“My Mechanical Romance” by Alexene Farol Follmuth (Review)

Follmuth, Alexene Farol. My Mechanical Romance. New York: Holiday House, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0823450107 | $18.99 USD | 266 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

Opposites attract in this battle-robot-building YA romance from the NYT best-selling author of The Atlas Six.

Bel would rather die than think about the future. College apps? You’re funny. Extracurriculars? Not a chance. But when she accidentally reveals a talent for engineering at school, she’s basically forced into joining the robotics club. Even worse? All the boys ignore Bel—and Neelam, the only other girl on the team, doesn’t seem to like her either.

Enter Mateo Luna, captain of the club, who recognizes Bel as a potential asset—until they start butting heads. Bel doesn’t care about Nationals, while Teo cares too much. But as the nights of after-school work grow longer and longer, Bel and Teo realize they’ve made more than just a combat-ready robot for the championship: they’ve made each other and the team better. Because girls do belong in STEM.

In her YA debut, Alexene Farol Follmuth, author of The Atlas Six (under the penname Olivie Blake), explores both the challenges girls of color face in STEM and the vulnerability of first love with unfailing wit and honesty. With an adorable, opposites-attract romance at its center and lines that beg to be read aloud, My Mechanical Romance is swoonworthy perfection.

A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Review based on final copy. All opinions are my own. 

I requested My Mechanical Romance based on the cover and premise alone, not realizing that Alexene Farol Follmuth was also Olivie Blake at the time. I really didn’t get the hype for The Atlas Six, and had DNFed it, but hoped this was a case where I simply preferred her writing in one genre over the other. Unfortunately, while I appreciate what she was trying to do here, I didn’t gel with it. 

I do like the general intent. While I don’t feel drawn to any STEM fields myself, I am aware of the sexism within those industries…and how it can be worse when you’re a woman of color due to being doubly marginalized. Bel personally faces accusations of being the “token woman of color” and being added to the robotics team solely for “diversity points,” something that is very common to hear in this day and age, instead of pausing to consider the merit people like her add, due to their talent and diverse background. 

Bel is also generally relatable in her own right, because of how she expresses what it’s like to be a child of divorce. I appreciate how she attempts to handle it in the most mature way possible, with the acknowledgment that this change in family dynamics has had a major impact on her. 

Teo is ok, but definitely suffered from the book being a bit too short to delve into his story equally. The romance is cute, but this is yet another book that dramatically oversells the rivalry aspect, when it’s incredibly tame. 

And I don’t know if it’s the way that the author writes about academics and technical things that just puts me off or what, but that seems to be the common denominator here and with TAS. The latter book went hard in terms of the “magical academics” to the point where I didn’t care about the many characters introduced. And here, while the smaller main cast made it easier to connect with them, the depiction of robotics dragged the book down for me. 

So, while this book didn’t entirely work for me, it’s probably a reflection of my issues with the author’s style and choices more than anything else. This is a great book unpacking the issues of young women of color in STEM fields, and I can see why it resonates for that reason. 

Author Bio

Alexene Farol Follmuth is a first-generation American, a romance enthusiast, Ana a lover and writer of stories. Alexene has penned a number of adult SFF projects under the name Olivie Blake, including the webtoon Clara and the Devil and the BookTok-viral The Atlas Six. My Mechanical Romance is her YA debut. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, new baby, and rescue pit bull. Find her at https://www.alexenefarolfollmuth.com.

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“The Charmed List” by Julie Abe (Review)

Abe, Julie. The Charmed List. New York: Wednesday Books, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1250830098 | $18.99 USD | 304 pages | YA Contemporary/Fantasy Romance 

Blurb

“The best friends to enemies-to-lovers story I needed in my life! The Charmed List utterly enchants with its delightful characters and heartfelt themes of family, friendship, and first love. I adored this fun-filled and swoony road trip romance with a magical twist!” Axie Oh, author of XOXO and The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea

Sometimes you need a little magic to fall in love
.

Ellie Kobata has spent most of high school on the sidelines, keeping her art Instagram private and shying away from the world. She can’t even tell her only friend, Lia, who she really is: Ellie is part of a secret magical community, and no one outside of it can know it exists. The only person Ellie could fully relate to was Jack Yasuda – her childhood friend who mysteriously started to snub her a few years ago.

But before senior year, Ellie is ready to take some risks and have a life-changing summer, starting with her Anti-Wallflower List – thirteen items she’s going to check off one by one. With this list, she hopes to finally come out of her shell; even though she can’t share her full self with the world. But when number four on Ellie’s list goes horribly wrong—revenge on Jack Yasuda—she’s certain her summer is cursed. Instead of spending her summer with Lia, Ellie finds herself stuck in a car with Jack driving to a magical convention. But as Ellie and Jack travel down the coast of California, number thirteen on her list—fall in love—may be happening without her realizing it.

In The Charmed List, Julie Abe sweeps readers away to a secret magical world, complete with cupcakes and tea with added sparks of joy, and an enchanted cottage where you can dance under the stars.

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.

The Charmed List promises a lot of magical fun, and it definitely delivers. I got instant nostalgia for Wizards of Waverly Place in the way the magic is incorporated here, including the way the fear of the discovery of the existence of magic is baked into the story, including a reveal to Ellie’s best friend (which doesn’t go as well as it did in Wizards, unfortunately). 

Ellie is a relatable protagonist, and I love how she has a pretty clear plan for how she hopes to shed her “wallflower” reputation. The “bucket list” setup makes for a cool structure to set the book around, and I love that the story sees her coming out of her shell and accomplishing her goals in ways she did not expect. 

I felt a bit more mixed on the romance. I did eventually come to like it, but the dynamics between her and Jack at the start feel very petty. I guess that’s more excusable in YA, given younger people don’t always make the best decisions, but I still kind of wanted more substance to their falling-out. That said, once they have to hang out again, the story makes good use of forced proximity to bring them back together. And once that happens and they’re on their road trip, I did like seeing them reconnecting. 

I really liked this, and look forward to reading more from Julie Abe in the near future. If you enjoy romcoms with a hint of magic, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Julie Abe writes magical adventures for readers of all ages, including the EVA EVERGREEN, SEMI-MAGICAL WITCH middle grade fantasy series; the middle grade fantasy ALLIANA, GIRL OF DRAGONS; and the young adult novel THE CHARMED LIST. Keep up with Julie’s latest books and adventures on instagram.com/julieabebooks or sign up for her newsletter at julieabebooks.com/newsletter.

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“Summer at the Cape” by RaeAnne Thayne (Review)

Thayne, RaeAnne. Summer at the Cape. Toronto, Ontario: HQN, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1335936356 | $26.99 USD | 336 pages | Women’s Fiction

Blurb

From the beloved bestselling author of Season of Wonder and The Cliff House  comes a poignant and uplifting novel about forgiveness, family and all the complications—and joy  that come with it 

As the older sibling to identical twins Violet and Lily, Cami Porter was always the odd sister out. The divide grew even wider when their parents split up—while the twins stayed in Cape Sanctuary with their free-spirited mother, Rosemary, fourteen-year-old Cami moved to LA with her attorney father. Nearly twenty years later, when Cami gets the terrible news that Lily has drowned saving a child’s life, her mother begs her to return home to help untangle the complicated estate issues her sister left behind.

Navigating their own strained relationship, Cami readjusts to the family and community she hasn’t known for decades, including the neighbor who stands in the way of her late sister’s dream, while Violet grieves the loss of her twin and struggles to figure out who she is now, without her other half, as the little girl Lily saved pulls her back into the orbit of the man she once loved.

With poignancy and heart, RaeAnne Thayne once again delivers her charming signature blend of warmth, wit and wisdom.

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Review based on final copy.  All opinions are my own. 

While I haven’t made the time to dig too deeply into RaeAnme Thayne’s backlist, I already love how she captures the small-town cozy vibes. And with Summer at the Cape, she does so again perfectly, with the addition of the summer weather. 

While this book does lean more toward the women’s/general fiction side of the spectrum, Thayne’s background in romance allows her to write a compelling romantic arc, as well the more prominent, complex  relationships among family. Nothing feels underdone, neglected, or superfluous. 

I really liked both Cami and Violet, and the articulation of how they experienced their family dynamics then. The passing of Violet’s twin, Lily, has deeply changed said dynamics, particularly for Violet, as she was always closest to Lily, and struggling to figure out what her path is without her other half in her life. Meanwhile, there’s Cami, who never experienced the same closeness, and also lived separately from the twins and their mother for years after their mother divorced their father. Her story is otherwise fairly familiar: the city-girl who falls in love with the small town. However, it’s the personal, familial touches that make her story stand out. 

Both Cami and Violet have romances that complement their personal arcs, and they are both well executed. Cami’s love interest, Jon, is an additional point of view, offering another perspective outside that of the two sisters. His story is very similar to Cami’s, in that he has also returned to tend to family business. Their respective love and care for their families serves to help bring them together, even as there are some things that initially cause tension. And Violet’s second chance romance in the wake of her grief is so beautiful, and I rooted for her to take the chance on love.

This book hits all the right notes, being sweet and heartfelt. If you enjoy a contemporary with a primary focus on family relationships and drama, with a generous helping of romance, I recommend giving this one a try. 

Author Bio

New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and #1 Publishers Weekly bestselling author RaeAnne Thayne has written more than 70 books since selling her first book in 1995. She has received a career achievement award from Romantic Times for series romantic adventure, as well as a Pioneer of Romance award. She finds inspiration from the beautiful mountains of northern Utah, where she lives with her family.

Her books have been described as “poignant and sweet,” with “beautiful, honest storytelling (that) goes straight to the heart.”

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“Dog Friendly” by Victoria Schade (ARC Review)

Schade, Victoria. Dog Friendly. New York: Berkley, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593437391 | $16.00 USD | 352 pages | Women’s Fiction 

Blurb

“Perfect to read on the beach.” –The Boston Globe

A burned-out veterinarian takes a much-needed beach vacation, where a charming surfer makes waves in her love life, and a unique foster pup renews her passion for her work.


Exhausted veterinarian Morgan Pearce is feeling overworked and under-thanked, so when two favorite clients ask her to watch their special needs senior dog in their Nantucket home, she jumps at the chance for a summer break. She hopes her time on the island will be a reset from the stress of her everyday life, but her chill vacation vibe takes a hit when she gets roped into fostering a challenging, anxious dog and helping plan the local rescue group’s glittery annual fundraiser.

Her trip starts to feel more like a vacation when Morgan begins falling for Nathan Keating, an irresistible entrepreneur who thinks every problem can be solved on a surfboard. Just as the summer is shaping up to be the magical refresh she needs, thanks to a fling that feels like the beginning of something real and Hudson, the foster dog who reminds her how much she loves her job, a visit from her estranged brother and the discovery of who Nathan really is changes everything. Morgan finds herself at a crossroads, trying to determine if mistakes from the past must define the future, or if she should forgive, forget, and grab hold of a chance to finally rescue herself.

Review 

3 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Dog Friendly is a sweet, heartwarming read, in some ways like hugging a dog in itself. Victoria Schade has a background as a dog trainer, and her love for dogs shines through the pages of this book. 

As such, the best part of the book is that of the heroine, Morgan, with dogs…on multiple fronts. The general premise and theme sees her struggling with burnout while working as a veterinarian, and I appreciated how this was rendered. Seeing her journey as she takes time for herself, taking a vacation and even starting therapy, is life-affirming. 

She also simultaneously is dog-sitting for a friend, taking on their aging dog that has some anxiety issues. I really enjoyed seeing the two of them bonding and helping each other on their path to healing. 

But unfortunately, this is one of those books that is more “women’s fiction” than romance, and normally I wouldn’t be too bummed, if it didn’t keep happening (and it was properly categorized on NetGalley at least). Nathan lacked real substance for me, and I would have been completely happy if he never showed up and this had been a book solely about Morgan and her journey with the dogs. 

This book was fine, but the publisher’s marketing and categorization works against it (and while all publishers are playing a role in the blending of romance with women’s fiction/chick lit, Berkley is perhaps the worst offender). With the proper expectations, you might enjoy it more than I did. 

Author Bio

Victoria Schade is a dog trainer and speaker who serves as a dog resource for the media and has worked both in front of and behind the camera on Animal Planet, and as a trainer and wrangler on the channel’s popular Puppy Bowl specials. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, her dogs Millie and Olive, and the occasional foster pup.

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“The Unmatchmakers” by Jackie Lau (Review) of

Lau, Jackie. The Unmatchmakers. Toronto, Ontario: Rakuten Kobo, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1774538463 | $4.99 USD | 183 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

From the author of DONUT FALL IN LOVE comes a perfect summer love story set in the forested paradise of Canadian cottage country that asks the question: can love beat the odds when the odds are two mothers dead-set against it?

————————————————————-

You’d think my mother would be trying to set me up with architect Neil Choy, the unmarried son of her best friend. But you’d be wrong.

My single mother has always been fiercely independent. Since I was a small child, she’s always told me not to believe in fairy tales and that I don’t need a man. So she’s failed to mention that Neil is a total hottie in glasses. When I see him for the first time in a decade, on a multi-family cottage vacation, I’m in for quite a shock. (In fact, I nearly fall in the lake, but let’s keep that a secret.)

He sure can grill a mean steak and mix a killer cocktail, plus he’s pretty impressive in a kayak. Yes, he’s a little stern and grumpy, but that just makes him more fun to tease—and makes it more satisfying when he quirks his lips in my direction.

Even though my mind is spinning romantic fantasies, I’m not entirely sure how he feels. And I’m afraid that if anything happens between us, it’ll screw up the friendship between our staunchly anti-relationship mothers. Especially since they’ve been acting increasingly weird since we arrived—I will never forgive them for the S’mores Incident. In fact, I think they’re trying to sabotage my love life, and I’m starting to worry that I won’t make it through this bizarre summer vacation…

————————————————————-

Perfect for fans of Helen Hoang’s THE BRIDE TEST and THE DONUT TRAP by Julie Tieu, THE UNMATCHMAKERS is a forced-proximity, friends-to-lovers romantic comedy that explores finding the balance of meeting expectations and being true to yourself, and how even the best of intentions can sometimes backfire.

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC  from the publisher via NetGalley and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

The Unmatchmakers is a fun reverse tale on the meddling, matchmaking Asian mother trope, in that the mothers of the lead, Leora, and her love interest, Neil, are determined to keep them apart. It’s an intriguing dynamic, especially given the mothers are longtime friends. 

I was a bit confused as to the direction this was going at first, as while the blurb indicated Leora would be the primary perspective, I wasn’t sure how the mothers’ meddling would come through. However, it became more apparent as I kept reading, and I liked witnessing the mothers’ antics from Leora’s perspective, as well as feeling like the reveal of the mothers’ own romantic woes was well-earned. 

And that juxtaposes quite nicely with the growing relationship between Leora and Neil. Their romance is largely built on a recognition of how much they’ve each respectively changed since they were kids, and while the focus is largely on physical attraction, there’s a lot of potential there once they get past all the family drama. 

This is a charming read, and while not my favorite of Jackie Lau’s, demonstrates her continued success in the multicultural  romcom sphere. If you’re looking for a fun, fast read with focus on family as well as romantic love, I recommend picking this one up. 

Author Bio

Jackie Lau decided she wanted to be a writer when she was in grade two, sometime between writing “The Heart That Got Lost” and “The Land of Shapes.” She later studied engineering and worked as a geophysicist before turning to writing romance novels.

Jackie lives in Toronto with her husband, and despite living in Canada her whole life, she hates winter. When she’s not writing, she enjoys cooking, hiking, eating too much gelato, and reading on the balcony when it’s raining.

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“An Unlikely Alliance” (K-9 Companions #7) by Toni Shiloh (Review)

Shiloh, Toni. An Unlikely Alliance. Toronto, Ontario: Harlequin, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-1335685080 | $6.25 USD | 219 pages | Contemporary Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb

To save her animal shelter, she’ll have to work with her biggest foe…

With her emotional support dog at her side, Jalissa Tucker will do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of the local animal rescue — even ally herself with her nemesis, firefighter Jeremy Rider. As working together dredges up old hurts, putting the past aside could be the key to their future joy…

Mills & Boon Love Inspired — Heartfelt stories that show that faith, forgiveness and hope have the power to lift spirits and change lives.

Review 

3 stars 

I received an early copy from the author as part of their review team and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

An Unlikely Alliance is the first of Toni Shiloh’s Harlequin LoveInspired books I’ve read, and while it’s perfectly fine, I think I just wasn’t really in the mood for it. There are some good points, however, which are worthy of praise. 

Jalissa is a sympathetic lead, and I really love her relationship with her emotional support dog, who helps her cope with her anxiety. Her dedication to the local animal shelter also really spoke to me, as a dog lover myself. And for all my quibbles about the romance, I do get the idea of it, with both of them having roles giving back to their community and bonding over that. 

But I found the romance very lacking from the get-go, as it’s one of those “we hate each other for no reason” sort of stories. I didn’t feel like she and Rider had much but their pre-judgments of each other to justify the animosity, and it culminated in a weak transition to love. 

While I generally found this book pretty tepid, I can see why it worked for other people. If you enjoy category-length romance with an emphasis on shared Christian faith and community, you might like this one.

Author Bio

Toni Shiloh is a wife, mom and multi publisher Christian contemporary romance author. She writes to bring God glory and to learn more about His goodness. A member of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and of the Virginia Chapter, Toni loved connecting with readers via social media. You can learn more about her at https://tonishiloh.com.

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“The Other Side of Leaving” by Jacqueline Ramsden (ARC Review)

Ramsden, Jacqueline. The Other Side of Leaving. [Place of publication not identified]: Jacqueline Ramsden, 2022.

ASIN: B0B3271DNL | $3.99 USD | 298 pages | Contemporary Romance

Blurb

What happens when you meet the one person you can’t live without–right as she’s leaving?


Tilly Fenchurch never saw any reason to leave Vermont. Living in the town where she grew up, working at her moms’ family business, and never traveling far, she tells herself she’s happy–at least until she’s pulled, quite literally, into Frankie’s world.

Frankie Holt is excited. She’s just applied for her dream job in LA and she can’t wait to leave small-town Vermont behind. That is, until she grabs a random stranger in a celebratory hug and meets someone unforgettable.

A plan to reunite their estranged friends brings them closer together, and before long, it’s hard to imagine life without each other. With Tilly convinced she’s straight, Frankie attempts to fight her growing crush, while Tilly is left questioning everything she ever thought she knew about herself, her sexuality, and her life.

Will Frankie and Tilly figure out their feelings in time, or will three thousand miles tear them apart?

The Other Side of Leaving is an 80k toaster-oven, friends-to-lovers slow burn. Content warnings for anxiety and depression, on-page sex, and some angst.

Review

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the author via BookSprout and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Jacqueline Ramsden is slowly becoming a new favorite of mine from the indie queer romance writing scene, and The Other Side of Leaving is a perfect example as to why. It’s sweet and heartwarming, with a bit of angst (but not an overwhelming amount), and I really feel emotionally invested in the characters. And the fact that this one is a friends-to-lovers story absolutely helped matters. 

I love the interplay between Tilly and Frankie. They’re opposites in what they perceive as their life goals and desires, which is one element of the conflict. Tilly also goes on a journey of figuring out her sexuality which really spoke to me, as someone who’s only come to some catharsis about it as an adult…and still isn’t 100% sure. Not to mention reckoning with anxiety…Tilly really is my soul sister. Meanwhile, Frankie is usually very carefree and open, but I really appreciate how her growing feelings for Tilly complicated that. I love how these two played off and influenced each other, and while it took a while for them to figure themselves and each other out, it ultimately came together beautifully. 

This is a wonderful read, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a sweet, heartfelt sapphic contemporary romance.

Author Bio 

Jacqueline (she/they) is a genderqueer, demisexual writer. She spent most of her childhood with her head in a book and is a massive romantic, so it made sense to start writing queer happily ever afters.

They enjoy books, tea, and swooning over their girlfriend. If you would like to see that in action, you can follow them on Twitter.

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“Beauty and the Besharam” by Lillie Vale (Review)

Vale, Lillie. Beauty and the Besharam. New York: Viking, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0593350874 | $17.99 USD | 390 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

Seventeen-year-old, high-achieving Kavya Joshi has always been told she’s a little too ambitious, a little too mouthy, and overall just a little too much. In one word: besharam.

So, when her nemesis, Ian Jun, witnesses Kavya’s very public breakup with her loser boyfriend on the last day of junior year, she decides to lay low and spend the summer doing what she loves best–working part time playing princess roles for childrens’ birthday parties. But her plan is shot when she’s cast as Ariel instead of her beloved Belle, and learns that Ian will be her Prince Eric for the summer. [Cue the combative banter.]

Exhausted by Kavya and Ian’s years-long feud, their friends hatch a plan to end their rivalry by convincing them to participate in a series of challenges throughout the summer. Kavya is only too eager to finally be declared the winner. But as the competition heats up, so too does the romantic tension, until it escalates from a simmer to a full-on burn.

Review 

4 stars 

Beauty and the Besharam is a fun homage to Beauty and the Beast, with a heroine who is a messy embodiment of both Beauty and Beast. Kavya is bookish and intelligent, and aspires to be Belle in her part time job as a Princess character dressing up for kids…to no avail. However, she’s also often considered to be “too much” by many around her, although unlike the Beast, it’s not so much that she needs to be tamed, but that there’s still room for her to grow, with her quirks intact. With the “besharam” term meaning “shameless” in Hindi, I appreciate the commentary of what is often expected of Indian women vs. who Kavya is, and really allowing her to embrace that. 

Ian is a really sweet guy, and while Kavya’s initial perspective of him is as an annoyance, he quickly becomes incredibly endearing. They’re so adorable together, and I love how he’s just incredibly loyal, defending her against others who are against her. 

I did feel at times that this book was a bit long. The second half in particular could have been condensed and/or given a narrower focus. There were some elements that were mentioned, but not explored extensively, like Ian and Kayva’s childhood friendship, which I wish had been given more attention, but weren’t. 

I really liked this book, and given I had mixed feelings about Lillie Vale’s adult debut, I’m glad that was likely  a fluke. If you enjoy YA contemporary romances, I recommend picking this one up. 

Author Bio

Lillie Vale is the author of books for both teens and adults, including The Decoy Girlfriend, Beauty and the Besharam, The Shaadi Set-Up and Small Town Hearts, an American Library Association’s 2020 Rainbow Books List selection. She writes about secrets and yearning, complicated and ambitious girls who know what they want, the places we call home and people we find our way back to, and the magic we make. Born in Mumbai, she grew up in Mississippi, Texas, and North Dakota, and now lives in an Indiana college town. Find her on Twitter @LillieLabyrinth and Instagram @labyrinthspine, or visit her website lillielabyrinth.com.

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“Once Upon a K-Prom” by Kat Cho (Review)

Cho, Kat. Once Upon a K-Prom. Los Angeles: Hyperion, 2022.

ISBN-13: 1368064644 | $18.99 USD | 329 pages | YA Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

What would you do if the world’s biggest K-pop star asked you to prom? Perfect for fans of Jenny Han and Sandhya Menon, this hilarious and heartfelt novel brings the glamour and drama of the K-pop world straight to high school. 

Elena Soo has always felt overshadowed. Whether by her more successful older sisters, her more popular twin brother, or her more outgoing best friend, everyone except Elena seems to know exactly who they are and what they want. But she is certain about one thing – she has no interest in going to prom. While the rest of the school is giddy over corsages and dresses, Elena would rather spend her time working to save the local community center, the one place that’s always made her feel like she belonged. 

So when international K-pop superstar Robbie Choi shows up at her house to ask her to prom, Elena is more confused than ever. Because the one person who always accepted Elena as she is? Her childhood best friend, Robbie Choi. And the one thing she maybe, possibly, secretly wants more than anything? For the two of them to keep the promise they made each other as kids: to go to prom together. But that was seven years ago, and with this new K-pop persona, pink hair, and stylish clothes, Robbie is nothing like the sweet, goofy boy she remembers. The boy she shared all her secrets with. The boy she used to love.

Besides, prom with a guy who comes with hordes of screaming fans, online haters, and relentless paparazzi is the last thing Elena wants – even if she can’t stop thinking about Robbie’s smile…right?

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley. Review based on final copy. All opinions are my own.

Once Upon a K-Prom is such a fun book. While I’m more of a fringe fan of K-Pop, I’ve been loving all these books showing the genre love lately, and this one is no different. There’s a cute romance, but it also looks at the complexities of the industry from a neutral perspective, due to a girl seeing how it has impacted her friend, with occasional insights into his head. 

It’s also interesting to read this in light of news of BTS’ hiatus, given WDB is meant to be a stand-in for them, with many of the other acts mentioned being real to capture the atmosphere. But it’s a fascinating critique of the pressures these entertainment companies put their artists under, from the rigorous training to the scheduling to dating. The rule about when they’re allowed to date is also brought up as a minor subplot, illustrating how these companies commodify them. 

I really liked Elena as a lead. She has a complex life independent of her friendship/possible romance with Robbie. She’s dealing with a lack of sense of who she is and always being compared to her more successful siblings, especially her twin brother, Ethan. I love her journey of coming to realize she is valued and having more confidence in herself. 

This parallels really well with Robbie, as he worries about his ideas being rejected by the company. It’s through him we get more insight into his relationships both with the company and his bandmates, and I love how there’s a juxtaposition of the support (tinged with playfulness) among the boys to counteract the corporate toxicity.

I really liked how they rediscovered their bond along the way, with Elena getting over her hurt at the way she felt about him leaving and seemingly changing, and reckoning with what it would mean to be together now. 

This is a cute book, and the comparisons to Axie Oh, whose XOXO I also really enjoyed, are completely justified. If you enjoyed that book of any of the other recent crop of similar K-Pop inspired titles, or enjoy K-Pop music, I think you’ll enjoy this one. 

Author Bio

Kat Cho is the New York Times and international bestselling author of the Gumiho duology and Once Upon a K-Prom. She loves to incorporate her Korean heritage in her writing, especially if it involves describing food. She likes anything that encourages nerding out, including reading, K-dramas, K-pop and anime.

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“American Royalty” by Tracey Livesay (Review)

Livesay, Tracey. American Royalty. New York: Avon, 2022.

ISBN-13: 978-0063084506 | $15.99 USD | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance 

Blurb

In this dangerously sexy rom-com that evokes the real-life romance between Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan Markle, a prince who wants to live out of the spotlight falls for a daring American rapper who turns his life, and the palace, upside down.

Sexy, driven rapper Danielle “Duchess” Nelson is on the verge of signing a deal that’ll make her one of the richest women in hip hop. More importantly, it’ll grant her control over her life, something she’s craved for years. But an incident with a rising pop star has gone viral, unfairly putting her deal in jeopardy. Concerned about her image, she’s instructed to work on generating some positive publicity… or else.

A brilliant professor and reclusive royal, Prince Jameson prefers life out of the spotlight, only leaving his ivory tower to attend weddings or funerals. But with the Queen’s children involved in one scandal after another, and Parliament questioning the viability of the monarchy, the Queen is desperate. In a quest for good press, she puts Jameson in charge of a tribute concert in her late husband’s honor. Out of his depth, and resentful of being called to service, he takes the advice of a student. After all, what’s more appropriate for a royal concert than a performer named “Duchess”?

Too late, Jameson discovers the American rapper is popular, sexy, raunchy and not what the Queen wanted, although he’s having an entirely different reaction. Dani knows this is the good exposure she needs to cement her deal and it doesn’t hurt that the royal running things is fine as hell. Thrown together, they give in to the explosive attraction flaring between them. But as the glare of the limelight intensifies and outside forces try to interfere, will the Prince and Duchess be a fairy tale romance for the ages or a disaster of palatial proportions?

Review 

4 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own. 

Avon has been killing it with their illustrated covers lately. Say what you want about the trend as a whole, but between this cover, Olivia Dade’s, and Alexis Daria’s, they’ve shown there are certain styles that still scream “Romance!” 

So, basically, I was sold on American Royalty before even knowing what it was about. But as a reformed Royal watcher-turned-Harry/Meghan supporter, I just ate this premise up. I did have some reservations, because some habits in that regard do indeed die hard (and I still have lingering resentment over how the British Royals were caricatured while barely being fictionalized in RWRB), but Tracey Livesay managed to make it work for me. 

Royal Family drama is as central to the fictional narrative as it is in the real one, but aside from a few broad parallels, they’re clearly fictional. I appreciate the way the alt-history of the fictional Queen and current royals is briefly dropped into the beginning, describing where the timeline diverged from our own as well as the myriad scandals the family have gotten entangled in. None are particularly sympathetic (except Jameson’s mother Calanthe who really comes through at the end), but there’s a sense of their relationship with the press, as well as the complex feelings each feels about being a royal. 

Jameson is pretty interesting. I like how he has forged his own path, stepping out on his own as a professor of philosophy. Despite this being a contemporary, he very much evokes a historical romance hero archetype of an heir (albeit only to a royal dukedom, as he’s farther down in the royal succession itself) who is determined to avoid his licentious father’s mistakes. I also did like the touch of irony that while his parents’ marriage doesn’t resemble Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s in other respects, there’s a sense of poetic justice with his father having died tragically in an accident while off with his mistress. 

Dani is wonderful, and I love her passion and drive for her career. She’s incredibly easy to like, with enough attitude to shake up Jameson’s life…and the conventional Palace protocols. 

The romance grew on me over time. Jameson definitely comes off as a bit of a jerk at first, which seemed off-putting to me, and he also was very much led by his lust, which didn’t exactly help. But she’s obviously no shrinking violet, and I like that she challenges him to get out of his comfort zone even more than he did before. And the way they bonded over losing their parents was also really touching. 

The one minus is that I really wish there had been a little more development to who everyone in the family was and how they fit in beyond the superficial, especially their ages. At one point there’s a reference that vaguely suggests how long the Queen has been on the throne, but there’s no indication of how old her children are. Jameson is her grandson, and his father was a younger son, but the others, especially Julian, the Prince of Wales, are written as if they’re roughly the same age. And with the end setting up a scandalous affair  between Julian and American pop star Samantha Banks, Dani’s rival, I’d like that to be more clear. 

This book is a lot of fun, and super sexy. If you love royal romance and a Harry and Meghan-like love story, I recommend keeping an eye out for this one! 

Author Bio

A former criminal defense attorney, Tracey Livesay finds crafting believable happily ever afters slightly more challenging than protecting our constitutional rights, but she’s never regretted following her heart instead of her law degree. She’s been featured in Entertainment Weekly, the Washington Post, and CBS This Morning. Tracey lives in Virginia with her husband—who she met on the very first day of law school—and their three children.

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