Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Sourcebooks Casablanca for the digital ARC of Roni Loren’s Yes & I Love You in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, March 2.
Roni Loren’s Yes & I Love You is such a brilliant surprise of a novel. It’s a romance with steam, with heart, and with some brilliant characters—I couldn’t put it down.
Hollyn forces herself to go to the office every day. She makes her way through the crowded main floor, grits her teeth through her daily coffee order, and then flees to her office, where she stays in safety until it’s time to go home. Her therapist insists that it’s important for Hollyn to be around people, to work through the social anxiety that has plagued her since she was small, when she was the subject of bullying because of her Tourette’s syndrome.
Generally, she’s able to abide by the letter of her therapist’s advice without actually diving into the spirit of it: she doesn’t really interact with anyone. Instead, she dedicates herself to her written persona, Miz Poppy, a vibrant—and hilarious—entertainment critic whose witticisms shine as long as Hollyn can write them. Until Jasper.
Jasper has returned to New Orleans after a failure in Hollywood. He and his improv partner (and girlfriend) took their shot. She rose to success. He did not. So, he’s back in New Orleans in the hopes that the improv group he abandoned on the cusp of their big break will take him back.
These descriptions cover only the most surface elements of Hollyn and Jasper because Loren here has created real, nuanced individuals who change through the narrative as their growing relationship pushes each of them. There are new friends and some fake dating, steamy sex and sweet conversations, uncomfortable moments and times that each shines. As they reveal their full histories to each other, they also learn to work through their insecurities and to support the other through the worst of theirs.
As soon as I finished the book, I messaged my buddy read group and then checked out Roni Loren’s backlist. Yes & I Love You will not be my last book by this author!
Thanks to Partners NetGalley, Salaam Reads, and Simon & Schuster for Young Readers for the digital ARC of Hena Khan’s Amina’s Song in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, March 9.
Hena Khan’s Amina’s Song, the sequel to Amina’s Voice, begins in the summer after book one, when Amina and her family are visiting their relatives in Pakistan before she begins seventh grade. Amina feels braver after having mustered her courage both to recite the Quran and sing in front of a crowd, but she’s still working on figuring out what is most important: she wants to say and to whom.
Amina absolutely loves her extended family, including her uncle, who visited the United States when she was in sixth grade (that’s in Amina’s Voice), and her cousin Zohra, who is an amazing guide to the community and culture of her parents’ home country. It’s while she’s still visiting that Amina begins to work through the way we think about other places: she had been afraid to travel because of stories about Pakistan that she heard on the news. When she talks to Zohra about visiting Amina’s home, she finds that Zohra feels the same way, afraid of visiting the U.S. because of similar reports of violence and discrimination.
When Amina returns home, feeling utterly changed, she finds that her friends seem to be the same and are uninterested in exploring what Amina has discovered about herself. She wants to share and to work through her complicated questions, but she’s either brushed aside or met with resistance.
What I love about both of these books centers on Amina herself. She is (as many middle schoolers are) working through some big questions: Can people change? How do we share what’s most important to us with the people we love? What does it mean to be someone’s friend? How do we share our pride in a country or community while also acknowledging its faults? What does it mean to be a good person? These are questions that I hope my own children consider, and I love that Khan is presenting them in a narrative that is both compelling and relatable for a middle-school audience.
While I do think that Amina’s Song could work as a standalone, I highly recommend both books: do yourself a favor and pick up both Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song!
Thanks to partner NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Sophie Gonzales’s Perfect on Paper in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, March 9.
Darcy Phillips, the protagonist of Sophie Gonzales’s Perfect on Paper, is a more-mature-than-usual high school junior . . . but she’s still a teenager. She uses her need to stay late after school with her teacher mom as a way to manage her thriving advice letter business: people put their questions into Locker 89, Darcy does some research, and she emails her well-informed advice. Her business is top secret: only her sister, Ainsley, knows about it. And then, one day, Alexander Brougham, leaving swim practice, catches Darcy retrieving letters from the locker. It turns out that Brougham wants advice in resurrecting his relationship with his ex-girlfriend, and he’s willing to blackmail Darcy into helping him.
In addition to Locker 89, Darcy has a lot going on: she has a long-term crush on her best friend, Brooke; she’s invested in keeping strong the Queer and Questioning Club that her trans sister Ainsley started; and now she not only has to answer the Locker 89 letters but also deal with Brougham’s issue so that she can keep her identity a secret.
Darcy has to navigate SO many issues in this book: she’s keeping secrets from almost everybody, has made decisions she regrets, and—when she starts to have feelings for a boy—worries about what it means for her bisexual identity. Her mom is incredibly busy, so Darcy doesn’t feel as if she can bother her with her problems, and Ainsley is supportive but also in college, so she’s a bit removed from the high school scene.
Gonzales incorporates all of these details into her narrative with grace, weaving them seamlessly into the narrative. Darcy is a great character—fun and funny and flawed, but also vulnerable. I love the way that the author also put Darcy’s relationships at the forefront of the story: her sibling relationship with Ainsley, her friendship with Brooke, as well as (of course) her romantic relationships.
Perfect on Paper is an excellent YA novel that balances romance with all of the other concerns teenagers have to deal with. Gonzales handles all of this while crafting a beautiful, moving, and quite funny story.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Kensington Books for the digital ARC of Kate Clayborn’s Love at First in exchange for an honest review. I’m also thrilled to have read this as part of a buddy read with @lovearctually! The book will be published on Tuesday, February 23.
I’m a fan of Kate Clayborn’s romances, from the Beginner’s Luck trilogy (which centers on three friends who win the lottery) to Love Lettering (a romance focused on fonts?! Yes, please.). I’m adding Love at First to my collection.
What do I appreciate about Clayborn’s books? Her characters are so well developed: nuanced and flawed and quirky. They’re not over the top. But they’re vivid enough to feel distinctive. Love at First centers on Will, a doctor, and Nora, a graphic designer who works from home. They meet—officially—when Will inherits an apartment from his uncle, and Nora, who manages the building, tries to convince him to act in the best interests of the other tenants. Nora moved to the building to take care of her grandmother, and after her grandmother’s death, she cares for her neighbors and friends and tries to preserve as much as she can in honor of her grandmother.
Unfortunately, Will has different goals: he wants to rent the apartment, and since it’s quite outdated . . . that means renovation. Nora? Not a fan.
Will and Nora’s central conflict stems from the way each was raised: Nora saw her grandmother’s home as a place where she felt secure and loved—her parents traveled every summer, and so it was a place of stability. For Will, who was neglected by his parents, stability is not a priority because he’s never had it.
As the two get to know each other, they’re surrounded by an ensemble of zany secondary characters, the neighbors who were Nora’s grandmother’s friends and act now as her family. They’re grumpy and eccentric, but they’re also kind and wise and brilliant, and they’re a great backdrop to Will and Nora’s relationship.
There’s some humor here, but I wouldn’t call it a rom com: it’s a gentle humor that contributes to the warmth of the story Clayton tells. I also appreciate the unique premises of Clayton’s work (lottery winners, font specialists, and unique apartment buildings with velvet wall paper(!) build quite a resumé). I absolutely loved Love at First, highly recommend it, and can’t wait until Clayton’s next romance.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Lily Menon’s Make Up, Break Up in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, February 2.
I am a huge fan of Sandhya Menon’s YA books, particularly When Dimple Met Rishi, so when I saw that she was expanding into writing adult romance under the name Lily Menon, I was thrilled.
Make Up, Break Up is the story of Annika Dev, an intelligent, ambitious young woman who has designed an app called Make Up to help people in relationships communicate more effectively. Inspired by the romance of her parents, Annika has a vision of making the world happier, a vision she shared with Hudson Craft when they met in Las Vegas at a tech conference. And then he stole her idea. And twisted it.
Months later, Hudson has created his own, wildly successful app called Break Up, which is designed to break up with partners for people to save them the heartbreak and inconvenience of those conversations. Then, just as Annika is realizing that she may not have enough money to keep working toward her dream, Hudson moves into the office across the hall, rubbing his success in her face.
I appreciated Menon’s messages here about women so much—and, particularly, women of color—in tech fields and how difficult it can be for them to get a break, and the premise of two relationship apps with opposing goals is clever. Unfortunately, I felt from the beginning that it was pretty obvious that Hudson did not steal Annika’s idea, which meant that the conflict felt manufactured from the start. Annika’s reactions to Hudson and his success were difficult to get past. Also—and I’ll avoid spoilers here—I felt as if the resolution of the novel required growth and change in the wrong direction for the wrong character in this relationship. While Annika and Hudson have plenty of chemistry, the happily ever after they reached at the book’s conclusion didn’t quite convince me.
I admire Menon so much, and her track record means that I will certainly pick up whatever she publishes next. I’m afraid my expectations were just too high for this one.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital ARC of Sarah Morgenthaler’s Enjoy the View in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, January 19.
Sarah Morgenthaler’s Moose Springs, Alaska series has been one of the joyful reads of 2020 for me. Beginning with The Tourist Attraction and continuing with Mistletoe and Mr. Right, Morgenthaler has built a world centered on authentic friendship, gentle humor, and adorable animals. In books one and two, the central relationships reveal characters’ complexities and quirks, and the love happens *because* the characters understand each other, even when they don’t agree.
Book three, Enjoy the View, is a gorgeous cap on the trilogy. Easton Lockett, a well-established character from the previous books, is a gentle giant, a skilled mountain man, and a faithful friend. He and his twin sister Ash are anchors for the friend group who populates the earlier stories. In this novel, his meet cute with River Lane, a 30-year-old movie actress-turned-director, happens when he insists on helping the lone woman walking by the side of the road with her suitcase. When he discovers that he ruined the film shoot for her documentary about Moose Springs, he’s drafted into preventing other helpful Moose Springs citizens from interrupting her stroll by the side of the road . . . and then, eventually, into guiding her and her film crew in climbing Mount Veil, the daunting Old Man that looms over Moose Springs.
River is independent, dedicated to rehabilitating her career, and obsessed with climbing. As she and Easton journey up the mountain, they come to understand each other and to find a mutual affinity for climbing, risk taking, and nature. But can they, at their cores, find common ground when Easton is so firmly attached to his home and River is determined to find success in Hollywood?
As in the previous books, I love the conflict—never fully resolved—about just how good tourism might be for the small town of Moose Springs. The exploration of its pros and cons is thoughtful and avoids easy answers. I also appreciated Morgenthaler’s vivid descriptions of mountain climbing, both the perils and the triumphs, and of Easton and River’s growing feelings for each other.
Enjoy the View would work as a stand alone, but I would highly recommend beginning with book one and doing a deep dive into the isolated world of Moose Springs.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Sophie Sullivan’s Ten Rules for Faking It in exchange for an honest review. I’m also thrilled to have read this in the first official buddy read for @lovearctually (on IG)! The book will be published on Tuesday, December 29.
Sophie Sullivan’s Ten Rules for Faking It is an excellent contemporary romance with a great, complex protagonist. Everly Dean has a history of bad birthdays dating back to her childhood, but THIS birthday (her 30th) is the worst yet. First, she finds her boyfriend cheating on her, and then when her best friend Stacey, a radio host, tries to give Everly an on-the-air birthday surprise, she accidentally broadcasts Everly’s outburst about the horror and humiliation of this birthday.
Everly, the producer of Stacey’s show, just wants to forget about the whole thing. She’s an introvert who hates surprises, hates being the center of attention, doesn’t love strangers, and craves rules and order to help manage her anxiety. So she’s surprised to agree to a clever idea from the owner of the radio station, Chris Jansen. He proposes that they should capitalize on the attention and sympathy Everly’s embarrassment has garnered and launch a dating show to find love for Everly.
Here’s what I loved about this book: Sullivan does a great job portraying Everly’s anxiety and introversion. As someone who shares those traits, I appreciated the way that she showed Everly working through her feelings and seeking solutions to the problems they sometimes cause. But Sullivan doesn’t imply that Everly needs to do a complete turnaround or change herself: instead, it’s more of a gradual willingness to try new things.
Everly and Stacey’s friendship is fabulous. Stacey is an extrovert, and watching the push and pull of their relationship is a lot of fun. They also love Veronica Mars (a win for me!), support each other both in and out of work, and push each other to be just a little bit better, a little bit braver. Oh, and they do that with a list of rules that Everly creates for herself . . . and I do love a checklist.
Everly’s parents are a big part of her backstory, and Sullivan beautifully addresses both the ways that they support and love Everly AND the way they’ve contributed to her anxiety.
I also appreciated Chris, who is sensitive to Everly’s anxiety. While he encourages her to do the dating show, he also supports her as she works her way through the experience, making small changes to each date that will make her more comfortable. He pays attention to her (another win for me!). He’s sweet and sexy and has his own issues and backstory to deal with. (The novel’s perspective alternates between Everly and Chris.)
There are a couple of secrets that run through the book that cause some conflict at the end, and that’s not my favorite trope. Others in the @lovearctually chat were, however, just fine with it, so I think that’s a me thing.
I really enjoyed the added nuance of Sullivan’s writing—the complexities she gave the characters made Ten Rules for Faking It a joy to read and discuss.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Books Go Social for the digital ARC of Sophie Sinclair's Lindsey Love Loves in exchange for an honest review. The book is available for purchase.
Sophie Sinclair's Lindsey Love Loves is a ride of a rom-com that both strained my credulity and made me laugh often. This sweet, funny novel centers on Lindsey Love, an up-and-coming YouTube food critic who finally has her big break: a deal for her own television series. The only catch? Nick Elliot, the producer she most definitely would NOT have chosen to accompany her on her food tour through Europe. This enemies-to-lovers romance has some scenes worthy of a film adaptation (their first European stop at a restaurant that serves exotic animals, much to Lindsey's horror, would be perfect on film) and some wild twists that I won't spoil her. What makes this one fun are the characters: Lindsey is an over-the-top, exuberant, impulsive joy, and the more serious Nick is the perfect balance. This one is super steamy and so much fun.
It has been way too long since I caught up with unabridgedpod.com recaps . . . really, since my students came back and my time had to shift over to teaching again. (I'm rusty! It's been four years.) So, I'm going to share a few of these posts, one per month, until I'm caught up again. This one is mostly focused on September, though I have a last few from August to update, too.
August/September Book Reviews
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital ARC of Marissa Meyer’s Instant Karma in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, November 3!
Marissa Meyer is an auto-buy author for me. I absolutely love her fairy-tale inspired Lunar Chronicles series and stand-alone novel Heartless, and her original take on superheroes in the Renegades trilogy is amazing. So, when I saw that she had a YA rom-com coming out, I instantly requested it.
Instant Karma is so much fun. It has a clever premise: sophomore Prudence Daniels has had a frustrating last day of school plagued by an unreliable partner and a low grade on their final project. So, she’s thrilled to go out with her twin brother Jude (yes, all five kids in Prudence’s family are named after songs by The Beatles) and her best friend Ari for a relaxed evening and some karaoke. After Prudence takes a bad fall and passes out, she wakes up with a strange new ability: she can make karma strike in the moment.
Prudence, who has a strong sense of responsibility and of right and wrong, has no patience for people who defy rules. So, if someone is putting gum under their table or not picking up their dog’s poop or just being unkind, Prudence is thrilled to have the ability to make sure that person suffers, just a little bit.
She can’t however, totally enjoy her new ability because she’s still trying to bring up that final grade. And, since her science teacher is (in Prudence’s eyes) totally unreasonable, he insists that teamwork is the one skill she most needs to learn. She’s still stuck, therefore, with unreliable partner Quint . . . who may not be quite the person she thought he was.
Meyer’s touch with magic is light here, but this book is a perfect addition to her catalog of YA books. I love the array of characters who round out Prudence’s life, and Prudence herself (while sometimes frustrating in her lack of self awareness) is a nuanced, thoughtful character. This book is perfect for anyone wanting a sweet, fast-paced read with an emphasis on first love . . . and lots and lots of Beatles references.