Spotlight Review: HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert

January 10, 2023

From the publisher:

From the New York Times bestselling author of the Brown Sisters trilogy, comes a laugh-out-loud story about a quirky content creator and a clean-cut athlete testing their abilities to survive the great outdoors—and each other.

Bradley Graeme is pretty much perfect. He’s a star football player, manages his OCD well (enough), and comes out on top in all his classes . . . except the ones he shares with his ex-best friend, Celine.

Celine Bangura is conspiracy-theory-obsessed. Social media followers eat up her takes on everything from UFOs to holiday overconsumption—yet, she’s still not cool enough for the popular kids’ table. Which is why Brad abandoned her for the in-crowd years ago. (At least, that’s how Celine sees it.)

These days, there’s nothing between them other than petty insults and academic rivalry. So when Celine signs up for a survival course in the woods, she’s surprised to find Brad right beside her.

Forced to work as a team for the chance to win a grand prize, these two teens must trudge through not just mud and dirt but their messy past. And as this adventure brings them closer together, they begin to remember the good bits of their history. But has too much time passed . . . or just enough to spark a whole new kind of relationship?

 “A zippy rom-com with strong characterization, bursting with Gen Z–approved verbal sparring and stolen kisses.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A great addition to any library’s YA shelves, especially where there’s a gap in the collection for love stories featuring Black teens.”—David Roberts, School Library Journal

I loved all of Hibbert’s books, so when this book start showing up on all the “2023 romances not to be missed” lists, I was all in. This book is firmly set in young adult (YA) territory, not something I read very often. I haven’t been a YA for more years than I care to think about! But my love for this author won out, and I’m very glad I read it.

Celine and Brad are our main protagonists in this friends-to-enemies-to-lovers romance. And they happen to be Black, and both have some mental health issues. Brad has been struggling with OCD but through therapy has learned how to manage it. For the most part. Celine has some self-esteem issues, yet comes across as really full of herself, the know-it-all of the school. Luckily, her grades reflect that, but deep inside she knows she’s different, and not necessarily in a good way.

Their mothers are best friends, and Celine and Brad were as well until they got to high school. Football (soccer) star Brad becomes one of the most popular kids, and Celine feels like he is leaving her behind. They are either ignoring one another or sniping at one another, there is no in-between with them. Until they both apply for this very prestigious scholarship program.

Brad wants the scholarship because that will give him the freedom to live on his own, without having to deal with a roommate. His OCD is best managed when he doesn’t have to deal with other people’s messes. Celine wants the scholarship because one of the sponsors is the law firm where the father who abandoned her works, and she wants to rub his face in her success.

This scholarship competition involves two camping trips where all the students will be constantly observed and graded on their teamwork and leadership skills. The top three scores win full rides to the college of their choice. And just having gone through the process – it is limited to only 20 participants – can give these students a formidable leg up, both in their college choices and careers that lie ahead. But both Celine and Brad know that sniping at each other is going to cause them both to lose, so a truce is declared. As they work together, they both start remembering why they were such good friends and eventually, their fake friendship becomes real again. And then it becomes something more.

I am no judge as to what teens or 20-somethings like in a book, so all I can say is that I loved it. The story was completely absorbing, and I couldn’t help but care about Celine and Brad. I wanted them to find their happy ending, even though they were so young and still had their whole lives ahead of them. It all rang true to me, especially the way they both struggled to find the courage to say “I love you.” I met my husband when I was 17, and he was 19, and here we are 40+ years later, so I believe that you can find your person at any age if you’re lucky!

1/2023 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS AND UNFAIRLY CUTE by Talia Hibbert. Joy Revolution (January 3, 2023). ISBN:‎ 978-0593482353. 336p.







October 24, 2019

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When the Addamsville high school janitor is killed in a suspicious house fire, Zora Novak is the prime suspect in the arson.  After all, she has a history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to fire, and the Novak family is not exactly beloved by the rest of the citizens of Addamsville.  What no one else knows is that Zora can see ghosts and hunts demons called firestarters.  With the whole town turning against her, Zora begins looking for the real killer, who is likely connected to a string of deadly fires that struck Addamsville thirty years earlier.  Zora’s investigation, with help from her cousin Artemis, is complicated when the crew of a ghost-hunting television show arrives in town.

If you are like me and prefer your ghost stories to fall more into the category of creepy and atmospheric than outright horror, then you will likely enjoy Zappia’s latest novel.   Zappia does an excellent job of establishing the world and lore of Addmasville.  From the descriptions of the small midwestern town and its history of the paranormal, to Zora’s own family history of a missing mother and an ability to see ghosts.  Zora’s propensity to get in trouble while trying to secretly fight monsters will likely remind many readers of a certain Vampire Slayer.  Zora is a compelling main character who is resourceful, snarky and surrounded by an interesting cast of secondary characters, including her cousin and older sister, who are also willing to jump in a fight Addamsville’s ghosts and demons.  The plot moves quickly, and with plenty of descriptions of abandoned mines, cemetery’s and old houses, Now Entering Addamsville is the perfect read for the Halloween season. Now Entering Addamsville has a satisfying conclusion, but Zappia leaves enough of loose ends that there is plenty of material for a sequel, and I am eager for the chance to return to Addamsville.

A creepy Halloween read perfect for fans of Stranger Things, Supernatural, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

10/19 Caitlin Brisson

NOW ENTERING ADDAMSVILLE by Francesca Zappia. Greenwillow Books (October 1, 2019). ISBN 9780062935274. 368 p.



MY PLAIN JANE by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows & Brodi Ashton

October 6, 2019

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From the publisher:

Move over, Charlotte Brontë. The authors of the New York Times bestselling My Lady Jane are back with an irreverent spin on Jane Eyre—a tale of mischief, romance, and supernatural mayhem perfect for fans of The Princess Bride or A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue.

You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

There are three main plot lines at work in this supernatural twist on the classic novel Jane Eyre: Charlotte Brontë who, longing for adventure, follows her best friend Jane to Thornfield Hall; Jane Eyre the orphaned governess who can also see ghosts; and Alexander Blackwood an agent of the Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits.  Honestly it was all kind of a convoluted mess to me.

Jane Eyre is one of my all-time favorite books so venturing into a remix of that book was bound to be dangerous territory for me.  Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester’s characters are so unrecognizable that it seems a stretch to even call this a Jane Eyre retelling. The Jane in this book is depicted as boy crazy and lacks the strength and independence that is so integral to the character.  I know that this book is a comedy, but I never want to see Jane Eyre describe Mr. Rochester’s hair as “floppy” again.  There were also numerous cases where it felt like the authors had simply watched a television or movie adaptation of Jane Eyre instead of referring to the source material.

The writing style of My Plain Jane also took some time to adjust to. There are lots of asides from the authors and it is all liberally sprinkled with pop culture references to everything from the Princess Bride to the Lord of the Rings. With so many plot lines and humorous references competing for attention the novel seemed to ultimately lack focus.

To be fair, I seem to be in the minority in not enjoying this second installment of The Lady Janies series.  Both My Lady Jane and My Plain Jane have received lots of buzz and positive reviews in the Young Adult book world.  For me, however, the humor fell flat, the plot was convoluted, and the authors strayed so far from the spirit of Jane Eyre that I wondered why they made the choice to use it as source material at all.

MY PLAIN JANE by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows & Brodi Ashton. HarperTeen (June 26, 2018). ISBN 9780062652775. 464p.




September 22, 2019

High School Is Hell

Buffy Summers just wants to be a normal teenager and make friends at her new high school.  Being normal, however, is difficult when you are the one Slayer chosen to fight vampires and the forces of evil.

Graphic novels based on beloved television franchises can be hit or miss, and do not necessarily capture the magic of their source material.  To be clear, this new series should not be confused with the graphic novel continuation of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series (Season 8, Season 9, etc.). Instead this new series seeks to answer the question: What if Buffy Summers was a teenager in 2019 instead of 1999?  Volume 1: High School is Hell achieves this mission with varying degrees of success.  Volume 1 is not a retread of stories told in the television series, and instead tells a new story set in Sunnydale and featuring familiar characters. The story moves quickly, and Bellaire has done a respectable job of recreating all the main characters in graphic novel form.  The voices of the Scooby Gang, Giles, and Spike all feel true to character.  There are also some positive updates. Willow is openly gay and has a girlfriend, and Sunnydale High features diversity that was clearly lacking in the television series. Some changes, however, are a little more puzzling.  In seeking to recast Cordelia as a nice popular girl, much of the character’s edge has been lost, and this Cordelia comes across as far too naive and trusting. For the most part, the dialogue is witty, but there were a few times that I felt Bellaire’s attempts to capture the iconic “Whedon speak” of the television series were not entirely successful, and instead read closer to parody.  Dan Mora’s illustrations are full of energy and felt like a good fit for the story.  He showed close attention to detail to familiar settings, such as the library, and the characters were all recognizable- just updated to 2019 fashion and style.

Was it entirely necessary to revisit this series in a current day setting and replace Buffy’s pager with an iPhone? I’m not too sure.  But I am intrigued enough, and Volume 1 ended on enough of a cliffhanger, that I will check out Volume 2 when it is released in February 2020.

9/19 Caitlin Brisson

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, VOL. 1: HIGH SCHOOL IS HELL by Jordie Bellaire. Illustrated by Dan Mora. BOOM! Studios (May 28, 2019). ISBN 9781684153572. 128p.


PUMPKINHEADS by Rainbow Rowell

September 15, 2019

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Josiah and Deja are seasonal best friends.  Every fall they spend two months together working at DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch, and then don’t see each other again until they return to work the following September.  But this Halloween is different, it is their senior year of high school, and it is their last ever shift at the pumpkin patch.  Josiah is hoping to secure the title of Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person for the fifth time, but Deja has a different plan.  Her plan involves playing hooky from their final shift at the Succotash Hut and seizing the moment by setting off on an adventure across the patch.

Let me start by saying graphic novels are not my preferred genre, I respect the talent that goes into creating them, but they usually don’t connect with me.  When I saw that Rainbow Rowell had written a graphic novel, however, I knew I had to read it.  Luckily Pumpkinheads did not disappoint.  Josiah and Deja’s characters were well developed despite the short length of the story and limited text (Hicks’ expressive facial illustrations also deserve credit here).  Within a short time-frame Rowell fills the reader in on the foundation of their friendship making the reader invested in the result of their mad dash across the pumpkin patch.  Rowell’s dialogue is engaging and humorous, with Deja’s bubbly personality and penchant for seizing the moment complimenting Josiah’s shyness and sense of duty to his beloved pumpkin patch.

As for the illustrations, Faith Erin Hicks brings DeKnock’s Pumpkin Patch and the feeling of a cozy fall evening to life.  Her illustrations are detailed, make use of a crisp fall color palate, and include plenty of humorous touches. The inclusion of a map of the patch on the inside cover of the book was a nice addition. You will want to visit the Pie Palace, S’Mores Pit, and Corn Maize while trying a Pumpkin Bomb and kettle corn.

Overall, a charming story of friendship set against a delightful fall background.

9/19 Caitlin Brisson

PUMPKINHEADS by Rainbow Rowell. Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. First Second (August 27, 2019). ISBN 9781250312853. 224p.




May 6, 2019

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From the publisher:

This Is Not A Love Scene rings brilliantly true from the first page to the last.” ―David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling author 

Funny, emotional, and refreshingly honest, S.C. Megale’s This is Not a Love Scene is for anyone who can relate to feeling different while navigating the terrifying and thrilling waters of first love.

Lights, camera―all Maeve needs is action. But at eighteen, a rare form of muscular dystrophy usually stands in the way of romance. She’s got her friends, her humor, and a passion for filmmaking to keep her focus off consistent rejection…and the hot older guy starring in her senior film project.

Tall, bearded, and always swaying, Cole Stone is everything Maeve can’t be. And she likes it. Between takes, their chemistry is shockingly electric.

Suddenly, Maeve gets a taste of typical teenage dating life, but girls in wheelchairs don’t get the hot guy―right? Cole’s attention challenges everything she once believed about her self-image and hopes for love. But figuring this out, both emotionally and physically, won’t be easy for either of them. Maeve must choose between what she needs and what she wants, while Cole has a tendency to avoid decisions altogether. And the future might not wait for either.


Let me start off by saying I LOVE THIS BOOK! I don’t read a whole lot of young adult fiction, but I heard about this book in a webinar with the publisher about books they were excited about. This book came up, so I requested a copy. At the time, Megale’s publicist didn’t even have galleys so she sent me hers, which I then lent out to librarians who do read/recommend YA. So far I’m batting 100%, everyone I know who has read it has also loved it. One of the reasons I started blogging about books is because I’m so opinionated, and when I find a book I love I want everyone to read it. So go read this book!

Maeve is a character that you can’t help but root for. She is in a wheelchair but that is no deterrent to this strong young woman. She is determined to live her best life and she truly succeeds. Of course she has plenty of teenage angst along the way. I liked her parents and her friends a lot, the characters are all well drawn and brought to life. The author shares some similar issues with the protagonist, and perhaps that’s why this story rings so true. I won’t be forgetting Maeve or her story for a very long time.

This is an intelligent love story filled with pathos, humor, and enough drama to keep things interesting. This is Not a Love Scene is an important and wonderful read, sure to make my best books of the year list. Don’t miss it!

5/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THIS IS NOT A LOVE SCENE by S. C. Megale. Wednesday Books (May 7, 2019).  ISBN 978-1250190499.  320p.




I HAVE LOST MY WAY by Gayle Forman

April 5, 2018

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Gayle Forman is one of those authors that I will read anything she writes, and I can’t say that about too many authors, especially those who write books for young adults. She’s just a great storyteller, and if you haven’t read her, or read a young adult bool before, try this one. It’s short, only 272 pages, and it moves. The writing is beautiful, the characters interesting and believable, and the story spans out over the course of one day. It explores themes of friendship and empathy, love and kindness and family.

Freya is supposed to be the next big thing, a young singing sensation. She and her sister started out creating their own YouTube videos, but were discovered by a “star maker” who quickly ditched the sister and took over Freya’s life. For two years he’s been building up her reputation and now she is poised to become “it.” Except for one tiny detail; she’s apparently lost her voice while recording her first album. Not simply a case of laryngitis, but something more primal and psychological is at play here.

To avoid being fired, Freya takes off for a walk through Central Park where she accidentally stumbles off the edge of a bridge, landing on a young man below. His name is Nathaniel, and he is recently arrived in the city with some scary plans of his own. Nathaniel has been knocked unconscious, and Freya grabs hold of another young man, Harun, who was walking by at that moment.

Harun recognizes her at once; his boyfriend was a huge fan. Or ex-boyfriend, as the case may be. Harun is hurting. James was his first boyfriend, and he fears that his parents, immigrants, would not understand or approve of his homosexuality, so he is keeping it secret and the secret is killing him.

These three teenagers have all lost their way in life, and at their age that is a scary thing indeed. They end up spending the day together and doing a lot of growing up. I don’t want to give away anything else, just know that I fell in love with these people and read their story in one afternoon. I loved it.

4/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

I HAVE LOST MY WAY by Gayle Forman. Viking Books for Young Readers (March 27, 2018). ISBN 978-0425290774.  272p.


AUTOBOYOGRAPHY by Christina Lauren

October 29, 2017

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Christina Lauren is the pen name of two women who write together. They write Young Adult and adult fiction, and have a new adult book, Roomies, coming out in November that is terrific. I mentioned it to a co-worker and she recommended I read this book. Thank you, Caitlin! I loved this book.

Autumn and Tanner have been best friends since he moved to Provo, Utah from California. They moved for his mother, Jenna’s job – she’s a high tech genius who left Google to become CTO of a Utah company. His father is a very well respected cardiac surgeon, and needless to say, the family is comfortable financially and very liberal. Tanner’s mom was raised in Salt Lake City as a Mormon, but when her sister came out as a lesbian and Jenna married her Jewish husband, she was ex-communicated and her family disowned both daughters. She has a healthy fear of Mormons and their narrow worldview because of her background.

Tanner is bisexual, which was fine in California and fine with his parents, but not so fine in Provo. His mother especially is adamant that he stay in the closet while living there and no one, not even his best friend knows. Until he meets Sebastian.

Sebastian is the teaching assistant in a senior seminar where the goal is for each student to write a book by semester’s end. Sebastian became a local celebrity when his book was published. He’s only 19 years old, a year older than Tanner, and it is pretty much lust at first sight for both of them. The big hitch is that Sebastian is Mormon, and not only Mormon but his father is a Bishop in the Church.

Tanner’s book for his seminar class turns into a memoir of his and Sebastian’s romance. Tanner knows he can’t turn it in and out Sebastian. There is a lot of angst, a lot of laughs, lots of secretiveness and of course some sadness as their journey progresses.

This is a beautiful story and I read it in one night. It made me laugh, it made me cry but mostly it made me think. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time. I highly recommend it.

For another coming of age/gay love story, try Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger.

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

AUTOBOYOGRAPHY by Christina Lauren. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 12, 2017). ISBN 978-1481481687. 416p.


WITHOUT MERIT by Colleen Hoover

October 3, 2017

I am delighted to be part of the #WithoutMerit blog tour! Read on to find out how you can win a signed hardcover of WITHOUT MERIT!

Colleen Hoover is a terrific writer and is fast becoming one of my favorites. Right off the bat, I have to point out that I am not at all sure if this book is really more Young Adult, New Adult or just fiction, as the publisher has it. The protagonist is a 17-year-old girl, Merit Voss, and the book revolves around her, her dysfunctional family and mental illness. That said, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is that I couldn’t put it down and it was an excellent, emotional read – what I’ve come to expect from this author.


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Merit has been having a rough time lately. She has a huge crush on her identical twin sister Honor’s boyfriend Sagan and can’t really see how or why those two are together. Her relationship with her sister and her older brother Utah has deteriorated to the point where she feels like a third wheel. At one point she passively-aggressively decides to stop speaking to anyone in her family and wait to see how long it takes for anyone to notice – and they don’t.

The Voss family live in a house that is also a bit nutty – it was a church that their father bought in anger at the pastor and his barking dog. They used to live in the house behind the church, so now they own both. Merit’s father is remarried to an oncology nurse, Victoria, who he met while she was caring for his first wife, also named Victoria. Wife number one has recovered from her cancer but has a severe case of agoraphobia and lives in the basement of the church. She has her own apartment there and her kids bring her food and occasional company.

Every character is a bit off, but all have redeeming qualities and most are endearing in one way or another. This is one nutty family but it is Merit who is the narrator here so everything is taken from the point of view of a teenager who takes teenage-angst to a new level.

The story moves on its characters, and the reader can’t help but be sucked into this family and their problems. Once I started reading I couldn’t stop, and I was very sorry to turn the last page. As an aside, I was especially appreciative of the link to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website.

These characters are going to stay with me for a long time. If you love quirky family stories that delve into real problems, you won’t want to miss this book. I loved it.

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

WITHOUT MERIT by Colleen Hoover. Atria Books (October 3, 2017).  ISBN 978-1501170621.  384p.


 Win 1 of 5 signed hardcover copies of WITHOUT MERIT!

Contest is open until October 30th



Colleen Hoover is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Slammed, This Girl, Point of Retreat, Hopeless, Losing Hope, Finding Cinderella, Maybe Someday, Ugly Love, Maybe Not, Confess, November 9, and It Ends with Us. She has won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Romance twice – for Confess in 2015 and It Ends with Us in 2016. Confess was adapted into a seven-episode online series. In 2015, Colleen and her family founded The Bookworm Box, a bookstore and monthly subscription service offering signed novels donated by authors. All profits are given to various charities each month to help those in need. Colleen lives in Texas with her husband and their three boys.




Twitter: @ColleenHoover

Instagram: @ColleenHoover

PRESSURE by Brian Keene

August 26, 2016

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The underwater waterfalls of Mauritius – an effect caused by sand runoff into a deeper underwater rift – have always been a fascination. But when the falls begin to grow rapidly and local marine wildlife begins dying off in droves, environmental activists worldwide become concerned. Carrie Anderson, a well-known free diver and marine biologist, is part of a team investigating the incident. Their hope is to understand exactly what’s causing the massive growth of the falls and determine the ramifications if that growth continues.

When a routine dive results in the death of her diving partner, Carrie is the first to admit that she herself was lucky to have survived. But giving voice to exactly what went wrong is more difficult than it might seem. See, Carrie witnessed and experienced something she can’t quite explain. Something that defies everything she’s ever experienced in her dives before. Something so potentially terrifying that it could mean devastating results for everyone.

But she’ll need proof if she’s to have any hope of getting people to listen.

Unknown terrors from the deepest depths of the ocean… Brian Keene’s latest seemed like it would be the perfect summer horror read. Unfortunately, Pressure doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

The story and characters are quite thin. There’s no science, no development of the plot, and no atmosphere. Nautical-based horror should have tons of atmosphere, in my opinion. And as someone with major fears of open water, I’m pretty easy to satisfy in that regard. As for the characters, most of them get a few lines of backstory and that’s about it. No fleshing out, no emotion, and nothing to connect the reader to them and make us care about what happens.

There is, in spite of all of that, a certain amount of simple fun to Pressure. If you’re willing to forgo rich detail and simply appreciate the fact that it’s short and doesn’t require a whole lot of attention or thought. And that’s fine sometimes. I simply hoped for – and expected – something more from Keene.

8/16 Becky LeJeune

PRESSURE by Brian Keene. Thomas Dunne Books (June 21, 2016).  ISBN: 978-1250071347. 288p.