fiction · romance

Book Review: Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) by Sarina Bowen

I love hockey, though I haven’t been able to follow it at all during the pandemic (I have no desire to watch players and fans get COVID in real time, thank you very much). So when Smart Bitches, Trashy Books recommended Sarina Bowen as an author, I decided I wanted to read something of hers and started digging through what my library had to offer. And lo and behold, she had a hockey series! Onto my list went Rookie Move (Brooklyn Bruisers #1) (Berkley, 2016). It took me a while to get to it, though. Thanks to one of my New Year’s resolutions being to finally read all of the ebooks I’d been saving on my TBR, now was the time! (I adore my kindle; the ebooks just got pushed to the side in part because of worries about the library closing again and my needing to save something from my TBR in case that happened. No worries, though; I have a plan if that does go down!)

Georgia’s life is going pretty well these days. She’s the temporary head of PR for Brooklyn’s new hockey team, the Bruisers. She wasn’t quite planning on her father signing on as head coach, but they’re close, so it’s all good. She’s sharing a tiny apartment with a friend she loves. Sure, she hasn’t really dated much at all in the six years since she walked away from her high school love after having survived being raped while on a college tour, but everything else is perfectly fine. Georgia is finally feeling safe in her life.

Enter the team’s newest player, straight from the minor leagues: Leo Trevi, who just so happens to be Georgia’s high school boyfriend. Both are absolutely floored to see each other. Leo’s ready to pick back up where they left off; he never got over Georgia when she dumped him out of the blue six years ago. For Georgia, Leo’s reappearance in her life begins to dredge up old feelings she thought she’d moved past, and she’s not so sure about moving forward with him. But Leo’s patient, and Georgia’s feelings for him aren’t quite as over as she thought.

This is really a great, solid sports romance. Obviously there’s a content warning for rape; the subject comes up often (though never in any kind of detail) and is an integral part of the storyline, so if reading this would be difficult for you, it’s okay to choose another book. Be kind to yourself. Leo is gentle and patient at all times with Georgia; her moving on from him has nothing to do with his reaction to her attack, only her own misinterpretation. Georgia is strong and independent, but she’s lonely and still hurting, though she covers it well.

The romance in this novel absolutely sizzles! WHEW. I was rooting for the two of them the whole way, because they have some serious chemistry. And Sarina Bowen’s writing in the hockey game scenes is utterly top-notch. I was on the edge of my seat and could barely handle reading the tension. Who would win, who would score, the potential for serious injury, it was all perfectly paced and described. Ms. Bowen obviously knows hockey and has talent in spades for letting her love for the sport shine on each page.

This was a fun, fun, FUN book to read, and I’m looking forward to reading more from Sarina Bowen in the future.

Visit Sarina Bowen’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn

A while back, I did a search through my library’s card catalog (from home. My older readers, remember when physical card catalogs existed? I have a scar on my left hand from dropping the H drawer on it. My library tattoo, if you will…) for Jewish books. There’s not a ton of fiction out there with a Jewish theme (beyond the hordes of Holocaust books, that is. Though there has been more non-Holocaust fiction lately, and I’m thankful for that!), so I was happy to stumble across Miss Jacobson’s Journey by Carola Dunn (Walker & Company, 1992). A historical romance with a Jewish bent? Sign me up!

Miriam’s parents want to marry her off, but she’s shocked by the pale, nerdy Torah scholar they’ve chosen for her and immediately proclaims her intentions to travel through Europe with her doctor uncle instead of marrying that guy, shocking everyone in the room and humiliating the young man. A decade later, her uncle has passed away and Miriam is stuck in France, thanks to the war between France and England. A deal struck with Jacob Rothschild to return her home teams her up with Isaac Cohen, a fellow Jew, and Felix, an antisemitic British aristocrat fallen on hard times. They’ll be smuggling some gold back into England on their long journey home, and the tension between the three- for various reasons- is enormous.

Difficulties befall the group constantly while traveling across France, and Miriam and the two men begin to work out their differences- kind of. She develops affections toward both of them, but in the end, she’ll have to make a choice- if they get home safely, that is.

Miss Jacobson’s Journey turned out to be a really entertaining read. Felix and other characters’ antisemitism was, obviously, unpleasant to read, but it was necessary to both further the plot and in order to be historically accurate. Historical fiction, oddly, can sometimes not age well, but despite having been published when I was twelve, this seemed just as fresh as though it were a new release. Carola Dunn’s voice reminded me distinctly of Tessa Dare, and this book was an enjoyable read the whole way through.

Miriam is a delightful character, headstrong and independent, curious about the inner workings of her religion/ethnicity that have been denied to her by dint of having been born female (it wasn’t considered proper for women to learn Torah back then and Miriam’s curiosity and Felix’s ignorance of anything Jewish make for interesting educational bits that help further the plot). Isaac is sweet and proper; Felix, while being a smarmy oaf, makes decent strides in becoming a better person. And journeying through France in the 18-teens made for a wonderful literary field trip while being stuck in the house due to freezing temps and Omicron.

Visit Carola Dunn’s website here.

fiction

Book Review: The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert

I’ve cleared out my email recently and have been back to reading the constant onslaught of emails from places like BookRiot. This, as you can imagine, is not great for my TBR! It was in one of those emails that I learned about The Simplicity of Cider by Amy E. Reichert (Gallery Books, 2017). I don’t often pick up a book solely because of its setting, but this one intrigued me because the story is set in Door County, Wisconsin. My mother and my kids and I visited Door County a few years ago, well before the pandemic, and we had an absolutely wonderful time, so I was looking forward to taking an armchair vacation back there (you can read about our trip- lots of pictures!- over at my other blog). Unfortunately, the book fell a little flat for me.

Sanna Lund’s family has been growing apples in their orchard in Door County, Wisconsin for five generations now. It’s just her father and her; her mother skipped out when she was six, and her brother decided farm life wasn’t for him and reacts with disdain to everything about the orchard. Sanna’s new venture, creating hard cider from the heirloom trees, is her obsession, but financially, things aren’t great; the orchard isn’t pulling in nearly enough money to make ends meet.

Enter Isaac; he’s come to Door County with his young son Bass. Bass’s mother died and Isaac isn’t sure how to tell him; instead, he’s trying to give Bass one last summer of being a carefree kid. Isaac takes a job at the orchard (putting Bass to work as well), and pretty soon the sparks are flying between him and Sanna. But trouble is brewing; trees are being damaged around the orchard- purposely- and Sanna’s brother is obsessed with trying to get her to sell the land to a waterpark developer. There’s a lot more to creating cider than just sitting around waiting for apples to grow, and the orchard will be in trouble if Sanna doesn’t figure out a way to save it.

The orchard itself made this a nice setting for the book, but I didn’t find much of the story that gave it a real Door County feel, likely because 95% of the book took place at the orchard or the house on the orchard where Sanna and her father lived. Other than a few mentions of how isolated the community becomes in the winter, especially during times of heavy snow, the book could have been set in an orchard in just about any state. While the setting was pleasant, it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for when I picked the book up; Sanna is an incredibly bitter character who doesn’t want much to do with the community around her, and her lack of community ties made her kind of…boring.

Isaac is a whole mess. His ex-wife was an addict who died of an overdose, and instead of telling his son, he hightails it out of the state, death certificate in hand (but without actually dealing with his ex-wife’s remains, as a phone call from his mother later makes clear), unsure of how to tell his son that Mom is dead. He’s immediately attracted to Sanna, although she’s so distant and crabby that it’s hard to understand why. I didn’t connect with their romance at all, and the mystery of who was vandalizing the orchard was solved in a kind of bizarre, out-of-the-blue manner.

This one had potential, but didn’t quite make it for me. It may be a me problem, that I didn’t quite connect with the book in the way I wanted; there’s no major issues with the writing, I just wasn’t feeling it. And that’s fine. Not every book is for every reader, and this wasn’t mine.

Visit Amy E. Reichert’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words (Chai Masala Club #1) by Annika Sharma

When someone mentioned Love, Chai, and Other Four-Letter Words (Chai Masala Club #1) by Annika Sharma (Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2021) on Twitter a few weeks ago, I immediately added it to my TBR (this is why I can’t get my TBR down any further, y’all!). I love books with characters who come from different cultures or sub-cultures than I do, and the premise of a series centered around a friend group whose members are all different versions of Indian (two are Indian American, one is British Indian, and another was born and raised in India but lives in America now) intrigued me. Seriously great Indian rep right there. There was a lot to enjoy here, but the story itself fell a little flat for me.

Kiran grew up in a small village in India, the daughter of parents who sacrificed her whole life so that she could be educated and successful. Her older sister Kirti was disowned after her wedding to a man from a lower caste; her village didn’t approve, and thus to avoid the shame it would bring on the family and the lessening of Kiran’s chances in life, the family banished her. Kiran has since become a successful engineer in New York City, but she’s weighted down by her responsibilities and her parents’ expectations.

Enter Nash, a blond psychologist who just moved to the city from- of course- Nashville. He’s Kiran’s new neighbor with family drama of his own, and as they strike up a friendship, Kiran feels like she might be falling in love for the first time. Which is big time not good, since Nash is white and American- definitely not on her parents’ approval list. Her friends are there for her when she struggles with her options, and there for her when her parents cast her away as well. It’s only when an emergency happens thousands of miles away that everyone learns the power of family, forgiveness, and love.

I loved the premise of this, the closeness of the friend group, and their diversity of experience (both in terms of work experience and life experience; so many different and beautiful connections to India); their support for Kiran and each other; their constant text messages; and the fact that there’s a GUY in this friend group! (I’m super curious as to what Akash’s love story will look like.) Kiran’s sense of duty to her parents, especially in the light of what happened with her older sister, is admirable; her struggle with that sense of duty is realistic and relatable. I did want her and Nash to work out as a couple, since she obviously loved him, and I was pulling for them.

Nash is…a little on the bland side, to be honest. For having a doctorate in psychology, he seemed deeply unaware of how to handle cultural differences and unable to fully grasp most situations from Kiran’s point of view. For someone so highly educated, I would have expected him to start delving deeply into some cultural studies and making an effort to understand what made Kiran the woman she is, where she came from and what life was and is like there, but nope, nothing. He just…fumbled here and there. Not exactly my ideal hero. And really, he has no excuse. Nashville, for its being a blue dot in a red (RED RED RED) sea, is a deeply multicultural city. I lived on the outskirts for five years and was constantly in Nashville proper, where my husband worked. There are multiple synagogues; a large Muslim population; a Somali community; and among many, many others, an Indian community. There are many excellent Indian restaurants in Nashville (two of my favorites were within walking distance of Vanderbilt, where Nash graduated from (and where my husband worked, so I’m intimately familiar with the area. He 100% would have known about them; they’re both really popular. I often say those two restaurants are the only thing I miss about living there). If Nash was as oblivious as he seemed, it wasn’t because he lived in Nashville and attended Vanderbilt University; he would’ve had to work pretty hard to avoid the cultural mosaic around him.

It felt to me as though the story went from cutesy-first-butterflies scene to Nash and Kiran admitting their feelings and ending up immediately in bed (all fade-to-black; zero open door scenes) very quickly; I never got a good sense of why they liked each other and had a hard time feeling much chemistry at all between the two. This may be because I didn’t feel like I connected with the writing style well, but I also felt that the writing itself lacked sparkle. Too much telling and not enough showing for me.

This was just okay; I had hoped for a little bit more, to be honest.

Visit Annika Sharma’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Love at First by Kate Clayborn

I’m trying to think back to where I learned about Love at First by Kate Clayborn (Kensington, 2021). Most likely it was mentioned on an episode of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast (which I really need to catch up on!). Most of my romance novels come from there, whether they mention the book directly, or just the author, and I decide she sounds like someone I want to read (and then prance off to my library website to see what’s available. I have a Sarina Bowen on my list coming up soon that ended up there for exactly this reason!). Anyhow, I’d been checking the library on a few past trips, but this was always checked out. Last time, it was in!

Will and Nora first meet as teenagers in a way that Will remembers for the rest of his life, for both good and tragic reasons, but they don’t meet again until they’re adults, Nora grieving the death of her grandmother, and Will, now a doctor, struggling to figure out what to do with the apartment he inherited from an uncle he only met once. Their connection is instant and nearly palpable, but things are tense: Nora’s apartment building is her family, the people in it standing in for the close-knit relatives she didn’t have beyond her deceased grandmother, and Will wants to fix up and rent out his unit as temporary lodgings. Nora and the other residents are aghast; Will can’t understand why this is such a big deal.

But as they get to know each other, each begins to soften to the other’s point of view, and the distance between them softens and the pain of the past comes to light. Nora and Will need to learn to compromise and trust- easier said than done, but they’ve got a whole building of family rooting for them.

Sweet little romance novel without a ton of drama. Nora is having a hard time moving on from her Nonna’s death, stuck in her grief and needing to keep everything in the apartment (and apartment building) just as it was, no matter how inconvenient, in order to hang on to the last vestiges of Nonna. Will, who lost both parents by 18, has nothing to hang on to, and he’s been living his life based on a sharp remark about himself that he overheard his distant uncle make the one time he met him years ago. It’s served him well in some ways, but in others, it’s made it impossible to truly live…and that’s a problem when he starts falling for Nora.

There aren’t a ton of ups and downs here; it’s not exactly the most exciting and dramatic romance novel I’ve ever read, but it’s sweet, and it made for a relaxing read in the midst of all the depressing nonfiction I’ve been plowing through lately. I did enjoy the quirky apartment residents. Ms. Clayborn really created a building full of people with distinctive personalities, without venturing into caricature territory- it reminded me a bit of all the Maeve Binchy novels I loved as a teenager. Her supporting characters are always a little off-the-wall and well-defined, and this gave me the same feeling. Despite its bizarre velvet hallway wallpaper, this is a building I would love to live in. (And can I just say, I LOVED that this was set in Chicago! It’s such a great city and there aren’t enough books set here.)

Cute read. I really liked Will as a hero. As someone who really takes other people’s criticism hard, I understood his motivation for shaping his life the way he did.

Visit Kate Clayborn’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Majesty (American Royals #2) by Katharine McGee

When I finished American Royals by Katharine McGee, I immediately put its sequel, Majesty (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2020) on my TBR, because I enjoyed it so much. The entire premise- what the country would look like if George Washington had been made king instead of president, and his line carried on- is so creative, and the series centers on the young adult royals who are set to take over and run the country. I was actually surprised when Majesty was available the first time I checked- it’s a bit past its original publication date, so there’s probably not a massive stampede for it, but I still felt like I got really, really lucky!

This review will contain some spoilers, so don’t read on if you’re wanting to read American Royals but haven’t gotten to it yet.

Majesty picks up where American Royals left off. The king has passed away, leaving Beatrice as America’s first queen. She’s young, she’s untested, and she’s not sure she can do the job. She’s engaged to a man she’s not sure she truly wants to marry, and the man who assisted her father his whole life is doing everything he can to make sure she feels as incompetent and powerless as possible. Sam, now the heir instead of just being the spare, still isn’t over her sister getting engaged to the guy she liked and takes up with a guy just as wild as she is from the west coast. Nina, heartbroken over her relationship with Jeff ending, falls into the arms of Ethan, his best friend, little knowing that this plot was orchestrated by Daphne, Jeff’s scheming, status-seeking ex-girlfriend.

There are a lot of suppressed emotions, social climbing, scheming, hard looks at the racism that still persist in the US (especially as an outcome of the poor decisions this country made throughout its past), and a lot of really fun and creative imaginings of what American royalty would look like. Beatrice’s grief over losing her father (and being promoted immediately into the role of America’s first queen) is palpable and may be tough to read if you’re also deep in grief, so take care with that. Her confidence grows as the novel goes on, which was lovely to see, although I really wished she had booted her father’s advisor immediately, as it was obvious what a trashbag that dude was.

I had a little bit of a tough time getting into this at the beginning; I don’t know if that’s because it started off slower (or because of me; that’s always a possibility!), or because it’s been a while since I read the first book in the series. I’m an impatient reader and don’t read a lot of series books solely because I don’t like waiting, especially since I don’t remember fiction as well and tend to forget the details while I wait for the next book to come out. I did feel like Nina got a little shortchanged in this book; I really liked her storyline in American Royals, but it felt like her storyline was less developed here. I did like her relationship with Ethan, however! Beatrice was as lovely as ever; Sam, her impulsive younger sister, began to come into her own in this book, which was nice to see.

Daphne, the scheming social climber determined to get her claws into Jeff, really shines. She’s an absolute villain, and I usually hate characters like her, but she’s fantastic in this book; Katharine McGee really has a knack for writing the perfect bad girl. From time to time, we see a flicker of morality float to the surface, and then Daphne stomps it back down and sharpens her claws again. The ending to her storyline is cold and depressing in many different ways, but it’s fitting with her character and her ruthless ambition. She was my favorite part of this book, which surprised me.

Majesty is a fun follow-up, and this series really made me appreciate all the work that goes into creating alternate histories. This book is the conclusion and it doesn’t look like there will be any more in the series, so I’m sorry to say goodbye to such fun, well-written characters.

Visit Katharine McGee’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein

The 2020/2021 Olympics are in full swing now, and I can’t watch. I just can’t. I love the Olympcs- love the races, the swimming, the diving, the gymnastics. I’ve been a huge fan ever since I was young, but this year, I have zero desire to watch anyone potentially get Covid with a camera in their faces, and the IOC has been so gross in so many ways this year that I don’t feel like supporting the Olympics is something I’m personally comfortable with. Which makes me really sad, because I’ve loved the Olympics for such a long time. But my disappointment was assuaged by diving into Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein (Atria Books, 2020), a novel set in a world where the Covid-19 pandemic never happened, and Tokyo 2020 went off without a hitch. Would that this could have been a reality…

Things haven’t gone so well for Avery Adams since her gymnastics career came to an abrupt, surgery-necessitating end during an Olympic Trials meet. She’s been floundering since then, partying her way through and then failing out of college, half-heartedly part-time coaching a girl’s gymnastics team, and sweatpants-and-ponytail-ing her way through a relationship with a professional football player. When he finally dumps her over her lack of ambition and direction, Avery moves back in with her parents, unsure of where to go and what to do with her life. Gymnastics was her only dream; she had never learned to or thought of wanting anything else. What does a former elite athlete do when there’s never been a contingency plan?

At home, Avery receives a phone call from another former gymnast. Ryan, who had made it to the Olympics, is now coaching Hallie, an Olympic hopeful. She needs help on her floor routine, and Ryan thinks Avery’s just the person to do it. Unsure of what else to do with her life, Avery signs on and finds that this is truly where she belongs. But the issues of the gymnastics world run deep: Hallie confides in Avery her discomfort about the sports medicine doctor she’s seeing, just before the news breaks that he’s been molesting other gymnasts, and Jasmine, Avery’s former gymnast friend, is now married to their shared abusive former coach. Along with helping Hallie grow as a gymnast and developing her relationship with Ryan, Avery realizes the responsibility she has to make things better, for gymnasts and the gymnastic community as a whole.

This is a really lovely book about not only the excitement of the gymnastics world, but the devastation it can wreak on young women. It’s not all critique; time and time again, Ms. Orenstein points out the positive changes that have occurred over the years, including how much  healthier the gymnasts look (I grew up in an era where gymnasts were rail-thin, eating disorders were pretty much guaranteed in the sport, and muscles were nonexistent. I can’t speak to the prevalence of eating disorders in the gymnastics world these days, but I’m in awe of how strong and powerful today’s gymnasts look). But the critique is definitely there, especially in abusive coaching styles and how ill-prepared most gymnasts are for a future that won’t be dominated by performance. Avery is a mess before she moves home, partying too much, having no goals or dreams for herself, just kind of existing as a professional football player’s girlfriend (Tyler, said professional football player, doesn’t exactly find this attractive). She’s blown away by Hallie’s post-career goals for herself, including college and possibly law school. Why doesn’t every gymnast have those kinds of plans?

Avery’s not afraid to call out the ickiness of her former friend Jasmine marrying their much older and abusive former coach, Dimitri, which I loved. She doesn’t just nod and smile for the sake of being polite; she full-on asks Jasmine what the heck she was thinking. Jasmine too had just sort of fallen into her post-gymnastic life; together, she and Avery begin to question how things could be different for these high-tier athletes, how the community could better support them, especially in the wake of sexual abuse scandals. And then they DO something about it, because what counts in this life is action. Things with Ryan get complicated, but Avery never lets that get her down, and she doesn’t let whatever their relationship is at the moment become her identity. So much growth going on in this quick-paced story, for everyone (including Ryan, who makes a bad decision at one point and who then spends a good portion of the rest of the novel making it right in a variety of ways. TAKE NOTE, MEN).

There’s a lot of social commentary in this book and it’ll hopefully raise a lot of questions in your mind, including what we demand from young athletes and what we offer them in return; what support looks like, what accountability looks like, what oversight looks like, whom insular communities protect and why, and what it means to be brave in the face of worldwide scrutiny. You’ll have Aly Raisman and Simone Biles and their teammates front and center in your mind as you read this, and you’ll be in awe of them for speaking out about the way they were abused and for what they need to be whole and healthy, and furious that that doctor wasn’t stopped sooner.

If you’re looking for some Olympic excitement and escapism, along with great writing and a strong character who turns things around not only for herself, but others (plus a lovely romance between two people who need to work out their own stuff before committing to building anything of substance together), this is a really fun and deeply thoughtful read.

Visit Hannah Orenstein’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

Pretty sure You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria (Avon, 2020) came to my TBR from an episode of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast. Book-related podcasts fill up my TBR so fast, as do those end-of-the-year ‘Best Books of This/Next Year!’ lists, and this book had been on the list for a while. I did recently have to rewrite my local library TBR list- the old one had gotten too messy, full of crossed-out books that I’d finished, and the list of books from my list that are available at my branch is down to 53, which actually kind of scares me! We’re allowed to sign up at other branches in the same system and check out books there, but I haven’t done that since before the pandemic, since I didn’t want to add to their stress. Interlibrary loan is up and running, though, so that’s at least a relief!

Jasmine Lin Rodrigues, soap opera star, has just been publicly dumped and humiliated, so she’s back home in New York, licking her wounds and resolving to the be the powerful leading lady she knows she can be while preparing to head a new romantic comedy series for the hottest streaming service out there. She’s not counting on the last-minute recast of the series hero, one that changes the course of her life. Ashton, telenovela superstar, is juggling a lot right now- a son he’s kept secret from the world for eight years, an aging father and grandparents back in Puerto Rico (their restaurant is still struggling to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria), the PTSD caused from a psycho fan breaking into his home with a knife years ago. But this bilingual romantic comedy is his chance to break into the English language market and become the megastar he know he can be.

Ashton’s secrecy and standoffishness immediately affects the intimacy between his and Jasmine’s characters; it’s hard to give a performance your all when you’re holding back. But little by little, he and Jasmine begin to fall for each other, and Ashton starts to let his guard down. Old habits die hard, however, and both he and Jasmine have a lot of work to do to overcome the pain of their pasts.

Cute contemporary romance novel. I loved the setting, and now I want Carmen in Charge (the show they’re filming)- or something like it- to be real. Bilingual shows, with the option for subtitles in either language? HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE? I would watch the hell out of something like that! Someone from Netflix call Alexis Daria, because this woman has brilliant ideas! Ashton is an actor who has spent his career making a name for himself in telenovelas (which I’ve always wished my Spanish was good enough to follow); he’s trying to break out and become Hollywood’s biggest Latinx leading man, and I loved hearing his perspective on his career, where it’s been and where he wanted it to go. His relationship with his family was sweet; the dilemma his career, which supported them all, caused, in terms of maintaining his son’s privacy, was an interesting aspect of the story.

I didn’t love Jasmine quite as much. I wished the story would’ve gone deeper into her psyche, instead of just focusing on ‘middle child who wanted attention and whose family thought her career was silly and not serious.’ I definitely felt as though her issues weren’t as serious as what Ashton was struggling with (especially the PTSD and worrying over his son’s safety). Obviously breakups suck and having your face splashed across crappy tabloids isn’t fun, but I wanted a little more from her side of the story. I did love, however, that she’s starring in this bilingual rom-com series without being fully fluent in Spanish. She needed help here and there, mostly extra practice with what seemed like pronunciation and the fluidity of her delivery. This really added an interesting aspect to her character (one that I’d love to see explored in other novels as well. My husband is Belgian and my daughter has so fully resisted learning the French he spoke to her when she was young. It’s something I’m sure she’ll eventually regret- second languages are so useful- but not every child of immigrants speaks their parents’ native languages, for various reasons, and I appreciated this aspect of the story).

A fun read with a great setting.

Visit Alexis Daria’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Book Review: Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

I’ve enjoyed Hannah Moskowitz since she first blasted onto the YA scene with Break in 2009. Her addition to It’s a Whole Spiel blew me away, and so I was thrilled that the next book on my TBR (ebook edition, since that’s what I’m focused on now) was her Sick Kids in Love (Entangled: Teen, 2019). The tagline for this book is, ‘They don’t die in this one,’ which was a relief to read (you know, having been traumatized by all the Lurlene McDaniel tragedy porn I read growing up, and then again by John Green with The Fault in Our Stars). I still stressed out while reading this excellent book, though.

Isabel is sick. She’s had rheumatoid arthritis since she was eight (not diagnosed until age nine), so she knows pain and what it’s like to live with a debilitating illness, what it’s like to have to plan your entire life around your unpredictable body, what it’s like to have no one around you really get what it’s like to live with this always hanging over you, what it’s like for an illness to just be part of who you are. She doesn’t date- for a lot of reasons- but then she meets Sasha, another chronically sick kid, and her life turns upside down. Sasha gets it. Sasha understands what it’s like to have a body he can’t trust. And dammit, he’s cute with a capital CUTE.

When she decides to let go and jump in with both feet, things are…good. There are the usual romance ups and downs: they annoy each other; they like different things; Isabel can’t make up her mind about anything; both of them have struggles with their conditions. And then the little things become big things, and things get tough. Isabel needs to learn to make decisions, to speak up for herself and maybe learn to make the necessary changes that come when you’re no longer alone and have to compromise to get along.

I loved this. I loved this a lot. Hannah Moskowitz (who is indeed a sick kid; she has ankylosing spondylitis, a type of spinal arthritis- I’m familiar with it because it shares a lot of symptoms with my back/pelvis issues and is often misdiagnosed as what I have for years. Which makes me wonder a lot, but doctors don’t seem to want to investigate further, so whatever) is wise beyond her years and shows it all over the place yet again. Life with chronic pain is so eloquently explained in this book; if you live with chronic pain or you love someone who does and want to understand, you NEED this book. NEED. I’m going to quote a section below that made me gasp. I read it, read it again, reread it, and then copied it down, because it summed up what chronic pain is like so, so well:

You stop noticing pain, is the thing.

You notice it when it’s really bad, or when it’s different, but…on the rare occasion someone asks me what it’s like to live with RA, I don’t ever know what to say. They ask me if it’s painful, and I say yes because I know intellectually it must be, because the idea of doing some of the things that other people do without thinking fills me with dread and panic, but I always think about it mechanically. I can’t do x. I don’t want to do y. I don’t continue the thought into I can’t do that because it would hurt. I don’t want to do that because then I would be in pain.

You can’t live like that. There’s only so much you can carry quietly by yourself, so you turn an illness into a list of rules instead of a list of symptoms, and you take pills that don’t help, and you do the stretches, and you think instead of feeling. You think.

And you don’t soak in hot water and feel the tension bleed out of your joints because it’s just going to remind you that it will come right back.

This is it. This is it entirely. This is what I live with, and Hannah Moskowitz has put it into words. All hail our new leader! Long live the queen! Seriously, this put my feelings and frustrations into words far better than I can at this point (it’s been a really bad year for pain for me; I’ve been on steroids four times since the pandemic started- my doctors don’t think that’s at all a problem, apparently- my neuropathy is going wild, my gabapentin doses have increased 300% and still aren’t covering it all, the Celebrex doesn’t work at all anymore so I’ve stopped taking it…). The tests coming back normal when you’re barely able to function- when that happened to Isabel, I nearly wept, because that’s something I so understand (right along with being blown off by doctors. It’s like there’s a giant belief of, “It’s just pain, why do you care so much?” attitude in the medical community. Quality of life means nothing, and it’s so, so good to hear someone else talk about this. THANK YOU, HANNAH MOSKOWITZ.

(Also? Two Jewish main characters, THANK YOU, HANNAH MOSKOWITZ. Truly. Long live the queen!)

So I loved this. It was a fun, sweet love story about two kids who get each other, but who are also still trying to get themselves, because they’re teenagers, and on a large level, it drops some serious truth bombs about life with health problems that aren’t ever going away. This book got me- as a forty-year-old woman, it got me, and I am so utterly grateful for that.

Follow Hannah Moskowitz on Twitter here.

Check out her Wikipedia page here.

fiction

Book Review: Well Played (Well Met #2) by Jen DeLuca

I put both Well Met and Well Played (Berkley, 2020) by Jen DeLuca on my TBR at the same time, which is rare for me, especially since I hadn’t read her before (since Well Met was her debut. #writerjealousy). But I knew, knew, that any book that was set at a Ren Faire would have me scrambling to hop right back into that universe, and I was right. I just got really, really lucky that both were in at my library at the same time! NO WAITING!!!

Stacey, Emily’s fellow tavern wench from Well Met, has settled well into her role of slightly ditzy hometown girl. She had never meant to stay in Willow Creek, but after returning home to take care of her mother, post-heart attack, several years ago, she’s remained there, hooking up with Dex from the Ren Faire in the summers, working at a dental office, and wondering what to do with her stagnant life. After sending a drunken social media message to Dex one night, she’s horrified in the morning, then shocked to see that he’s written back. A thoughtful, heartfelt reply? That doesn’t sound like the manwhore she knows, but she likes it. A lot.

Their messages fly free and fast, and Stacey’s really loving getting to know this new side of a guy who previously only seemed interested in hooking up. As Emily and Simon’s wedding nears, she takes on a few more Faire responsibilities, and that’s when she realizes…the person communicating with her as Dex…isn’t Dex at all. Is it still possible to built a relationship with someone you’ve fallen in love with, when everything began as a lie?

This was cute. Still a great setting (Ren Faire!), still great characters (hello, Simon!!!). Stacey has a reputation for being a little ditzy, but she has a strong sense of duty and responsibility, evidenced by her commitment to caring for her mother long past the time when she’s actually needed. Fear of something happening to her mother and fear of change have kept her firmly rooted in Willow Creek, unable to imagine a path forward, until those messages from ‘Dex’ begin to add a little more color to the parts of her year that aren’t lived at the Faire.

Daniel, the male lead posing as his cousin Dex, is awkward and sweet, but lacking in confidence, having grown up in the shadow of his cousin’s swagger. He may have gone about his feelings for Stacey the entirely wrong way, but they were heartfelt and genuine. In real life, something like this would be a massive, massive red flag, but in fiction it works out just fine, and it made for a pleasant distraction of an afternoon.

I didn’t love this as much as I loved Well Met, but I loved Simon so much that I don’t think ti’s quite a fair comparison! And of course, after finishing this, I immediately put Well Matched, Jen DeLuca’s next book (due out in October!) which follows April and Mitch, onto my TBR. Two crossed off, one added right back on. I’m starting to figure out why my numbers seem to stay the same every month…

Anyway, Well Played is a cute follow to Well Met, and I can’t wait to read more from Ms. DeLuca. It’s extremely rare that an author is able to worm so deeply into my heart so quickly, but she’s done it and I’m here for whatever she writes.

Visit Jen DeLuca’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.