Tag Archives: Romance

These Violent Delights (Review by Sriya B. ’22 )

These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights, #1)These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

TW: gun violence (major), gore (major), transphobia (moderate), racism/xenophobia (minor).
I picked this book up because someone told me it was a Romeo and Juliet retelling, but they didn’t tell me it was a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s crime-run Shanghai about star-crossed ex-lovers putting aside the blood feud between their gangs to prevent a monster from terrorizing their city.

Between the ruthless gangs, the rekindling of first love, and the dramatic ploys of various nationalities trying to gain control of Shanghai, this story delivers on so many fronts.

I can definitely see how this follows Romeo and Juliet, but at the same time, it feels entirely different. It’s the perfect kind of retelling, with the right balance of new and original. Chloe Gong successfully took a beloved classic and retold it with new culture, queer representation, and modern themes surrounding misogyny and racism, while also staying true to the core themes about love, loyalty, and betrayal.

The writing, while slow and long-winded in some areas (I might have lightly skimmed here and there), has beautiful descriptions and quotes you’ll want to write down and remember forever. As someone who has been reading a lot of YA romance lately, coming back into fantasy was a bit of a shock, but the way Chloe Gong navigated the multiple POVs and plot without confusing me was amazing. Of course, this way of ornate telling might not be your cup of tea, but I recommend you give it a try anyway! Oh, and the ending had me running to the library to get the sequel.—Review by Sriya B. ’22

If you like this book, Sriya also recommends The Gilded Wolves and An Ember in the Ashes.

View all my reviews

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune (Review by James B. ’24)

The House in the Cerulean SeaThe House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

T.J. Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea is a comforting tale of an orphanage for magical children, although it isn’t an orphanage because no one goes there to adopt. What initially appears to be a light-hearted criticism of the corporate machine becomes a bright story of found family and finding your place in a world who would very much not like you around.

Most remarkable about the book is the ease with which it builds the world around the story. From only the first few pages you already know that this is a world in which magical creatures are not uncommon, but oppressed. Magical children are abandoned in “orphanages” overseen by a corporate giant. Our protagonist is Linus Baker, a caseworker at DICOMY given a top secret case by the Extremely Upper Management. It is on this case that Linus meets Arthur Parnassus, the Headmaster of an orphanage housing the six-year-old anti-christ, Lucy. It is this boy as well as many others that, despite the fact that they aren’t human, teach Linus about humanity.

I very much enjoyed this book, although I was under the incorrect pretense that it was a Queer romance first and adventure second. The romance is there, but it is far overshadowed by the odd but lovable found-family and delve into everyday oppression. Each child earns their own heart-warming spotlight, and as V. E. Schwab’s testimony on the cover says, it is indeed like being wrapped in a big gay blanket.

I don’t have any specific complaints about the book, as I’m aware that I went into it with the wrong idea of what it would be, so keep in mind that while there are elements of romance, I would not call it a romance. Either way, it’s a very fun title to add to your shelf and the characters are extremely well-done. Even though I found it underwhelming, I will be reading more T. J. Klune in the future because I fell in love with his style. —Review by James B. ’24

View all my reviews

The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson (Review by Ritu B. ’24)

The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman's Journey to Love and IslamThe Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world where most Americans’ views on the Middle East are biased by polarizing media stories on nuclear weapons and dictators, The Butterfly Mosque depicts the real pulse of Egypt encountered by the author during the ‘90s. Willow narrates how after graduating from college with a history degree and a draw towards Islam, she takes a job as a teacher in Cairo, where she finds her future husband and also becomes a Muslim.

I loved seeing Egyptian society through Wilson’s American perspective because she skillfully pulls the reader into understanding the intimate exchanges of extended family (as we see her become integrated into an Egyptian family herself), the politics of negotiating the best prices at a souk (market), and the expected social dynamics between men and women. Some of the book’s broader ideas address cultural differences between the East and West. An example of Wilson’s many musings is a rhetorical question: why is it acceptable in America for men and women to kiss each other on the cheek as a greeting, but not for men and men, while the opposite is true in Egypt—even though both sides claim that the kiss is completely platonic?

Wilson also fights back against the common Western portrayal of Islam as oppressive and anti-feminist, and I wish more could hear her message that even though something may seem different than what you believe in, one shouldn’t take it at face value, and definitely shouldn’t rush to label it as backwards.

If you’re worried this book is a little too deep for you, don’t worry—there’s plenty of entertaining anecdotes about Willow’s difficulties with Arabic and her adventures with her close roommate, an example being when they have to help a cat give birth. Despite a disappointing cliffhanger ending, I cherished this book and read it again within a week. For those who would like to have their eyes opened to another culture or who are interested in learning more about Islam, I strongly recommend picking up The Butterfly Mosque. —Review by Ritu B. ’24

View all my reviews

Normal People by Sally Rooney (Review by Varsha R. ’21)

Normal PeopleNormal People by Sally Rooney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

TW for Normal People: Sexual assault and suicide

The first thing I noticed when I started Sally Rooney’s Normal People was that she does not use quotation marks in dialogue. What was initially jarring became understandable to me over the course of the novel. At the heart of Rooney’s writing is an innate desire to fully immerse the reader into the narrative; in real life, we don’t talk or perceive language with quotation marks, and her aversion towards such conventional punctuation made me feel as though I myself was a side character in the book, watching the story unfold with an outside, yet involved, perspective.

Rooney’s sentences are short, blunt, and zany. At first glance, her words leave almost no room for interpretation, but she also manages to craft an intense, emotionally draining and, at times, frustrating love story that leaves an impact. It’s perhaps for this reason that people either seem to adore Rooney’s writing or despise it. It takes a while to get used to, especially after reading the more standard works of basically any other established author.

Normal People takes a classic, time-and-time-again-told story of misunderstanding amid romance while weaving key threads of social class, mental turmoil, and simultaneous self-discovery and self-depression. It’s impossible not to sympathize with the lead characters, Marianne and Connell, as they make their individual footprints in their legacies while constantly surrounded by the other’s memory and presence.

They start a clandestine relationship with one another in their senior year of high school with the cliche trope of a popular soccer player and a quiet, misunderstood ugly duckling. What separates Normal People from any other coming-of-age romantic comedy is an unmistakable backdrop of social inequality, emotional uncertainty, and poignant thoughts of philosophy and self-questioning, which are furthered by a strong use of the third person.

Rooney has an irksome talent to keep the magnetically attached Marianne and Connell in her books apart at the most inopportune moments, a trope that gets exasperating after the first couple times. But as she puts it, “All these year they’ve been like two little plants sharing the same plot of soil, growing around one another, contorting to make room, taking certain unlikely positions.”

And of course, a key hallmark of Rooney’s books is a disappointing ending that almost came off as a final “screw you” to the reader after having been swept up in Marianne and Connell’s intertwining tale for so long. But it was impossible for me to stay annoyed for long after having reflected on the profound impact that this book had on me, my perception of myself, and my understanding of how I’m perceived in the world around me. —Review by Varsha R. ’21

For those who enjoyed Normal People, Varsha also suggests Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney and The Outline Trilogy: Outline, Transit and Kudos by Rachel Cusk.

View all my reviews

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (5 Star Review by Ritu B. ’24)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (The Hunger Games, #0)The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is a jaw-dropping, lip-eroding (from biting in constant anticipation), breath-snatching tsunami of a novel. After completing it, I guarantee that you will be unable to formulate a coherent sentence for the next few hours.

This stellar prequel addresses questions Hunger Games fans didn’t even know they had, like who really thought up the idea for the Hunger Games, how the eerie “Hanging Tree” came about, and what it’s really like to be a Peacekeeper. But for every question the novel answers, it creates ten more that go unanswered. I think that the reason the book lingered so long in my head is because it left so many roads open with the way it told Snow’s story.

With The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, Suzanne Collins proved that she doesn’t need Katniss Everdeen to weave a thrilling narrative—the entire book filters the world through the eyes of none other than eighteen year old Coriolanus Snow. (If you don’t recognize his name, does “creepy dictator with no morals but a heck ton of white roses” ring a bell?) Right from the first chapter, his narcissism and his willingness to do anything to get ahead stood out to me. Collins voices his thoughts incredibly so that we can see his callous calculation of every minute incident and the cogs in his brain revolving to warp it into a tool to augment his reputation.

Not only do we get a better understanding of Snow in the prequel, but we also see an older Panem up close. The initial war between the districts and the Capitol enormously impacted Snow’s childhood and the Capitol in ways we never could have inferred from just seeing the districts’ perspective on Panem’s history. Plus, it’s amazing to think about how the Hunger Games have evolved over time—the crude, primitive ones that occur in this novel (the tributes stay together in one cell of a zoo like animals!) are a far cry from Katniss’s flashy, spectacular games 64 years later. More interesting yet is the surnames of Capitol characters present in this book, including a Plutarch. I don’t want to spoil anything, but a Flickerman plays a role as a weatherman and games commentator!

I’m not going to say that after seeing Snow’s life up close, I think his actions in the Hunger Games trilogy are justified. However, I would argue that the prequel brings a touch of humanity to his character, or at the very least, elicits sympathy for him. The main reason that propels the reader to continue flipping the pages of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is the question “How does Snow get from here to where he is in the trilogy?” Perhaps we receive a complete answer as to his mental and emotional frame, but Suzanne Collins does not provide a line-by-line list of the logistics of it. As a result, once I finished reading this book, I had no choice but to watch two hours of book nerds on YouTube discussing their reaction to the novel and popular fan theories out there. I don’t doubt that this prequel will draw in an abundance of fan fiction. (If you do write a Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes fanfiction, please send it to me—I would love to read it!) Lastly, Lionsgate announced last summer that a movie version for this prequel is in the making. I, for one, can’t wait. –Ritu B. ’24

Have you read The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes? Let us know what you thought in the comments!

View all my reviews

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim (Review by Ananya B. ‘23)

Spin the Dawn (The Blood of Stars, #1)Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I originally picked up the first installment of this duology, “Spin the Dawn,” because the plot summary sounded very appealing. I was very drawn to the Mulan-like concept and Project Runway theme as well as the promise of magical elements, and I had also seen many reviews promising that this series was a definite must-read. The plot follows the story of Maia, a tailor in a strongly patriarchal East Asian-inspired country who must take part in a competition similar to those on Project Runway.

The book, though not exactly terrible, turned out to be very forgettable. The worldbuilding is lackluster, and I feel that the author could have executed it much better. For example, a war is currently underway, but there is barely any memorable backstory as to why it is happening. The magic system is also fairly underdeveloped in my opinion since random elements appear in the storyline with barely any logic. Lim’s writing style is decently descriptive and helps to make up for some of the missing elements, but there are still many scenes that “tell” rather than “show.” Also, as a YA fantasy novel, this book uses many common cliches and YA tropes. Maia seems to fall right into the mold of the simple young adult female protagonist, and her character feels flat.

Even the romance aspect of this book is underwhelming. While not entirely unpleasant, it once again seems basic and cliche. About halfway through the novel, Maia’s relationship overtakes the plotline and shifts the focus away from Maia and her quest. The obstacles and problems of Maia’s journey become completely sidelined and are dealt with too quickly, producing a lackluster effect on a mission that is supposed to be engrossing and filled with formidable hardships.

One plus, though, is the cover. I usually dislike book covers that depict the character, but this cover is gorgeously made and a large part of the reason why I even picked it up. All in all, this book is an entertaining read, but it fails to live up to my original expectations due to the writing style and underdeveloped story. —Review by Ananya B. ‘23

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin (Review by Ritu B. ’24)

Memoirs of a Teenage AmnesiacMemoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Some books you stay up reading till 3 A.M. because you love them and don’t want to put them down. For others, you’ve spent half the book yelling at the protagonist for being dumb, and (for the sake of your sanity) you need to know what happens next. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac was the latter. Not that that’s a bad thing.

The book raises intriguing questions on identity: If you lost recollection of the last five years, how would you view your current lifestyle?

After falling down the stairs, Naomi loses all her memories from after the sixth grade. Enter an irresistible, rebellious boy who finds her. Throw in a jock boyfriend, parental divorce, a best friend loyal to the point of idiocy, and the ingredients seem very predictable (and perhaps slightly nauseating if you, like me, have consumed enormously more than the healthy amount of YA Fiction). Yet, we keep returning to this genre because we can’t get enough of the awkward, heartwarming teen romance—which you’ll find no dearth of here.

Ultimately, this book won’t change your life, but who even cares. Give it a shot if you want to drown your sorrows in some cliché YA! –Review by Ritu B. ’24

For those who enjoyed this book, Ritu has recommended Crazy Rich Asians for you to check out!

View all my reviews

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Review by Lizzie B. ’24)

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’d like to preface this by acknowledging that just because I didn’t enjoy it doesn’t mean you won’t. With that having been said, this book single-handedly put me off of reading contemporary for several months.

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon is a contemporary romance novel taking place over the course of a day featuring teenagers Daniel Jae Ho Bae and Natasha Kingsley. They meet through a series of freak coincidences and proceed to fall in love as Daniel follows Natasha around New York City, unaware that this might be her last day in the US. Now let me share my critique.

Firstly, despite all the drama, I could not force myself to care about or like any of the characters. There were some themes that I did enjoy, but the endless stereotypes and unbelievable story overshadowed them. The best segments were the short perspectives of the side characters, as I found them insightful and frankly more interesting than Daniel’s and Natasha’s, but I certainly wouldn’t read the book just for that. Initially, I thought contemporaries might just not be for me but since then I have read several contemporaries that I greatly enjoyed, only furthering the idea for me that this is simply not worth the hype.

Without spoiling the story, there’s not much else to say but honestly, if you’re looking for an inspiring comfort read, I wouldn’t recommend this. It half-heartedly discusses fate to some extent and while I think it might be fun to analyze, it was not fun for me to read. –Review by Lizzie B. ’24


***** 4 STARS *****
Written by Nicola Yoon, The Sun is Also a Star is a novel revolving around two young adults Natasha and Daniel, who fall in love despite the numerous obstacles that come their way. First, Daniel is Korean and Natasha is African-American, which is a racial difference they believe their families would not approve of. Moreover, Natasha is an undocumented immigrant and is to be deported the exact day they meet, forcing the two lovers to separate. Despite the challenges they face, both Natasha and Daniel attempt to make the best of their bad situations. They focus on the present and on each other, cherishing the time they have left together, instead of constantly worrying when they will have to leave each other.

This book is unique and showcases the perspective and thoughts of each character by labeling their names at the top of every page rather than being narrated from only one perspective. This allowed the reader to really feel what the lovers are feeling, and anticipate and fear what will happen to the protagonists. I would definitely recommend this book due to its beautiful concept of how living in the moment is such an important concept that everyone needs to implement in their own lives. – Sachi B. ’21

View all my reviews

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Review by Lizzie B. ’24)

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is an eloquent urban fantasy that takes place from 1873 to 1902. It follows Celia Bowen, born with magical ability, and Marco Alisdair, trained in magic from a young age, as they battle head-to-head in a competition with no clear rules or boundaries. The story twists and turns back and forth through time, flashing between the perspectives of different characters and concluding in a satisfying if not perfect ending. Morgenstern’s mastery over description brings Le Cirque de Rêves to life and the discourse between characters proves engaging if not a bit complicated.

I enjoyed the book greatly because all my questions were answered by the end of the book and I fell in love with the characters and little romances. With that having been said, the story has plenty of complexities that might make this read difficult if you aren’t willing to stick it out. I loved those complexities as they added depth to the story and I absolutely loved the idea of being among the Rêveurs or attending one of the Circus Dinners. As much as I enjoyed it and will encourage others to read it, it is certainly not for everyone. –Review by Lizzie B. ’24

View all my reviews

Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer (Review by Anika F. ’21)

Midnight Sun (Twilight, #1.5)Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Midnight Sun has been long-awaited for many Twihards. Honestly, the original series is pretty mediocre, but I wanted to see what the hype was about with this new release. And I was pleasantly surprised?

what was good
1) Bella: her personality is so much more interesting, and I loved learning about her
2) more backstory on the Cullens
3) Edward’s perspective: it was fascinating going through Edward (and by proxy, everyone else’s) thoughts
4) ALICE CULLEN: do I need to say more?

what was bad
1) unjustified creepy stalking
2) unjustified over-protectiveness
3) extensive repetition and redundancy: this book could have been like 400 pages if an editor had stepped in

Overall, I can’t decide if this is worse than the original or better. I think that this one paints the romance in a better light since Bella actually has a personality. On the other hand, this narrative went on and on for 25 whole hours while the original is MUCH shorter. But, hey, I felt 12 again and that’s the most I can ask from a vampire romance book about a creepy, stalker dude. -Review by Anika F. ’21


View all my reviews