The Winner’s Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Winner’s Kiss
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Series: The Winner’s Trilogy #3
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Justine Eyre
Length: ~11 hours (484 pages)
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Source: Library (Libby app)

SYNOPSIS

Some kisses come at a price.

War has begun. Arin is in the thick of it with untrustworthy new allies and the empire as his enemy. Though he has convinced himself that he no longer loves Kestrel, Arin hasn’t forgotten her, or how she became exactly the kind of person he has always despised. She cared more for the empire than she did for the lives of innocent people—and certainly more than she did for him.

At least, that’s what he thinks.

In the frozen north, Kestrel is a prisoner in a brutal work camp. As she searches desperately for a way to escape, she wishes Arin could know what she sacrificed for him. She wishes she could make the empire pay for what they’ve done to her.

But no one gets what they want just by wishing.

As the war intensifies, both Kestrel and Arin discover that the world is changing. The East is pitted against the West, and they are caught in between. With so much to lose, can anybody really win?

MY THOUGHTS

This was a great conclusion to the series with a satisfying ending for Kestrel and Arin. I like how each book in the series is very different. I think The Winner’s Crime (book 2) was the strongest in the series with its focus on court drama, espionage, and plenty of angst, while The Winner’s Curse (book 1) was the weakest for me with an uncomfortable premise and a very slow start. The Winner’s Kiss is a war story that falls somewhere in the middle for me.

Kestrel loses her memory as a result of drugs she was forced to take in prison, just as Arin comes to understand the truth about the risks Kestrel took and sacrifices she made for him. This definitely created a lot of tension as Arin was finally ready for a trusting relationship with Kestrel, but then he was a stranger to her. But eventually, Kestrel’s memories do return and they can FINALLY admit their feelings for each other without any obstacles.

Of course, they still have an impossible war against the empire to win. Kestrel’s affinity for scheming and strategy paired with Arin’s leadership and determination and reinforcements from the East might just have what it takes to overthrow the indomitable empire once and for all.

While I enjoyed this book, I never fully got sucked into the series. It’s difficult for me to pin down exactly why. It could be that I didn’t love the first book. It could be that I listened to the audiobooks when I might have connected better reading the physical books for this series. However, this was overall a solid series and I recommend it if you’re looking for some angsty YA fantasy romance.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Tweet Cute
Author: Emma Lord
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrators: Dan Bittner & Emily Shaffer
Length: ~10 hours (368 pages)
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Release Date: January 21, 2020
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for Fans of: enemies to lovers trope, grilled cheese

SYNOPSIS

A fresh, irresistible rom-com from debut author Emma Lord about the chances we take, the paths life can lead us on, and how love can be found in the opposite place you expected.

Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

MY THOUGHTS

That was so cheesin’ cute! A very well-executed YA contemporary with excellent character development. The way Pepper and Jack’s rivalry developed into genuine friendship into maybe something more was perfection. THIS is how you do enemies to lovers!

The Twitter war was fun, modern concept that did not go the way I expected, but it turned out to be way better. Pepper and Jack both found themselves torn between what they want for themselves and what their parents expect from them as they near the end of high school. Jack feels pressured into taking over the family sandwich shop business even though his heart lies in app development, and Pepper’s mom is just the worst, dragging her daughter into her personal dramas!

The miscommunications between characters (facilitated by various communication apps) drove the plot and provided ongoing drama, so it was very satisfying at the end when everyone was finally honest with each other. Now I just need to know where I can get that famous grilled cheese and some monster cake!

Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating
Author: Christina Lauren
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Todd Haberkorn & Jayme Mattler
Length: ~7 hours (309 pages)
Publisher: Gallery Books
Release Date: September 4, 2018
Source: Library (Libby app)

SYNOPSIS

Hazel Camille Bradford knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint. From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other. Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind dates means there’s nothing between them…right?

MY THOUGHTS

This was a super fun and adorable rom com. I found Hazel to be instantly hilarious and relatable. She is quirky, weird, wild, and a bit of hot mess, but she is 100% unapologetic about who she is and does not tolerate anyone who tries to dull her shine.

Josh and Hazel had a near perfect friends to lovers arc (refreshing after reading so many enemies to lovers). They cared so deeply about each other and had such great chemistry! The disastrous series of blind dates they set each other up on had me literally laughing out loud, and they made it so obvious that they only belonged with each other.

I totally thought this would be a five star book for me; however, I did not love the ending. I think the big twist felt inappropriate and took away from the story overall. It didn’t seem like the right way for the characters to get together, and it also felt very rushed. I did think that the epilogue was perfect, but I wanted more time to savor Josh and Hazel finally getting together without unnecessary complications.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆1/2
Title: The Hating Game
Author: Sally Thorne
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Katie Schorr
Length: ~11 hours (365 pages)
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Release Date: August 9, 2016
Source: Library (Libby app)

SYNOPSIS

Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She’s charming and accommodating and prides herself on being loved by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. Everyone except for coldly efficient, impeccably attired, physically intimidating Joshua Templeman. And the feeling is mutual.

Trapped in a shared office together 40 (OK, 50 or 60) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game. The Mirror Game. The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything—especially when a huge new promotion goes up for the taking.

If Lucy wins this game, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she suddenly having steamy dreams about Joshua, and dressing for work like she’s got a hot date? After a perfectly innocent elevator ride ends with an earth-shattering kiss, Lucy starts to wonder whether she’s got Joshua Templeman all wrong.

Maybe Lucy Hutton doesn’t hate Joshua Templeman. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

MY THOUGHTS

This book just wasn’t for me, and it’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly why. This book was so hyped and recommended, but it just didn’t do it for me.

It started off strong. I instantly loved the banter and animosity between Lucy and Josh and I couldn’t wait to see how it developed into a romantic relationship…which is where my problems began.

I was very confused by the dynamic between Lucy and Josh as the story progressed. I almost DNF this book because I just couldn’t get into their weird vibe. I like a clear hate to love story, but this was very ambiguous. Lucy had such a strong understanding of her goals and desires, so I couldn’t buy that she was so frustratingly oblivious to her true feelings for Josh. Their interactions as the story progressed just didn’t seem natural or believable to me.

There were some really great moments toward the end at Josh’s brother’s wedding, and I was rooting for them as a couple by the end, but it didn’t make up for how long it took me to come around to support the story and the relationship. We can’t love every popular book, and this one was not for me.

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: It Ends With Us
Author: Colleen Hoover
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback
Length: 376 pages
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Source: book swap
Triggers: domestic abuse

SYNOPSIS

Sometimes it is the one who loves you who hurts you the most.

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town in Maine where she grew up
— she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. So when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life suddenly seems almost too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan — her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

MY THOUGHTS

This book was heartbreaking and beautiful. I knew it was about an abusive relationship, but I was not prepared to feel such a connection to Lily! She was so hopeful and optimistic. I loved the way she went for her dreams and managed to stay strong no matter what life threw at her.

This book is so powerful and personal, and it raises awareness for the realities of domestic abuse, showing how women find themselves in abusive relationships and why so many women stay, even if they previously thought they would never put up with that. It’s hard to view forgiveness as a weakness. As a society, we need to stop blaming women for staying in abusive relationships and start holding abusers accountable. We need empathy.

This book had several scenes that were hard to read, but it was so important. The story was so well-written and compelling, I couldn’t put this book down. I was constantly drawn back into the story to see how Lily would navigate her future while dealing with her past and her present.

The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Title: The Bromance Book Club
Author: Lyssa Kay Adams
Series: Bromance Book Club #1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Andrew Eiden & Maxwell Caulfield
Length: ~9 hours (352 pages)
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Source: Library (Libby app)

SYNOPSIS

The first rule of book club: You don’t talk about book club.

Nashville Legends second baseman Gavin Scott’s marriage is in major league trouble. He’s recently discovered a humiliating secret: his wife Thea has always faked the Big O. When he loses his cool at the revelation, it’s the final straw on their already strained relationship. Thea asks for a divorce, and Gavin realizes he’s let his pride and fear get the better of him.

Welcome to the Bromance Book Club.

Distraught and desperate, Gavin finds help from an unlikely source: a secret romance book club made up of Nashville’s top alpha men. With the help of their current read, a steamy Regency titled Courting the Countess, the guys coach Gavin on saving his marriage. But it’ll take a lot more than flowery words and grand gestures for this hapless Romeo to find his inner hero and win back the trust of his wife.

MY THOUGHTS

This was SO CUTE! As much as I love romance books about new relationships, my favorite thing about this book was that it shows what comes next. Relationships are hard work. This book is about a married couple in a relationship at its breaking point, where both parties have to decide if it’s still worth the effort.

I like that Gavin is a successful, professional athlete, but he feels so grounded and real. He has fears and insecurities. He isn’t the stereotypical confident jock.

Thea lost herself in her marriage and her children. She wants to recover the spontaneous, passionate artist she used to be, but she’s not sure there’s room in her marriage for her to be who she wants to be.

The book club was HILARIOUS. The premise was absurd, but I appreciated the effort all these “alpha males” put into understanding women and improving their relationships, and their antics had me laughing out loud.

This was a sweet and realistic second-chance romance. It showed how people change and fake it in relationships, but that creates an opportunity to either call it quits or try to fall in love again.

Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
Title: Red, White, & Royal Blue
Author: Casey McQuiston
Genre: Contemporary Romance, LGBTQ
Audience: Adult
Format: Audiobook
Length: ~12 hours (421 pages)
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Source: Library (Libby app)
Recommended for Fans of: rom-coms, enemies to lovers

SYNOPSIS

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

MY THOUGHTS

SO MANY HAPPY TEARS! This story is charming. The characters are so strong and well-written. Alex is an extremely relatable narrator as he struggles to figure out who he is and what he wants, even if we can’t relate to his particular circumstances.

Alex and Henry’s romance was so darn cute! Their enemies to lovers arc was so well done. Their shared love of Star Wars! The way they ended their love letters to each other with quotes from famous letters! They are so perfect for each other.

My only complaint is I thought it took a smidge too long before they got caught. Things went too well for them for too long, and I could’ve used a little more suspense surrounding their secret relationship. But the rest of the book more than made up for this.

I’ve seen some reviewers call this story unrealistic. I prefer to call it idealistic, depicting the bester version of what our country and and our society could be. I can’t believe this book got me so invested in imaginary politics! As a Texan, that part of the story struck really close to home, and the ending left me bawling. This book made me so happy and it left me with so much hope for what the future can look like.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

BOOK STATS

Rating: ☆☆1/2
Title: Frankly in Love
Author: David Yoon
Series: Frankly in Love #1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Audience: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Raymond J. Lee
Length: ~10 hours (432 pages)
Publisher: Listening Library
Release Date: September 10, 2019
Source: Library (Libby app)

SYNOPSIS

High school senior Frank Li is a Limbo–his term for Korean-American kids who find themselves caught between their parents’ traditional expectations and their own Southern California upbringing. His parents have one rule when it comes to romance–“Date Korean”–which proves complicated when Frank falls for Brit Means, who is smart, beautiful–and white. Fellow Limbo Joy Song is in a similar predicament, and so they make a pact: they’ll pretend to date each other in order to gain their freedom. Frank thinks it’s the perfect plan, but in the end, Frank and Joy’s fake-dating maneuver leaves him wondering if he ever really understood love–or himself–at all.

MY THOUGHTS

I really wanted to love this book. I highly anticipated this release because I’ve enjoyed Nicola Yoon’s books, but I should not have placed my expectations for her writing on him. I almost DNF this book, and the only reason I finished it is because my next audiobook was on hold.

My biggest issue was that it felt like two different stories were happening that did not blend together well. Some parts of this book were so great, but others not so much.

I’ll start with the good. There were important discussions about race, identity, and family that were very deep and well-written. I think this idea could have worked as a short story or essay about the Korean-American experience, because the family dynamics in this book were so insightful, but as a whole the book did not come together.

Now for the bad. THE ROMANCE. This book has “love” in the title, but the romance was just not good. This book featured several YA romance tropes (instalove, fake dating, cheating), none of them well-executed. The cheating didn’t even bother me that much because the relationship never felt real to me in the first place. In general, the interactions between Frank and other teenagers felt awkward and inauthentic.

David Yoon knows how to write about Korean-Americans, but he does not know how to write believable teenage characters. YA is not the right fit for him to tell his story. I might consider reading something from him in the future in a different genre or platform, but I will not be reading the sequel to Frankly in Love.