Review | Gouda Friends, by Cathy Yardley

GoudaFriendsCoverGouda Friends is a sweet and sexy friends to lovers romance. Tam and Josh have always been each other’s BFF/emergency contact. They drifted apart when Tam moved from California to New York for a boyfriend and a dead end job at an ad agency. But when Tam catches her boyfriend with another woman (and worse: having eaten her precious fancy cheese with said woman), she immediately gives Josh a call. Josh owes his current success running a ghost kitchen business to Tam; she helped him figure his life out when he hit a personal low point a few years ago, and he’s glad for the opportunity to return the favour.

I love Tam and Josh’s relationship. Yardley does a great job of building up the sexual tension between them — their sex scenes are both scorching hot and adorably tentative, and I love how much their years-long friendship helped them understand what the other needed in bed. I also love how deeply they care for each other beyond the romance, and support each other through key life moments. Even with just slight, subtle references to the past, it’s clear to us just how much Tam helped Josh out of his low point years ago, and how much she contributes helpful ideas to the next stage of his career; and in turn, we get to see unfold in the present how Josh uses similar techniques to help Tam through her own career slump.

Josh is a super sweet friend; I like how he offers Tam a place to stay for an indeterminate amount of time, and more importantly, I love how Tam is equally determined to get on her own two feet in reasonable time. She values her independence without being too defensive about it, and as much as Josh wants to help her out for as long as it takes for her to figure out what she really wants to do with her life, he also respects her desire to stick to a reasonable timeline. There’s a deep thread of mutual respect between both of them, and I love that.

I also like the supporting characters; the nerd herd is a fun group. I like the various friends, and how they all jump in to support Tam through this major transitional moment in her life. I’m already looking forward to what I presume will be future romances in the series featuring Vinh and Emily, and Juanita and Darius. They’re all badass in their own ways, and it’s fun to see them working together to help each other out.

I admit the cheese puns did get a bit much after a while; I thought I loved cheese, but I didn’t realize until Tam how much more a person actually could be obsessed with cheese. But Tam is so genuinely enthusiastic about cheese (particularly Cloud City Creamery cheese!), and Josh so earnestly supportive of her love for it (he keeps feeding her stuff she loves to eat, which is so super sweet!), that I actually ended up liking the overall cheesiness of this part of the story. Mostly, I was happy that they were happy, and honestly: find yourself a man who’d fill his fridge with cheese just to keep you happy.

And finally, I love how both Tam and Josh’s stories vis-a-vis their careers turn out. The job Tam eventually takes is perfect in so many ways, and the way Josh’s pitch to his investors turns out, despite not being quite how he planned, makes so much sense. I love how these subplots about Tam and Josh figuring their professional lives out was so intricately interwoven with the romance, and how their partnership was developed on so many different levels.

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Thank you to Thomas Allen Ltd for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Never Ever Getting Back Together, by Sophie Gonzales

NeverEverTwo teenage girls compete on a dating reality show to win a second chance with their mutual ex-boyfriend, only to fall in love with each other instead. Sophie Gonzales’ Never Ever Getting Back Together is a sweet and feel-good YA romance.

Maya and Skye are adorable together. I love how they initially hate and distrust each other (because of Jordy’s manipulations, obvs), but then actually work things out by talking to each other. Their romance is just fun and light-hearted; each heroine gets her chance at being a knight in shining armour to the other, and I love how openly they communicate with each other about their concerns. The story does touch on some more serious themes, like Maya’s single-minded focus on getting revenge on Jordy, Skye’s inability to trust people due to past trauma, and Jordy’s gaslighting and overall jerky-ness. But these are all treated with a fairly light touch, and I love how both heroines help each other through difficult moments.

I also really love the friendships formed amongst all the girls in general. Each contestant has her own reason for wanting to be on the show, which range from ambitions to be a social media influencer or meet Jordy’s royal in-laws to genuine desire for give Jordy a second chance. Jordy also varies in how he treats each girl badly — for example, he brushes off one contestant who tries to talk to him about her worry over a friend in the hospital. I love how even the other contestants get their own meaningful mini-subplots, so that even as we’re cheering on Maya and Skye to get together, we also get to cheer on other awesome young women to achieve their individual goals.

Finally, how awesome is that title? I love the Taylor Swift reference, and the overall mood of the story fits right in with this song. The ending was also super satisfying, and even though this did not happen in the book, I love imagining Maya, Skye, and other contestants singing along to a Taylor Swift soundtrack and letting Jordy know that they are never, ever getting back together with him.

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Thank you to St Martin’s Press for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Are You Sara? by S.C. Lalli

AreYouSaraA Sara and a Sarah leave a bar and get into their respective Lyfts. Sara realizes their error when her car drops her off in a posh neighbourhood miles away from the much humbler neighbourhood of her basement apartment. She makes the trek home on foot, only to find police cars in front of her apartment, and cops examining Sarah’s dead body.

Who killed Sarah? Worse, even though Sarah was white and Sara is first generation Indian-American, they share the same build and hair colour, and would be easy to mistake for the other in the dark. Was Sara, a law student whose side hustles to pay for tuition weren’t quite all above-board, the actual target?

Are You Sara? is a fast-paced, twisty, and entertaining thriller. As much as I like to think its premise is far-fetched, I’m afraid I find it all too easy to imagine. As if taking ride-shares wasn’t a risky enough venture for any woman, now we have to worry that getting into the wrong one could prove fatal! Lalli did a great job developing the characters of both Sara and Sarah. This results in it being really easy for us to imagine either woman being the target of the crime, but it also means that even Sarah, whom we barely get to know before she gets killed, feels like a real person, one whose death we can genuinely regret.

The novel also explores some of the complex issues that women, and women of colour, have to deal with. We see both Sara and Sarah dealing with sexism and male entitlement, and with having their friends dismiss valid concerns, and we see Sara dealing with racism as a Brown woman pursuing a prestigious career.

Sara in particular is really skilled at getting people to open up to her and do what she wants them to, and I absolutely love how she uses this ability to turn others’ racism and sexism on its head. There’s a particularly masterful scene where Sara tries to negotiate a loan with a white male bank employee about her age. She senses immediately that he’s both attracted to, and intimidated by, her, so she deliberately downplays her accomplishments and lets him ogle her chest. It’s not quite a fully triumphant scene, because the guy was gross and unprofessional, and Sara shouldn’t have had to put herself in that position just to pay for school. But it’s a kind of code-switching I, at least, am familiar with, and I bet other readers are too. And there’s a kind of sweet satisfaction in seeing the guy’s behaviour through Sara’s eyes, and how easily she plays him to respond as she needs him to in order to get that loan.

One, admittedly minor, snag with the book for me was that Sara’s whole “I’m not really a ‘good Indian girl'” confession seemed a lot more dramatic than her actual actions warranted. She didn’t lead the quiet life her family expected, but on the whole, even her shadiest actions didn’t turn out to be all that bad. There’s a moment near the end where she gives the reader a hint of her future plans, and the narrative tone gave major gleeful villain vibes, but really, her big plans weren’t at all shady or even all that shocking. Mostly, it felt like a straight-A student gleefully confessing about how she smoked one joint or cut one class, and part of me wished Lalli had had a bit more fun with the dark side Sara keeps telling us she has.

Another, also admittedly minor, snag is that I wish I’d gotten to know Sarah a bit more. The relationships within her friend group were interesting and felt realistic; I especially love how she was helping her best friend get alone time with her crush, and it’s not because Sarah believed in their compatibility. Rather, Sarah knew her best friend deserved better, and she wanted her friend to get this dude out of her system so she can finally move on. I found it a pretty rational and thoughtful approach to her friend’s crush, and actually a kinda mature (or cynical?) idea given their youth. Still, that kind of detail made her an intriguing character to me, and I wish we’d seen a bit more of her as a person outside of her relationships. I almost wish she’d survived the attack so we could follow both women through the aftermath. Which is a testament to how well Lalli writes characters, and hooks readers into their stories.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading Are You Sara? It’s a page-turner, and I finished it in a single day, which is pretty significant considering how long it’s been taking me to read stuff these days. I highly recommend it!

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Thank you to Harper Collins Canada for an e-galley of this book in exchange for an honest review.