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: 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: 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!

YA Contemporary Book Recommendations

I read a lot of YA contemporary, especially considering the fact I am not its target audience. But it is just so much fun that I can’t help myself! That being said, sometimes I feel like it is hard to find great YA contemporaries. Some are too cheesy, some don’t have enough of a plot, and some are just too immature. So today, I will be writing about my favorite YA contemporaries!

I also want to mention that I began a page where I made a list of diverse reading recommendations. It can be overwhelming to try to figure out where to begin when it comes to diversifying your reading, and I wish I would have had a similar list when I began reading more! You can find it here.

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

This was a recent read for me, and one of the absolute cutest books I’ve ever read. This is the companion novel to When Dimple Met Rishi, although you don’t have to read them in order. This follows Sweetie, who has constantly been told by her parents that she is not good enough because she is fat. Meanwhile, Rishi has just gotten his heart broken and is trying to get back into the dating field. Both Rishi and Sweetie have something to prove, and so they team up and decide to begin dating, despite not really having feelings for one another. This was the cutest book ever, and had such great messages about fatphobia. There was also great Indian-American representation in this (as well as Menon’s other books!)

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

This book follows Skye, a plus-sized, bisexual, Korean-American teenager. After auditioning for the singing and dancing portion of a K-Pop competition, Skye’s mom urges her to drop out of the dancing portion because girls her size should “not be dancers.” However, Skye continues to practice, working hard to fulfill her dream of becoming the next K-Pop star. I absolutely loved Skye as a character, and the representation in this book was also wonderful!

Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson

I love all of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books, but this one is by far my favorite! This follows Enchanted, a rising R&B star. After becoming noticed by the 26 year old uber-famous Korey Fields, he takes Enchanted under his wing, claiming he will help her become successful. Instead, Enchanted finds herself trapped under Korey’s influence. After a night gone wrong, Enchanted wakes up with a dead Korey Fields, and everyone claims she killed him, even though she has no memory of the night before. There are quite a few triggers in this book to be aware of, but it was so addicting and had me sobbing by the end. I would highly recommend this.

Clap WHen yOu Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Like Tiffany D. Jackson, I love all of Elizabeth Acevedo’s books, but this one is my personal favorite. This follows two sisters who don’t know about one another, one in NYC and one in The Dominican Republic. After their father dies in a tragic plane crash, they discover that their father has been living a double life. This is a book written in verse, but don’t be intimidated by that! Elizabeth Acevedo’s writing is so easy to devour and is actually what got me into poetry in the first place.

Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest

This was such a cute read, and one that has stuck with me long after reading it! This follows Evie Jones, a rising actress in LA. However, after a betrayal from her “best friend,” Evie gets blacklisted by all Hollywood producers. The only person who can save her career? Her grandmother, film legend Evelyn Conaway. After traveling to NYC to get her grandmother to help, Evie panics when she realizes she is missing, just days before a huge awards ceremony. I loved the familial relationships in this book, and the Hollywood/NYC aspect of this book was so fun! There is also a super adorable romance.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

This is a super interesting story, focusing on 3 siblings who have been adopted by different families at birth. Grace, decides she wants to find her birth mother after giving up her own child for adoption. Instead, she finds Maya, who has never felt like she fits in with her new family, and Joaquin, who has been in and out of the foster system his entire life. It was so amazing seeing these 3 siblings team up trying to find their birth mom, and how all three of them had such unique stories. This was such a quick read, but also a very important one that left me very emotional.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi

Tahereh Mafi is the author of the Shatter Me series, and I believe this is her first contemporary (she has another coming out soon!). This book takes place a year after 9/11, and follows Shirin, a 16 year old Muslim girl. This book essentially follows Shirin’s journey as she deals with Islamophobia. There was also a cute romance in this book!

Kisses and Croissants by Anne-SophiE Jouhanneau

The last book on this list was definitely one of the cutest books I’ve read this year! This follows Mia, who is an American studying at a prestigious ballet school in Paris over the summer. Mia doesn’t have time for distractions, and vows to dedicate all her time to ballet. But that becomes very difficult after meeting Louis, who happens to be the son of her dance instructor. I thought the romance was so cute, and really encapsulated first love so well. Even so, my favorite part of this book was the dancing element. I love ballet and it was so cool reading a book where it was centered! I also loved the descriptions of Paris, and really felt transported there.

Let me know what your favorite YA contemporaries are in the comments below!! I am always looking for new recommendations!

Book Review: There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon

Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication Year: 2019
Page Count: 378 pages
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 4.5 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

Ashish Patel didn’t know love could be so…sucky. After he’s dumped by his ex-girlfriend, his mojo goes AWOL. Even worse, his parents are annoyingly, smugly confident they could find him a better match. So, in a moment of weakness, Ash challenges them to set him up.

The Patels insist that Ashish date an Indian-American girl—under contract. Per subclause 1(a), he’ll be taking his date on “fun” excursions like visiting the Hindu temple and his eccentric Gita Auntie. Kill him now. How is this ever going to work?

Sweetie Nair is many things: a formidable track athlete who can outrun most people in California, a loyal friend, a shower-singing champion. Oh, and she’s also fat. To Sweetie’s traditional parents, this last detail is the kiss of death.

Sweetie loves her parents, but she’s so tired of being told she’s lacking because she’s fat. She decides it’s time to kick off the Sassy Sweetie Project, where she’ll show the world (and herself) what she’s really made of.

Ashish and Sweetie both have something to prove. But with each date they realize there’s an unexpected magic growing between them. Can they find their true selves without losing each other?

Somebody tell me why I let this book sit on my shelves for over a year when this was one of the cutest contemporaries I have ever read? I loved this book so much, and cannot wait to gush about it for this entire review.

If you didn’t read the synopsis, this book essentially follows Sweetie and Ashish. Ashish has just gotten his heart broken, and decides he needs to get back on his feet. Out of desperation, he asks his parents to find him an Indian-American girlfriend. His parents agree to help set him up with Sweetie, a rising track star. While Sweetie spends most of her time running, her parents tend to overlook her achievements because she is fat. After Sweetie gets wind that Ashish is looking for a girlfriend, Sweetie agrees to date him to prove to herself and to her parents that she is worthy of love, even though she is fat.

There was so much to like in this book that I don’t even know where to begin! I absolutely loved both Sweetie and Ashish. This book is told in dual perspective, so we get both of their point of views on everything that is happening. Ashish is trying to cope with being heartbroken by his first love, and I think that the author did a fantastic job at portraying his emotions. The heartbreak consumes Ashish in the beginning of the novel, and even though he is interested in Sweetie, he has a hard time putting his ex-girlfriend in the past. I felt like this was an accurate portrayal of a high school heartbreak, and I liked that he didn’t immediately forget his ex-girlfriend the minute he met Sweetie. It definitely made the story feel less insta-lovey. Along with that, Ashish was just a total sweetheart. I was rooting for him and Sweetie throughout the entire course of the novel, and just wanted him to be happy.

As much as I loved Ashish, Sweetie was just the real star of the story for me. Seeing a fat girl as the main character in a YA novel was so heartwarming. Growing up with very strict Indian parents, she is constantly reminded that she doesn’t have society’s ideal body by her parents questioning her food choices, or making her run around in the back yard before she can eat. The conversations she has with her parents about her weight felt very realistic, to the point where I felt like I’d had very similar ones before. However, even though Sweetie was fat, I loved that the author didn’t make that her entire personality. Like I said before, Sweetie loves running, and is very passionate about it. I loved the fact that Sweetie was a runner, because Menon shows the reader that being fat is not equivalent to being lazy. Sweetie is a hard worker, and just unapologetically herself. It was so amazing to watch her grow through her insecurities and develop into who she was meant to be. However, this was a very realistic journey. Although Sweetie knows that she shouldn’t be ashamed of her body, there are moments of frustration and doubt. However, this brings about such a powerful message about body positivity and just loving ourselves.

Just like in the author’s other books, she also incorporates really cool Desi culture into this novel as well. Ashish and Sweetie visit places important to their culture, such as a Hindu temple, a color festival, and a visit to Ashish’s great aunt’s house. She also uses the story to show Indian family traditions, traditional Indian clothing, culture, etc. Along with that, she shows the conflict of Sweetie trying to please her traditional parents, but also trying to find a place in America. While she certainly identifies as an Indian girl, she also cannot ignore the fact that she is American, and has some American ideals as well. It was really eye opening to see this conflict, and is one that I have seen in Menon’s other books as well. Menon is an own voices writer, and it is evident that she draws from her own experiences. (However, I do want to mention I am not an own voices reviewer, so I am unsure if this is an accurate portrayal of an Indian-American experience!).

To sum up, read this book! Although it is a bit cheesy at times, there is so much to like and it has quickly made its way to my top books of the year list. This is definitely my favorite Sandhya Menon book to date, and will be a hard one for her to beat.

I would recommend this book if you are looking for:

  • diverse YA contemporary
  • fat main characters
  • wholesome friendships
  • complex family dynamics
  • high school romance

What did you think about the book? Let’s chat in the comments below!

Book Review: The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

The first woman president has to happen in my lifetime, or I’m going to light this entire planet on fire.

Maurene Goo, The Way You Make Me Feel

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Year: 2018
Page Count: 336
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3.5 stars

Synopsis (From GoodReads):

From the author of I Believe in a Thing Called Love, a laugh-out-loud story of love, new friendships, and one unique food truck.

Clara Shin lives for pranks and disruption. When she takes one joke too far, her dad sentences her to a summer working on his food truck, the KoBra, alongside her uptight classmate Rose Carver. Not the carefree summer Clara had imagined. But maybe Rose isn’t so bad. Maybe the boy named Hamlet (yes, Hamlet) crushing on her is pretty cute. Maybe Clara actually feels invested in her dad’s business. What if taking this summer seriously means that Clara has to leave her old self behind?

With Maurene Goo’s signature warmth and humor, The Way You Make Me Feel is a relatable story of falling in love and finding yourself in the places you’d never thought to look.

This book has been on my TBR forever, so I’m very happy I finally got around to reading it! While it wasn’t a new all-time favorite of mine, I still had a lot of fun with it!

The GoodReads synopsis doesn’t give much information, but essentially this follows Clara, who has never been afraid to speak the truth (AKA she’s a bitch). After nearly setting her high school on fire, her dad punishes her by making her work in his food truck over the summer with her nemesis, Rose.

Clara was a character that took quite a bit of time to warm up to. She was absolutely insufferable for the first 30% or so of the book. She was horrible to essentially every person she talks to, including her dad. I really didn’t think I was going to like the book very much because she was just a lot to handle. Obviously though, there was some serious character development by the end of the novel, and while Clara isn’t a new favorite character of mine, I was able to stand her enough to finish the book. I just felt like the author was trying to emphasize the fact that she is different from other girls, and made her a little too over the top and unrealistic in doing so.

While the romance wasn’t really my cup of tea (it felt a bit forced and I think Hamlet’s presence would have been even better as just a friend), this book did have great relationships in other places. Clara’s relationship with her father was very beautiful, and even made me emotional at times. While Clara had always taken her single father for granted, by the end she realizes how much he really does for her, and how he will always be there for her. I feel like we see a lot of single mother arcs in books, so reading a single father arc was a bit different. Clara’s mother is absent, and I think the author did a great job at portraying realistic feelings towards an absent parent. While Clara obviously loves her mother, she feels like she must beg for her attention.

The other relationship I enjoyed reading about was Clara and Rose. I felt like the shift from enemies to friends was gradual and believable. A lot of this book focused on their friendship, which was a lot of fun! Rose totally changes Clara’s perspective on life, and it really shows how important it is to have good friends you can rely on.

Another part of this story that I loved was the setting. This book takes place in L.A., and you can tell that the city is near and dear to the author’s heart. Somebody described this book as being a “love letter to Los Angeles,” and I couldn’t agree more. While I’ve never been, the story definitely transported me there, and showed there is so much more to the city than the tourist destinations. But this city is home to Clara and her father, and has been there for them when her mother hasn’t.

I feel like where the book was a lacking a bit was the plot. This is a very short novel (it took me 5 hours to read), but I just didn’t care that much about what was happening. I was much more invested in the relationships and the character development than the story itself. Clara and Rose are working on a food truck together, and then decide to enter it into the L.A. food truck contest. While I did like the food truck setting, the stakes of the contest just didn’t feel super high to me. I felt like it seemed a bit rushed and the author could have added more tension. Because of this, I just feel like the novel might be a bit forgettable.

All in all, I would recommend this book if you:

  • Enjoy character driven stories
  • Like food truck stories
  • Like strong friendships in books
  • Enjoy reading about single/absent parents
  • Are looking for a book that takes place in L.A.

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

Review: Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Whatever the Grinch can steal, that’s not Christmas.

Sophie Kinsella, Christmas Shopaholic

Publisher: Bantam Press
Publication Year: 2019
Page Count: 384
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3.5 stars

Blurb (From Goodreads):

Becky Brandon (née Bloomwood) adores Christmas. It’s always the same – Mum and Dad hosting, carols playing, Mum pretending she made the Christmas pudding, and the next-door neighbours coming round for sherry in their terrible festive jumpers.

And now it’s even easier with online bargain-shopping sites – if you spend enough you even get free delivery. Sorted!

But this year looks set to be different. Unable to resist the draw of craft beer and smashed avocado, Becky’s parents are moving to ultra-trendy Shoreditch and have asked Becky if she’ll host Christmas this year. What could possibly go wrong?

With sister Jess demanding a vegan turkey, husband Luke determined that he just wants aftershave again, and little Minnie insisting on a very specific picnic hamper – surely Becky can manage all this, as well as the surprise appearance of an old boyfriend and his pushy new girlfriend, whose motives are far from clear . . .

Will chaos ensue, or will Becky manage to bring comfort and joy to Christmas? 

I read this book in preparation for Christmas and I’m really happy I did! This was a super light hearted and fluffy read and it was just plain addictive. I haven’t read any of the other books in the Shopaholic series, but it didn’t hinder my enjoyment of this one.

This book follows Becky, who is set on hosting the best Christmas for her family. However, that proves to be a bit difficult when her family keeps asking Becky to cater to their individual needs. However, Becky doesn’t let this get her down as she sets off on an adventure to make sure everyone has the best Christmas ever.

Becky was a lot of fun to read about! She was definitely so outrageous but it definitely made for a very funny character. I would really love to know how the author came up with ideas for some of the scenes in this book, because they were so absurd, but also hilarious! I also really enjoyed the dynamic between Becky and her husband, Luke. I feel like a lot of times, married couples in books are seen as having a perfect, loving relationship all the time, but in this book it wasn’t all smooth sailing. While Becky and Luke obviously loved each other very much, there were times where they would be fighting or become annoyed with one another. It was very resembling of a real marriage and it made it so much fun to read about!

I think the biggest reason I couldn’t give this book a higher rating was because there wasn’t really a plot. This book mostly just follows Becky in her dat-to-day life, which did work because her life is totally crazy. But not having a defined plot did hinder my enjoyment a little bit and made the book feel a bit long. I think it could’ve been shortened by just 30-40 pages and I could have given it a higher rating.

That being said, even though the plot wasn’t super defined, there were still scenes that were so much fun to read. I particularly liked the subplot with the Gentleman’s Billiards Club, as it was really a defining moment for Becky as a character. She will stop at nothing to get what she wants. There were also a few scenes that were a bit too corny for my taste (painting an edible turkey and hoping nobody will notice when she serves it at Christmas dinner?), but it was overall just a lot of fun.

All in all, this was a super quick listen and I really liked the narrator for the audiobook! I think that was definitely the way to go because I don’t think I would have had the same enjoyment if I was physically reading it. I don’t think I liked this enough that I would go back and read the rest of the Shopaholic series, but I would definitely be open to reading some of Sophie Kinsella’s other books in the future!

What did you think about this book? Leave a comment below!

Review: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication Year: 2019
Page Count: 432
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 2 stars

Blurb (From Goodreads):

When a school presentation goes very wrong, Alaine Beauparlant finds herself suspended, shipped off to Haiti and writing the report of a lifetime…

You might ask the obvious question: What do I, a seventeen-year-old Haitian American from Miami with way too little life experience, have to say about anything?

Actually, a lot.

Thanks to “the incident” (don’t ask), I’m spending the next two months doing what my school is calling a “spring volunteer immersion project.” It’s definitely no vacation. I’m toiling away under the ever-watchful eyes of Tati Estelle at her new nonprofit. And my lean-in queen of a mother is even here to make sure I do things right. Or she might just be lying low to dodge the media sharks after a much more public incident of her own…and to hide a rather devastating secret.

All things considered, there are some pretty nice perks…like flirting with Tati’s distractingly cute intern, getting actual face time with my mom and experiencing Haiti for the first time. I’m even exploring my family’s history—which happens to be loaded with betrayals, superstitions and possibly even a family curse.

You know, typical drama. But it’s nothing I can’t handle.

The initial reason I picked up this book is because it is the first YA novel I have read that takes place in Haiti! Reading about Haitian culture was so cool, because it is something I have never really been exposed to. The author also touches on colonialism, including missions trips and donations that often times do more harm than good. It definitely spun the country into a new light I had not seen before. I also learned a lot about how Haiti gained its independence, and just the history behind the country.

Despite all that, there were some things in the book that really just didn’t mesh with me. I think a part of it was definitely because I was listening to the audiobook. I didn’t know that this was a mixed media novel before picking it up. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have a physical copy so the audiobook was the only way I was able to read it. This story is told through Alaine’s perspective, as well as interviews, emails, articles, and even recipes. Because of that, it was a bit hard for me to follow along without a physical copy.

As for Alaine herself, I couldn’t really connect with her. There was nothing about her that really stood out to be among other YA main characters. She wanted to be a journalist when she grew up, which was cool, but that is really the only concrete detail I can remember about her. I also found her romance subplot to be extremely forced. I felt like the author only added the love interest because it’s a YA novel, and it is a bit obligatory. I did like the family dynamics in this book, even though it was a lot to keep track of. The book also switches to Alaine’s mother’s perspective at times, which was also confusing to follow.

I think the biggest disconnect for me was the plot. I felt like there was too much and too little going on. Even though I just finished this book yesterday, I am struggling to come up with any way to explain what it was about. The author also added magical realism to the story, which just didn’t work for me. It was distracting from the main plot and I just didn’t care.

All in all, even though this book had it’s moments, I did struggle to finish it. If you do decide to pick it up, I don’t think the audiobook is the best way to go. It just felt a bit unorganized and hard to follow.

What did you think about this book? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Review: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk

You can’t rewrite the past, but you can always choose to start again.

Ashley Woodfolk, When You Were Everything

Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication year: 2020
Page count: 400
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3 stars
Rep: Black author, Black/Muslim MCs, MC with speech impediment, f/f relationship

Blurb (From Goodreads):

It’s been twenty-seven days since Cleo and Layla’s friendship imploded.

Nearly a month since Cleo realized they’ll never be besties again.

Now, Cleo wants to erase every memory, good or bad, that tethers her to her ex–best friend. But pretending Layla doesn’t exist isn’t as easy as Cleo hoped, especially after she’s assigned to be Layla’s tutor. Despite budding new friendships with other classmates—and a raging crush on a gorgeous boy named Dom—Cleo’s turbulent past with Layla comes back to haunt them both.

Alternating between time lines of Then and Now, When You Were Everything blends past and present into an emotional story about the beauty of self-forgiveness, the promise of new beginnings, and the courage it takes to remain open to love.

When I first heard about this book, I immediately added it to my list because I have never read a book about a friendship breakup. Friendship breakups are obviously so painful, sometimes even more so than a romantic breakup. And for that reason, I did enjoy this book. This book also dealt with other heavy topics, such as separation of parents and loss of a loved one.

This book follows the perspective of Cleo in two alternating timelines, “before” and “after.” I thought the story not being in chronological order worked and was very effective, because we can see the contrast of Cleo’s life with Layla in it, and without her in it. However, I did have quite a few problems with Cleo’s character, which ultimately is why I can’t give this book a stunning review.

When the story starts out, Cleo and Layla are best friends. However, after Layla decides to audition for chorus, she begins to hang out with other friends, which Cleo decides is not okay. It has always been the two of them, so why would Layla need other friends besides her? I felt like the author was trying to twist the narrative to make the reader feel bad for Cleo, but I just couldn’t get on her side. Trying to control who Layla can be friends with is so extremely toxic, and so I just couldn’t sympathize with Cleo, especially since Layla tries to invite Cleo to events with her new friends.

To make things even worst, Cleo says some horrible things about Layla’s stutter, something she is clearly self conscious about. And when Layla is admitted into chorus and eventually gets cast as a lead role in the school musical, Cleo doesn’t congratulate her, but rather asks her how she can be happy when it will cut into their time together. Cleo is just so selfish, and then to imply Layla can’t achieve success because she has a stutter? I wouldn’t blame Layla for ditching her either.

Cleo’s actions were the main reason I gave this book only a 3 star rating. It was enjoyable, and in the end the author does try to redeem her, but I just couldn’t feel sorry for her after all the horrible things she did. She is toxic, controlling, and hypocritical.

Moving on the romance, I thought it was cute but it wasn’t anything that will stick with me. Dominic felt a bit like a cut out of other YA book boyfriends, and I can’t really think of anything that made him special.

As for the plot, this was definitely a fast paced book and a quick read. I liked the family dynamics the author brought into play. While Cleo is losing Layla, her dad is also moving out for reasons unknown to her. This definitely added to the complexity of the plot. There are also good conversations that take place about societal roles for Muslim women vs. Muslim men that I found very interesting!

All in all, I’m not upset I read this book, but I won’t remember it as an all time favorite YA contemporary. I have another book on my radar about friend breakups (We Used to be Friends by Amy Spalding) so I am interested to see how that one compares to this one!