Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesday #6: Favorite YA Sports Books, Upcoming Themes, + My YA Debut!

Hey lovelies! It’s been WAY too long since I wrote a Theme Party Tuesday post, but I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things with this one. I thought that I’d also use this opportunity to keep myself accountable by listing the themes of upcoming TPT posts so I don’t have any excuse not to write them, and so you guys can contribute book suggestions for upcoming weeks or even make your own TPT posts if you want.

June 16: Sports in YA

June 23: Ocean-and-beach-themed YA

June 30: YA books set in Los Angeles (bc I’m heading off to USC in the fall and I gotta rep my brand!)

July 7: YA books with great worldbuilding (to celebrate the release of “Unravel the Dusk”!)

So that’s our next month worth of Theme Party Tuesday posts, and I can’t wait to share my recs with you guys (if you’d like to see a book included, please leave me a comment so I can check it out!). But you know what else I can’t wait to share with you?

GUYS, I’M A PUBLISHED AUTHOR NOW! My debut novel, “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” came out June 2nd on Amazon and I’m so excited to share it with you guys! But more on that in the actual ranking itself 😉 (Why do you think I picked sports as the theme? Hmmm?)

So without further ado: my favorite sports fiction!

5. Best Team Dynamics: “We Are the Wildcats” by Siobhan Vivian

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Sport Depicted: Field Hockey

What it’s About: a prestigious high school field hockey team realizes at a team sleepover that there are flaws in the system that they can no longer stand for.

Why You Should Read It: “We Are the Wildcats” was not my absolute favorite book, but I loved the team dynamics. It’s obvious that these girls love each other, and that’s sometimes really hard to find: when was the last time you read an ensemble-cast book where the characters actually got along? It’s probably been a while (I know it has for me). Their friendships were heartwarming even if the coach and everyone’s tendency to turn a blind eye to what a [redacted] he was made my blood boil.

Where I Read This: several places, but primarily while waiting at the train station to pick up my brother when he came home from college for Thanksgiving.

4. Fun Armchair-Travel: “Above All Else” by Dana Allison Levy 

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Sport Depicted: Mountaineering 

What it’s About: best friends attempt to summit Mt. Everest. That’s it. That’s the book.

Why You Should Read It: okay, I’m not going to lie, I could not STAND this book, but I’ve read almost no sports fiction and in terms of the actual sports part? The way mountaineering was depicted here was fantastic. It’s so detailed, and it was fascinating to learn about what actually goes into a climb of this difficulty. If you want a good mountaineering story, look no further; if you want a good story, maybe not.

Where I Read This: on a ski trip to the mountains (ha!) at Christmas.

3. Can’t-Not-Recommend: “Every Reason We Shouldn’t” by Sara Fujimura

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Sport Depicted: figure skating, roller derby, and speed skating

What it’s About: a former figure skater has to face the fact that her career could be ending, while the arrival of a talented young speed skater at her rink shakes things up.

Why You Should Read It: FIGURE SKATING!!! This is the first YA book I’ve come across that gets figure skating *right.* If you’re gonna write about a sport you’ve never actually tried, you have to do your homework; it’s clear that Sara Fujimura did hers. (I’m a former skater, so I’m super picky about this, and I actually though she was a former skater too by the way she wrote about it.) And besides that, it’s a really cute story that manages to be meaningful, too.

Where I Read This: while walking in my backyard to get steps in because the FitBit is a ruthless master.

2. Probably the Best Sports Book I’ve Ever Read: “Break the Fall” by Jennifer Iacopelli 

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Sport Depicted: gymnastics

What it’s About: the 2020 Olympic gymnastics team faces both the intense pressure of the Games and the reveal of a widespread and ongoing sexual abuse scandal.

Why You Should Read It: first of all, the actual gymnastics in this book is beautifully-depicted. I don’t do gymnastics, but I watched it rather obsessively (along with figure skating) growing up, and from what I know, “Break the Fall” is very accurate. The competition scenes are tense and exciting and I’m not ashamed to admit that I took a lot of inspiration from the way Iacopelli talks about competitions when I was writing my own novel (see below). And the side plot focusing on the scandal was both important and incredibly timely. It’s easy to see the parallels to real events, and they’re horrifying, but they tell a story that more people need to know if sports are to be made safer for future athletes. I applaud Iacopelli for taking that on.

Where I Read This: in bed, on a single night.

1. The One That I Wrote!: “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” by Sarah Salisbury 

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Sport Depicted: Figure Skating

What it’s About: I wrote a summary for this thing already, so I’m just going to paste that:

AUDIENCES LOVE A STRUGGLE.
Valerie Tran feels lost.
After years of work, Valerie’s name is beginning to be known in the figure skating community as one to watch. She’s got technical chops, consistency, and a sharp wit that’s made her a hit among fans – too bad she doesn’t want any of it. Valerie’s passion and motivation have waned, and as a new dream begins to eclipse the one she’s spent her entire lifetime striving for, she has to decide whether her career is worth spending her life doing something she doesn’t love.

AUDIENCES LOVE AN UNDERDOG.
Luisa Castillo is just getting started.
Switching countries to represent Mexico after years of skating for the U.S. team was a risky move, but if anyone can carry the hopes of a nation with absolutely no skating program to speak of – and do it without funding – Luisa is convinced it’s her. She’s got the best coaches and training mates she could ask for, and her new federation is all too eager to give her the international assignments she’s been dreaming of. Who cares if she might be pushing it a little too hard just months after knee surgery? She’s got this!
Right…?

AUDIENCES LOVE A LEGACY.
Samanatha Zhang comes from skating royalty.
Sam’s got Olympic medalists in pairs skating on both sides of her family, and they expect her to follow in their footsteps. But that’s not all bad: the ice is the one place where she isn’t in the shadow of her tragic childhood. Skating is safety from herself, her past, and her thoughts. But with her star on the rise, new friendships forming, and a budding romance threatening to tear down the walls she’s spent a lifetime building, Sam might just have to face the music: she can’t hide from everything that haunts her off the ice forever.

Why You Should Read It: oh, boy, guys, this is gonna get long. So, I’m not sure how many of you know that I write, but I’ve been writing fiction since I was ten and it had been a sort of pipe dream to write a novel for a while. I finally did that when I was a junior in high school, but that book will never be published, so I started on another one.

Also important to note is that when I was younger, I was a competitive figure skater and a devotee of the sport in every possible way. I watched it every time I possibly could, catalogued facts about every skater in my brain, ran a video editing account and a blog about skating, and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport that I constantly tried to use to convince people on an online skating forum I was on that I was in my twenties even though I was actually thirteen. (It almost worked.) Then I quit and went totally cold turkey, until something possessed me to start writing “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now”.

I really don’t know where I got the idea to write a story about skating; all I knew was that I wanted to use a trio of likable teenage girls to provide both an uplifting coming-of-age story and the realistic look at the skating world that I so rarely found in YA novels. But once I made that decision, the characters fell into place easily. Valerie was both the face of my own struggles while also being the person I wished I had been at her age; Luisa was based on my best friend in middle school, a skater who competes internationally for Mexico; and Samantha was a character I’d had in my brain since I was about twelve. And before I knew it, I was way too invested in these stories I already knew the endings to to stop writing. I was proud of the result and I decided to publish it. And a funny thing happened when I finally hit that “Save and Publish” button on Amazon.

People who’d been brushing off my writing as a pointless hobby were suddenly proud of me. Classmates who had told me they didn’t like my writing expressed interest in buying a copy. Instead of just being that weird writer girl, I was a published weird writer girl, and I’m not gonna lie, it feels good. I got to hold a physical copy of “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” yesterday and it was one of the most magical moments of my short life. So…this book kind of means the world to me. And I think y’all should check it out.

I promise, the skating is accurate. 😉

Where I Read This: at least fifteen times, because it’s my baby and I had to. But, fun fact: of the 65k-ish words of this story, I wrote the last 40k words in about five days. I have no idea why or how but it happened.

Bonus! Where to buy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0893ZP79N/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=sarah+salisbury&qid=1590365324&sr=8-1

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesday: Books Set in NYC

Sometimes, when I’m preparing to write a Theme Party Tuesday post, I browse my Goodreads shelves to find ideas for topics. That’s what I was doing today: I had no idea what I wanted to write about, so I decided to pick a book and find a theme that worked for it.

That book was Ismee Williams’ “This Train is Being Held,” which I loved but never reviewed. Since a “books that involve trains” or “books with dancers” list would be very short, I decided to base the list around the fact that the book is set in New York City…and a list was born.

5. Most Unexpected Use of Setting: “Wardens of Eternity,” Courtney Moulton 

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What it’s About: an orphaned young woman in 1930s New York who’s spent a lifetime searching for clues about her mysterious heritage discovers she’s descended from a long line of Egyptian magic-wielders sworn to protect…I think it was a tomb? I haven’t read this in a while.

Why I Liked It: the writing of this book was pretty clumsy at times, but I’ve never seen a more interesting use of magic in a real-world setting. Magic tends to bother me in YA because it’s often taken very lightly, but here, it has real-world ramifications. Even though this is very much an alternate history, we never forget that we’re in the real world of Great Depression-era New York. In addition, basing the story on Egyptian mythology made it very unique among magical YA novels, most of which seem to base their magic systems in European mythologies. (But, let’s face it, I mostly included this because I wanted to diversify my list so it wasn’t all contemporary rom-coms.)

NOTE: not all of this book actually takes place in New York (some of it is in Egypt) but the bulk of it does.

Where I Read This: at a Greek restaurant in a strip mall at family dinner the night before my brother went off to college.

4. Best NYC-set Retelling: “Alterations” by Stephanie Scott

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What it’s About: a budding fashion designer from a working-class Miami family is selected for a prestigious fashion internship in New York; after she returns home, she has to grapple with her feelings for the son of the wealthy family that employs her mother – and perhaps his brother as well.

Why I Liked It: so, this is a retelling of a classic movie called “Sabrina,” which I have never actually seen. Nevertheless, this was a cute story, and its depiction of New York City through the eyes of a first-time visitor is as sweetly starry-eyed as any I’ve ever seen. This was just…really wholesome I guess? “Alterations” wasn’t a perfect book but it’s hard not to be endeared to it.

Where I Read This: in my bedroom, because I read this at the beginning of the COVID quarantine. :/

3. Prose so Pretty You’ll Probably Cry: “Night Music” by Jenn Marie Thorne

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What it’s About: sparks fly over a New York summer when a brilliant composing student comes to study under washed-out pianist Ruby Chertok’s illustrious father.

Why I Liked It: I’ve played the violin since I was nine, so if a book is about classical musicians, I do not care what it is, I will read it. So a classical musician rom-com? Yeah. I was sold. But what I thought would be a sweet summer rom-com actually turned out to have a lot of weight; it’s about a romance, and it’s about music, but what it’s really about is finding your identity as you transition into adulthood, and it was beautiful. Thorne’s prose is gorgeous, and I fell more and more in love with the characters and the setting and the writing with every page. I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Where I Read This: again, in my bedroom because quarantine had started by the time I read it. :/

2. Best NYC-set Rom-Com: “Tweet Cute” by Emma Lord 

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What it’s About: classmates and rivals Pepper and Jack (yes, like the cheese!) wind up on opposite sides of a viral Twitter war between their families’ grilled cheese restaurants – and find themselves falling for each other as they duke it out online for sandwich supremacy.

Why I Liked It: okay, read that summary and ask me again why I ate this thing up with a spoon.

It’s an OVERACHIEVER HIGH SCHOOL ROM COM. It has GRILLED CHEESE. And ENEMIES-TO-LOVERS. And TWITTER WARS. And INSANE TUMBLR SHIPPERS. It’s everything you could ever want in a book and months later, I am still living for it. This is the only book wish NetGalley has ever granted me (yk that “wish for this” button?) and if there could only be one, I’m insanely glad it was this. Read this if you want to be absurdly happy for some amount of time, okay?

Where I Read This: I…cannot remember, how embarrassing.

1. Best Overall: “This Train is Being Held” by Ismee Williams

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What it’s About: NYC teenagers from different worlds meet, bond, fall in love, fall out of love, fall back in love, and repeat after meeting on the subway.

Why I Liked It: this is kind of a weird way of describing a book but the only word I can think of that adequately sums up this book is “lyrical.” There’s something incredibly graceful about it – its prose, which is elegant even in its use of colloquialism; the way it tackles difficult issues with a light, gentle touch; the softness of the romance, which is built upon a real connection and feels utterly authentic. It’s almost literary in that deft touch it has with its subject matter; in that, “This Train is Being Held” is a masterclass in why YA is nothing to sneeze at. Take that, book snobs.

Where I Read This: various places but the one I remember is while sitting in my car before school one day, trying to finish it before 7:52 so I’d have enough time to sprint to class by 8:00. (I did.)

That’s all for this week, but if you have any other NYC-set book recs or a suggestion for next week’s theme, PLEASE leave me a comment because I kind of have no idea what I’m doing and am 100% making this up as I go. Thanks, lovelies 🙂

 

 

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesday: Favorite YA Sci-Fi

Hey guys! Today is a very exciting day in my reading life because I have obtained a copy of Aurora Burning. (I know – buying a physical copy of a new release, at full price, during a pandemic? Must have REALLY wanted that book. YEAH. I DID. AND 150 PAGES IN, I LOVE IT. I’d probably be done with it already if I didn’t have to stop to work out…

Anyway.)

In honor of the latest installment in one of my all-time favorite YA series, which happens to be sci-fi, I’ve decided to make that the theme of my latest Theme Party Tuesday and share five of my favorite YA Sci-Fi novels!

NOTE: although I adore “Aurora Rising,” I don’t want to repeat authors, so I’m going to talk about “Illuminae” instead because I love them equally, I’ve never talked about it on this blog, and I’ll be reviewing “Aurora Burning” soon anyway.

5. Most Thought-Provoking: “A Conspiracy of Stars” by Olivia A. Cole

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What It’s About: an intrepid, curious young woman studying the wildlife of the alien planet she lives on becomes increasingly skeptical of the colonial government she lives under as her research leads her to unravel its sinister aims.

Why You Should Read It: “Conspiracy” was not my favorite of the books on this list, but none of them made me think more than this one did. I think a lot of what makes sci-fi so fascinating is its ability to take relevant, timely social issues and apply them to alien settings. This lets us detach the issues enough from the reality we experience them in to see them differently, and that’s exactly what this book does. By uprooting colonialism and plopping it down on an alien planet, Cole lets us see its brutality in a way that no history textbook about the Belgian Congo ever could. It also got me thinking about the rights of indigenous peoples, which don’t get even close to enough attention in literature, so that’s great too. This is about as thought-provoking as young adult fiction gets, and I recommend it for people who aren’t sure about sci-fi but are passionate about human rights and social justice – you’ll find enough to like in this book to be convinced that sci-fi isn’t so bad after all.

Where I Read This: on a sick day home from school in 11th grade.

4. Best Sci-Fi Retelling of a Non-Sci-Fi Story: “Last of Her Name” by Jessica Khoury 

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What It’s About: in this outer-spacey “Anastasia” retelling, a teenage girl from a rural backwater planet discovers that she is not who she believed she was.

Why You Should Read It: I know I’ve yelled about this book at least once on my blog, but in case you missed that post, here’s a rundown of reasons:

  1. Anastasia. Duh. I will read anything that claims to be an Anastasia retelling. I am such a massive sucker for that story.
  2. Fun space adventures! Action! Peril! Romance! Identity-seeking! Destiny-forging!
  3. This has an absolutely fascinating mythos and I loved the worldbuilding.

But in the end…it’s just plain fun. This was one of the first new releases I’d ever read, and at the time, I’d never rooted for a character so hard. “Last of Her Name” was a huge part of what got me into YA. Read this if you want to fall in love with a character, and you can’t decide whether you want to read sci-fi, historical fiction, or fantasy, because you will, and it’s got all of them.

Where I Read This: while walking around in my backyard to get my 10,000 steps.

3. Sleeper Hit: “Rebel Seoul” by Axie Oh

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What It’s About: a down-on-his-luck teenage boy in future Seoul, South Korea jumps at the chance to work on high-level government operations as a companion for Tera, a bionic teenage girl designed by the government as a weapon. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s going to be hard to separate business and pleasure with Tera around.

Why You Should Read It: I really didn’t expect to love this. Yeah, I did, but it had a lot of qualities I would usually dislike: the writing wasn’t nearly as strong as some of the other entries on this list; it had a slow start; and the secondary romance was shoehorned as heck. But against all odds, Rebel Seoul made me fall madly in love with its awesome worldbuilding, sweet camaraderie, fast-paced action, and touching romance. Tera and Jaewon’s romance felt very real (well, as real as a romance between an ex-gang member and a bionic human weapon can feel) and earned because their connection built over time. Jaewon had to earn Tera’s trust, then her respect, then her affection – I LOVED THAT, MORE, PLEASE. (We do not see that enough in YA.) By the end of the book, I was in love with Neo-Seoul, with Jaewon, and with the two of them together. And great news if you loved “Rebel Seoul” as much as I do: it has a sequel, which is also great 🙂

Where I Read This: frantically, over two days, wherever I could – be that before bed, during meals, or even in class. (When senioritis was hitting me hardest, I started taking whatever book I was reading to school. Yeah. I know.)

2. Sentimental Favorite: “Enchantress from the Stars” by Sylvia Engdahl 

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What It’s About: a college student from an advanced intergalactic civilization is sent to a small, less-developed planet to defend them from the incursions of an imperialist planet seeking to take it over for their own gain.

Why You Should Read It: lots of anti-colonialist books on this list, for some reason – I guess that subject just lends itself well to sci-fi? (You’ll see a little of that in my #1 pick, too.) While “Enchantress” is certainly thought-provoking, it’s on this list for sentimental reasons. At the time that I read “Enchantress,” this was my first sci-fi novel. I was in eighth grade, about a week shy of my fourteenth birthday, and thought I hated sci-fi. Getting wrapped up in the romance of this tale (the “lush, adventurous, transportive” sort of romance, not the love kind, although there’s some of that, too, and it’s great), I realized that I didn’t. It kinda blew my middle-school mind, and I loved every minute. Couldn’t recommend this more.

Where I Read This: on a spring break vacation to New Mexico in eighth grade.

  1. All-Around Favorite: “Illuminae” by Jay Kristof and Amie Kaufman  (all three, but I especially love the first one)

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What It’s About: two teenagers who escape the destruction of their planet must survive repeated attempts by various parties to kill them off before they can discover their nefarious secrets.

Why You Should Read It: what can I say about “Illuminae” that hasn’t already been said? It’s clever, romantic, epic in scale, addictive, shocking, beautiful, terrifying – HOLY CRAP, THIS THING IS A TOUR DE FORCE. If you only read one YA novel this year, this would be one I’d suggest. (Now, not uncontested, mind you, but it would definitely be in the running.)

Where I Read This: I can’t even remember – I think it had something to do with drama practice?

What do you think of these picks? What YA sci-fi would have made your list? Have any theme suggestions? Let me know in the comments! 

 

 

Posted in Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesdays: Travel-Themed YA

Hey guys, I swear I’m actually going to be punctual this time :p

Since I just finished a great travel-themed novel, Aix Marks the Spot, I thought this second Theme Party Tuesday might be a good time to highlight some of my favorite travel-themed YA novels. Let’s get started!

5. Best Unconventional Travel Story: “Field Notes On Love” by Jennifer E. Smith

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What It’s About: after his girlfriend breaks up with him shortly before they were to go on a nonrefundable train trip across the U.S., a British teenager puts out a classified ad asking for a woman with the same name as his ex to accompany him on the trip with his ex’s ticket. He and the replacement girl, who happen to be the same age because this is YA, fall for each other as they train trip across the USA.

Why I Liked It: this book was never JUST about the travel, or JUST about the romance; it was also about family and finding your passions and place in the world. It handled all of that with heart and you could tell the author loved these characters. Also, nothing I’ve ever read has made a cross-country train trip sound so appealing, and that includes my cousin’s travel blog about train-tripping across Europe.

Where I Read This: on a plane to a family reunion in Sonoma (fitting, no?)

Recommended For: hopeless romantics and lovers of trains and/or thoughtful romances.

4. Best Road Trip Book: “I Wanna Be Where You Are” by Kristina Forest

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What It’s About: a ballerina devises a plan to sneak off to an audition in another state that her mother would never allow her to attend, but when her neighbor/ex-crush/arch-enemy tags along, things get a little more complicated.

Why I Liked It: Chloe, the protagonist, is an incredibly likable lead, and her passion for ballet was evident. I loved the dance side of the book, and road trip + frenemies-to-lovers = BEST combination. This one wasn’t the most explicitly travel-based of the books on this list – the road trip wasn’t really the point (if you want that, go with “Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour,” which was considered for this list but didn’t make it) – but “I Wanna Be Where You Are” was a lot of fun and surprisingly heartfelt.

Where I Read This: as an audiobook, while hiking with my mom over the summer. (Obviously, it took several hikes.)

Recommended For: dancers, frenemies-to-lovers fans, and anyone who likes books WITH travel but not ABOUT travel.

3. Most Unputdownable: “Anna and the French Kiss” by Stephanie Perkins

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What It’s About: American girl sent to boarding school in Paris falls for France and a charming classmate, but there is seemingly no end of hurdles to overcome before she can earn her happily-ever-after

Why I Liked It: okay, I know what you’re gonna say. “Anna” is undeniably cliché, totally soapy, and not anything that would be trendy today (diversity – who is she?). But absolutely none of that stops it from being the book equivalent of crack cocaine. AKA: once you start reading this, you will not be able to stop. I might get roasted for unabashedly loving this book, but it makes me happy: the writing is good, the characters are endearing (at least, the leads…most of the side characters drove me nuts), the Parisian setting is evocatively drawn, and it’s totally unputdownable. This was the perfect summer book. A joyous love letter to Paris, the teenage years, and love itself, “Anna and the French Kiss” is an enduring favorite.

Where I Read This: frantically, in my bedroom over the last two days of summer before senior year.

Recommended For: Francophiles and people who grew up on early 2010s YA and want to be reminded of the inflated expectations they had for their high school experience before it inevitably ended up being blah.

2. Best Use of Setting: “I Love You So Mochi,” Sarah Kuhn

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What It’s About: Japanese-American high school student Kimi spends the spring break of her senior year in Japan with the grandparents she’s never met, falls in love, and goes on a journey of self-discovery.

Why I Liked It: there’s a very specific feeling I get when I’m reading a book that’s going to be special to me. It feels like the night before vacation, or eating a delicious dessert and knowing that I can eat as much as I want and without getting sick to my stomach. “I Love You So Mochi” was one such book. It’s both intensely visual and highly introspective, describing sense and setting so well that Kyoto is practically its own character and emotion so well that we feel like we’ve known Kimi all our lives. I felt like I was watching a feel-good, visually stunning indie coming-of-age movie. I can’t really describe what it was that I loved about this book in terms that I feel do it justice – you’ll just have to read it.

Oh, and the romance was adorable. 

Where I Read This: various places, including an AirBnB in Sedona, over the first few weeks of summer vacation.

Recommended For: fashion and art enthusiasts, soul-searchers, people like me who are enamored of anything from or involving Japan (…I feel attacked), and teenagers struggling to find their place in the world.

1. Overall Favorite: “Love & Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch 

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What It’s About: girl sent to live with her late mother’s old college classmate in Italy finds love and explores the country – and tries to solve the mystery of who her father is.

Why I Liked It: “Love and Gelato” made me feel nostalgic for experiences I’d never even had, and if I had to describe it in a word, that word would be “wistful.” As protagonist Lina opens up to those around her and experiences life in Italy for the first time, you can’t help but fall in love with the people and places she encounters right along with her. The wistful romance of both the setting and the relationship Lina develops with the literal boy next door (which is *chef kiss*, by the way), and the excitement of the search for Lina’s father, absolutely melted my heart. If I ever get to go to Europe, I’d want it to be exactly like “Love and Gelato.”

Where I Read This: in my bedroom at midnight on a school night, because I couldn’t stop until I finished.

Recommended For: anyone. I’m not kidding. Anyone.

What books would’ve made your list? Know of any good travel-themed YA books I should check out? Theme suggestions for next week’s Theme Party Tuesday post? Leave me a comment to let me know 🙂

Posted in Lists and Rankings, Miscellaneous, Theme Tuesdays

Theme Party Tuesdays #1: Books About Korean Pop Culture!

NOTE: this is obviously not being posted on Tuesday. Sorry, guys. 😦 I’m not punctual.

Hey guys! This blog has kind of died lately, and I’m trying to find a way to revive it, so I settled on something that I like doing a little more than I should: obsessively categorizing and ranking things! 🙂

We’ve all had to develop our own coping mechanisms for COVID-19 quarantine survival, and mine (aside from distance running and the online community college class I enrolled myself in For Funsies over spring break) has been bingeing K-Dramas. They’ve proliferated on Netflix lately, and I wanted to see what the hype was all about (one of my friends is in love with them and has been begging me to watch them for years), so I started with “Love Alarm.” And then I watched another one. And now I’m watching two more, and I have a K-pop playlist now, and I can’t STOP. So. Given the fact that we are being graced with not one, not two, but THREE lovely new K-Pop-themed YA novels this year:

 

I thought…what better way to celebrate my newfound love of Korean pop culture, and the fact that it’s an increasingly popular topic for YA lit, than by using it as the topic of my first Theme Party Tuesday post?

So. In this first post in what’s going to be a weekly series, I’m going to be listing five books in a themed category that I’ve read, along with mini-reviews and recommendations. So let’s get going with our first Theme Party Tuesday: YA lit about Korean pop culture! 🙂

  1. Best for K-pop & K-drama newbies: “SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW,” MAURENE GOO

What It’s About: a runaway K-pop idol in Hong Kong breaks out of her regimented lifestyle to explore Hong Kong in the adventure she’s been longing for, aided by a boy she doesn’t realize is a paparazzi photographer.

Why I Liked It: “Somewhere Only We Know” is one of those books I ate up like an ice cream cone that’s about to melt in the sun: as if I was running out of time. :p As anyone on who reads my posts probably knows, Maurene Goo is one of my auto-buy authors, because all of her books have made me feel like that! Lucky and Jack’s bad-idea-that-you-can’t-help-but-love romance is adorable but also incredibly tense, given what we know about Jack and Lucky doesn’t; the FOOD, ugh; the Hong Kong setting is utterly transportive; and it does a good job of speaking to the darker side of K-pop as well. Oh, and it’s a retelling of the cinematic classic “Roman Holiday.” I would DIE for a movie adaptation of this.

Recommended For: people who think they hate reading, but I’m pretty sure that’s no one who’s voluntarily on this book review blog…and people who don’t know a ton about K-pop but want to get into it. “Somewhere Only We Know” definitely never lets you forget that its leading lady is a K-pop idol and gives a lot of insight into the industry, but there’s so much more to the story than Lucky’s career that it’s not ever JUST a K-pop novel. First and foremost, it’s a romance. Thus, it’s very accommodating for neophytes like myself who are still familiarizing themselves with the world of Korean pop culture.

2. Best Wish-Fulfillment: “Hart & Seoul,” Kristen Burnham

What It’s About: a runaway K-pop idol (sensing a trend?) visiting his aunt in Virginia on hiatus falls for a prickly local girl.

Why I Like It: “Hart & Seoul” is pure wish-fulfillment and fun from start to finish. It’s the “European prince falls for a plucky working-class American girl” Hallmark movie trope, except that the prince is a K-pop idol. That premise is admittedly a little self-insert-fanfic-y, but it’s well-written, and SO MUCH FUN. Now, I’ll admit that it’s not the book to go for if you’re looking for a primer in Korean culture: it’s not always incredibly accurate and the perspective character’s lack of sensitivity towards Korean culture can come off badly at times. But for me, the positive outweighed the negative: learning man Lee is an adorable bean, its depiction of the K-pop fandom has to be read to be believed and made me laugh my face off, and it’s a very, very fun romp if you can get past Merrilee’s cultural insensitivity.

Recommended For: those in need of an escape, fans who’ve always wondered what it would be like to fall for their celebrity crush, or casual K-pop fans who aren’t going to be mortally offended by the inaccuracies.

3. Best Quick Read: “The Idol Who Became Her World” by Ji Soo Li

What It’s About: aspiring K-pop idol Minhyuk builds a rapport with American dancer Lucinda through several years attending an annual dance camp together. Their friendship builds to romance, but the odds aren’t in their favor as Minhyuk’s music career takes off.

Why I Liked It: I’m going to be honest, this was not really of the quality of the other books on this list. The writing in “The Idol Who Became Her World” lacks the polish of that in the rest of the books on this list, and its story is a little bit ???. But it’s decent, it gives a good bare-bones introduction to the K-pop world, and it’s short. Not a bad way to spend an hour. (No, seriously, it will take an hour to read this. It’s 105 pages.)

NOTE: there are three more books in this series that I haven’t read.

Recommended For: people with an interest in K-pop a lot of extra time on their hands.

4. Best Use of K-Dramas: “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by Maureen Goo

What It’s About: an overachiever with questionable luck in romance uses K-dramas to design a surefire method for landing a boyfriend.

Why I Liked It: this book is kind of insane in the best possible way. Protagonist Desi has a plan to snag her dream man that would only work in fiction, and watching it play out in epically melodramatic Korean drama fashion is an absolute treat. Is Desi actually kind of deranged when you stop to think about it? Yup. Is her plan actually kind of disturbing? Definitely. But as a fellow overachiever, watching this oh-so-relatable overachiever scheme, plan, and wind up with everything she ever wanted in the end is so much fun. It really does have a K-drama-esque plot, and who doesn’t love those from time to time?

Recommended For: K-drama addicts who feel like taking a break from the screen to read. Or just fans of wildly improbable but incredibly fun contemporary romances.

5. Favorite Overall: “Comeback” by Lyn Ashwood and Rachel Rose

What It’s About: rising K-pop star Emery Jung (known to fans of his group NEON as “M”) is thrown for a loop when he crosses paths with a mysterious girl from his past.

Why I Liked it: okay, so I know not everyone loved this, but let me gush for a minute. The romance was honestly kind of meh, but I didn’t care because that didn’t make or break the book for me. This one had so much heart. And aside from that, the insight into the K-pop industry was superb (it has a very “insider look” vibe), the relationships between the boys in NEON were wonderful, and Emery was a sweet bean and in other news, I want eight of him. This was the book on this list that I most connected with on an emotional level, and though a working knowledge of K-pop helps, you don’t need to know anything or even like the genre to enjoy this.

Recommended For: people who don’t think they could possibly like a book about K-pop, because if reading “Comeback” doesn’t prove such people wrong, I don’t know what could.

BONUS: if you want more books about Korean culture in general that don’t necessarily involve K-pop or K-dramas, I recommend “The Way You Make Me Feel” by Maurene Goo, “Good Enough” by Paula Yoo, and “Wicked Fox” by Kat Cho, and (I can never hype this series up enough) the “Rebel Seoul” duoloy by Axie Oh.

This concludes my first incredibly delayed Theme Party Thursday! What’s your favorite book on this list? Do you know of any other books on Korean pop culture that you’d recommend? Leave me a comment to let me know 🙂