Category Archives: Romance

Review: We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds

We Deserve Monuments
Jas Hammonds
Roaring Brook Press
Published November 29, 2022

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About We Deserve Monuments

Family secrets, a swoon-worthy romance, and a slow-burn mystery collide in WE DESERVE MONUMENTS, a YA debut from Jas Hammonds that explores how racial violence can ripple down through generations.

What’s more important: Knowing the truth or keeping the peace?

Seventeen-year-old Avery Anderson is convinced her senior year is ruined when she’s uprooted from her life in DC and forced into the hostile home of her terminally ill grandmother, Mama Letty. The tension between Avery’s mom and Mama Letty makes for a frosty arrival and unearths past drama they refuse to talk about. Every time Avery tries to look deeper, she’s turned away, leaving her desperate to learn the secrets that split her family in two.

While tempers flare in her avoidant family, Avery finds friendship in unexpected places: in Simone Cole, her captivating next-door neighbor, and Jade Oliver, daughter of the town’s most prominent family—whose mother’s murder remains unsolved.

As the three girls grow closer—Avery and Simone’s friendship blossoming into romance—the sharp-edged opinions of their small southern town begin to hint at something insidious underneath. The racist history of Bardell, Georgia is rooted in Avery’s family in ways she can’t even imagine. With Mama Letty’s health dwindling every day, Avery must decide if digging for the truth is worth toppling the delicate relationships she’s built in Bardell—or if some things are better left buried.

My Review

I love intergenerational family stories, and at its core, that’s what this story truly is. In reconnecting with the grandmother she barely knows, Avery learns of her family’s painful history. That history impacts others in the small town of Bardell as well, including her two new best friends, Simone and Jade. The threads connecting each girl to her family’s past weave together to form a tapestry that’s both beautiful and terrible.

The story unflinchingly faces the complicated grief of thwarted justice. Jade’s mother’s murderer was never held to account. Neither were the men who murdered Avery’s grandfather. That grief binds the girls together and drives a wedge between them at the same time.

WE DESERVE MONUMENTS is also a love story. It celebrates the connection between grandmothers and granddaughters, even when they only have a short time together. Avery’s relationship with her grandmother anchors her in her history in a way that no other relationship in her family does. The book also celebrates romantic love—perhaps even second-chance love—as Simone and Avery fall for one another and learn to embrace the hope that the previous generation could not.

I wouldn’t call this book an easy read, but I loved the way it explored family history and relationships and the hopefulness that it leaves with its readers.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Avery is biracial (Black mom and white dad) and a lesbian. Her friend Simone is also Black and queer.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between girls.

Spiritual Content
Simone gives Avery a tarot reading. She pulls tarot cards to help her set expectations for the day. She also believes in astrological signs. Simone’s mom attends church often, and when she feels Simone has done something wrong, she makes her attend church several times per week and prays over her repeatedly.

Violent Content
References to a woman’s murder and the racist history of the South and the town of Bardell.

Drug Content
Avery and her friends smoke pot together. They get drunk one night.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Love, Off the Record by Samantha Markum

Love, Off the Record
Samantha Markum
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Published June 11, 2024

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About Love, Off the Record

The Hating Game meets Alex, Approximately in this smart, chemistry-filled teen rom-com about two rival journalism students competing for the same position on their university newspaper.

Wyn is going to beat Three even if it kills her—or, preferably, him. Being freshmen staffers on the university newspaper puts them at the bottom of the pecking order—until a rare reporter spot opens up. Wyn and Three are both determined to get the position, starting a game of sabotage that pushes them to do their worst, from stealing each other’s ideas to playing twisted mind games. No road is too low when it comes to winning.

As Wyn’s search for the perfect story leads her to an anonymous, campus-wide dating app, she hits it off with a mystery man she thinks might be the cute RA from her dorm. But Wyn is all too familiar with being rejected because of her weight, and she’s hesitant to reveal her identity, even as she grows closer with someone who might be the guy of her dreams.

When Three breaks a story that’s closer to home than he or Wyn expects, the two must put aside their differences to expose the truth—and face their real feelings for each other, which threaten everything Wyn has built with her anonymous match.

My Review

Fans of Samantha Markum’s books will likely recognize Three from his supporting role in This May End Badly. This time, he gets the spotlight in this smart, banter-filled tale of college freshmen in competition for a coveted role with a newspaper.

I definitely see the Alex, Approximately vibes in play in this one. The tension between Three and Wyn, especially at the beginning, is palpable. The banter between those two never stops, and I love it.

The whole story follows Wyn’s point of view, which leaves some room for miscommunication, mistrust, and misdirection, all of which I enjoyed as well. I love the frank way that Wyn relates her experiences with her body, both the positive and negative, the easy and painful. It feels like adding some essential nuance to the conversation within YA about body image, self-love, and fatphobia.

The only thing about the book that tripped me up at all is the pacing. Like This May End Badly, this book is first and foremost a rom-com, but it contains a gritty subplot about a shadowy group selling hard drugs on Wyn’s and Three’s college campus.

The combination works great in creating a reason to bring Three and Wyn to the same side of something. It also makes the book a whopping 400 pages, which is long for a young adult contemporary romance. I was entertained all throughout the book, but I wonder if the size of the book will intimidate some readers.

Fans of romance with strong characters and endless banter will want to give this one a try. It’s a great book to crack open at the beach or by the pool this summer.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Representation
Wyn is plus-sized. Her friend Dara is Black. Two minor characters (girls) are in a dating relationship.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
F-bombs scattered throughout. Strong profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to making out and touching.

Spiritual Content
One of Wyn’s suitemates is the daughter of a Christian pastor. She speaks openly about her faith and the challenge of figuring out the kind of life she wants to live, especially when it contradicts her parents’ expectations.

Violent Content
Wyn and Three make threatening comments to one another, joking but with some dislike behind at least some of them.

Someone gets jumped (off-scene).

Drug Content
Wyn eats cookies without realizing they’re laced with edibles. She ends up saying and doing some dangerous things and things she regrets later. She attends a party where she drinks beer, and a friend gets drunk. Someone reports that people were doing cocaine at a party and leaves.

Students get caught dealing hard drugs on campus, resulting in some consequences. Wyn and Three find a backpack stuffed with drugs, which Three photographs for evidence for the story they’re writing.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Past Present Future by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Past Present Future (Rowan & Neil #2)
Rachel Lynn Solomon
Simon & Schuster
Published June 4, 2024

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About Past Present Future

They fell for each other in just twenty-four hours. Now Rowan and Neil embark on a long-distance relationship during their first year of college in this romantic, dual points of view sequel to Today Tonight Tomorrow .

When longtime rivals Rowan Roth and Neil McNair confessed their feelings on the last day of senior year, they knew they’d only have a couple months together before they left for college. Now summer is over, and they’re determined to make their relationship work as they begin school in different states.

In Boston, Rowan is eager to be among other aspiring novelists, learning from a creative writing professor she adores. She’s just not sure why she suddenly can’t seem to find her voice.

In New York, Neil embraces the chaos of the city, clicking with a new friend group more easily than he anticipated. But when his past refuses to leave him alone, he doesn’t know how to handle his rapidly changing mental health—or how to talk about it with the girl he loves.

Over a year of late-night phone calls, weekend visits, and East Coast adventures, Rowan and Neil fall for each other again and again as they grapple with the uncertainty of their new lives. They’ve spent so many years at odds with each other—now that they’re finally on the same team, what does the future hold for them?

My Review

It can’t be easy to write a romance in which the characters begin already in love and in a relationship. Yet, this book does it, and does it well. Rowan and Neil begin their college adventure uncertain about many things, but their relationship isn’t one of them.

Reading a story about high achievers in high school having to completely readjust for college life was really fascinating. Rowan and Neil both worked hard in high school, so it wasn’t like they got to college and didn’t realize it would be hard. They just didn’t realize what kind of hard it would be, if that makes sense? They were prepared for academic challenges. But other parts of college life took them by surprise. I loved the way the author highlighted that and showed the things they struggled with in a nuanced way. It’s far more complex than nerds struggling to make new friends, though both Neil and Rowan face unexpected social challenges.

I love reading about characters who write, so I loved following Rowan’s creative journey as well. Her struggle in class, her dissatisfaction with her work, and her feelings of being stuck made so much sense.

The book has great minor characters, too. Rowan and Neil make new friends, and their closest relationships from Today Tonight Tomorrow reappear here and there. Even when they’re only on scene for a few pages, these characters felt fully formed and, in many cases, like friends I’d want to have myself.

I think readers who fell in love with Rowan and Neil in Today Tonight Tomorrow will love seeing the continuation of their story. It’s less a romance between two people, though, and more a romance of falling in love with yourself. It’s about how having a stable, loving relationship doesn’t solve everything, but it can ground you and offer a boost of confidence to help you face those questions. Past Present Future is a sweet summer read, perfect for recent high school graduates preparing to embark on the next chapter of their own journeys.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 16 up.

Representation
Both Neil and Rowan are Jewish. Rowan is also Mexican American on her mom’s side. Several characters are queer. At least one character has depression.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Regular use of swearing, including F-bombs.

Romance/Sexual Content
Some scenes show deep kissing. A few scenes show or lead up to the characters having sex. It’s not overly described, but there are some details. Characters exchange explicit text messages. One scene includes masturbating.

Spiritual Content
Neil attends Shabbat services. His and Rowan’s families celebrate Hanukkah. As Neil learns about psychology, he learns about the connection between the Jewish value of self-actualization and how that drove many Jewish psychologists to pursue knowledge and advances in understanding within the field.

Violent Content
A boy gets hit in the face with a frisbee. References to a past violent altercation in which a man attacked a teenager with a baseball bat. References to domestic violence.

Drug Content
Neil’s father is an alcoholic. Both Rowan and Neil attend parties or gatherings at which alcohol is served. Neil has one drink. Rowan drinks as well. At one point, she drinks too much and ends up violently ill and hung over. A minor character uses a vape pen. Neil notes the smell of marijuana at a party.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: The Worst Perfect Moment Shivaun Plozza

The Worst Perfect Moment
Shivaun Plozza
Holiday House
Published May 14, 2024

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About The Worst Perfect Moment

Equal parts tender and edgy, this inventive queer romance imagines what it might feel like to come of age in the afterlife.

Tegan Masters is dead.

She’s sixteen and she’s dead and she’s standing in the parking lot of the Marybelle Motor Lodge, the single most depressing motel in all of New Jersey and the place where Tegan spent what she remembers as the worst weekend of her life.

In the front office, she meets Zelda, a cute and sarcastic girl Tegan’s age who is, in fact, an angel (wings and all). According to Zelda, Tegan is officially in heaven, where every person inhabits an exact replica of their happiest memory. For Tegan, Zelda insists, that place is the Marybelle—creepy minigolf course, revolting breakfast buffet, broken TV, and all.

Tegan has a few complaints about this.

As Zelda takes Tegan on a whirlwind tour through Tegan’s past to help her understand what mattered most to her in life, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If Zelda fails to convince Tegan that the Marybelle was the site of Tegan’s perfect moment, both girls face eternal consequences too dire to consider. But if she succeeds…they just might get their happily-ever-afterlife.

Full of humor and heartbreak, The Worst Perfect Moment asks what it means to be truly happy.

My Review

First of all, what a fantastic opening line. I love it. This book starts off with a bang, for sure. I like Tegan, too. She’s sparky, but so wounded and vulnerable underneath, and even when she doesn’t mean to let readers into that, she does. Her character easily kept me reading the book.

Zelda, the angel who designed Tegan’s personal heaven, grew on me a little. She’s very Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which I love seeing in a female-female romance, but isn’t my favorite trope, so I struggled with that. She’s goofy and fun, but determinedly crude, which, again, is not my favorite. Too many “butt-face” comments for me.

The scenes that revisit Tegan’s past and show what actually happened, especially the moments she doesn’t want to remember, hit hard. They showed how complex trauma and grief can be. Each one built up emotionally so that by the time I hit the final flashback, it hit hard. That was so well done.

Readers looking for a new spin on the Manic Pixie trope and who enjoy no-holds-barred humor will probably enjoy this one a lot.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Representation
Tegan and a few other girl characters are romantically interested in girls..

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Lots of crude comments. Lots of swearing. A few f-bombs.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between two girls.

Spiritual Content
Tegan wakes up in the afterlife, in which heaven is supposed to be living at the site of your best memory forever. Purgatory is for people who die with too much unresolved trauma, and means people watch memories of their lives and have the emotions they experienced painfully scrubbed away. Hell, of course, is eternal torture.

Angels are assigned different jobs. There are guardian angels and angels who design a heaven scenario for someone. Tegan visits a counselor, someone who helps her process her death.

Tegan attended Catholic school for a part of her education. There are some references to sins and Catholic doctrines like purgatory, but very little reference to God or faith practices.

Violent Content
References to a girl on a bike being hit by a car, which killed her.

Tegan remembers arguments between her parents, which seem scary and chaotic to her. She sees her dad lose it and kick a door repeatedly. The story deals with abandonment by a parent.

Drug Content
Tegan’s aunt gets drunk and tells her something cruel.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Review: Not If You Break Up With Me First by G. F. Miller

Not If You Break Up With Me First
G. F. Miller
Aladdin
Published June 4, 2024

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About Not If You Break Up With Me First

Two friends who have unhappily found themselves in an accidental relationship try to drive the other one to call things off in this tongue-in-cheek middle grade romance.

Childhood friends Eve and Andrew are destined to be together— everyone says so, especially their friends and classmates who are all suddenly crush-obsessed. So when Eve and Andrew’s first eighth grade school dance rolls around and Eve, feeling the pressure, awkwardly asks Andrew to go with her, everyone assumes they are Officially Dating and Practically in Love. Overwhelmed, Eve and Andrew just…go with it.

And it’s weird. Neither of them wants this dating thing to mess up their friendship, and they don’t really see each other that way. But they also don’t want to be the one to call things off, the one to make things super awkward. So they both—separately—pledge to be the worst boyfriend or girlfriend ever, leaving it to the other person to break up with them. It would be genius…if the other person weren’t doing the exact same thing.

My Review

This is kind of How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, but make it middle grade and where they’re both trying to get the other person to break up with them.

What really makes this great is the writing. Some scenes are hilariously awkward. Others nailed middle school so perfectly, I felt like I had time-traveled. It’s silly, sometimes gross (fart jokes, etc), but it doesn’t skimp on heart.

The chapters alternate between Eve and Andrew’s points of view, so readers are in on each person’s plan to drive the other to dump them and why it seems like a good idea. Writing both viewpoints also shows us how much Eve and Andrew miss their friendship, what they value about one another, and their hurt feelings and loneliness.

The short chapters make this one an easy, quick read. This would work well for readers who aren’t quite sure they’re interested in romance books yet or readers looking for books about changing relationships in middle school or friend drama.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 10 to 14.

Representation
Eve and Andrew are white. Also of interest: Andrew plays quads on his school’s drum line. Eve loves science, specifically space, and compares lots of things to space phenomena. Eve’s parents separate during the story.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Brief crude humor.

Romance/Sexual Content
A boy and girl hold hands. Some mentions of kissing between other couples, but not on scene. At one point, someone asks a girl what her sexual identity is, and she responds that she doesn’t want to think about that yet, can’t she just be thirteen for now? A nice nod to kids who aren’t sure and resent the pressure of being asked as a way to explain why they aren’t dating or reject someone who asks them out.

Spiritual Content
None.

Violent Content
A prank war escalates, causing some hurt feelings and consequences when shool property is damaged.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday

I’m sharing this post as a part of a weekly round-up of middle-grade posts called Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday. Check out other blogs posting about middle-grade books today on Marvelous Middle-Grade Mondays at Always in the Middle with Greg Pattridge.

Review: Burning Crowns by Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber

Burning Crowns (Twin Crowns #3)
Catherine Doyle and Katherine Webber
Balzer + Bray
Published April 25, 2024

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About Burning Crowns

Twin queens Rose & Wren survived the Battle for Anadawn and brought back magic to their kingdom. But danger lurks in Eana’s shadows.

Wren is troubled. Ever since she performed the blood spell on Prince Ansel, her magic has become unruly. Worse, the spell created a link between Wren and the very man she’s trying to forget: Icy King Alarik of Gevra. A curse is eating away at both of them. To fix it they must journey to the northern mountains—under the watchful guard of Captain Tor Iversen—to consult with the Healer on High.

Rose is haunted. Waking one night to find her undead ancestor Oonagh Starcrest by her bed, she receives a warning: surrender the throne—or face a war that will destroy Eana. With nowhere to turn and desperate to find a weapon to defeat Oonagh, Rose seeks help from Shen-Lo in the Sunkissed Kingdom, but what she finds there may break her heart.

As Oonagh threatens all Rose and Wren hold dear, it will take everything they have to save Eana–including a sacrifice they may not be prepared to make.

My Review

I’ve followed this trilogy since the beginning, so I’m really excited to have had a chance to read the conclusion. What a wild ride it was!

Wren and Rose share a connection, but they’re really different as people. I liked the way they related to one another but yet had their own values and approaches to ruling Anadawn. Each sister has her own romance underway from previous books, and those progress here, too. I’m not gonna lie, I kind of hoped one sister would make a different choice than she did, but I felt like the ending was satisfying nonetheless.

The romantic plot contains some of the most mature elements of the story. It does fade to black before characters go further than undressing, but the characters definitely have some lusty thoughts and desires. The rest of the story feels solidly young adult. Rose and Wren are both still figuring out how to step into their adult roles as queens. They’re falling in love for the first time. I felt like those components really anchored the story as a young adult fantasy.

Wren and Rose and their relationship stands at the center of the story. In this particular book, they face a threat from their shared ancestry, one they can only vanquish together.

All in all, I enjoyed the series, and I’m glad I read all the way to the end. I think readers who are just outgrowing Disney fairytales would like the Twin Crowns series.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 15 up.

Representation
Minor characters with brown skin. Two minor female characters are in a romantic relationship.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. In two scenes, characters undress one another, and the scene fades to black.

Spiritual Content
Some characters have magic. Wren and Alarik performed forbidden blood magic in an earlier book, which bound them together under a curse. A cruel past queen raises humans and animals from the dead, creating an undead army.

Violent Content
Situations of peril. Battle scenes. References to torture. Descriptions of desecrated graves.

Drug Content
None.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use but help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.