Book Review: Small Town Hearts

small town heartsSmall Town Hearts
by Lillie Vale
Young Adult / Contemporary Romance
324 pages
Published March 2019

This was a perfect summer read. Set in a tourist town on the coast of Maine, this was friend drama and summer romance and summers at the beach, mixed with coffee and baked goods and sand castles. Babe is that rare teen in a small town who has no desire to leave it; she loves her little community, lives in the lighthouse overlooking the town, and dreams of buying the coffee shop she works in and spending the rest of her life right where she’s always been. Her friends, however, are not so content with their lives, and her best friend’s narcissistic drama plays a large part in the plot of this charming little book.

I definitely wanted to shake Babe a couple of times, and tell her that her friend Lucy is SUCH a better friend than Penny, her “best friend” from high school. It’s definitely the boy in their little group of three that is responsible for messing it all up, but Penny blames Babe for it all, which is completely unfair.

But the friend drama is not what I loved about this book. What I loved was the charming romance that blossoms between Babe and Levi, the artist in town for the summer. He is sweet and direct and just perfect.

I also really liked how this book treated Babe’s bisexuality. So many books with bi main characters have the 95/5 version of bisexuality; where they’re basically interested in one gender, except one or two people of another gender. Some of them are a little more open, where the MC has been with many genders but is still primarily interested in one. I feel like it’s rare to see one that’s truly 50/50. Bisexuality does cover that spectrum of attraction, I just enjoyed seeing a book about this particular aspect. Babe falls in love with a boy in this book, but an ex-girlfriend plays a significant role. I really liked this passage:

I had gone on a handful of dates that never led anywhere beyond awkward “See ya arounds” and fended-off kisses at the end of the night. Most of them had been nice, cute and witty. Local boys who were salt of the earth, sunny girls who collected kisses like seashells.

I also really enjoyed the subtle theme of consent. In at least two instances, an action done with consent “Is this okay?” “May I…?” is received with enthusiasm, whereas the same action, done by someone else and without asking, meets with shock and betrayal. That’s a nice thing to see in YA.

I really enjoyed this charming little book, and it’s a great read for summer time. The bisexual main character is done really well, and issues of consent and being closeted are explored. Definitely recommend this one!

From the cover of Small Town Hearts:

Fresh out of high school, Babe Vogel should be thrilled to have the whole summer at her fingertips. She loves living in her lighthouse home in the sleepy Maine beach town of Oar’s Rest and being a barista at the Busy Bean, but she’s totally freaking out about how her life will change when her two best friends go to college in the fall. And when a reckless kiss causes all three of them to break up, she may lose them a lot sooner. On top of that, her ex-girlfriend is back in town, bringing with her a slew of memories, both good and bad.

And then there’s Levi Keller, the cute artist who’s spending all his free time at the coffee shop where she works. Levi’s from out of town, and even though Babe knows better than to fall for a tourist who will leave when summer ends, she can’t stop herself from wanting to know him. Can Babe keep her distance, or will she break the one rule she’s always had – to never fall for a summer boy?

Advertisements

Book Review: Wicked Fox

wicked foxWicked Fox
by Kat Cho
Young Adult / Romance / Fantasy
426 pages
Published June 2019

I loved everything about this book except the epilogue. But we’ll get to that. Wicked Fox is the story of Miyoung, a gumiho. Better known to most Westerners as a Kitsune, but this is Korea, not Japan. The difference is important, and evident. I really enjoyed all of the Korean culture included in this book; it’s not as common a setting as Japan or China. Americans often make the mistake of lumping all of eastern Asia together as far as culture, but they are very different. South Korea isn’t as unfamiliar to us as some East Asian cultures – like Mongolia, Taiwan, or North Korea – but China and Japan tend to overshadow the rest.

So in Seoul, we have Miyoung, whose nature drives her to absorb the life essence of humans to sustain her own. She tries to do this in the best way she can, by hunting evil men, but something goes wrong on one of her hunts, she saves a human boy’s life, and things unravel from there.

I loved Jihoon. The poor boy is thrust into the middle of an impossible situation, and tries to do his best by everyone involved. It’s easy to see why Miyoung is drawn to him, and I love the easy comradery between Jihoon and his friends, as well.

The book would easily be a perfect standalone were it not for the epilogue. I will probably just pretend to myself that the epilogue doesn’t exist, and be happy with the book as-is. I don’t think it needs a sequel, and it feels a little forced. Almost like the book was done and turned in and the publisher offered the author a sequel, and she decided she could make that happen and tacked on a few pages to lead us to the next book. It’s just – unneeded.

The epilogue aside, I adored this book.

From the cover of Wicked Fox:

Eighteen-year-old Gu Miyoung has a secret. She’s a gumiho – a nine-tailed fox who survives by consuming the energy of men. But she’s also half-human and has a soft spot for people. So she won’t kill indiscriminately. With the help of a shaman, Miyoung only takes the lives of men who have committed terrible crimes. Devouring their life force is a morbid kind of justice . . . or so she tells herself.

But killing men no one would ever miss in bustling modern-day Seoul also helps Miyoung keep a low profile. She and her mother protect themselves by hiding in plain sight. That is until Miyoung crosses paths with a handsome boy her age as he’s being attacked by a goblin in the woods. She breaks her mother’s cardinal rule – revealing herself and her nine tails – to save Jihoon from certain death. In the process, she loses her fox bead – her gumiho soul. Without it, she will die.

When Miyoung and Jihoon next meet, there’s no doubt they are drawn to each other. But their tenuous romance could be over before it even begins, as Miyoung’s efforts to restore her fox bead by the next full moon ensnares them in a generations-old feud, forcing Miyoung to choose between her immortal life and Jihoon’s.

 

Book Review: Tell Me How You Really Feel

tell me how you really feelTell Me How You Really Feel
by Aminah Mae Safi
Young Adult / Romance / LGBT
309 pages
Published June 2019

This book was alright. There was a lot of hype around it before it released and I…don’t really agree. I liked both characters. I enjoyed the plot. Okay, I enjoyed the entire book, except. Except. Rachel BLINDLY hates beautiful people. Which is ridiculous, given (at least on the cover) she’s far from ugly herself. I just don’t get her blind hatred of beautiful people. She’s spent the last three years hating Sana because, what? Sana had the guts to ask her out while being pretty? That plot point just kept pulling me out of the story. Which was otherwise really good! But two pretty girls on the cover and one of them hates pretty people but has no self-awareness that she is ALSO pretty? I don’t recall the text actually saying whether Rachel is pretty or not, but Sana obviously thinks so.

This might be an issue with whoever designed the cover not understanding the plot of the book; I know authors don’t always have full control over their covers. But it REALLY made that particular plot point confusing.

This book is also another example of the cover description being misleading. Rachel doesn’t “realize” that Sana is perfect for the role and try to cast her; her supervisor informs her that Sana will be in that role and she’ll just have to make it work. It’s a bit of a different dynamic.

Sooooo I don’t know whether to recommend the book or not. It was good, but I was annoyed by that plot point. Rachel and Sana were the only developed characters; everyone else was only there to further their story. Which is not always a bad thing; but I generally like the supporting cast to be a little bit more developed. They are people too, they shouldn’t solely exist to drive the romance between the two main characters.

As a lesbian romance, this was great. As a well-rounded book, not so much.

From the cover of Tell Me How You Really Feel:

The first time Sana Khan asked out a girl – Rachel Recht – it went so badly that she never did it again. Rachel is a film buff and an aspiring director, and she’s seen Carrie enough times to learn you can never trust cheerleaders (and beautiful people). Rachel was furious that Sana tried to prank her by asking her out on a date.

But when it comes time for Rachel to cast her senior project, she realizes that there’s no one more perfect than Sana – the girl she’s sneered at in the halls for the past three years – to play the lead role. And poor Sana – she says yes. She never did get over that first crush, even if Rachel can barely stand to be in the same room as her.

Told from alternating viewpoints and set against the backdrop of LA in the springtime, when the rainy season rolls in and the Santa Anas can still blow, these two girls are about to learn that in the city of dreams, anything is possible – even love.

Book Review: Technically, You Started It

technically you started itTechnically, You Started It
by Lana Wood Johnson
Young Adult Romance / LGBT
374 pages
Published June 2019

So the biggest reason for my recent hiatus was that I was having trouble reading. If I can’t read, I can’t review! And every time I tried to read a book, I fell asleep. I just couldn’t pay attention to pages of text. I knew, however, that this book had a demisexual protagonist, and I thought that might be enough to keep my attention. I opened the book, and found that the entire thing was written in text message format with speech bubbles, instead of giant blocks of text. Which was EXACTLY what I needed to hold my interest!

This is a precious book, told entirely via text messages between Haley, a demisexual girl, and Martin, a bisexual boy. Which, hi, that’s my life? Most of the bisexual men I’ve been reading lately have been in M/M relationships, so it’s nice to see a bisexual boy in a relationship with a girl. AND that they address the viewpoint of many people towards bi boys – that they’ll cheat. (That’s a biphobic attitude that is aimed at bi people of all genders, but it seems especially prevalent from women towards bi men.)

I love both of these characters; I love that they bring up that things can be so much easier to say via text than face-to-face. I love the far-reaching, random conversations the two have, and the in-jokes they create.

You’d think a romance would be hard to tell without description – only text is similar to only dialogue. But Johnson manages, and does it superbly.

This was the perfect book to break my reading slump, and I love it so much.

From the cover of Technically, You Started It:

Is This Haley Hancock from Mrs James’s US History class?

Yeah.
Who’s this?

Martin Nathaniel Munroe II

Which one?
You’re both in my US History class.

The good one.

When a guy named Martin Nathaniel Munroe II texts you, it should be obvious who you’re talking to. Except there’s two of them (it’s a long story), and Haley thinks she knows which one is “the good one.”

A question about a class project rapidly evolves into an all-consuming conversation. Haley finds that Martin is actually willing to listen to her weird facts and unusual obsessions, and Martin feels like Haley is the first person to really see who he is. Haley and Martin might be too awkward to hang out in real life, but over text, they’re becoming addicted to each other.

There’s just one problem: Haley doesn’t know who Martin is. And Martin doesn’t know that Haley doesn’t know. But they better figure it out fast before their meet-cute becomes an epic meet-disaster . . . 

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: The Tiger At Midnight

tiger at midnightThe Tiger At Midnight
by Swati Teerdhala
Young Adult / Fantasy
484 pages
Published April 2019

I’m posting this during AnthroCon; I thought it was fitting given the nature of the royal family’s magic; they can turn into humanoid animals. Or complete animals. I’m not actually completely clear on that point. It’s not explored much in this volume, but I think it will be in the next book.

The Tiger At Midnight as the first in a fantasy trilogy, set in two countries. The two countries were founded by two fraternal twins. They bound themselves to the land, and that blood bond has to be renewed every… year? some period of time – by the rulers of the two countries – a woman from one royal family, and a man from the other. In this manner the countries have been prosperous for centuries, until about fifteen years before this book begins. There was a coup against the queendom. The royal family was slaughtered, and the military has propped up a king since then. In the ensuing years, that country has begun to deteriorate; there have been droughts, animal attacks, forests have gotten darker and more dangerous – the bond is dying with no royal blood to sustain it. The other country can only sustain it so long before it will start affecting them, too.

So this is the setting. There’s rumors of a lost princess, but how much of that is truth and how much is foolish hope is yet to be determined. Into this strife we have Esha, a rebel also known as The Viper. The Viper is a mythical assassin who everyone thinks is a man, mostly because the imposter king disenfranchised his country’s women, so obviously someone so accomplished must be a man. Kunal is a soldier raised by his uncle who can’t remember his father at all, and only knows that his mother was one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting who died in the coup. Kunal, the only one who realizes The Viper is a woman, winds up chasing her across the country, and the cat-and-mouse style of their chase makes up most of the book and is incredibly entertaining. The two are well-matched in skills and wits, and the way they spark off each other is great. Every time he catches up to Esha, she pokes another hole in his belief system, and Kunal begins to see how much the soldiers have been lied to about what is happening out in the country they are fighting for.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding here, and I really hope the glimpse we saw of the royal family’s magic gets expanded on in the rest of the trilogy. It is otherwise a pretty low-magic world; there are no wizards or spells or enchantments or anything. The dichotomy of the two kingdoms is interesting, and I can’t wait to see if they can salvage the bond to the land somehow, or reforge it. But the next book isn’t due out until 2020 and doesn’t even have a title yet!

This is a great action-oriented Young Adult light fantasy book, with a touch of romance, politics, and just a pinch of magic. Highly recommended!

From the cover of The Tiger At Midnight:

A BROKEN BOND. A DYING LAND. A CAT AND MOUSE GAME THAT CAN ONLY END IN BLOODSHED.

ESHA is a legend, but no one knows. It’s only in the shadows that she moonlights as the Viper, the rebels’ highly skilled assassin. She’s devoted her life to avenging what she lost in the royal coup, and now she’s been tasked with her most important mission to date: taking down the ruthless General Hotha.

KUNAL has been a soldier since childhood, training morning and night to uphold the power of King Vardaan. His uncle, the general, has ensured that Kunal never strays from the path – even as a part of Kunal longs to join the outside world, which as been growing only more volatile. 

Then Esha’s and Kunal’s paths cross – and an unimaginable chain of events unfolds. Both the Viper and the soldier think they’re calling the shots, but they’re not the only players moving the pieces. As the  bonds that hold their land in order break down and the sins of the past meet the promise of a new future, both rebel and soldier must make unforgivable choices. 

Drawing inspiration from ancient Indian history and Hindu mythology, the first book in Swati Teerdhala’s debut fantasy trilogy captivates with electric romance, stunning action, and the fierce bonds that hold people together – and drive them apart.