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.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.