To my delight and surprise, the majority of you were quite content to do a romance genre, so here we are! Below you will find six books from which to choose. Four of them were recommendations from you all, and I had help from Stella to wade through dozens and dozens of books to find the final two. Thank you all so much for making an incredibly stressful week a little easier!
You may vote for up to two books, which I think will be sufficient. Since we have a mix of types: LGBTQ, YA, adult, and traditional, please let me know if you’d like a future genre with a specific type. I like to do broad selections like this for our first time in a genre to hopefully narrow it down later. There are also plenty of subgenres I didn’t include, so if you’d like to see those represented in future, also let me know!
At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them.
Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways… but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.
Notable Review by Emma
I’LL GIVE THIS BOOK THE SUN. FIVE SUNS. More than that, if Goodreads had ever answered my impassioned plea to add a sixth star (which I sent by pony express after Ready Player One). (Pony express means mail, right? I’m a fan of that.)
How do I love thee, book? Let me count the ways. (That’s both a reference to this book and an illustration of how difficult it will be to put my intense adoration of it into, like, a semi-coherent review.) (Sidenote: I’ve never strived for anything higher than semi-coherent.)
Let’s start with the characters. God, do I love the people in this book. They are so, so, so imperfect – imperfect doesn’t even begin to cover it. They should suck, honestly. I should hate them. In fact, I should hate this whole shindig for the things that happen in it. In any other context, they’d give me second-hand embarrassment cringes so hard it’d shoot this book down to two stars. But NOT HERE. This sh*t is different.
These characters are so human. They’re so lovable and deeply good that you’d forgive them for anything. Seriously. All of them do at least one thing (and mostly more than one) that should be, like, narrative-shatteringly awful, and instead manages to make them even better. I can’t explain it. YOU JUST HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK.
This book has alternating perspectives between 2 twins: Noah when he was 13, and Jude when she’s 16 (which is the present). Noah is so creative and talented and amazing, and Jude is such a badass and so interesting and equally amazing. Their mom’s a whirlwind, which has its ups and downs, and their dad starts off not great but becomes the best. There’s Brian, who loves space, and Guillermo, one of the greatest sculptors ever, and Oscar, who I’m not going to try to put into words. (Hands down the most inherently confusing character.) They’re all so wonderful and I wish I knew them in real life and could join their lil ragtag group of pals.
The character development is just unreal.
Also, the depiction of family is pretty amazing. (I’m going to use the words “great” and “amazing” a bajillion times in this review, AND I’M NOT GOING TO APOLOGIZE.) They can mistreat each other and fight and generally seem toxic, but they all love each other and they’re all good people. SCRATCH THAT – MAGNIFICENT people. (You thought I was done talking about how much I love these characters? Ya burnt. I’m going to spend the rest of my life talking about them. Every review from now on? Name-dropping Noah and Jude. Get used to it.)
What else, what else…the writing was just really beautiful. I’m always really happy to see that in YA. It’s pretty rare for a young adult contemporary to just be genuinely, no-holds-barred gorgeous.
And y’all know I love when my books are filled with fun facts. I wish every book had some character just inserting cool information in every once in awhile. This book? EVERY CHARACTER IS DOING THAT. There’s so much fun sh*t about superstition and art and sculpting and space in this book. Ugh. God, it’s perfect. It’s like Jandy Nelson read my mind and made this book to check all my boxes. WHAT A DREAM.
I thought there’d be one major downside. That’s the discussion of fate and ~true love~ in this book, neither of which I believe in and both of which I pretty consistently find dumb in like, every YA contemporary ever. But this book, no surprise at this point, IS DIFFERENT. It’s so well done and just makes you feel all warm inside and root for the characters. Hurray, hurray. I miss this book already.
The cherry on top, you ask? The best fictional encapsulation of and response to slut-shaming I’ve ever seen is contained within THESE VERY PAGES. When thirteen/fourteen-year-old Jude and her mom are fighting about everything, including Jude’s clothing and makeup choices, mommy dearest always asks if she reallyyyyyy wants to be “that girl.” Pretty yuck, right? The only blemish on the perfect record of this masterpiece.
But then. But then! Blemish surgically removed, or whatever. (That was really gross. I’m so sorry.) Jude has a realization. A great, perfect, better-than-cherry-on-top epiphany. I like cherries, but this is more like the lottery ticket on top, or the Zac Efron in Baywatch (a bad movie) on top. Jude realizes: “Maybe Mom was wrong about that girl after all. Because that girl spits on guys who treat her badly. Maybe it’s that girl who’s been missing. […] I didn’t bring the bad luck to us, no matter how much it felt that way. It brought itself. It brings itself. And maybe it’s that girl who’s now brave enough to admit [it].”
A little bit of editing to remove minor spoilers, but how amazing is that?
Your clothing or your makeup don’t change who you are. They don’t prevent you from being a badass, or a good person, or brave.
God, I love this book. Read it in a couple days, and miss it already.
Can you believe how genuine this review was? That’s a testament to my loveeee for this book.
Bottom line: This is going on the all-time favorites list. EVERYONE: READ THIS PLEASE. Amazing, amazing, amazing. Even better the second time around.
New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.
While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.
Notable Review by Justin Tate
Please forgive me if I get too excited during this review – but seriously, this is a novel worth getting excited about. It doesn’t matter how old or how gay you are, you need this in your life.
Although it’s modern YA, Two Boys Kissing is narrated/overseen by the collaborative voices of gay men who died from AIDS. Their voices tell the stories of various current-day gay youths. We see them succeed, we see them fail, we watch them make mistakes and atone. If the structure sounds complicated, it’s not, and yes it works. It’s poetic and tear-jerking and reveals aspects of the world in unique, enlightened ways.
Gay readers will admire Levithan’s ability to honestly depict every day joys and struggles, but you don’t have to be gay to appreciate what he accomplishes. It’s my hope that teachers and parents and straight readers also pick it up, or anyone who might struggle to understand the gay experience. Especially the young gay experience. I don’t know that there’s any better way to learn what it’s like.
The stories speak to the old as much as to the young. For those who lived through the peak AIDS crisis, many segments will no doubt be particularly touching. For the younger crowd, it’s an important reminder how truly devastating those years were. It also showcases how significant life is and how to cherish it.
I could go on forever. Every word is perfect. The hook is instant, the dull moments never. Completely gorgeous, entertaining, and truly a work of art.
For fans of Close Enough to Touch and Me Before You comes a poignant and moving novel about two patients who fall in love as they recover from traumatic injuries in the same hospital ward…all without seeing each other.
Alice Gunnersley and Alfie Mack sleep just a few feet apart from one another. They talk for hours every day. And they’ve never seen each other face-to-face.
After being in terrible accidents, the two now share the same ward as long-term residents of St. Francis’s Hospital. Although they don’t get off to the best start, the close quarters (and Alfie’s persistence to befriend everyone he meets) brings them closer together. Pretty soon no one can make Alice laugh as hard as Alfie does, and Alfie feels like he’s finally found a true confidante in Alice. Between their late night talks and inside jokes, something more than friendship begins to slowly blossom between them.
But as their conditions improve and the end of their stay draws closer, Alfie and Alice are forced to decide whether it’s worth continuing a relationship with someone who’s seen all of the worst parts of you, but never seen your actual face.
A tender novel of healing and hope, Before I Saw You reminds us that connections can be found even in the most unexpected of places—and that love is almost always blind.
Notable Review by Fay Flude
For me this is just the kind of book that is easily worth 5 stars, and more, because of the sensitive and compassionate way a complex and traumatic subject matter is handled. And yet I am not a fan of real life survivor tales or harrowing memoirs. This is a work of fiction and it is the the minutely observed and acutely perceptive emotions and interplay between a cast of amazing characters that heralds the triumphant arrival of debut novel Before I Saw You.
Mainly set in the Moira Gladstone rehabilitation ward at St Francis Hopspital, this book is funny, heart wrenching and uplifting.
It charts the recovery, both physically and mentally, of two patients side by side in their beds, each unseen by the other. Alfie Mack is a gloriously cheeky, upbeat and charming young man and Alice is the opposite, a lonely young woman, who has isolated herself from human contact as a result of a troubled childhood and a grim determination to make her ambition and career a substitute for friends and love.
Through dialogue, physio, family visits and lots of puzzle solving we are treated to an epic journey of self discovery and healing. The ward is populated with some colourful characters, not least of all Mother Angel or Nurse Angles to give her her proper title, and Mr P, a 92 year old and very wise man who pretends to be grumpy and fed up of Alfie’s relentless good cheer, but in reality loves the young man like a grandson. There is also Sharon and Jackie and Ruby, Jane and Robert Mack, Mr Warring and Sarah as well as Darren, to meet in this family of patients, staff and visitors.
There is sadness and loss which will bring tears to the eyes of many a reader but mostly this is all about Hope. The very thing every single one of us needs with which to survive, live, adapt and try again. It is funny and beautiful, profound and a very easy to read engaging story. I was mesmerised from the very beginning and fell in love to the extent that I found it very hard to let go at the end.
I am astounded quite frankly at the talent of Emily Houghton to produce this, a debut novel, which has such an emotional depth and accuracy to it, revealing the very personal way in which tragedy affects us in varying degrees to shape the way we cope and carry on.
It is still very early on in a new year, but it will take a lot for subsequent books I pick up to match the quality and beauty of this novel. I will confidently predict this will be a top 5 read of the year for me.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Find out what I am talking about and fall in love with life itself.
Thank you to Emily Houghton, the publisher and Netgalley and Pigeonhole for allowing me to read ahead of publication in exchange for this honest review.
Take care Alfie and Alice, keep on holding hands, and Emily Houghton, I look forward to your next genius novel!
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.
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. What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?
Notable Review by Chaima
Is it possible for your whole body to grin? The answer is hell yes.
Red, White & Royal Blue is a story lit up like a beacon to the weary and the lost. My heart still swells with so much delight. I know the words but none of them really encompass the feeling of deep contentment, mixed with the kind of frustration one feels at waking from a sweet, joyous dream. I promise you that what memories you will keep of this book will warm you in the cold, and taste like candied almonds when the world runs sour. Do not miss it.
So, what’s this book about?
Ah, yes. The one trope that sings to me the most: rivals to “ugh I can’t believe I have to be in the same vicinity as you” to “ugh we’re forced to work together to save our countries’ reputations but it’s not like I like you or anything” to “wait, we actually connect pretty well and have a lot of things in common but don’t read too much into it” to “I would lay down both of my kidneys for you but that doesn’t mean anything alright” to “I’ll fistfight the moon for you and kill anyone who dares lay a finger on you” to lovers.
Alex Claremont-Diaz, the Mexican-American first son of the United States, tolerates Henry, the Prince of England, to about the same degree that Henry tolerates him, but the claws are never entirely sheathed. When one of their verbal sparring matches ends in a “cataclysmically, internationally, terrible way”, Alex and Henry have no choice but to play nice with each other. Of course, building a friendship with your sworn nemesis is never easy. Doing it out of a reluctant sense of obligation is virtually impossible. Only, neither Alex nor Henry are prepared for when it all ceases being pretend. There is no pretending away the momentous thing tentatively taking shape between them. Henry has worn at the shell surrounding Alex’s heart with every traded truth, every phone call at an ungodly hour and every stolen moment in a hotel room. And with every crack, it is harder to deny the connection blazing between them.
Yet, all the same, reality threatens to shatter it all.
“Do you feel forever about him?”
And there’s no room left to agonize over it, nothing left to do but say the thing he is known all along. “Yeah,” he says, “I do.”
Red, White & Royal Blue is an astonishingly polished debut novel. A beguiling story of romance that pulled a smile from a new place in me where so much delight had been waiting in reserve. The novel’s warm heart leaped out to my cold one, and I held on like I suspected this all of being a dream that’s about to end and leave me falling. I found myself drawing out the last 50 pages or so, absolutely unable, unwilling, to let this joyous incredible book go.
The rumors are true, folks: I am a hopeless romantic.
All I want is for someone to feel for me some glimmer of what Henry and Alex feel for each other. To find that one person who has so much aching tenderness for you, who you can talk to and emerge each time a bit less bewildered, a bit more yourself. The one person who will help you lay the skeins of your life out neatly, so there’d be less of a tangle in your heart. Just the sheer joy of simply knowing another human being.
There’s such a flood of love spooling out between Henry and Alex, tender and joyful and pure. I love how Alex had glided into love unaware, not knowing if it was love or just a suchlike cousin. Then, he plummeted, and it was unmistakable. And all the while, Henry has been there, with a lit cinder of hope in his gaze, and the calm resignation to the inevitable that you’d associate with people aching with the yearning to be loved back.
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.
Notable Review by Meltotheany
“I spent half my time loving her and the other half hiding how much I loved her.”
This is one of the best books I’ve ever had the privilege to read. It is probably in the top five for best books I’ve ever read in my entire life. I have been looking for a book like this my entire life, and no combination of words I’m about to type, and you’re about to read, is going to do this masterpiece justice. But I will say that Gabby, Joce, and Elyse were all right, and I’m so happy I listened to them, because this book is worth every single ounce of hype.
And when I say that this book is lifechanging, I truly mean it. This book is sold as a historical romance, where you learn about a fictional, famous, old Hollywood actress and all her marriages. What you get is a book that stars a bisexual, Cuban woman who was never allowed to talk about the love of her life; her wife. And when I say I cried during this book, I truly mean that I probably need to buy a new copy because I was the biggest mess you’ve ever seen.
“And it will be the tragedy of my life that I cannot love you enough to make you mine. That you cannot be loved enough to be anyone’s.”
On top of this being a powerful book about race, sexuality, misogyny, and having to conform to societies norms, the true meaning I took from this book is that life is short, so damn short, and we shouldn’t spend it pretending to be something we aren’t. And we shouldn’t spend it doing anything less than loving the people who are worthy and deserving of our love.
“I didn’t need boys in order to feel good. And that realization gave me great power.”
We follow Evelyn from the very start; losing her mother very young, her body developing very quickly, noticing others noticing her developing body, marrying a man so she can leave the dead-end city she grew up in, so she can become something more. Evelyn is unapologetic with her actions, and it is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever read. She plays so many more parts than the roles she is cast in. And Evelyn learns really quickly how to play each and every man she is forced to interact with, and she quickly learns what she can gain from each and every one of them, too.
This story is told from two different timelines and two different points of view. One from Monique Grant, who is a biracial (white and African-American) woman who is going through a fresh divorce and trying to make something of herself in the journalism field. And her life changes the day her editor tells her how Evelyn Hugo is demanding her, and only her, to write something for her.
“Heartbreak is loss. Divorce is a piece of paper.”
The other timeline(s) are all the different times in Evelyn’s life, and the different seven husbands that she had, while she is recounting the events that lead her to be telling Monique this story. Evelyn has lived a very full life, and is in her late seventies now, and is finally ready to talk about her life. But the entire book we are guessing why she has chosen only Monique for this job.
“Make them pay you what they would pay a white man.”
If you guys have been following my reviews, you’ll probably know that I talk about found family and how important it is to me a lot, but The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the epitome of how beautiful a found family can be. Evelyn and Harry’s friendship in this was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read in my entire reading life.
“When you write the ending, Monique, make sure the reader understands that all I was ever really looking for was family. Make sure it’s clear that I found it. Make sure they know that I am heartbroken without it.”
And the romance? The true romance in this book is the most romantic thing I have ever read in my entire life. And you guys know I’ve read a ton of romances, but they are all lesser to this. Every single one of them can’t compare with the romance in this book. I feel like every time I’ve used the word “perfect” to describe something that wasn’t the romance in this book, then I used the word wrong.
“Please never forget that the sun rises and sets with your smile. At least to me it does. You’re the only thing on this planet worth worshipping.”
Tala, a London-based Palestinian, is preparing for her elaborate Middle Eastern wedding when she meets Leyla, a young British Indian woman who is dating her best friend.
Spirited Christian Tala and shy Muslim Leyla could not be more different from each other, but the attraction is immediate and goes deeper than friendship. As Tala’s wedding day approaches, simmering tensions come to boiling point and the pressure mounts for Tala to be true to herself.
Moving between the vast enclaves of Middle Eastern high society and the stunning backdrop of London’s West End, I Can’t Think Straight explores the clashes between East and West, love and marriage, conventions and individuality, creating a humorous and tender story of unexpected love and unusual freedoms.
Notable Review by Angie
Thoughts on a book so good I’ll need more time to wrap up my thoughts…
I really, really like this book. It is not just well-written and thoughtful, gripping and genuine, _I Can’t Think Straight_ speaks to anyone who has ever felt pressured to be part of something because parents or society expect it, not because it is what you yourself truly want.
‘But there was a reason why romance and passion were so suited to fiction; and to learn this lesson was a function of maturity…a growth away from the hotheadedness of youth.” A mother thinks this as she busily and self-importantly works on the finishing touches of her daughter’s engagement party. She dismisses love as a reason for marriage or she would if she even gave one second of thought to her daughter’s impending marriage as a personal thing and not THE event of the season.
“Maybe we expect too much,” a daughter says to her new friend, in the beginning stages of questioning why she is not more happy to be in a relationship with a man she feels she’s supposed to love, but not one she does.
Shamim Sarif perfectly and painfully captures how smothering it can feel to do something out of family obligation and societal demands.
Understanding that life and love are not what they are in romantic comedies is one thing (some of us may even feel that movies ruined us for love) but looking at passionless marriage as “our lot in life” is something else entirely. No one should have go to through life like that.
Here’s a passage about “silent yearnings” and emotions one confronts when self-denial is no longer an option:
“What they (her crushes) all had in common was that the attraction was usually hidden, forever unspoken and always unrequited…Not that this potential meltdown was a reason to lie to herself, she knew, but up until now, it had happened that all the women she had liked IN THAT WAY were unavailable, uninterested or entirely unconscious of the situation and this had largely removed from Leyla’s shoulders the burden of deciding what to do in the event of an actual relationship… What she wanted, what she one day hoped for, was a simple mutual attraction.”
I Can’t Think Straight may be in large part about two nice, likable and realistic women eventually finding and falling in love with each other after years of not understanding why they each just couldn’t fall in love with a “nice young man.” But it’s also about how being forced to follow the path that is deemed “moral” and “fitting” for a young woman can ultimately hurt every one in her life, especially the men they so desperately try to have romantic feelings for, but just end up hurting.
Shamim Sarif delivers an extremely touching, sincere, lovely, non-preachy, heartfelt story about love that is breathtaking and
I need more time and better words to give it the justice it deserves. Already, I’ve bought Shamim Sarif’s The World Unseen. Her lyrical prose will make you want to read everything she has written and hope that she is working on more! 🙂
What Shall We Read Next?
- The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid (29%, 7 Votes)
- Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (25%, 6 Votes)
- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (17%, 4 Votes)
- Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton (17%, 4 Votes)
- I Can’t Think Straight by Shamim Sarif (13%, 3 Votes)
- Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 12