Review: What If It’s Us

Title: What If It’s Us
Author: Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera
Rating: ★★½
Summary: Arthur is in New York for the summer, hoping that the universe will deliver a show-stopping romance worthy of a Broadway play. Ben, on the other hand, just wants the universe to mind its business; being witness to a proposal while in line to ship a box of his ex-boyfriend’s things? Not cool, universe. But what happens when Arthur and Ben meet-cute at the post office? What if they get separated – is it nothing? What if they get reunited – does that make it something? What if they can’t quite nail a first date… or a second first date… or a third? What if Arthur tries too hard to make it work… and Ben doesn’t try hard enough? What if life really isn’t like a Broadway play? But what if it is?


FYI: this review contains spoilers.

There were many reasons why I picked up What If It’s Us: (1) I fell in love with Love, Simon 1000% and needed more Becky Albertalli-written soft queer boys from Georgia in my life to distract me from a Check, Please! withdrawal. (Soft queer boys from Georgia are apparently my nemeses???) (2) I saw that gorgeously illustrated cover on display at my library and literally could not help myself the day before a week-long vacation. (This is, and continues to be, A Problem. Pls send help.) (3) It’s a young adult teenage love story that includes a Post Office flash mob meet-cute and just so happens to be about two boys falling in love. (4) Sara absolutely adored it.

But there were also two big reasons why it just didn’t do anything for me: (1) it featured my all-time most loathed narration technique of dual first-person POV with the extra-special added bonus of one character starting a thought… and then the other ending it. (UGH NO JUST STOP) I find this technique so incredibly lazy, and I had trouble every single chapter trying to figure out through whose POV I was reading. On the one hand, yes, having the chapter title be the POV character is great! BUT my brain literally does not pay attention to chapter titles. So until someone mentioned a name, it was basically a toss-up as to who was narrating. 🤷‍♀️ (2) I thought Arthur was a little bit Too Much in the way he reacted to events in the story, such as Ben still talking to his ex, the Hamilton Ticket Fiasco, or his two best friends dating and not telling him. It seemed like his frustration and anger was inappropriate to the circumstances (or else I have completely blacked out how it feels to be a teenager), and I found him too self-absorbed and privileged to really enjoy his parts of the story.

I understand that not every YA rom-com novel has to have a happy ending. Two seventeen-year-old boys having the foresight and finesse to amicably break up at the end of the summer before their cozy new relationship goes down in flames could happen in theory – but it’s not the ending I wanted for this story in particular. Am I wrong for wanting Arthur and Ben to stay together through their senior year, missing one another over Skype and then being over-the-top with their PDA when they do get to see each other? What’s the problem with a chapter or two of their super cheesy text chains or sweet “I miss you” Instagram posts?

I know that having them break-up was the Adult Thing to Do and actually made them grow as people and blah blah blah, but I wanted romance, dammit! I didn’t want them maybe reconnecting as college freshman. I wanted Art and Dylan to plan an adorable surprise of “oh sorry sweetie I can’t make it to New York it’s too expensive” and so Ben has to third-wheel his own senior prom but then Oh My God there Art is in his tux with a single long-stem rose and they dance together and it’s beautiful. (But can you imagine this? Because I can and it’s making me tear up rn.)

Albertalli and Silvera had the best building blocks for a great love story – and I get why some people went gaga over it – but it wasn’t the right story for me.

Review: My Favorite Half-Night Stand by Christina Lauren

Title: My Favorite Half-Night Stand
Author: Christina Lauren
Rating: ★★★
Summary: Millie Morris may have four guys as best friends, but she’s still perma-single. When a routine university function turns into a black-tie gala, Mille and her circle make a pact to find plus-ones for the event via online dating. There’s only one hitch, though: after making the pact, Millie and one of the guys, Reid, secretly hook up—only to mutually decide the friendship would be better off strictly platonic. But online dating isn’t for the faint of heart, and Millie’s first profile attempt garners nothing but dick pics and creepers. Enter “Catherine”: Millie’s fictional profile persona, in whose make-believe shoes she can be more vulnerable than she’s ever been in person. Soon “Cat” and Reid strike up a digital pen-pal-ship…while Millie struggles to resist temptation in real life. She’ll either have to concur intimacy or risk losing her best friend, forever.


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

Like Millie, I have had the Talk with myself: do I stay friends with this person or do I try to be more than friends? Is this regular “I’ve made a new acquaintance” excitement or more “I want to see you without your clothes” anticipation? Do I want this person to like me or do I want them to like me? As Millie asks, “are these spasms in my stomach what most normal people describe as love”—or are they simply just spasms?

As my first Christina Lauren novel, I went into My Favorite Half-Night Stand not knowing what to expect. The sexy times: great. The banter and accurate portrayal of friendship: awesome. The “I’m almost 30 and still don’t have my shit together”: I feel you 🙏. I legit read this in two sittings, desperate to figure out how Millie and Reid were going to get their HEA, both engrossed in the plot and amused by the antics.

But there were also a lot of “oh don’t do that” moments, too. Millie came off as emotionally stunted, her behavior more suited to someone who’s (maybe) in her early twenties instead of solid 29 with a super grown-up job. I’m sure that her duplicitousness was mostly manufactured for the plot, but it also went on longer than necessary. (Making a fake dating profile to ward off dick pics is one thing. Carrying on a correspondence with your best friend when a) he doesn’t know it’s you and b) you are both clearly developing feelings for each other’s online personas is another.) Then there’s Reid, who was guilty of one of my biggest pet peeves once he’d had his own Moment and then didn’t talk to Millie about it. (Yes I understand this is not always easy but most things aren’t and this is fiction and UGH JUST ACT LIKE ADULTS.)

Had I heard good things about other Christina Lauren books? Definitely. Did I enjoy the friends-to-lovers trope? Absolutely. Can I recommend a character who catfishes her best friend? Eh… maybe? My Favorite Half-Night Stand was one of those books that sucks you in and makes you desperate to keep reading. It’s only when you’ve finished do you realize, “oh, maybe I didn’t love it that much after all.” So enjoy the post-coital glow—but maybe don’t stay until morning.

Review: The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Title: The Proposal
Author: Jasmine Guillory
Rating: ★★★★½
Summary: When freelance writer Nikole goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part, though – it’s having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans. When Carlos comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew, they form an easy camaraderie. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she’s okay embarking on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes.


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

Y’ALL.

Let me just preface this by saying that I absolutely adored The Proposal. Jasmine Guillory is a fantastic writer, full-stop, and her sophomore novel was a fun contemporary romance that treated its characters (and readers) like competent adults. There was dramatic tension, but it didn’t feel like the characters made stupid, dumb choices JUST to move the plot forward. They communicated with one another the way people do in real life and disagreements happened because of what each character SAID to one another, not because they didn’t talk to begin with. (Such gasp. Much shock. So horror.)

Both the two leads and everyone else were diverse in some way, but no one’s backstory or motivations felt contrived or there to only serve a narrative purpose. Like, this novel was just so refreshing and makes you question the romance genre as a whole. Why can’t other novels have functioning adults as their protagonists? Why can’t there be more than just straight white people falling in love?? Why can’t more intersectional stories cross over into the mainstream???

I was definitely aware of Guillory’s debut, The Wedding Date, earlier this year (an #OwnVoices contemporary romance raved by Roxane Gay!), so I really wanted to read The Proposal as soon as it was published. (Because duh that cover and that summary.) AND LET ME TELL YOU. It delivered. The Proposal could have been any other romance, but because Guillory is so precise in her characterizations, it made sense that THESE characters in THIS setting had THESE things happen to them. The sex scenes weren’t gratuitous but they didn’t feel safe for work, either. And I know the timeline in which her protagonists fall in love is, in theory, very short, but it’s also like why is this taking so long?? 👏HUR👏RY👏UP👏

Honestly, the only thing that I disliked was that the damn book ended. I could see that the pages left were getting smaller and smaller, but I was also like no??? maybe don’t?? And then when Nik and Carlos FINALLY get their Happily Ever After, I turned the page and there was a biography of Guillory instead of more story. (How dare she.)

I know that both The Wedding Date and next summer’s The Wedding Party take place in the same universe, but that’s kind of not the same thing and I am very, very sad I can no longer read this book for the first time.

Review: One Day in December by Josie Silver

Title: One Day in December
Author: Josie Silver
Rating: ★½
Summary: Laurie is pretty sure that love at first sight doesn’t exist anywhere except the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there’s a moment of pure magic… and then her bus drives away. Despite searching for the next year, they don’t “meet” until Laurie’s best friend giddily introduces him as her new boyfriend. What follows is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into, and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.


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

One Day in December has SO many things going for it: a Christmas-themed holiday meet-cute, a friends-to-lovers arc, and that super-adorable cover art (which I know isn’t that important, but still, it’s super adorable). Instead, Josie Silver’s novel feels like fanfiction of something else, where we KNOW that a certain couple is endgame, but we have to suffer through all of this pointless bullshit before they get their happy ending. (Especially when she puts our OTP in the freaking summary. If I know where the story is going – that basically, Silver’s going to purposefully put her characters into pointlessly dramatic situations – the entire story becomes drama for drama’s sake. Stupid, pointless drama.)

I found myself reading in binges while on vacation, one half of me hoping the novel would get better and then the other immediately regretting it. Like, I would actually roll my eyes and yell at my iPad. Will this book get better? I hope it gets better. But do I hope it gets better? Why do I hope it gets better? Ugh this book is such trash! I never really bought the initial premise of the meet-cute and so always kind of felt like there was no real motivation to want Jack and Laurie to get together. (And their actions never convinced me, either.) Then Silver finally gives them their Moment and it’s like, meh, I’m more happy that this book is finally over.

On top of all that, Silver uses dual narration as a crutch, which is one of my absolute biggest fictional pet peeves. When an author chooses to use dual narration, there better be a good fricking reason for it. If the only way to know which character I’m following is by the name that’s written at the start of the chapter, an author has failed. Most of the POV switches happened at pivotal scenes, too, when knowing how Jack felt about Laurie would “tug at our heartstrings”. No! It annoyed me! Who the f*ck cares what Jack thinks!

So, I don’t know… should you read this book? Maybe. A lot of other reviews are giving it high marks – but maybe those same people think Andrew Lincoln’s character in Love Actually was romantic. (I didn’t.) There are so many good holiday-themed romance novels out there; you owe it to yourself to find one.

Review: As Long as You Love Me by Ann Aguirre

20945758Title: As Long as You Love Me
Author: Ann Aguirre
Rating: ★★½
Summary: Most people dream about getting out of Sharon, Nebraska, but after three years away, Lauren Barrett is coming home. She has her reasons – missing her family, losing her college scholarship. But then there’s the reason Lauren can’t admit to anyone: Rob Conrad, her best friend’s older brother.
Football prowess and jaw-dropping good looks made Rob a star in high school. Out in the real world, his job and his relationships are going nowhere. He’s the guy who women love and leave, not the one who makes them think of forever – until Lauren comes back to town, bringing old feelings and new dreams with her.
Because the only thing more important than figuring out where you truly belong is finding the person you were meant to be with.


Note: This review contains spoilers, noted in white text. Highlight if you’re curious!

I have to say this upfront – I never would have read As Long as You Love Me if I hadn’t won a free copy from Book Riot. (And yet I signed up for said giveaway… idk.) It’s kind of my perfect genre, but I didn’t know that because New Adult wasn’t really a thing when I was in high school and college (my prime romance-reading-years, y’all). I was stuck either reading about chaste young adults or single thirty-somethings having straight up sex – neither of which really hit the sexy-times-for-people-my-age for which I was really looking.

And then I discovered Ann Aguirre’s 2B trilogy. (Behold!!!)

As Long as You Love Me is the second book in the loosely connected trilogy of Nadia (I Want it That Way), Lauren (As Long as You Love Me), and Courtney (The Shape of My Heart), roommates of – wait for it – apartment 2B. (So fear very minor spoilers for I Want It That Way‘s ending – which you essentially know is going to happen anyway because, well, romance.) This kind of sequential-but-not-really-connected storytelling is one of my genre kryptonites, so Aguirre already scored points for writing her story in this way. (Bonus points for having the events of I Want it That Way, As Long as You Love Me, and The Shape of My Heart happen simultaneously!!!) She then got in some home runs/three-pointers/hole-in-ones/your sports metaphor of choice for making her story laugh-out-loud funny, squee-inducing cute, and fan-myself hot all at once. For example:
“In what world [would you need to lose weight]?… You’d lost all the oomph and most of your bam.”
“Tell me, is the oomph up front or is that the bam?”
“It’s your body. By now, you should know all about your oomph and bam. I shouldn’t have to explain these things to you.”
Aguirre also writes about flawed characters who are not flawed because of their clinical anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or spoiler [ history of being molested]. They’re flawed because of the choices they make – regardless of whether those disabilities factor into said decisions. It’s a small inclusion, but definitely appreciated; nobody is perfect, and reading about said imperfections reinforces the belief that disabilities are debilitating but also so incredibly normal. These factors are something which authors routinely overlook because nobody is supposed to admit that things like depression or anxiety even exist – let alone affect people in tangible ways.

With that said, however, there were a lot of things which annoyed me and lowered As Long as You Love Me from 3-3½ stars to 2½:

  1. Aguirre often ended chapters in the middle of a scene or conversation, opening the next chapter with either prose (that really only needed a line break) or the next line of dialogue (which – hello! – finished the conversation). A chapter is a defined closing point within a novel and thus should behave as one. You don’t see scene breaks in between questions and their answers or a fade-to-black before two characters have finished their conversation – because that is not what happens in a play or a movie. So, why is it happening here?
  2. As Long as You Love Me is narrated from Lauren’s point-of-view but written in third-person narration; this gives Aguirre latitude to view events through Lauren’s eyes but also lets her cheat by inserting random points of foreshadowing. Just once. In the middle of a happy point. UGH. WHY.
    Spoiler [
    “I shook my head, arms tightening on his waist. “Can we stay like this for a bit longer?”
    “As long as you want,” he promised. “I’m not going anywhere.”
    And like an idiot, I believed him.
    ]
    This trick cheapens all the work Aguirre did before we arrive at that point and then taints the experience we have once we get past it. Just let us have all the hurt-feels as they punch us in the gut, okay? We can take it.
  3. Because of this consistent Lauren-POV, understanding Rob’s actions, thoughts, and feelings during the climax of the story is hard. It feels like everything he says and does comes out of nowhere because Aguirre doesn’t build up his low self-esteem enough for it to really work as one of his defining characteristics. Spoiler [Lauren explains that her relationship with Rob couldn’t work before said climax because she and Rob were together in “codependent dysfunction” – but we don’t really get that from the story itself. It’s just kind of tacked onto the end as, “Oh, yeah, my super low self-esteem is why I believed you when you lied to me because of your anxiety.” The novel is told from Lauren’s POV but, as I mentioned, Aguirre uses third-person narration to get away with this explanation. Why couldn’t she have peppered the story with more Rob-centric explanations TO Lauren throughout? Or make us feel Rob’s low self-esteem just as we feel Lauren’s anxiety?]
  4. As Long as You Love Me ends on such a high note that it almost seems really lame in comparison to the rest of the book. Everything is awesome at the end – don’t get me wrong – but it took us so long to get there that it almost seems rushed in comparison. (Or maybe I’ve been reading too many books with stupidly high obstacles??) If everything works out for Rob and Lauren, why did it take so long? Why couldn’t our main characters have found a way to work out their shit that didn’t involve heartbreak or deceit? I mean, I get why what happens happens, but I wish Aguirre could have tweaked her novel just enough that my reaction was “UGH. WTF. DON’T” at the story instead of at the writing itself.

(I will, however, be gobbling up I Want it That Way and The Shape of My Heart. Take that as you will.)

Thoughts On: Romance Novels

“Thoughts On” is a monthly feature on thewasofshall where I give my (often rambling) thoughts on a topic relevant to reading, literature, or the book business. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Romance novels are just one genre among many – making romantic or sexual relationships the primary plot, motivator, or “problem” – but they’re almost universally scorned and used as the butt of jokes. Some arguments include the fact that they lack depth or plot development (really?), they’re “woman’s fiction” and thus sub-par (really?!), or they’re dirty (#ugh #stop). I’m not going to give space to these arguments, nor am I going to refute them, because, to me, “romance novels” are just another genre – a genre I read more a couple years ago but something which I also read now. Is it with the same frequency that I read science fiction or fantasy? Maybe not. Literary or general fiction? No. But they’re still there, popping up on my tbr list every couple of months.

And, like any other genre, romance novels span the spectrum of well-written to pulpy trash, chaste to borderline erotica, and plot-driven to plot-less. I don’t think that romance novels should be looked down on or scorned because they are romance novels: they should be criticized if the plot makes no sense, if they characters are half-formed, or if the author needed a good editor before he or she published – exactly like every other novel or genre out there. But, like I mentioned above, romance novels are a tough sell. They’re almost always put out as either paperbacks or mass-market (no nice hard covers for these babies). They have rather ridiculous cover illustrations advertising their main characters (and those characters’ relationship). The font is most likely scripted (or maybe even “girly” [wtf does that even mean???]). Being embarrassed about reading a romance novel is a hard bias to shake, mostly because people see that cover and just assume so much shit without either reading the book for which they’re making fun or even a romance novel in general (any romance novel).

And I think that’s totally unfair.

I spent the summer after I graduated college almost exclusively reading romance novels (basically anything Rachel Gibson or Deirdre Martin had published up to that point). I had a lot of free time on my hands, and it was nice to immerse myself in quick-reads that were vaguely connected. (I also realized that I really liked romance novels featuring hockey players.) As the summer ended and I ran out of books to read, I moved on. A couple of years later, I went back to these two authors after realizing that they had each published more books, but I couldn’t get into any kind of groove after my absence. I’d already figured out each novel’s plot – girl and guy meet (or re-meet), get together, have terrific sex, have a fight, break-up, get back together – before even getting past the first couple of chapters. It wasn’t that the books had changed; rather, I’d changed.

And maybe that’s the point – I had gorged myself on a genre and then couldn’t ingest any more (like my absolute love for peanut butter and banana sandwiches – which I still, to this day, cannot eat because I ate them everyday for about four months four years ago). Maybe what binds each “romance” novel together under this single genre-umbrella is simply it’s structure – just like all “science-fiction” novels include some sort of magic in the universe that’s explained by STEM fields while “fantasy” implies that magic is inherent or unexplainable. Pride and Prejudice is a romance novel but so are all these books GoodReads users have tagged romance. I think, in the end, we readers have to stop thinking that “romance” really means anything other than an expectation that the story will be predominately about romantic love. Ignore the sneers you get on public transit and indulge in your love of romance. Because, really, you’d have to be pretty cold to not at least enjoy a novel’s two protagonists getting together.

P.S. Jessica Tripler wrote a fantastic op-ed piece for Book Riot about her love of romance novels – “When Your Favorite People Hate Your Favorite Books” – and other Book Riot contributors have written some great articles for romance newbies: “A Romance Novel Virgin’s Guide to (Reading About) Getting It On” and “10 Essential Reads for Romance Newbies.” Book Riot’s #ReadHarder challenge also includes the category “A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure” – which, in my case, was a romance novel – but then they also add “read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over.” Well said.

Have your own thoughts on romance novels? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!

Five Favorite: Books About Love

“Five Favorite” is a feature on thewasofshall where I lay out my five favorite “x”. Sometimes they’re relevant to a season or holiday, mostly they’re not. It’s an all-around fun excuse to give my 100% amazingly awesome opinion. To see previous (and future) topics, click here. To participate, scroll all the way down.

Whether it’s romantic or sexual, reciprocated or unrequited, amorous novels abound in literature. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here are my five favorite.

Just-Can’t-Make-It-Work Love:

Gargoyle

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

TheTimeTravelersWife The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Slow-Burning Love

ColdMountain

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

Realistic Love

TheMarriagePlot

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Idealistic-Most-Well-Rounded Love

MrDarcyTakesAWife

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll

Have your own five favorite books about love? Share them! Post them to your blog, link back to this post, and then comment letting me know!