Review: Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke

Title: Star-Crossed
Author: Minnie Darke
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: When childhood sweethearts Justine (Sagittarius and serious skeptic) and Nick (Aquarius and true believer) bump into each other as adults, a life-changing love affair seems inevitable—to Justine, anyway. When she learns that Nick bases his decisions on the horoscopes in his favorite magazine—the same magazine for which Justine happens to write—she decides to take Fate into her own hands. But as Nick continues to not fall headlong in love with her, other Aquarians are making important life choices according to those same horoscopes. Charting the ripple effects of Justine’s astrological meddling, Star-Crossed is a delicious, intelligent, and affecting love story about friendship, chance, and how we all navigate the kinds of choices that are hard to face alone.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

“Only by luck, though,” Justine said. “Only by… lucky, random chaos…. There are choices within choices within chances. It’s all so complicated and tangled. How does anything ever go the way it’s supposed to?”

Star-Crossed will probably fall under the radar among all the other new May releases, but I really hope more people read it. The book is a cute romance that focuses just as much on our protagonist’s professional life as it does on her personal one. The leads are well-matched, and their rekindled friendship feels authentic. As the plot moseys along, Minnie Darke weaves B- and C-plots into main character Justine’s and love interest Nick’s will-they-or-won’t-they (or perhaps how-they-or-when-they?) back-and-forth. Although it wasn’t until a reviewer on Goodreads pointed out that the plot reminded her of Love Actually and Valentine’s Day that I finally had my own aha moment—because this comparison is just perfect—I still found the book charming and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

This book is a bit longer than most contemporary romance, but I never felt like the plot dragged on needlessly. I can see how readers might find the “cusp”s in-between chapters as mere filler, but I found them to be a unique and fun way to further flesh out the world that Darke created. I certainly enjoyed Valentine’s Day, but Star-Crossed is a better-written version of that kind of film; with an expanded timeline, the characters are allowed to breathe. Although we primarily follow Justine, we also get to spend time with Nick as well as all of the side characters with which they interact. We might not know why Darke includes something or how it connects until the end of the novel, but once we figure out the reason, it feels so satisfying, narrative threads finally pulled taut to reveal a clean stitch.

Reviews for Star-Crossed on Goodreads are mixed, but for me, a chance request on Netgalley for an unknown author definitely paid out. I wanted to read this book, planned my nights around how much time I could give to it around other obligations. And once I’d finished, I actually said out loud, “I liked that” as if it were some sort of surprise, like I’d forgotten how much I’d enjoyed the book along the way.

Review: The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren

Title: The Unhoneymooners
Author: Christina Lauren
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: When her sister gets married, Olive braces for a crazy 24 hours before she can return to her comfortable, uneventful life. But when the entire party gets food poisoning, the only two who aren’t affected are Olive and prickly, irritating Ethan—and there’s an all-expenses-paid nonrefundable honeymoon in Hawaii up for grabs. Putting aside their mutual loathing for the sake of a free vacation, Olive and Ethan head for paradise, determined to avoid each other at all costs… until she tells a small lie and they have to pretend to be loving newlyweds. But the weird thing is that Olive doesn’t mind playing pretend. In fact, she kind of likes it.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

The Unhoneymooners was a delightful throwback to both Christina Lauren’s stint writing fanfiction and the summer after my junior year of college when I read basically nothing but fanfic, staying up until the wee hours of the morning because I needed to know what happened in whatever story I was reading. Was I exhausted? Yes. Was the story going to be there in the morning? Also yes. Should I have made better life choices? Absolutely! But there was just something so cozy about reading a chapter and then trying to articulate a response that adequately expressed how much I loved something I’d just read—and The Unhoneymooners brought me right back to that place.

Even though Christina Lauren do a lot to make it seem like the events of the book could happen, the story still relies on its tropes: enemies to lovers! forced cohabitation! fake relationship! Our main characters dislike one another but still end up going to Maui on an all-expenses-paid honeymoon vacation? Where they must share a room? And fake a relationship for her new boss and his ex-girlfriend? GIMMIE.

I read The Unhoneymooners in two sittings, gleefully turning the pages because I was so engrossed in the story. Ethan and Olive had such chemistry that I needed to know if their faux relationship would ever turn into a real one—or if the tension that fuels any romance would come off as trite or eye-rolling. (Reader, it did not.) I literally laughed out loud at some parts and then giggled from others. Could this story ever really happen in real life? Probably not—but did it matter? The unbelievability of such circumstances never felt forced or overwrought, and I was so into the story that I don’t know if I would have cared, either.

Unlike in My Favorite Half-Night Stand, the romantic drama of our two protagonists was relatively lighthearted in comparison to the relationship between Olive’s sister and Ethan’s brother (which definitely impacted both the story and their own relationship, but not in an oh my god come ON kind of way.) We got to experience their blossoming relationship in real time as Christina Lauren gleefully threw what ifs? at the wall to see what stuck. What if Olive and Ethan were forced to spend time with one another? What if they had to pretend to be in a relationship? And what if they didn’t want to pretend anymore—what happens then?

I know that Christina Lauren books are often hit-or-miss, but The Unhoneymooners deserves a try. It’s a romantic comedy with laugh-out-loud humor and authentic dramatic tension. It focuses on the relationship between two sisters and their huge extended family. And, if nothing else, it leaves you yelling at its main characters to just hurry up and bone already. (Which isn’t always the point, but, you know… 😉)

Note: Ethan and Olive are less enemies and more do-I-really-have-to-spend-time-with-you irritation, and the sex scenes were 100% fade-to-black, but otherwise I really loved this!

Review: This Is Not a Love Scene by S.C. Megale

Title: This Is Not a Love Scene
Author: S.C. Megale
Rating: ★
Summary: Lights, camera—all Maeve needs is action. At eighteen, a rare form of muscular dystrophy stands in the way of romance, but she’s got her friends, her humor, and a passion for film-making to keep her occupied… until a hot older guy literally walks into her life. Tall and bearded, Cole is everything Maeve can’t be, and between takes, their chemistry is shockingly electric. But girls in wheelchairs don’t get the hot guy—right? Cole’s attention challenges everything Maeve once believed about her self-image and hopes for love. But figuring this out, both emotionally and physically, won’t be easy for either of them. Maeve must choose between what she needs and what she wants. And her failing lungs might not wait for either.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

What to say about This Is Not a Love Scene that isn’t completely negative? I mean, yes, this book is #OwnVoices and, yes, it contains physical disability rep… but not much else. Even though the main character Maeve has moments of self-confidence where she stands up for herself and her worth, she’s still kind of an asshole, the book was super problematic, and I was happy to leave them both behind. (Like, the biggest thing I took away from the story is that I shouldn’t have even finished it.)

First of all, Maeve is self-absorbed. We know hardly anything about her friends (like their interests, their home lives, or even their last names), she eye-rolls anything her parents suggest that will legitimately keep her alive, and S.C. Megale introduces a far-fetched sub-plot because Maeve can’t believe that anyone would actually want to help children with disabilities (that basically resolves with an “oops my bad” from Maeve). She also whines for half the book that no one could even like her like that but is completely oblivious to the feelings a friend has for her. I neither understand how she has one friend—let alone three—nor do I get why they continue to friends with her.

Second, Maeve’s mean. She refers to a character in the book as “Mags’ asshole boyfriend” and then is surprised when her friend gets upset. She gets angry when other characters make light of or otherwise acknowledge how her disability makes her different… but then is also upset when those same people fail to relate to or understand how she encounters the world. (Like, they’re just supposed to know? Tell them!!!) She hates when her physical appearance is used as a qualifier but feels just fine describing side characters by theirs. 🙄

And third, the romance is just all kinds of no thank you. We’re supposed to feel as hot and bothered for Maeve’s love interest, Cole, as much as she does, but he’s not even that great of a guy. He doesn’t really acknowledge Maeve outside of the late-night texts they share, he sends her dick pics and then ghosts for about a week, and he strings her along and then is like “I can’t do this” after weeks of maybe-kind-of-but-not-really seeing one another… and Maeve continues to lust after him. Cole is obviously using Maeve’s desire to his advantage, but I also didn’t really like Maeve all that much either so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I just… I wanted to like this book so much, and instead I got a mish-mash of nope with ew why and please don’t. (I want y’all to know that there is even more problematic bullshit I didn’t mention.)

PS. what is with the goddamn emoticons?! Does anyone still even use :) or :P in texts anymore??

Review: The Library of Ever by Zeno Alexander

Title: The Library of Ever
Author: Zeno Alexander
Rating: ★★★½
Summary: With her parents off traveling the globe, Lenora is bored, bored, bored—until she discovers a secret doorway into the ultimate library. Mazelike and reality-bending, this library contains all of the universe’s wisdom: every book ever written and every fact ever known––and Lenora is now its newly appointed Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian. As she rockets to the stars, travels to a future filled with robots, and faces down a dark nothingness that wants to destroy all knowledge, Lenora will have to test her limits and uncover secrets hidden among its shelves in order to save the library itself.


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via NetGalley.

Her parents hardly ever brought her here, and Lenora was determined, when she grew up, to go to the library anytime she wanted.

The Library of Ever was cute, but after reading through all of the glowing four and five-star reviews, I’m beginning to think that I was not the target audience for this book. (But I’m okay with that!) With a colorful, eye-catching cover and the word “library” in its title, I was pretty much always going to check out the summary, but reading that it was “an adventure across time and space as a young girl becomes a warrior for the forces of knowledge”? UM YES PLEASE.

At almost 200 pages (of kid-lit sized paper and font), it took me just over an hour to finish—but perhaps that was part of the problem. I approach one-sitting reads much differently than ones which take multiple sessions, and I’m also not used to the pace of kid-lit. A lot of the fiction I read is character driven and, although stuff happens, what I find most interesting is how the characters react to or are changed by those events. Zeno Alexander doesn’t even give his main character Lenora a last name. We know that she’s being babysat by someone she doesn’t particularly like and that she’s annoyed at being told to wait in the car while her babysitter runs into the library, but that’s pretty much it. Her curiosity immediately kick-starts the plot and then the book basically doesn’t stop moving.

For me, this kind of frenetic pace was exhausting. I was in that place while reading where I was really tired but knew that if I just powered through, I could finish––but you can’t read this book and only half pay attention. Alexander so perfectly weaves each chapter with the next that if you’re not careful, you become lost in the maze he’s created. But for others? This kind of story probably feels exciting. Whether Lenora’s adventures are “real” isn’t the point: it’s the confidence she gains, the lessons she learns, the cool and noteworthy facts she uncovers.

Alexander wants his readers to fall in love with books and reading the same way Lenora does, and it saddens me that I wasn’t as wowed by The Library of Ever as other readers. Maybe I’ve let the Forces of Darkness in and lost my kid at heart.

Review: If I’m Being Honest by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

Title: If I’m Being Honest
Authors: Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka
Rating: ★★★★★
Summary: High school senior Cameron Bright’s reputation can be summed up by one word: bitch. When she puts her foot in her mouth in front of her crush, she fears she’s lost the one person who actually liked her for good. In an attempt to win him back, Cameron resolves to prove her worth by making amends with those she’s wronged. First on the list? Brendan, the guy to whom she gave an unfortunate nickname in middle school and who’s now the school loser. But the longer Cameron spends repairing Brendan’s reputation, the closer she gets to him—and the more she realizes that he appreciates her personality, brutal honesty and all. It makes her wonder: what if she’s compromising herself for a guy she doesn’t even want?


Note: an eARC of this title was acquired via Edelweiss+.

If you’re lucky, sometimes you stumble onto a good book at exactly the right time; even if its not perfect, it’s perfect for you, and you’ll fight anyone who says otherwise. If I’m Being Honest was that book for me.

Taking cues from Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, If I’m Being Honest follows Cameron through the first few months of her senior year at an uber posh Los Angeles prep school. With no patience for anything less than transparent honesty, authors Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka write Cameron as an over-achieving mean girl—she’s selfish, self-absorbed, and mean. Even though we understand that she doesn’t have the best relationship with either one of her parents, we don’t feel bad for her, either. Cameron is completely oblivious to how her words hurt, and the first few chapters set up a very compelling story arc for redemption.

I stayed up until 12:30am on a work night to finish the second half of this book because I couldn’t put it down. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka made me need to know what happened to Cameron. Would her (delicious) slow-burn romance with Brendan go anywhere? What would happen to her new friendship with Brendan’s sister, Paige? Parts of the book made me literally curl my toes and squee they were so freaking cute while others made my heart sigh happily. Having an accurate portrayal of anxiety? Validating. Seeing an authentic portrayal of female friendship? Down-right refreshing.

The summary makes If I’m Being Honest seem like your run-of-the-mill young adult novel, but it’s so much more than that. Wibberley and Siegemund-Broka imbued all of their characters with messy personalities and true-to-life emotions so that nothing feels cheap or out-of-place. You knew that you could be happy when something good happened to a character because you’d already spent the last few chapters being angry with them for doing something stupid. There was fandom and creative passion projects and mental health rep and I may have cried just a bit toward the end.

Please read this book, y’all. It is so, so good.

Review: The Fact of a Body by Alex Marzano-Lesnevich

Title: The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir
Author: Alex Marzano-Lesnevich
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Before Alex Marzano-Lesnevich began working at a law firm, they thought they were staunchly anti-death penalty. But once they heard convicted murderer Ricky Langley speak on his crimes, they realized they wanted him to die. Shocked by the reaction, they dug into the case, finding Langley’s story unsettlingly and uncannily familiar. An intellectual and emotional thriller as well as a murder mystery, The Fact of a Body explores the intersection of violent crime with personal history. It tackles the nature of forgiveness and if a single narrative can ever really contain the truth. It shows how the law is more personal than we like to believe—and the truth more complicated and powerful than we can imagine.


Note: Alex Marzano-Lesnevich identifies as genderqueer and goes by they-them pronouns but didn’t when the book was published.

I thought I knew the plot of this book before I read it. From the summary, I guessed that the murder in question was of Alex Marzano-Lesnevich’s relative—an aunt, perhaps—referenced in passing enough that they knew she had died but not really how. And so when they hear the “unsettingly, uncannily familiar” confession of Ricky Langley, it sparks a memory which they follow, learning more about the crime from both the murderer’s perspective as well as their family’s.

But that’s not what happens. Uncovered slowly through dual perspective, The Fact of a Body unfurls both Marzano-Lesnevich’s childhood as a sexual abuse survivor with that of Langley, a sexual abuser. For obvious reasons, it’s a hard story to read, but Marzano-Lesnevich is a brilliant writer, and the story flows easily from the murder and its aftermath to their adolescence, from before Langley was born through his childhood to the internship they accept which ultimately introduces them to Langley’s case.

The Fact of a Body flew under the radar when it was published, most likely because neither Ricky Langley nor his crime is well-known, but I hope more people read it. It reminded me very much of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark in that each book focuses on both a crime and the person pursuing that crime and, for both, I wanted to know just as much about the criminal act as I did the person trying to understand the criminal. Marzano-Lesnevich so plainly lays bare their pain and anger that you feel it, too. But they also make room for Langley, for the messy “un-neatness of everything that happened” to him and because of him.

Marzano-Lesnevich opens the book with “a note on source material,” in which they state that The Fact of a Body is “my interpretation of the facts, my rendering, my attempt to piece together this story. As such, this is a book about what happened, yes, but it is also about what we do with what happened.” In an attempt to ask what, the book gives space to both why and how, and we come away better for it.

Review: Internment by Samira Ahmed

Title: Internment
Author: Samira Ahmed
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens. With the help of newly made friends, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance within, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the camp’s Director and his guards. Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.


When fascism comes to America, it will come draped in the flag. You don’t need to be a student of history to see how nationalism, disguised as patriotism, can take hold of a country, justifying terrible and cruel acts. You only need to turn on the news.

I don’t know that I really enjoyed Internment—more that I experienced it. On one hand, the plot feels like true dystopic fiction, a horrendous what if? spiraling out of a real-world event. But on the other, it reads like an inevitability, the disastrous result of one too many bad choices, the culmination of a timeline from which we can no longer turn back.

We’re introduced to main character Layla after a Muslim registry and Exclusion Laws have already taken effect, but the action quickly accelerates as her family is forcibly removed from their home, tattooed with an ID number, and transported to a “rehabilitation” camp across the desert. The allusions to Japanese internment are frank and unsettling, Samira Ahmed forcing her readers to truly look at all the horrible shit America has done to its citizens in the name of nationalism. It should come as no surprise, then, that Internment was very hard to read, but it is important that I did, and that you do, too. “What’s that thing people always say about history?” Layla asks. “Unless we know our history, we’re doomed to repeat it? Never forget? Isn’t that the lesson? But we always forget,” she reminds us. “Forgetting is in the American grain.”

One of the first things that Layla mentions is how her life is broken up into “Then and Now,” but most of the Thens—the election, the Nazi march on DC, and the Muslim ban—mirror real-world events, so what’s to say that my reaction to those wouldn’t also mirror my reactions to the other Thens—the registry, book burnings, and Exclusion Laws— that ultimately led to Layla’s internment? One of the reasons why this book was so difficult to read was because Ahmed held up a mirror and made me look at myself, forced me to question how I would react to similar circumstances. I kept asking, would I be able to endure like Layla? Protest like her? Resist?

The short answer? No, I don’t think so.

Layla shows extreme fortitude in Internment, and I don’t know that I could do it as well as her, or even at all. About halfway through the book, Layla’s dad tells her, “don’t attract attention. Fade into the crowd. Stay as anonymous as possible. That’s how we’ll survive.” But Layla doesn’t want survival—she wants life. In acknowledging that “there’s no limit to the horrible things we do to one another,” she still understands that “human beings are capable of so many wondrous things.” It’s that hope, that ability to see beauty in the most brutal circumstances, that I admire most of all.

In her author’s note, Ahmed mentions, “I feel a lot of anger. But I believe in hope. I believe that the things that are wrong with America can be fixed by Americans. I believe that being good is what can make us great.” Reading Internment made me feel a lot of anger, but it also gave me hope. What more could I ask of a novel?