Book Reviews

YA Contemporaries to End 2023 Pt.2

Another installment of YA Contemporaries to end 2023. I know that towards the end of the year it feels like full on fall is full of fantasy. However, this is for everyone wanting some warmer weather! Keep reading for mini book reviews of With or Without You, Wren Martin Ruins it All, Fake Dates and Mooncakes, Ride or Die and I’d Rather Burn than Bloom.

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Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee

Dylan Tang wants to win a Mid-Autumn Festival mooncake-making competition for teen chefs—in memory of his mom, and to bring much-needed publicity to his aunt’s struggling Chinese takeout in Brooklyn.

Enter Theo Somers: charming, wealthy, with a smile that makes Dylan’s stomach do backflips. AKA a distraction. Their worlds are sun-and-moon apart, but Theo keeps showing up. He even convinces Dylan to be his fake date at a family wedding in the Hamptons.

In Theo’s glittering world of pomp, privilege, and crazy rich drama, their romance is supposed to be just pretend . . . but Dylan finds himself falling for Theo. For real. Then Theo’s relatives reveal their true colors—but with the mooncake contest looming, Dylan can’t risk being sidetracked by rich-people problems.

Can Dylan save his family’s business and follow his heart—or will he fail to do both?


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Fake Dates and Mooncakes is supremely precious. It’s swoony, full of mouth watering food scenes, and has a disastrous meet cute. Lee’s debut is charming from start to finish and I read this one in a matter of days. Falling in love with Fake Dates and Mooncakes isn’t difficult. I loved Dylan’s family, their support, but also how badly they need to win this competition. With the stakes against them and all of Theo’s wealth and status, can they really be something real?

It’s a precious will-they-won’t-they all with a background of family and dreams. Our family can think they know what we want, what we should do, but what happens when our paths diverge? This one balances salty and sweet, family and love, and fake and real. Find Fake Dates and Mooncakes on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.

Ride or Die by Gail-Agnes Musikavanhu

Best friends Loli Crawford and Ryan Pope have earned their nickname, the “Bonnie and Clyde of Woolridge High.” From illegal snack swapping in kindergarten to reckless car surfing in high school, they have been causing trouble in their uptight California town forever. Everyone knows that the mischief starts with Loli. When it comes to chasing thrills, drama, and adventure, no one is on her level.

At least until Loli throws the wildest party Woolridge High has ever seen just to steal a necklace and meets X, a strange, unidentified boy in a coat closet, who challenges her to a game she can’t refuse—one that promises to put her love of danger to the ultimate test.

Loli and X begin an anonymous correspondence, exchanging increasingly risky missions. Loli’s fun has always been free and easy, but things spin out of control as she attempts to one-up X’s every move. As Loli risks losing everything—including her oldest friend—she’ll face the most dangerous thing of all: falling for someone she shouldn’t.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Ride or Die and its heist and prank atmosphere makes it a quick read. Not only do you want to find out who this mysterious figure is, but each prank, heist, and dangerous nighttime escapade sweeps you away. Full of puzzles, riddles, and letters Ride or Die is perfect for anyone who likes the idea of pushing ourselves and of meeting someone who will up the ante. It’s also a story deeply rooted in friendship and trust.

Because while Ride or Die is committed to the next moment, to the courting of danger, it’s also a story that forces Loli and X to explore trust. To know that we can keep running forever, but it matters who’s in the passenger seat. To know that we don’t have to run, to explore, and to push ourselves alone. And her quest for the next adrenaline filled moment might just cause her to lose everything. Find Ride or Die on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.

I’d Rather Burn than Bloom by Shannon C.F. Rogers

Some girls call their mother their best friend. Marisol? She could never relate. She and her mom were forever locked in an argument with no beginning and no end.

But when her mother dies suddenly, Marisol is left with no one to fight against, haunted by all the things that she both said and didn’t say. And when Marisol sleeps with her best friend’s boyfriend—and then punches said best friend in the face—she’s left alone, with nothing but a burning anger.

And Marisol is determined to stay angry. After all, there’s a lot to be angry about. But as a new friendship begins to develop, Marisol reluctantly starts to open up to her, and to the possibility there’s something else on the other side of that anger—something more to who she is, and who she could be.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

I’d Rather Burn than Bloom is about the rage we hold within us. The anger, grief, and pain all tied up together. It’s about feeling so deeply that we aren’t what people expect of us, that we will never succeed, that this version of us will never be enough. This YA Contemporary debut is emotional, like a signal flare in the night on an abandoned ocean. With these flashbacks you can see the distance between now and then, the wounds we enact upon each other. Marisol is navigating her grief, her guilt, her friendship breakup, and her biracial identity all at once.

I’d Rather Burn than Bloom is a book about friends who leave us behind in the ashes blaming our scars. About friends who start off as unlikely allies in the eye of a storm. It’s about the things we try to fill our sadness with which never make us feel better instead leaving ripples of destruction in our wake. We become the swirling whirlwind in moments with no hope of touching down. I fell into this book and am not sure I’m even out of it now. It’s a deeply touching story about being able to sit with our feelings, to reach out to people, and to have the hard conversations.

Find I’d Rather Burn than Bloom on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.

Wren Martin Ruins It All by Amanda DeWitt

Now that Wren Martin is student council president (on a technicality, but hey, it counts) he’s going to fix Rapture High. His first order of business: abolish the school’s annual Valentine’s Day Dance, a drain on the school’s resources and general social nightmare—especially when you’re asexual.

His greatest opponent: Leo Reyes, vice president and all-around annoyingly perfect student, who has a solution to Wren’s budget problem. A sponsorship from Buddy, the anonymous “not a dating” app sweeping the nation. Now instead of a dance-less senior year, Wren is in charge of the biggest dance Rapture High has ever seen. He’s even secretly signed up for the app. For research, of course.

But when Wren develops capital F-Feelings for his anonymous match, things spiral out of control. Wren decided a long time ago that dating while asexual wasn’t worth the hassle. With the Dance rapidly approaching, he isn’t sure what will kill him first: the dance, his relationship drama, or the growing realization that Leo’s perfect life might not be so perfect after all.


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

Having enjoyed Aces Wild, I was so excited for Wren Martin Ruins It All. And I feel totally validated in how much I loved this book. From the premise alone, we will always love a You’ve Got Mail vibe, rivals, and a school dance. Wren Martin Ruins It All is a charming book about these (mis)conceptions we have about someone. How anonymity can help us feel closer to someone, to ourselves, to have this freedom to be who we are, who we want to be.

If you’re looking for a book which is swoony and precious, about falling for someone, and the relatable fear of something real. Of being hurt by someone. Because in love we can never be truly sure someone won’t hurt us. This one was one I finished in a few days because I had to see the reveal, how everything ended! Find Wren Martin Ruins It All on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.

With or Without You by Eric Smith

All’s fair in love and (food truck) war.

Everyone knows Jordan Plazas and Cindy Ortiz hate each other.

According to many viral videos of their public shouting matches, the Plazas and Ortiz families have a well-known food truck rivalry. Jordan and Cindy have spent all of high school making cheesesteaks and slinging insults at each other across their shared Philadelphia street.

But the truth? They’re in love, and it’s all just an act for the tourists.

When the fake feud lands them a reality tv show pilot, Jordan and Cindy find themselves having to lie on a much bigger scale. Trapped between pursuing their dreams or their love, can they find a way to have their cheesesteak and eat it too?


(Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)

The song reference and joy With or Without You gives me every time is unparalleled. This fake enemies and rivalry, fiction and reality TV book was always destined for my TBR. Dual POV, Smith hits it out of the park again. The characters are established so clearly, so quickly, that you fall in love. I fell in love way harder and faster for one of them – I won’t say who – but by the end I came around. In many ways With or Without You is about traditional versus modern and reality versus fiction.

It’s also about love, about being honest with ourselves about what we need and our dreams. About all the things we aren’t even sure we know until it may be too late. With or Without You is on the precipice of change, of the crush and pull of dreams. With the future imminent, looming, will Jordan and Cindy be able to save their relationship, their families, and their future? Find With or Without You on Goodreads, Storygraph, Amazon,, & Blackwells.


Who is your favorite literary rival?

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