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.
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Sourcebooks Casablance for the digital ARC of Sarah Morgenthaler’s Mistletoe and Mr. Right in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published tomorrow, October 6!
Sarah Morgenthaler’s Mistletoe and Mr. Right is her second rom com set in Moose Springs, Alaska, a small town with a fancy resort, plenty of quirky locals, and some personality-filled moose. Book one told the story of Graham, the grumpy owner of The Tourist Trap, and Zoey, the sweet tourist who dreamed of visiting Alaska one day. In book two, Morgenthaler shares the story of Zoey’s glamorous friend Lana who has been buying up property in the town in an effort to save it. Unfortunately, the locals don’t see it that way . . .
One of those locals is Rick, owner of the pool hall and divorce who has never quite gotten over his wife leaving him. He lives with her nephew Diego, a super-grumpy cat, and a sweet hedgehog. And he has a crush on Lana, who he knows is WAY out of his league.
Morgenthaler has a perfect touch for this type of rom com: she’s nailed both the humor and the sweetness of this new relationship between two people who seem mismatched but are, at heart, both just really lonely. I appreciate her nuanced portrayal of Lana, who is definitely controlled in part by her money and obligation to the family business but is in no way a victim—she’s not looking for an escape, and her parents aren’t abusive, but she does need something more than business.
Rick, though shy, is still confident, and his affection for his friends and family and pets and neighbor . . . well, his loyalty is remarkable and was something I loved in the book.
In just two books, Morgenthaler has made quite a mark for rom-com readers, and I can’t wait to get my hands on her next book! If you haven’t visited Moose Springs, Alaska, yet, now is the time to start!
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Gallery Books for the digital ARC of Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published tomorrow, October 6!
Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze is a perfect holiday rom com with a fun, engaging premise. Maelyn Jones is relishing her holiday tradition of vacationing with her family and friends in a cabin in Utah—every year, she joins her now-divorced parents, her younger brother, and her parents’ college friends and their families to celebrate the season. Maelyn loves everything about this annual gathering, especially the faithfully-followed traditions and time with her long-time crush, Andrew.
This Christmas, however, Maelyn has made a mistake: in a drunken moment, she made out with Andrew’s younger brother Theo. Now, Theo won’t talk to her, Andrew thinks they’re together, and Maelyn finds out that Andrew and Theo’s parents are selling the cabin, meaning the end to the traditions she holds so dear. She’s bemoaning her life situation on the way home with her family when they hit a deer, and . . .
She wakes up, back at the cabin, on Christmas Eve again.
Yes, it’s like Groundhog Day! Maelyn has the chance to live her Christmas vacation over again, searching desperately to get things right, to save her holiday traditions, and to figure out how to win Andrew.
I’m a sucker for this trope—who hasn’t wished for a do over at some point?!—and for the balance of comedy and serious soul searching from this fabulous writing duo. I’m a big fan of Christina Lauren’s books, and I felt as if this was a real return to form, hearkening back to some of my Christina Lauren favorites.
If you’re looking for a holiday romance with a lot of heart, this is the perfect book to add to your Christmas reading list!
Thanks to Partner NetGalley and Disney-Hyperion for the digital ARC of Julie C. Dao’s Broken Wish in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, October 6, 2020.
Julie C. Dao’s Broken Wish is the first in a series of four YA novels spanning generations of a cursed family. (The authors are heavy hitters: Dhonielle Clayton, L. L. McKinney, and Jennifer Cervantes will round out the series.)
I requested this one because it has so many elements I love, including witches and magic and romance. The Grimms appear, and so do magic mirrors and wishing wells. It’s a beautiful tribute to folklore and fairy tales.
The book begins with a familiar story: a couple moves into a small cottage in 1840s Germany. The wife, Agnes, befriends a neighbor through baskets and gifts and written notes but hesitates to pursue the friendship because of rumors her husband Oskar has heard. Eventually, though, the two women meet and solidify their friendship, and the solitary woman, Mathilda, offers to help Agnes with her dearest wish, to have a child. She only asks in return that Agnes maintain their friendship.
Oskar, however, is opposed--he’s been an outcast before and wants to escape that fate. So Agnes lies to Mathilda and breaks her promise, despite the fact that Mathilda succeeds in helping her fiend. Agnes does indeed have a daughter. Agnes’s dishonesty and betrayal begins the curse.
The narrative picks up with the couple’s daughter, Elva, who has a strange magical ability and no knowledge of her parents’ history. Her parents have stayed true to their desperation not to be outcasts and have trained Elva to hide her magic from everyone, which she does . . . until she falls in love.
Broken Wish is a lovely novel, filled with all the magic a lover of fairy tales could want. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I think it’s perfect for YA readers (and some middle-graders!). I cannot wait to read the rest of the series.
Thanks to Partner Edelweiss for the advance copy of Tessa Bailey's Tools of Engagement, out September 22, 2020.
Tools of Engagement is the third book in Tessa Bailey's Hot and Hammered trilogy. This one is about Bethany Castle, the older sister of Georgie (book 1 protagonist) and friend to Rosie (book 2 protagonist). Bethany is the decorator and stager for her family's house-flipping business, but she wants to do more, to be involved in the actual flip. She's afraid, though, of doing anything that's less than perfect.
She has been drawn, since the moment they met in book 1, to Wes Daniels, a construction worker who's just been hired by her brother. She and Wes pick at each other nonstop, bickering constantly. Wes is a younger man, a drifter, who came to town to care for his five-year-old niece when his half-sister had to leave. Wes takes a chance on Bethany, quitting his job in seconds to join her in the house flip that she hopes will prove her worth. And then they sign up for a reality tv show . . .
This book is super steamy, and I like both Bethany and Wes a lot. There's something that fell a little short for me--I wasn't completely swept away--but I enjoyed watching these characters take a risk on each other. Overall, this is a solid enough contemporary rom com.