Fight or Flight, by Samantha Young (Rant Review)

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Fight or Flight
by Samantha Young

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Length: 288 Pages

Release date: October 9, 2019

Synopsis: 

A series of chance encounters leads to a sizzling new romance from the New York Times bestselling author of the On Dublin Street series. 

The universe is conspiring against Ava Breevort. As if flying back to Phoenix to bury a childhood friend wasn’t hell enough, a cloud of volcanic ash traveling from overseas delayed her flight back home to Boston. Her last ditch attempt to salvage the trip was thwarted by an arrogant Scotsman, Caleb Scott, who steals a first class seat out from under her. Then over the course of their journey home, their antagonism somehow lands them in bed for the steamiest layover Ava’s ever had. And that’s all it was–until Caleb shows up on her doorstep.

When pure chance pulls Ava back into Caleb’s orbit, he proposes they enjoy their physical connection while he’s stranded in Boston. Ava agrees, knowing her heart’s in no danger since a) she barely likes Caleb and b) his existence in her life is temporary. Not long thereafter Ava realizes she’s made a terrible error because as it turns out Caleb Scott isn’t quite so unlikeable after all. When his stay in Boston becomes permanent, Ava must decide whether to fight her feelings for him or give into them. But even if she does decide to risk her heart on Caleb, there is no guarantee her stubborn Scot will want to risk his heart on her….

ratingone

Okay. Listen. I’m not much of a romance reader, so I went into this with low expectations, and I was still disappointed. And disgusted. And occasionally amused, but not in any of the moments that the author probably wanted me to be. I can have a really rough time with a book and I’ll still probably rate it two stars if it’s just bad; one star ratings are pretty much reserved for that magical combination of bad and also offensive. So let’s dissect this train wreck.

This book has one of my biggest personal pet peeves : altering spelling of common words to portray an accent. The author really, really wants you to remember that Caleb is Scottish at every single moment he’s on the page, changing every “to” to “tae” and sprinkling in a copious amount of “dinnaes”. I had a heads-up from my book club friends, so I rented the audio book to side-step that particular annoyance, thank god. Just tell us the character has an accent. We’ll believe you, Samantha Young. I promise.

But on to actual substance of the book, the two main characters are positively dripping in privilege, and not in a way that even comes across as escapist fantasy, they’re just gross. Ava has $4,000 a month rent because she must live in this expensive neighborhood and be within walking distance to work, she’s racked up credit card debt so that she can strut around in Louis Vuittons, and, of course, she can only ever fly first class. (She has a brief moment of clarity where she has a fleeting thought about her credit card debt and how some people have that kind of debt because they can’t afford healthcare; I know the author was trying to portray her as cognizant of her privilege, but really it just comes off gross, because her concern for others was so incredibly fleeting.)

Caleb, the male love interest, calls Ava “babe” constantly as soon as they meet, despite being told not do. He is also habitually rude to waiters and other service workers. Not cute. Enough said there. This is supposed to be a hate-to-love romance, I get it, so he needs to be a bit bristly at the beginning, but he is positively insufferable in a way that makes it too hard for him to be redeemed later in the story. Ava calls him a “dickhead” and then a “dickwad” on the day they meet (which he very much is, by the way), and he responds with some quip about how she must be obsessed with his dick because she keeps bringing it up. Did I mention these characters are not in junior high? Because you wouldn’t know it from that exchange.

By far my biggest issue with this book is this… What is consent? Nobody in this book knows, that’s for sure! Ava is definitely drunk the first time she sleeps with Caleb and only in retrospect talks about it as if she wasn’t. She has a bunch of drinks at the hotel bar to the point where she starts spilling about her personal traumas to this guy she admittedly hates. Then they go up to his room and have sex. But she wasn’t drunk. Definitely not drunk. It’s as if the author couldn’t figure out how to get the two of them in bed together without lowering their inhibitions with alcohol and then realized she didn’t like the optics of that so she pretended it didn’t happen that way.

There’s another “blurring of consent” moment involving the use of a condom (or lack thereof.) Admittedly, the sex scenes were cringe-inducing for me, and I started skipping chunks of them to get them over with, but I’m gathering from other reviewers that there’s a scene where Ava asks Caleb to put on a condom and he delays complying with that request, while continuing to have sex with her. Charming!

This part wasn’t awful but just kind of silly. Ava’s idea of ~really cutting loose~ is wearing skinny jeans. Mind you’ this is after having sex with a stranger, but somehow wearing jeans instead of something dressy is still some huge step outside of her “prim and proper” comfort zone.

“You weigh nothing.”
“I have an ass and boobs. I weigh something!”
Eyes rolling forever. I’m not even going to dissect that exchange, it was just annoying.

If there was anything I liked about this book, it was Ava’s relationship with her best friend, Harper. The two both have troubled backgrounds in totally different ways, and they love each other fiercely. Young gets some brownie points for portraying a positive and supportive female friendship without a trace of cattiness or competition. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to save this sinking ship of a novel for me.

Spoiler warning for this last bit.

I cannot handle the resolution of this novel. Ava and Caleb break off their non-relationship because Caleb is a commitment-phobe. Long story short, he realizes he’s made a mistake and wants to be with Ava again. By that point, she’s still a bit broken up about the way things ended, but she’s resolved to move on, get her life back together, and find someone who deserves her. Caleb can’t have that. He calls her boss, obtains Ava’s personal information from her, and ropes the boss into a secret plot to get Ava on a plane with him under the guise of sending her on a work assignment. What in the Christian Grey is this shit? Of course, being a romance novel, it turns out this was just the push Ava needed to see that she and Caleb truly belong together.

And they lived happily every after, I guess. Yikes. Stalking and gross violations of boundaries pay off, everyone! You heard it here first!

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What was your last one star read and why? Tell me in the comments!

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Me for You, by Lolly Winston (Review)

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Me for You
by Lolly Winston

Genre: Fiction, Romance

Length: 320 Pages

Release date: March 12, 019

Publisher: Gallery Books

Synopsis: 

From the New York Times bestselling author of Good Grief comes a richly poignant and stirring story that asks: How soon is too soon to fall in love again?

The last thing Rudy expected was to wake up one Saturday morning, a widow at fifty-four years old. Now, ten months after the untimely death of his beloved wife, he’s still not sure how to move on from the defining tragedy of his life—but his new job is helping. After being downsized from his finance position, Rudy turned to his first love: the piano. Some people might be embarrassed to work as the piano player at Nordstrom, but for Rudy, there’s joy in bringing a little music into the world. And it doesn’t hurt that Sasha, the Hungarian men’s watch clerk who is finally divorcing her no-good husband, finds time to join him at the bench every now and then.

Just when Rudy and Sasha’s relationship begins to deepen, the police come to the store with an update about Rudy’s wife’s untimely death—a coworker has confessed to her murder—but Rudy’s actions are suspicious enough to warrant a second look at him, too. With Sasha’s husband suddenly reappearing, and Rudy’s daughter confronting her own marital problems, suddenly life becomes more complicated than Rudy and Sasha could have imagined.

With Winston’s trademark humor and sweetness that will appeal to readers of Jennifer Weiner and Fredrik Backman but is uniquely her own, Lolly Winston delivers a heartfelt and realistic portrait of loss and grief, hope and forgiveness, and two imperfect people coming together to create a perfect love story.

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I received a free copy of this novel from Booksparks in my role as a Winter Reading Challenge ambassador. All opinions are my own. 

Me for You was in the 2.5 star range for me. There was a lot of potential in the story and I loved the concept, but something about the execution just never really grabbed me. The book opens with Rudy waking up in bed with his wife, who has died in her sleep. Most of the story then takes place almost a year later, after the initial shock of the loss has faded as Rudy navigates a blooming romance with Sasha, an acquaintance from work.

In what I can only assume is an attempt to add some excitement to the story, Winston introduces a new plot line: the murder confession alluded to in the blurb. This serves to further traumatize Rudy as the one year anniversary of his wife’s death approaches. Rudy finds himself in the hospital as his grief and depression leave him unable to function. Given the difficult nature of the first anniversary of a death, this twist didn’t feel necessary to contribute to Rudy’s mental state and move the story along. In retrospect, it felt out of place and forced, especially given later revelations in the story.

The romance angle between Sasha and Rudy was endearing and it was one of the redeeming qualities of this book for me. Sasha, an immigrant who has lost her child and been abandoned by her husband, could easily fill a simple “damsel in distress role,” but instead she becomes Rudy’s rock as he sinks into an overpowering depression.

Me for You may be a good choice for fans of authors such as Phaedra Patrick. It  touches on some heavy topics, but overall feels like a light and fluffy read.

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Thank you for reading! What’s your favorite novel with an older protagonist? Let me know in the comments!

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Review – Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Maybe in Another Life 
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Women’s Fiction

Length: 342 Pages

Release date: July 7, 2015

Synopsis: 

From the acclaimed author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do comes a breathtaking new novel about a young woman whose fate hinges on the choice she makes after bumping into an old flame; in alternating chapters, we see two possible scenarios unfold—with stunningly different results.

At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?

Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

rating

four

I know there may be universes out there where I made different choices and they led me somewhere else, led me to someone else. And my heart breaks for every single version of me that didn’t end up with you.

This book had me thinking a lot about Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch. …Bear with me for a minute here. I thought it was interesting how two very tonally different books stemmed from the same central idea: the vastly different paths one’s life can take based on a single choice. Specifically, a romantic decision. Dark Matter takes this idea and runs with it, culminating in a dark science fiction story about alternate universes which hinges on the protagonist’s choice to prioritize his career or his romantic partner. In Maybe in Another Life, Taylor Jenkins Reid uses a nod to the multiverse theory to write two love stories for her protagonist, each mutually exclusive.

I think we’ve all spent time thinking about what seemingly inconsequential choices have altered the course of our lives. What tragic accidents have been narrowly avoided? Who are the people who would have changed your life that you almost met? Reid takes Hannah’s decision about whether or not leave a party with her ex boyfriend and runs through the drastically diverging scenarios which emerge. While each story is somewhat engaging on its own, the appeal to this novel is mainly in seeing how one decision can trigger a thousand more, leading to one storyline bearing little resemblance to the other.

When you fall in love, it can be difficult to picture things turning out differently. Reid seems particularly interested in exploring the concept of a soulmate. Hannah (minor spoiler here but not really) eventually ends up happy in both scenarios. Who is to say that one is right or wrong? Who is to say that anyone’s perfectly happy marriage is the only way things could or should have turned out?

I’m just going to do my best and live under the assumption that if there are things in this life that we are supposed to do, if there are people in this world we are supposed to love, we’ll find them. In time. The future is so incredibly unpredictable that trying to plan for it is like studying for a test you’ll never take. I’m OK in this moment.

I loved Hannah as a character. She was a bit of a hot mess, but a self-aware hot mess, and determined to work on herself. It’s difficult not to root for her. I think a lot of Millennials will find her relatable; she’s in her late twenties and struggling with the sensation that things should have fallen into place by now. She should have a stable career, stable relationship, stable life. Instead, she’s untethered and there’s a sense that adolescence is clinging onto her far longer than she’d prefer.

Maybe in Another Life was published two years before The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and I think it’s fair to say that Taylor Jenkins Reid has grown a lot as an author in those two years. If you’re going into this novel expecting it to be similar in tone and quality to Seven Husbands, you may find yourself disappointed, but taken on its own merit, Maybe in Another Life is cute, sweet, and a worthwhile read.

Purchase links

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Thank you for reading! Have you read any novels which hinge on the idea of a multiverse theory or diverging storylines based on a single choice? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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Review – The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

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The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

Genre: Fantasy, Romance

Length: 512 Pages

Release date: July 3, 2012

Publisher: Anchor

Synopsis: 

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway – a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love – a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart.

rating

four

Secrets have power. And that power diminishes when they are shared, so they are best kept and kept well. Sharing secrets, real secrets, important ones, with even one other person, will change them. Writing them down is worse, because who can tell how many eyes might see them inscribed on paper, no matter how careful you might be with it. So it’s really best to keep your secrets when you have them, for their own good, as well as yours.

I’d rate The Night Circus 3.5 stars, which I’ve rounded up to four here. The reviews on GoodReads seem to be very divided, and while I enjoyed it, I can see why. The plot was a tad bit thin. The romance wasn’t terribly developed; it was a case of insta-love which was semi-acknowledged, while being hand-waved away within the narrative. Well, of course they fell in love, they’ve had this magical bond their whole lives even though they barely know one another. Just go with it, reader! It’s true love! 

Despite the flaws, however, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Morgenstern’s writing is absolutely gorgeous and remarkably atmospheric, pulling the reader in to the magical and musical world of the circus. The actual story breaks periodically, with passages told in second person point of view, always a risky move in a novel. Morgenstern places the readers into the circus and talks us through our exploration of various attractions. As the main characters are all intricately involved in the workings of the circus, I thought these passages worked really well to make the reader almost as emotionally invested in the fate of the circus as the characters would be.

There is a huge cast of characters in this novel, to the point where it can be almost disorientating at times. (For a point of reference, I generally read several novels at a time, so I’m quite used to holding a large cast of characters in my mind without any problems. I found myself occasionally having moments of “Wait, who was that guy again?” throughout The Night Circus.) That being said, many of these characters were incredibly well developed and emotionally engaging. Celia in particular was a very sympathetic and interesting character, with a somewhat tragic childhood and an enduring strength of character.

The Night Circus is part fantasy, part love story. More than anything, it’s an intensely atmospheric adventure for the reader, with the whimsical circus becoming a character in its own right.

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Thank you for reading! Have you read The Night Circus? What were your thoughts? What’s your favorite atmospheric novel? Discuss in the comments!

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Review – Evidence of the Affair, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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Evidence of the Affair
by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Short Story, Epistolary

Release date: September 20, 2018

Publisher: Amazon Original Stories

Synopsis: 

The repercussions of an illicit affair unfold in this short story by bestselling author Taylor Jenkins Reid.

Dear stranger…

A desperate young woman in Southern California sits down to write a letter to a man she’s never met—a choice that will forever change both their lives.

My heart goes out to you, David. Even though I do not know you…

The correspondence between Carrie Allsop and David Mayer reveals, piece by piece, the painful details of a devastating affair between their spouses. With each commiserating scratch of the pen, they confess their fears and bare their souls. They share the bewilderment over how things went so wrong and come to wonder where to go from here.

Told entirely through the letters of two comforting strangers and those of two illicit lovers, Evidence of the Affair explores the complex nature of the heart. And ultimately, for one woman, how liberating it can be when it’s broken.

rating

four

This will be a short review for a short story. My love for Taylor Jenkins Reid has been no secret on this blog. I think I mention The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo every chance I get. So Evidence of the Affair was a lovey surprise today when it popped up on my news feed.

This story is told in the form of a series of letters. Two strangers, Carrie and David, begin writing to one another when Carrie discovers that their respective spouses have been having an affair. Carrie discovers the affair when she finds (you guessed it) a stack of love letters from another woman, stashed away in her husband’s briefcase.

Neither Carrie nor David are immediately ready to call it quits on their marriages. Unsure of how they plan to handle things, they don’t feel comfortable discussing things with anyone but each other. The result is that the two slowly begin to form an unlikely bond, as they feel like kindred spirits in their heartache.

My mother has always told me that I have more opportunities, as a woman of my generation, than she ever had. She made it seem like I had an obligation to use them how she would have.

The character development with Carrie was flawless and she was definitely my favorite part of this story. She married young and hasn’t had a career during her marriage, and we watch her struggle to find faith in her own ability to be independent. I was rooting for her to find strength and a sense of self worth from start to finish.

Maybe I’m not equipped for short stories, because this definitely left me wanting more at the end. Can we get a sequel? Also, there was a Daisy Jones reference because Taylor Jenkins Reid feels like tormenting me by casually mentioning her book that isn’t coming out until March. Thanks, Taylor.

Purchase Evidence of the Affair for Kindle here.

Thank you for reading? Have you read any of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s work? Discuss your favorite in the comments!

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Review – Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh

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Ghosted
by Rosie Walsh

Genre: Fiction

Length: 337 Pages

Release date: July 24, 2018

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Synopsis: 

Seven perfect days. Then he disappeared. A love story with a secret at its heart.

When Sarah meets Eddie, they connect instantly and fall in love. To Sarah, it seems as though her life has finally begun. And it’s mutual: It’s as though Eddie has been waiting for her, too. Sarah has never been so certain of anything. So when Eddie leaves for a long-booked vacation and promises to call from the airport, she has no cause to doubt him. But he doesn’t call.

Sarah’s friends tell her to forget about him, but she can’t. She knows something’s happened–there must be an explanation.

Minutes, days, weeks go by as Sarah becomes increasingly worried. But then she discovers she’s right. There is a reason for Eddie’s disappearance, and it’s the one thing they didn’t share with each other: the truth.

rating

three

I wondered how it was that you could spend weeks, months—years, even—just chugging on, nothing really changing, and then, in the space of a few hours, the script of your life could be completely rewritten.

Ghosted is essentially part mystery, part romance. The story alternates between scenes from the week Sarah and Eddie met and scenes after she has been… well… ghosted. The latter takes up a much smaller portion of the book than the former, so we spend more time wondering why Eddie has dropped off the map than we do figuring out why Sarah cares so much. As I prefer mystery to romance, this shouldn’t have been an issue for me, but the lack of development of the romance makes it difficult to care about the mystery. The reader isn’t really given a compelling reason to root for Eddie and Sarah to be together.

The intense insta-love aspect of this novel felt better suited to a YA novel with a protagonist in high school. When you’re young and inexperienced, that burst of infatuation can feel like the be-all end-all. Sarah is written to be around forty years old, but she doesn’t feel like it. I found her tunnel vision obsession with a man she barely knows to be a bit alienating, personally.

However, despite my issues with Sarah and the under-developed romance, there was something rather compulsively readable about Ghosted. The pace feels lightning fast, and there was more to the mystery than just a spurned lover. At the risk of getting into spoilers, I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that the later revelations make for the best bits of character development in the story. For a good chunk of the early section of the novel, it felt like there wasn’t much more to Sarah than pining after a man; thankfully, later sections rectify that.

Nobody warns you that life continues to be complicated after you’ve Done the Right Thing. That there is no reward, beyond some intangible sense of moral fortitude.

Overall, this was a fun book with a lot of potential, but it definitely felt like it was lacking something. This appears to be Walsh’s debut novel, so I’ll be interested to see how she grows as a writer from here.

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Thanks for reading! How do you feel about romance in fiction? Do you prefer it to be the focus of the story or more like a side plot? Discuss in the comments!

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ARC Review – Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, by Christina Lauren

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Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating
by Christina Lauren

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Length: 320 Pages

Release Date: September 4th, 2018

Blurb via GoodReads: 

Most men can’t handle Hazel. With the energy of a toddler and the mouth of a sailor, they’re often too timid to recognize her heart of gold. New York Times and #1 international bestselling author Christina Lauren (Roomies, Beautiful Bastard) tells the story of two people who are definitely not dating, no matter how often they end up in bed together.

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them…right?

ratingfour

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own and are not influenced by the publisher. 

Well… From the blurb and the cover, I was expecting a cutesy little light romance. For a while, that’s what it seemed like I was going to get. As the story develops, however, the cutesy factor gets dialed down in favor of steamy sex scenes and Hazel’s raunchy musings. I’ve read some romances that have decent crossover appeal for people who don’t read a lot of romance; this isn’t one of them. I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, only that the reader should know that the romance is the major draw in Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating. If you don’t care much for romance, you won’t find much to like in this novel.

Hazel is cartoonishly zany; this girl should have “hot mess” tattooed on her forehead, but her antics are strangely endearing. Prim and proper Josh serves as the perfect counterpart for this “opposites attract” love story. Hazel pushes Josh outside of his comfort zone to help him enjoy life, and Josh keeps Hazel tethered to earth and some semblance of normalcy.

love people romance engagement

The main drawback of this story was that it was sometimes, like Hazel, too much. Everything about this story felt loud and exaggerated. Hazel was cute and quirky, but sometimes too ridiculous to feel believable as an adult woman. The unfortunate double dates Josh and Hazel set up are filled with a cast of characters wildly varying, but almost always feeling like some manner of caricature.

However, I loved Hazel’s free-spirited independence. She knows she’s “too much” for most guys, but she’d die before she’d dial down her personality to please somebody else. She is her mother’s daughter in every respect. Her father found her mother’s quirky personality embarrassing; having grown up seeing their unhappy marriage, Hazel is determined to find someone who loves every bit of her or to simply stick it out on her own.

Josh’s Korean heritage is not just a footnote in this story; his heritage is woven into the fabric of his identity, and family plays a big role in his life. This felt like surprisingly thoughtful and respectful representation for a book that was not primarily about race and identity.

Overall, this was a cute friends to lovers story with some spice thrown in for good measure. If you’re in the mood for a comfortably predictable feel-good book, pick up a copy today.

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Do you read romance novels? Do you prefer them cute and cuddly or hot and spicy?
Do you prefer romance to be the focus or is it better as an addition to a good story?
Discuss in the comments!

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