Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Kristyn J. Miller's Seven Rules for Breaking Hearts.
In Kristyn J. Miller’s Seven Rules for Breaking Hearts, main character Margo Anderson’s life centers on her podcast with her best friend Jo. Their focus? Well, it’s encompassed by that title: they began with a vow to live out the principle of a woman’s right to hook up without falling in love (or even like!) with anyone.
And then Jo fell in love.
Now, Go (Margo) is left adrift. Jo is her best friend, her partner, her roommate . . . and Margo isn’t so sure that she still wants to live the rules the way she has been, but she’s also not sure what she wants instead.
Jo’s wedding to her high school crush brings tons of feelings to the surface for Margo, as does the presence of Best Man Declan: the groom’s best friend from high school AND Margo’s high school nemesis.
But as Margo gets to know Declan, really for the first time, she also starts to understand herself a little more.
This was a fun, sweet romance. While it took me a little while to get invested, watching Margo work through her relationships, working through a deep consideration of the expectations she’s set for herself and just where they come from, is incredibly satisfying. I loved the relationship between Margo and Declan, who is such a great character, and I also enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at Go and Jo’s podcast.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martins Press for the digital ARC of Erica Bauermeister's No Two Persons. The book will be published on Tuesday!
It’s easiest to explain Erica Bauermeister’s No Two Persons through its premise: the book is a series of interconnected short stories centered around a book called Theo. Bauermeister’s novel begins with Alice, the author of Theo, exploring the origins of the book, which are connected to her own life, though it’s not completely autobiographical. Each new section explores the presence of Theo in the life of someone new—the artist who designs the cover, the assistant of the literary agent who discovers it, and myriad readers.
Through the short stories, characters reappear—we see Alice more than once—weaving a tribute to the power of books in our lives, the ways that they can change the way that we see ourselves, each other, the world.
The writing here is just gorgeous, and we see enough of Theo to have an idea of a book, though this isn’t completely a book-with-a-book situation (so there are no long passages of Theo building into the inclusion of the book in its entirety). Instead, it’s the idea of this novel, of the way it’s one thing for Alice and another thing for each person who comes into contact with it, that captures our attention.
The title comes from a quotation about no two persons experiencing a book the same way (and there’s a great story at the end from Bauermeister about the origins of the quote), and the way Bauermeister brings life to that concept resonated.
There’s deep empathy here, a nuanced understanding of the fact that we can only know the smallest part of the lives of most people we know but also a strong message that empathy can—and should!—arise from even that limited knowledge.
I think that anyone who’s a reader, anyone who has seen the way a book can touch someone deeply, anyone who has the urge to share a book with someone they know, will love this book.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Sourcebooks Casablanca for the digital ARC of Piper J. Drake’s Wings Once Cursed and Bound. The book will be published on Tuesday, April 11!
Somehow, in the two months since I requested Piper J. Drake’s Wings Once Cursed and Bound from NetGalley, I completely forgot what it was about . . . and I actually recommend that you go in the same way. It was so much fun to discover this one, starting with a blank slate.
With that said . . . here’s a brief synopsis: Wings Once Cursed and Bound is a blend of romance and fantasy, focused on the paranormal, including vampires and werewolves and fae and also kinnaree (Thai bird princesses) who walk among us. Peeraphan Rahttana knows she is at least part kinnaree but hasn’t let the fact change her life. She’s a dancer hoping to find success as she pursues her passion.
Then, one day, her frenemy gives her a pair of red shoes, and Peeraphan (also called Punch) is drawn into a legend outside of her experience.
Her powers give her some ability to resist the curse of the shoes, but she’s still noticed by Bennet Andrews, a vampire who’s sworn to recover them before they do any more harm. As Bennet works to take the shoes, he’s also drawn into helping Punch.
The vibes here are akin, at first, to Twilight (which I enjoy, so that’s not a bad thing!). They do quickly become more adult, but the romance between the immortal Bennet and the partly-human Punch develops as Bennet tries to resist and Punch becomes more determined to remove the walls between them.
This is the first book in a planned series called Mythwoven, so there’s a good bit of world building here, the introduction of a large cast of characters who I can only hope will be at the center of the future books. I enjoyed the way Peeraphan’s exploration of her kinnaree identity was anchored in her consideration of her Thai culture, and there’s a nice surprise as she reconnects with an unexpected family member (that happens early!).
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Bookouture for the digital ARC of Catherine Walsh’s The Matchmaker. The book will be published on Tuesday, April 18!
Catherine Walsh’s Holiday Romance was my favorite holiday romance of 2022, so I was excited to dive into another of her novels. The Matchmaker is set in a small Irish village called Ennisbawn where Katie Collins has grown up, raised by her grandmother after her parents died in a car accident when she was five.
Ennisbawn isn’t a fancy place, but its place in the hearts of its inhabitants is large. Katie works in a pub run by Adam, who acted as a sort of father figure for her. Outside the pub, there’s a wishing well where her parents met. Katie still lives with her granny and spends her days with her two best friends whose lives also center around the pub.
Change is coming, though. A wealthy real estate developer has bought up large swaths of land in Ennisbawn and is building a luxurious hotel. Led by a team manager named Josh and his contractor, Callum Dempsey, the builders have disrupted Katie’s every day, starting each morning when she’s awakened by the sound of construction vehicles. Katie is filled with resentment . . . and with interest. Callum is incredibly handsome, and he doesn’t seem to be quite as committed to the destruction of Ennisbawn as his boss.
Still, all things considered, Katie doesn’t love the plan, but she’s resigned to it . . . until she discovers that—through a series of legal machinations—they’ll be knocking down her beloved pub to make way for even more hotel-centered building.
So, Katie sets out to do the only thing she can think to do: revive the traditional match-making festival, emphasizing the tradition and culture that will be wiped out by the hotelier’s plans, bringing positive media attention to the village and negative media attention to the company’s project.
The only problem? The festival has dwindled—like the town—over the years, so it’s more of a recreation than a revival. But Katie is (or may be?) up to the challenge.
Just like Holiday Romance, The Matchmaker shines because of its characters and because of the authentic way that Walsh builds their relationship. The premise of each of these novels may be just outside the bounds of reality, but the relationships develop without the normal false barriers and miscommunications that plague some romance novels. Katie is a refreshingly self-aware protagonist, and Callum is just great: sincere and down-to-earth in his developing feelings for Katie and for the town. I also absolutely loved the secondary characters—Katie’s friends and family—who bring such a richness to the novel. Catherine Walsh is an author whose backlist I must dive into soon!
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Ashley Schumacher’s The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway. The book will be published on Tuesday, March 14!
Ashley Schumacher’s The Renaissance of Gwen Hathaway, her third novel, centers on the story of Madeline Hathaway. Maddy’s life is just a bit unusual: since she was born, she’s traveled with her parents on the Renaissance Faire circuit. She’s never attended in-person school. Instead, her mother homeschooled her for a while, and then she shifted over to online school.
As the book opens, Maddy and her father are approaching the one-year mark since her mother’s death from cancer. Maddy has plans for how she’ll honor her loss: they’re returning to her mother’s favorite faire where Maddy plans to document what has changed and what has stayed just as her mother loved it. This is part of her ongoing project to “notice” things by documenting them in her journal, to keep track of everything that happens so that she’ll remember it in case she loses someone else. And she’s going to keep the circle of those who matter to her very, very small.
Life doesn’t work out quite the way she planned. The faire has changed. A lot. It was taken over by new owners who have completed a dramatic overhaul, creating a polished—but perhaps less charming—version of what Maddy’s family loved. The plan to not care about people? That comes up against an obstacle, too: the teenaged bard of the faire, Arthur, who also happens to be the new owners’ son and who declares upon first sight that Maddy shall be called “Gwen” and, soon after, that she should be the faire’s princess.
Soon Maddy is pulled into Arthur’s plans: she joins his fathers as the princess, despite her concerns that people will criticize her since she doesn’t fit the normal, svelte image of royalty. She also joins Arthur in a series of adventures that he declares will help her “find her Gwen.”
I really, really loved this book, which brought me back to the joy I felt after reading Schumacher’s first book, Amelia Unabridged. Maddy’s grief—and the ways that she tries to hold back the onslaught of that grief—is beautifully and empathetically portrayed. Maddy and Arthur are both basically kind and decent human beings who have insecurities and who make mistakes with each other, often as a result of those insecurities. While they’re really the focus of the novel, the secondary characters—their dads, Maddy’s best friend who left the faire circuit, and a few friends from Arthur’s high school—round out the story well. But it’s Maddy and Arthur’s growing friendship and the chances each takes in trusting someone else that warmed my heart.
Emma Lord's BEGIN AGAIN
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Emma Lord’s Begin Again. The book is out today!
Emma Lord has become one of my go-to YA authors. Her books are sweet but not saccharine, they’re romances but not *just* romances, and they focus on characters whose struggles are authentic and require some real growth.
I should say that I still—somehow—haven’t read Tweet Cute, but I’ve adored each of her other books, including this newest one, Begin Again.
Andie Rose has clawed her way into a mid-year transfer to Blue Ridge State, her dream school, the college where her parents met . . . and her boyfriend Connor’s school. In a moment of misplaced romance, she decides to make her transfer a surprise. And then she discovers, in a sort of Gift of the Magi twist, that her boyfriend has also made a surprise transfer to Andie’s much-less-prestigious college. Cue chaos and angst.
Despite the less-than-fortuitous start, Andie decides that her boyfriend can just transfer back after this current semester, and she resolves to make the best of the situation, as she often does. She and her new roommate, Shay, hit it off, and though she faces some academic challenges, she’s ready to dive into the traditions that her parents and, particularly, her deceased mom told her about.
I’m going to pause here to say that I absolutely loved this book. Lord captures Andie’s college experience so well, the promise and peril of seeking a promised fresh start when you know that you’re still just the same person you’ve always been. Andie is an amazing character who is strong and inspiring and always willing to help her friends, yet she’s simultaneously fragile and all too willing to avoid conflict, even if it means sacrificing something that means a lot to her.
The development of Andie’s formative relationships is clearly a huge part of Andie’s identity. Lord shows us the grandmas who dropped everything to raise her after her mom’s death, the father who became distant in his grief, Connor who has been her friend since childhood and whose family became a second sort of family for her, and of course the mother she lost who has become such an inspiration—and someone to live up to—for her. Yet Lord balances the ways that her new relationships help to shape who she’s becoming. Those include Shay but also Milo, the RA who quickly becomes a source of support, and Valentina, who starts as her much-needed math tutor but quickly becomes another friend.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of this book. There’s so much here that it’s tough to cover it all in a review, but it doesn’t ever feel like there’s too much going on. Instead, Andie’s story feels like the real story of a college freshman who is both building a new life for herself and still working to figure out the life she has.
I read this one in as close to one sitting as I could because I just had to know what would happen next. I can’t recommend Emma Lord’s Begin Again enough.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Macmillan USA for the digital ARC of Amber McBride’s We Are All So Good at Smiling. The book will be published on Tuesday, January 10!
Amber McBride’s We Are All So Good at Smiling is a sort of allegorical novel in verse that draws from the author’s own experiences with clinical depression. She begins her book with a note to the reader, cautioning about its potential triggers, which I advise all readers to consider.
The book is about Whimsy, who has been struggling with clinical depression since she was young, when her older sister—her idol—disappeared. She has been in and out of hospitals and programs since that time, working through her sense that things in her world just are not right. She’s always been a collector of fairy tales, a passion that began with her grandmother, and she often uses them both to understand the world around her and to escape, even briefly.
Her situation changes when Faerry joins her program, sharing his own story, which they soon realize holds many parallels and connections to hers.
As Whimsy and Faerry get to know each other—his family moves into her neighborhood, and he enrolls at her high school—their mutual understanding begins to make a difference for each. But as they start to uncover the truths that have been hidden from them, they realize that the battle that lies ahead may be more perilous than anything they’ve been through.
The key part of the novel takes place in the forest at the end of their neighborhood, which Whimsy has always avoided, fearful of its secrets. When Faerry is lost in the forest, however, Whimsy becomes determined to find him, to save him, and to confront the fears that have plagued her.
As in her debut, Me (Moth) (a book that I absolutely loved), McBride’s verse is gorgeous and evocative, and I appreciate her vulnerability in sharing her own experiences, which I have no doubt will be valuable for so many readers. While We Are All So Good at Smiling certainly addresses important issues, it did not quite live up to my expectations: I liked the idea of the allegory more than its execution.
Still, We Are All So Good at Smiling is a compelling book dealing with a topic of vital importance to so many people—particularly teenagers. It is powerful both in Whimsy’s own story, in the ways that her relationship with Faerry helps her, and in its consideration of how the teenagers’ families deal with their mental health. I love the consideration of the ways that stories can help both to understand the world and to offer the tools that people need to make a change or confront a difficult truth. I look forward to following McBride’s career.
Thanks to partner NetGalley and St. Martin'S Press for the digital ARC of Sophie Sullivan’s A Guide to Being Just Friends. The book will be published on Tuesday, January 17!
Sophie Sullivan’s A Guide to Being Just Friends is book three in her Jansen Brothers series (following Ten Rules for Faking It and How to Love Your Neighbor). This one may just be my favorite of the three.
Book three centers on Wes Jansen, the oldest brother who set himself the goal, when he was very young, of protecting his younger brothers from the trauma of his parents’ vicious fights and eventual divorce. This has left him proud of the lives that they lead but convinced that loving someone will lead only to misery.
Hailey Sharp has moved to a small town and opened a new salad restaurant, By the Cup, in hopes of starting fresh after a toxic relationship and ugly breakup. Though her business is struggling, she’s determined to make her new life work.
Hailey and Wes’s meet cute is not so cute. Hailey, seeking to drown her sorrows about her new business in chocolate, has picked up a to go order at the neighboring bakery when Wes approaches her, convinced that she’s his date. When she protests—she’s Hailey, not Hayden—his reaction is less than kind.
But Wes is determined to admit and apologize for his mistakes (unlike his dad!), so when circumstances bring him together with Hailey again, their friendship begins.
While Wes’s determination to be friends-and-nothing-more meets with approval from Hailey, still fragile from her last relationship, it did eventually strain my credulity. Still, with a bit of suspension of disbelief, I was immersed in this romance and enjoyed the slow build of their relationship. I’m also a fan of romance series, allowing the reader to see the couples from previous books living out their happily ever afters, so this one was a joy.
I’m sad that Sophie Sullivan’s first series is over, but I look forward to what comes next!
Thanks to partner NetGalley, Salaam Reads, and Simon Teen for the digital ARC of Priyanka Taslim’s The Love Match. The book is out today!
After my epic, #readausten22 buddy read in 2022, I’m primed for some amazing retellings of Jane Austen’s books, and Priyanka Taslim’s The Love Match exceeded my expectations.
Zahra Kahn is a Bangladeshi American teenager who has just graduated from high school. She lives with her mother and two younger siblings in a small apartment in Paterson, New Jersey, where they try to make ends meet after her father’s death several years before. (This book is billed as a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but there are some elements of Sense and Sensibility woven in, too!) Zahra was accepted to Columbia University but knows her family can’t afford either the tuition or the loss of her income, so she has deferred her acceptance. Now, she’s trying to figure out what her future might be as she works at the tea shop owned by her friends’ family.
Her mother has a firm idea of the right answer: marriage. Specifically, marriage to someone wealthy who can support Zahra. With that goal in mind, she begins matchmaking, resting her eye on Harun Emon, the son of a wealthy—and “new money”—family who might be willing to make a match in exchange for the Zahra’s family’s distant (very distant!) connection to Bangladeshi royalty. The only problem? Harun. Zahra immediately nicknames him the robot because of his apparent lack of interest in her . . . or anything, really.
That lack of interest is in strong contrast to the reaction Zahra gets from Nayim Aktar, the new, handsome employee at the tea shop.
I loved so much about The Love Match. Zahra is an amazing character: she’s smart, confident, and devoted to her family, even when they frustrate her. Her friendships with Dalia and Daniya Tahir and with Dani’s girlfriend Ximena provide a strong center for her, but they also provide conflict as they other girls make preparations to attend college, emphasizing how out of reach Zahra’s dream is.
Watching Zahra grow and change as she comes to understand both how important her family is to her and also how necessary becoming a writer is to her happiness follows the pattern of many coming of age books, yet Taslim offers something new here. Because of the death of her father, Zahra approaches life and her responsibilities with a sense of maturity that many people her age would not feel.
I’m typically okay with love triangles, but I think even those opposed might like this one: both Harun and Nayim (once Zahra gets to know them) offer compelling reasons for Zahra to develop an attachment. As Harun and Zahra pretend to date to divert their parents’ attention and matchmaking efforts, their developing friendship becomes another anchor for Zahra. And Nayim’s encouragement of her writing gives her the courage to take some risks related to that goal for herself.
Taslim plays with the notes of Austen’s novels—Zahra compares Harun to Mr. Darcy more than once—in a way that pays tribute to her source material without being beholden to it. She incorporates details of Bengladeshi culture, opening the novel with a note to the reader about her choices in writing the story to make it more faithful to her real, Paterson, NJ community. She also weaves details of Zahra’s and her friends’ Muslim heritage into the book, enriching the depth of the story.
There’s so much going on in The Love Match, yet it never felt like too much. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, Priyanka Taslim’s YA novel is well worth putting at the top of your 2023 TBR!
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Sophie Gonzales's Never Ever Getting Back Together. The book is available for purchase!
Sophie Gonzales’s Never Ever Getting Back Together features a fun premise: Maya and Skye are each vying—along with several other young women—to win back Jordy, their ex-boyfriend, on a reality show called Second-Chance Romance. It’s a Bachelor-type show that brings together a selection of Jordy’s exes with the supposition that the relationships that didn’t work before may work now. Because. Growth(?).
It seems a bit convoluted on the surface, and it’s even more complex deep down. Jordy is the brother of a newly crowned princess, which means he’s been in the public eye: a public eye that has also fallen on Maya. After their breakup, Jordy painted her as a dangerously clingy, at least partially unhinged person, bypassing the fact that he’d been cheating on her for months with his new girlfriend, Skye. Maya accepts the invitation to appear on the show with the hope that she can reveal the truth about their breakup to the world that has blamed her for years. Skye accepts because she believes Jordy that he misses her *and* appreciates his warning that Maya is ready to unleash her unjust rage on both of them.
So, when Maya and Skye arrive at the set of their show and realize that they’re rooming together . . . well, neither one is thrilled.
The story alternates between Maya and Skye’s points of view, and each has been given plenty of reasons by Jordy to dislike the other. Yet that dislike goes only so far.
I thoroughly enjoyed Never Ever Getting Back Together, which leans into the ridiculousness inherent in its reality show-foundation with its highly manufactured moments of drama (particularly since Jordy’s wealthy family made sure they had final editing rights). I didn’t completely buy the connection between Maya and Skye, and I thought that too many of these young women believed Jordy’s lies for just a bit too long. But overall, I liked the way Gonzales set up the evolution of each character’s arc and the way that the show, despite its artificiality, resulted in real self-reflection and growth.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.