Book Review: A Cuban Girls Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey

Publication Year: 2020
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Page Count: 320
Format: Audiobook
Rating: 3 stars

Blurb (From GoodReads):

For Lila Reyes, a summer in England was never part of the plan. The plan was 1) take over her abuela’s role as head baker at their panadería, 2) move in with her best friend after graduation, and 3) live happily ever after with her boyfriend. But then the Trifecta happened, and everything—including Lila herself—fell apart.

Worried about Lila’s mental health, her parents make a new plan for her: Spend three months with family friends in Winchester, England, to relax and reset. But with the lack of sun, a grumpy inn cook, and a small town lacking Miami flavor (both in food and otherwise), what would be a dream trip for some feels more like a nightmare to Lila…until she meets Orion Maxwell.

A teashop clerk with troubles of his own, Orion is determined to help Lila out of her funk, and appoints himself as her personal tour guide. From Winchester’s drama-filled music scene to the sweeping English countryside, it isn’t long before Lila is not only charmed by Orion, but England itself. Soon a new future is beginning to form in Lila’s mind—one that would mean leaving everything she ever planned behind.

I really thought I was going to love this book. I had heard such good things about it, it is a Reese Witherspoon YA Book Club pick (which I usually love), and it sounded like a fun travel novel! While there were some aspects I loved, unfortunately this book did fall a tad flat for me.

To start off with what I liked, I really liked the Cuban culture in this book! I haven’t really read many books including Cuban heritage, so I learned a lot in that aspect, especially in terms of Cuban food. I loved the fact that Lila was a chef. This was what a big portion of the book was about. The author so vividly described the Cuban food Lila was making, to the point I felt like I could almost taste it. It honestly made me want to look up Cuban recipes so I could try them myself!

Along with that, I really liked the exploration of grief in this novel. Lila is dealing with the loss of her Abuela, who was her best friend. I felt like Lila’s reactions and feelings were very realistic, and I liked that the author included it in the story. Lila’s Abuela was the one who taught her how to cook, which was also a very cool element because it made the cooking even more heartfelt.

I also want to mention that I thought it was so cool that this is a novel that takes place in England that doesn’t take place in London! I have never read a book that takes place in Winchester before, and it really made me want to visit the English country side and smaller cities! It definitely was a different feel from the other English novels I have read before.

I wish I could leave a review with all positive comments, because I definitely understand why this story is loved by so many people. It is cute and fun but also has some more serious themes throughout. However, I just did not mesh with Lila as a narrator. I don’t know if it was just me, but it annoyed me to no end that she spent nearly half the book complaining she was in England. Goodness, what I wouldn’t do to be in England right now! I am not sure if it annoyed me so much because I haven’t been able to travel, but it just immediately turned me off from the character. Lila has a really strong connection with her home city, Miami, and I don’t have that connection with my city so maybe that is why I could not emphasize. But I had a hard time caring about Lila because I was just so annoyed.

Along with that, I just did not care about her relationship with Orion at all. I must say, this author had some beautiful romantic scenes interspersed throughout the book. While they were swoony, I felt like they could be about any couple and it wouldn’t have made a difference. I think part of the reason I didn’t care so much is because the stakes just didn’t feel very high. Of course, this doesn’t make any sense because Lila lives in the States and Orion lives in England, so there were potential problems. However, I guessed how the story would end about 60% of the way through so it didn’t really leave many surprises for me.

I do believe that I am starting to outgrow YA contemporary, so that may be where my not-so-great feelings about this book come from. I think this book definitely read as younger, so it just didn’t make me feel as much in my 20s.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you like:

  • Learning about new cultures
  • Travel novels
  • Books exploring grief
  • Books that give similar vibes as Anna and the French Kiss

What were your opinions on this book? Let’s chat in the comments below!

Review: The Paper Girls of Paris by Jordyn Taylor

Publisher: HarperTeen
Publication Year: 2020
Page count: 368
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3.5 stars
Rep: queer supporting character, character with mental illness

Blurb (From GoodReads):

Sixteen-year-old Alice is spending the summer in Paris, but she isn’t there for pastries and walks along the Seine. When her grandmother passed away two months ago, she left Alice an apartment in France that no one knew existed. An apartment that has been locked for more than seventy years.

Alice is determined to find out why the apartment was abandoned and why her grandmother never once mentioned the family she left behind when she moved to America after World War II. With the help of Paul, a charming Parisian student, she sets out to uncover the truth. However, the more time she spends digging through the mysteries of the past, the more she realizes there are secrets in the present that her family is still refusing to talk about.

Sixteen-year-old Adalyn doesn’t recognize Paris anymore. Everywhere she looks, there are Nazis, and every day brings a new horror of life under the Occupation. When she meets Luc, the dashing and enigmatic leader of a resistance group, Adalyn feels she finally has a chance to fight back. But keeping up the appearance of being a much-admired socialite while working to undermine the Nazis is more complicated than she could have imagined. As the war goes on, Adalyn finds herself having to make more and more compromises—to her safety, to her reputation, and to her relationships with the people she loves the most.

This wasn’t on my October TBR because I wasn’t planning on reading it this month. But I am happy I did because this did end up being a heart felt story.

This book follows two girls, Alice, in present day Paris, and Adalyn, in Nazi occupied Paris. The story alternates between them each chapter, giving us a mix between historical fiction and contemporary.

I really enjoyed reading from Adalyn’s perspective. Historical fiction was definitely the author’s stronger suit. Although her story started out a bit on the slower side, by the end my heart was racing. Adalyn is a teenager when the Nazis occupy France, and through accident she finds The Resistance, teaming up with them to take down The Nazis. However, she cannot tell a single soul, and that includes her best friend and sister, Chloe. Chloe and Adalyn’s relationship was a heartfelt (although frustrating) one. The entire time I was rooting for the sisters to reconcile. My heart really went out to Adalyn that she could not confide in her sister.

Alice’s perspective was not quite as impactful for me. Alice visits Paris after her grandmother passes, leaving her an apartment that has been untouched since the war. Alice then finds pictures of Adalyn, a great aunt she has never known, as well as her diary. I think the reason I struggled with Alice’s perspective is that she just seemed immature to me. The way she reacted to certain situations, and even the language used, just seemed much younger than she was supposed to be. I wasn’t all that invested in her storyline until the end, and it just kind of served as a distraction from Adalyn’s story.

Another issue I had with Alice was how she handled the situation with her mother. Alice’s mother is clearly depressed after her mother has died, and given her most prized possession to Alice instead of herself. It was frustrating to read about how Alice and her dad handled it, tip toeing around the problem and forcing their mother into clearly uncomfortable situations. By the end, they do reach some clarity that her mother needs help, but it takes a long time for them to reach that conclusion. It was just a very frustrating plotline to get through.

Both Adalyn and Alice also have a romance. Adalyn’s romance was very sweet, and I will forever stan Luc. Their war torn relationship definitely pulled at my heartstrings and had me rooting for them. However, I was not the hugest fan of Alice’s relationship. Their meet cute was the typical “eyes locked across a crowded café” thing, and I just couldn’t really get past that. I didn’t see much of a foundation between the two of them, so it was kind of unbelievable. I think the story would have been better without the romance on Alice’s part, and they replaced her partner with a friend.

All in all, this was a good story and I’m not upset I read it. The author disclosed on Instagram that her next story is a Cold War era novel taking place in NYC, that sounds super exciting and I will definitely read it.

Leave your thoughts on this book in the comments below! Happy reading!

Review: Cinderella is Dead by Kalynn Bayron

It’s risky…But sometimes that’s the only way to get things done. Take the risk, light the fuse. Onward.

Kalynn Bayron, Cinderella is Dead

Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Publication year: 2020
Page count: 389 pages
Format: Hardcover
Rating: 3.5 stars

It’s 200 years after Cinderella found her prince, but the fairy tale is over. Teen girls are now required to appear at the Annual Ball, where the men of the kingdom select wives based on a girl’s display of finery. If a suitable match is not found, the girls not chosen are never heard from again.

Sixteen-year-old Sophia would much rather marry Erin, her childhood best friend, than parade in front of suitors. At the ball, Sophia makes the desperate decision to flee, and finds herself hiding in Cinderella’s mausoleum. There, she meets Constance, the last known descendant of Cinderella and her step sisters. Together they vow to bring down the king once and for all–and in the process, they learn that there’s more to Cinderella’s story than they ever knew . . .

Okay, first and foremost, we must address the cover because it is absolutely stunning!

This book started out super strong. I remember actually posting somewhere that this may be a new favorite book of the year for me. However, after about the halfway point, the story fell flat for me for a couple reasons.

I genuinely enjoyed Sophia as a character. I thought she was strong and empowering to read about. At the beginning of the novel, Sophia is head over heels in love with Erin, her best friend since childhood. While Sophia is convinced that her life will amount to more than being the property of some man, Erin has accepted her fate and refuses to believe anything can be done about it.

Then, comes along Constance. Constance is the last known descendant of Gabrielle, one of the evil stepsisters. I liked Constance as a character as well, but I was not a huge fan of the romance between Sophia and Constance. It felt a bit insta-lovey to me and I didn’t see much of a buildup to their relationship. I felt like it was a bit too easy. With Erin conveniently out of the picture, Constance swoops in and woos Sophia in just a few nights. Sophia doesn’t even mention Erin again (except once very briefly) until a few chapters after she solidifies her relationship with Constance.

At one point in the novel, Sophia does try to get closure from Erin, but to no avail. At first, this bothered me because I felt like there was no reconciliation between the two characters and the Erin plot-line just dropped, but after reflecting a bit more I kind of liked this aspect. You don’t always get closure from your ex’s, but it’s okay to move on. It’s real life, and I think this might have been what the author was trying to show.

My favorite part of this novel was definitely the world it was set in. This was such a fresh take on Cinderella, twisting the original tale in such a unique way. The author really made the story her own, putting in characters who we don’t usually see in fairy tales. It was unlike any other fairy tale retelling I’ve read before, and I’m so happy that minority authors are taking back these stories and creating new ones out of them.

Overall, I am happy I read this book, even if it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me. There are rumors of a sequel, and if they prove to be true, I will definitely be picking it up!

What were your opinions on this book? Leave them in the comments below!