Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

Inside cover blurb:

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.”

-from publisher

Thoughts:

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And boy, did this one surprise me! The follow up novel, Love & Luck, was just recently published, so I thought I would finally try out the original…and I loved it!

I can definitely be sucker for an overseas love story (Stephanie Perkins, I’m looking at you), but Love & Gelato really goes the extra mile here. Lina is kid of a mess, which I really appreciate, because it’s believable. Her mom died recently and she gets sent to Italy to live with the father she has never known. Who wouldn’t be kind of a wreck over that?

The journal story line is a bit cheesy, but it was a good way to include her mother’s perspective. And the father story line seemed a bit predictable, but there were some interesting twists to it, which I appreciated.

The only thing I had a genuine problem with is the timeline. The whole story seems to take place in like a week, which doesn’t seem plausible at all. But hey, it’s a small price to pay for such an overall good read.

Okay, I take it back. My second problem is actually the cover. What’s with all these books with serious topics getting such cutesy covers? I know it’s a romance, but hello, her mom did just die…I don’t understand it.

Plus: I love Italy and I love romance, so it’s a win-win.

Minus: It really could use a better cover.

If you like this book, try:

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Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins- Guysss. I know this is way too predictable of me, but I really do love this book. A romance set in Paris…you know you want to read it.

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Inside cover blurb:

Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.”

-from publisher

Thoughts:

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THIS BOOK IS A UNICORN. If you love magical realism, heart wrenching contemporary reads, and the confusion of having a crush on your best friend, this one is for you.

The Astonishing Color of After is told in a unique way, kind of backwards and forwards simultaneously. It starts with a punch- Leigh and her best friend kiss, then she gets scared by her feelings and runs home to find that her mother committed suicide. (None of that is a spoiler by the way, because they tell you that right in the synopsis.) How could this book become any more complicated?

Well let me tell you! On top of all of this, Leigh becomes convinced that her mother’s spirit has become a BIRD. (Which sounds weird but it’s actually amazing.)

Leigh ends up traveling to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time- this is the story moving forward- but at the same time, she has these visions of her mother’s past. And we begin to get the background of Leigh’s friendship with Axel.

Which makes you appreciate what happened on the first pages so much more. When the story first opens, you just think “Oh, she’s kissing her friend.” But then you get the story and suddenly you’re rooting for them, but the kiss already happened right at the beginning! I feel like I should almost re-read it knowing what I know now.

This entire review has just been me restating the plot of the book, I do realize this. But that’s only because I am so enamored, that I really have nothing more to say than you need to read this book and see the magic for yourself, honestly.

Plus: EVERYTHING. It will tear you into tiny pieces and rebuild you into a better human.

Minus: It’s heavy, but it’s so, so good. Do not let the subject matter hold you back from reading it. It’s all worth it, I promise.

If you like this book, try:

We Are Okay

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour- Another unfolding tale that beautifully depicts loss, depression, and being more than just friends.

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Inside cover blurb:

Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield — her brother, fighting with the enemy — the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother’s betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.”

-from publisher

Thoughts:

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I thought this book was going to be historical fiction/fantasy. I guess it could maybe loosely be considered historical fiction…the culture and societal structure seems to be based on Vikings? But there really is no fantasy element whatsoever, which was a big disappointment.

In fact, most of the story was a disappointment. What we get is a long, drawn out narrative about a girl who discovers her brother didn’t die and then, surprise surprise, she ends up making friends with the enemy tribe who saved him. I don’t even consider that a spoiler because if you read the above plot summary, well that’s the entire book. And you can save several hours and read something else instead.

Maybe that’s not fair-Sky in the Deep isn’t bad, per say, but there really just isn’t anything special about it.

All in all, you have a really cool set up, but the plot just never delivers.

Plus: Vikings are such a cool basis for a YA novel.

Minus: Do anything at all with the story! Seriously! Magic! Or Viking zombies! Just do something!

Try This Instead:

Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1)

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland- The Civil War… but with zombies! Now that’s how you do historical fiction, my friends.

Puddin’ by Julie Murphy

Inside cover blurb:

Millie Michalchuk has gone to fat camp every year since she was a girl. Not this year. This year she has new plans to chase her secret dream—and to kiss her crush. Callie Reyes is the pretty girl who is next in line for dance team captain and has the popular boyfriend. But when it comes to other girls, she’s more frenemy than friend. When circumstances bring the girls together over the course of a semester, they will surprise everyone (especially themselves) by realizing they might have more in common than they ever imagined.”

-from publisher

Thoughts:

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I want to hug every Julie Murphy book, always. She is one author whose novels I will always read. And when I found out there was a sequel to Dumplin’, you can bet I was number one on that holds list.

This was the perfect way to do the Dumplin’ sequel. The story is set in the same universe, but we get new characters to love and adore.

Millie is passionate about future career, but people tell her she can’t achieve it for completely shallow reasons. Her story is heartbreaking and entirely too relatable, especially her relationship with her mom.

But the best part of the story is Callie, a girl with a reputation for being shallow and petty. When she gets thrown together with Millie, however, her true personality (though she definitely keeps her sass) begins to shine. I like that we get kind of an antihero for a change. Some of the revenge stunts she pulls are rather inspired, I must say.

This is an all around great book. Murphy dives into some deep subjects- stereotypes, body positivity, race and sexuality- but she manages to keep the overall tone upbeat and I am here for it.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Plus: Great characters and even though you know you’re likely getting a happy ending, the plot lines don’t end up totally predictable.

Minus: I thought some of the supporting characters deserved a little bit more love…but maybe they’ll be the lead in another sequel!

If you like this book, try:

Leah on the Offbeat (Creekwood, #2)

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli- Just like Puddin’ follows a supporting character from Dumplin’, Leah on the Offbeat is centered on Simon’s best friend from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Hmmm, I wonder if Albertalli and Murphy are friends….Great minds think alike!

 

Bruja Born by Zoraida Córdova

Inside cover blurb:

Three sisters. One spell. Countless dead.

Lula Mortiz feels like an outsider. Her sister’s newfound Encantrix powers have wounded her in ways that Lula’s bruja healing powers can’t fix, and she longs for the comfort her family once brought her. Thank the Deos for Maks, her sweet, steady boyfriend who sees the beauty within her and brings light to her life.

Then a bus crash turns Lula’s world upside down. Her classmates are all dead, including Maks. But Lula was born to heal, to fix. She can bring Maks back, even if it means seeking help from her sisters and defying Death herself. But magic that defies the laws of the deos is dangerous. Unpredictable. And when the dust settles, Maks isn’t the only one who’s been brought back…”

-from publisher

Thoughts:

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More, more, more! Give me more now! Thank you to Sourcebooks Fire for sending me this ARC.

I loved Labyrinth Lost and I was actually a little surprised to find that I enjoyed Bruja Born just as much- you don’t always get lucky the second time around.

Bruja Born is more urban fantasy- everything takes place in New York and the fight comes to the girls, as opposed to Labyrinth Lost, where Alex went to Los Lagos. This means that Bruja Born gives us more of a glimpse at the Mortiz’s sisters home life and relationships with one another, which let me just say, I personally would not mess with them. They are three badass babes.

Both stories have a flavor and style that is unique to the sister it’s focused on. Lula’s journey focuses on her emotions and how she learns to accept imperfection. My spidey senses tell me that perhaps the next book in the series will center on the third Mortiz sister, Rosie. I sure wouldn’t be mad- I definitely want to hear more about her and her powers!

I learned from the afterward that some of the characters/organizations that appear in Bruja Born were first introduced in The Vicious Deep, Corodova’s series about mermaids. I always thought those books sounded kind of dweeby, to be honest, but now I’m kind of intrigued…maybe that’s what I’ll read while I sit here waiting for the third installment of Brooklyn Brujas.

Plus: Powerful female brujas and magic that disturbs the balance of the universe. I’m so into it.

Minus: The plot didn’t always flow as well as I would have liked, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it overall.

If you like this book, try:

Undead Girl Gang

Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson- A teen Wiccan finds out she has the power to raise the dead after her best friend dies under suspicious circumstances. Pretty similar to Bruja Born in some ways, but with a bit more dark humor.