Book Review: A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

Publication Year: 2021
Page Count: 416
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

I’ve heard really mixed reviews about this book, which follows two Vietnamese-American teenagers whose parents own competing restaurants. While it wasn’t a new all time favorite of mine, I still really liked many aspects of this book!

This book follows Linh and Bao, who have been raised knowing their families hate each other. They have never interacted with one another except once when they were children. Even though they go to the same school, they have always made sure to stay clear of each other, in case word somehow gets back to their parents. However, after Bao sees Linh crying outside her families restaurant, the two realize their families are hiding secrets, and realize maybe they aren’t so different from one another.

This is told in dual perspective, which I think had the potential to work really well. It was super cool to see both Linh and Bao’s side of the story, because it gave the reader a better grasp of what was going on. We got to see both family’s perspectives, which I think was necessary for this book to work. Along with that, I liked that the author gave both Linh and Bao hobbies and specific passions. Linh is an artist and loves to paint, while Bao wants to be a writer. It was nice to have each character care about something outside each other, and how they are planning to navigate their futures outside of high school.

However, I think both characters had a very similar voice. Because I was listening to the audiobook, I was able to keep track of who was saying what in the moment, but if I look back to remember certain scenes, I have a hard time recalling whose perspective it was from.

As for the plot, this is definitely a Romeo and Juliet retelling, although I am not sure if it was marketed as one. I liked the romance in this a lot! It was definitely on the slower side, which is good because both Linh and Bao were raised to hate one another, so the transition from enemies to lovers felt gradual to me. However, the plot just kind of seemed to drag. Looking back, I can think of a few scenes that definitely could have been cut, or at least shortened to try to move the plot along. I felt like there were many instances where Bao and Linh were shown trying to hide their relationship from their parents, but the author clearly got the point across and didn’t need to emphasize it so much. I also feel like the author was trying to cover a lot things in one novel, such as the romance, the family feud, high school drama, racism, the history of Vietnamese immigrants, messy family dynamics, and Linh and Bao’s passions. It was just a lot, and I feel like some of it could have been cut or put into the author’s next book.

The place this book really got to shine was with the Vietnamese culture! Like I mentioned, the author tells stories about the Vietnamese refugees who fled after the fall of Saigon. She didn’t sugar coat anything, and explained how dangerous and heart breaking fleeing was, with some people not making it out alive, and others leaving behind their entire family. Along with that, the author describes various Vietnamese dishes so vividly, it definitely made me wish I was eating them as well! I think having this story set in a restaurant was a great idea, because it was the perfect opportunity to dive into Vietnamese cuisine, and the culture behind it.

Along with that, as someone who has worked in a restaurant for 7 years, I loved the way the author described it. She does a great job at encompassing the panic of being overwhelmed on a busy night, dealing with rude customers, and coping with being short staffed. It all just felt really relatable and I enjoyed reading about this aspect!

All in all, I thought this book was very cute and fun, even if it was a little bit long. I know the author has a companion novel coming out next year following Linh’s sister, and I will probably be picking that up as well.

If you liked this book review, you can check out my other reviews here.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Book Review: Twice Shy by Sarah Hogle

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Year: 2021
Page Count: 302
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Maybell Parish has always been a dreamer and a hopeless romantic. But living in her own world has long been preferable to dealing with the disappointments of real life. So when Maybell inherits a charming house in the Smokies from her Great-Aunt Violet, she seizes the opportunity to make a fresh start.

Yet when she arrives, it seems her troubles have only just begun. Not only is the house falling apart around her, but she isn’t the only inheritor: she has to share everything with Wesley Koehler, the groundskeeper who’s as grouchy as he is gorgeous–and it turns out he has a very different vision for the property’s future.

Convincing the taciturn Wesley to stop avoiding her and compromise is a task more formidable than the other dying wishes Great-Aunt Violet left behind. But when Maybell uncovers something unexpectedly sweet beneath Wesley’s scowls, and as the two slowly begin to let their guard down, they might learn that sometimes the smallest steps outside one’s comfort zone can lead to the greatest rewards.

After reading and loving Sarah Hogle’s debut novel, You Deserve Each Other, I knew I had to pick up her newest book. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint!

In case you didn’t read the synopsis, this book follows Maybell, who has been working at the same hotel for years as a housekeeper. Maybell wants to be an event coordinator, but her ideas are constantly rejected by her boss, who seems determined to not let Maybell get ahead. After being told her Great-Aunt Violet has passed away and Maybell has inherited her Smoky Mountain estate, she quits her job on the spot and decides to use Violet’s inheritance to jumpstart her dreams. However, this proves to be difficult when Maybell realizes that she has joint-inheritance with Wesley, Violet’s groundskeeper and caretaker. Wesley has a very different version of the future of the estate, and his grumpy attitude just makes everything worst.

Sarah Hogle is the queen of writing quirky female characters. Most of the time when characters are quirky, I find them annoying. But somehow, she just makes them come off as charming. I won’t lie, I had my moments where I was a bit annoyed with Maybell, but by the end I absolutely loved her and her big personality. Maybell is a dreamer, and is always finding herself stuck in daydreams. Initially, this really threw me off, but as the book progressed I found them to be funny. Her personality is the complete opposite of Wesley’s, who is laid back and quiet. The characters don’t seem like they should work together, but the opposites attract trope was done beautifully here. It was so much fun to watch Maybell slowly piece together who Wesley was, and realize he is actually perfect for her. Wesley was so sweet, and the way he treated Maybell gave me literal butterflies.

As for the not-so-likable characters, we have Gemma, who takes the cake for my least favorite character in a romance ever. Gemma was so unlikable and selfish that I found it to be a bit unbelievable at times, but she served as a central point to the plot so I understood why the author wrote her that way. I am happy that Maybell got her closure with her, and thought that scene was very well done.

As for the romance itself, this was definitely a slow burn. I found the first half of the book to be quite slow, and was honestly setting myself up to be disappointed. But friends, the wait was definitely worth it. The enemies to friends did not feel forced at all, as Maybell slowly began to get Wesley to open up to her, and how she in turn opened up to him. This built a solid foundation for the romance to happen. Along with that, Sarah Hogle used this foundation to talk about the stigma of men losing their virginity at a young age, which was a subject I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a romance book before. I thought this was a really nice touch, and I liked how she normalized the anxiety that can come with sex.

While the romance was so cute, the real star of this book was the conversations surrounding mental health, particularly in men. Maybell experiences panic attacks for the first time in the course of this story, and the author describes how these episodes are different for everyone. Some people may show physical symptoms, while others may hide behind a façade of calmness. Wesley shares a lot about his mental health with Maybell, and we get to see how it directly affects their relationship. This makes up a big plot of the book, as the couple tries to navigate how they can best help one another when anxiety arises. Reading about a male main character with anxiety was so refreshing, because there is such a stigma that men are not allowed to seek help with their mental health.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book, even if I did like You Deserve Each Other better (which, is not a surprise because I LOVE that book.) It was the perfect blend of cute romance with great banter, but also commentary on mental health.

For a full list of my book reviews, click here!

What did you think of this book? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest

Publisher: Roaring Book Press
Publication Year: 2019
Page Count: 272
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

When Chloe Pierce’s mom forbids her to apply for a spot at the dance conservatory of her dreams, she devises a secret plan to drive two hundred miles to the nearest audition. But Chloe hits her first speed bump when her annoying neighbor Eli insists upon hitching a ride, threatening to tell Chloe’s mom if she leaves him and his smelly dog, Geezer, behind. So now Chloe’s chasing her ballet dreams down the east coast—two unwanted (but kinda cute) passengers in her car, butterflies in her stomach, and a really dope playlist on repeat.

Filled with roadside hijinks, heart-stirring romance, and a few broken rules, Kristina Forest’s I Wanna Be Where You Are is a YA debut perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon.

There was so much to like about this book! Even though I did prefer Kristina Forest’s sophomore novel over her debut, there was no doubt that this was a heart warming read, and one that I devoured in just a few days.

To give a brief synopsis, this follows Chloe, who has always had a passion for ballet. After her dream school is holding auditions, Chloe knows she has to go, even though her mom has strictly forbidden it. So, Chloe devises a plan to audition while her mom is out of town, even if it means driving two hundred miles. However, after the annoying neighbor Eli catches wind of Chloe’s plan, he blackmails her into taking him with her so he can visit his dad while Chloe is auditioning. And of course, nothing goes as plan, leaving Eli and Chloe on a wild road-trip adventure.

To start with the characters, I did really enjoy reading about Chloe! While I did find her a little bit passive and forgettable, I did really like the passion that she had for dance. Chloe lives for ballet, and you can tell the author had a similar experience at one time. I also liked that Chloe was a Black ballerina, because the author was able to go into detail about why some casting agencies don’t cast Black ballerinas, and how ballet in general caters to white dancers. These were very important conversations to have, and really emphasized the diversity that we need to see in the arts. However, besides ballet, I can’t really tell you much about Chloe. I didn’t find her annoying, but I also wish the author would have given her a few more character quirks that would have helped her better stand out.

As for Eli, I kind of felt the same way about him. Eli was a closed book for most of the novel, so I had a hard time trying to get a feel for his character. However, I definitely think it was cool that we got to know more and more about Eli as Chloe did, but I just found him to be a bit… annoying. He just acted a bit immature at times and I knew if I was on a road trip with him I would not have been able to handle him. Maybe that’s what the author was going for, but it just really tainted the relationship for me. This is also directed at a younger audience than myself, so perhaps that had something to do with it as well.

Because I didn’t love Eli, I didn’t really connect with the romance in this book. This is definitely an enemies-to-lovers story, and I did see the foundation for the hatred between Chloe and Eli. While they grew up as best friends, there was an incident that split them apart, and the two hadn’t talked to each other for many years. I felt like this aspect was believable, and understood why Chloe disliked Eli so much, besides him being annoying on the road trip. I also felt like the shift to lovers was gradual, as the two spent more time together. It felt believable and didn’t feel forced.

The other part of this book I didn’t adore was the plot. I have read some amazing books that follow dance this year, so I was a bit disappointed this one didn’t hold up as well. I loved the parts of the novel that surrounded dance, but it only took up a small portion. The rest was just… a bit boring. And this could once again be because I am not the books intended audience, but I just wasn’t feeling the plot. I found myself wanting to focus on the dancing aspect of the book, and not the road trip itself.

Even so, this was a very quick read, so I do not in any way regret picking this up! I think it really does come down to the fact that I think I am (unfortunately) growing out of YA contemporary. I think I would have loved this in high school, but as a 21 year old I just wasn’t vibing with it as much.

What did you think about this book? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland

Publisher: Penguin Teen
Publication Year: 2021
Page Count: 304
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home.

I was initially drawn to this book for 2 reasons. First off, that cover. It perfectly encapsulates the aesthetic of this book. It is beautiful yet creepy at the same time. The second reason being that the author said she was inspired by the movie Midsommar, which is a horror movie I have a weird fascination with. The vibes were definitely similar to Midsommar, and there was a plot point that reminded me of the film as well. I think if you liked that movie, you will also like this book!

If you haven’t read the synopsis, this follows Iris Hollow, who had famously disappeared with her two older sisters as a child. When they were returned to their parents one month later, strange things began to happen to them. Their baby teeth grew back in, their hair turned white, and they had an insatiable appetite. Now, Iris’s older sister Grey has disappeared once again, potentially by the same person who took them as children.

As a character, I did really enjoy Iris. She is kind and passionate, unlike her sisters who use their beauty to get whatever they want in the world. Iris would do anything for her older sisters, because the three of them have an indescribable bond. They are able to sense one another’s presence, if one of them gets hurt, or if one of them is in danger. Reading about the sisters was definitely a highlight of the book for me. The author did a great job at describing them as a singular unit, yet also giving them three distinct personalities. While Iris is sweet and sensitive, Vivi, the middle sister, is a badass rockstar. She puts on a hard exterior, but would really do anything for her sisters. Meanwhile, Grey is a supermodel and designer known for her other-worldly designs. She has the world at her fingertips, using her beauty to get whatever she wants. The three sisters lived such different lives, yet never failed to come back together when they needed each other the most.

Another highlight of this book for me was the writing. Krystal Sutherland used a lot of sensory details, and it really created a magical aesthetic to the book. She was constantly describing smells, sights, and the atmospheres of the places the characters visited. It created a truly atmospheric read, one that was magical yet disturbing at the same time. I did find that some phrases seemed to be overused (for example: ‘the smell of death’ or ‘rot and decay’), which was a bit noticeable in such a small book. Even so, the writing was overall beautiful.

I can’t go into the plot much without giving anything away, but I will say that you should be ready for a wild ride! There are so much more to the sisters than one could ever imagine. The ending was absolutely insane, as the author slowly begins to reveal answers to all the questions the reader is asking throughout the entire novel. There were also some plot points and details that will definitely give you the heebie-jeebies, but in the best way possible. I truly didn’t guess anything that would happen, and everything came as such a surprise to me.

The one critique I had with this book was the weird romance the author threw in. Initially, I found it very refreshing that there was no romance in this book, because that’s not something you see a lot in YA. But towards the very end, there was this really weird, out-of-character moment between two characters that really just didn’t make any sense. It literally came out of left field and left me so confused, because neither character had shown any interest in each other until the moment they kissed. I wish the author wouldn’t have forced the romance, and let Iris focus on her sisters rather than a love interest.

All in all, you should read this book if:

  • You want a short book you can devour in a day
  • Like dark and unsettling stories
  • Books with little romance
  • Atmospheric, spooky reads
  • Books with sisters

What did you think of House of Hollow? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Book Review: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

“Books, she has found, are a way to live a thousand lives–or to find strength in a very long one.”

-V.E. Schwab, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

Page count: 448
Publication Year: 2020
Format: Audiobook/Hardcover
Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever-and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world.

But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore, and he remembers her name.

I know I am so late in the game by just now reading this, but folks, the wait was worth it. This book was everything I have ever wanted, and more.

As you probably already know, this book follows Addie LaRue, who has made a deal with the gods of the night in order to escape a fate she doesn’t want. Now, she lives forever, but no one remembers who she is.

Until, one day, someone does.

I firmly believe that the less you know going into this book, the better it will be. I have seen a lot of people disappointed because of unmet expectations because the book was pitched as something else. There won’t be any spoilers in this review, but I think the book will be more enjoyable the less you know, so maybe proceed with caution.

This book follows the 300 years of Addie’s life, switching back and fourth between the present and the past. I was equally invested in both story lines, and didn’t feel like one was lacking something the other didn’t. Along with that, I felt like all the backstory was necessary! I thought it was so interesting to read about Addie’s desperation, why she chose to make the deal, and all the history she had lived through.

While a lot of people complain that the pacing is too slow, it didn’t bother me at all. This is a slow book, but one that I wanted to savor every moment of. V.E. Schwab’s writing is just absolutely beautiful, and there are so many lines that I just want to commit to memory. The slowness of the plot definitely helped me better appreciate the writing as I took in the story. Along with that, I did feel like everything that V.E. Schwab included in the book was necessary. So yes, it was slow, but but it worked.

As for Addie as a character, I adored her so much. I was rooting for her the entire time, and it was so heart breaking watching her give her heart to someone over and over again, just for them to forget her the moment she is out of their vision. V.E. Schwab does a great job at describing how Addie is feeling each time she goes through a loss, whether that be a loss of family, a mentor, a friend, or a lover. As a reader, you just desperately want things to get better for Addie, and wonder how she can possibly withstand 300 years of heart break over and over again.

Another aspect of this book that I loved was the addition of art that Addie inspired. V.E. Schwab begins each part of the book by describing art Addie inspired, whether it be paintings, music, or photographs. Addie is unable to make a mark on the world in anyway, and is incapable of drawing or writing her story down. Therefore, the only mark she is able to make on the world is through others. So, for the past 300 years, various artists have captured Addie through their art, making people wonder who this mysterious dream girl is. This as close to leaving an impact on the world that Addie will ever get. So much of this book surrounds the idea of art as a human expression, and it was very beautiful.

I also found the historical aspect of this book super interesting. Because Addie has lived 300 years, we follow her as she explores new countries and encounters famous historical figures. This book takes us to the French Revolution, Europe on the brink of WWI, Nazi Occupied France, 1970s New Orleans, and many other places. It was fun to see how Addie perceived all these events happening, and how she managed her way out of dangerous, life-threatening situations. I will say, I do wish the V.E. Schwab would have included some non-western settings for this book as well. There was a point in the story where Addie was telling Henry stories where she has been, places such as Portugal, England, Spain, Italy, etc. I got the sense that V.E. Schwab wanted us to see Addie as a well-traveled, cultured individual, but in reality, she had only traveled throughout Europe. It would have been a nice addition if Addie mentioned traveling to Africa or Asia as well, or if the author would have included scenes that take place in non-western culture.

The other main character of this novel was Henry, and wow, does he have my heart. Henry is a bookseller in New York City, and has always felt like he has never been enough. The reader gets an extensive backstory of Henry’s life, and while it was at first jarring to be shifted away from Addie’s story so suddenly, I quickly grew to love and care about him. While his story isn’t as heart breaking as Addie’s, it still certainly will make you feel for him. I really loved Henry and Addie’s relationship, and was rooting for them the entire time. The way V.E. Schwab described their relationship felt like pure magic, like two souls who were destined to be together. Even so, this was certainly more than just a love story, and I am happy their relationship was not the central point to the novel.

This review is really all over the place, because I am honestly struggling putting into words how much I loved this book. You have heard it before, but I am telling you again: read it. It is worth the hype, and even though it is long, it is so worth the read.

Let me know what you thought about this book in the comments below!

Book Review: After I Do by Taylor Jenkins Reid

“Isn’t it nice … once you’ve outgrown the ideas of what life should be and you just enjoy what it is.”

-Taylor Jenkins Reid, After I Do

Publisher: Washington Square Press
Page Count: 334
Publication Year: 2014
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

When Lauren and Ryan’s marriage reaches the breaking point, they come up with an unconventional plan. They decide to take a year off in the hopes of finding a way to fall in love again. One year apart, and only one rule: they cannot contact each other. Aside from that, anything goes.

Lauren embarks on a journey of self-discovery, quickly finding that her friends and family have their own ideas about the meaning of marriage. These influences, as well as her own healing process and the challenges of living apart from Ryan, begin to change Lauren’s ideas about monogamy and marriage. She starts to question: When you can have romance without loyalty and commitment without marriage, when love and lust are no longer tied together, what do you value? What are you willing to fight for?

After reading Malibu Rising, I needed more Taylor Jenkins Reid in my life, so I picked this up, despite it not being something I would normally read. I’m so happy that I decided to read it, though, because it definitely solidified TJR as one of my favorite authors!

This book follows Lauren, who has been with Ryan for the past 7 years. However, after a few years of marriage, Ryan and Lauren feel their relationship crumbling, with no idea how to stop it from failing completely. In order to try to rekindle their love for one another, the couple decides to separate for a year with absolutely no contact. While doing so, Lauren goes on a journey where she discovers who she is without her husband, and what she really wants marriage to mean to her.

There was so much to love about this book. I’ll start with Lauren, who was just such a lovable protagonist. Obviously, Lauren is going through heartbreak for most of the novel, and I think the author handled it very well! While the heartbreak did affect Lauren’s day-to-day life, I never felt like she was annoyingly emotional or helpless. Along with that, I think Lauren’s internal conflict was also done very well. While it was a big part of this book, it is not the complete central focus. We get to see Lauren move on, build new relationships, and discover herself. Along with that, Lauren was just a funny character! She was entertaining, and I loved getting this story from her perspective rather than Ryan’s.

Another highlight of this book was Lauren’s relationship with her family. Lauren has two siblings, an older sister and younger brother. Their sibling dynamic was one of the best parts about this book. The banter between them was so much fun and realistic, and actually made me laugh out loud at times. They pick on each other, call each other out, but would die for each other in the process. Along with that, Lauren has a great relationship with her mother. Lauren’s mother raised her single-handedly, and has a very different approach to love than Lauren does. By doing this, TJR shows that love doesn’t look the same to everyone. While Lauren’s mother sees love as something that comes and goes, her grandmother sees it as something that is for life. Meanwhile, Lauren is trying to discover what her definition of love is.

Along with that, I loved that Lauren’s mother had a boyfriend. It’s a small thing, but it shows the reader that no one is too old to find love, because Lauren’s mother has been swept off her feet and has never been happier.

As for Lauren and Ryan’s relationship, I absolutely loved it. As someone in a long term relationship, seeing Ryan and Lauren bicker was somewhat familiar, and just seemed really realistic. I also loved that rather than throw their entire marriage away, both Lauren and Ryan were willing to put in the work to fix it, even though it is the hard thing to do. This made the ending so effective. I won’t spoil anything, but I was rooting for this couple from start to finish. The ending had me filled with so many emotions. Their journey was full of fun moments, but also difficult moments to read. It felt like such an accurate depiction of marriage, but one that can be appreciated by someone whether they are married or not.

All in all, this was such a good read, and one that will stick with me for awhile. It may not be my favorite book of the year, but is nonetheless still deserving of the 5 star rating I gave it!

What did you think of this book? Let me know in the comments below!

Book Review: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Publisher: Berkley Books
Publication Year: 2018
Page Count: 368
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3 stars

A modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice for a new generation of love.

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid, who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and who dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

When a surprise engagement is announced between Khalid and Hafsa, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.

Uzma Jalaluddin’s newest novel, Hana Khan Carries On has certainly made a splash, so I decided it was only proper to read her debut novel before picking it up! While this isn’t my new favorite romance novel, this is still a lot to like and I still would love to pick up her newest novel.

This is a Pride and Prejudice retelling which takes place in a Muslim community. This book follows Ayesha, who is a school teacher. However, Ayesha feels her real calling is poetry, and meets Khalid at a poetry night in a bar. Khalid is stuck up and snobby, belittling Ayesha’s faith because she goes to bars and doesn’t believe in arranged marriages. However, once Khalid becomes engaged to Ayesha’s cousin, she realizes maybe her feelings for him are more complicated than she thought.

Obviously, I loved the idea of this novel starring a cast of Muslim characters. The novel starts by showing Ayesha’s daily life, and doesn’t merely show her in terms of her religion or race. Ayesha and Khalid practice their faith differently, and I thought this was a good aspect to have, showing that not every Muslim practices their faith the same way. There were multiple scenes that took place at the mosque, and the author showed Ayesha and Khalid doing their prayers. The religion in this book took up the perfect amount of page time. While it was a big part of the novel, it mainly focused on the love story between Ayesha and Khalid.

Another big part of this novel was the way Khalid dressed. Khalid is always wearing traditional clothing (a long dress and beard). Khalid gets judged for this by almost everyone, including his boss, co-workers, and even Ayesha. The author explains why Khalid chooses to dress the way he does, and has a good narrative about the judgement he receives from it. However, I was a bit disappointed by the ending in regards to his dress, although I won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers.

Like I mentioned, this is marketed as a Pride and Prejudice retelling although I don’t think it really came through to me. If I wouldn’t have known this was a retelling, I wouldn’t have picked it up. If you go into this expecting an exact replication of Pride and Prejudice, I think you will be disappointed. Rather, I would recommend to go into this with more of an enemies-to-lovers approach. I did think the enemies-to-lovers romance was believable enough, although this book does rely heavily on the miscommunication trope, which is one of my least favorites. It was a bit frustrating, knowing if the characters had just one conversation, so much drama would have been resolved.

While I think Ayesha and Khalid were developed well, there were some side characters who I just didn’t find believable, the first being Khalid’s boss, Sheila. Sheila is Islamophobic, and is just looking for an excuse to have Khalid fired, despite his excellent work ethic. I know that Sheila was included in order to have a narrative about Islamophobia in the work place, but the author just made it so obvious. Sheila felt like a stock character, and she just fell flat. The other villain in this story was Khalid’s mother, whose name I cannot remember at the moment. She has an obsessive need to be in control, even if she is hurting others in the process. While she was frustrating, I think Khalid’s need to impress her was even more frustrating. Any decent human being could recognize she had no good intentions, and I think the author needed to give her at least some good qualities to show why Khalid thought so highly of her.

As for the plot, I did feel like it was a bit drawn out. There were a couple sub-plots that just felt unnecessary (the Unveiled Hotties sub-plot). I felt like the author was trying to touch on every single issue, and this book just didn’t have the space for it. By the end, I was ready to move onto something else.

This review was really all over the place, but hopefully my opinions got across. While this wasn’t my favorite, I definitely understand the appeal and would read from this author in the future, especially considering how many great reviews I’ve been hearing for her newest novel!

Book Review: All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney

“I’m still a Muslim. And I’m still good.”

Nadine Jolie Courtney, All-American Muslim Girl

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Year: 2019
Page Count: 415
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Allie Abraham has it all going for her—she’s a straight-A student, with good friends and a close-knit family, and she’s dating cute, popular, and sweet Wells Henderson. One problem: Wells’s father is Jack Henderson, America’s most famous conservative shock jock…and Allie hasn’t told Wells that her family is Muslim. It’s not like Allie’s religion is a secret, exactly. It’s just that her parents don’t practice and raised her to keep her Islamic heritage to herself. But as Allie witnesses ever-growing Islamophobia in her small town and across the nation, she begins to embrace her faith—studying it, practicing it, and facing hatred and misunderstanding for it. Who is Allie, if she sheds the façade of the “perfect” all-American girl? What does it mean to be a “Good Muslim?” And can a Muslim girl in America ever truly fit in?

ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL is a relevant, relatable story of being caught between two worlds, and the struggles and hard-won joys of finding your place.

I want to preface this review by saying I am not an own voices reader. For other own voices reviews, you can read Sakina’s review here, or Rushda’s review here. That being said, this is an own voices novel, so I can imagine this book draws inspiration from the author’s own life, and her journey with Islam.

This book follows Allie, who has been born to Muslim parents. Even so, she is white passing and doesn’t get the same privilege that many other Muslims get. After moving to new school, she begins dating Wells, who is the son of a conservative talkshow host (think Tucker Carlson). Because of this, Allie feels like she has to hide her religion from her new boyfriend, but also has an urge to start taking Islam more seriously.

Overall, I really liked Allie as a main character. I never found myself to be frustrated or annoyed at her! I was pretty invested in her as she continued to study Islam. Even though she was a bit shy at first, she definitely developed as a character and was not afraid to call out Islamophobic or racist classmates, and even adults. That being said, she was not a super memorable character. There was not really anything that made her stand out from main characters in other YA novels.

I think the biggest highlight for me was learning more about Islam. As I mentioned before, I am not an own voices reviewer so I am not sure if the author portrays Islam accurately. But I certainly learned a lot about the Quran, Ramadan, praying, and fasting. I am ashamed to say this is the first novel I’ve read that really dives into Islamic practices, so I think it was a great way to expose myself. I also liked that the author features multiple characters that practice Islam, yet all do it differently. As a religious person, I know that religion looks different to everyone, and I think the author did a good job at showing that. She also uses the book to squash oppressive stereotypes that come with Islam.

Lastly, I really liked the family dynamics in this book. Allie has a complex relationship with her father, who has discouraged her from studying Islam in hopes that Allie won’t have to face Islamophobia. Meanwhile, Allie’s mother was supportive in her religious journey. I think it was cool to see both sides of the spectrum, and seeing both of the parent’s perspectives and how it affected Allie’s relationship with them.

As for the romance, it didn’t seem all that memorable for me. While it wasn’t insta-like, I did feel like Wells and Allie hit it off really strong way to quickly (him asking her out on her first day of school). However, their relationship does grow past that, but I just didn’t really see a basis for it.

All in all, while this isn’t my new favorite book ever, I did really enjoy it and I am happy I finally got around to reading it!

Book Review: This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

They’re just wildflowers, doing their thing, and they’re beautiful. Be like them, sweet pea. Just be you and be happy.

Misa Sugiura, This Time Will Be Different

Publisher: HarperTeen
Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2019
Format: Audio
Rating: 4 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Katsuyamas never quit—but seventeen-year-old CJ doesn’t even know where to start. She’s never lived up to her mom’s type A ambition, and she’s perfectly happy just helping her aunt, Hannah, at their family’s flower shop.

She doesn’t buy into Hannah’s romantic ideas about flowers and their hidden meanings, but when it comes to arranging the perfect bouquet, CJ discovers a knack she never knew she had. A skill she might even be proud of.

Then her mom decides to sell the shop—to the family who swindled CJ’s grandparents when thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during WWII. Soon a rift threatens to splinter CJ’s family, friends, and their entire Northern California community; and for the first time, CJ has found something she wants to fight for. 

I haven’t heard so much about this book, but it was a really fun read and I’m happy I got around to reading it!

This follows CJ, a Japanese-American who loves working in her aunt’s flower shop. The shop has so much history, and was started by her grandparents who were sent to an internment camp during WWII. However, the shop hasn’t been as profitable as her family had hoped, and now CJ’s mom is determined to sell it to the same family who ripped off CJ’s grandparents when they were forced to sell the shop in the 1940s.

I really enjoyed CJ as a character, even though she could be a bit selfish at times. CJ loves working with flowers, making arrangements, and picking out the perfect flowers for the perfect occasion. This was a really fun hobby to read about, and you could tell the author had knowledge in this area as well (or if she didn’t, she certainly did her research). Not only that, but CJ is very persistent and doesn’t give up. This made me really root for her throughout the story. The entire time, I was hoping she and her aunt would find a way to save the flower shop, and that she would find a way to expose the racists hoping to buy it.

While this is a fun book, I liked that it also dove into hard topics as well. I learned a lot about Japanese-American history while reading this, and the author did a great job to show how the internment is still affecting these families nearly 80 years later. This book is rich with Japanese culture, and was probably my favorite part.

Along with that, the author also uses this story to discuss homophobia, women’s reproductive rights, and racism in America. CJ’s best friend is queer, and I liked the way the author portrayed CJ’s relationship with her. While CJ will always be there for her friend, she also recognizes that she can’t relate to her in the same way other queer friends can, and that she has straight privilege. Along with that, this book really dives into the repercussions of white privilege in America. It was explained in a way that was easy to understand, which is great since this book is targeted towards younger readers. It also discusses Asian stereotypes, and how they originated.

I think a downfall for me in this book was the love triangle. While it wasn’t horrible, I do feel like both of the love interests just felt cliché. We have Shane, who is so forgettable I honestly forgot he existed until now. He is the popular boy at school who all the girls are pining over, and so obviously CJ is smitten by him. But then, we have Owen, the nerdy history geek who has somehow also gained CJ’s attention. We have read about both of those characters before, and I think both of us can already guess who CJ chooses.

However, even though I didn’t love the romance, I think this book did make up for those relationships by exploring a complex family dynamic. CJ has been raised by a single mother, who has always been dedicated to her work, even when CJ feels like she is betraying her heritage by doing so. I had a love-hate relationship with CJ’s mom, much like CJ did. While I knew she was just trying her best, she was also a frustrating character. It felt very authentic, because in real life money is a very driving force.

All in all, this was a great book and I am surprised I haven’t heard more people talk about it. It was the perfect blend of cute and serious, and was just overall a very entertaining read. I devoured it in just 2 or 3 days via audiobook.

If you’ve read this book, let me know what you thought in the comments below!

Book Review: Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

“Just because you’re telling a good story, doesn’t mean it’s the right story. And I think that it’s really important to tell the right story.”

Dahlia Adler, Cool for the Summer

Publisher: Wednesday Books
Publication Year: 2021
Page count: 272
Format: Physical Book
Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

I have heard really mixed things about this, so I had no idea what to anticipate going into this. While it wasn’t an all time favorite, it was a quick summer read that also had some serious notes in it.

Like the synopsis says, this follows Lara, who has a seemingly perfect life. She is popular at school, has a great group of friends, and the perfect boyfriend who also happens to be the star quarterback. Even so, Lara can’t get Jasmine out of her head, a girl who she spent the whole summer with. Now, Jasmine has transferred to Lara’s high school with no warning, and Lara can’t get her out of her head.

To start off with positives, I think this book really touched on some great topics. We have Lara, who has always assumed she was straight, until she met Jasmine. This book shows that the journey to discovering your sexuality is not the same for everyone. While Lara still doesn’t have a label for herself, some of her friends have known they have been bisexual since grade school. It shows the reader that no everyone’s journey is the same, and that’s okay.

Along with that, this book was just a lot of fun. Even though it does read like it’s written for a younger audience (which it is), it was still fun to read about high school parties and homecoming dances. It read really quickly, and I finished it in about 2 sittings.

That being said, there was quite a bit in this book that I didn’t like, starting with the characters. While Lara was the most developed character in the story (which makes sense, as she’s the protagonist), I still felt like I didn’t really know much about her. The author describes the summer as a time where Lara really discovered who she was without her high school friends, but I didn’t really understand who that was. I felt like her only character traits were loving reading and writing (which I feel like is a cop-out, because most people who read books also like reading and writing), and stuck in a love triangle. I feel like the reader was supposed to believe she went through this incredible transformation, but I just didn’t see it.

Along with that, I found both the love interests to be almost like stock characters, especially Chase. Chase is the star football player who all the girls are pining over. He is in the running for homecoming king, and has a bunch of college scholarships lined up. We have all read about this character before, so I didn’t find him to be super memorable. Along with that, Lara had been crushing on Chase for years, and his interest in her felt too sudden to be realistic. She had been trying to date him since middle school, and suddenly she chops her hair and he decides to make her his girlfriend.

While Jasmine was a bit more developed, I still felt like I knew nothing about her. She is the character that is untouchable- she always looks flawless, her style is immaculate, and everyone wants to be her. This is another character everyone has read about. I wish the author would have given her a bit more characterization, because I still felt like I knew nothing about her by the end.

Along with that, this book relied very heavily on the “miscommunication trope,” which is probably my most hated. This entire book could have been avoided by having one conversation at the beginning of the novel. It just made my reading experience frustrating.

I also read a review that mentioned they felt like the author was trying to fulfill a “minority checklist,” which I didn’t notice while reading, but looking back can recognize. You can read Cosette’s review here if you want to learn more about that.

I feel like that review was a bit mean, because I really didn’t hate this book. It was a fun YA romance, and I do think it would make for a super cute Netflix rom-com! I would definitely read from this author in the future.

What did you think about this book? Let me know in the comments below!