YOU SHOULD SEE ME IN A CROWN by Leah Johnson

Liz Lighty has always believed she’s too black, too poor, too awkward to shine in her small, rich, prom-obsessed midwestern town. But it’s okay — Liz has a plan that will get her out of Campbell, Indiana, forever: attend the uber-elite Pennington College, play in their world-famous orchestra, and become a doctor.

But when the financial aid she was counting on unexpectedly falls through, Liz’s plans come crashing down . . . until she’s reminded of her school’s scholarship for prom king and queen. There’s nothing Liz wants to do less than endure a gauntlet of social media trolls, catty competitors, and humiliating public events, but despite her devastating fear of the spotlight she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get to Pennington.

The only thing that makes it halfway bearable is the new girl in school, Mack. She’s smart, funny, and just as much of an outsider as Liz. But Mack is also in the running for queen. Will falling for the competition keep Liz from her dreams . . . or make them come true? 



Title : You Should See Me In A Crown
Author : Leah Johnson
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ romance
Publisher : Scholastic Inc.
Release Date : June 2, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5



Hollis’ 3.5 star review

This isn’t quite the rating I had hoped to give this read but alas here we are. Don’t let the stars, or this lackluster intro sway you though; if you haven’t yet picked this one up, you totally should.

There’s a reason this book was all over the place a few months ago and that’s because this debut? Adorable. Truly. I honestly can’t say there was anything about the scope of this book that frustrated or upset me. It was just that I found little things within that chipped away at the overall enjoyment, or flow, and that’s why I can’t quite round up on this.

When you already feel like everything about you makes you stand out, it just makes more sense to find as many ways to blend in as you can.

Liz Lighty really goes through it. Over the past four years she’s taken on a certain role because of a fateful event in freshman year that lost her a friend. But, through her need for scholarship money which is the reason she tosses in her hat for prom queen, she ends up reuniting with said friend. At the same time her actual bestie is testing her by trying to over-control Liz’s campaigning. She’s also crushing on the new girl, but keeping it on the downlow because she’s not out, which is made even more complicated by the other girl also running for prom queen, and the rules being set out that the whole prom establishment allows for only male/female matchups. There’s also a sick brother, grief from losing a parent, and probably other things I’ve already forgotten. It’s a lot.

But, at the same time, it doesn’t feel like too much? It definitely has that Netflix/’90s teen movie treatment but there’s nothing really wrong with that. My minor frustrations mostly came about because I felt certain things got a lot of page time, others less than they should, and the pacing felt a little compromised in the lead up to the big climax when everything just gets a big convenient. But overall everything that Johnson put within the pages? Great. And actually, up until the inevitable break up (it’s not even a spoiler, people, we know this happens), the romance was probably my favourite part. The adorable sweetness was unreal. Even the villains of the piece and the ridiculous homophobic rhetoric within the school wasn’t too grating to be unpalatable. Everything really did work.

So basically what this means, or what I think it means, is that if Johnson can do this for a first book? Her sophomore release will likely be a smash.

Definitely recommend.

MY HEART UNDERWATER by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo

After Corazon’s mother catches her kissing her older female teacher, Corazon is sent to the Philippines to live with a half brother she barely knows. There she learns more about loss and love than she could have ever imagined.

Corazon Tagubio is an outcast at her Catholic school. She’s attending on scholarship, she keeps to herself, and her crush on her teacher Ms. Holden doesn’t help anything. At home, Cory’s less-than-perfect grades disappoint her mom and dad, who are already working overtime to support her distant half brother in the Philippines.

When an accident leaves her dad comatose, Cory feels like Ms. Holden is the only person who really sees her. But when a crush turns into something more and the secret gets out, Cory is sent to her half brother. She’s not prepared to face a stranger in an unfamiliar place, but she begins to discover how the country that shaped her past might also change her future.

This #ownvoices story takes readers on a journey across the world as Cory comes to understand her family, her relationships, and, ultimately, herself.


Title : My Heart Underwater
Author : Laurel Flores Fantauzzo
Format : eARC
Page Count : 288
Genre : YA contemporary/LGBTQIA
Publisher : Quill Tree Books
Release Date : October 20, 2020

Reviewer : Micky
Rating  : ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 3.5 star review

This was a gritty LGBTQIA coming-of-age story that moved from the US to the Phillipines. If you like messy family drama, this one will fulfill that remit. It had an inappropriate teacher-student relationship which I struggled with somewhat but there was a satisfying developing in the main character’s understanding over that element which helped how I felt.

It was a story of two halves for me, a more gripping first half, full of drama but a slower-paced second half that was wonderfully rich with Filipino culture. The main character Cory was bounced around out of her control, forced to travel back to the Phillipines but it proved an positive experience in the end. I have no personal experience of the Phillipines however, but it was brought to life with description for me.

Family drama was the core context to this story and I can’t say I liked any of her family but Bea slowly did grow on me. I felt like almost no-one was fighting Cory’s corner or trying to understand her evolving sexuality or personality. The catholicism was strong in this story and not often viewed in a favourable light.

My Heart Underwater was an interesting read and a solid debut. I welcomed this story’s Manila context and enjoyed a fresh voice from this author.

Please also check out own voices reviewers on this title.

Thank you to Harper 360 YA for the early review copy.

GROWN by Tiffany D. Jackson

Korey Fields is dead.

When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.

Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.

Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?

All signs point to Enchanted.


Title : Grown
Author : Tiffany D. Jackson
Format : ARC
Page Count : 380
Genre : YA contemporary/mystery
Publisher : Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date : September 15, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

This book is a hard one to rate for me for a few reasons. One being this just feels.. too real. It’s fiction, yes, and the author stresses in her foreword that this is not about R. Kelly.. but we’re all drawing those paralells anyway. And a result it toes that line between fiction and reality a little too closely for me to feel 100% comfortable rating it. But I will.

This book was brutal at times but also very strong. You watch as Enchanted is awed by the attention and praise of a super star. Is won over by his charm. How harmless innocent texting eventually changes tone. How opportunity becomes a cage. The manipulations, the abuse, the gaslighting, the isolation.. it’s hard. It’s tough.

We open up on the aftermath of all this, not knowing quite what has happened to get us there, when Enchanted wakes up to find her abuser, the superstar, is dead. I expected a bit of a whoddunnit, the uncertainty, because if you’ve read a Jackson before you know things can be twisty and fluid. But then things took an even stranger turn and that’s where I feel this lost some of its impact. I think there were too many elements being juggled — murder mystery, the grooming and abuse of power, and straight up abuse, the.. other element, I don’t quite want to mention for fear of spoilers, mental health, and then also the very relevant, and worthy, social commentary regarding why women don’t come forward; but more specifically why Black women are treated differently than white women when they do. It’s a lot. So much of it is important. But I think tackling so much affected some pacing, affected some character development (I wish Enchanted had felt more solid prior to everything that happened to her), and even though I was riding some of the highs (and I don’t mean in a good way but in the sense I couldn’t look away) and the lows (I teared up bad at one scene), and I hated everything that was going on, so was clearly affected on a visceral level, I just feel a half-step out of sync with the whole experience as things came to a head.

What I didn’t expect from this book, but which did give this a very well-rounded feeling, were some sorta mixed media elements and snippets that really felt perfect for the way the events of this book unfolded. I don’t quite want to spoil what these elements are or look like but I liked them.

I definitely think if you can handle the subject matter (please look for trigger warnings, many lovely reviewers on GR have listed them in their reviews; but also you can see them for yourself in the beginning of the book itself), you should read this. I also encourage you to seek out reviews by #ownvoices reviewers as their opinions and feelings should definitely get priority over mine.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

MISS METEOR by Tehlor Kay Mejia & Anna-Marie McLemore

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history. But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or why her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands. So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

Witty and heartfelt with characters that leap off the page, Miss Meteor is acclaimed authors Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia’s first book together.


Title : Miss Meteor
Author : Tehlor Kay Mejia & Anna-Marie McLemore
Format : ARC
Page Count : 396
Genre : YA LGBTQIAP+ contemporary/magical realism
Publisher : HarperTeen
Release Date : September 22, 2020

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

If you’re looking for a lovely, heartfelt, and heartwarming story about friendship, about accepting who you are even in the face of judgment and ridicule, about taking risks, about friendship blossoming into more..? You need this book.

I am a girl worth the space I take up.

I won’t say it’s a walk in the park to read. As mentioned RE judgment and ridicule, there is a significant amount of bullying, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia within the pages of this book. There were times this was hard. There were times I wanted to set fire to certain characters. But those who were being targeted found their voices, they pushed back, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the bullies don’t win this one.

You guys aren’t, like, mad? You don’t think I’m a weirdo?
Honey, we’re not even surprised. I mean, at first I didn’t know what [pansexual] meant. I thought maybe we’d left you alone in the kitchen to wash the skillets too many times and..

This story has a magical realism element that is just.. well, magical. A little strange. A bit whimsical. A whole lot of wonderful. It helped, too, that said magical element was also surrounding my favourite POV. While Chicky’s sibling dynamic was a huge highlight of this story, and I loved that she broke out to claim something of herself, I’ll admit I didn’t quite love being in her head. At least not compared to Lita. Lita who also had the sweetest of love interests (though actually I liked both romances, yes, two for the price of one!) and.. yeah, Lita just completely won me over. I feel very soft.

“I called Kendra. She said it was okay.”
She what?
She said, ‘Yeah, sure, why don’t you just move in while you’re at it?’
Do we need to have a discussion about what sarcasm is?

This whole experience, even the hard bits, was just a delight. There are familiar elements at work — small town, battle of the classes/jocks vs not-jocks, popular kids picking on the not-populars, etc — but this’ll stand out not just because of the representation, of which there is much, but because of how lovely and supportive this group of friends are. You know me, I’m trash for an ensemble, and throw in a cause (in this case, challenging the status quo of the beauty pageant), and it all just.. works.

When you look at me, I know you see more than the shortstop, or the trans guy, or whatever people call me when they forget my name. Do you know how much I need that? Do you know what it’s like to have that when you usually don’t get it?

I highly recommend finding some #ownvoices reviewers, as their opinion should definitely take precedence over mine, but I also highly recommend you just read this book.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

SLAY by Brittney Morris

By day, seventeen-year-old Kiera Johnson is an honors student, a math tutor, and one of the only Black kids at Jefferson Academy. But at home, she joins hundreds of thousands of Black gamers who duel worldwide as Nubian personas in the secret multiplayer online role-playing card game, SLAY. No one knows Kiera is the game developer, not her friends, her family, not even her boyfriend, Malcolm, who believes video games are partially responsible for the “downfall of the Black man.”

But when a teen in Kansas City is murdered over a dispute in the SLAY world, news of the game reaches mainstream media, and SLAY is labeled a racist, exclusionist, violent hub for thugs and criminals. Even worse, an anonymous troll infiltrates the game, threatening to sue Kiera for “anti-white discrimination.”

Driven to save the only world in which she can be herself, Kiera must preserve her secret identity and harness what it means to be unapologetically Black in a world intimidated by Blackness. But can she protect her game without losing herself in the process?


Title : SLAY
Author : Brittney Morris
Format : eARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Simon Pulse
Release Date : September 24, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

This book is getting a lot of hype and, honestly, it deserves every single bit of it. I don’t remember exactly what it was, or who, inspired me to request this one but I’m so glad I did. So here I am paying it forward : watch out for this one.

The summary perfectly sums up (hah) what this is about, there’s no need for me to rehash anything in my review, and honestly the less I say about this, the better, I think. Not only because it isn’t my place to talk about representation (which I never would for an #ownvoices story) or what this book is or isn’t doing right (also not my place) — though I think it got everything right, to be honest — ultimately, all that matters, is this book both entertained and educated me and I loved the experience of reading it.

The wide-lens of this particular conflict is, I think, so important. It’s a multifaceted narrative. Race, identity, culture, gaming, ambition, history. It’s all tied up beautifully. I might even have teared up ar the end. Got me a bit in my feels there, Morris.

And speaking of beautiful. Beyond the relevant, and relatable issues, that readers will experience, the creativity? Incredible. The secondary setting of Morris’ story is this immersive VR online world and the way she infused not only Black culture but also Black history into this game was just unreal. Except, I want that to be real. I would wish for that kind of safe space, sans trolls, to exist for gamers who are otherwise treated terribly in the anonymous space that is the internet, who constantly have to listen to hateful vitriol spewed at them across the ether by strangers. A place that celebrates, and even educates, as well as focuses on mutual love and respect, even as opponents duel each other.

I enjoyed this book so much and absolutely hope the buzz continues post-release and this finds its way into many hands, no matter their colour. There’s something for everyone here, even if this book isn’t about you. Maybe, even, particularly if this book isn’t about you.

I know I’ll be picking up whatever this author comes out with next, too.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

MY SO-CALLED BOLLYWOOD LIFE by Nisha Sharma

Winnie Mehta was never really convinced that Raj was her soulmate, but their love was written in the stars. Literally, a pandit predicted Winnie would find the love of her life before her 18th birthday, and Raj meets all of the qualifications. Which is why Winnie is shocked to return from her summer at film camp to find her boyfriend of three years hooking up with Jenny Dickens. Worse, Raj is crowned chair of the student film festival, a spot Winnie was counting on for her film school applications. As a self-proclaimed Bollywood expert, Winnie knows this is not how her perfect ending is scripted.

Then there’s Dev, a fellow film geek, and one of the few people Winnie can count on to help her reclaim control of her story. Dev is smart, charming, and challenges Winnie to look beyond her horoscope to find someone she’d pick for herself. But does falling for Dev mean giving up on her prophecy, and her chance to live happily ever after? To get her Bollywood-like life on track, Winnie will need a little bit of help from fate, family, and of course, a Bollywood movie star.


Title : My So-Called Bollywood Life
Author Nisha Sharma
Format : Paperback
Page Count : 332
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Stripes Books
Release Date : 2 May 2019

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ .5


Micky’s 4.5 star review

What a delightful, fun, escapist read this unusual YA was. It was completely unexpected in nature and plot line, fairly low in terms of teenage angst and it made me smile while reading many times.

I know only a little about Bollywood films but through the protagonist Winnie, I learnt just a little more and came to love her love for it. Winnie finds herself in a break up situation in her final year of high school, with a new low-key love interest and uses her savant-ish knowledge of bollywood films to guide her direction.

The sense of family in this story was full and fun. Nani, her mum and dad were in the background but powerful in wanting to steer Winnie alongside her astrological predictions. 

Raj her ex and Dev her want-to-be, were hilarious to read about; I knew where my wishes swayed towards from early on. The friendship circles were both interesting and complex with some strained loyalties. The story had a feminist underpinning which I appreciated and Winnie was empowered as a young women by her family and school.

“I don’t understand why you love the singing and dancing and Bollywood drama…but Winnie Mehta, I would dance for you.”

There’s so much to this story, much more than just a great romantic storyline. Whilst I’m not from the Indian community in the US, I felt this was relatable with a strong coming-of-age theme that will appeal widely.

The cover for this book is one of my favourites this year and the words inside match beautifully. I will love seeing this book on my shelf and I would definitely re-read it. MY SO-CALLED BOLLYWOOD LIFE is a fun, own-voices and diverse read and I highly recommend it.

Thank you @nishawrites for these words, @stripesbooks @darkroomtours and @hatecopy for the fabulous cover. 

LIKE A LOVE STORY by Abdi Nazemian

It’s 1989 in New York City, and for three teens, the world is changing.

Reza is an Iranian boy who has just moved to the city with his mother to live with his stepfather and stepbrother. He’s terrified that someone will guess the truth he can barely acknowledge about himself. Reza knows he’s gay, but all he knows of gay life are the media’s images of men dying of AIDS.

Judy is an aspiring fashion designer who worships her uncle Stephen, a gay man with AIDS who devotes his time to activism as a member of ACT UP. Judy has never imagined finding romance…until she falls for Reza and they start dating.

Art is Judy’s best friend, their school’s only out and proud teen. He’ll never be who his conservative parents want him to be, so he rebels by documenting the AIDS crisis through his photographs.

As Reza and Art grow closer, Reza struggles to find a way out of his deception that won’t break Judy’s heart–and destroy the most meaningful friendship he’s ever known.


Title : Like a Love Story
Author Abdi Nazemian
Format : ARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : YA historical fiction, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Balzer + Bray
Release Date : June 4, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

LIKE A LOVE STORY is a little like a love story, really. But more in the sense of love for oneself, one’s body, and one’s community. I think it did a really good job of that, particularly when propped up against the setting, but when it comes to the love story, the romance, within the book.. it kinda failed. And by kinda I mean really.

Nazemian’s story takes place on the cusp of the nineties, in 1989, and is set against the AIDS crisis. Not as a backdrop but as a very real threat and very present player for our three protagonists. Art is out and proud and angry. His best friend, Judy, has an uncle dying of AIDS. And the new kid, originally from Iran, is Reza; someone both friends fall for but who, despite initially dating Judy, is closeted. 

I knew this wouldn’t be an easy story but I knew it would be an important one. It was a frightening time and is made even more terrifying when held up against the current social and political climate. Addressing the bigotry and the homophobia was all very visceral and awful but well done. I felt like I was living it. Where the fear of touch, of being touched, infected every interaction. Where not subscribing to white, heteronormative, ideals made you worthy of hate or shunning. Where it was acceptable to wish your son dead just for being queer. Where hate fuelled both sides of the equation; one side for being ushered into an early grave just for being who they were, and the other for not understanding or not accepting people different from themselves.

What I believe failed this story was the characters.

The romance is fast tracked as is fairly typical — though the fact that these two besties go from zero to eleven within half a page over the new kid is unlikely as it is; but for it to be turned into a triangle, infusing unnecessary drama into the mix, just becomes tedious — and ultimately, it’s the leads that do a disservice to the goings on around them. Or, rather, I feel they overshadowed the rest with their nonsense. I outright disliked two of the POVs (one more strongly than the other) but overall it was their behaviours, too, that I just couldn’t stand. 

The most important four-letter word in our history will always be LOVE. That’s what we are fighting for. That’s who we are. Love is our legacy.

I’m heartbroken that this didn’t work but I do think, if the synopsis draws you in, you should still pick it up. LIKE A LOVE STORY is a book that features a four star topic but is, unfortunately, saddled with one star protagonists. 

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


AYESHA AT LAST by Uzma Jalaluddin – double review!

Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist 

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 dresses like he belongs in the seventh century. 

When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind. 


Title : Ayesha At Last
Author : Uzma Jalaluddin
Format : eARC
Page Count : 343
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : HarperCollins
Release Date : June 4 (US & Can), June 12, 2019 (UK)

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ /  ★ ★


Micky’s 5 star review

4.5 stars that I am rounding up.

I am buzzing finishing this book, I have devoured it in 36 hours as life made me put it down a few times. This was a loose pride and prejudice take set in the Muslim community in Toronto. Most importantly it is own voices written (and a debut).

Khalid is a beta-male character with little to paint an admirable picture of his personality. Khalid was a bit of a jerk, he lacked a verbal filter, judged too quickly but he was definitely misunderstood. Khalid grew on me, he was pretty endearing at times and he was a man with integrity and kindness. He didn’t know how he was perceived but awareness did begin to creep in.

Ayesha was a vibrant character, headstrong, a feminist, bucking some traditions that seemed unnecessary to her. I liked her immediately and her quirky ways. Khalid and Ayesha met through friends initially and later at the mosque organising a conference. Misunderstanding and chemistry seemed to be the nature of their relationship.

“Because while it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.”

This was a strong story, with amazing side characters, mostly family and community, that painted a rich depth. I was glued to this book and I thought about it when I wasn’t. The connection between Khalid and Ayesha was slow developing but full of feeling. This was a clean read along the lines of pride and prejudice but it didn’t need anything more. I could have done with a little more about Khalid and Ayesha in the end, however.

This is an amazing debut from Uzma Jalaluddin. Her writing flowed beautifully and I was hooked so easily; I am eager to read more from her and this context.

Thank you to Readers First for my review copy.


Hollis’ 2 star review

It pains me to rate this so low considering all the excitement I had surrounding this title, not to mention the brilliant diversity in this particular retelling, but..

If this story had been just about Ayesha and Khalid, with the former’s delightful grandparents thrown into the mix, I probably would’ve rated this much higher. But then it also wouldn’t have been as true to the PRIDE & PREJUDICE retelling. Or.. maybe it could’ve been! All I know is there were so many villains, so many unpleasant characters, and I was just bothered and frustrated by it all.

But even some of the non-villains were just.. annoying. The drama was really turned up and I know this is fictional but I was really uncomfortable, not to mention fairly rage-y, over the discrimination in the workplace plot line. Like.. no, I’m sorry. I just can’t see that going as far as it did; and maybe I’m extra sensitive about it because this took place in my hometown? I’m not saying I’m naive enough to believe things like this don’t happen in some form or another, as much as we think we’re all above it, but it just went too far.

I think what it comes down to, more than anything, is while I’m aware that most of these caricatures existed in the original, I’m honestly starting to wonder if I just can’t get behind the book anymore; if maybe I wouldn’t even like the original if I tried to read it today. Maybe I should just stick to movie or TV adaptations from now on.

I love that this book exists for the representation it brings, I did enjoy the changes to the family structures the author made, could appreciate the Toronto setting (even if it only amounted to random references to Timbits and a fairly loose, though accurate, description of Scarborough..), but.. lots of buts.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE by Sandhya Menon

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?


Title : There’s Something About Sweetie
Author Sandhya Menon
Series : When Dimple Met Rishi (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 384
Genre : YA contemporary
Publisher : Simon Pulse
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

So, don’t pelt me with rotten fruit, but I have to get this out of the way : THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SWEETIE was very.. sweet. Kind of gooey. I wonder if it was a deliberate choice in order to balance out the less-than-fun fatphobic elements of the story or if that’s just the author’s preference (I’ve read WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI but it was a few years ago and I can’t remember what the sweet factor was like, so, anyway..).

Resisting fatphobic messages was one thing — but what about the insidious, internalized fat phobia she carried around?

I was really keen on this one because of the aforementioned fat issue. As per the summary, Sweetie was toted to be big and beautiful and trying to be braver, bolder, in the face of her mother’s criticisms and constant need to hold her back for fear of what others might say or do. And this definitely lived up to that. I actually really really adored Sweetie. I liked how she pushed herself to take risks, to stand up for herself, how she was confident in herself despite the fact that everything (society, media) and everyone (family, peers) would have her believe there was something wrong with her. But I also appreciated her moments of doubt, of frustration, with her body — we all have that one area, or more, no matter our size, that we just dislike — that just proved she was human, too. 

“The word ‘fat’ isn’t inherently bad or gross. It’s people who’ve made it the way. ‘Fat’ is just the opposite of ‘thin’, and no one flinches at that one. So, to me, ‘fat’ is just another word that describes me, like ‘brown’ or ‘girl’ or ‘athlete’.”

As for Ashish, this is where the connection to the first book came. He’s Rishi’s little brother; confident, cocky, not-quite-connected-to-his-culture, and also recently heartbroken and reeling from the fact that for all his cool player ways he actually loved his ex, and doesn’t know how to move on. Desperate to change things up, get his groove back, he follows in Rishi’s footsteps and has his parents set him up with someone they approve of. And in comes Sweetie. Nothing like the previous girls he dated and yet.. 

Ashish was one of those naturally flirty people. It was, like, his resting state. He had resting flirty face.

I loved their connection, I loved their differences, I loved their individual sets of friends, and all the diversity within the pages. I’ll admit that some of the monologue-y impassioned speeches or wise observations were a little much, and kind of over the top, and not hardly what I think we’d see from sixteen and seventeen year olds. But they were passionate and wise and accurate. So, thumbs up, but maybe a little too much and a few too many. 

There’s your typical ‘hide something for good-ish reasons and have it blow up in your face’ drama, which is hardly limited to YA and happens in all romance, and some issues or conversations did feel repetitive, plus Sweetie’s mother as the sole hold out only to have the eleventh hour epiphany was kind of.. shrug. Again, typical, and I would’ve liked to have seen more gradual awareness in that transition but alas. The romance, too, is definitely a fall hard and fall fast situation and, again, ooey gooey sweet, but I still liked it.

He was doing his trademark smolder-smirk; she could see it in her peripheral vision. It was thirty percent smirk and seventy percent smolder, and she didn’t even have fire protection in the car.

If you want a diverse, feel good, YA contemporary that’s heavy on the romance and heavy on self-acceptance, this is the book for you.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang – double review!

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.


Title : The Bride Test
Author : Helen Hoang
Series : The Kiss Quotient (book two)
Format : eARC / paperback
Page Count : 315
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Berkley / Atlantic
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

She got you a mail-order bride from Vietnam, Khai.
Why do you say it so it sounds so bad? She’s not a ‘mail-order bride’. I met her in person.

Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I loved THE KISS QUOTIENT. I was so excited when Hoang announced a companion to her world that would not only feature a male lead with autism, though would not be quite like what we experienced with Stella, but would be equally diverse, too. And I really did enjoy being inside Khai’s head. When he wasn’t breaking my heart, that is. Esme, too, was a wonderful heroine. Strong and determined but taking chances, and risks, not for personal gain — or, rather, not only for it — but for her family.

She didn’t need a rich man. She just needed someone who was hers.

The conflicts in this story, Khai’s belief that he’s unable to feel emotion (and, conversely, his inability to handle soft touches and how instead he needs to be handled firmly, held tightly), and Esme’s self-worth as an uneducated immigrant, feel genuine and real; and reading the author’s note helps to explain why these characters resonate so strongly. Khai’s brother, Quan, is a character I want to know more about, too, because he all but leapt off the page at me. Plus, yeah, I want more.

It was easier to keep people at arm’s length when it was for their own good instead of his. That way, he got to be a hero instead of a coward.

However, I’ll admit that this read didn’t consume me the way THE KISS QUOTIENT did. While I so loved when these two got together (hell, even the build-up and the way Esme’s presence wreaked havoc on Khai was fabulous), even if they weren’t yet on the same page, even if they had yet to divulge all their secrets, it was something of a slower start, and as much as I loved these characters, I think I still wanted.. more. I did love the epilogue, though, which I thought to be a much more reasonable ending after all the dramatic excitement just before the final chapter. But that’s all I’m saying.

He was strange and tactless and very possibly an assassin, but when she looked at his actions, all she saw was kindness.

Should you read this? Absolutely. Will it overtake your love for the THE KISS QUOTIENT? To each their own. It’s definitely a sweet, funny, swoony, and a totally worthy addition to the author’s little universe.

** I received an ARC from Edelweiss and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 4.5 star review

How do I follow up Hollis’ and many others’ reviews of this rather special book? I don’t know but I’m going to give you a snapshot of my experience. Hold on while I gush because a mail-order bride story with diverse representation, you say. Signed up.

What starts off as an interesting Vietnamese character, My, quickly transports to the US where My renames herself Esme, ready to take on the challenge of being the wife-to-be for Khai. Esme was a ball of self-proclaimed inadequacy, desperate to provide for her family. The slow transformation of a twinkling of Esme’s self-belief and beginning to live for herself was beautiful as it unfolded. I was drawn to her humility, her heart on her sleeve and genuineness.

“Sky and earth, she wanted to taste that smile. And each of those dimples.”

Khai didn’t feel or emote and despairing, his mother went on a special mission to find him a wife, a companion. Khai didn’t know what he wanted or needed, he lived by his routines and the satisfaction in intellectual tasks. However, in little ways, Khai was a stand-up guy for his brother and his mother that gave insight into the caring man he could be. This book brought such believable character development as he navigated the heart connection and sexual attraction.

There wasn’t one thing I didn’t enjoy about this story. It was engaging, it represented topics that we need to read and hear about more, such as, immigration, autism spectrum disorders, poverty and access to education. Helen Hoang wove these issues seamlessly without pontificating, through real lives. Most of all, I adored Khai and Esme, together, apart, awkward and yet natural together, fish sauce and all.

“Her curves fit to his hollows, soft to hard, smooth to rough, the perfect debit to his credit.”

Thank you Atlantic books for the review copy, I feel lucky to have read this early.

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