can bring people together especially during tough times like a blizzard. It also was funny to see some of the other shops banter back and forth as well.

You can find romance in this book and I would definitely say it can be considered enemies-to-lovers. I guess it would be more like friends-to-enemies-to-friends-to-enemies-to-lovers. It’s a complicated mess but what relationship, including friendship, isn’t? Ha. They suffered a falling out for a reason that is found out later in the book. I can understand both sides for this and I think Adam and Whitney tried their best in their own way. I did like a lot of the moments they shared together while being on friendly terms and thought they were really cute.

This book isn’t just about games or romance but also about grief, friendships, and learning to just say how you feel. There is a lot packed in but each one is sure to resonate with readers in one way or another.

Overall, this was a good book and had a lot of great aspects. I definitely would recommend for those wanting a book with a cute romance filled with banter!

CHAPTER 1

Adam

“The playfield is truly the heart of every pinball machine. All of the player’s goals are right there, splayed out in front of them. And like life, it’s up to you to find a way to reach them, with the tools you’re presented. In this case, it’s a ball.”—THE ART AND ZEN OF PINBALL REPAIR BY JAMES WATTS

The sound of collective screaming and a massive crash shake my entire workshop, and I almost stab myself with a piping-hot soldering iron.

“Adam!” my mom yells from inside the arcade. If another pack of junior high kids from the nearby Hillman Academy “accidentally” flip over a machine trying to get it to tilt, I am going to lose it. I grip the iron, the cracked brown leather wrapped around the metal handle squeaking a little against my skin, and shake my head, trying to refocus. Maybe I can finish this before it’s time to pick up that custom piece—

And another crash rattles the walls. A few parts tumble off my shelves, tiny intricate pieces of metal and glass, bits of copper wire, all clinking against my table.

I attempt to catch a few of the electronic pieces, trying not to burn myself with the iron in my other hand, and then a hammer falls off the perforated wall of tools in front of me. It collides with a small cardboard box full of pinball playfield lightbulbs, and I wince at the small crack and pop sounds.

“Goddammit,” I grumble out. I toss the soldering iron aside and try to clean up the mess. At least those lightbulbs are like, ten bucks a dozen on arcade wholesale websites. But pinball machines have a lot of lights.

“Adam!” This time it’s Chris. “Dude, where are you?”

I’m about to bolt from the workshop when I remember Mom is out there. I reach for the latest read I promised her I’d finish—We Built This Gritty by Kevin Michaels, a book on launching small businesses by an entrepreneur here in Philly that one of her colleagues is teaching at the county college—and immediately yank my hand back. The soldering iron had gone right in between the pages when I tossed it, and the book is already smoking. I pull the iron out and set it aside and flap the book around wildly, little wisps pooling up from inside the bright orange book. I flip it open.

It’s burnt right down the middle. Great. Something tells me she won’t be able to trade this back in at the campus store.

I glance over at The Beast and give the forever-in-progress Philadelphia-themed home-brewed pinball machine a pat, the glass still off the surface, wires and various parts splayed out over the playfield. My well-worn copy of The Art and Zen of Pinball Repair by James Watts sits smack in the middle of everything. I’ve still got a way to go before I can try playing Dad’s unfinished machine again, but if anyone is gonna get me there, it’s Watts. If I could just get a free chunk of time in between the studying and the arcade and the—

An array of swears echoes from inside the arcade, snapping me back.

Right. Chris. Mom. Chaos. Potentially broken and nearly irreplaceable machines worth thousands of dollars.

I unplug the soldering iron and place it in its little stand, like a quill pen in an inkwell. I wedge the now-toasty book under my arm and take a few steps to pick up some speed, to get a little force, and I push my shoulder against the dark red wooden workshop door. I push, gritting my teeth. The splintering surface presses into my arm, stinging with the pressure, until finally, the wood squeals against the frame, shrunken in and wedged together due to the sharp Philadelphia winter.

The whole workshop is like that, really, casting a major contrast to the polished, well-kept-despite-its-years pinball arcade. The cracked workshop table that is way more rickety than it has any right to be, tools showing their age with hinges that refuse to move and metal pieces falling off shrinking wood and weak plastic handles, vintage pinball parts that maybe still work, a concrete floor with a surface that’s chipping away, revealing dirt and dust, lightbulbs I don’t even remotely trust. My sad excuse for a drafting table sits off to the end of the workshop, and I’ve never really used it, preferring to fuss with plans right on the messy workshop table, next to all of Dad’s scribbles.

We could clean it up, have this room match the rest of the arcade. But I love it. It reminds me of him.

The door swings open suddenly and hits the wall inside the arcade with a loud bang.

And it is absolute chaos here.

A bunch of little kids are rushing outside, and I see a couple of adults gathering coats and their small children, who are likely about to join the exodus. The afternoon light that’s pouring in from the wide-open front door and the large plate-glass windows lining the wall make me wince. The glare hurts only slightly less than the idea of customers hustling out of here on a Saturday, easily our best, and only, solid day during the wintertime off-season. Especially now, at the end of the year, with so few days left before we close for the New Year holiday.

People don’t come to pinball arcades in the winter. Well. Maybe they do, but not when your arcade is located near all the tourist stuff in Old City, all the college students are away on break, and you don’t serve any alcohol. No tourists, no college kids, no booze, no pinball. It’s a neighborhood for expensive restaurants and niche boutiques, old-timey candy shops and artisan pour-over coffee. Not an arcade with a poor excuse for a snack bar inside that mostly serves soda, chips, and reheated chicken tenders and fries.

If it wasn’t for the upcoming Old City Winter Festival, I’m not sure we’d be able to keep the lights on come January. And there’s a businessman out in West Philadelphia who would very much like to see that happen, and there’s no way I’m going to let him do that. I’ve eaten way too many burnt chicken tenders that were “well, these are still kinda good, Adam” according to my mom, but not good enough for the customers. I’ve paid my dues.

“Mom!” I shout, looking to the back of the arcade. “Chris, what is—”

But then I see it.

On the other side of the arcade, my mom has her hands on her hips and is glaring intently at a handful of college guys who are sheepishly milling about near one of the windows. And Chris is trying to lift up a machine that’s currently knocked over, the glass that would normally be covering the playfield shattered across the floor. Another machine is tilted, leaning against a support beam, and looks okay from here. But judging by the angle and the amount of force it would have taken to get it off the legs in the first place, I’m betting we’re going to have some dents on the light box (the back of the machine that juts up over the area where you actually play, and displays the score and art).

“What the hell?” I snap, kicking the workshop door closed and storming across the arcade. My thick black boots squeak loud against the worn, polished hardwood floor, all the imperfections of the ancient Philadelphia wooden boards permanently glossed in place. A few more guys, these ones my age, weave around me, fiddling on their phones and oblivious. Bits of glass crunch under my feet, and I glance down at a bumper, red and black and looking like one of those crushed lantern fly bugs that litter the city sidewalks.

“What happened?” I ask, tossing my burnt book onto the floor. I nudge the tilted machine upright and then bend down to help Chris, who is straining to move the machine on the floor. I manage to wedge my fingers under the side, carefully tapping the metal, trying to avoid any extra glass, and lift. Chris lets out a groan and I grit my teeth as we push the machine upright, and it nearly topples back over the other way, but Mom reaches out and stops it.

“They happened.” Mom nods back at the guys who are standing about awkwardly. “Any updates there?” She points at one of them, and that’s when I realize they’re all sort of keeping an eye on one vaguely familiar-looking dude in the middle, who is fussing with his phone.

“Just a second,” he grumbles out, and he flicks his head to the side, his emo black bangs moving out of his eyes. I can’t help but squint at him, trying to place his face. Half his head is shaved, and he has this sort of Fall Out Boy look that would be cool, if he and his pals hadn’t clearly destroyed a pinball machine in my family’s arcade. A splash of anxiety hits me in the chest as I realize I don’t know what game has been totaled, and I turn to look at the machine.

Flash Gordon.

I exhale, relieved that it’s not one of the more popular or rare games in the arcade. But still, it’s a machine from the ’80s. One of the first games in the industry to use the popular Squawk & Talk soundboard, a piece of technology that is wildly expensive to replace, since it isn’t made anymore. That’s the sort of pinball trivia both Chris and my mom tend to shush when I start rambling too much, telling me “that should be a tweet,” which translates to “shut up” in the nicest way possible. I’m almost positive that’s the reason they pushed me to get the arcade on social media—to have a place to share those musings.

The machine didn’t deserve this, even if that awful movie maybe did.

I run my hand along the side of the other machine that was just bumped into, leaning on one of the wooden beams that are scattered throughout the arcade, you know, holding the building up. It’s the Terminator 2: Judgment Day machine, and thankfully, it looks undamaged. A little dented along the light box, as I suspected, but the glass and everything else seems fine. It’s a popular one with the Millennial crowd, and I’m relieved.

“How much is it going to cost to fix?” the familiar guy with the hair asks. He must catch me staring at him, ’cause his eyes flit over to mine, irritated, and I look away, focusing back on the machine.

I pluck at some of the glass on the surface, nudging around some of the broken obstacles on the playfield, and feel a sharp sting in my hand. I quickly pull away and spot a thin line of red trailing along my palm.

“Adam?”

I glance up, and my mom, Chris, and Emo Hair are all staring at me expectantly.

“What?” I ask, focusing back down at the machine and then back at all of them.

“The cost,” my mom presses. “That machine. How much do you think it’ll cost to fix all of this?” She gestures at the floor and shakes her head, her mouth a thin line. All that brewing frustration that she’s trying to bury down. Kids mess with the machines often, and we’ve certainly had a few hiccups like this before, but I’ve never seen her looking this wildly angry. I didn’t even think she liked that machine.

“Oh.” I swallow and clear my throat. “I don’t know. It depends on how bad the damage is?” I scan the playfield and then the side of the machine, which has a sizable dent in the steel that I can probably hammer out. But the shattered glass, the pieces, and who knows what’s going on inside it. I think back to Watts’s The Art and Zen of Pinball Repair, my holy tome, written by my hero.

“If you think it’s broken, it is. And if you think it’s going to be cheap to replace, it’s not.”

I stare at the broken glass.

“You know what, how’s a thousand dollars?” the familiar guy holding the phone asks. He looks around at his dude friends, their faces awash in expressions that are essentially shrugs, each nodding at him. “Everyone Venmo me two hundred after this or I’ll kick your asses.”

Some of the guys laugh while the rest break out their phones.

“Why?” scoffs one of them. “You’re the one with the money.”

Emo Hair snorts out a laugh and shakes his head, and glances back up from his screen. The fact that all of them are so relaxed about that much money irks me. The arcade is barely scraping by these days, and it’s no wonder other businesses have been sniffing around the building this year, leaving painfully awkward notes and emails for Mom. I’ve seen a few of them, here and there. The worst ones come under the guise of pretending to be supportive. Do you need anything? We’re here for you. Just checking in. And then in the same breath, bringing up property values and plummeting interest in arcades.

And despite frequent requests to stop mailing us, a local real estate developer loves sending us physical mail about the benefits of selling real estate in Old City now, and they’re always addressed to Dad. Assholes.

“What’s your Venmo?” he asks, looking at my mom and then at me. My mom and I exchange a look. He huffs. “How about PayPal? Apple Pay?”

“I mean…we could take a check?” My mom shrugs, wincing. One of the bros groans like this has somehow physically wounded him, and before I can say anything, my mom snaps a finger at the guy. “Hey, you five are the ones who broke this machine. If I want you to go get that thousand dollars in a burlap sack full of coins at the bank down the road, you’ll get it.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” one of them mutters.

“Just Venmo it to me,” Chris says, pulling out his phone. “I’ll hit the bank when I run out to pick up sidewalk salt for the snow, and get it taken care of, Mrs. Stillwater.” He glances at my mom and shakes his head at me. I know that look. He’s about to force another freaking app on me, and I don’t think I’ll be able to talk about pinball on Venmo. It was bad enough when he tricked me into joining Pinterest, convincing me it was a pinball thing.

He steps over to the pack of guys, and they’re all looking at one another and their phones and his, and I really shouldn’t be surprised that he knows how to handle this. Him and his apps. I wish he’d just run the social media for the arcade, but he says it wouldn’t sound “genuine” or something. If typos make someone sound genuine, I am very genuine.

A year behind me at Central, a junior, Chris has this whole Adam Driver look about him. Same sharp cheekbones and bits of facial hair, only a little shorter and with thin square glasses, and as geeky as you can get without actually being in a Star Wars movie. My best friend since I was eight, and our only employee in the off-season, as everyone is either a college student heading home for the break or a fellow local high schooler who has no interest in working over the winter.

He nods at the guys, looking at his phone.

“All right, I got it,” he says and then turns to us. The bros stand there for a beat.

“You can leave,” my mom snaps and points toward the door.

“Right, right,” the familiar guy says and gestures for the rest of his pack to follow. They amble out of the shop, their feet crunching the glass on the floor in a way that makes me feel like it’s on purpose. I take a step forward, but Chris reaches his arm out, his hand pressing against my chest.

I glance up at him, and he just shakes his head.

I huff and bend down to sift through the glass and pieces of machine, while my mom disappears into the back office. There are some bumpers on the ground, and a few small white flags, little targets meant to be knocked down for bonus plays, are scattered about like baby teeth. The glass, though, that really bothers me. A good sheet of playfield glass can go for a little over a hundred dollars, and while I know that’s not technically a lot of money in the grand scheme of things…we don’t have that much to spare these days.

Jorge over at NextFab, the makerspace that Chris practically lives in when he isn’t here, has been great at helping me replace some parts, as well as teaching me how to build some of my own, which is way more helpful than YouTube tutorials. But a whole sheet of glass? Bumpers with intricate circuitry and copper coils? That’s not something easily 3D printed, especially when he keeps doing it for free. And I don’t know how much of that I can manage in my workshop. Or afford, for that matter.

I look around the dirty playfield for the remaining flags but…dammit, they are nowhere to be found. At least the back glass, the lit-up artwork on the back of the machine, isn’t damaged. Flash is still there, looking dead ahead at me, alongside Dale and the…ugh, wildly racist Ming the Merciless.

Hmm.

Maybe the machine did deserve this.

Chris squats down next to me.

“Want me to grab the broom?” he asks, picking at a broken bumper.

I look back to my hand. The line in my palm is ugly but clean. I flex my hand a little, and the cut widens, and I see just how far up and down my hand it goes. I wonder if I’ll need stitches or if it’ll scar.

“Sure.” I clear my throat and both of us stand up. I glance toward the arcade’s exit, the place now empty, as Chris walks over to the snack bar. “Must be nice,” I say, “being able to drop that much money without thinking about it.”

“Yeah, well, not like his dad isn’t good for it.”

“His dad?” I ask, peering over. Chris is behind the bar, some paper towels already scattered out in front of him, a broom in one hand. Heat lamps keeping fries and onion rings warm tint his face a reddish orange for a moment before he ducks back out.

“Well, yeah?” He shrugs, walking over. He places the paper towels in my hands and nods at the cut. “Apply pressure.” He starts sweeping, moving bits of glass and broken parts into a small pile. “I swear, one more incident like this, and that is what’s gonna make me finally try to get a job at the makerspace. Or a coffee shop…” He looks up at me as I stare at him. “What? You know I can’t work in here forever, bro.”

“What do you mean what? I know that part.” I laugh. “Who is his dad? You’re just gonna leave the story hanging there?”

He nearly drops the broom but reaches out to grab the handle.

“Are you serious?” he scoffs. I shrug and he shakes his head. “Adam, that was Nick. That’s why I thought you were so mad, looking like you were about to charge after him and his goons.” I shrug again. “Jesus, Adam. Nick Mitchell.”

The stress on that last name.

Mitchell.

It sends a shock through my entire system, and I turn to look at the exit, as though he and his friends might still be there. I tighten my hand into a fist, and the pain from the cut sears through my palm, lighting me up through my forearm. And I swear, for a moment I can feel it in my head, bouncing around like a pinball against bumpers.

Nick Mitchell.

Whitney Mitchell’s brother.

And also the oldest son of the man trying to buy my father’s arcade from my mother, with plans to make it into another one of his eSports cafés. He’s been poking around all year, like a vulture circling over something that might just die any minute. But this place still has a little life in it. A little fight in it.

And dammit, so do I.

Did he even recognize me? Did he know this was our arcade? Back when me and Whitney were supposedly friends, before high school changed everything, I don’t think I ever saw him come around. But I saw him all the time at school and before her dad’s career took off, when we’d play at Whitney’s old house in South Philly. And when we were kids, everyone had their birthday parties here at the pinball arcade. With so many mutual friends and the like, he had to have been in here at some point. Until they forgot about us, like the entire building was just one giant toy that fell behind a dresser.

“All right, well, I can tell you know who he is now,” Chris says, walking back toward the snack bar. He grabs some more paper towels and thrusts them at me, nodding at my hand. I look down, and the paper wad is an awful dark red, soaked through from my rage. “Go take a seat. I’m gonna get the first-aid kit out of your workshop.”

“What about Flash Gordon?” I ask, glancing back at the messed-up machine.

“It’s a problematic racist relic. Who cares? Come on.” He laughs, reaching out and grabbing my shoulder. “Besides, if you want some replacement bits, I’m heading to the makerspace tomorrow—we can rummage for parts. Go grab a seat.” He nods at the snack bar and walks off. I turn around and pull my phone out, snapping photos of the broken pinball machine. The scratched-up metal exterior, the dented places around the playfield. I bend down and snap pictures of some of the crunched glass still on the floor, the broken parts scattered in a neat pile thanks to Chris. I even take a few photos of the dented Terminator 2: Judgment Day machine.

I stroll over to the arcade’s snack spot, Dad’s last great idea for the place, and sit down. The chairs aren’t exactly the pinnacle of comfort, and the hard wood digs into my back, but it’s what my family could afford when we first put this spot in here. It’s still passably cozy enough that local writers will drop in to play a few games, drink our bad coffee or nurse a soda, and spend the day staring at a blank screen while scrolling through Twitter instead of writing.

I sigh and glance up at the wooden shelving that looms over the café corner, a shabby-chic display that Chris’s parents helped build. Tons of Mason jars, full of coffee beans and loose-leaf tea, illuminated by strings of white Christmas twinkle lights, sit on nearly every shelf. Decor meant for hip college students and artsy creatives in West Philly, pulled from a Pinterest board someplace and made real. I think it looks pretty, but if Gordon Ramsay made an episode about our arcade’s little food corner, it would just be a twenty-eight-minute scream.

Chris walks around the side, a little first-aid kit in hand, and gestures for me to give him my hand. I hold it out and he glances back at the Flash Gordon machine.

“Real shame,” he says, wistfully looking at the shattered game.

“Yeah.” I nod. “I took a bunch of photos to post—”

Pssssssst!

There’s the sound of spraying, and I scream, yanking my hand away. I glare at him, and he’s sporting the widest grin I’ve ever seen, a bottle of spray-on rubbing alcohol in his hand.

“Argh!” I groan. “Why!”

“Kidding, fuck that game.” He laughs.

“You could have told me you were going to do that!” I shout. He tilts his head a little at me. “Fine, you’re right—I would have made a scene over it.”

“Everything okay?” Mom’s in the doorway to the office, peeking out.

“Yeah, Mrs. Stillwater,” Chris says.

My mom scowls at the two of us before breaking into a little smile, but that expression disappears as her line of sight moves toward the broken pinball machine. She closes the door, and I look back at the exit to the arcade again. I feel like with every setback this place has had this year, it gets us one step closer to my mom putting the pinball machines in storage for good and selling the place to Mr. Mitchell. And two damaged machines, one of which is basically destroyed, isn’t going to help.

“And I’m gonna need you to stop it,” Chris says, reaching out and grabbing my hand, slapping a large Band-Aid on my palm. I wince and suck air through my teeth, and he just gives me a look. He pulls out some of that gauze-wrap stuff and starts to bandage up the big Band-Aid, keeping it pressed to my palm. “That guy isn’t worth it, that machine isn’t worth it, and that family definitely isn’t worth getting all riled up over.”

“He had to have known this was my place,” I grumble. “Whitney probably sent him here. If not her, then definitely her father.”

“Oh, come on,” Chris scoffs. “I’m not her biggest fan either, and I know you two don’t get along, but she isn’t some nefarious supervillain. And her dad isn’t going to send henchmen here. When was the last time you and her even talked, outside of snarky social media posts? You like pinball, she likes playing Fortnite and Overwatch. Not exactly a blood feud.”

“I’m not even sure she’s into the video games at her dad’s places or whatever,” I grumble. At least, she wasn’t into video games when we were kids, always so irritated when we’d retreat inside to get in games of Halo. “Besides, you don’t understand.” I shake my head, trying to chase away the memories of that summer before high school and those first days wandering the halls at Central. Her and her new friends, leaning against their lockers, matching jean jackets and bright lip gloss. She was like an entirely new person, and the way she laughed with them when I walked over to say hi…

“Anyway.” I clear my throat. “I wouldn’t put it past her.”

“You need to spend more time worrying about the people who are there for you and less about those who aren’t,” he says, fastening the gauze together with two little metal clips. “Maybe go on a date with someone or something.”

“How do you even know how to do this?” I lift my hand up, flexing my fingers, ignoring the dating question. “There’s no time for that, between the arcade and school. If I kiss a girl by the end of my senior year, it’ll be a miracle.”

“Please, my dads are carpenters and you know how I spend my free time,” he says. “It’s best to be prepared in case someone loses a finger at home or in the shop or at the makerspace.”

I laugh and again find myself looking toward the door. I let out a long exhale through my nose.

“You think we’re going to get anyone else in here today?” Chris asks. “It’s just, you know, maybe I could duck out early to go work on stuff?” There’s this beat of silence that doesn’t need to be filled, and I sigh.

“I think we both know the answer there, right?” With the snowstorm we all know is coming, the brutally cold gusts of wind, and the fact that business slows to a crawl right before the Old City Winter Festival, there’s not much to even say.

I lean back in my chair a little, the sharp pain of the wood digging into my back weirdly comforting, distracting me from my hand and thoughts of Nick and Whitney and that whole terrible family.

“Do you need to talk?” Chris asks, and I glance back at him. “I mean, I can hang a bit longer if you need me.” He digs around in his pocket and pulls out a little candy bag and waves it at me, the plastic crinkling. Swedish Fish. Not the regular kind either; the tropical sort, with orange, pink, purple, and off-white fish in the mix. He shakes it until one drops out onto his hand, and he holds it up between his fingers. “I grabbed a bag at the CVS before I came over here, for my dads. Didn’t realize we’d have to use it, though.”

“Oh, God, no,” I whine. “If you’re gonna do that to me, just leave.”

Whenever Chris’s parents want to talk about “big feelings,” they break out these Swedish Fish candies. Have something important to say? Out comes the candy. It’s usually something critical that might make someone feel upset, but it’s the way you’re feeling, so it’s good to get it all out. Then pair it with something that makes you feel good while you’re hearing something that might make you feel bad.

It was a tradition Chris first told me about when we were really little, and one that’s been ongoing. I’m not quite sure why Swedish Fish are the candy of choice, but I’m guessing it’s because you can buy them in bulk at the South Philadelphia IKEA. He’s since introduced it to me and all our friends. Tell someone how you feel, let them eat the candy, and take in all those thoughts and emotions. Or, give someone the opportunity to say how they’re feeling, and take it all in. Simple enough. And while we don’t practice it at home, my mom often likes to say, “Do you need a fish?” when she thinks I have something I need to talk about.

I hate it so much.

“I hate this so much,” I grumble and pluck the fish from between his fingers.

“Listen,” he says, reaching out and closing my good hand around the candy. “You’re upset. You’re thinking about Whitney and the Mitchells. Nick and the boys. Both of those sound like terrible West Philadelphia indie rock bands. And you’re thinking about maybe going on Twitter and saying something snippy on social media. That what those pictures are for? Yeah?”

“N-no.” I barely stammer the word out. “It’s for…insurance.”

He gives me a look.

“You’re the worst.” I glower at him.

“Nothing good ever comes out of these little fights you have with Whitney online.” He presses, pointing at me. “All you do is get all the stores in the neighborhood riled up, dunking on one another. As if you get points for dunking on people online.”

“You’re the one who taught me how to use social media.”

“Don’t give me the whole ‘I learned it from watching you’ thing. Resist the urge to go online. It’s a waste of your energy,” he says, nodding at me. “Save your online presence for posting your pinball puns and facts. Now, eat your candy.”

“No.” I glare at him.

“Fine, fine.” He smiles, shaking his head, and pulls out his phone. “I’m gonna head off to NextFab. You behave.”

“Ugh, can’t you just work on your weird woodworking coffee things in the workshop?” I groan and gesture toward the red door on the other side of the arcade. “Then you could just be here all the time.”

He laughs and then sighs. “What are you going to do here without me?” he asks.

“Hmph,” I huff. “Probably have a meltdown on the regular.”

He reaches over and taps the screen of my phone, and my eyes flit up to him. “Don’t do it, and you’ll be fine,” he says and then bends over to grab his backpack. It’s this beaten-up leather thing that looks straight out of an old movie. I half expect to see it filled with vintage books tied together in beige string, but I know it’s just full of woodworking tools, and depending on the day, some glassblowing stuff. It’s not lost on me that my best friend spends all his time creating beautiful new things out of nothing, while I stress over repairing machines older than I am every single day.

He walks out of the snack bar and toward the door but stops and turns around.

“And hey, if you need to talk—” he throws something, and I reach out to catch whatever it is that is flapping its way toward me; the plastic bag of Swedish Fish makes a loud crinkling sound as I grab it out of the air “—text me. But I’m gonna want pictures of you eating your candy. It’s important that you trust the process.”

He’s out the front door, and I’m alone in the arcade with his candy and my phone.

Excerpted from You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith, © 2021 by Eric Smith, used with permission from Inkyard Press/HarperCollins.

Arc Review: The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker

Title: The Keeper of Night
Author: Kylie Lee Baker
Genre: YA Fantasy / Historical Fiction
Publication Date: October 12th, 2021
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an earc to review! All opinions are my own.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough has been collecting souls in the London streets for centuries. Expected to obey the harsh hierarchy of the Reapers who despise her, Ren conceals her emotions and avoids her tormentors as best she can.

When her failure to control her Shinigami abilities drives Ren out of London, she flees to Japan to seek the acceptance she’s never gotten from her fellow Reapers. Accompanied by her younger brother, the only being on earth to care for her, Ren enters the Japanese underworld to serve the Goddess of Death… only to learn that here, too, she must prove herself worthy. Determined to earn respect, Ren accepts an impossible task—find and eliminate three dangerous Yokai demons—and learns how far she’ll go to claim her place at Death’s side.” (Goodreads)

Although I found this book to be good, I wasn’t blown away by it like I have been by other books that deal with Japanese mythology. I will say that the author does a great job of taking it and making it her own by adding Reapers and creating a main character that is split between two worlds.

From the beginning, the main character Ren struggles with who she is as her parents come from different places. She doesn’t know where she belongs and has never been to where her mother was from. I never connected with Ren myself but I can see others being able to. Besides her brother, the family dynamic of the book isn’t talked about much. I do like sibling bonds but I also would have liked to understand the family as a whole better since she was so willing to runaway from it all. Ren goes through a lot of changes when it comes to her character development and by the end I would say that she could definitely lean towards morally grey.

There is one character that really stood out to me and that was Hiro. He was very mysterious but also willing to help Ren get where she wanted to be. The plot twists that involved him were very intense! I did like them and they gave the second half of the book spice.

The most interesting part of the book was the combining of two worlds: Reapers and Shinigamis. I liked learning about them but I also felt that we could have been given more details about the Reapers. The book starts off with them but by 10% Ren and her brother are already running away so we never get to see how their ranking works and what exactly goes on besides the little snippet of Ren doing her job right at the beginning.

Overall, this was a good book. I think that more details were needed for some aspects of the book but I do think readers will enjoy this one if they like Shadow of the Fox and other books similar to that.

Arc Review: Luminous by Mara Rutherford

Title: Luminous
Author: Mara Rutherford
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: October 5th, 2021
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐✨

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for an earc to review! All opinions are my own.

“Liora has spent her life in hiding, knowing discovery could mean falling prey to the king’s warlock, Darius, who uses mages’ magic to grow his own power. But when her worst nightmare comes to pass, Darius doesn’t take her. Instead, he demands that her younger sister return to the capital with him. To make matters worse, Evran, Liora’s childhood friend and the only one who knows her secret, goes missing following Darius’s visit, leaving her without anyone to turn to.

To find Evran and to save her sister, Liora must embrace the power she has always feared. But the greatest danger she’ll face is yet to come, for Darius has plans in motion that will cause the world to fall into chaos–and Liora and Evran may be the only ones who can stop him.” (Goodreads)

I was excited to start another book by this author after liking her debut duology. She does a good job of creating such an interesting plot and this one had that same quality. Although I did like it overall, I still had a couple issues with it as well.

Liora has magic but isn’t able to use and must be very strict when it comes to going into town. Her seclusion felt a lot like Rapunzel’s from Tangled. She even glows at time but it’s not her hair. You can tell that she loves her family and would do anything for her sisters, especially the youngest one. There are a couple quarrels between them and hints of jealousy but what sibling bond doesn’t have that? Liora has good development throughout the book as she tries to understand her abilities while also learning more about the Lord Darius that everyone is afraid of.

Lord Darius is an interesting guy and usually I don’t like villains but I did take a liking to him. He definitely is more complicated than what is led on at the beginning and I also liked his development as well.

There is some romance in this book. To me, it felt very minor and it also was one of those where Liora already has feelings for him after being friends with him. This development obviously happens off the page so it was hard to actually feel anything for them when they were together. I also didn’t like the development the relationship throughout the book. Liora knows what she wants by Evran is very wishy-washy and the whole trying to let her go to save her got old real quick.

As I mentioned previously, the plot is very unique and what really makes this story. The magic system isn’t new and there are some abilities that have been used before but she still makes the ones that a very present throughout the book special in their own way. Using a star/light as a magical ability was fun to read about and I liked to see how it involved Lord Darius and what Liora would do with her power.

There are some plot twists that I definitely wasn’t expecting. It made the pacing of the book good but the ending felt very rushed with all of the reveals just feeling very anticlimactic which is one of the things I dislike the most about books.

Overall, this was good. I liked the use of magic and the growth in Liora as she learns more about her specific magic along the way.

Mini E-Arc Review: The Flipside of Perfect by Liz Reinhardt

Title: The Flipside of Perfect
Author: Liz Reinhardt
Genre: YA Contemporary / Romance
Publication Date: April 6th 2021
Publisher: Inkyard Press

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an earc to review! All opinions are my own.




What happens when her two worlds collide?

AJ is a buttoned-up, responsible student attending a high-achieving high school in Michigan. She lives with her mother, stepfather and two younger half sisters.

Della spends every summer with her father in Florida. A free-spirited wild child, she spends as much time as possible on the beach with her friends and older siblings.

But there’s a catch: AJ and Della are the same person. Adelaide Beloise Jepsen to be exact, and she does everything she can to keep her school and summer lives separate.

When her middle sister crashes her carefree summer getaway, Adelaide’s plans fall apart. In order to help her sister, save her unexpected friendship with a guy who might just be perfect for her, and discover the truth about her own past, Adelaide will have to reconcile the two sides of herself and face the fact that it’s perfectly okay not to be perfect all the time.” (Goodreads)

I absolutely love this cover and premise for this book. Living two different lives and having them come together is just asking for trouble, haha.

There are good moments in this book but I just couldn’t get behind the main character. Aj/Della was a bit confusing at first because you can easily forget that they are the same person. She has divorced parents and decides to live two different lives because of it. I’m not really sure that’s the best way but we all cope in different ways.

I didn’t care for the other characters, Lex being the worst. What a dillweed!

One of the bigger issues I struggled with was the writing. It was hard to get into and sometimes the characters kind of just meshed together.

Overall, it just wasn’t a book for me but I can see others liking this story especially if they can relate to the family dynamic.

E-Arc Review: Kingdom of Sea and Stone (Crown of Coral and Pearl #2) by Mara Rutherford

Title: Kingdom of Sea and Stone (Crown of Coral and Pearl #2)
Author: Mara Rutherford
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Date: October 6th, 2020
Publisher: Inkyard Press

Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an e-copy to review. All opinions are my own.




“Ever since Nor was forced to go to a nearby kingdom in her sister’s place, she’s wanted nothing more than to return to the place and people she loves. But when her wish comes true, she soon finds herself cast out from both worlds, with a war on the horizon.

As an old enemy resurfaces more powerful than ever, Nor will have to keep the kingdom from falling apart with the help of Prince Talin and Nor’s twin sister, Zadie. There are forces within the world more mysterious than any of them ever guessed—and they’ll need to stay alive long enough to conquer them…” (Goodreads)

I was really looking forward to finishing up this duology this year. The first book was amazing and grabbed my attention right away. Although I liked bits here and there for the sequel, it just didn’t live up to my expectations.

One thing I was very curious about when it came to the sequel was the plot. The ending to the first left us with many questions.

For me, this plot was filled with too much will they or won’t they and not enough action. I was excited to see Talin and Nor. They never got a chance at happiness in book one due to many reasons and even though things were still unsettled, at least they were together. The thing is, I didn’t really like the parts with them. Nor didn’t seem to be interested him and kept trying to tell people they weren’t really together. If you truly loved someone why would you do that? I just felt that there was so much buildup for them in book one and in this one it just fell short.

As for the rest of the plot, there were some good action scenes and I enjoyed seeing new faces. Roan was pretty cool and I really liked his characters. I also liked that there was development between the sisters, Nor and Zadie. After them being away from each other for so long it was nice to see them together.

When it came to the villain part of the story, I did expect more. The ending wrapped up too nicely.

Overall, it was decent. It did take me a lot longer to read because it was just hard to get into at times. There were good moments but not enough for me to really enjoy it.

Blog Tour: Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith (Review)

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40665154._SY475_Title: Don’t Read the Comments
Author: Eric Smith
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publication Date: January 28th, 2019
Hardcover
$18.99 USD, $23.99 CAD
Ages 13 And Up
368 pages

Thank you to Harlequin Trade Publishing for asking me to be a part of this tour! eARC provided by publisher through NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

synopsis header
“Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.” (Goodreads)

Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Books-a-Million /Kobo / Indie Bound / Google Play

authorbio

ERIC_SMITH_AUTHOR_PICEric Smith is an author, prolific book blogger, and literary agent from New Jersey, currently living in Philadelphia. Smith cohosts Book Riot’s newest podcast, HEY YA, with non-fiction YA author Kelly Jensen. He can regularly be found writing for Book Riot’s blog, as well as Barnes & Noble’s Teen Reads blog, Paste Magazine, and Publishing Crawl. Smith also has a growing Twitter platform of over 40,000 followers (@ericsmithrocks).

Website / Twitter / Instagram / Facebook

reviewheader
I was really excited to be approved for this title because I am a gamer and thought the premise sounded awesome. There were some good topics discussed in this book and although I can’t talk about the racial issues, I can talk about being a female gamer.

I have been a gamer since my family got a super Nintendo back in the day. Since World of Warcraft came out, I have been a MMO gamer and have tried many different ones throughout the years. It was cool to see them mention a few and even older ones like Ultima. I have also played Call of Duty and I think that is where I have ran into the most trolls when it comes to me being a female.

I definitely could relate to Divya because of the way other gamers called her names. I have been called numerous ones just for being a girl. Divya always talked about not reading the comments and although its easy to do for the most part, it’s different when you can hear them say it like on Call of Duty. As for MMO gaming, I really haven’t ran into many issues because of my gender since they don’t know who is behind the screen unless I get into a chat like Discord. Of course, you will get the infamous troll that says, “girls don’t play videogames!” but it’s easy to ignore.

Divya stuck up for herself throughout the book and had friends and fellow gamers stand by her side. The gaming community can be a great community but just like any other, you will always have trolls. I liked this book’s take on it all and I thought it was done nicely.

As for the other characters, there wasn’t too much development for Divya’s and Aaron’s friends but I still thought they were good characters. Aaron isn’t a big gamer but is there to support Divya. He does face racism and I thought it was a good topic to include.

Another thing I liked about this book was the mention of bookstagram. I have one and the community is a great place to make friends and since this book mentions it maybe others will want to know what it is and take part in it!

Overall, I enjoyed this one and glad I got the chance to read a book about a topic that I am familiar with.

-Joanna TheGeekishBrunette (1)