Books With Romances I Can Get Behind

If you’re seeing this the day I post it, it’s Valentine’s Day and while I don’t normally care much about this corporate holiday, it does make for a good excuse for me to talk about romance. Now, I don’t usually care about romance in my media. In fact, I often actively avoid it but there are instances where I not only have the patience for it but I also LOVE it. I want to use this day of corporate love to talk about five books with romances I can get behind.

First, I want to talk about a book that comes out next month and that I have a dedicated review scheduled for – Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert. This is the final book in the Brown Sisters trilogy but you can read them in any order. This is a romance so my enjoyment of the book really hinges on my enjoyment of the romance and while I like all the books in this trilogy, Eve Brown is definitely my favorite. I have a lot I could say about Eve herself but I’ll save that for my full review. What I want to talk about here is the perfect grumpy/sunshine (or annoyed – to – lovers) trope with two thoughtful people with wonderful banter that made me smile the entire time. Eve and Jacob really couldn’t be more opposite in manner but Hibbert made it work and I was rooting for them the whole time.

Not to completely change gears but my next recommendation is a YA contemporary romance called The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar. This soft romance between two girls, Nishat and Flavia. They develop a rivalry during a school competition all while Nishat is fighting her feelings Flavia. Their interactions balance that romantic tension and rivalry tension well and make for an intriguing story. The scenes with both girls alone are really heartwarming as they talk through serious issues such as homophobia and cultural appropriation. The whole time I was just hoping for them to be happy.

Next, I want to talk about a historical fiction called Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I know this is a film starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon but I’ve never seen it. I did, though, pick up this book early in 2020 and immediately found myself wrapped up in Jacob and Marlena’s story. They met at a circus which I think makes for an interesting backdrop for a romance. Marlena is married to a horribly abusive man and works together with Jacob to train an elephant named Rosie; of course, they fall in love. Readers get this story from Jacob as an old man reflecting on his life and that frame narrative really makes it an interesting story.

Speaking of frame narratives, I can’t not mention Atonement by Ian McEwan. I’ll start by saying that this book is heartbreaking. Robbie and Cecilia are in love but ripped apart by a false accusation and the second World War. There are a lot of other things going on in this story but the tragedy surrounding Robbie and Cecilia is something I think about all the time (I like sad books) and I kept wishing they could be back together again and waiting for that opportunity for them. I don’t want to say anything more because so much of the appeal comes from the ending but if you know, then you know.

I struggled for a fifth book. I really did. But I’m going to talk about a book everyone is probably tired of seeing and that’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab. While I’m a HUGE Luc fan (don’t come for me), I did really feel emotional at some points in Henry and Addie’s relationship. Addie just wants to be loved and that isn’t really possible when no one can remember her. Addie’s inner monologue at the end of her first date with Henry had me one emotional bitch and I DID NOT see that coming for me. I really liked how the circumstances of their lives worked together and had to be navigated in order for them to work as a couple. Additionally, I really liked the tension in the scenes with Addie and Luc. I know they’re not really the focus but there was *something* there and it was a good time for me.

I like tragic romances and soft romances and basically, romances that make me feel things so do you have any recommendations? How did you feel about these, if you’ve read them? Let me know!

2021 Anticipated Releases

Even though I’m on a sort of book-buying ban this year, there are still some upcoming releases I’m really excited about and want to get from my library this year before deciding if I want to add them to my collection. Some are standalones. Some are continuations of series I love. I’ve narrowed it down to ten for this particular blog post and I hope you’ll add some to your TBR as well!

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Release Date: March 2, 2021

Genre: Adult Science Fiction

Pages: 304

Goodreads Synopsis

Klara and the Sun is a magnificent new novel from the Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro–author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day.

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

In its award citation in 2017, the Nobel committee described Ishiguro’s books as “novels of great emotional force” and said he has “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.”

Why I’m Interested

Sam? Excited for science fiction? I know. I’m also shocked but last year I read Never Let Me Go by Ishiguro and it was a light sci-fi book so when I saw that he is releasing another sci-fi this year, I figured I’d check it out. I want to like sci-fi but I find that it’s a pretty hit or miss genre for me but since I’ve liked sci-fi from this author before and I generally enjoy his writing, I figure this might be a good bet for me to enjoy.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert

Release Date: March 9, 2021

Genre: Adult Contemporary Romance

Pages: 400

Goodreads Synopsis

In Act Your Age, Eve Brown the flightiest Brown sister crashes into the life of an uptight B&B owner and has him falling hard—literally.

Eve Brown is a certified hot mess. No matter how hard she strives to do right, her life always goes horribly wrong—so she’s given up trying. But when her personal brand of chaos ruins an expensive wedding (someone had to liberate those poor doves), her parents draw the line. It’s time for Eve to grow up and prove herself—even though she’s not entirely sure how…

Jacob Wayne is in control. Always. The bed and breakfast owner’s on a mission to dominate the hospitality industry—and he expects nothing less than perfection. So when a purple-haired tornado of a woman turns up out of the blue to interview for his open chef position, he tells her the brutal truth: not a chance in hell. Then she hits him with her car—supposedly by accident. Yeah, right.

Now his arm is broken, his B&B is understaffed, and the dangerously unpredictable Eve is fluttering around, trying to help. Before long, she’s infiltrated his work, his kitchen—and his spare bedroom. Jacob hates everything about it. Or rather, he should. Sunny, chaotic Eve is his natural-born nemesis, but the longer these two enemies spend in close quarters, the more their animosity turns into something else. Like Eve, the heat between them is impossible to ignore—and it’s melting Jacob’s frosty exterior.

Why I’m Interested

While this is part of a series, you can read them in any order. I’ve read the first two already and loved them so much. I think the sisters are all interesting and funny and the romances are always steamy and fun to read about. Eve shows up as a side character in the other books in the series and she seems so much fun and I can’t wait to learn more about her.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar

Release Date: May 25, 2021

Genre: YA Contemporary Romance

Pages: 352

Goodreads Synopsis

Everyone likes Humaira “Hani” Khan—she’s easy going and one of the most popular girls at school. But when she comes out to her friends as bisexual, they invalidate her identity, saying she can’t be bi if she’s only dated guys. Panicked, Hani blurts out that she’s in a relationship…with a girl her friends absolutely hate—Ishita “Ishu” Dey. Ishu is the complete opposite of Hani. She’s an academic overachiever who hopes that becoming head girl will set her on the right track for college. But Ishita agrees to help Hani, if Hani will help her become more popular so that she stands a chance of being elected head girl.

Despite their mutually beneficial pact, they start developing real feelings for each other. But relationships are complicated, and some people will do anything to stop two Bengali girls from achieving happily ever after. 

Why I’m Interested

I might break my book-buying ban for this one. I read The Henna Wars by this author in 2020 and thought it was so soft and cute and a good time and when I saw the cover for this one, I knew I had to have it. I also definitely relate to Hani’s situation in the synopsis. I won’t go into it a ton but I’ve never really talked about my own sexuality because I didn’t feel valid. I think this book will really speak to that experience while still being a lot of fun.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Release Date: June 1, 2021

Genre: Historical Fantasy Retelling

Pages:272

Goodreads Synopsis

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Nghi Vo’s debut novel The Chosen and the Beautiful reinvents this classic of the American canon as a coming-of-age story full of magic, mystery, and glittering excess, and introduces a major new literary voice.

Why I’m Interested

The Great Gatsby is one of my favorite books of all time. Now that it’s entered the public domain, it’s time to see some interesting retellings based on it. This particular one really excites me because of the fantasy twist and the fact that Jordan is queer and Vietnamese. I think adding that into a 1920’s setting will provide a chance for some social commentary surrounding America during this time.

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Release Date: June 1, 2021

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Thriller

Pages: 432

Goodreads Synopsis

An incendiary and utterly compelling thriller with a shocking twist that delves deep into the heart of institutionalized racism, from an exceptional new YA voice. Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light. Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power. Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game…

Why I’m Interested

This book was pitched as Gossip Girl meets Get Out and I don’t think I needed anything else to get excited about this book. Dark academia as a genre is an incredibly white genre and getting to see Black characters represented in this genre is so refreshing and exciting. I also am interested in the social commentary about institutionalized racism is mentioned in the synopsis. That being brought up in a privileged academic setting is something that needs more attention. I am always interested in social commentary in fiction and this looks like exactly what I want right now.

A Chorus Rises by Bethany C. Morrow

Release Date: July 1, 2021

Genre: YA Fantasy

Pages: 272

Since this is the second book in a series, I’m going to link you to the synopsis to both the first book, and this one.

Why I’m Interested

I really loved A Song Below Water last year. Morrow just drops you in this world that looks a lot like our world and slowly reveals that it’s not quite like the world we live in. There are gargoyles and sirens and other creatures and provides a way to give commentary on the way people often don’t listen to Black women. I’m so excited to carry on with this series and see what else happens in this world.

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

Release Date: June 29, 2021

Genre: Adult Suspense and Thriller

Pages: 336

Goodreads Synopsis

It’s November 1991. George H. W. Bush is in the White House, Nirvana’s in the tape deck, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father. Or so he says. Like the Hitchcock heroine she’s named after, Charlie has her doubts. There’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t seem to want Charlie to see inside the car’s trunk. As they travel an empty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly worried Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s suspicion merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

What follows is a game of cat-and-mouse played out on night-shrouded roads and in neon-lit parking lots, during an age when the only call for help can be made on a pay phone and in a place where there’s nowhere to run. In order to win, Charlie must do one thing—survive the night.

Why I’m Interested

If you saw my auto-buy authors post, then this won’t be a surprise but I think Riley Sager’s books are just a fun time. This one takes place in the 90s and that paired with the claustrophobic setting of being trapped in a car with a killer is really exciting to me. I don’t have much else to say about this one. I just really want to pick it up.

Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson

Release Date: July 6, 2021

Genre: YA Contemporary

Pages: 336

Goodreads Synopsis

A stunning novel about being brave enough to be true to yourself, and learning to find joy even when times are unimaginably dark.

Three days. Two girls. One life-changing music festival.

Toni is grieving the loss of her roadie father and needing to figure out where her life will go from here — and she’s desperate to get back to loving music. Olivia is a hopeless romantic whose heart has just taken a beating (again) and is beginning to feel like she’ll always be a square peg in a round hole — but the Farmland Music and Arts Festival is a chance to find a place where she fits.

The two collide and it feels like something like kismet when a bond begins to form. But when something goes wrong and the festival is sent into a panic, Olivia and Toni will find that they need each other (and music) more than they ever imagined.

Why I’m Interested

I miss concerts and music festivals SO MUCH. When I found out this book takes place at a music festival, I was immediately so excited to pick this up and live vicariously through these girls. Also, there’s romance and we love that! Also also, look at the cover!!

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

Release Date: August 31, 2021

Genre: Adult Horror

Pages: 416

Goodreads Synopsis

In her quickly gentrifying rural lake town Jade sees recent events only her encyclopedic knowledge of horror films could have prepared her for in this latest novel from the Jordan Peele of horror literature, Stephen Graham Jones.

Jade feels like she’s trapped in a slasher film as tourists go missing and the tension between her community and the celebrity newcomers to the Indian Lake shore heads towards a tipping point, when she feels the killer will rise. Jade watches as the small town she knows and loves begins to head towards catastrophe as yachts compete with canoes and the celebrity rich change the landscape of what was designated park lands to develop what they call Terra Nova.

This new novel from the acclaimed author of The Only Good Indians and “literary master” (Tananarive Due, author of The Good House) Stephen Graham Jones, is a must-read, exploring the changing landscape of the West through his particular voice of sharp humor and prophetic violence that will have you cheering for the American heroine we need.

Why I’m interested

I have a few other books by Stephen Graham Jones on my e-reader but haven’t got to them yet. That’s not going to stop me from being excited about this release. I hope to pick up some of his other books this fall and I hope this isn’t any exception. I love horror in general whether it’s films or books and I really want to get into Jones’ work especially because the horror, mystery, and thriller genres are overwhelmingly white.

White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson

Release Date: September 14, 2021

Genre: YA Suspense and Thriller

Pages: 384

Goodreads Synopsis

Smoke, pitched as Get Out meets The Haunting of Hill House, is about a girl and her blended family who move into a newly renovated, picture-perfect home in a dilapidated Midwestern city and are haunted by what she thinks are ghosts, but might be far worse

Why I’m Interested

This book doesn’t have a cover yet but I’m still SO excited. In my auto-buy authors post, I talked about my love for Tiffany D. Jackson and when I came across this on Goodreads, I knew I had to read it. In addition to my love for Jackson’s hard-hitting stories, I also love books that border on horror and thriller and I think this book will do exactly that.

Okay, that was a lot. There are other books I’m looking forward to but I wanted to keep it to ten. Which of these are you excited for? What other 2021 releases are you looking forward to? Come chat with me!

Auto-buy Authors

I think that before 2020 the concept of an auto-buy author wasn’t one I ever felt would apply to me. I had authors I would read the synopsis for and follow what they were releasing but I just didn’t have authors that came to mind when someone mentioned an auto-buy author. I think I have three now so I just want to talk about them and why I love them so much (if I can articulate it). Since there are only three, this will be a short one so I hope you enjoy!

The first author I want to talk about is Riley Sager. This pick is the one I probably feel the last strongly about but I have been excited about and enjoyed all four of his novels so far. He writes mystery/thrillers and my favorite is either Home Before Dark or The Last Time I Lied. I think, for the most part, his books get better and better with each release. He has one coming out later this year called Survive the Night about a girl who gets a ride with a serial killer. I’m really excited to read it this year.

The next author I want to talk about is N. K. Jemisin. I’ve only read The Fifth Season and at the time of writing this, two-thirds of The Obelisk Gate but I just know. The Fifth Season blew me away. I was shocked and I loved everything about it. I talk more about it here in my favorites of 2020 but it’s amazing (please read it). Seventy-five pages into The Obelisk Gate and I was sold. The way N. K. Jemisin drops major reveals like it’s nothing shocks and excites me every time. N. K. Jemisin has reignited my interest in fantasy and that means so much to me. I stopped really reading fantasy in undergrad and just couldn’t get back into it but someone bought me The Fifth Season from my wishlist and I tried it and was blown away. I am definitely interested in picking up her backlog and am prioritizing The Dreamblood Duology and The Inheritance Trilogy next. I’m so thankful for N. K. Jemisin for reigniting my love for fantasy and if you have any suggestions that have a similar vibe, I would definitely appreciate them.

The last author I want to talk about can just have all of my money. And that’s Tiffany D. Jackson. The first book I read by her was Monday’s Not Coming. I read it over a couple of days and finished it at 5:00 in the morning and just had to stare at the wall. I also talk about it in my favorites of 2020 so you read more about it there. The second book I read this year was Tiffany D. Jackson’s newest book, Grown. I never read a book in one day but this one really did it for me. The stakes are high all the time and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Like with N. K. Jemisin, I want to go through Jackson’s backlog and read everything I possibly can. From what I know, Jackson only writes YA and it surprised me that I love her work so much since I usually like YA fine, but it doesn’t always floor and excite me the way Jackson does.

And those are the only authors I feel deserve the “auto-buy” title for me! Do you have any authors you’ll buy from no matter what they write?

Austen-Adjacent: Austen Adaptations, Retellings, and Other Related Media

I don’t *love* many classics, but I do love Jane Austen. I didn’t read anything by her until I was in my mid-twenties. I started with Sense and Sensibility and I wasn’t really a fan, but I wasn’t going to give up on her. I continued by reading Pride and Prejudice and Emma and I was SOLD. Emma is one of my favorite books of all time and I think about it constantly. 

But that’s not exactly what this post is about.

Today I want to talk about Austen adaptations or Austen-adjacent content because I’m fairly new to the world of Austen-related things but there are a few that I really enjoy and I want to share three of them today. I was partially inspired by Sofia at Bookish Wanderness and her post “Ranking Jane Austen Screen Adaptations” so please go check out her blog!

The retelling that Sophia mentioned that inspired this post is Bride and Prejudice. Clearly a Pride and Prejudice retelling, this Bollywood film follows Lalita as she meets several suitors including the American Mr. Darcy. This movie made me laugh so much! I liked seeing the ways they modernized the original Austen text and the musical numbers were so extravagant and fun. Also, for fans of the TV series Lost, it was fun to see Naveen Andrews as Charles Bingley.

Another Pride and Prejudice retelling I enjoyed is Longbourn by Jo Baker. This story takes place during the same timeline as Pride and Prejudice but follows the servants who work for the Bennets. I know some people don’t like seeing a different side of the Bennets, but I think Baker does some interesting work in showing all of the things that have to be done so that the Bennets can remain in relative comfort. Baker does not shy away from the sometimes disgusting reality of the work Sarah and the other servants have to do. I also appreciated (and wrote a lengthy paper about) the difference in the way Austen and Baker portray the soldiers. Showing the “behind-the scenes” of classics can be a way of making people aware of what had to happen in order for things to be the way they are. I won’t talk about this adaptation here but the 1999 Mansfield Park film does a good job of this, as well. 

The last thing I want to talk about is not based on Pride and Prejudice and is not a retelling. It’s a science-fiction story about time travelers who want to recover one of Austen’s missing text and, potentially, save her life – The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn. I was a little skeptical about this book because I am not a sci-fi girl but I did enjoy the historical references to Jane Austen’s personal life and the romance. I don’t want to say a ton about one particular element I enjoyed, because spoilers, BUT the main character, Rachel, is Jewish and that plays an interesting role in the story. It’s been a little while since I read this and I would love to pick it up again when my physical TBR is a bit more manageable but I do have positive memories when I think back on my initial reading experience.

I have definitely read and watched other Austen adaptations that I would like to talk about here so if you want to hear about those in the future, let me know! Also, do you have any Austen-adjacent or Austen retellings/adaptations you particularly enjoy? I need more!!

Books I Read for School and Actually Enjoyed

I finished my Master’s in English this past May, and it’s surprising to some who know me, but it is most surprising to me. I have always hated school. From kindergarten, I would try and get out of school as much as humanly possible, and that didn’t stop until my last two years of undergrad. I’m talking I almost failed my senior year of high school because of absences. I just couldn’t be bothered to do anything more than the bare minimum the entire time. Yes, even for my English classes where I had to read. 

It wasn’t until I switched to being an English major and depression and anxiety diagnoses in my last two years of undergrad that I started caring about school. This new excitement for school and English carried me through my MA degree. During that time, I got the chance to read some really cool books, and I thought it would be fun to share six of these books with you in no particular order.

The first book I have on this list is Sula by Toni Morrison. This book follows childhood friends Nel and Sula. As they grew up, the women took vastly different paths in life, and when they reunite, they can see the consequences of their choices. Of course, Morrison’s writing is fantastic, but what really makes this book stand out is that it is centered around the two women. The men in their lives aren’t as much the focus as their friendship is, which is refreshing to see. It doesn’t often seem that we see women and how they are outside of their relationships with men. I know I’ve seen quite a few people picking up Beloved and The Bluest Eye lately, but if you haven’t considered Sula, please do!

Second, I want to talk about Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work by Edwidge Danticat. This is a non-fiction collection of essays about immigrant artists continuing to create even when their worlds are in crisis. Danticat is Haitian-American and writes about other Haitian artists and writers. She discusses the importance of continuing to create for those who might need art from their specific point of view. Since this is a collection of essays and they all deal with different topics, I just want to leave you with a quote and hope it’s enough to get you to pick up this beautiful work. 

“Create dangerously, for people who read dangerously. This is what I’ve always thought it meant to be a writer. Writing, knowing in part that no matter how trivial your words may seem, someday, somewhere, someone may risk his or her life to read them.”

Edwidge Danticat

You might know Sandra Cisneros from The House on Mango Street, but I beg you to pick up Caramelo if you get the chance. This is the story of “Lala” Reyes and her summer trips to visit her Awful Grandmother in Mexico City. Lala then begins to tell her grandmother’s story and thus begins a story that goes back generations. This book is on the longer side, but it’s definitely worth it. I’ve talked about my love for unique story structure, and in Caramelo, Cisneros gives us the story in an almost circuitous way that is tied to culture and asks readers who aren’t used to this style of storytelling to pay attention and come along. I also really enjoy books that follow someone’s entire life or multiple generations, and Caramelo definitely delivers.

Emma, The Dog

There’s one classic on this list and, of course, it’s Emma. I’ve read this book a few times, and I just love Emma. I named my dog after her because, like Emma Woodhouse, Emma the Dog is obnoxious and hilarious. This story follows Emma Woodhouse, who thinks she’s really great at matchmaking. She is not. I love watching all of the drama and hilarity unfold. It’s one of the original rom-coms, and I’m here for it. I totally suggest watching Clueless after finishing the book. 

I don’t think I’ve shut up about Fun Home by Alison Bechdel since I read it, and I’m not even a little sorry. This is a graphic memoir that details Bechdel’s childhood and the less-than-perfect relationship she has with her father. I know some people think graphic novels go by too fast, and there’s not much to them, but that’s definitely not true for Fun Home. There is just as much to analyze in the artwork as there is in the actual text. There are also literary references throughout which add to the story. Still, you can definitely get a lot from Bechdel without knowing every single reference. The professor that taught Fun Home also had us listen to several songs from the musical. “Ring of Keys” and “Telephone Wire” get me every time. I’m not going to stop talking about and thinking about Fun Home for a really long time.

The last book I want to talk about is Queer: A Graphic History. This graphic novel is not the only and final word when it comes to queer theory, but it is a place to start. It covers a variety of topics, including sexuality as a spectrum and identity politics. The images are really helpful when it comes to recalling different concepts and making connections to other texts and media we were looking at. I think it is an interesting way to deliver complex information. I appreciated having it as a supplement while just starting to learn about different theorists. 

There are definitely other books I enjoyed reading while I was in school, but I thought I’d start with a selection from my last two years of school. Hopefully, this was enjoyable, and I’d appreciate talking with you guys in the comments. What books did you read in school that you really enjoyed?