Book Review: Love à la Mode

love a la modeLove à la Mode
by Stephanie Kate Strohm
Young Adult/Romance/Contemporary Fiction
323 pages
Published November 2018

I’m a baker. I absolutely love baking, it centers me when I’m being scatter-brained and grounds me when I’m in a bad mood. So I instantly identified with Rosie in this novel, who wants to be a pastry chef, currently at a culinary school that focuses more on cooking savory things. I’ve been there. Granted, my culinary school was basically a crash course two-year program at a community college, not “the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world” but I identify with the feeling of being a fish not-quite-out of water. I’d also never seen this put into words before:

“…it was that not knowing that Rosie hated. That was why she loved baking. Baking was all knowing. If you followed the recipe, you got exactly what you intended. An apple pie never surprisingly turned into lemon meringue halfway through the baking process.”

I have some mild anxiety, and I hadn’t realized WHY baking helped, just that it did. But it’s true – baking is about knowing. That quote is in the second chapter, and I knew from then on I was going to love this book. (I was already pretty sure, but that moment drove it home.)

The descriptions of food in this novel – food and cooking, and WHY some people cook – are mouth-watering. I loved seeing the backgrounds of the various culinary students, as they came from all over the world to École Denis Laurent, the prestigious school in Paris. I liked the point made, eventually, that what looks like the “cool kids clique” from outside might not be what it seems. The book even addressed toxic masculinity in the form of Henry’s unwillingness to ask for help from his friends when he was struggling.

At its heart, Love à la Mode is a sweet, fluffy, clean romance with a romantic backdrop of Paris and good food. Sometimes a little bit of happy, lighthearted escapist fiction is what we all need. Especially when it doesn’t neglect representation to do it – there’s only a tiny bit of LGBT+ rep in the book, but the characters come from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds.

From the cover of Love à la Mode:

Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir . . . 

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crêpes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love à la Mode follows Rose and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other. 

Book Review: The Weight of Feathers

the weight of feathersThe Weight of Feathers
by Anna-Marie McLemore
Young Adult/Romance/Shakespeare Retelling
308 pages
Published 2015

The Weight of Feathers is a Romeo and Juliet story, with two families feuding over real and imagined slights, and a young person from each family falling in love and fighting their conditioning and the control of their families to be together. McLemore has added a touch of magic to the story, but it’s deft enough that at first it can be mistaken for metaphor.

Lace Paloma is the Palomas’ youngest mermaid, only just allowed to show herself in the shows, but not yet allowed to interact with fans. A big part of their performance is not being seen out of the water, out of costume, so when the show is over, all the mermaids swim off to deserted edges of the lake they perform in to exit, change, and make their way home. On her way home after one such performance, Lace is caught in the woods when some kind of acid rain from the nearby adhesive plant coats the town. While somewhat caustic, the rain is really only dangerous if it hits cotton clothing, which Lace is wearing. One of the Corbeau boys finds her in the woods, rips off her cotton clothing, and gets her to the hospital. Because she was in her normal clothing and not her costume, he didn’t realize she was part of the rival family. This meeting and rescue is not actually the start of their contact with each other; they’d talked briefly in town, when each thought the other was a local, but it does turn it from a passing contact to something more, and when Lace is spurned by her family, she winds up under the Corbeau boy’s protection.

The book is about family secrets, corporate conspiracies, abusive families, and control of one’s own destiny, swirled together with a touch of magic, feathers, and mermaid scales. While it is definitely a Romeo and Juliet story, McLemore has taken the story and truly made it her own. Both the Paloma family and the Corbeau family have such a mythology woven about themselves that each family really has an identity that defines them. (Feathers and “flying” for the Corbeaus, scales and swimming for the Palomas.) When Lace and Cluck try to bridge the gap between the two, things get difficult.

I really loved this book, and it has made me even more eager to read Blanca & Roja, McLemore’s next book. Her writing is gorgeous and surreal and I love it.

From the cover of The Weight of Feathers:

The Palomas and the Corbeaus have long been rivals and enemies, locked in an escalating feud for more than a generation. Both families make their living as traveling performers in competing shows – the Palomas swimming in mermaid exhibitions, the Corbeaus, former tightrope walkers, performing in the tallest trees they can find.

Lace Paloma may be new to her family’s show, but she knows as well as anyone that the Corbeaus are pure magia negra, black magic from the devil himself. Simply touching one could mean death, and she’s been taught since birth to keep away. But when disaster strikes the small town where both families are performing, it’s a Corbeau boy, Cluck, who saves Lace’s life. And his touch immerses her in the world of the Corbeaus, where falling for him could turn his own family against him, and one misstep could be just as dangerous on the ground as it is in the trees. 

Beautifully written and richly imaginative, The Weight of Feathers is an utterly captivating young adult novel by a talented new voice.

Book Review: Odd One Out

odd one outOdd One Out
by Nic Stone
Young Adult/Romance/LGBT
306 pages
Published October 2018

DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME WITH THIS BOOK. I mean it. This is one of those books that is so bad that I don’t plan to read anything else by the author, which is a little annoying as her debut book, Dear Martin, is the new One Book Baltimore pick. But this book, her second, is SO BAD that I can’t imagine her first is any better. I will get into details, but first.

TRIGGER WARNING. BIPHOBIA. ILLEGAL SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS. (big age gaps). 

Alright. With that said, let’s dive in. SPOILERS AHEAD.

We have three main characters in this book, of various races and ethnicities – the racial rep is actually one of the few good things about this book. First we have “Coop,” black straight male. Then we have his best friend, “Jupe” or Jupiter, lesbian female. Then the new girl, Rae, who appears to be bi, but never outright labels herself. She is assumed to be straight by Jupiter, one of many instances of casual biphobia in this book.

All three characters fall in love with each other. From this setup, and the jacket description, I was expecting a rare representation of polyamory in a young adult book. But not only do they not wind up in a triangle, the possibility isn’t even spoken of. This is supposedly a book about questioning labels and exploring your identity but alternate relationship structures don’t even seem to EXIST, which is SUPER frustrating. Even if they’d at least discussed it as an OPTION, I would have been happier. But no. Monogamy is not only the norm, but apparently the only option in this book.

And OH LORD THE BIPHOBIA. Jupe has a lesbian friend who is much older than her – in college – and said friend goes off about how she won’t date bi girls because they’ll always leave you for men. She’s not challenged on this statement. Not out loud, not in the text, nothing. And that’s not the only instance. Jupe also gets drunk and pleads with this friend to have sex with her. Resulting in a 20-year-old having sex with a tipsy sixteen-year-old.

I normally don’t have an issue with age gaps – and I don’t, actually, have an issue with Rae, who’s 15, and Cooper, who is 18 in the book. Other reviewers have mentioned that’s not legal in Georgia, where the book takes place, but please. It’s only a three-year age difference, and they’re all in high school. But the college student giving in to the tipsy high-schooler was a little more than just “an age gap.” That’s…very questionable.

BACK TO THE BIPHOBIA. There’s an inner monologue about if saying you’re bisexual also means you can be attracted to non-binary people or not. (Hint: bi means “attracted to your own sex AND OTHERS.” So yes.) And when Jupiter, the lesbian, decides she is attracted to Cooper, she flatly denies that that makes her bisexual.

To be fair, I’ve known at least two lesbians who identify as “lesbian except HIM” – one specific person. But that’s not what Jupiter does. She drops her label entirely – in a GSA meeting at her school that she leads – because she still likes girls but also likes a boy. When a bisexual member speaks up with “So you’re bi then? You can say it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m bi.” she IMMEDIATELY shoots him down, saying it’s not that cut and dried. Then she announces they’ll talk about negative stereotypes of different sexualities, including bisexuality, in their next meeting and ends the meeting. The only reason she doesn’t like the bisexual label, as stated a little earlier in the book, is because she’s attracted to nonbinary people so she “doesn’t know if bi fits.” That’s biphobia.

Oh, and let’s not forget when Rae kisses Jupiter and she goes off on her about keeping her straight-questioning cooties away from her. (Paraphrasing.) Rae had never explicitly talked about her sexuality, but obviously because she’s attracted to boys, she’s straight, right?

The book is advertised as having great representation, and it’s just bad. It’s bad and hurtful and frustrating and shouldn’t be on all these LGBT lists because this is NOT the kind of representation we should be pushing.

Ugh. And I haven’t even touched the quality of writing. Which is…not great. I don’t understand the people that liked this book or think it’s good rep. Did we read the same book?

From the cover of Odd One Out:

COURTNEY “COOP” COOPER
Dumped. Again. And normally I wouldn’t mind. But right now, my best friend and source of solace, Jupiter Sanchez, is ignoring me to text some girl.

RAE EVELYN CHIN
I assumed “new girl” would be synonymous with “pariah,” but Jupiter and Courtney make me feel like I’m right where I belong. I also want to kiss him. And her. Which is . . . perplexing.

JUPITER CHARITY-SANCHEZ
The only thing worse than losing the girl you love to a boy is losing her to your boy. That means losing him, too. I have to make a move . . . . 

One story.

Three sides.

No easy answers.

Book Review: Analee, In Real Life

annalee in real lifeAnalee, In Real Life
by Janelle Milanes
Young Adult/Romance/Contemporary Fiction
400 pages
Published September 2018

I picked this one up because of the mention of the online roleplaying game. Somewhat disappointingly, the book spends almost no time actually in the game. We’re told that Analee used to escape into the game all the time, but in the book itself we see her putting aside the game for “real life”, over and over again. I was expecting her to be more reluctant to leave it.

That aside, this is a great YA book about adjusting to changes in family life and social pressures at school. The clique and rumor mill and popular kids are all there, with Analee on the outside – until she agrees to fake-date Seb. We watch as she goes from being invisible to being known at school, and how that affects her.

Analee’s also dealing with the impending wedding of her dad and his girlfriend, two years after Analee’s mother died, and all the emotions that brings up.

It’s a cute YA book, with a lot of character development, but the part of it that drew me didn’t get as much screen-time as I was expecting, so it just wasn’t really my cup of tea.

From the cover of Analee, In Real Life:

Ever since her mom died three years ago, Analee Echevarria has had trouble saying out loud the weird thoughts that sit in her head. With a best friend who hates her and a dad who’s marrying a yogi she can’t stand, Analee spends most of her time avoiding reality and role-playing as Kiri, the night elf hunter at the center of her favorite online game.

Through Kiri, Analee is able to express everything that real-life Analee cannot: her bravery, her strength, her inner warrior. The one thing both Kiri and Analee can’t do, though, is work up the nerve to confess her romantic feelings for Kiri’s partner in crime, Xolkar – aka a teen boy named Harris, whom Analee has never actually met in person.

So when high school heartthrob Seb Matias asks Analee to pose as his girlfriend in an attempt to make his ex jealous, Analee agrees. Sure, Seb seems kind of obnoxious, but Analee could use some practice connecting with people in real life. In fact, it’d maybe even help her with Harris.

But the more Seb tries to coax Analee out of her comfort zone, the more she starts to wonder if her anxious, invisible self is even ready for the real world. Can Analee figure it all out without losing herself in the process?

Book Review: P.S. I Still Love You

ps i still love youP.S. I Still Love You
by Jenny Han
Young Adult/Romance
339 pages
Published 2015

PS I Still Love You is a continuation of Lara Jean’s story from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. It really is a seamless continuation – it picks up almost immediately where the first ends, in the holidays, with Lara Jean pining over Peter.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first – the sisters are still here, but Lara Jean doesn’t spend as much time worrying over her dynamic with her sisters as she did in the first book. This second book is all about Peter, his ex, and what’s going on at school. That’s fine – obviously the story needs to evolve and move, but the sisters were such a huge part of the charm of the first book that I really miss them in this one.

A second boy is introduced in this book – John – and to be honest, I like him more than Peter. I know Peter and Lara Jean are really set up as THE couple in this series, but – John’s so nice. And Peter’s so oblivious.

There’s one more book – Always and Forever, Lara Jean – and while I’m sure it won’t happen, I’m holding out hope that John will come back in book #3 and win Lara Jean over. I really, really liked him.

From the cover of P.S. I Still Love You:

Lara Jean didn’t expect to really fall for Peter.

They were just pretending. Until they weren’t. And now Lara Jean has to learn what it’s like to be in a real relationship and not just a make-believe one.

But when another boy from her past returns to her life, Lara Jean’s feelings for him suddenly return too.

Can a girl be in love with two boys at once?

In this charming and heartfelt sequel to the New York Times bestseller “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Lara Jean is about to find out that falling in love is the easy part.

Book Review: This is Kind of an Epic Love Story

this is kind of an epic love storyThis is Kind of an Epic Love Story
by Kheryn Callender
Young Adult/LGBT/Romance
286 pages
Published October 2018

This incredibly cute queer romance was the YA_Pride Book Club pick this month on Twitter. What I didn’t expect when I picked it up was just HOW GOOD the representation is in this book. First, Ollie, the main love interest, is deaf, and communicates via ASL or written word. This isn’t a huge deal; people just work around it, which is really lovely. There’s a lot of passing phones around with things typed out on them, plus lip-reading and some limited use of signs, many of them described on the page for the reader.

The other amazing representation is how the book treats bisexuality. Both Nate and his best friend Flo are bi; they dated each other before the beginning of the book, but Flo is dating a woman when the book opens, and Nate has a huge crush on Ollie. This is not treated as weird, or even remarkable enough to be noted. They just are interested in more than one gender and it’s completely normal. I love it.

The story itself is really cute; Ollie was a childhood best friend that Nate had a crush on, and he’s come back to town several years later. Turns out Nate’s crush still exists, and the boys start an awkward romance. Nate is the kind of overthinker that constantly sabotages his own happiness, and we see that play out in more than just his relationship with Ollie.

I also really liked that the book didn’t play into the “the first time with the right person is magical and perfect” trope when it comes to sex. No, first times are awkward and sometimes not all that pleasurable, even with the right person. But with the right person, you can get past the awkwardness and try again. It was a much more realistic first sexual experience, I think.

This book was a quick read, with great minority rep, from racial to sexual to disability rep. The story was great. I liked also that the romance wasn’t the only focus of the story; Nate’s relationships with his friends were also important to the plot. Great book.

From the cover of This is Kind of an Epic Love Story:

Nathan Bird doesn’t believe in happy endings.

Although he’s the ultimate film buff and an aspiring screenwriter, Nate’s seen the demise of too many relationships to believe that happy endings exist in real life.

Playing it safe to avoid a broken heart has been his MO ever since his father died and left his mom to unravel – but the strategy is not without fault. His best-friend-turned-girlfriend-turned-best-friend-again, Florence, is set on making sure Nate finds someone else. And in a twist that is rom-com-worthy, someone does come along: Oliver James Hernández, his childhood best friend.

After a painful mix-up when they were little, Nate finally has the chance to tell Ollie the truth about his feelings. But can Nate find the courage to pursue his own happily ever after?