Review of “The Impossibility of Us” by Katy Upperman

Upperman, Katy. The Impossibility of Us. New York: Swoon Reads, 2018. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250127990 | 303 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

5 stars

The Impossibility of Us is yet another book I picked up on a whim in my continuing exploration of multicultural literature. Given that it’s not #ownvoices, I was initially hesitant, but I decided to give it a chance, based on the generally good reviews.

And it ended up blowing me away. Not only does Katy Upperman show great sensitivity toward Afghan culture and beliefs, she also managed to weave these elements into a compelling novel that deals with the issues Middle Eastern people face today in such a wonderful way. Mati is caught between feeling a sense of responsibility to follow his parents’ wishes and marry to secure political connections, and his growing love for Elise. And Elise, in turn, coming from an environment where her family completely rejects him not only due to the stereotypes about Afghan people but the more personal reason that her brother was killed in action in Afghanistan.

I loved that, even if the issues with their respective parents aren’t fully resolved, things ended on a relatively optimistic note. While it would be nice for people to gain more perspective in situations like this, the reality is that some people are so set in their ways and beliefs that they can only compromise so far, and I like that this book acknowledges that.

The writing style is also a win. While dual first person books are still something of a hit-or-miss, I loved how Mati’s perspective was differentiated from Elise’s through his sections being composed in verse, which reflects his interest in writing. This style added extra poignancy to his perspective, like the moment when he talked about the stark differences between Cypress Beach and home in Kabul, or the scene where he’s attacked for being Afghan.

I would recommend this one to anyone who is interested in romances that also touch on serious real world issues.

Review of “Miss Serena’s Secret” (Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope #2) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. Miss Serena’s Secret. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445347 | 343 page | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Miss Serena’s Secret is yet another heartwarming Regency romance by Carolyn Miller. Once again, she excels at crafting a story with believable, sympathetic characters and text that immerses you in the world of Regency England.

Serena is one of those rare heroines who’s a bit younger than your typical romance heroine, and more in line with the age of a young debutante in society of the time. But while some authors go overboard making such characters naive and sometimes a bit TSTL, Serena is a nice breath of fresh air in terms of her maturity, especially considering that Miller has already done the naive, young debutante heroine in The Captivating Lady Charlotte. And through describing how Serena reacts to difficult parts of life,  father’s ruination of them financially and the health issue that, according to the author’s note, is now understood to be abdominal migraines, I could truly understand why she had to be so principled and practical. Harry is also a lovely character, with his wit and charm. And I’m not always a fan of the reformed rake trope, but I felt it was well done here, in terms of him generally trying to be worthy of Serena.

The secondary cast is great. I did feel like Mrs. Milsom was incredibly annoying, and while I understand her purpose in the story in highlighting the Harry’s past, she’s one of those irredeemably terrible characters that I couldn’t figure out why he was ever interested in her. Was she different before? Why can’t more romances have “Other Women” who are perfectly nice, but it just doesn’t work out?

Other than that, this is another solid Regency from Carolyn Miller, and a definite must read for fans of similar authors, like Julie Klassen or Sarah E. Ladd.

Review of “When Dimple Met Rishi” by Sandhya Menon

Menon, Sandhya. When Dimple met Rishi. New York, Simon Pulse, 2017. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481478687 | 380 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

5 stars

When Dimple Met Rishi is an unexpectedly adorable YA romance. I love how, even though the story deals with tropes that are familiar, like arranged marriage, opponents to lovers, and young people coping with their parents’ expectations when they want to do something else, they all come together to become an original and entertaining story.

One of the best parts is Dimple and Rishi themselves. They have contrasting desires, but neither is made out to be in the wrong, while also both of them being enlightened by each other’s perspective, and subsequently, their openness to help the other achieve their dreams. And I love how things work out with them both getting what they want and ending together to pursue their relationship.

The secondary characters are also wonderful. Celia and Ashish were such a nice surprise, especially given that I wasn’t sure about whether Celia was a good person or not. But the revelation about how they were connected made me anxious for more from them to find out how their relationship pans out.

Speaking of Celia, I love how her “friends,” the Aberzombies,” present an example of what wealth and privilege can get you. While the turn of events where they’re concerned is a bit cliche, it still gave me immense satisfaction to see Dimple and Rishi triumph over them through hard work, and Celia decide not to associate with them after enduring weeks of drama.

I think fans of fun multicultural romantic comedies will love this book.

Review of “The Other Miss Bridgerton” (Rokesbys #3) by Julia Quinn

Quinn, Julia. The Other Miss Bridgerton. New York: Avon Books, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062388209 | 391 pages | Historical Romance

4.5 stars

Julia Quinn is one of the few autobuy authors where her new release goes near the top of my TBR pile, only to leave me agonizing as I’m faced with the prospect of waiting another year for more books from her. And this one is no different. While there are some small pacing issues, given some of the other books I’ve read lately committing much worse crimes in terms of pacing in relation to plot, I can’t be too upset with this book wrapping things up more quick;y than I’d like.

JQ has two major strengths, characterization and dialogue, and they both shine here. While other authors like to make their characters, especially their heroes, emotionally complex and closed off to the point of being unlikable, you don’t see that with her. There is some deception, and that is where the story could have benefited from being a little longer, because it seems like Poppy just kind of accepts that Captain Andrew James is also her cousins’ friend, Andrew Rokesby, since they’ve already developed feelings for one another. But I love how well their banter, peppered occasionally with Shakespearean references and quotes, as well as discussions of maritime language, among other fun topics, led the way to them falling in love, even when things started off on somewhat tenuous footing.

As this book is given the subheading “A Bridgertons Prequel,” references to the original series are inevitable, and I love how well they’re worked in. It is always a daunting task for any creator to release prequels to their established and well-loved works, given that there will not only be the inevitable comparisons to the originals but examination of the text by eagle-eyed fans to make sure it matches up with the established canon of the world. And while she is not infallible, as some of these examples from past works indicate, she has done well in the case of this book and series with adding to the Bridgerton family history in a believable way, and referencing members of the family we know and love.

That being said, I would recommend this to any Bridgertons fan. While, again it’s not the perfect book, it offers up more  exactly what I think most readers of the Bridgertons and JQ love.

Review of “Strange the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor

Taylor, Laini. Strange the Dreamer. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2017. 

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316341684 | 536 pages | YA Fantasy

3 stars

Strange the Dreamer has a lot of promise as a great YA fantasy. Laini Taylor is a fabulous writer, crafting such vivid and beautiful prose. The world she created also shows a lot of potential, with the lore surrounding the lost city of Weep and the role of dreams. And once the plot gets going in the last hundred pages or so, it is truly epic, and makes me anxious to know what comes next.

However, the meandering for most of this epic tome is a major drawback. I can’t recall a single important thing that happened from those pages. While it does set up a lot of the world, and it did keep me reading rather than giving up on it part way through, I feel like there should have been a lot less build-up and a bit more plot.

The characterizations are lovely. I love the tenderness and intellect of Lazlo, contrasting wonderfully with a lot of his counterparts who are defined more by their brute strength, even if they do have other qualities. The mysterious Sarai and the other cast of cool, sometimes literally out-of-this-world characters also kept me interested in what was going on, and if anything will compel me to read the next book, it is my investment in them and seeing what happens next.

I would recommend this to people who like fantasies that are heavy on the world-building and highly textual. If you’re someone who prefers a high-action read from the first chapter, you may be disappointed. But if you don’t mind a book that takes its time to establish the world and the characters before establishing the plot, then this is the book for you.

Review of “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” by Erika L. Sanchez

Sanchez, Erika L. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524700485 | 344 pages | YA Fiction

2.5 stars

This is one of those “it’s not you, it’s me” books, as it clearly is well-liked by its target demographic, due to being on YALSA’s (Young Adult Library Services Association) Top Ten list, which is chosen by teens. And there are some reasonably good things about it.

I love how the book taps into several important social issues, like immigration (particularly for undocumented/illegal immigrants and their families), mental health, and toxic relationships, to name a few. While the execution of some of these tied to the characters is a little more iffy, I did appreciate that these were tackled with sensitivity.

I also very much enjoyed the unraveling of Olga’s story. I think it’s fascinating when someone who appears perfect on the outside has hidden demons or ends up involved in a situation you would not expect, and I truly felt sad for what she’d been through by the end of the book.

However, I found the majority of the other characters either uninspiring or insufferable most of the time, and that includes Julia. This is one of those times where I really disliked the first person narration (especially combined with present tense), since the first hundred pages dragged, and the tense relationship with her mother grated on me rather than endearing me to her, since I felt like she didn’t seem like someone worth investing my time in, which is disappointing, since I feel like we would have things in common.

I’m not sure who I would recommend this to. Perhaps a teenager looking for a diverse read? I personally didn’t resonate with it, and I’m not sure if other adults will, but given the teen-voted award, it must have some appeal within its target demographic.

Review of “The Scot Beds His Wife” (Victorian Rebels #5

Byrne, Kerrigan. The Scot Beds His Wife. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7,99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122544 | 394 pages |
Victorian Romance 

4.5 stars

The Scot Beds His Wife is one of my favorite books in the Victorian Rebels series so far, and for once, it has to do with the hero. While Gavin is still far from the type of hero I prefer, being a rogue who has slept with many women, particularly other men’s wives, I love that he is subtly different from the other Victorian Rebels heroes. While there is still a sense of danger about him, and a feeling that, if he was truly crossed, he would get even in the same way the others would, I loved that how his past under the thumb of his father, also the father of Liam Mackenzie, the hero from The Highlander, and Dougan Mackenzie/Dorian Blackwell from The Highwayman, shaped him differently, due to his close relationship with his mother, who his father abused. I love how Byrne captured the nuances of how damaged Gavin was while also showing how he did have a sense of humanity, through him wanting to remove himself entirely from the Mackenzie name and legacy and not be anything like his father.

Byrne always shines in creating strong, sympathetic heroines, and Samantha Master is no different, by not taking any crap from Gavin when it comes to him wanting to negotiate a deal. However, the deception regarding her identity, while it was done for the best of reasons, did start to worry me, especially when she married him under her assumed identity, and I just knew that once her lies upon lies came out, it wouldn’t turn out well. However, I did like the way it ended up being resolved.

I also loved that this book was much more humorous than previous installments, from the inclusion of comic relief characters like Locryn to the LOL-inducing wedding ceremony scene where Liam is conducting the ceremony, and he insults Gavin in the process, including making remarks about the likelihood that he’ll get syphilis. Not to mention that the story did get a bit farcical towards the end, especially once all the secrets have been revealed, and there’s a revelation about Alison Ross’ deeper connection to the Mackenzies.

I would recommend this book to fans of deep and angsty historical romance.

Review of “When Katie Met Cassidy” by Camille Perri

Perri, Camille. When Katie Met Cassidy. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018.

Hardcover | $25.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0735212817 | 264 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

This is the first f/f romance I have read, but it hasn’t been for lack of interest, as it was with m/m prior to taking a chance on them, but rather the lack of options available from major publishers, so when I heard about this one, I was excited. And while it’s not the perfect book, I did find it a cute and fun romance.

Despite not knowing fully what to expect going in, I really enjoyed Cassidy as a character. Yes, there are some aspects of her, like her more masculine looks, that tend toward the stereotypical, but I enjoyed her character, and I loved that even though she is confident in who she is in terms of her sexuality, she can still be challenged by falling in love with someone that presents obstacles.

Katie I felt was kind of a hard character to get right, and while for the most part I liked her, I kind of did want a little more from her. While I did appreciate that she went from questioning her labels (“Am I gay now?”) to embracing her love for Cassidy without thinking about it, it still feels like the story doesn’t acknowledge the hurdles they would face getting acceptance from her side of the family. While she does have a moment near the end where she writes a letter to her mother confessing what has happened, it doesn’t really go anywhere. While I’m not opposed to books with LGBTQ+ readers that are more positive and fluffy instead of constantly issue-focused, this felt like something that needed to be addressed.

I would recommend this to fans of light and fun contemporary romantic comedies.

Review of “Someone to Care” (Westcott #4) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Someone to Care. New York: Berkley, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399586088 | 372 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Someone to Care is yet another fabulous installment in a fabulous series. Viola has been through the wringer emotionally since the events that opened up the first book, Someone to Love, and it was wonderful to finally see her get her happy ending.

Viola was already a relatable character in her appearances in the prior books, and I loved getting to know her better from her own perspective. She is still struggling to deal with the fact that everything she once thought had been true of her life for the past twenty-three years had been a lie, and I love how this pain is reckoned with. And it was nice to see her finally do something for herself by running away and engaging in a week or two of passion, after sacrificing everything for a “husband” who ill-used her and children who are grown and no longer depend on her for everything.

While I wasn’t sure about Marcel at first, as he seemed like a strange choice for Viola, given the way she’d been burned, he grew on me as the story progressed. He too has regrets and past demons, leading him to push those he loved away. And ultimately, despite his reputation, he did treat Viola well throughout the book, not to mention the scene where he goes after her at the end is absolutely sweet.

I also love the continuing interplay between the various family members, especially as new family continues to get added to the mix. While I do still think we could benefit from a character guide for the non-Westcott characters that are relevant to each story, in addition to the family tree, Balogh manages to juggle this large cast of characters well, and, while a reader who jumped in in the middle of the series might be a little confused, the developing relationships are a treat for readers of all the books.

I would recommend this book (and series) to fans of sweet, heartfelt historical romances.

Review of “The Victoria in My Head” by Janelle Milanes

Milanes, Janelle. The Victoria in My Head. New York: Simon Pulse, 2017. 

Hardcover | $117.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481480895 | 389 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Despite not being the biggest music fan, I really loved The Victoria in My Head. It has a story that is very relatable, and I loved that, in addition to having a Latina lead character, the supporting cast was diverse as well, including character of different races and sexual orientations, while making it only a small aspect of who they are and allowing them to be fully fleshed out characters.

Victoria as a main character and narrator is also great. I really liked her voice throughout the book, and this might actually be one of my favorite books told in first person present tense for that reason. Victoria is a little dense at times, as there were things I could tell were going to happen, even reading through her perspective before they did, but I think that adds to her character.

And I did not expect to love Strand as much as I did. I knew he was being set up to be the love interest, due to his name being dropped in the blurb, and the fact that he’s the first of the band members she runs into, but given his playboy reputation, I did not see the two of them gelling at all, and was happy when she got together with Levi. But I love how, through little actions, it is shown that Strand really is a decent guy and genuinely cares about Victoria, and while that’s not to say that Levi is a (complete) jerk, he definitely isn’t as invested in learning about Victoria’s likes and dislikes, and what would make her happy.

I also love the relationship between Victoria and her parents. While some of the elements could resonate to any teenager, I like how there is that connection to the ways her immigrant parents had to struggle upon arriving in this country, and hence there are those expectations of her to succeed as well. But I loved how there were also moments when they seemed to share a connection, like the revelation of her father’s own musical interests or the scene where her mother reflects on the first record she bought upon arriving in America.

I would recommend this book to fans of coming-of-age stories with a diverse and likable cast of characters.