The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag

The Girl from the Sea

Information

Goodreads: The Girl from the Sea
Series: None
Source:
Library
Published:
2021

Official Summary

Fifteen-year-old Morgan has a secret: She can’t wait to escape the perfect little island where she lives. She’s desperate to finish high school and escape her sad divorced mom, her volatile little brother, and worst of all, her great group of friends…who don’t understand Morgan at all. Because really, Morgan’s biggest secret is that she has a lot of secrets, including the one about wanting to kiss another girl.

Then one night, Morgan is saved from drowning by a mysterious girl named Keltie. The two become friends and suddenly life on the island doesn’t seem so stifling anymore.

But Keltie has some secrets of her own. And as the girls start to fall in love, everything they’re each trying to hide will find its way to the surface…whether Morgan is ready or not.

Star Divider

Review

The Girl from the Sea is a sweet summer romance centered around one girl’s search for her identity. Morgan has plans to leave her island home as soon as she can go to college. Only then does she plan to reveal to the world that she is gay. However, when a girl named Keltie appears from the ocean, Morgan finds herself trying to balance her attraction to Keltie with her desire to blend in with her friend group. When hiding her budding relationship becomes unsustainable, Morgan will have to decide what she values more: the life she has crafted on the island or the life she could have. Fans of Molly Knox Ostertag will enjoy this new graphic novel.

The Girl from the Sea is one of those books that shows the power of literature to help readers see things from new perspectives and empathize with others. Were the story told from another point of view, Morgan could easily look like the villain. She brushes off her brother, who is obviously trying to get her attention and connect with her, in favor of hanging out with her new girlfriend Keltie. She lies to her friend group about where she is and what she is doing–again, to hang out with her girlfriend. She then publicly rejects her girlfriend and makes fun of Keltie behind her back in order to keep fitting in with her friends from school. Morgan is not particularly kind to anyone in this story, but, because it is told from her perspective and not from her brother’s or her friends’, readers feel sorry for her. She wants to be able to be with Keltie, but she is also not ready to tell the world that she is gay. If keeping her secret means hurting others, she is willing to do it.

This all creates a lot of drama and suspense, and readers will find themselves eagerly turning the pages in hopes that things will get better. Only by being true to herself can Morgan repair her relationships and save the local wildlife in the process. The narrative is relatively fast-paced while still providing enough detail to flesh out most of the characters. The only really rushed bit is the insta-love; Morgan and Keltie see each other once, kiss immediately, and are a couple forevermore. The book does at least try to explain this away by saying Keltie is a selkie and it is destined. Readers may just have to try to accept that and move on.

The Girl from the Sea is an engrossing story that expertly blends a story of self-acceptance with a hint of romance and a dash of magic. The beautiful artwork only adds to the tale. Readers who enjoy graphic novels, especially ones that blend the fantastic with the everyday, will want to pick this one up.

4 stars

Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

Love and Olives

Information

Goodreads: Love and Olives
Series: Love and Gelato #3
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Summary

Olive’s father left when she was eight–left to chase the lost city of Atlantis. Now, after years of no contact, he wants her to visit him on the Greek island of Santorini. Olive has zero interest in reconnecting with the man who let her down, but her mother wants her to do. Now, Olive has to decide if her relationship with her dad is worth saving.

Star Divider

Review

Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch brings the island of Santorini alive as the protagonist, Olive, attempts to reconnect with the father who left her as a child. Like the previous installments, this one focuses more on familial love than on romantic love, though Olive does meet a handsome boy named Theo, who might be everything her current boyfriend is not. Fans of the previous books will no doubt enjoy this one, as well, though, at 500 pages, it is unusually long for a contemporary romance, and can sometimes feel repetitive.

The highlight of this series for me has always been the travel aspect and Love and Olives does not disappoint. Olive explores Santorini and the nearby islands extensively as she helps her father film a documentary about searching for Atlantis. Plenty of information about the lost city is provided, and it is interesting, but I have to admit that I preferred exploring the known, visible islands more than I cared about theories as to why Santorini might be the location of Atlantis. Olive gets to stay in a magical bookstore with a hidden bunk, visit several beaches, go on a sunset cruise, and, of course, experience the local cuisine. I felt like I got to go on a mini vacation with Olive!

Olive as a character regrettably borders on the annoying. She is drawn with sensitivity and depth, shown to be still processing the fact that her father left her and her mother when she was eight–and she has only heard from him recently, when he wants her to do something for him. However, the passages where Olive feels sad for herself and wants to push everyone away come a bit too frequently–I do not know that she needs to think about her sad past every five pages, just so we understand that she is scarred. Also, she has a weird obsession with making sure no one knows her dad is an Atlantis hunter because it is too “weird” and “embarrassing.” This does not really make sense in a world where mainstream media regularly highlights mysteries such as Bigfoot, ghosts, and aliens. A historian interested in uncovering the location of Atlantis is not as bizarre as Olive thinks, and I really had no patience with all the lies she told to try to cover it up.

Aside from Olive’s constant need to feel sorry for herself, however, the book is pleasant. It feels like a love letter to Santorini, with the author wanting readers to understand all its beauty and wonder. I had fun exploring with Olive, and I hope that one day we can have more travel stories from Jenna Evans Welch.

3 Stars

Recommended for You by Laura Silverman

Recommended for You

Information

Goodreads: Recommended for You
Series: None
Source: Library
Publication Date: 2020

Official Summary

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets You’ve Got Mail in this charming and hilarious rom-com following two teen booksellers whose rivalry is taken to the next level as they compete for the top bookseller bonus.

Shoshanna Greenberg loves working at Once Upon, her favorite local bookstore. And with her moms fighting at home and her beloved car teetering on the brink of death, the store has become a welcome escape.

When her boss announces a holiday bonus to the person who sells the most books, Shoshanna sees an opportunity to at least fix her car, if none of her other problems. The only person standing in her way? New hire Jake Kaplan.

Jake is an affront to everything Shoshanna stands for. He doesn’t even read! But somehow his sales start to rival hers. Jake may be cute (really cute), and he may be an eligible Jewish single (hard to find south of Atlanta), but he’s also the enemy, and Shoshanna is ready to take him down.

But as the competition intensifies, Jake and Shoshanna grow closer and realize they might be more on the same page than either expects…

Star Divider

Review

Recommended for You is a cute rom-com perfectly calculated to appeal to book lovers. While the standard rom-com plotline can often feel stale–girl meets boy, does not like boy, then discovers boy is not as bad as she thought–it seems clear that this book is trying to freshen things up by dropping as many bookish allusions as possible. Readers presumably are going to pick up the book because they like books about books. This strategy works somewhat. Ultimately, however, Recommended for You really does feel like just another rom-com, with no real reason for readers to choose it over another similar title.

Many readers, unsurprisingly, do enjoy reading books about books or, in this case, books about bookstores. Recommended for You takes that knowledge and does its darnedest to keep such readers happy. References to popular YA titles such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games are made. Jokes about customers who browse indie bookstores only to buy the book off Amazon–while still in the store–are made. References to the nightmare that is working in customer service are made. In other words, the book checks off all the boxes to make book lovers and bookstore workers think, “So relatable!” None of it feels very organic, but people who get the joke might not mind.

Aside from the bookish allusions, the main thing that really stands out this book is Shoshanna’s character. She is, quite frankly, the type of protagonist many readers might not like, not because she is immature or rude or unthinking (all of which are true), but because she can be actively mean. She is the type of person who uses the bookstore intercom to shame a person for not reading. And who makes snide comments about her coworkers’ attire, then gets upset why they do not get the “joke.” There are things about Shoshanna that I can overlook because she is a teen, and, yes, teens do silly and rude things without thinking. But mocking people on the intercom is not something the average person does without realizing how awful that is.

The fact that Shoshanna and Jake are both really nasty, however, makes it difficult to buy into their romance. Shoshanna eventually learns to stop meddling in other people’s business and trying to “fix” their lives, but that is a separate lesson from her mean attitude, which the book never addresses. Jake, meanwhile, apologizes for being completely nasty to Shoshanna when they first met, but just glosses over it by implying he really needs the money and he just could not be expected to be polite to his new coworkers as a result. At some point, they fall in love despite their attitudes, but the book does not clearly indicate how or why this happens. The book is a rom-com, so why not, I guess.

On the whole, Recommended for You is a pretty forgettable read. It hits all the normal notes for a rom-com, but relies too heavily on the premise of being set in a bookstore to try to distinguish itself meaningfully in other ways. I finished the book because it is short, but I never felt invested in it.

3 Stars

Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe

Charming as a Verb

Information

Goodreads: Charming as a Verb
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2020

Official Summary

Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger can charm just about anyone. He is a star debater and popular student at the prestigious FATE academy, the dutiful first-generation Haitian son, and the trusted dog walker for his wealthy New York City neighbors. But his easy smiles mask a burning ambition to attend his dream college, Columbia University.

There is only one person who seems immune to Henri’s charms: his “intense” classmate and neighbor Corinne Troy. When she uncovers Henri’s less-than-honest dog-walking scheme, she blackmails him into helping her change her image at school. Henri agrees, seeing a potential upside for himself.

Soon what started as a mutual hustle turns into something more surprising than either of them ever bargained for. . . .

This is a sharply funny and insightful novel about the countless hustles we have to keep from doing the hardest thing: being ourselves.

Star Divider

Review

Charming as a Verb has been on my radar for awhile and I had high hopes. A rom com where the romance begins with one party being blackmailed by the other? Intriguing. Unfortunately, however, the characterization of the protagonist, Henri Haltiwanger, felt incomplete and even a little confusing. This was enough to make the book only a so-so read. Something that’s okay, but generally unremarkable.

The main issue with Henri is that, according to the title, he is supposed to charming. I, in turn, assumed this meant I would be rooting for him. Henri’s introduction, however, establishes him as a liar, one who actually went through the trouble of creating an entire fake business, with its own fake website, email, and T-shirts, in order to con people in NYC to pay him for walking their dogs. The book presents this as kind of cute, just something he had to do in order to earn some cash, because he attends a fancy prep school with rich kids and he needs money, too, right? But, realistically, this deceit is pretty big and possibly even criminal. It does not immediately establish Henri as likable.

As the story progresses, readers learn that Henri is flaky about his commitments, unclear about his intentions with women, and willing to lie in general in order to get what he wants because he figures the system is rigged against him and it’s only fair. He regularly fails to show up to his debate team practices, even though they are relying on him. He has an undefined relationship with a girl who clearly is into him, but whom he is happy to use as a one-night stand. He complains all the time about how hard it is for him to get into Columbia University, even though he goes to a prestigious prep school with a counselor who has inside contacts and pulls strings for him to get a personal interview with a Columbia graduate. In short, Henri is not at all charming. He’s selfish and self-absorbed, and quite unsympathetic when he complains about Columbia, as if he has no idea that the majority of high school students in the U.S. have a zero chance of getting into an Ivy League school, because they don’t attend a high school with a recognizable name and don’t have connections to the people who influence admissions.

This might all be fine, if one considered that Henri is just supposed to be a morally grey character who makes mistakes and maybe just is a really bad friend and boyfriend. But the book repeatedly assures readers that Henri is, yes, charming. That readers should care about him. That they should root for him. But…why? There are a few vague mentions about his love of fashion and sneakers, and his desire to design them. But the sneaker references appear only sporadically, and it’s actually difficult to remember that they are supposed to be Henri’s passion. So the whole “follow your dream” subplot falls flat and fails to make Henri any more likable.

In the end, when Henri makes another huge mistake (read: another criminal lie), he gets off pretty easy and still manages to have his dreams (because this is YA, after all). And this actually feels like a problem. Normally, I would want the character to have a second chance, but the characterization here has not convinced me that Henri truly has a heart of gold and this was just one lapse of judgment. His entire characterization has shown Henri to be dishonest and unreliable, in pursuit only of what will benefit him. It is difficult to know what to think of a book that tells readers the main character is likable and good-hearted, but shows them that he is not.

There’s also a pretty lackluster romance in the book, which the summary might have readers believing is a main point. However, the characters become a couple pretty quickly, with few of the rom com hijinks one might have expected from a sort of enemies-to-lovers romance. Their chemistry is largely absent, with the book simply telling readers about how in love they are, but never convincingly demonstrating that the two are compatible. The romance eventually becomes sidelined, with Henri mainly concerned about getting into Columbia.

The college application process is one aspect of the book I did enjoy, however. It captures the anxiety around applying for colleges, trying to figure out the right things to say at the interview, wondering when the acceptance or rejection notice will come. It’s maybe not as relatable that almost everyone in the book seems to be aiming for (and getting accepted) at Ivy League schools, but they do attend a fancy prep school so I guess it makes sense.

Would I recommend Charming as a Verb? Probably not. But I would be willing to try some of Philippe’s other books.

3 Stars

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds

Opposite of Always Book Cover

Information

Goodreads: Opposite of Always
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2019

Summary

When Jack meets Kate at a college party, it’s love at first sight. But then Kate dies. And Jack finds himself stuck in a cycle of time travel, repeatedly living the months between his first meeting with Kate and her death. Can he find a way to save her without ruining the rest of his life?

Star Divider

Review

Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds is an uneven book with a slow start and a fast-paced finish. It begins in media res, with the protagonist Jack running from the law. Once it starts back at the beginning, however, readers are treated to long stretches of nothing but Jack and his new crush flirting. I almost DNF’ed this book about a third of the way through. I had nothing else to listen to on audio, however, so I kept with it and, eventually, found myself actually interested in the outcome of the story. Some readers may enjoy this more than I did. However, for me, Opposite of Always kept the best for last–a move that risks losing readers at the start.

Opposite of Always is decidedly a book for people who love romance. The gist of the story is that our hero Jack falls in love with a college girl named Kate. However, when Kate dies, Jack finds himself sent back in time to the moment they met. He has to keep repeating the same couple of months, each time ending with Kate’s death. Jack keeps trying to change the future, but he often messes up events instead. This may sound interesting, but Jack has very little in his life besides Kate and he spends most of his time mooning over her, plotting how to save her, flirting with her, and ditching his friends and family for her. He’s unhealthily obsessed, and it gets to a point where it’s not clear it’s even romantic anymore.

What this means is that the first third or so of the book is literally just Jack and Kate flirting. And it’s not amusing. It’s the kind of flirting that is (presumably) only sweet or funny if you are actually there, doing the flirting. For onlookers, it’s boring. Jack, I am afraid, is not as witty as he thinks he is, nor is Kate. Having to hear their exchanges in person, via text, and over email is excruciating. It’s the main reason I almost DNF’ed the book.

Once the time travel bit starts happening, things start to pick up. Jack spends less time recounting every text he sends to Kate and starts trying to do things to save her. Most of his plans are incredibly bad plans–which actually makes it kind of hard to root for him. He makes stupid, risky choices that harm and alienate his friends, and expects them to forgive all because it’s for Kate. It’s not a good look for Jack and at some point, he stopped (for me) being a sympathetic character. He was just a character who repeatedly makes bad choices. One would think that travel and the ability to have do-overs would improve Jack’s people skills, but it really takes a lot for him to realize his best option is every case is honesty, empathy, and transparency.

Still, by the end, I was actually wondering what Jack would do to solve his problems and end the cycle of time travel. Unfortunately, I only stuck around to the end because I didn’t have another audiobook, so, in another version of events, I would have stopped listening very early on. I am bumping up the star rating for the ending, but I rather wonder how many other people will make it that far.

3 Stars

10 of the Most Romantic Young Adult Novels

10 of the Most Romantic YA Books

Looking for a good YA romance? A young adult novel to cuddle up with to read for Valentine’s Day? From slow-burn romances to swoon worthy love interests, there are some of the most romantic young adult books I have read:

Exile for Dreamers by Kathleen Baldwin

This is book 2 in the School for Unusual Girls series, and while Tess’s romance was simply hinted at previously, here it absolutely flowers, and I was smitten.  Love interest Lord Ravencross is a bit gruff but quite protective–yet Tess also pulls her own and never lets anyone treat her as too delicate or helpless. Baldwin excels at getting readers invested in the romances of her characters.

smaller star divider
Star-Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Written in compellingly beautiful prose, The Star-Touched Queen brings readers to a world where fates are written in the stars and hints of magic drift throughout the human world. Protagonist Maya has never liked what the stars say about her, however, until a mysterious suitor teaches her to reinterpret their prophecy, rather than attempt to rebel against it.  Together the two have to trust it is their fate to belong to each other.  The Star-Touched Queen is fantasy romance nearly at its finest.

smaller star divider
My Life Next Door

My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick

One of my favorite contemporary romances, this story is brimming with heart.  Jace and Samantha’s relationship grows slowly and naturally, leading to a romance in turns sweet and just a little bit sensual.  Additionally, readers are introduced to Jace’s large family, and his younger brothers and sisters will win readers’ hearts as easily as Jace does (especially George!).  A highly recommended read that offers just the right blend of fun and thought-provoking themes.

smaller star divider

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

The romance–and the two characters in it–is really the high point of A Curse So Dark and Lonely. It’s been a while since I read a novel where I was so invested in the romance, captivated as I watched the two characters come closer together slowly but surely, hesitant to trust each other but hoping they could–and then that the trust would turn into something more. This is a lovely, slow burn romance that builds over the course of the novel and brings the readers right along with it.

smaller star divider
Echo North book cover

Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer

A slow-burn fairy tale retelling that had me riveted and is one of those rare books that reminds of me of exactly how compelling and original retellings can be. This is a uniquely beautiful story featuring characters who fall in love with each other’s best qualities.

smaller star divider
Cinder by Marissa Meyer

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

I put the whole series instead of picking just one book because, starting with Cinder, they are ALL pretty romantic, And while the books are often predicable, that’s what sort of lovely about them; one can’t wait to see one’s favorite couples get together (and, uh, defeat evil, etc. and all that other stuff going on in the plot….)

smaller star divider

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Lola Nolan is happy.  She has a fun job at the local movie theatre, a hot rocker boyfriend, and a blooming talent for creating clothes (or, in her words, costumes).  Her peace is shattered, however, when the Bells move back in next door.  Lola would love to keep hating Cricket Bell for leaving her two years ago, but with his growth spurt, his sense of style, and his determination to charm her, she might find that difficult.

smaller star divider
Kissing in America

Kissing in America by Margo Rabb

A provocative, thoughtful story about what it means to love and what it means to be a friend, Kissing in America follows sixteen-year-old Eva as she journeys across the country to pursue a romantic relationship.  She quickly learns, however, that real life is both unlike and yet unexpectedly similar to the steamy romance novels she likes to read.

smaller star divider

Opposite of Always by Justin Reynolds

Reynolds’s debut asks readers what they would do and what they would sacrifice for the people they love–and also shows the magic of reliving one’s love against from the first butterflies. (Full review coming on the blog Feb. 2021.)

smaller star divider

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Can two people really fall in love in the course of a single day? I would generally say no, but Yoon does a great job of convincing me it could happen, as she brings her characters on whirlwind adventures throughout New York City.


Looking for more? Check out 14 Adorable YA Romances to Read for Valentines Day! Or try our flow chart to see Which Romantic Classic You Should Read Next.

What Romantic Classic Should You Read? (Flow Chart)

MORE ABOUT THESE CLASSICS

*Click the book titles to read full reviews.

You can find more flow charts with reading recommendations here:


Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym

If unrequited love is more your mood than passionate romance right now, Some Tame Gazelle may be the book for you. Read about the protagonist’s unreturned flame for a now-married friend, her sister who’s been proposed to by the same man multiple times because she keeps refusing him, and all the other delightfully realistic inhabitants of their small town.

smaller star divider

Belinda by Maria Edgeworth

You thought I was going to recommend a Jane Austen novel for a Regency romance, didn’t you? However, everyone knows about Austen…but do they know about Maria Edgeworth? Her novel Belinda features a seventeen-year-old protagonist looking for marriage and was known by Jane Austen herself.

smaller star divider

Troilus and Criseyde by Geoffrey Chaucer

A classic love story that has been told and retold (Shakespeare wrote a play, too), featuring star-crossed lovers during the Siege of Troy. If you thought Chaucer only wrote The Canterbury Tales, you’ll be pleased and surprised by the nuance with which he tells the story of Troilus and Cressida and how they fall in love and experience tragedy.

smaller star divider

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

You probably read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in high school, but have you read it recently? Now is a great time to experience this classic tragedy all over again, looking at it with fresh eyes. And maybe relishing the ending if you’re not really in the mood to think happily ever afters tend to work out. It’s a romance and an anti-romance all in one!

smaller star divider

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

L. M. Montgomery may be best known for writing Anne of Green Gables (and book three, Anne of the Island, is pretty romantic, as well!), but The Blue Castle is a beautiful, rather overlooked novel that anyone who wants a light story about unexpected love will enjoy.

smaller star divider

SHIRLEY BY CHARLOTTE BRONTË 

One of my favorite college professors recommended this book as “one of the most romantic novels she’d ever read,” and it’s so true and so overlooked due to most people’s focus on Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I do think the book opens a bit slowly, but once it gets going, it’s immersive. It would also pair well with reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, due to the focus on the mill and labor issues (still romantic, though!).

Netflix’s Bridgerton Might Be a Romance, But It Charmed Me with Its Focus on Family

Bridgerton The Duke and I Discussion Post

Note: I’ve tried to keep this post spoiler-free; however, I do talk about events broadly, so if you prefer no spoilers at all, you probably don’t want to read this.

I’m not a huge romance novel reader. I’ve tried a few romances, and while they were entertaining, I don’t think the genre is really for me. (I’ll spare you a whole description of why; romance fans seem to suffer enough from non-romance readers explaining to them why their preferred genre has no value.) However, I was intrigued by the idea of a romance novel adapted for television, and the previews of Bridgerton‘s lush costuming and dance scenes caught my eye further; I do like a good Regency film. So, as I watched episode after episode, I was delighted to find myself drawn not just into the main story of Daphne’s fake dating turned real dating romance with a handsome duke, but also into the story of the Bridgerton family and all their friends.

To be honest, I think the focal story of Daphne and the duke might be the least interesting part of the series, in spite of the nuance given to the characters: Daphne’s struggle with appearing to be the “perfect” young lady while actually chafing against some of the constraints put on her by society, Simon’s struggle to commit to someone and find love and a family after being rejected by his father for his own imperfections. The actors certainly do well bringing these character traits to the screen, but overall Daphne and Simon still do come across to me a bit too much like the perfect couple (it’s what everyone in society thinks of course, how lovely they are and how enviable their beautiful love story). And while they have their struggles (and a very major fight and breach of trust with each other), it’s still a romance; we all know the happily ever after is coming.

So while the Daphne/Simon romance is fun, I found the show really shone in areas I hadn’t initially expected: in showing the Bridgerton family’s bonds with each other and their friendships with others (especially Eloise Bridgerton and Penelople Featherington). The show opens with chaos, Bridgerton children running about, poking fun at eldest sister Daphne for taking too long to get ready, exasperated that eldest son Anthony is nowhere to be found and is blowing off his responsibilities yet again. But over the course of the show, viewers see how close the Bridgerton children really are, even when they don’t seem to be. Daphne and Anthony fight but also bond over the high expectations placed on them. Benedict and Eloise share secrets. And their mother watches over them all; she has her own flaws, but her love for her family and her fierce protectiveness is charming.

Penelope Featherington is also a delight. While Eloise comes across a bit as the stock “I am opposed to marriage because it will limit me” character, Pen wants to have it all: love and the opportunity to accomplish other things. And she seems to operate on her own moral compass rather than thinking of what society expects of her or even what would benefit the Featherington family as a whole. I think I look forward to seeing in her future seasons most of all.

So, yes, Bridgerton is a romance, and the show sticks in plenty of steamy scenes (which I mostly skipped, so it’s a good thing the Internet informed me of the controversy surrounding one of those scenes with Daphne and Simon because it actually included a major plot point and jumping off place for character development). But the show really develops the characters and puts a larger emphasis on family and friendship than I had initially anticipated, which I really enjoyed.

Briana

From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Information

Goodreads: From Blood and Ash
Series: Blood and Ash #1
Source: Library
Published: March 30, 2020

Official Summary

A Maiden…

Chosen from birth to usher in a new era, Poppy’s life has never been her own. The life of the Maiden is solitary. Never to be touched. Never to be looked upon. Never to be spoken to. Never to experience pleasure. Waiting for the day of her Ascension, she would rather be with the guards, fighting back the evil that took her family, than preparing to be found worthy by the gods. But the choice has never been hers.

A Duty…

The entire kingdom’s future rests on Poppy’s shoulders, something she’s not even quite sure she wants for herself. Because a Maiden has a heart. And a soul. And longing. And when Hawke, a golden-eyed guard honor bound to ensure her Ascension, enters her life, destiny and duty become tangled with desire and need. He incites her anger, makes her question everything she believes in, and tempts her with the forbidden.

A Kingdom…

Forsaken by the gods and feared by mortals, a fallen kingdom is rising once more, determined to take back what they believe is theirs through violence and vengeance. And as the shadow of those cursed draws closer, the line between what is forbidden and what is right becomes blurred. Poppy is not only on the verge of losing her heart and being found unworthy by the gods, but also her life when every blood-soaked thread that holds her world together begins to unravel.

Star Divider

Review

From Blood and Ash is the book everyone seemed to be reading in 2020, so when I saw it at the library, I figured I might as well check it out; it’s also the first book I’ve read by Armentrout, and I’ve heard good things about her work in general. In the first half of From Blood and Ash, I was confused what all the hype was about; the plot seemed a bit basic and the world building somewhat confusing. However, events got exciting enough by the end of the novel I do have some interest in finding out what happens in book 2.

At the beginning of the book, I admit I was wondering whether other readers primarily liked the novel for the steamy scenes and the hot love interest; so much of the book is based on the premise that protagonist Poppy is the Maiden and must remain pure and untouched that it seems a main point of the book is showing readers how she doesn’t remain untouched at all. This is fine, but I was expecting more of the “high fantasy” aspect of the book and not so much of the “romance” part.

I did get more of that as the book went on and the plot progressed. Parts of the plot are certainly predictable; I called a lot of them from the beginning. However, Armentrout manages to add enough action and drama to the major reveals near the end of the book that they still kept my interest. The end is a real cliffhanger, as well.

The book is fine. I’ve seen it recommended for fans of A Court of Thorns and Roses, and that seems right. It’s entertaining and steamy and just a bit short on the actual fantasy story aspect.

Briana
3 Stars

Harbor for the Nightingale by Kathleen Baldwin

Harbor for the Nightingale Stranje House series

Information

Goodreads: Harbor for the Nightingale
Series: Stranje House #4
Source: Purchased
Published: September 20, 2019

Official Summary

Maya brings the mystery of India with her…

With her friends’ lives in deadly peril, Miss Maya Barrington, one of Miss Stranje’s unusual girls, must serve as a double agent. To do so, she gains entry into Napoleon’s duplicitous game on the arm of the enigmatic Lord Kinsworth. She can read almost everyone; not so with this young rascal. Quick with a jest and armed with lethal charm, Kinsworth remains just beyond her reach. Can she trust him?

With Britain’s future at risk and those she loves in deadly peril, Maya questions everything she thought she understood about life, love, and loyalty.

Fans of genre-blending, romance, and action will love this speculative history Regency-era novel filled with spunky heroines, handsome young lords, and dastardly villains–fourth in the Stranje House series. Don’t miss the first three books: A School for Unusual Girls, Exile for Dreamersand Refuge for Masterminds.

Star Divider

Review

This is a tough book for me to review because, although I’ve been championing the Stranje House series since A School for Unusual Girls was released in 2015, I didn’t connect with Harbor for the Nightingale as much as I did with the first three books.  I enjoyed seeing more of Maya (and Sera, as her best friend at the school), and the book does feature more escapades and plotting against Napoleon, as well as well as a new romance.  However, things felt a bit rushed to me, and the romance was flatter than I have come to expect from Baldwin.

Part of my difficult might be that Maya’s talents seem so abstract.  I thought I would struggle in book two with Tess’s talent for prophetic dreams, but Baldwin made them seem real.  Maya’s primary talent is changing the cadence and tone of her voice to influence people, and her second is hearing the “music” of other people and the world.  Baldwin clarifies in an ending author’s note that Maya’s voice modulation is based on a real art, and that part does work for me.  Her ability to constantly hear “music” from everyone and everything around her was more difficult for me, for two reasons.  First, this imbued the book.  Literally everything was described as sound and notes and instruments, and it seemed a bit overdone to me.  Second, I think it was used as shorthand for the romance, which made that relationship more compelling.

In Harbor for the Nightingale, the love interest is someone new to readers, though there are indications that he and Maya have been in proximity and working/singing together for a bit.  However, Maya’s knowing him is different from readers knowing him, so the relationship feels as it comes a bit out of nowhere.  Furthermore, a lot of is based on Maya’s sense of his inner music and her sense that there’s something mysterious or charming about it or something that matches her own music.  This, I admit, means very little to me.  Saying you like someone because of his inner violincello is just not quite the way to help people/readers understand your romantic chemistry.  So while the love interest seems like a genuinely nice guy, Harbor for the Nightingale definitely has the least swoonworthy romance in the series, in my opinion.

I did, however, enjoy seeing Maya’s relationships with the other characters, including the other girls (especially Sera, who is quiet and therefore a bit of a mystery as a character) and with her father.  I think the book really shines here, as well as with getting readers into Maya’s mind in general.

There’s also a tightly focused plot, which I think is useful at this point in the series.  Stopping Napoleon has always been the goal, but that can be so broad.  In Harbor for a Nightingale, we get a clear sense of what Maya is going to do to help that happen.

I still love the Stranje House series, and I am certainly going to be reading the next installment (focused on Sera).  There just seems to be a bit of a fourth book slump here. 

*Also it’s worth noting that this book, unlike the previous three, was published by an indie press rather than Tor Teen, so the pricing is a bit different if you’re looking to purchase it, and it might not be as readily available in some libraries (although mine recently did get the ebook). 

Briana
3 Stars