Thanks to partners NetGalley and Forever for the digital ARC of Sajni Patel’s First Love, Take Two in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 21!
I absolutely loved Sajni Patel’s The Trouble with Hating You, so when I saw her new book, First Love, Take Two was available, I requested it immediately! This is a great follow-up, a steamy, second-chance romance that builds on the first book’s events but doesn’t rely on them. (I think you could read this one even if you haven’t read book one.)
Here, Preeti Patel is trying to embrace an arranged marriage with Yuvan. He checks all the right boxes: he’s part of her conservative, Indian community, and his parents are close with hers. He’s successful, as is she, and this seems like the perfect match. But she has absolutely no chemistry with him.
Preeti has been the subject of gossip before, six years ago when she had an interracial relationship with Daniel Thompson. When her father’s sisters found out that she was dating outside the culture and the race—Daniel is Black—they set the full force of community shaming upon her and her family. Daniel’s parents were no more accepting of her, and so Preeti broke off their relationship.
Since then, Preeti has built a successful career as a doctor—she’s almost done with her residency—has taken care of her parents, and has made every effort to fly under the radar of the gossip mongers. All of that has kept Daniel from the forefront of her mind and heart . . . until her friends and his sister conspire to throw them together once more.
This book does a great job dealing with a number of serious issues: anxiety and racism and touch aversion and, above all, both the blessing and curse of being part of a close-knit community. As a doctor, Preeti deals with heartbreak—miscarriage, death, and the expectations of her patients’ families—and more and more, she’s feeling overwhelmed by expectations both at work and in her personal life.
Watching Preeti and Daniel work through their relationship to support each other is fantastic: this is such a wonderful, second-chance romance, filled with a deep backstory and nuanced characters. As always in a romance series, I love seeing Liya and Jay from book one, and I have high hopes that there will be at least one more book involving Liya and Preeti’s friend group.
First Love, Take Two is a worthy, steamy, beautiful follow-up to The Trouble with Hating You.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Helena Hunting's When Sparks Fly in exchange for an honest review. The book will be out on September 21!
When Sparks Fly is a friends-to-lovers, open door romance about Avery Spark and Declan McCormick who have been friends since the first day of college and roommates for years. In college, their casual friendship was strengthened when Declan stood by Avery’s side after an ugly breakup. Avery had been dating their mutual friend Sam, but when Declan found out that Sam was cheating, he told Avery and chose their friendship. Now in their upper 20s, Avery and Declan are anchors for each other.
When Avery is in a car accident for which Declan blames himself, things change. Avery’s injuries are serious, and Declan, eager to make up for his mistake, vows that he’ll be the one to take cover of her as she recovers. This is a new side to their relationship, and each becomes aware of feelings that they’ve never allowed to grow.
Overall, this romance worked for me. I like the friends-to-lovers trope, and Hunting’s creation of believable back stories for both characters shows why each is hesitant to completely trust someone else. There were parts of the novel that felt repetitive, and the dialogue was sometimes too heavy—it felt more like speeches than actual conversation—but I like the tenderness of this couple and the way that they put in the time and effort to work through their relationship difficulties.
Hunting is a reliable author for me, and while I slightly prefer her rom coms, I’d recommend When Sparks Fly to romance fans.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Harlequin Books for the digital ARC of Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on September 28th!
I think that Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball may be my favorite holiday read . . . ever? It’s such a beautiful balance of the notes of a romantic comedy (with a great emphasis on the comedy) and more serious content.
Here’s the premise: Rachel Rubenstein-Rosenblatt is the child of a prominent rabbi, and the position of her parents in the Jewish community means that she has been very aware—since she was a kid—that she needs to be on her best behavior at all times. She’s also, secretly, the best-selling author of Christmas-themed romances. You can see the problem.
Real-life romance has never been her thing, and she traces that challenge back to a horrible trauma at her Jewish summer camp when Jacob Greenberg, her first boyfriend, betrayed her.
Then, Jacob comes back into her life in the strangest of ways. He’s an event planner who normally works out of Europe, but he’s in New York to put on the ultimate, Hanukkah-themed event: The Matzah Ball. For true success, he needs the public approval of a pillar of the community, so he approaches Rachel’s father for his support, bringing him back into Rachel’s proximity.
The way this all spins out is great fun, but underlying it all is another of Rachel’s secrets: only her closest friends and family know that she is living with myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome (Meltzer talks in her Author’s Note about why the more medical name is more appropriate). Seeing the way Rachel’s ME affects her life, her choice of profession, and her relationships anchors the extravagance of the romantic comedy in daily reality, and as Meltzer develops those parts of Rachel and Jacob’s histories, what could be an over-the-top rom-com becomes a poignant, nuanced love story.
Go ahead and start the holiday season early and pre-order Jean Meltzer’s The Matzah Ball today!
Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for the digital ARC of Sarah Goodman Confino’s For the Love of Friends in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on August 1, 2021.
For the Love of Friends is the story of Lily Weiss, a thirty-two-year-old woman who is unmarried, working a steady but unfulfilling job, and (apparently) destined to live the bridesmaid life. Her three best friends, from different parts of her life, are all getting married and, in the ultimate indignity, so are her two younger siblings. Lily loves all of these people, so of course she agrees.
But she doesn’t quite account for all of the negatives of being a bridesmaid once, let alone five times. Her every physical flaw (including her weight, her height, her bra size, and even her hair curl and color!) is perpetually on display and up for commentary as she tries on dress after dress. Her finances, while solid, don’t account for the destination weddings—and bridal showers!—that some of her wealthier friends expect. And she’s lonely. As she watches those she loves most start new lives, she feels left behind.
So, she makes a decision and begins a blog, Bridesmania, to let out all of her ire and heartache. She vents about the money she has to spend. She rages about her friends’ unreasonable expectations. She overshares about her sister being spoiled and too young for marriage. But she’s doing it anonymously, so it’s okay, right?
Of course, I knew from the beginning that the blog wouldn’t stay anonymous, so though there’s a lot of humor in this book—the parts of weddings that can be bad in the moment are almost always funny in hindsight—I also felt a sense of dread, waiting for everyone (including Lily’s grandma) to read exactly what she had written about them, which is often scathing to the extreme.
There is a romantic element to the book, too, as Lily befriends a groomsman in one friend’s weddings and begins to have stronger feelings for him. But since the novel began with Lily waking from a one-night stand with a groomsman (though she’s not sure which one . . . it’s a long story), she feels unable to search for love herself even while she’s supporting all of her friends’ happily ever afters.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. While there are some predictable elements, Sarah Goodman Confino does a great job shading those moments, adding depth and letting me as a reader feel Lily’s outrage and hurt and shame. I also liked Lily so much: she’s definitely a flawed character who makes some (REALLY!) bad decisions, but she’s also someone who is constantly striving to do better, someone who admits her mistakes, reflects, and seeks improvement. This is Confino’s debut novel, so I’ll be looking for more from this author.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital ARC of Nicola Yoon’s Instructions for Dancing in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, June 1.
Since her first novel, Everything, Everything, which I devoured in one sitting, Nicola Yoon has been an auto-buy author for me. I was therefore thrilled to get an early peek at her upcoming release Instructions for Dancing, which met my (very) high expectations.
The book opens with Evie Thomas’s broken heart. Her parents’ marriage has ended, eradicating her idealistic view that some love is forever. She takes steps to remove all forms of her former foolishness from her life, including getting rid of all of the romance novels, which used to anchor her avid reading. She wants no reminders of the depths of her disappointment.
While she’s donating her books to a Little Free Library, she meets a mysterious woman who gives her a book called Instructions for Dancing. She returns home, feeling lighter without the romance books, but Evie soon discovers a strange new ability: she sees—randomly, it seems—the entire course of couples’ relationships, including their inevitable endings. While she doesn’t understand exactly what magic is happening, these endings of beautiful love stories, one right after another, reinforce her disbelief in love.
One of Evie’s best friends encourages her to do something to figure out what’s happening: he identifies the LFL lady as the source for Evie’s new power and advises her to go to the dance studio, La Brea Dance, where Instructions for Dancing originated. It’s there that Evie meets X, the grandson of the studio owners, and gets swept up in his grandparents’ efforts to save the studio through an amateur ballroom dancing competition. So, Evie and X are learning to dance—together—and getting to know one another.
Oh, I loved this book so much. Evie is just a fabulously layered character, one whose fears and fragility about love are understandable. X also knows loss, which has affected his own outlook on life and on risk taking in a different way from Evie. As they come to understand what has made the other feel the way they do, their closeness shapes the way they move forward together.
This book made me laugh, and it made me ugly cry; I love a dancing competition, so I was a sucker for watching Evie and X’s journey toward being a couple both on the dance floor and off. The secondary characters—Evie’s family, their ballroom dance teacher Maggie, Evie and X’s friends—are richly drawn, and the way they both support and challenge Evie and X is just brilliant. Instructions for Dancing moved Nicola Yoon even higher on my list of auto-buy authors.
Thanks to Partners NetGalley, Book Club Girls, and William Morrow Books for the digital ARC of Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan in exchange for an honest review. The book will be released on Tuesday, June 1.
I love a good retelling, and I love, love, love L. M. Montgomery’s classic novel Anne of Green Gables. My best friend and I read every L. M. Montgomery book, and we watched the 1980s adaptation with Megan Follows more than once. So when I saw that Brina Starler had a romance retelling coming out in June, I requested it immediately.
Anne of Manhattan is a contemporary retelling focused on Anne and her long-time enemy Gilbert Blythe who has been the bane of her existence since they first met, right after she moved to Green Gables on Prince Edward Island, adopted by siblings Marilla and Matthew. He immediately drew her ire by getting her in trouble with the teacher and by calling her “Carrots.” Ever since, they have been rivals at school, each vying to be the best, and while they circle each other because of their friend group, Anne can’t get over her bad feelings.
So, when—in the book’s present day—Anne is out with her friends Diana and Philippa at a bar in NYC and unexpectedly sees Gilbert across the room, she has mixed feelings. He’s from home, but he’s her enemy; he’s her enemy, but they shared that kiss . . .
What ensues is an enemies-to-lovers story of Anne and Gilbert in their last year in college, complete with flashbacks to their childhoods back home, which inform so much of their current relationship. I loved it! I re-read Anne of Green Gables a few years ago via audio (the edition narrated by Rachel McAdams is fantastic!), and I adored the graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and illustrator Brenna Thummler. This, while quite different, captures the same magic, the same bittersweet longing of the original story (with, of course, a complete emphasis on the romance—the original novel has a wider lens).
My one hesitation—and this is not a fault of the novel but is just an issue with me—is that I was a little uncertain how I felt about sweet Anne and Gilbert being at the center of such a steamy novel. I ended up being okay, but the first super-steamy scene was not entirely comfortable for me (and I’m usually totally fine with open-door romance!). Just know that this is definitely a retelling that embraces all of the conventions of its genre.
So, if you love Anne of Green Gables OR great, enemies-to-lovers romances, watch for Brina Starler’s Anne of Manhattan, coming out on June 1!
Thanks to Partners NetGalley, Let's Talk Books, and Sourcebooks Casablanca for the digital ARC of Xio Axelrod’s The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes in exchange for an honest review. The book was just released on May 4, so I’m thrilled to join the Book Tour to highlight this fabulous novel.
Toni Bennette is content with her recurring gig at a rundown bar in Philadelphia—it gives her a chance to sing and play but doesn’t push her (much) to be the center of attention. Her dream is to go into music production, and so she uses her talents to gain entrance in recording studios and to make connections behind the scenes.
Sebastian Quick is a sort of facilitator for the up-and-coming, all-female band The Lillys, and he’s struggling with the increasingly toxic relationships within the band. Seb, Candi, and Lilly formed the band, drawn together by a passion for music and by sheer talent. But Candi’s dedication to the lifestyle is spiraling, and Seb—who has assigned himself a job as her keeper—has been drawn into that downward trajectory, endangering the future of the band when they’re on the cusp of true success.
Toni and Seb are drawn together through a series of accidental meetings, and as the narrative unfolds, it flashes back on their shared childhood and on Seb’s betrayal of their dreams. Now, as The Lillys take steps to salvage their chances for greatness, Toni is drawn definitively back into Seb’s life, and he has to deal with the mistakes he made in the past.
This second-chance romance is more than just a romance. Axelrod builds a rich history for Toni and Seb, one that looks at the way the past can inform who people become, the temptations that cycle through people’s lives over and over again, and the ways that characters can seek redemption for past mistakes. I really appreciated the rich characters, the complexity of the book’s structure—that slow unveiling of the full story, and the vivid descriptions of music and what it means to these characters. As a reader, I was propelled forward by the plot but also by the way that easy, initial judgments are made more complex as the book continues, the ways that the characters surprise the reader and each other.
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes brilliantly balances heavy and light content, some serious stories with a lovely romance. This is also the first book in Xio Axelrod’s The Lillys series, and I can’t wait to read about the other characters in the band!
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, May 11.
Lara returns to high school after a summer break away in the Outer Banks to her dream-come-true: Chase Harding is noticing her. She’s had a crush on him forever, and though he’s always been friendly and kind (one of the qualities she most admires about Chase), he’s never really noticed her before.
She’s thrilled. Really. She and her three best friends giggle and scheme, reveling in one of their own getting her wish.
But then Jasmine walks into her school, and Lara is taken back to summer and to the friendship—and maybe more?—she had with Jasmine.
It’s a great, compelling setup, but nevertheless, I was a little bit worried that I wouldn’t love this one. I wasn’t sure I could empathize with Lara or dig into the love triangle. But Adler masterfully shifts back and forth, unveiling both the story of Lara and Jasmine’s summer AND the journey through Lara’s year at school when she tries to navigate what happens when your dream isn’t so dreamy anymore.
I thought these characters were compellingly flawed, and I genuinely liked the complexities of Lara’s friends, of Chase, and, of course, of Jasmine. Lara’s working through of her identity is all-too-believable, and I appreciated that Adler didn’t provide easy answers to who Lara should be. Dahlia Adler’s Cool for the Summer is a strong, thoughtful YA romance that breaks the mold of anything I’ve read lately.
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 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.
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.