Monday, September 21, 2020

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read | Emily Henry 
May 19th 2020 | Berkley   
Source: Library 
A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary writer stuck in a rut engage in a summer-long challenge that may just upend everything they believe about happily ever afters.

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.

They're polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they're living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer's block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She'll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he'll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
I have so much to say about this book and a lot of it isn’t positive. So let’s just get this over with.

The good
—I really enjoyed the writing. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Emily Henry so maybe I’ll check out other things she’s written. Aside from the issues I did have, this was an extremely quick read.

—Even though I didn’t come to this book for this, I didn’t mind the really touch interviews Gus and January conducted. It’s fascinating to see the behind the scenes of interviews for thrillers and the like.

The bad
—this isn’t the fun, summery romance I was expecting based on the praise, the cover, or the premise. There is a lot to do with grief and I’m so glad I was warned about it. This might not bother some people but as someone who recently lost a family member this was not easy for me. There is no mention of the grief in the premise and I think that is a disservice. I went into this book expecting a romance novel where I could disappear from my reality. Instead, I had to grapple with January’s grief which reminded me of my own.

—When you tell me that I’m about to read a romance, I expect certain things. For one, the story to be about the two people falling in love. There’s some conflict (maybe some drama) and probably some angst. I want to spend as much time reading about these two people pining away for each other. There’s an HEA.

When you tell me I’m going to read women’s fiction, I think of a story that might have a romance but doesn’t focus on that. This story will focus on the growth of the MC. She’ll go through a transformation by the end of the story. She’ll might end up in a HEA but that won’t be the main focus. (It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly the distinctions are but this is what I think of).

I pointed this distinction out because there were a lot of conflicting things said in the book about what January writes. For someone who claims to be a romance writer, there was a lot of disdain and the need for a distinction between writing women’s fiction and romance. At one point January points out that her stories are upbeat romances or aren’t even shelved in romance sections but in women’s fiction. But January is constant need to distinguish between the two for Gus just left a bad taste in my mouth.

In many ways, I felt as if January was implying pirate, Fabio like romances weren’t all that special and she was writing real books, thank you very much. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well but there it is.

—Shadi serves no other purpose in this story other than being a WOC in this otherwise white cast of characters. I also thought she was the most stereotypical Black woman there could be. She was the best friend that January would reach out to that serves to uplift her best white friend. Her characterization was so bad I can’t tell you anything about her other than she was dating a lot of people?Which isn’t bad at all but if that’s all there is to the character than I’m not sure if it’s a good thing. For those of you who read this book am I missing something?

—As we can tell from the premise, Gus is going to try to write a romance novel and January is going to try to write a literary fiction novel. While I won’t spoil certain things about this, I do you wanna point out that I felt like there was more weight put on to literary fiction versus romance. By the end of the novel and I felt like Gus haven’t really learned much from his experience. I wanted there to be more of a reason as to why he agreed to write romance. Obviously, this is a very personal opinion. When it came to January writing literary fiction, I think that we were given so much more background into the research that goes into literary fiction novels. The balance didn’t really work for me. Personally, I got the implication that romance novels don’t take as much research to write and that literary fiction is full of nothing but research. This might be an extremely nitpicky thing to talk about but it was something that didn’t sit well with me.

At the end of the day I understand that this book was not for me. There is clearly such a large group of people who really enjoy it and I’m glad y’all have thus book.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

 July 9th 2019 | Berkley 
 Source: Library 
 The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as   she  wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a   world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes     suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just   shrugs and picks up a new book.

  When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies,   leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They're all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She'll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It's a disaster! And as if that wasn't enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn't he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It's time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn't convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It's going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.
Why I had the bookish life of Nina Hill on my TVR for a very long time, It wasn’t a book that I was running to read. In all honesty, I should’ve read this book a lot sooner than I did. Even though I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, the bookish life of nina Hill was such a fun read.

While I expected this book to be a romance, I found that it was women’s fiction. By the time I came to the last pages of the story I found that I hadn’t minded not knowing it was women’s fiction. I really loved nina as a character, I really enjoyed the plot, and the entire reading experience was really positive for the most part. In terms of the plot I really love the family dynamics that we have. It’s unconventional and messy and I was very nervous about how it would be handled. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the new members of nina’s family were actually really nice people. While not all of them were as nice to her as I had hoped they would be and allow her some space to deal with this new revelation, others were incredibly kind and welcoming. I thought that it was really well done in terms of showing how family dynamics aren’t all the same all across the board.

Nina herself as a character was one that I really enjoyed reading about. She and I aren’t very similar but there were certain aspects of her personality I really connected to. She’s someone that loves to have a planner and the inserts of planner pages between the chapters was such a fun look into who she is as a person. Seeing how these pages changed over the course of the story really gave me an idea of how she was interacting with the events. I also appreciate that she doesn’t go through an immense character change by the end of the story. A lot of the time women’s fiction books tend to have their characters go through a 180 personality change that seems forced and unnecessary. Nina, on the other hand, is able to get out of her shell and welcome members of her family into her life. But she’s still a woman who is used to being on her own and has a lot of anxiety in social situations. Even by the end of the book, where she has more family than ever before and a romance, she is still struggling with her anxiety. I really appreciated the look into how anxiety manifests for Nina and how she goes about handling those situations.

And while we’re on the topic of how she handles her anxiety, I want to take a moment to talk about the romance. Again, this is not a romance but women’s fiction so I knew that the focus would be on romance. At the end of the day, I enjoyed the rest of the story so much that I was completely OK with not focusing on the romance. As much as I wanted to love this romance, on the other hand, near the end of the novel I really hate how Tom acted towards Nina. Nina suffers from anxiety and occasionally has panic attacks. She’s had them enough in her life which she knows exactly how she needs to handle them and a lot of the time that means handling them alone. I personally felt that there was a moment where Tom did not respect Nina‘s wishes. This led to Tom getting upset with nina and essentially ghosting her. I didn’t appreciate this at all because I felt like nina handled the situation very well. I hated that nina was made to feel like the person in the wrong and she had to be the one to go after Tom. At the end of the day, if your significant other cannot understand that they need to honor your requests, I don’t know if I can get behind that relationship.

Aside from that, the bookish life of Nina Hill ended up being a really great read. I read the entire book in a day because I really wanted to know what else happened with Nina and her new found family. I think that this book is a really great look at loneliness and how that can manifest differently in people. I also really enjoyed that Nina's family doesn’t consist of just adults. It was a great look at how children can handle incredibly complicated situations very well. In some ways, children adapt a lot easier to these situations than parents do. Overall, I would highly recommend the book of life of Nina Hill with some caveats to the romance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

 Wilder Girls | Rory Power
 July 9th 2019 | Delacorte Press 
 It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was   put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life   out from under her.

 It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it   began  to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and   foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend   for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare   wander  outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the   woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were   promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

  But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find   her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the   horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true
I wanted to love Wilder Girls so much. There is so much about this premise that intrigued me. After watching Kayla’s (booksandlala) vlog about this book that sold it to me. In the end, however, I was very disappointed about this book. For the record, I found out it was a Lord of the Flies retelling far too late. I really dislike Lord of the Flies and that would’ve deterred me. 

I guess I’ll start with the characters of this book. For one, I couldn’t tell the difference between these characters. I couldn’t even keep track of who they were by their physical differences but those were also so obscure. There are some characters who are sapphic, which is cool, but I was not sold on these characters. The beginning of this book is very slow in its pacing because it should’ve focused on the characters but I couldn’t tell them apart so it was all wasted on me.

If I hadn’t guessed the big reveal--well, not the exact details but we weren’t given a lot of details either way-- of this book so early on, I think I would’ve loved the writing. I could tell that the idea was to have readers at the edge of their seat but that was lost on me. Body horror is not something that gets me. I tend to have a strong stomach for things like that so that wasn’t something I was worried about.

The writing was something I couldn’t deal with. The writing style was so disjointed and all over the place. I could tell that Power was going for a sort of stream of consciousness writing style and I wish more people had talked about that more in their reviews. I’m not a fan of stream of consciousness writing in books so this was beyond frustrating for me. I guess this was purposeful but not done well for me.

I also hated the ending. I know a lot of people loved the ending, and I didn’t mind certain aspects of it, but overall, it was bad. I wanted to know more about how the tox came from and how things came to be. There’s so much more Power could’ve done with that ending and that reveal. Again, I guess this is such a subjective take. The spoilers has more about my thoughts on this.

Overall, this was not a book for me! I wanted so much more from this book.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Clap When You Land  | Elizabeth Acevedo 
May 5th 2020 | Quill Tree Books  
Source: Library 
In a novel-in-verse that brims with grief and love, National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Acevedo writes about the devastation of loss, the difficulty of forgiveness, and the bittersweet bonds that shape our lives.

Camino Rios lives for the summers when her father visits her in the Dominican Republic. But this time, on the day when his plane is supposed to land, Camino arrives at the airport to see crowds of crying people…

In New York City, Yahaira Rios is called to the principal’s office, where her mother is waiting to tell her that her father, her hero, has died in a plane crash.

Separated by distance—and Papi’s secrets—the two girls are forced to face a new reality in which their father is dead and their lives are forever altered.

And then, when it seems like they’ve lost everything of their father, they learn of each other.
As I sit down to write this review, I really don’t know if I have words that will do this book justice. Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the best writers in young adult fiction today and an even bigger powerhouse when it comes to poetry. Clap When You Land is such a powerful story and I loved reading it. 

Clap When You Land challenged me in unexpected ways. For one, I was challenged to really understand why empathy means when it comes to this plot. A man who had two families? It's hard to find kind words for him. But Acevedo doesn't make it so black and white, and that's so important here: life isn't black and white. We live so often in the gray moments in-between. A man could very easily make a mistake but still be a good man. If there is one thing Camino and Yahaira have in common is their love for their father. He was a good father to them, even if he was a very flawed man. But even more so, there is something to be said about calling what he did a mistake. Is it a mistake to have two families in two different countries? That's something to consider and Acevdeo doesn't take the easy way out with this story. 

I will say that I loved the immigrant story and the fight for your identity when you're an immigrant--or even when you're the child of immigrants. For Yahaira, it's not knowing much about the Dominican Republic, a culture she is aware of but doesn't know as well. Camino, on the other hand, has always known about New York City and has always fantasied about living in the big city. For both girls, they are tied to geographical locations in ways that are not easy to define. That push and pull both girls feel was so relatable to me. As an immigrant from India, who grew up there, but has lived mostly in the US, that push and pull between my identify and where I live (but where my culture is from) is so strong. I don't know if anything I have said makes sense, but I really loved this part of the story. 

If there is one criticism I have of Clap When You Land, it would be the struggle of telling the difference between Yahaira and Camino. While there are some differences--aside from where the girls live--I found that it was still hard for me to tell them apart. There were so many moments where I felt as though I was reading the thoughts from one sister when it was actually the other sister. 

All of that said, I have to admit that I still loved this story and it's so incredibly well written. Elizabeth Acevedo really knows how to pack a punch in poetry. It's not an easy feat to achieve but there is no one else in YA today that I think can do it the way she can. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson

Real Men Knit | Kwana Jackson
May 19th 2020 | Berkley
Source: Library 
When their foster-turned-adoptive mother suddenly dies, four brothers struggle to keep open the doors of her beloved Harlem knitting shop, while dealing with life and love in Harlem. Jesse Strong is known for two things: his devotion to his adoptive mom, Mama Joy, and his reputation for breaking hearts in Harlem.

When Mama Joy unexpectedly passes away, he and his brothers have different plans on what to do with Strong Knits, their neighborhood knitting store: Jesse wants to keep the store open; his brothers want to shut it down.

Jesse makes an impassioned plea to Kerry Fuller, his childhood friend who has had a crush on him her entire life, to help him figure out how to run the business. Kerry agrees to help him reinvent the store and show him the knitty-gritty of the business, but the more time they spend together, the more the chemistry builds. Kerry, knowing Jesse’s history, doesn’t believe this relationship will exist longer than one can knit one, purl one. But Jesse is determined to prove to her that he can be the man for her—after all, real men knit.
I wanted to love this story so much. I wanted the cute romance I was promised by the premise and instead, I found myself annoyed at the characters. I’ve recently fallen in love with knitting so I was excited to read a story where men knit. It just sounded right up my ally in terms of romance.

There was so much telling and not enough showing. There were paragraphs and paragraphs of exposition for no reason. I don’t always mind exposition, and I think there is a place for it, but it just felt like there was too much of it in this book. After a while I fully understood that Mama Joy had died and this left a huge strain on the lives of those closest to her and I wanted more. How are they managing their grief? Mama Joy had clearly helped them in so many ways so how did she equip them with dealing with grief to the best of our ability.

And I really wanted to love Kerry, but I had so many moments where she frustrated me. I don’t think her characterization was all that consistent. She went from being a shy, quiet girl to someone who could handle any and all confrontations to being very unsure around Jesse. It’s not to say that we don’t have different aspects to our personalities but Kerry didn’t feel like she was fully formed. At the same time, I was so frustrated at how she reacted to any woman Jesse was with. You have feelings for this guy, yes, but he’s constantly talking about how he sees you as a sister. That doesn’t mean you get to shame women who have casual sex with him. Maybe I’m reading this aspect of the story wrong, so correct me if I am, but I was over it pretty quickly.

At the same time, I felt zero chemistry between Kerry and Jesse. The ending to the story was extremely rushed and I hated how they had their big moment. It came out of nowhere especially because I didn’t think either of them had any chemistry with each other. If I’m honest I felt like Kerry had more chemistry with the other brothers. If she’d ended up with any of the other brothers, I would’ve loved it.

I will absolutely give Kwana Jackson’s next book a shot because I truly do think her future stories will work for me. Real Men Knit, however, just wasn’t that story.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole | Reluctant Royals #3

A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole | Reluctant Royals #3 |
April 30th 2019 | Avon
Source: Bought  
The Reluctant Royals series returns with a good girl searching for the life that’s not too big, and not too small, and the bad boy prince who might be just right for her…

Nya Jerami fled Thesolo for the glitz and glamour of NYC but discovered that her Prince Charming only exists in her virtual dating games. When Nya returns home for a royal wedding, she accidentally finds herself up close and personal—in bed—with the real-life celebrity prince who she loves to hate.

For Johan von Braustein, the red-headed step-prince of Liechtienbourg, acting as paparazzi bait is a ruse that protects his brother—the heir to the throne—and his own heart. When a royal referendum threatens his brother’s future, a fake engagement is the perfect way to keep the cameras on him.

Nya and Johan both have good reasons to avoid love, but as desires are laid bare behind palace doors, they must decide if their fake romance will lead to a happily-ever-after.
I was so beyond excited for A Prince on Paper but I am shocked as to how far it fell for me. I love the cover so much but there wasn't a lot going for it under that gorgeous cover. For one, I felt like Nya's characterization was all over the place and it was hard to get a feel for her. As someone who understood (to a certain degree) her abuse, I felt like there should have been some talk about unpacking and unlearning from her abuse. Nya should have gone to get therapy to help her better adapt to a world where she didn't have to face that level of abuse.

I've rewritten this review so many times and I don't think I've found the right way to talk about why this just didn't work for me. It could be because the book is exceptionally long and doesn't need to be this long. There were so many moments I felt were unnecessary to the story. I also couldn't find myself loving the relationship between Nya and Johan. I don't know where this romance came from but I wasn't a fan. I wanted to mention that Nya is read as demisexual which is amazing. However, the word was never used on the page so it could also not be true of the character. I will say that I didn't like how Nya kept calling a penis an "eggplant emoji." This read as ridiculous and silly, to me, and I couldn't help but wonder why this was the case? Why can't you just have a grown woman call a penis a penis? 

Anyways, I think that this book just wasn't for me. I'm eager to read more by Alyssa Cole either way! 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy | Can't Escape Love by Alyssa Cole

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole | Reluctant Royals #2.5 
January 8th 2019 | Avon Impulse 
Source: Bought 
While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.

When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.
Y'all Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is such a cute and fluffy f/f novella that I don't really have enough words for it. I loved how the story went from before and during their second meeting. I love the idea of unexpectedly meeting someone you know you love but circumstances get in the way of you being together. From their connection to getting over their turbulences, I loved reading about Latoksi and Fabiola.


Can't Escape Love by Alyssa Cole | Reluctant Royals #2.6 
March 19th 2019 | Avon Impulse 
Source: Bought
Regina Hobbs is nerdy by nature, businesswoman by nurture. She's finally taking her pop culture-centered media enterprise, Girls with Glasses, to the next level, but the stress is forcing her to face a familiar supervillain: insomnia. The only thing that helps her sleep when things get this bad is the deep, soothing voice of puzzle-obsessed live streamer Gustave Nguyen. The problem? His archive has been deleted.

Gus has been tasked with creating an escape room themed around a romance anime…except he knows nothing about romance or anime. Then mega-nerd and anime expert Reggie comes calling, and they make a trade: his voice for her knowledge. But when their online friendship has IRL chemistry, will they be able to escape love?
When it comes to romance novellas, I always have to read them with a grain of salt. I'm not the biggest fan of insta-love and when it comes to shorter stories about people falling in love, there is usually some sort of insta-love involved. I hesitate to call Can't Escape Love a second-chance romance since Reggie and Gus don't meet until this story even though they've known each other for a while but I'm sure some would. My qualms aside, I really enjoyed Can't Escape Love. I loved seeing the diversity in this book and how both characters interact with their respective differences (Reggie and her disability and Gus and his autism). Reggie and Gus had the cutest, fluffiest romance of this entire series with very little drama or conflict.

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