2020 has been quite the year! Among the many things I miss during this pandemic are: library book sales (I’d get dozens of new books for less than $20!), in-person book festivals (especially Word on the Street, with the Harlequin Books booth!), and in-person book blogger events.
I’m ever-grateful to e-books and e-audiobooks for keeping me reading throughout lockdowns, and I’m especially incredibly grateful to the Toronto Public Library for keeping my e-reader filled in a year when budget is especially tight.
Feel-good, Happily-Ever-After Romances
1. Puppy Love (Forever Home # 1), by Lucy Gilmore
Hunky fireman whose gruff exterior hides a heart of marshmallow + kind-hearted service dog trainer who’s always been the fragile one in the family until this fireman brings out her inner kickass warrior + an adorable Pomeranian named Bubbles with “wet raisin eyes” and an unfortunate fear of fire. I mean, this book just makes me melt, and is the sweetest, most adorable romance ever.
I love how Sophie knows just the right buttons to push to make Harrison putty in her hands. I love how grouchy and beast-like Harrison is until Sophie teases him with baby talk or Bubbles stares at him with what he calls her “wet raisin eyes” (seriously, who wouldn’t swoon at that?!). And I love the Vasquez sisters — cool and efficient Lila, and warm and friendly Dawn — and I’m looking forward to reading their stories.
2. The Boyfriend Project, by Farrah Heron
The Boyfriend Project mixes so much of what I love in romance: fantastic chemistry, nerdy protagonists, kickass female friendships, and a conflict that is inevitable despite being neither character’s fault. I love the way Samiah and Daniel’s relationship developed, how both characters did their best to fight their feelings for each other (Samiah because she’d vowed to take a break from dating, Daniel because he knew he was lying to Samiah about who he was), and how they ended up ultimately being unable to resist each other. Rochon writes chemistry wonderfully, and I was right there with both Samiah and Daniel through their whole roller coaster of emotions. Read my full review here.
3. Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade
A geologist who writes fan fics meets the hot actor who’s the subject of her fics, not realizing that this actor is also secretly a fan fic writer and her online BFF. I love how the author writes about her fat heroine (April says outright that she’s not chubby or plump, but fat). April is confident in her body, but she’s faced bullying from loved ones and online trolls alike, so her confidence is hard-earned, and not always steady. Marcus obviously finds her gorgeous and sexy, and their sex scenes show how April’s fatness is part of her sex appeal.
I also love how nuanced Marcus is as a character. He’s a hot Greek god type, with the public persona of a himbo, but from his first appearance, we know how nerdy and intelligent he actually is. As we get to know him, we also learn about his vulnerabilities. He and April’s stories parallel each other’s in many ways, and I love how they both grow as people alongside their growth together as a couple. Read my full review here.
Young Adult Contemporary Fiction, Romance
I Love You So Mochi, by Sarah Kuhn
This is the feel-good comfort read we can all use this year. Kimi Nakamura is an aspiring fashion designer whose mother disapproves of her career choices. Upon an invitation from Kimi’s estranged grandparents, she travels to Kyoto for spring break, and meets Akira, a cute aspiring med student who moonlights as a costumed mochi mascot. Kimi also learns about her mother’s past, and how she and her mother may not be as different as Kimi had always felt.
A Claudia Kishi-esque heroine, mouth-watering food descriptions, and wonderfully vivid descriptions of Kimi’s designs and Kyoto hotspots… I’m absolutely in love with this book. I want it to be a movie just so I can see Kimi’s designs in real life. And I don’t even like mochi, but the author’s description of the matcha-flavoured mochi topped with strawberry makes me want to taste this “perfect bite.” Even better: the author’s mom gave her a red kimono with an orange obi, which is exactly the colour combination that so inspires Kimi and her designs. How awesome is that?!
Adult Contemporary Fiction, Thriller
White Ivy, by Susie Yang
A contemporary, Chinese American spin on Talented Mr Ripley, White Ivy explores themes of racism (overt and internalized), family, immigration, and the struggle women (particularly women of colour) face when making it in a man’s world. Main character Ivy Lin is a fantastic anti-heroine — complex, cunning, and charismatic — with a deep-rooted vulnerability that makes you root for her. I was completely captivated by Ivy’s story, full of scheming and plotting, all of which is centred around her very human need for love, belonging, and purpose. I absolutely loved this book, and highly recommend it for anyone. Read my full review here.
1. Rage of Dragons (The Burning # 1), by Evan Winter
Rage of Dragons presents an incredibly rich world where dragons can turn the tide in a seemingly endless war, and some humans are gifted with the ability to harness and control their powers. Tau starts off as a fairly low-key guy who just wants to marry his childhood sweetheart Zuri. But when violence forces him into joining the army, Tau becomes fixated on revenge, and not even Zuri may be able to bring him back.
I couldn’t put this book down. I love Zuri, and like her, I was both fascinated and horrified by the dark path Tau takes. Tau and his teammates were also a delight to read about, and I love how the author subverts our expectations about the dragons and their role in the war.
2. A Song of Wraiths and Ruin, by Roseanne A. Brown
Karina, a crown princess grieving the assassination of her mother and fighting off treason from her court, needs the beating heart of a king to win back her kingdom. She decides to offer her hand in marriage to whomever wins the Solstasia competition. Malik, a refugee desperate to rescue his younger sister from a vengeful spirit, strikes a deal to kill Karina in exchange for his sister’s freedom. Except he and Karina end up forming a friendship, and falling in love.
Compelling story, complex characters, incredible chemistry (romantic, familial, friendly, and political). I’m completely hooked by the world and so excited to see where the story goes!
3. Spin the Dawn (The Blood of the Stars # 1), by Elizabeth Lim
Project Runway meets Mulan in this YA fantasy. Maia Tamarin poses as a boy to compete for the role of imperial tailor, and is tasked with an impossible final challenge to sew three magical dresses for the emperor’s bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of the stars. Her journey brings her powers (magical, demonic, and divine) beyond her imagination, and also requires of her a much deeper and more painful sacrifice than she’s ever expected to make. The story is incredibly rich and beautiful, and Maia’s romance with Edan, the court enchanter, is the sweetest.
I ended this book excited for the second half of the duology, and hoping against all odds for Maia and Edan to find their happily ever after. The sequel, Unravel the Dusk, had much more mythology, politics, and battles, and much less fashion design and tailoring, which is likely why I personally didn’t enjoy it as much. (The descriptions of the dresses in the first book are incredible!) Still, the sequel succeeds in ramping up the stakes, and diving deeper into the darker aspects of Maia’s life and world. It’s a fitting end, and the duology as a whole is a wonderful set.
1. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games # 0), by Suzanne Collins
Ballad tells the story of a young Coriolanus Snow, before his rise to power. I loved The Hunger Games, and I found this prequel to be equally brilliant and just as chilling, in a different way from the original trilogy. Seeing the events unfold through Snow’s POV feels… gross, almost. He’s ambitious and calculating, which aren’t necessarily bad traits in themselves, but he’s also cold and self-serving, and his decisions throughout reveal how much he really is out only for himself.
Collins has written another gripping tale, one that will make us examine our own culpability in the very actions we may outwardly reject in the story. Coriolanus’ beliefs and actions are reprehensible, yet is he also, at the core, a survivor. Can we really say we’d do differently in his shoes? By placing us in Snow’s POV, Collins dives even deeper into the questions of bystanders’ culpability towards injustice, and makes us wonder if it’s ok to be this drawn into Snow’s world.
2. Midnight Sun, by Stephenie Meyer
Reading this made me *happy sigh*.
Edward’s perspective on the first Twilight book rounded out the story wonderfully, and showed us all the parts we missed while I’m Bella’s head. It turns out there was a lot we missed while in Bella’s head, and thanks to Edward’s mind-reading abilities, we also got a deeper dive into some of the other characters. The Twilight movie would’ve been so different if this book had been published much earlier.
I also loved seeing the glimpses of Jacob’s transition into werewolf (mostly looking older + smelling the vampire on Bella, even if he doesn’t know what it is yet). I kinda, sorta, really want New Moon from Jacob’s POV now.