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. **


CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by André Aciman – double review!

Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliff-side mansion on the Italian Riviera. Unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, at first each feigns indifference. But during the restless summer weeks that follow, unrelenting buried currents of obsession and fear, fascination and desire, intensify their passion as they test the charged ground between them. What grows from the depths of their spirits is a romance of scarcely six weeks’ duration and an experience that marks them for a lifetime. For what the two discover on the Riviera and during a sultry evening in Rome is the one thing both already fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy.

The psychological maneuvers that accompany attraction have seldom been more shrewdly captured than in André Aciman’s frank, unsentimental, heartrending elegy to human passion. Call Me by Your Name is clear-eyed, bare-knuckled, and ultimately unforgettable.


Title : Call Me By Your Name
Author André Aciman
Series : Call Me By Your Name (book one)
Format : OverDrive (eBook)
Page Count : 268
Genre : historical fiction, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Release Date : January 22, 2008

Reviewer : Hollis/Micky
Rating : /


Hollis’ 1 star review

His words made no sense. But I knew exactly what they meant.
–> this is, I feel, a good expression of this entire book but flipped on its head. I understand what I read but I DON’T GET IT

I really don’t. Like, this isn’t me shitting on the overwhelming love people have for this book, or being contrary for shits and giggles.. I, personally, just don’t get it. 

Maybe I hyped this book up in my head for too long, maybe it was because I had these grand expectations, not to mention having put off watching the movie (which I will still) in order to read this first, but.. wow. Maybe, too, it’s my fault for not looking closely at the summary which does go on to detail some of the nittier gritty of what kind of relationship this book features but as I’m #TeamNoBlurbs.. it was obviously a surprise.

The first 60% of this was stream of consciousness confusion, was cringey secondhand embarrassment, was obsessive uncomfortableness.. it was so many things and none of them good. There was no characterization to these characters beyond Elio being consumed, forever fantasizing, and sifting through passages of is-it-really-happening-nope-just-dreaming chaos that made up the majority of his days; it’s intense but.. not in a good way. It’s discomfiting. I either skimmed because I couldn’t anchor myself to Elio’s internal rambling monologuing or because I just couldn’t bear to look too hard at his fixation. And Oliver was, well, a hot and cold dick of a human for the most part. And then suddenly he wasn’t, but it was all.. I don’t know, things being said, and not said, but they seem to understand it regardless? It just felt lazy and set up for the sake of drawing things out and drama. 

Not to mention they were both, at times, grossly childish or selfish.

s p o i l e r s   b e l o w

Case in point : Elio goes from screwing around with Oliver only to go to a girl’s house for more screwing around. Later, the boys have a nice afternoon delight together, then Elio heads out to meet with girl again, after having no discussion with Oliver about the logistics of this, and then when Oliver is missing upon Elio’s return, the latter is all bent out of shape and tied in knots and ‘how dare he make me wait’? Moments later Oliver’s ‘the best person he ever knew’. What the shit kind of whiplash nonsense is this? I actually refuse to tag this as a romance because, I feel, there was none. It was attraction, it was lust, it was physical intimacy (as well as certain intimacies that I believe were included in order to convince us of the existence love, make us believe there was a romance), but to me this wasn’t romantic. It was infatuation.

In the last 40%, however, there was a part or two that felt stronger (but it’s all relative, really) and yet it also transitioned into these scenes with other random characters I couldn’t care less about who rambled on about Bangkok, and various anecdotes as delivered by a poet we never see again, for eight to fifteen pages at a time. I honestly don’t know what was going on and I’m going to be fully honest : I skimmed most of it because I didn’t understand the point of it all.

There was a moving conversation between Elio and his dad near-ish to the end but then we have a time jump and weird transitions and odd conversations between adult Elio and older Oliver, reminiscing and yet not, where we’re supposed to believe this infatuation, this obsession, has endured for over twenty years, and I was just so done, long before this point, truthfully, but at least I saw it through to the end. Where the sequel goes I have no idea. And I definitely need some time to forget most of this experience before diving into the movie. 

That said, I think perhaps the movie will succeed where the book is too much for me. It wouldn’t be the first (and won’t be the last) time an adaptation succeeds in softening the edges of its source material. So I’m hopeful that a lot of what I hated about this book won’t apply to the adaptation but, for right now, I just need space from it all. I’m in no hurry.


Micky’s 1 star review …it’s pretty short

I know a lot of people loved this book but nothing about it appealed to me. In fact, I hated a lot of it. I listened to the first 35% on audio (and hated it), then a week later, I read/skimmed/read my paperback to the end (and still hated it). 

Why did I hate it? I didn’t like either character but I found Oliver to be a pretty awful person, with nothing to ingratiate himself to the reader. More than this though, 85% of the book is Elio’s inner monologue, his egotistical and obsessive mental ramblings poured onto the page for… ever. I disliked this style of writing, I found it incessantly dull and nothing about it worked for me.

Count me out for book two.


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. **

THE LOVELY AND THE LOST by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Kira Bennett’s earliest memories are of living alone and wild in the woods. She has no idea how long she was on her own or what she had to do to survive, but she remembers the moment that Cady Bennett and one of her search-and-rescue dogs found her perfectly. Adopted into the Bennett family, Kira still struggles with human interaction years later, but she excels at the family business: search-and-rescue. Along with Cady’s son, Jude, and their neighbor, Free, Kira works alongside Cady to train the world’s most elite search-and-rescue dogs. Someday, all three teenagers hope to put their skills to use, finding the lost and bringing them home.

But when Cady’s estranged father, the enigmatic Bales Bennett, tracks his daughter down and asks for her help in locating a missing child—one of several visitors who has disappeared in the Sierra Glades National Park in the past twelve months—the teens find themselves on the frontlines sooner than they could have ever expected. As the search through 750,000 acres of unbridled wilderness intensifies, Kira becomes obsessed with finding the missing child. She knows all too well what it’s like to be lost in the wilderness, fighting for survival, alone.

But this case isn’t simple. There is more afoot than a single, missing girl, and Kira’s memories threaten to overwhelm her at every turn. As the danger mounts and long-held family secrets come to light, Kira is forced to question everything she thought she knew about her adopted family, her true nature, and her past.


Title : The Lovely and the Lost
Author Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Format : ARC
Page Count : 336
Genre : YA contemporary thriller
Publisher : Disney Hyperion
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating
: ★ ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 3.5 star review

I’m a little conflicted about THE LOVELY AND THE LOST.

This book centers on Kira who, as a young girl, was found in the woods after surviving weeks on her own. She’s later adopted by one of the people who made up the Search and Rescue team and, now sixteen, Kira helps her foster mother, and her foster brother, train dogs for SAR work. There’s a lot of dogs. This made me very happy.

Part of me would never leave the forest. Part of me would always be wild and half-dying in that ravine.

What also made me happy was Jude, Kira’s brother. He was.. I don’t even have words to describe him. Hilarious. Precious. Relentlessly kind and understanding. The comic relief, the breaker of tension, first of his name. Barnes has written characters like him before in her other series and I’ve always loved them for all the reasons listed above. Jude is no exception. Kira, though.. this is maybe where things kind of stretch the limits of my disbelief.

Men like the park rangers looked at a picture of a lost little girl and saw an innocent, a victim, someone helpless and fragile and small. They had no idea what a child was capable of — really capable of — when the civilized world melted away and nothing but instinct remained.

Kira is just barely sociable. Her instincts are much like an animal. Her time alone, as a young child, has marked her. I don’t dismiss that those weeks, that experience, would have changed her or haunted her. I don’t doubt that she’d have flashbacks or nightmares. I just wonder.. after fourteen odd years, wouldn’t she have left some of that animal, some of that fear, behind? Particularly considering the socialized years far outweigh the others? How long does it take for a person to change so drastically, to be so altered by social norms? I don’t know. For all I know her behaviour is totally accurate to her circumstances. And if I accept that, I can love it. Well, more to the point, I can understand it. Hurt for her. Either way I do. That kind of trauma is horrifying. But, again, the not knowing.. I wasn’t sure sometimes about her lack of understanding sarcasm or jokes or facial expressions. After all that time, particularly after all that time spent with Jude and their other friend Free, it didn’t make me more likely to believe it, I guess. 

I understand now. The three of you share a single iota of common sense. I’m just a little unclear on which one of you has custody of it now.”

But anyway. That aside, this was a rather tense whodunnit, complete with a missing child, lots of dogs, family secrets, and a total lack of a shoe-horned-in romance (ten points). There’s angst and tragic backstory and family reunions of a few kinds.. and also dogs. I loved the dogs. Can you tell? There was also.. something.. at the end. It makes me wonder : is there more to come? Is this just open ended? Or will I get more dogs? This reader wants to know.

I’ve enjoyed, and outright loved, quite a few of Barnes’ books (forever crying about the lack of more Fixer books; woe is me). I so enjoy her writing and her characters. So if the plot intrigues you, THE LOVELY AND THE LOST, despite some of my uncertainties, is definitely worth picking up. 

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

TOP SECRET by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy

Bestselling authors Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy return with their first Male / Male romance in 3 years.

LobsterShorts, 21 Jock. Secretly a science geek. Hot AF.

LobsterShorts: So. Here goes. For her birthday, my girlfriend wants…a threesome.
SinnerThree: Then you’ve come to the right hookup app.
LobsterShorts: Have you done this sort of thing before? With another guy?
SinnerThree: All the time. I’m an equal opportunity player. You?
LobsterShorts: [crickets!]

SinnerThree, 21 Finance major. Secretly a male dancer. Hot AF.

SinnerThree: Well, I’m down if you are. My life is kind of a mess right now. School, work, family stress. Oh, and I live next door to the most annoying dude in the world. I need the distraction. Are you sure you want this?
LobsterShorts: I might want it a little more than I’m willing to admit. SinnerThree: Hey, nothing wrong with pushing your boundaries… LobsterShorts: Tell that to my control-freak father. Anyway. What if this threesome is awkward?
SinnerThree: Then it’s awkward. It’s not like we’ll ever have to see each other again. Right? Just promise you won’t fall in love with me. LobsterShorts: Now wouldn’t that be life-changing..


Title : Top Secret
Author Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy
Format : eBook
Page Count : 319
Genre : NA contemporary, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Tuxbury Publishing LLC and Elle Kennedy Inc
Release Date : May 7, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 2 star review

I’m honestly just as surprised as you are by this rating.

I’m a big fan of this duo, as individual authors and also for their co-authorered HIM and US duology, so the news that this top secret m/m — a return to the genre AND to writing together after three years — was dropping had me super super hype. And thankfully there wasn’t a huge build up between the announcement and release. But this didn’t live up to their previous works and definitely didn’t feel as strong as many of their solo offerings have in the past.

I’m single, a little depressed, and I’m very horny, with a side of sexual confusion, too.

The plot is full of, like, click baity excellence. I mean that in a good way. It’s a sexual awakening story, with a texting element, and a connection that develops via aliases that completely contradicts their pre-existing relationship. So, all that and basically a hate to love to boot? Hell to the yes. And for the first.. I want to say forty percent? I was clicking that bait, I was riding that train, I was all about that bass. Or something.

I dreamt about sex with men once. Or twice. I never mentioned that to [my girlfriend]. But why would I? I’ve also dreamt of meeting a dragon who smoked clove cigarettes. The things my brain invents while I’m sleeping aren’t newsworthy.

Except there was an added drama element that should’ve made me sympathetic towards one of the characters but instead just irritated me. On the other side of the pairing, there was a different conflict element that made up so much of the lead’s indecision and stress and then, poof, said element literally became a non-issue at a convenient time and place in the novel. What? The transition from realizing who was on the other side of the phone just.. I don’t know, I feel like I missed it? Things both escalated very quickly and yet there was no sense of time passing, no sense of anything meaningful between them beyond boning, and I honestly think it’s because everyone was so underdeveloped. It felt very plot driven, with pitstops for drama, and that was definitely at the expense of the characters’ emotional growth and evolution. Honestly if half the background noise had been cut out it would’ve been far more enjoyable. And there would’ve been much more time for the snarky banter that I liked. Because it was those moments that really did highlight the leads’ chemistry, the sexual tension, the connection.

You’re a yellow lab.” 
I’m.. what?”
A dog. A big, happy dog chasing Frisbees on the beach with his pals. You’re a pack animal.
And you’re.. a pit bull?'”
Not even. I’m a tom cat in the alley. Just passing through.”

So, while TOP SECRET is full of delicious tropes, and an excellent early build, it does fizzle well before the climax. This lacked the fun that I had with THE DEAL, it could’ve done with some of the gravitas demonstrated in STEADFAST, and ultimately I wanted a connection like we had in HIM. These authors are so talented and can handle a range of topics and genres with humour and cleverness and consideration and still drown you in swoons. But I just didn’t get much of any of that with this one. 

BIRTHDAY by Meredith Russo – double review!

Two best friends. A shared birthday. Six years…

ERIC: There was the day we were born. There was the minute Morgan and I decided we were best friends for life. The years where we stuck by each other’s side—as Morgan’s mom died, as he moved across town, as I joined the football team, as my parents started fighting. But sometimes I worry that Morgan and I won’t be best friends forever. That there’ll be a day, a minute, a second, where it all falls apart and there’s no turning back the clock.

MORGAN: I know that every birthday should feel like a new beginning, but I’m trapped in this mixed-up body, in this wrong life, in Nowheresville, Tennessee, on repeat. With a dad who cares about his football team more than me, a mom I miss more than anything, and a best friend who can never know my biggest secret. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to become the person I am inside. To become her. To tell the world. To tell Eric. But when?

Six years of birthdays reveal Eric and Morgan’s destiny as they come together, drift apart, fall in love, and discover who they’re meant to be—and if they’re meant to be together. From the award-winning author of If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo, comes a heart-wrenching and universal story of identity, first love, and fate.


Title : Birthday
Author : Meredith Russo
Format : ARC
Page Count : 275
Genre : YA contemporary, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Flatiron Books
Release Date : May 21, 2019

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


Hollis’ 5 star review

BIRTHDAY blew me away.

I don’t think we have much choice in who we turn out to be, as much as we might want to.

I honestly don’t even know what to say. But my god. I was choking back the sobs by page thirty and that more or less was what I did throughout the rest of the book, too. And just thinking about the journey makes me want to cry.

What do you do when you can’t swim up, you can’t swim down, and staying put will suffocate you?

As always I went in with only a very very vague idea as to what to expect and as a result I was totally unprepared for.. everything. I loved the subject matter, I hurt from the agony of some of Morgan and Eric’s experiences, their struggles, but their enduring connection, the evolution of it, was just so heartbreakingly beautiful. Equally lovely was the way in which the story was told. I’ve read a book or two like this before but never has it suited the story as well as it did for this one.

I don’t know if anyone will love me the way that I really am.

I should have so much to say about this because I loved it so much but I’m honestly just at a loss and a puddle of feelings, so. Here’s a great book with a terrible review to recommend it. And know that I will absolutely be picking up Russo’s debut (IF I WAS YOUR GIRL) and anything and everything else she releases.

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


Micky’s 4.5 star review

I’m not going to cover old ground here having come to this a few months after Hollis but oh my, this book took me on a journey, a very emotional one.

Birthday is laid out as Eric and Morgan’s stories on each birthday from about 12 to 18, there is no narrative in between but there is definitely a catch up on what’s gone on during the gap. Eric and Morgan are an example of an unconditional friendship in their younger years, not an easy one but a giving one. I loved both these characters individually but also in their ‘ship’ journey. (Hollis look away from the use of that word – one off).

As the story evolved there was a bully-Dad who I hated with a passion, some arse-hole family and friends and some decent people on the periphery. My heart was in my mouth, then it was breaking, then it was hopeful, then it was angry…are you feeling my experience, it was pretty emotional. I messaged Hollis at one point to threaten her if this didn’t end well, as she rec’d it to me. Bad friend that I am.

I do think there is a mild case of utopia in this story in that I am not sure an Eric exists for trans teens at that age but I do hope and believe that an Eric can come into their life at a later date. That said, I loved how the story developed and I wouldn’t change a thing.

This is the kind of book that I want everyone to read, to open their mind to feel the personal journey of individuals. This is the kind of book that helps me as an educator working with young people who sometimes knock on my office door and break their hearts over major things like this. Go read it.

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. **

STEPSISTER by Jennifer Donnelly – double review!

Isabelle should be blissfully happy – she’s about to win the handsome prince. Except Isabelle isn’t the beautiful girl who lost the glass slipper and captured the prince’s heart. She’s the ugly stepsister who’s cut off her toes to fit into Cinderella’s shoe … which is now filling with blood.

When the prince discovers Isabelle’s deception, she is turned away in shame. It’s no more than she deserves: she is a plain girl in a world that values beauty; a feisty girl in a world that wants her to be pliant.

Isabelle has tried to fit in. To live up to her mother’s expectations. To be like her stepsister. To be sweet. To be pretty. One by one, she has cut away pieces of herself in order to survive a world that doesn’t appreciate a girl like her. And that has made her mean, jealous, and hollow.

Until she gets a chance to alter her destiny and prove what ugly stepsisters have always known: it takes more than heartache to break a girl.


Title : Stepsister
Author : Jennifer Donnelly
Format : Paperback arc
Page Count : 352 pages
Genre : YA Fantasy, retellings
Publisher : Hot Key Books & Scholastic Press
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Micky / Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★.5


Micky’s 3.5 – 4 star review

Steel your stomach for the start of this book because it delves in all twisted up and the story that ensues is every kind of unexpected. The protagonist of this book, Isabelle, is the kind of character that you have to grow to admire. She’s an ugly stepsister with past behaviour and characteristics that speak of inner ugliness. Interestingly, her physical appearance isn’t particularly sketched out, leaving the reader to imagine.

We meet Isabelle at a late juncture in the traditional Cinderella story, from the initial opening you will never be able to guess where this story goes. In fact, the book’s biggest strength is the ability to tell a unique story when it is a retelling. Both Isabelle and Tavi, the other stepsister are quirky, determined characters, with Isabelle in particular, showing strength and tenacity. The backdrop for this tale is that France is at war and the battle is getting closer and closer to the main characters’ dwelling.

There is a clever underlying story of Fate and Chance, two beings with the power to influence the lives of Isabelle, warring over her destiny. This made for interesting manipulation of the story and characters that Isabelle met. Tanaquill, the fairy queen, could not have been less Disney-like if she tried and I loved that aspect and the quest she sent Isabelle on.

Whilst my enjoyment of STEPSISTER is clear in this review, I didn’t fully connect to the characters outside of Isabelle. Sometimes I struggled with the pacing, but it always picked up again fairly quickly.

I am impressed by Jennifer Donnelly’s creativity and writing of STEPSISTER and I would definitely be interested in seeking more from her in a similar vein. STEPSISTER will appeal to those readers like myself who like a side of twisted with their fairytales.

I voluntarily read an early copy of this book, thank you Hot Key Books.


Hollis’ 4.5 star review

History books say that kings and dukes and generals start wars. Don’t believe it. We start them, you and I. Every time we turn away, keep quiet, stay out it, behave ourselves.

I was completely unprepared for how quickly, and how hard, I would fall in love with STEPSISTER. This book immediately opens up with a warning about how this is a darker take on the well-known tale and it is definitely that. But it’s not close your eyes and hide under the cover scary; it’s just hammering home the stark truths and unpleasant realities of societal expectations, a woman’s fate in this world (and our own), and the bleakness of war. And I mean there’s also the fact that the stepsisters lop off pieces of themselves in order to win a prince, which, hey, fun times!

Ella is the beauty. You and I are the ugly stepsister. And so the world reduces us, all three of us, to our lowest common denominator.”

This is the story of what comes after Cinderella, Ella in this story, gets her prince. What befalls the ugly stepsisters and the wicked stepmother. In this case, it’s being shunned. It’s being ridiculed. It’s shame and regret. It’s accepting their choices and living with themselves.. or trying to. It’s about a wish to be pretty, thinking it’ll solve all your problems, because discovering and facing the truth of oneself is so much harder.

How many times had she cut away parts of herself at her mother’s demand? The part that laughed too loudly. That rode too fast and jumped too high. The part that wished for a second helping.

Donnelly’s writing captivated me. It bowled me over. There were passages that made me want to cheer because of the beautiful feminist observations, parts that made me laugh because wow the second stepsister was freaking hilarious, and also parts that made me cry — embarrassingly one of them had to do with mice. But I own that.

I have that feeling.”
What feeling?”
The feeling that you want to own someone body and soul, spirit them away from everyone else, have them all to yourself forever and ever and ever. It’s called love.”
No, it’s called kidnapping.”

The elements of this story are familiar because we’ve heard, or watched, the tale. But never from this perspective, never in this way, and there was a freshness, a realness, to this retelling that just.. got me. Strength and shame and beauty and wonder and forgiveness. Intelligence and cleverness and agony — physical and of spirit — and heartbreak. It seemed to flow effortlessly and honestly the only thing keeping this from being five stars is the big fancy HEA. I don’t think it was a wrong choice but maybe it was a little too right, if that makes sense? I would’ve liked half a step back, I think.

I wanted books. I wanted math and science. I got corsets and gowns and high heeled silk slippers. It made me sad [..]. And then it made me angry. So no, I can’t make myself likeable. I’ve tried. Over and over. It doesn’t work. If I don’t like who I am, why should you?”

I didn’t have much in the way of expectations when I picked this up; I had heard of it but not been endlessly beat about the head with hype. And it definitely deserves some. Totally recommend.

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

THE UNHONEYMOONERS by Christina Lauren


Olive is always unlucky: in her career, in love, in…well, everything. Her identical twin sister Amy, on the other hand, is probably the luckiest person in the world. Her meet-cute with her fiancé is something out of a romantic comedy (gag) and she’s managed to finance her entire wedding by winning a series of Internet contests (double gag). Worst of all, she’s forcing Olive to spend the day with her sworn enemy, Ethan, who just happens to be the best man.

Olive braces herself to get through 24 hours of wedding hell before she can return to her comfortable, unlucky life. But when the entire wedding party gets food poisoning from eating bad shellfish, the only people who aren’t affected are Olive and Ethan. And now there’s an all-expenses-paid honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs.

Putting their mutual hatred aside for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs. But when Olive runs into her future boss, the little white lie she tells him is suddenly at risk to become a whole lot bigger. She and Ethan now have to pretend to be loving newlyweds, and her luck seems worse than ever. But the weird thing is that she doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she feels kind of… lucky.


Title : The Unhoneymooners
Author : Christina Lauren
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : contemporary romance
Publisher : Gallery Books
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

Sadly, THE UNHONEYMOONERS was not as funny as I had hoped or had heard it was going to be. To put this into perspective : I don’t have a single highlight to quote for you. Not. one.

The first half is definitely the highlight, though, with snarky hate banter between Olive, the twin sister/maid of honour, and Ethan, the groom’s brother and best man. The circumstances surrounding their pretend relationship and forced proximity are OTT and outlandish but also kind of slapstick-funny and I enjoyed their stiff-acting and all the weird improbabilities that occur while they go on their sibling’s honeymoon. But there’s a weird element that gets introduced that I didn’t like, a shitton of gaslighting and, almost, blame for something the heroine should not have been blamed for once something is revealed, and, of course, with the climax comes a whole host of drama that explodes all over the readers’ and Olive’s faces.

That said, I really liked the supportive backbone of family that is woven throughout the story but wish we’d had more of the Torres’ and extended clan because they were fabulous.

I definitely had a good time reading this, at least up until around the midway point, but THE UNHONEYMOONERS won’t be making it onto my list of CLo favourites.

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

RED, WHITE and ROYAL BLUE by Casey McQuiston

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?


Title : Red, White & Royal Blue
Author : Casey McQuiston
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : contemporary new adult romance, LGBTQIA+
Publisher : Griffin
Release Date : May 14, 2019

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 5 star review

Do either of y’all know what a viscount is? I’ve met, like, five of them, and I keep smiling politely as if I know what it means when they say it. Alex, you took comparative international government relational things. Whatever. What are they?
I think it’s that thing when a vampire creates an army of crazed sex waifs and starts his own ruling body.

I can’t even tell you how happy I am that this book was everything I wanted it to be — and a million things more.

Oh my god, this is like all those romantic comedies where the girl hires a male escort to pretend to be her wedding date and then falls in love with him for real.” “That is not at all what this is like.

RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is the happiness and sweetness we deserve; not just right now (though maybe especially right now?) but in general. This is one of those rare gems of a story where there isn’t a single character to dislike. Where there is representation in so many fabulous forms. Where there is silliness and drama and charm and swoons and just enough angst to make you hurt and the best kind of ending — the one that makes you cry and cheer and cry some more and hug your kindle to your chest. The kind of ending you’ll relive because you know, absolutely, one hundred percent, that you’ll be reading this book over and over again.

I never thought I’d be standing here faced with a choice I can’t make, because I never.. I never imagined you would love me back.

Royals, politics, biracial rep, bisexual rep, grief, addiction, anxiety.. McQuiston somehow spins it all into a delightful tale that will make you laugh and shed tears and wish you could be friends with the characters within the pages.

Wait, are you watching videos of Justin Trudeau speaking French again?” “That’s not a thing I do!

This is pure fun and totally heartwarming, with tons of real world tongue-in-cheek dialogue (that, hey, it’s nice to laugh about, all things considered), and I’m so happy that release day is (almost!) finally here so I can go about shoving this book in everyone’s face.

I don’t think this election is going to hinge on an email server.
You sure about that?
Listen, maybe if [he] had more time to sow those seeds of doubt, but I don’t think we’re there. Maybe it it were 2016.
^– probably too soon but h o n e s t l y.

Highly highly recommend.

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


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