fiction · YA

Book Review: A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

The 2023 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge directed me to read a book with a forbidden romance, so I browsed through some lists and came up with A Pho Love Story by Loan Le (Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021), a YA novel about two teenagers from families who own competing Vietnamese restaurants. Super cute cover. I thought I was in for a sweet, relaxing YA love story and settled in.

Not so much. 

(My apologies for not being able to do the diacritics in Vietnamese words; I’m not familiar with the language, nor am I confident I would get them correct even if I were to copy and paste from a character map. Accuracy is important, especially in terms of names, and not being able to do this really bothers me, so please accept my apologies.)

Bao Nguyen and Linh Mai are two Vietnamese teenagers from families who own competing restaurants across the street from each other. From their early childhood, their parents haven’t allowed them to have any contact, and the families have done nothing but speak badly about each other. Though the two attend school together, they know little about each other. Linh is an accomplished artist, struggling to make her parents understand what painting means to her; Bao is content to go through life not really drawn in by anything and is uncertain what his future will hold. Both teens struggle with the reality of living with parents burdened by their refugee pasts, loss and pain and secrets a part of their families’ everyday lives.

When Linh’s best friend recruits both her and Bao to write and illustrate restaurant reviews for the school newspaper, the two get to know each other in a way that has never been allowed before, but they must keep their newfound friendship and attraction hidden from their families. Digging into the past brings long-buried secrets to light, but maybe Bao and Linh can change things for good…


Up until about two-thirds of the way through this, I was struggling. Something felt…off. Not right. Slow. A little draggy. Heavy. Which isn’t necessarily unexpected, as these teenagers are first generation Americans of refugee parents. There are going to be some tough topics here. But after thinking about it a little bit, I realized that the cover had led me to expect something of a different story.

The cover is WAY more lighthearted-looking than this story is. There are deaths mentioned; neither family left Viet Nam intact, and they carry their pain and scars with them. Their struggles to build a successful life in the US continue on into the present day; running a restaurant is tough even for people who don’t struggle with PTSD and are native English speakers, so it’s doubly tough for folks who come here with trauma and have to rebuild everything, and are at constant risk of financial failure and their entire lives falling apart again. Linh and Bao live with the pressure of this every day, and Linh has the added stress of knowing her parents don’t approve of her passion and talent for art, which she has to do behind their backs. 

This is not at all a lighthearted love story. This is a story of two teenagers living in not just the shadows of but under the strain of their parents’ trauma. They’re trying to build their lives in the dual cultures they’re raised in, but the strain and pressure are incredible and intense, and the stress of this is evident on every page.

While the romance was cute, it didn’t quite have enough intensity or chemistry for me, but that wasn’t my real issue. The book is billed as a romantic comedy, which led me to expect something very different. I think it works well more as a drama, but intergenerational family trauma, financial pressure, and heavy familial expectations don’t mesh well with my idea of comedy. What this book does well is show what life is like for kids of refugees who are working almost beyond capacity in order to rebuild their lives from nothing. It shows their stress, their fatigue, their sorrows, their confusion, their struggles to meet their families’ expectations while still being true to themselves. It’s difficult growing up in a country and culture that your parents don’t fully understand, and that’s something I think this book portrays exceptionally well.

If you pick up A Pho Love Story, don’t go in expecting a lighthearted love story. Read it to understand a little more about Vietnamese refugee culture, and what family life of Vietnamese refugees might look like. Don’t let the cover or the description as a romantic comedy fool you; this book is a lot heavier than it looks, but I think it’ll speak to kids who recognize themselves in Bao and Linh and the weight of the expectations placed upon them.

Visit Loan Le’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days by K.M. Jackson

I needed a book about or set in Hollywood for the 2023 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge, so in digging through my TBR, I found How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days by K.M. Jackson (Forever, 2021), a book that I’ve wanted to get to ever since it first came out. I love a good romance, even better if it involves a celebrity, and I do enjoy books about people’s obsessions, because they’re so relatable (I even find other people talking about their obsessions online – even when I don’t share them – charming! I love enthusiasm). Through no fault of its own, the book wasn’t quite the book for me, but it definitely has its charm.

Bethany Lu Carlisle is an artist who just can’t seem to settle down. She’s over 40 now and though her art is at least successful enough to support her (along with help from her wealthy family), she’s still flitting from thing to thing, spending a lot of time obsessing over her favorite actor, Keanu Reeves. Learning he’s about to be married is her record-scratch moment: what is she doing with her life? She should stop him, shouldn’t she, and maybe convince him to marry her?

With her lifelong best friend Truman, Lu goes on a series of adventures designed to put her in Keanu’s path, but somehow always missing the mark. Along the way, she and True have some parts of their relationship that they’ve been avoiding discussing for years to iron out, including their shared grief over the death of Lu’s brother long ago. With a string of celebrity cameos, How to Marry Keanu Reeves in 90 Days will bring together two soulmates – just not the ones you might expect.

I’m not sure exactly what didn’t work for me here. Despite her flaws, I liked Lu. She’s funny, dedicated to her art, aware of where she could be doing better in life, and goal-oriented, and I enjoyed her Keanu obsession. I liked True (despite his being an economist, haha). He’s so dedicated to Lu, setting up her Keanu search and helping her with every step. I liked the setting, I liked the plot, I loved the celebrity cameos (meeting Captain America in a bathroom, meeting Lisa Bonet and Jason Momoa at a New Mexican campground, etc). But for whatever reason, reading this just felt more like a chore than it did a fun experience. I don’t know if I didn’t connect well with the writing style – there’s nothing wrong with it, it just didn’t reach out and grab me – or what, but this wasn’t the book for me.

I’m forever grateful to Anne Bogel of the What Should I Read Next? podcast, who taught me that not every book is for every reader, that we’re not going to form strong connections to every book, and that’s fine. The relief I felt upon learning this, upon hearing her put this out into the world, was enough to make me weep when I first heard it years ago. It doesn’t mean the book is bad or that you’re a lesser person for not enjoying it, it just means that wasn’t the book for you. And that’s fine. And this wasn’t the book for me, and that’s fine, too. Live and learn. : )

Visit K.M. Jackson’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance · romantic comedy

Book Review: Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie

A book about divorce? Sure! Next on the 2023 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge comes an older book from a favorite of mine: Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie (MIRA, 1994). I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read from Ms. Cruise, and this was no different. She has a knack for humor, intrigue, mystery, quirky characters who aren’t overdone, and turning tense situations into something a little funny, a little sexy, and a little ridiculous without being over-the-top. And dogs. Her books always have the best dogs.

Lucy Savage’s divorce from her husband Bradley has finally gone through, and she’s vowed to become a new person: independent, more spontaneous, more fun. Beating up what turns out to be a cop isn’t exactly her definition of those words, but as it turns, Officer Zack Warren was trying to save her from someone who’s trying to kill her. What does her boring banker ex-husband have to do with this? Lucy’s not sure, plus there’s another Bradley involved in this, but sparks start to fly when Zack moves into her house to provide 24-hour protection.

When her car blows up (how Jennifer Crusie made me laugh during this scene is a testament to her ability as a writer!), followed by her bed, things get serious…and things heat up between Lucy and Zack. It’s a warp-speed romance and a mystery all in one, but Zack and his partner will take down both Bradleys, and Lucy will get what she wants in the end.

This was SO much fun. Dated just a little, as it was originally published in 1994 and I think there are a few lines that wouldn’t fly in today’s romance, but it’s still a really solid romance. (And while I wouldn’t necessarily pick up a romance with a police officer these days – just not my thing – I made an exception for this one, since it was older and I enjoy the author.) Lucy is fun, determined, and just the right amount of dismissive of Zack at first. Zack is a little world-weary at first, but he’s absolutely smitten with Lucy from the start, going from a committed bachelor to ready to propose in days. It makes for a fun pairing, and Ms. Crusie is a master of chemistry between her characters.

And the dogs. Dogs who do jokes. Dogs who fully understand their humans. New dogs who join the pack and fit right in. I love Jennifer Crusie’s dogs. 

This was a really enjoyable read and I really should make it my business to get to all those Jennifer Crusie novels I haven’t tackled yet.

Visit Jennifer Crusie’s website here.


Book Review: Love your Life by Sophie Kinsella

Next up for the 2023 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge: a book with a pet character. So many books I read could fit in here, but I chose Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella (Dial Press, 2020). It’s been a while since I read one of Ms. Kinsella’s books, so I figured I was past due to get lost in one of her books again. 

Ava’s dating life is not going well, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to succumb to the cold, clinical grasp of the algorithm of dating apps like her friend – she believes in follow her heart, finding love and chemistry the regular way. She’s more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gal, which doesn’t always translate well into accomplishing all the many goals she’s set for herself. On a writer’s retreat to Italy (leaving her beloved-but-mischievous dog Harold in the care of her friends), Ava meets ‘Dutch’ (everyone is asked to choose an alias; Ava goes by ‘Aria’), a handsome straggler from a canceled martial arts retreat. The two quickly fall for each other, all the while adhering to the retreat rules: no names, no personal information. Ava knows she’s got it right: she and Dutch are perfect. No baggage, just chemistry.

But when the retreat ends and real life comes slamming back, things aren’t *quite* so perfect. Dutch is actually Matt, the overworked heir to his family’s internationally successful dollhouse company. His parents are stodgy and dislike Ava, Matt has creepy taste in art, Ava’s quirkiness winds him in the ER, and Harold’s mischievousness? YIKES. That chemistry is still there, but what does it matter when the rest of their lives don’t exactly line up? Ava and Matt will have to figure out how to compromise if they want things to be like they were in Italy.

Ava’s way more fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants than I would ever be comfortable with, and I think that’s why I had a bit of a tough time getting into this at first. She’s flighty, can’t commit fully to the zillions of projects she takes on, and is way more about feelings (and making excuses, and lying to herself) than I feel comfortable with. I wasn’t super into her hooking up with Dutch at the writer’s retreat (GIRL, YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW HIM. HE COULD BE A SERIAL KILLER), but I kept going to see where the book would go. Sophie Kinsella is a solid writer and I’ve enjoyed her in the past, so that helped.

What I really loved were the friend groups. Both Ava and Matt have amazingly supportive friend groups who were a lot of fun to read, and they truly pulled me into the novel. The ending is pretty perfect – no spoilers – but man, I wish I had a friend group like these. 

Fun read. Not my favorite of the year, but a solid choice if you’re looking for a little romance with a healthy dose of reality and compromise.

Visit Sophie Kinsella’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussmann

Moving along in the 2023 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge! I needed a #BookTok recommendation, and as I’m not on TikTok, I had to rely on lists others made. Which worked out well, because Funny You Should Ask by Elissa Sussman (Dell, 2022) was one of the books recommended on there, and it was also a book from my own TBR. Now, I’ve been trying to get a copy of this book from the library since it came out, but every time I looked, it was checked out. I love that so many people in my town read and have similar tastes as me! But this time, it was finally in, so into my bag it went.

Funny You Should Ask tells the story of writer Chani Horowitz and actor Gabe Parker. Ten years ago, Chani and Greg spent a weekend together so she could write an article about Gabe. That article went viral, and questions have lingered ever since about what really went on between the two of them. It was also the article that launched Chani’s more successful career as a writer, so she’s always had that tie to him. Ten years later, Gabe is back in Chani’s life, because now she’s doing a follow-up article.

And things between them are the same, and different. They’ve aged, matured, moved on in their careers, changed as people. Gabe is now two years sober. Chani’s angry that the rumors about what they did won’t die. But the chemistry between them is still the same, and Gabe is determined to set things right. 

Despite all my wait for this book, it was just…kind of okay for me. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. It contains one of my favorite tropes, celebrity-falls-in-love-with-normal-person. There’s an awesome dog. Although I was uncomfortable with Gabe’s obvious alcoholism in the ten-years-ago parts, I still liked him as a hero. Chani’s determination to make it as a writer struck a chord with me, and I enjoyed the various settings of the book (I’ve never once read a book before this one that actually made me want to visit Montana, so that’s something.). There wasn’t anything distinct that I could put my finger on, but something just didn’t completely work for me, and I think this is just a case of ‘not every book is meant for every reader.’ And that’s fine. This is also happening in the book I’m reading now. Nothing wrong with it; just not for me.

It happens! 

But even if it wasn’t quite the book for me, it might be the one for you. : )

Visit Elissa Sussman’s website here.


Book Review: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Up next for the 2023 PopSugar Reading Challenge: a book about a vacation! These books are always fun, especially to someone like me, who hasn’t been anywhere but my house since 2019. That’s one of the best parts of reading, getting to explore the world from the comfort of my own home. I have a map of the world on the wall in my living room, and it came with little magnetized pins, so whenever I read a book set in a country not the US, I move a pin there. It’s always really cool to see how many countries I’ve book-traveled to by the end of the year. But for this challenge, I stuck to the US and traveled to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina with Book Lovers by Emily Henry (Berkley, 2022). 

Nora Stephens, tough-as-nails literary agent, is taking some time off. Something’s up with her sister, Libby, her younger sister whom she’s always felt protective over, more so since their mother died when Libby was still in high school. Libby wants to take a sisters trip to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina, setting of one of the best-sellers Nora has helped come to life. Unable to say no to her sister (who is five months pregnant with her third child), Nora packs up. The town isn’t *quite* what the book led her to believe, and who’s also there but Charlie Lastra, a fellow New Yorker and editor with whom she has a somewhat contentious relationship. YAY. This will be fun.

But there’s a little more to Charlie than she previously expected, and as Nora works to complete the list of activities Libby set out for the two of them, she not only discovers more about her sister and a clearer picture of their childhood, but she begins to fall for Charlie as well. As multiple spanners end up in the works, Nora realizes she’s going to have to adjust her thinking about her own life, and maybe learn to take a few risks for herself and her own heart.

This was a cute, fun read with a bit of an unexpected edge to it. Nora and Libby’s mother was a struggling actress. She did the best she could for her girls, but they were always struggling, always on the verge of poverty. Libby’s view on this is clearer, but Nora, unable to see how parentified she was as the older sibling, has a much rosier view of this that colors her entire relationship to the past and with her sister. Ms. Henry did a really incredible job of writing the two different views of the same situation, both of which were true and valid. Charlie Lastra is a great hero, responsible, kind of grumpy, and still swoony as hell. 

The settings were excellent in this book. New York, home of Nora, Libby, and Charlie, features heavily; Ms. Henry does it justice and sings its praises in a completely believable way throughout the text. But the fictional town of Sunshine Falls, North Carolina is just as much fun, in a much different way, and it was truly enjoyable to take this trip to its dusty little downtown with its struggling stores, eat in its questionable restaurants, and tramp through its woods that lead to its vacation cottages. I’ve been to North Carolina before and absolutely loved it; being able to book-travel back to it was definitely enjoyable.

All in all, a fun, quick read.

Visit Emily Henry’s website here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

Arright. For the 2023 Popsugar Reading Challenge, I needed a book with a queer lead. Sometimes there’s some overlap with other books, and while the rules state it’s okay to have a book work for two or more categories, I’m kind of a purist and prefer to read a different book for each, so I dug around and found One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2021). I really enjoyed her Red, White, and Royal Blue a few years ago, so I was all for diving back into another world created by this fabulous author.

August is new to New York City, and the city is offering her a lot all at once. Her new roommates are incredibly welcoming and as quirky as New York City roommates can be; her job waiting tables at Pancake Billy’s House of Pancakes is, uh, interesting, and figuring out the subway…that’s an entirely different story. There’s this girl there, all ripped jeans and Pride pins, and August is obsessed. Jane’s there every time she gets on the train – like, every time, which is…weird. Right?

It turns out, Jane can’t leave the Q train. She’s from the 1970’s, when a power surge shoved her out of time and left her here, and August, who has fallen utterly head over heels, is determined to figure this out. With the help of her misfit band of roommates, August begins to hatch a plan to yank Jane out of the stalemate she’s in, whether that means pulling her into now (and off the Q train forever)…or saying goodbye permanently. 

This is such a sweet, sexy love story, but it’s also a story of falling in love with New York. Casey McQuiston has absolutely written a love letter to the city, and NYC is as much of a character in this book as any one person is. One Last Stop is also so inclusive and queer-friendly: August is bisexual; Jane is a protest-sign waving lesbian from the 1970’s; August’s roommate is trans; there are drag queens all over; people of every race and ethnicity and culture pepper the pages. The setting and the feel of this book is just so incredible, and Casey McQuiston has truly painted a setting  and created a cast I would love to step into. 

I won’t even begin to fully try to understand the complexities of the time travel that threw Jane from the 70’s onto the modern day Q train (weird coincidence: I hadn’t ever heard of the Q train before this book…and the book I’m reading now, right after finishing this one, also mentions it!); physics and energy truly aren’t my thing, but this book makes it fascinating, and the time travel twist – bringing someone from the past to now – was a really fun one. Usually you read someone from now traveling back to the past, so I enjoyed this twist. 

One Last Stop is a fun, sexy, inclusive, smart romance that pulled me in deep. I’d time travel to the world of this book any day.

Visit Casey McQuiston’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Book Review: The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds

Another list of Jewish books clued me in to the existence of The Summer of Lost Letters by Hannah Reynolds (Razorbill, 2021). Modern day Jewish characters? Check. Mystery of said characters’ grandparents? Check. Love letters? Check. Blossoming romance? Check. Amazing setting on the island of Nantucket? Check. Fabulous storytelling that puts you right in the story and keeps you turning pages at a breakneck speed? CHECK CHECK CHECK. Oh, how I loved this book!!! (And there’s a follow-up; it doesn’t focus on the main characters, but it is about some side characters. Eight Nights of Flirting. It’s already on my TBR, and I’ll be reading it in 2023 for a prompt on the Popsugar Reading Challenge (yup, I’m in!).

Abby Schoenberg’s grandmother died somewhat recently, and it’s upon receiving a box of her possessions that Abby discovers some mysterious letters – love letters –  from a man named Edward, back in the 1950’s. The family never knew much about her O’ma, who was a very private person who never spoke about her past. They knew she came to the US alone at four years old, and that O’ma’s parents had been killed in the Holocaust, but that was it. Upon the discovery of these letters, Abby is determined to find out more, and she sets herself up for a summer on Nantucket, where this mysterious Edward was from.

It doesn’t take long for Abby to learn more about this small island community. Edward is Edward Barbanel, the patriarch of the wealthy Barbanel clan and head of their successful business empire. His grandson, Noah, is fiercely protective of Edward and the entire family, but little by little, he begins to allow Abby access, and the two discover long-kept secrets about the romance between their grandparents, along with growing closer themselves. But the course of true love never does run smooth, and it’ll take some growth from both Abby and Noah to not only discover the full truth, but to figure out how to be together.

Ooh, this was a fun one. Abby is mature, but doesn’t always make the right decisions, which is true for this age group. She’s stressed about her future, trying to manage her relationship with her mom (this was SO well done. She and her mother have a great relationship, but Mom can get on Abby’s nerves from time to time – realistic! – something Abby recognizes and is trying to keep in check. Again, super mature of her, which I appreciated). Her willingness to take this trip to Nantucket, to discover her grandmother’s past, made her a really interesting character.

Noah Barbanel is a good hero as well. He comes from a wealthy family, but isn’t stuck up about it. He’s protective of his family, but not to the point of rudeness, and he eventually lets Abby in. Their adventures together are fun, sweet, fascinating, and Hannah Reynolds brings Nantucket alive around them. I haven’t read too much in recent years set on Nantucket, but what I’ve read in the past, I’ve always enjoyed, and this is no different. Ms. Reynolds makes me want to pack my bags and head east.

I’m not a huge mystery fan, but the mystery of O’ma’s past was perfect, enough to keep me wondering and guessing as the story progressed. Mysteries of the past are far more interesting to me than whodunit-style mysteries, so this really checked all my boxes.

So looking forward to reading Eight Nights of Flirting now!

Visit Hannah Reynolds’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · YA

Book Review: Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon

You know that feeling when your TBR is empty and you have absolutely nothing to read, so you’re just wandering around the library listlessly?

Yeah, me neither.

What really happened was this: I had a stack of like five books or so that I needed to read, but my daughter wanted to get some library books, so I took her over, telling myself, “I’m not getting anything for me! I have way to much to read already.”

And then the library had a lovely display of books that included Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon (Simon Pulse, 2020), whom I LOVE, and, well, it went into my bag, because I have no self-control when it comes to Jewish authors I love. And this was such an excellent moment of weakness, because I ADORED this book.

It’s the last day of high school, and Rowan Roth is ready to finally best Neil McNair once and for all by being awarded valedictorian. She and McNair have been battling it out every single minute of the last four years, each trying to outdo the other for grades, awards, status. The day isn’t starting out great, though; a fender-bender has Rowan slipping into the office late, only to face – who else? – Neil, who works there. Ugh.

The whole last day of school is strange, and when the senior class game – Howl, a Seattle-wide scavenger hunt that will award the last student standing with $5,000 – starts up that evening, Rowan quickly finds herself paired up with Neil, who…maybe isn’t quite as awful as she’s made him out to be the past four years. He’s maybe even kind of cute. And – holy shit- he’s Jewish, too???

What else has Rowan missed???

As the night goes on, Rowan and Neil grow closer, and she learns so much about him that she hadn’t known before, since her focus had been solely on competition. But things change, people change…and with everything else changing at this moment in time, maybe it’s time for Rowan and Neil’s relationship to change as well.

This is such a fun YA novel. Rowan is driven, almost single-minded, and that causes her to miss out on a lot, something she’s only really realizing on this last day of senior year. Her love of romance novels is endearing; I love the growth and openness she attributes to her admiration of the genre, because it makes her a far more interesting character than it would have otherwise. There is one scene I didn’t care for at all; Rowan goes too far and uses something she learned about Neil to lash out and hurt him the way she felt he hurt her, and…it was too far. I was honestly a little surprised Neil moved on from that as quickly as he did. I don’t know that that was a choice I would have made as an author. But really, everything else in this story is perfection; it’s a straight-up love letter to Seattle (a phrase I thought of early on, only to read it in Ms. Solomon’s afterword. *high five*), a city I’ve never been to, but which Ms. Solomon made come alive. I truly felt like I’d spent the day racing around the city with Rowan and Neil.

And Neil! What a great character. Awkward, determined, quirky, hardworking, Jewish – what’s not to love? I had a somewhat similar relationship with a guy friend in high school, though nowhere near as competitive (we were into very different things, for one). This was long before the days of texting, so I had to wonder throughout this book what our texts would have looked like, if they would’ve been as snarky as Rowan and Neil’s (likely worse; we were pretty brutal at times). I enjoyed their friendship and their blossoming romance, and the optimism for the future that this book absolutely bursts with.

Such a great read. Rachel Lynn Solomon absolutely knocked it out of the park with this one.

Visit Rachel Lynn Solomon’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction · romance

Book Review: Well Matched by Jen DeLuca

I absolutely adore Jen DeLuca. I loved her Well Met, enjoyed Well Played, and have been waiting for her latest book, Well Matched (Berkley, 2021), which I finally checked out of the library this last trip. All the books in this series are set against the backdrop of a town that holds an annual Renaissance Faire, and as someone who has been known to enjoy a good Ren Faire once in a while (still didn’t feel comfortable enough to go this year, sadly), I’ve really enjoyed living in the world of Ms. DeLuca’s stories. Well Matched was absolutely no different.

In Well Matched, we hear from April, the single mother sister of Emily from Well Met. She’s spent the last eighteen years raising her daughter Caitlin on her own, ever since her ex-husband decided he didn’t want to be a dad and walked out on her. It hasn’t been easy, and April has built some serious walls around her heart in order to survive, but she’s managed, and now Caitlin is preparing to graduate high school and head off to college. Finally, April’s real life can begin! She can sell her house and get the hell out of the small town she’s been raising her daughter in.

But first, the house needs to be updated, and that’s where Mitch, the himbo gym teacher of the friend group comes in. He’s there to help her paint and repair, and in exchange, April agrees to pretend to be his girlfriend for a family get-together, so that his judgmental family can finally start to see Mitch as someone who has his life together. The family gathering turns out to be a little more complicated than April expected, though, and so do her feelings for Mitch, who is also turning out to be a little more complex than she originally thought.

When their fake relationship goes from pretend to is-this-really-happening, April’s more than a little panicked: those years of brickwork she’s constructed around her heart are making it more than a little difficult to accept that Mitch’s feelings – and hers– are real, and safe. There’ll be a little heartbreak on the way, but there’s magic at the Ren Faire…

GAWD, I loved this book. I can’t say I loved Mitch or April in the other books, but I ended up absolutely adoring both of them throughout this whole thing. April is prickly as hell, but with good reason, and I truly related to her introvertedness and desire to hide away in her house (something I’m trying to change, but this frickin’ pandemic won’t let me *grumblegrumble*).

Visit Jen DeLuca’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.