Book Review: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

to all the boys i've loved beforeTo All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
by Jenny Han
Young Adult
355 pages
Published 2014

I picked this up mostly because the trailer for the Netflix adaptation looked AMAZING. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and I really want to read the other two now! Lara Jean is the middle daughter in a house of three daughters, being raised by their widower father. The relationships between the four of them play a large part in the book, as they are all adjusting to the eldest daughter being away at college. Everyone’s roles are changing, and in the middle of that, Lara Jean’s private love letters get mailed to the boys she wrote them to, throwing her love life into chaos as well.

I loved almost every character in this book – even Lara’s troublemaking best friend has a good heart. I definitely need to watch the Netflix show now, because I really want to see how Chris – aforementioned best friend – is represented!

The family scenes around Christmas really tugged at my heart – Christmas has always been my favorite holiday, and the author absolutely NAILED the nostalgic, slightly dreamy, loving holiday atmosphere.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before was a cute, sweet read, and really my only negative thing to say about it is the ending left me hanging! Which is part of why I really need to read the other two books, so I suppose it was a good strategy. But man I hate cliffhangers!

From the cover of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before:

Lara Jean keeps her love letters in a hatbox her mother gave her. They aren’t love letters that anyone else wrote for her, these are ones she’s written. One for every boy she’s ever loved – five in all. When she writes, she can pour out her heart and soul and say all the things she would never say in real life, because her letters are for her eyes only. Until the day her secret letters are mailed, and suddenly Lara Jean’s love life goes from imaginary to out of control. 

Book Review: All I Want for Halloween

all i want for halloweenAll I Want for Halloween
by Marie Harte
Romance
345 pages
Published 2017

This will just be a quick one, as this is your normal smutty romance novel. I picked it up for the PopSugar prompt “Based on Halloween” and it is that. But it’s also the typical “lust at first sight and the sex is so good that they get to know each other and just happen to be absolutely perfect for each other.” The cover blurb makes it sound like most of the plot revolves around mistaken identities, and that is absolutely not true. I’m also not sure where that cover comes in, because the woman dresses up as a warrior princess, not a gothic lady. Sooooooo that’s questionable.

I have issues with the “deciding not to use condoms in the heat of the moment without actually discussing it with each other” and only really talking about it after the fact, but, sure, don’t let realism keep you from enjoying a good (and pretty hot) smutty novel.

The bonus first two chapters of Collision Course in the end of this book did more to make me want to read more of this author’s work than the entire rest of the novel did. *shrug* It’s a decent bit of smutty fluff, but nothing outstanding.

From the cover of All I Want for Halloween:

Tonight, Sadie Liberator plans to let go. 

Dressed up and anonymous, Sadie feels powerful, sexy, and free. Where better to lose herself than a costume party? 

Gear Blackstone’s cheating ex and scheming best friend have managed to spin his life into a serious downward spiral. At least with a mask on he can cut loose for one night. And cut loose he does – with the sexiest, snarkiest woman he’s ever met.

After a scorching-hot encounter, Sadie and Gear are desperate to find each other in real life. But can the heat last when the masks come off?

Book Review: What If It’s Us

what if it's usWhat If It’s Us
by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
Young Adult Gay Romance
437 pages
Published October 2018

This was a super cute gay romance that I read for YA_Pride’s Twitter Book Club. The authors have separately written some pretty popular YA books; Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Albertalli) and They Both Die at the End (Silvera), neither of which I have read yet, so I had no idea what to expect with this one!

The book alternates viewpoints between Arthur, a Georgia boy in New York for the summer who recently came out as gay but has not yet gone out on a date with anyone, and Ben, who recently broke up with the boy he lost his virginity with. The difference in experience between the two is a plot point, as is the temporary nature of Arthur’s visit to New York.

There is SO MUCH in this book. These are complex characters, and the romance between the two is simply the frame that the rest of the book revolves around. Arthur is still coming to terms with what being out means for him; he thinks his friends are being weird about it, his parents are fighting all the time, he’s never dated and doesn’t really know how to go about doing so. Ben is recovering from heartbreak with his first boyfriend. He’s Puerto Rican but can pass for white, so people forget and think he’s white, and that upsets him. His break up, and his best friend’s, has splintered up their friend group and he misses the group, and his best friend seems to have moved on and doesn’t have time for him anymore. He’s in summer school, with his ex, and is struggling to pass so he can continue to his senior year of high school, while Arthur is an amazing student who’s probably getting into Yale. All of this is set against the glittering backdrop of New York, seen as wondrous and new through Arthur’s eyes and boring and old through Ben’s. There’s just SO MUCH going on.

I did have to double-check a few times who was narrating the chapter I was reading, but Twitter said the audio book actually has separate narrators for Arthur and Ben. So if you like audiobooks, that might be the better way to go for this book.

I loved that this book didn’t just explore the romance between the two boys, but the friendships they had with each other and the people around them. More than a romance, I think this is a book about building your own family. People who will be there for you whether you’re dating them or not.

Twitter also mentioned that the book could be disappointing if you were reading it for either of the author’s signature styles. No one dies, and it’s not completely happy fluff. So definitely set aside any expectations based on their previous books. I hadn’t read them, so I enjoyed it for itself.

The next YA_Pride book club pick is This Is Kind Of An Epic Love Story, and we’ll be talking about it on Twitter at 8pm Eastern Time on Thursday, November 29th, using the hashtag #YAPrideBookClub. Join us!

From the cover of What If It’s Us:

ARTHUR
is only in New York for the summer, but if Broadway has taught him anything, it’s that the universe can deliver a showstopping romance when you least expect it.

BEN
thinks the universe needs to mind its business. If the universe had his back, he wouldn’t be on his way to the post office carrying a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things.

But when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office, what exactly does the universe have in store for them?

Maybe nothing. After all, they get separated.

Maybe everything. After all, they get reunited.

But what if they can’t quite nail a first date . . . or a second first date . . . or a third?

What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work . . . and Ben doesn’t try hard enough?

What if life really isn’t like a Broadway show?

But what if it is?

Best friends Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera combine their talents in this smart, funny, and heartfelt collaboration about two very different boys who can’t decide if the universe is pushing them together – or pulling them apart.

Book Review: Like Water

like waterLike Water
by Rebecca Podos
YA LGBT Romance
312 pages
Published 2017

I’m always interested in queer young adult books, and this one especially caught my eye with its mention of “performing mermaids.” Because y’all know I love my mermaid books! So Savannah isn’t a real mermaid, she just plays one at a water park. But it was enough to make me pick up the book, and it’s a good book. Young adult books about discovering your identity are always needed, and this book is about Savannah realizing she’s bisexual.

Much of the angst in this book comes from Savannah not knowing if she has the same disease her father does, and she’s not sure if she wants to know. Altogether, in this book we have chronic illness, hispanic teens, bisexual, lesbian, and genderqueer teens, small-town angst….there’s really a LOT of demographics covered in this book.

I like Savannah, but I don’t like her love interest, Leigh, very much. Leigh does NOT have her shit together, and between drinking and doing drugs, all while underage, she poses a very real threat to Savannah’s well-being.

I’m a little nonplussed by the ending of the book. It leaves a few questions unanswered, but not in a cliff-hanger-y way. It’s more of a possibilities-left-open kind of way. Which makes sense for a “first love” romance. It’s not necessarily a “true love” story. It reminds me of John Green novels in that way.

So – it’s a great book for representation, but don’t expect a tidy, wrapped-up ending. You won’t find that here.

From the cover of Like Water:

In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck – but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.

That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person threatens the walls Vanni has carefully constructed to protect herself and brings up the big questions she’s hidden from for so long.

With her signature stunning writing, Rebecca Podos, author of The Mystery of Hollow Places, has crafted an unforgettable story of two girls navigating the unknowable waters of identity, millennial anxiety, and first love.

Book Review: How to Find Love in a Bookshop

how to find love in a bookshopHow to Find Love in a Bookshop
by Veronica Henry
Contemporary Fiction
340 pages
Published 2016

From the title, you’d think this is a love story – and it kind of is – but not a traditional one. We don’t have a center couple with side characters, and the plot doesn’t revolve around their misunderstandings. No, the main character here is Emilia Nightingale, entrusted with her late father’s book shop, and the romance is with the town. There are several side characters, and while Emilia does get a romance, it’s the side characters’ love lives that we spend the most time with. We have the heiress to the local estate and her devoted gardener, the property developer’s minion and his estranged wife, the housewife longing to be a career woman again and her career husband who wants to stay home, the shy but sweet chef and the cheesemonger. (That one’s my favorite! Bonding over books and food? Girl after my own heart!)

The main conflict in the book comes from the financial straits of the bookshop and Emilia’s efforts to stay afloat – everything else revolves around that. We dip back in time to Emilia’s father’s life to learn about the founding of the shop and his own romances, which helps us see how some characters are emotionally invested in Emilia and the current status of the bookshop.

This is a sweet, gentle book that’s perfect for a rainy day and a cup of tea. Combining characters who love books, the enchanting magic of a good bookshop, and the (mostly) serene atmosphere of a quiet English village, the book is just cozy and comforting and I absolutely loved it.

From the cover of How to Find Love in a Bookshop:

The enchanting story of a bookshop, its devoted new owner, its loyal customers, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart.

Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers – a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia’s regulars have become like family, and she can’t imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There’s Sarah, owner of stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years; now it seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage, has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future – and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable community whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.

Book Review: Always Never Yours

always never yoursAlways Never Yours
by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka
Young Adult Romance
336 pages
Published May 2018

This is the fifth book from my summer TBR – I’m slowly working through them! I mused on the TBR list that this might remind me of high school, and so it did. Megan is much bolder than I ever was, and dated a lot more, but her underlying feelings of being passed over for other girls – oh, I felt those. I wasn’t very socially adept in high school, unlike Megan.

The premise of the story is that every guy Megan dates falls madly in love with the girl he dates after Megan. This has happened enough that she’s come to expect it, so when her last boyfriend broke up with her to date her best friend, she wasn’t even very upset with them. She understood. That’s what her boyfriends DO. Which means she approaches relationships as temporary, and doesn’t bother to fight for them when they end.

The book is really about learning what’s worth fighting for. A family that seems to be moving on without her? A role in a play that her understudy fills better than she does? A boy who will go on to find his true love after her? A best friend who stole her boyfriend? Megan struggles with feeling imminently replaceable and misunderstood, and her vulnerability grabbed my heartstrings and yanked. I wasn’t expecting to, but I LOVED this book.

Megan’s worries are so very real, and her friends are such quintessential high schoolers. Every look, every word, every relationship has so much more intense meaning at that age because EVERYTHING is so important and felt so deeply. I loved how supportive Megan is of her friends, even if she doesn’t always realize that she comes across a little strong. I liked the side plot of Megan’s gay friend Anthony, and the closeted boy he has a crush on.

As a Shakespeare lover, I enjoyed that each chapter started with a line from Romeo and Juliet, the play that Megan’s school Drama department is performing her senior year. I also enjoyed seeing the comparisons between Megan and Rosaline, and characters in the book saying how interesting Rosaline is as a character, even though we don’t actually see her in the play! It reminded me of Bright Smoke, Cold Fire, which is a VERY different book, but another one that delves further into the character of Rosaline. And now I’m wondering if there are any other books that do the same….

I loved this book. It made me cry but then laugh through my sniffles. Books that can do that are special things.

From the cover of Always Never Yours:

Shouldn’t a girl get to star in her own love story?

Seventeen-year-old Megan Harper is about due for her next sweeping romance. It’s inevitable – each of her relationships starts with the perfect guy and ends with him falling in love . . . with someone else. But instead of feeling sorry for herself, Megan focuses on pursuing her next fling, directing theater, and fulfilling her dream college’s acting requirement in the smallest role possible.

So when she’s cast as Juliet (yes, that Juliet) in her high school’s production, it’s a complete nightmare. Megan’s not an actress, and she’s used to being upstaged – both in and out of the theater. In fact, with her mom off in Texas and her dad remarried and on to baby #2 with his new wife, Megan worries that, just like her exes, her family is moving on without her.

Then she meets Owen Okita, an aspiring playwright inspired by Rosaline from Shakespeare’s R+J. A character who, like Megan, knows a thing or two about short-lived relationships. Megan agrees to help Owen with his play in exchange for help catching the eye of a sexy stagehand/potential new boyfriend. Yet Megan finds herself growing closer to Owen, and wonders if he could be the Romeo she never expected.

In their fresh and funny debut, Emily Wibberley and Austine Siegemund-Broka break down the high school drama to find there’s always room for familial love, romantic love, and – most importantly – self-love.