Book Review: Well Met

well metWell Met
by Jen DeLuca
Contemporary Romance
319 pages
Publishing September 3, 2019

I received Well Met through Book of the Month, so I was able to read it before the general release date. I actually read it on the second day of the Maryland Renaissance Festival, while my husband was out working at a friend’s booth. That turned out to be a bad idea, as the book perfectly captures the feeling of Fair and made me miss my husband and friends at Fair even more! I’m looking forward to Monday, when we’ll both be working the booth on Labor Day!

BUT THIS BOOK.

Well Met is an adorable, hilarious enemies-to-lovers romance. Emily has dropped her entire life (which wasn’t much, after her boyfriend dumped her and kicked her out of the apartment) to move to Willow Creek and help her sister, who was recently in a severe car accident. When she takes her niece to sign up as a volunteer for the local Ren Faire, she discovers minors can only volunteer if they have an adult volunteering with them. Given that her sister is in no shape to leave the house, let alone be at a Ren Faire, she volunteers so her niece can participate. Which brings us to Simon.

Simon is the head of the Faire. It was started by his brother, but the responsibility has fallen to him, and he takes it…a little too seriously. Through a series of misunderstandings (because that’s always the case in romances!) the two butt heads, argue, and generally think each other unpleasant, but everything changes when the costumes go on and Faire begins.

I adored Emily. I thought Simon was a little obtuse, and both of them a little too stubborn, and everything moved a little too fast, but when everything needs to be crammed into 300 pages, that’s going to happen. The book perfectly captures the spirit of Faire; from the jubilation, fun, and adrenaline at the start of a Faire day to the utter exhaustion at the end of the day and the relief of washing the Faire dirt off.

I was greatly amused to see MY home Fair mentioned, while discussing the size of the Willow Creek Fair:

“It’s a fund-raiser, sure, but it’s grown over the years into a pretty big event. We have talent coming from all over the country to perform. It’s not one of the big Faires by any means – we certainly have nothing on the Maryland Renaissance Festival.”

Aside from the romance feeling a little rushed (which may just be my demisexuality coming through) this book was an absolute delight, from start to finish. If you enjoy Ren Faires and Shakespeare, you should pick this up when it comes out. It’s great. (And if you’re local, come out to the Maryland Renaissance Festival!)

From the cover of Well Met:

A laugh-out-loud romantic comedy debut where a little flirtation between sworn enemies proves that all is faire in love and war.

Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, to help her sister, but who could have anticipated getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance faire? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The Faire is Simon’s family legacy, and he makes it clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life, her oddball Shakespeare conspiracy theories, or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the Faire grounds he  becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

This summer was only supposed to be a pit stop for Emily, but now she can’t shake the fantasy of calling Willow Creek – and Simon – home.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Way You Make Me Feel

the way you make me feelThe Way You Make Me Feel
by Maurene Goo
Young Adult
323 pages
Published 2018

I liked this book but I wish I hadn’t read it.

Yeah, that’s an odd sentence, isn’t it? The Way You Make Me Feel is a funny, well-written book about a teenager’s summer. She struggles with her parents, their long-ago divorce, authority, consequences for her own actions, and starting to take things seriously. It is a great, fluffy little book with fantastic minority representation.

The fact that I wish I hadn’t spent the time to read it is entirely indicative of where MY reading tastes are and has nothing to do with the book. Which makes this a difficult review to write! My tastes generally lie in fantasy, fiction that deals with heavy topics, or nonfiction. I don’t tend to read contemporary fiction that doesn’t have a message. (Unless it’s guilty pleasure romances.) So I feel like my time could have been better spent on another book, I suppose? But this book is important in its own way.

Between the Korean-Brazilian main character, her black nemesis-turned-friend, and her Chinese-American love interest, there’s a lot of minority representation in this book, and they deserve happy, fluffy books. (There’s also a gay side character.) It’s something I’ve seen talked about a lot – minority authors sometimes feel pressured to address issues of discrimination, immigration, and the like in their books – but they also need books where their characters are just average people.

So the book sits in an odd in-between place for me. It is well-written and a fun book to read. I enjoyed the story. But I have so many books on my TBR right now that I wish I’d spent the time on something more substantial or closer to my personal tastes. For actual young adults – especially any of the identities represented by the book – it would be an excellent summer read.

From the cover of The Way You Make Me Feel:

Sixteen-year-old Clara Shin doesn’t take life too seriously, but when she pushes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra. Clara was supposed to go on vacation to Tulum to visit her social media-influencer mom; she was supposed to spend lazy days at the pool with her buddies. Being stuck in a sweaty Korean-Brazilian food truck all day, every day? Worse still, working alongside her nemesis, Rose Carver? Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined.

But as time goes on, it turns out that maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) who’s crushing on Clara is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?

With her signature warmth and humor, Maurene Goo delivers a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.

Book Review: Internment

internmentInternment
by Samira Ahmed
Young Adult / Contemporary Fiction
384 pages
Published March 2019

This book should be required reading in schools. Especially now. It could be paired with Anne Frank. One history, one a possible future. Probable, even. Depending on how you look at it, an actual present. We DO have concentration camps on the border. (Which makes me shudder to write, what in the absolute FUCK.)

*breathes deeply*

Internment is a gut-punch of a book. I had to set it down two pages in and get control of myself, and again around page eleven. I took breaks throughout reading it to do HOUSEWORK, of all things, because I needed the mental and emotional reprieve. And I’m a white woman. I have the privilege of being pretty sure I will never be the target of these kinds of atrocities. Which means I have the responsibility to work against them. I’m also a physically weak, chronic-illness-having, unemployed white woman, (which does have the benefit of letting me keep on eye on my middle-eastern neighbors’ houses to watch for ICE showing up – I fully intend to go make myself a damned nuisance if they do) so I can’t go storm the camps or march for hours at protests. What I can do is boost books like this.

If you’re white, GO READ THIS BOOK. Suck it up and read it. I don’t have the same recommendation for my friends of color because they already live with this kind of fear and racism. They don’t need it illustrated to them. WE DO.

This book needs content warnings for violence, threats of rape, anxiety-inducing situations, racism, violent death – Samira Ahmed does NOT pull punches. Direct resistance is costly. It takes courage and sacrifice, and she does not shy away from showing that. It would be sugar-coating if she did.

Internment focuses on the idea of America forcing citizens into camps – but we are already forcing non-citizens into camps. The Red Cross visits the camp, not unlike our politicians visiting the immigrant concentration camps on our border now. They have a garden they can work on in the camp – not unlike a pair of photos I saw on Twitter:GardenCampTweet

Internment is stunning, heartbreaking, and inspiring, and if you’re emotionally capable of it, YOU SHOULD READ IT. This is happening, right now, on our southern border. It is infuriating that our politicians have not put a stop to it yet. My own Congressman (I just moved into this area, I haven’t had a chance to vote on him yet) just visited the camps, and his Twitter thread on them is SO CAREFUL to use absolutely neutral language when talking about them, and it pisses me off. This is NOT a neutral subject.

Internment did have a few downsides – the Director never gets a name (though the book is told from Layla’s viewpoint, and it would not surprise me if he never bothered to GIVE his name to the internees) and he’s almost cartoonishly evil. I would have liked to know more about the guard that helped Layla on occasion, but again, told as it was from her viewpoint, it can be excused by saying she simply didn’t know more about him. But this IS a Young Adult novel told from a seventeen-year-old’s viewpoint. We’re only going to get what she knows and feels. So these downsides don’t detract from the book for me.

To sum up – I recommend Internment at the highest level. You absolutely must read this book.

From the cover of Internment:

REBELLIONS ARE BUILT ON HOPE.

It’s been one year since the census landed seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her family on the registry. Five months since the attorney general argued that Korematsu v. United States established precedent for relocation of citizens during times of war. And one month since the president declared that “Muslims are a threat to America.”

And now, Layla and her parents are suddenly taken from their home and forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of new friends also trapped within the detention center, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, Internment is a heart-racing and emotional novel that challenges readers to fight the complicit silence that exists in our society today.

Book Review: With The Fire On High

with the fire on highWith The Fire On High
by Elizabeth Acevedo
Young Adult / Contemporary Fiction
388 pages
Published May 2019

With this book, Elizabeth Acevedo has solidified her position as one of my must-read authors. The Poet X was EXCELLENT, and this one is every bit as good, which is awesome, considering the wildly different formats of the two books. The Poet X was a novel in poem form, being the collected poems of a teenage girl. This book is a more traditional novel, written in prose. It loses none of the lyrical, enchanting quality of Acevedo’s writing, however.

With The Fire On High centers on Emoni Santiago, a teenage mother struggling to graduate from high school on time. When a culinary arts elective is offered during her senior year of school, she takes it despite feeling like she should be spending her energy on her daughter’s future instead of realizing her own dreams. The elective opens up an entire world for her, however, taking her from whipping up magic alone in her own kitchen to being recognized by talented chefs as having something special. The added hours spent on cooking begin to affect her other responsibilities, however, and Emoni struggles to balance everything in her life, a fight that is very nearly upended by the new, very cute boy who just transferred to her school.

Emoni deals admirably with the vast responsibilities of being a parent, the complications of her own somewhat unusual home life (she’s been raised by her grandmother after her mother’s death and her father’s absence), and the pressures of high school. Especially a school where she spent freshman year pregnant. Rather luckily, her daughter’s father goes to a different school, so at least she doesn’t have to deal with him every day.

Similar to The Poet X, the book deals with the intersection of black American culture and Puerto Rican culture, a combination I’ve been seeing more and more in Young Adult. (Well, The Poet X was Dominican, but they have very similar worries, mostly revolving around feeling “not black enough.”)

I loved Emoni, I loved Malachi (the cute transfer student), I loved Abuela and Baby Girl/Emma. I even didn’t mind Tyrone too much. For being a player, he was trying to do right by his daughter. Acevedo has such a talent for characters. Angelica (Emoni’s best friend) and her girlfriend were a delight, too.

If you see a book by Elizabeth Acevedo, pick it up. You won’t be disappointed. I can’t wait to pick up her next book, which appears to be another novel in verse called Clap When You Land, due out next year!

From the cover of With The Fire On High:

Ever since she got pregnant freshman year, Emoni Santiago’s life has been about making the tough decisions, doing what has to be done for her daughter and her abuela. The one place she can let all that go is in the kitchen. There, she lets her hands tell her what to cook, listening to her intuition and adding a little something magical every time, turning her food into straight-up goodness.

Even though she’s always dreamed of working in a kitchen after she graduates, Emoni knows that it’s not worth her time to pursue the impossible. Yet despite the rules she’s made for her life – and everyone else’s rules, which she refuses to play by – once Emoni starts cooking, her only choice is to let her talent break free.

From the author of National Book Award winner The Poet X comes a dazzling story of a girl with talent, pride, and a drive to create that keeps her fire burning bright.

Book Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors

pride prejudice and other flavorsPride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors
by Sonali Dev
Contemporary Fiction / Retelling
481 pages
Published May 2019

This is yet another Pride and Prejudice retelling, as evidenced by the title. It seems to be a popular thing to do of late, but they’ve all been very good, so I’m not complaining! This one, more than the others, really deconstructed the story and put it all back together in a unique way.

Probably the biggest change here is that while Darcy is still a man with a younger sister and no other family, the roles of the two families have been switched. Darcy is the poor one, and Trisha (Lizzie Bennett) is the rich one. Wickham still plays the villain, though in a slightly different manner, and Darcy is not the friend of Trisha/Lizzie’s elder sister’s beau. (Though the elder sister does still have romantic problems!)

I really liked the swapped roles; it made for a radically different plotline than the story it’s based on. What I did not like is the lack of sparks between DJ/Darcy and Trisha. They butted heads like they should, but unlike the original and most of the retellings, I didn’t feel the underlying sexual tension. Trisha seemed more enamored of DJ’s cooking than of DJ, and I don’t know what DJ saw in Trisha at ALL.

The author also kept pulling me out of my immersion in the story with her repeated use of “XXXX” was what I WANTED to say, but of course I didn’t say it, instead I simply replied “YYYY.” Just – over and over, with multiple characters. I appreciate you’re trying to show us what they’re thinking vs. what they’re saying, but change it up.

I did enjoy the book overall; I love seeing other cultures take on this trope, from the Pakistani Unmarriageable to the Brooklyn African-American Pride, to this mix of Indian-American and British-Indian. I think Unmarriageable was my favorite of these three, but it really was excellent.

So this was good, but not outstanding.

From the cover of Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes,  her influential immigrant family, who have achieved power by making their own nonnegotiable rules:

  • Never trust an outsider
  • Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
  • And never, ever defy your family

Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat her old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and who place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer him, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before they can savor the future, they need to reckon with the past . . . .

A family trying to build a home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.

Book Review: Red, White, and Royal Blue

red white & royal blueRed, White, and Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston
M/M Romance (New Adult)
421 pages
Published May 2019

I have been looking forward to this book for several months, and it arrived just in time for Pride, and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. It is very much an adult romance, complete with sex scenes. They are not the focus of the story, but they’re definitely not skimped on, either!

Red, White, and Royal Blue takes the bisexual son of the (female!) US President and pits him against the closeted (at order of his grandmother) gay youngest prince of England. After they make a scene at an international event (oh, enemies-to-lovers trope, how I love thee!) the two boys are ordered to make nice, and make it look like their scene was just friendly rough-housing that got out of hand. As typical for enemies-to-lovers, once they’re forced to spend time together, they each start to realize the other isn’t all that bad.

I loved so much about this book. I loved Alex and Henry. I loved the side characters. I loved the formatting when the author includes email and text chains between characters. I loved that the boys start quoting real historical queer letters to each other.

I mean, with sentences like “Henry lets Alex take him apart with painstaking patience and precision, moans the name of God so many times that the room feels consecrated.” How do you NOT fall in love with this book? Just – wow.

I could totally see the author writing stories for the rest of “The Trio” – the president and vice president’s kids/grandkids (Alex’s sister, June, and their best friend, Nora.) But this book stands just fine completely on its own.

This book ranks right up there with The Priory of the Orange Tree, and that’s one of my new all-time favorites. So yeah. Absolutely fantastic romance.

From the cover of Red, White, and Royal Blue:

When his mother became President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius – his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with an actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex/Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family and state and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: Stage a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instagrammable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the presidential campaign and upend two nations. It raises the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?