Review: The Spanish Love Deception by Elena Armas

Alexis:

I don’t usually read romance books, but I’ve had so much intense reading for class lately that I needed a fun book to read as a distraction!

The Spanish Love Deception follows Catalina, a Spanish woman living in NYC. Her sister is getting married back home in Spain, and Lina promised to bring her boyfriend as her date to the wedding. The only problem: she doesn’t have a boyfriend. But her coworker, Aaron, convinces her to take him along, and pretend to be her boyfriend.

What I liked:

The dialogue was fun, snappy, and playful. Lina and Aaron are foils to each other in many ways; Lina is loud and talkative, and Aaron is serious and quiet. Their relationship is fun to read about, and I enjoyed the dynamic between them, as well as Lina’s dynamic with her family.

The romance takes a while to happen (definitely a slow burn) but it was written well (it does get steamy!)

What I didn’t like:

The book went on a little long. I definitely think 100-200 pages could’ve easily been condensed or cut out. Because of this, the writing, including Lina’s internal narrative, often feels repetitive. We see Aaron’s description literally every chapter; I got a little tired of reading about his blue/ocean eyes and huge/bulky physique.

That being said, if you’re looking for a fun romance, specifically enemies to lovers, an office romance, and the fake dating trope, consider picking this one up.

VERDICT: ⭐⭐⭐

Review: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Alexis: While I didn’t enjoy The Little Paris Bookshop as much as The Book of Dreams by Nina George, I still really enjoyed reading it!

Summary: In Paris, a fifty-year-old man named Monsieur Perdu runs a bookstore on a barge, which floats on the Seine. He calls it the Literary Apothecary, because he treats books as medicines to cure people of their broken hearts. But Perdu is harboring twenty years of heartache, after the love of his life left him without any explanation, except for a letter, which Perdu hasn’t been able to bear to even read. Until one day, when he finally reads the letter, and decides to finally start living his life.

What I liked: I loved Perdu’s journey. While he physically journeys down the Seine in his bookshop, he emotionally breaks out of the depressed funk that he’s been stuck in for twenty years. His character arc was perfect.

I enjoyed George’s lyrical writing style, and how the book veers towards magical realism in some parts. For example, Perdu is always able to somehow read his customers and understand what book they need. 

The overall bookish feel of this book was wonderful, and you can really feel George’s love of books seep into Perdu’s character. 

The secondary characters are vibrant and oftentimes outlandish. I enjoyed reading about Perdu meeting them and finally creating connections with people after all his years of loneliness.

What I didn’t like: I really wasn’t a fan of Manon’s character. Her diary entries gave me a good glimpse into her character, and I figured out early on that I didn’t like her. She just seemed so immature and erratic, and sometimes the way she talked about Jean felt too manipulative. What I did enjoy about her diary entries were her descriptions of Jean, because it showed what Jean was like when he was young.

Overall, I loved reading about Perdu’s journey. This book is about love lost and love found, finding yourself, and the power of books. 

VERDICT: 4 starsZ

Review: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Anna: This book calls for red lipstick and a glass of red wine!

I rarely read romance novels, but bookstagram made me do it! I heard so many good things about The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.

I enjoyed this book and found it very addictive, and I read it in a span of two days. I enjoyed the representation in this book in the central asian characters and a protagonist who works in STEM and is on thee spectrum. I certainly think that Helen Hoang is doing good things for the genre. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a protagonist on the spectrum, and I feel like I learned a lot from Stella.

I found this a fast-paced and enjoyable read, however it included many tropes overused in the romance genre. For example, the descriptions of Michael’s hotness and body were excessive, and his hot-headed jealousy and possessiveness of Stella were exhausting. More than once, I was sensing Edward Cullen vibes. 

The entire premise in which Stella pays for a practice boyfriend is ridiculous, even if it makes a little more sense because she’s on the spectrum and needs guidance in social situations. The reason Michael needs to escort in the first place, which is revealed a little later in the book, feels super convenient and hastily thought out.

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Overall, this was a fun, light read, but I’m never going to be a fan of romance!

Review: The Book of Dreams by Nina George

Alexis:

The Book of Dreams is a thought-provoking and profound read. It follows four different characters from three different perspectives; Henri, a man who feels he is undeserving of love, who saves a girl from drowning but gets hit by a car and slips into a coma; Sam, his teenage son, who he’s unwillingly never met; Eddie, Henri’s ex-girlfriend and the love of his life; and Madelyn, a twelve-year-old coma patient who we see through the eyes of the other characters.

Though this isn’t classified as magical realism, aspects of it feel very magical realism. The book blurs the line between dream and reality. I won’t explain it any further than that, because I feel it’s best to read this book with fresh eyes.

George explores the cyclicality of life and death, and what it means to straddle the not-so-straight line between the two. She explores love, grief, and regret. Sometimes translations don’t do a book justice, but I found that Simon Pare did a beautiful job. The writing flows really well and George’s descriptions are beautiful and unique. 

This is a very character-driven story. It focuses on the experiences, relationships, and emotions of its three main characters as they navigate life around Henri’s coma. I loved all of the characters and was interested in all of their lives.

Another aspect I love about this book is Sam’s synesthesia: he sees color for numbers, emotions, etc. I loved his character and found his synesthesia added a lot of color (ha) to the story, though I felt like it could’ve been cranked up a notch because I found it so fascinating!

I think the ending of this book is polarizing, but I thought the ending worked well for the book as a whole; George even mentions in her afterword that this book was not intended to be “market friendly.” But I found this book deep, moving, and true to itself.

If you’re looking for a beautifully written book that intensely focuses on its characters and explores the boundaries between life and death, then I highly recommend it.

VERDICT: 5 stars

Review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People by Sally Rooney is a book that one hundred percent deserves all the hype! I read Conversations with Friends last year, and it was one of my favorite books of 2018. I couldn’t wait for this one to come out, and I preordered my copy from a local independent bookstore.

Normal People lived up to all my expectations and maybe even exceeded them. Sally Rooney has such a literary talent, and I love her writing style. Her characters are unique but–dare I say it–original. Set in Ireland, this novel captures the joy, anxieties and difficulties of college life perfectly.

This follows Marianne and Connell’s relationship over many years, beginning in the Irish equivalent of high school and continuing through the end of college or university. Marianne and Connell have an intense and complicated relationship that began in secret because Connell was popular in high school and Marianne was not. This dynamic shifted when they went to university, creating an undertone of shame, jealousy, and insecurity that they must continually grapple with.

A prevailing theme in Rooney’s writing is the role that miscommunication plays in relationships. She also frequently writes about how differences in social class, the presence of mental illness, and time abroad and apart affect and change relationships. It’s difficult to describe what happens in this book, because it’s kind of about everything. I love how Rooney writes about everyday life so simply but beautifully, and I loved, loved, loved these two quirky central characters.

I cannot wait until her next book!

VERDICT: 5 books

Review: Big Stone Gap by Adriana Trigiani

This was the perfect light read as I adjusted to my new job–one that I could pick up after a long day of work before bed. A mix of Gilmore Girls and Mama Mia, I enjoyed following the adventures of Ave Maria, the “town spinster” in her mid-30s in the rural mountain town of Big Stone Gap, Virginia. After the recent passing of her mother, Ave Maria is the only Italian left. Like any other small town, everyone in Big Stone Gap know everyone else’s business. So when Ave Maria discovers some long-buried secrets about her own identity, the rest of the town is quick to find out.

Parts of this book are downright hilarious. The part when Elizabeth Taylor comes to town actually had me laughing out loud. The same goes for the dog incident and the chicken bone incident. Classic.

I love the Bookmobile, and the fact that Ave Maria loves books. I love her devotion to her town and her mother, despite their faults. I love that Ave Maria is named after a prayer. I love that, because she’s an Italian in the mountains of Virginia, no one can pronounce her name. (My name is Anna-Marie–I can relate.)

Ave Maria does get a little annoying in her stubbornness to remain single,This would have been fine if she truly didn’t want a partner, but her actions tell otherwise. Sadly, she seems more jealous and vindictive toward love more than anything else. She turns men away and insists she’s happy, only to get jealous when those men turn to other women. There are parts of her character that I like and identify with, as I mentioned above, and then there are aspects to her that get really annoying, like her inability to notice what is literally in front of her nose.

Though I enjoyed Big Stone Gap overall, there are some things I can’t get past, which I’ll call here Early 2000’s Problems. It’s kind of like when you watch Gilmore Girls or an old rom com and you’re shocked at how something that you used to regard as so wholesome is actually filled with culturally insensitive, racist, and homophobic jokes. It’s not okay, but you have to approach these things in the context of time and how far we’ve come as a society in accepting people, even since the 2000s (and Big Stone Gap takes place in the late 70s).

Also very 2000’s is Trigani’s assumption that men and women live like species from different planets. There are literally lines such as, “this is how all men are,” and likewise, “ this is how all women are,”  this just isn’t the case! Again, I think that this has to be attributed to the time period (either that, or I just haven’t read a romance in a long time). There’s also an undertone in here that men are objects to be won by women and vice versa, which presents a big problem.

Despite the outdatedness, I still did enjoy reading Big Stone Gap, and I would recommend it if you’re looking for a small town southern romance.

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

 
Now for some very specific things that really irked me (spoilers below)–

 

The fact that Jack essentially bought Ave Maria’s heart when he paid for all her Italian relatives to visit.

The fact that when the family showed up Ave Maria’s own plans were completely pushed aside.

The fact that as soon as Ave Maria cemented her love to Jack, Jack’s mom IMMEDIATELY died, because she knew Jack was in love and didn’t need her anymore.

I totally thought the best friend and band director was going to come out as gay. Maybe he still does later in the series…?

I love Pearl, except that she is the token fat smart girl who discovered makeup and it made her life better.

Review: In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

Alexis: Read 2/1/19

In the Midst of Winter is a story of grief, guilt, and love. The book focuses on three main characters: Lucia, a lecturer from Chile; Richard, a professor; and Evelyn, a caregiver from Guatemala. Half of the book is set in 2016, explaining how the three characters meet and become involved in each other’s lives, while the other half explores their complicated, and often depressing, pasts.

I adored the first half of the book, which opens on Lucia’s life in New York City during a snowstorm. It’s such a promising premise. As the reader, you are immediately thrown into the minds of Lucia and Richard, and I enjoyed reading about their contrasting personalities. I love that Lucia has a bug-eyed old Chihuahua, while Richard has four cats that he simply calls one through four in Portuguese. Though I found Evelyn’s life and story interesting, I felt like her dedicated chapters didn’t reveal her character or thoughts as well as Lucia’s and Richard’s.

As usual with Allende’s writing, I love her descriptions in this book and I think they serve the story and the characters well. I also enjoyed reading about the tumultuous histories of Chile and Guatemala, as well as Richard’s time in Brazil.

This book went in a different direction than I expected, however. The morbid reason the three characters go on a journey together works at first, but I found that it didn’t work the further I got in the story. I correctly guessed the twist towards the end. When I finished the book, I was left underwhelmed. It addresses such deep and interesting histories and emotions, yet it ends on an almost “oh, well!” and weirdly cheery note, which dragged down my review.

VERDICT: 3 ½ out of 5 books

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Alexis: Read 1/9/19

Children of Blood and Bone, despite being a thick book, is super fast-paced. The plot is always moving, which I appreciated as I read. Adeyemi does a good job of explaining how the magic system works, and I enjoyed learning about all the gods and the maji’s connections to them. Sometimes multiple perspectives can be hard to pull off, but I really enjoyed reading from all the different perspectives, and the shifts never pulled me out of the book.

As for the characters, I’ll be honest: I’m not a huge fan of Zélie. She sometimes felt like a Katniss Everdeen character. However, I connected more with her as the book went on. I enjoyed Inan’s character until about halfway through the book. As for Amari and Tzain, I always enjoyed reading from their points of view. At times, the plot was a bit predictable, but not enough that I didn’t continue to enjoy reading the story. There was a love-at-first-sight storyline, and though I normally hate this YA trope, I thought Adeyemi used it to her advantage.

About a quarter way through this book, I realized something: parts of this book mirror Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Zélie is very similar to Katara. When she is young, her mother is killed in a raid because she possessed magical powers. Zélie possesses these same powers and she grows up wanting revenge. She has an older, non-magical brother, Tzain, who just wants to protect her. Zélie meets an Aang-like character, Amari: a girl who was trained how to fight from an early age, but who needs to learn to get past her peaceful side.

Amari’s older brother, Inan, the prince, has a good heart but is misguided. He wants his father’s approval but he has to betray those he loves in order to achieve it, just like Zuko. The father is definitely a Fire Lord Ozai type of character.

There is a temple “made of air” which connects maji to their gods. This temple was mostly destroyed in a raid in which a genocide happened.   

Despite these similarities, Children of Blood and Bone is an original book. I I loved the diversity and the magic based on Nigerian mythology. I also admired Adeyemi’s creativity—the characters ride on giant, horned lions and leopards, called lionaires and snow leoponaires.

Overall, this book was wholly engrossing and I had a hard time putting it down. And for that reason I can’t rate it any less than 5 books. I’m excited for the sequel!

VERDICT: 5 books

Review: The Wildlands by Abby Geni

Alexis: Read 1/4/19

I’m not too fond of prologues, but I found the prologue of The Wildlands to be the perfect introduction to the book. It describes, in detail, Cora’s first memory: the category 5 tornado which destroyed her childhood home and left her, and her siblings, an orphan. I loved Geni’s descriptions from the start. When Cora looks outside before the tornado strikes, the sky has turned green: “…I glanced out the window and saw the Oklahoma sky soaked with a new color. Damp jade. Split pea soup. Moss on stone.”

I was involved in each character’s storyline, especially Cora and Darlene’s, but also Roy’s and even Tucker’s, despite his violence. Geni captures emotions well, whether through her character descriptions or the descriptions of the harsh and barren Oklahoma landscape. She paints a picture of loss, poverty, and family. Many scenes in this book are vividly dark and disturbing, and Geni does a good job of showing how they affect Cora both psychologically and physically. Geni’s writing style mimics the sense of loss that follows the characters throughout the book. Despite the plot, The Wildlands is more of a character-driven story.

Cora’s relationship with her sisters feels raw, real, and appropriate for a nine-year-old. Her relationship with Tucker, however, is borderline obsessive. I couldn’t blame Cora for this, considering her painful childhood, but it was still disturbing at times.

I’m an animal lover, and I found Tucker’s theories about animals and mass extinction interesting yet terrifying. Seeing his thought process was an interesting insight in how someone’s interests can turn into a dangerous and radical obsession. The scenes with the animals towards the end of the book are surreal and poetic.

I understand why Geni includes the epilogue, but I felt like it was unnecessary. The book ended on the right note, but the epilogue drew away from it.

All in all, this was a well-written and thought-provoking read.

VERDICT: 4 and ½ out of 5 books

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Alexis: Read 12/16/18

I feel like I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but this is a really hard book for me to rate. Is it 3 ½ stars? 4? 4 and ½? I had a hard time deciding. I will confess, I skimmed a lot of Goodreads reviews and was relieved to find that a lot of other people felt the same way.

I loved aspects of this book; I was confused by aspects of this book; I disliked aspects of this book. I understand the major hype surrounding it, and maybe I went in with too-high expectations.

Morgenstern’s writing is beautiful and lyrical. The best part of this book is how her descriptions of the circus launch you into a wonderful, atmospheric world. She uses all four senses to describe the circus, and I loved the recurring descriptions of how the circus smelled: like popcorn, caramel, and bonfire smoke. I loved the black and white theme of the circus, the intricate clock, and the minute details Morgenstern includes about each tent.

The circus itself is almost the main character as much as it is the setting, which actually fits perfectly when you reach the ending.

As for the characters, both Celia and Marco’s characters start out strong, but seem to flatline as the book progresses. It doesn’t help that the book switches perspectives every chapter. This creates a snapshot effect. Each chapter almost feels like a character study, interspersed with short circus-character studies. Not only does the book jump back and forth in perspectives, but it jumps back and forth in time. Because of this, the first hundred pages or so were a bit of a drag for me. Not much is revealed, and the book’s plot progresses slowly.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that this book doesn’t have much of a plot. Whenever the perspective deviates from Celia and Marco, I found myself feeling annoyed. I wanted them to be more present characters than they were, and I wanted them to do more actions than they did. I found myself gravitating more towards Bailey, Poppet, and Widgets’ storylines, as their characters felt more lively and real.

Despite the skimpy plot, my other issue with the book is the romance. I’m not a fan of the love at first sight storyline unless it serves a good purpose. It would make sense that Celia and Marco would have an outright connection, due to their similarities. However, for a 500 page book, there was definitely room for more of a romantic build up so the reader could actually see them falling in love instead of just being told that they fell in love. Their relationship didn’t feel as deep and real as I wanted it to, and a certain speech by Marco (on pages 419 and 420) didn’t help; Marco and Celia’s dialogue with each other often felt too flat.

Thankfully, I was pleased with the direction the ending went, and I’m glad that it tied up some of the many loose knots tied throughout the book. I just wished there was more of a plot. 

VERDICT: 3 ½ out of 5 books

 

Anna: Read 12/25/18

Like Alexis, this book was so hyped that I expected a lot of it. Also like Alexis, I loved the descriptions of the circus and its different tents and inhabitants. I was also intrigued by the magic in the beginning, as well as the mystery of the circus, and the competition, and think I lost some interest as more of the rules of the competition are revealed (even though the reader never really gets a fully satisfactory explanation of the competition, which frustrated me.)

Honestly, I would have rated this four stars if not for the love story, which I found both cliche and tedious. Though the romance between Marco and Celia added more tension to the competition, I felt that there are more interesting and imaginative ways to raise the stakes. There is also the troubling fact that Marco and Celia’s relationship is shallow, which makes it hard to root for or even believe. I enjoyed reading from Bailey’s perspective more so that any of the others, and I liked that his storyline grounded the circus in reality. I also agree with Alexis that there are WAY too many unnecessary perspectives in this, which bogs down the pace. Perhaps with the perspectives Morgenstern is trying to show that there are many moving parts to the circus, but I think she relayed this with the sheer amount of characters.

Can I also point out that the way that Marco treats Isobel is that of a misogynist pig? I had a big problem with that.

The melodramatic romance automatically knocked it down one star, as did the resolution of the competition, which I found wishy-washy. Despite the fantastic and magical circus scenes, I’m honestly disappointed!

VERDICT: 3 out of 5 books

 

Hopefully in future dual reviews we have more varied opinions from each other!