Romance Interlude 2.9

I haven’t done one of these in a while mostly because I’ve been trying to catch up with other reviews that weren’t necessarily romances. I did get a chance to read a few new ones and reread some I never reviewed on the blog. Let’s get started!


Guarding Her Heart (2019)
by Adore Ian
ASN/ISBN: B07P16B1MD
Publication: July 16, 2019
Goodreads Summary
Series: Braxton Arcade #2

One liner: Elle’s past catches up with her just as she finally feels like she’s found a place she can call home and a man who makes her feel safe.

This one was unexpectedly good! I should have known it would be because it was on a list of romances curated by Remarkably Lisa and another blogger. Elle and Conor are co-workers and become friends while Elle is working at Braxton Arcade. When they start acting on their attraction to one another it doesn’t feel like insta-love. The close proximity was also nice. I wasn’t a fan of Conor’s virginity fetish, but his possessiveness wasn’t as extreme as I’ve seen in other novels so that didn’t bother me as much. My higher than expected star rating comes from how well the suspense and romance are integrated. It doesn’t forgo the suspense to focus solely on the romance and then have the suspense pop up out of nowhere. Past books that have tried to blend the two have disappointed me in this area but this one did not.


Summer Spice
by Kris Pearson
ASN/ISBN: B07N8857KK
Publication: January 29, 2019
Goodreads Summary
Series: Scarlet Bay Romance #3

One liner: Mei needs a temporary place to stay after leaving her abusive ex and Ollie, who has been in love with her for 15 years, has the perfect place for her until he can fly her out.

If you can overlook Ollie continuously referring to Mei as “Dragon Lady” or her being exotic, this is a good read. The writing is engaging and although the romance develops in the course of a few days, it gave me all the warm, fluttery feelings, again if I ignored the above. Although Mei has only just left her ex, it’s established pretty well that they’ve both always been attracted to each other. Ollie has been carrying a torch for Mei for 15 years and when he sees her again it’s clear he is still smitten. Aside from overlooking Ollie’s name for Mei, I wasn’t a fan of the reveal about why it took forever for them to get together. The ending was abrupt and I didn’t really like how it ended, aside from Ollie referring to Mei as “Dragon Lady” that is. (As you can see probably guess it was difficult to overlook…)


Sin With Me
by Rose Chen
ASN/ISBN: B01FQ6IL94
Publication: May 15, 2016
Goodreads Summary

One liner: Alicia is a serial dater and doesn’t date Asian men but Kenneth is set on her and will do his best to make her change her mind.

This was another book from the booklist curated by Remarkably Lisa. It was surprisingly good. Give me a lead like Dr. Kenneth Sin anytime! I know that in my Asian community, I have also often heard the “I don’t date Asian men” rule and I gave it the side eye here mostly because I wanted to know why first. Chen gives a reasonably acceptable, if cliche, answer–Alicia isn’t ready for commitment and Asian men seem to want more commitment than she’s prepared for. Of course, all this starts to blur with Kenneth. It’s easy to see why. First, they’re both physically attracted to each other and then they both have traits that each like in the other. Their mothers are friends and sharing a culture does make things a bit simpler. Kenneth is persistent but he also is respectful of Alicia’s wishes and I completely swooned for that. I liked the book a lot until the ending so that’s why it’s 1/2 a star lower than it should be.

The Devil Comes Courting (2021)

by Courtney Milan
ASIN/ISBN: 9798741161982
Publication: April 20, 2021
Series: The Worth Saga #3

Amelia Smith is intentionally sought out by Captain Grayson Hunter to help with telegraphic transmissions, except he doesn’t realize the genius he’s looking for is a woman. When he does, it’s not enough to deter him from trying to employ her. The problem is whether he can convince her of her value, that there is more to her future than just marriage and children.

I like how historical romances are embracing racial/ethnic diversity. Milan is one author doing this, and I have enjoyed some of her novels thus far. The Devil Comes Courting is a slow-burn romance with POC representation, and one of the highlights of the novel is the two leads. (There’s plenty more I could talk about but I’d prefer not to spoil anything.) Amelia is Chinese and the adopted daughter of an English missionary. Although she is sure her adoptive mother loves her, Amelia can’t help but also want a place to belong where she is accepted for who she is. In his willingness to employ her and to point out her current situation, Grayson offers her some semblance of what she is looking for. He is providing her the opportunity to give her life purpose beyond the one her adoptive mother wants her to choose, marriage and children. Amelia is a refreshing lead for the way her mind works. Amelia is inquisitive and curious, her mindset on tinkering and problem solving until she’s worn out whatever is on her mind. I liked Amelia and related all too well with her inability to remember names. I’m nearly as awful as she is at it. The way she relates things made me realize I’m pretty sure that’s how my brain works when I bring up seemingly unrelated things–“they were both in my head at the same time.”

Grayson is biracial of African American and white heritage. He is arrogant, immediately wanting to seduce Amelia as soon as they meet as well as proclaiming he knows how attractive he is when Amelia blurts out what is on her mind. I strained my eyes from epic eye-rolling. There is a fair amount of arrogance needed, I guess, for someone who is determined to complete such an endeavor. Grayson was easily forgiven for his belief in Amelia. Initially, it seems his belief is just to ensure he gets what he wants–her working for him–but he also recognizes the situation she is in and cares about her feelings. One of my favorite scenes is the somewhat odd questions she asks before deciding whether she wants to work for him or not. Throughout the entire book, his faith in her abilities never falters, and I couldn’t help but have heart eyes. For me, he turned swoon-worthy rather quickly. Underneath his tough exterior though is a man who carries his grief with him and believes he is unworthy of happiness. This plays a role in Amelia and Grayson’s slow-burn romance. His fickleness was irritating at times but understandable due to his situation.

There’s more than meets the eye in When the Devil Comes Courting, especially as the layers are pulled back and subplots are revealed. Readers find out the devil has appeared many times over. Some patience is warranted because it is a slow burn as the leads try to figure out and in some cases try to verbalize what it is they want. While it can get a bit frustrating with how much time they spend apart as opposed to together, their belief and support of one another is one of the highlights of the novel. I finished the novel on a high note because of their regard for one another.

In the Ravenous Dark (2021)

by A.M. Strickland
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250776600
Publication: May 18, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

I was quickly hooked as the book opened with Roven’s dad sacrificing himself to try to conceal Roven’s identity from the bloodmages sent to retrieve him and any family he might have. Some years after her father’s death, she reveals her powers to save someone. Her mistake leads to her whole world being uprooted. She is thrust into the palace and forced to conform to her new role, but she’ll stop at nothing to escape. While the book initially held promise, my hope began to unravel as I delved into Thanopolis and the palace intrigue awaiting Roven. Although there is a lot to like about the book, I couldn’t quite overcome the parts I didn’t like.

With its sigils, blood magic, and bloodlines, the magic system was primarily the most interesting part of the book. I was entranced by the complexity of the system and wanted so much more information than was provided. The powers and the role of the guardians–spirits who inhabit the world of the living and are chained to bloodmages–were fascinating. I wanted more details about the ability of guardians and how they became guardians in the first place. The process by which magic is passed from one generation was intriguing. Then there was also death magic, which was not explained very well because only those who served in the necropolis had full knowledge of what it was. Although I wanted more information, it was enough to momentarily pause my questions about how it worked. It felt like Strickland only scratched the surface of the magical system created, and more stories could be built around it in the future.

The world appeared Greek inspired from the structures to the language to the clothing but I couldn’t visualize much from the descriptions provided. The focus was mostly on the government in place and the magic system. Queer representation was present. One of the love interests Princess Lydea is a lesbian. Japha, who is the first to befriend Rovan in the palace, is non-binary, and Rovan is pansexual. While the world appears queer normative, there is still a perceived duty that individuals must procreate for it to be acceptable. Love between multiple individuals is also acceptable.

While I mostly stick to reading about monogamous relationships, the book deviates from my norm with a polyamorous relationship. I was curious to see how this would be written, and if I would be swayed to like one love interest more than the other; however, it turned out that the romance is likely one of the most disappointing aspects of the book. The problem doesn’t lie with the number of people Rovan potentially loves but in the absence of emotional depth in each relationship pursued. Lust and attraction immediately transform into deep affection with the word love easily escaping from the mouths of those supposedly having fallen into it. I, on the other hand, was still trying to understand how and when love happened. There were hardly any meaningful displays of affection and rarely passion beyond the physical to sway me of these sudden attachments. Because love serves as motivation for some actions characters take, it was difficult for me to overlook the romances supposedly taking place. Aside from familial relationships, the only relationship slightly believable to me was Japha and Rovan’s friendship. Needless to say, I was let down in the romance area. It’s certainly possible that had the book been longer the execution could have improved significantly.

The book moves at a fast pace, jumping from one event to the next. While this didn’t work well with trying to build a foundation for the story and the relationships, it worked fairly well with some parts of the final third of the book. The pace helped build momentum toward what was to come during the conclusion, but the actual ending was not as exciting as I hoped it would be. Due to the quick pace, there were limited opportunities to relish what the book had to offer, with its greatest effect being my lack of connections with many of the characters. I wasn’t invested in anyone other than Rovan, and it didn’t matter much to me what would happen to the rest.

As much as I liked the magic system, I was a bit disappointed by In the Ravenous Dark. The very beginning held a lot of promise, and I was excited to read it. The last third was also interesting. Despite enjoying parts of it, I thought it was lacking in certain areas, particularly the romance. It was difficult figuring out how to rate this because even with all the things I did like about it, I just kept thinking about how the execution was lacking. I compromised with myself and decided to put it smack dab in the middle.

For the Wolf (2021)

by Hannah Whitten
ASIN/ISBN: 9780316592789
Publication: June 1, 2021
Series: The Wilderwood #1

For the Wolf was a challenge to read because I’d been anticipating it for so long. I had to read it in blocks so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself. My final verdict? It was worth the nearly year-long wait and the teasing from Whitten on Twitter.

Eamonn is our tortured hero, whose tenure as Wolf has made him more than just the keeper of the Wilderwood. As the woods begin to weaken, his desire to protect others from similar paths drives him to repair the woods by himself. Red is the sacrificial second daughter destined for the Wolf. Her entire life has been shaped by this single fate. When she enters the Wilderwood she eventually learns that some stories alter the truth while some stories are passed from one generation to the next because they aren’t just stories at all. Sometimes the things you’re scared of are less terrifying than what those things are keeping out.

For the Wolf is a reimagining of multiple fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast, but to solely call it that minimizes how wholly novel the book feels. It’s a dark adult fantasy rife with love, obligations, and sacrifice. Whitten’s attention to detail, from the plot to the landscape, transported me to the Wilderwood and Valleyda. Although the descriptions can seem lengthy, maybe even excessive at times, they contributed to an atmospheric read that allowed me to immerse myself in the story and the relationships. Furthermore, the complexity of the magic and the world we get a glimpse of is what contributes to this being such a good read. There’s a lot to the book but I am focusing on the relationships.

The relationships are one of the highlights of the novel with the most compelling one being Red and her older sister Neve. While they are destined to traverse different paths, their devotion to each other is moving. Can you imagine giving up one of the people you love the most in the world to a sinister fate? Neve’s character arc in the book is based on this need to get Red back. It serves as justification for Neve to embark on a mission to save Red even if she doesn’t fully understand what she’s getting herself into. We get snapshots of how Neve is faring through Valleyda Interludes. These chapters also contain characters who are as painstakingly secretive as the Wolf, and it was frustrating.

The romance between Eammon and Red is a slow burn. They’re bound to each other because of their circumstances, and feelings gradually grow from there, including frustration, desire, and eventually love. As much as I enjoyed the their relationship, it was also frustrating. I tried to understand Eammon’s behavior but I was increasingly irritated with him and his unwillingness to provide Red with answers. Although he believed he was helping her, he instead took away her agency, or at least what she had left of it. She deserved to not only make decisions for herself but to make these decisions with the most information possible. I get why he did it but I hated that he deliberately made it so difficult for her. (Okay… I go back and forth about this relationship because I just keep wondering if there’d be anything there had it not been for their connection to the Wilderwood. Like, how much is it the Wilderwood and how much of it is them? Am I reading too much into this? Ack…)

Then there is the Wilderwood with its many complicated relationships. It’s at once beautiful and terrifying. It would be fairly easy to describe the sentient woods as evil, and in the beginning, it feels that way. It is demanding and asks a great deal of those connected to it. It serves as both friend and foe, wholly immersed in its own survival. The Wilderwood takes more than many are willing to give, but it’s important to understand that in the larger context, it only asks as much as is required to maintain the bargains made.

Throughout the novel, I felt a certain amount of anxiousness, and I largely attribute it to my anticipation of the novel and the unknown. I had guesses, but I didn’t always figure out what was going to happen next. Additionally, I desperately wanted parts of the book to move along faster so I could get to the end. And the end is worth it. I realize that I continually remark about how frustrated I was with the book but as much as it frustrated me, I enjoyed it a lot. While it may be the allure of an adult version of known fairy tales (and the lovely cover) that compels individuals to first reach for the book, Whitten’s novel stands well on its own as an original taleFor the Wolf is only the beginning, and I cannot wait for the next book slated for Summer 2022.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (2021)

by Suzanne Park
ASIN/ISBN: 9781728209424
Publication: June 1, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Sunny Song spends an inordinate amount of time on social media and her phone. With nearly 100K followers, content creation is high on her list of things to do this summer. However, her plans go astray when a cooking video goes viral. Sunny must either attend a digital detox camp or face expulsion from school so she’s shipped off to a farm camp in Iowa. 

Suzanne Park proves once again why I immediately add her books onto my TBR as soon as they’re announced. She’s able to create relatable characters and provide insight into current problems related to the digital age all while making me laugh along the way.

Sunny Song is the average tech-savvy teenager and generally doesn’t seem to cause her parents much grief except she’s always on her phone, often leading her to tune out those around her. I think many of us can relate to paying too much attention to our phones that we unintentionally shut out those around us. She’s also a social media influencer with a relatively large following. Smart and driven, she’s determined to increase her online influence even though she’s prohibited from having electronics at camp. This leads me to one of my favorite relationships in the book, Sunny and Maya. Although we don’t get to see much of Sunny’s best friend Maya, I absolutely loved their relationship. Maya is such an amazing friend and helps manage Sunny’s accounts and content while she’s away at camp. Only a true friend would be willing to do that and go the extra mile to mail you care packages with your crush’s picture. The other relationship I enjoyed was with Sunny and Theo. It was cute how sweet on each other they were. It wasn’t instant love but a month-long attraction and I liked it. It played out somewhat realistically. She definitely received extra special attention from Theo.

As much as I liked Sunny, I was more invested in the problem addressed in the book. The focus on social media and reliance on digital devices is especially poignant as social media is now an integral part of our lives. Many kids grow up wanting to become the next social media star as opposed to more traditional occupations. Of course, this growing dependency on electronics and social media isn’t just particular to kids and teens. Adults also face similar struggles. Park never comes off preachy even though she uses the characters to question the extent to which our lives revolve around electronics and social media. It even made me question how often I’m on social media and this blog! Gah! While Sunny is initially resistant when she arrives at the detox camp, she eventually begins to recognize how social media has influenced her behavior, both positively and negatively. Rather than completely writing off social media, Sunny’s experience at the camp suggests that a balance must be sought with a focus on understanding or remembering who we are outside of our social media persona. The focus on our identity beyond the one we present on social media was especially thought-provoking.

While the book touches on a complex subject, the novel remains relatively light as Sunny struggles with trying to get online and mainly focuses on the romance. I adored the book. I enjoy Park’s storytelling and her humor is always welcomed. I can always expect to laugh when I have one of her books is in my hands. As much as I liked the book, the ending felt rushed. Things were just getting good and then it has already going to be over. I was looking at the 75% mark wondering if there would be enough time for the story to wrap up. Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous is a solid read, and I greatly enjoyed it; however, I could have used another 50 pages to flesh out the events that happen at the end.

Luck of the Titanic (2021)

by Stacey Lee
ASIN/ISBN: 9781524740986
Publication: May 4, 2021

Valora Luck has dreamt of reuniting with her twin Jamie since he ventured off on his own, leaving her to take care of their father. After finding out Jamie will be on board the Titanic, she stowaways on it, intent on convincing him that it’s time they pursue their lifelong dreams of becoming acrobats.

The fate of the Titanic is well known but not all survivors’ stories are. Lee centers the story around the relatively unknown fact there were Chinese passengers also on board the Titanic. She sets the tone of the novel with a simple line: “Of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic, six survived.” I went into the book with a wall built around my heart but cracks still formed to topple it down. Lee carves out a piece of history and makes it her own with a bittersweet tale.

With Lee at the helm, I should have known it was a lost cause to protect myself from the fates of the characters. Who was going to live? Who was going to die? I tried to stay as disconnected as I could, but still found myself drawn into Valora’s story as she tried to convince her brother to pursue their dreams while trying to escape notice of the crew as well as other passengers. I was still able to laugh and I cheer all the while knowing tragedy was only pages away. Then, I cried.

Valora is a dreamer like her father, chasing down her dream of becoming an acrobat. Smart and determined, she’s always prepared to make her own luck, refusing to allow fate to stand in her way. While I liked Valora and appreciated her daring nature, I was slightly irritated with her constantly pushing her brother to see things her way, insistent he drop everything for their childhood dreams too. Her unwillingness to see beyond her own desires and to to try to understand who Jamie is now prevented me from fully supporting her efforts. It’s always difficult when the person you remember is both the same and different from who they have become, and throughout the novel Valora struggles with this.

Like Lee’s other novels, there is a bit of romance sprinkled in but it doesn’t overpower the central story. It left a lasting impression that hit me harder than many romance novels I’ve read. I don’t know how Lee does it because I felt this way about most of the romances that appeared in her other books too. In this particular novel, it’s likely I felt this way because it only just scratches the surface of the potential relationship so the promise of what’s to come left me wanting more. There are additional subplots included that make the story interesting, each weaving well into the other and supporting the overall story rather than feeling disjointed.

As the Titanic’s demise neared, it was difficult to keep my anxiety at bay. I wasn’t sure what would happen to the characters. It was never a matter of whether Lee would stick close to history and allow only six Chinese passengers to survive even as I tried to convince myself she would find some way around it. I knew it was always going to be who would be part of the six. Luck of the Titanic demonstrates once again Lee’s ability to give faces and names to the past, connecting me with people and stories across time. She took me down a journey that only lasted a few hours but left me heartsick for days.

The Summer of Broken Rules (2021)

by K.L. Walther
ASIN/ISBN: 9781728210292
Publication: May 4, 2021

Although still grieving her older sister’s death, Meredith and her parents finally return to Martha’s Vineyard for her cousin’s wedding. When the family’s summer tradition of playing Assassin commences, she’s determined to win for her sister. The summer brings with it an added surprise when she finds herself bonding with a groomsman and can’t help spending more time with him throughout the week.

The Summer of Broken Rules was a lovely escape not only for Meredith but for me as well. For a few hours, I was at Martha’s Vineyard enjoying a week-long game of assassin with a close-knit family while celebrating a wedding and on the edge of a meaningful relationship. While the book isn’t perfect, it provided an unexpected but welcomed distraction from reality.

Assassin as a family tradition was the initial draw for me, and the game did not disappoint. Not only was it hilarious to see the lengths players would go to “kill” each other, the things individuals did to avoid their assassin were just as amusing. One scene in particular made me laugh out loud as a standoff took place and then a chase ensued. This was the perfect setting to demonstrate how close the families were to each other and how Claire’s death affected everyone, not just Meredith. It pushed the book to more light-hearted territory even though Meredith was still trying to navigate life without her sister. Walther realistically portrays what grief is like, not as something that can be overcome, but something we learn to live with daily. It’s a constant ache, often hidden away, but can hit at any moment as it does to Meredith repeatedly throughout the week as her happy moments on the island are often interspersed with bouts of grief.

I was thankful Walther didn’t give me instant love nor was the romance packaged as true love but only suggests the possibility of it. Not only is Wit good looking with a playful demeanor but he is attuned to Meredith, more so than her ex had ever been. Without the expectation of a relationship, Wit and Meredith are honest in their interactions with each other. Sometimes it’s the people you’ve just met that you can tell nearly anything to, without the fear of judgment precisely because they don’t know much about you. I enjoyed their banter and the positive changes Wit appeared to have incited in her, helping her recognize what she’d been missing in her previous relationship as well as offering her a peek at what it means to effortlessly click with someone. The evolution of their relationship, even though it was only a week, felt genuine, as though it could lead to something long-lasting. (I’m a total romantic so I’m always hoping for that forever after.)

With Meredith’s path to romance the focus of the book, there left little room for her to mend her relationships with the friends she pushed away. They felt more like props that appeared only when needed, but were nonexistent most of the time. I had hoped her friends would be given a larger role. In addition to her friends (when they were present), there are also many side characters that contributed to a fun read. Be forewarned though, there are a lot of them, and it was difficult to keep them all straight. But, it’s a wedding, so it’s reasonable that there would be so many people. Also, assassin is just a lot more fun with more people.

I enjoyed the book immensely, smiling after it was over. The Summer of Broken Rules is probably one of my favorite May reads. It’s one I can see myself reading again just to enjoy the crazy antics to win the game. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a light read, something that will provide a momentary escape from life’s obligations.

Oddbird (2021)

by Derek Desierto
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250765314
Publication: May 25, 2021

Oddbird_page

Desierto is the illustrator of multiple books but Oddbird is his debut. The story follows a bird who isn’t like the rest of the other birds, who just wants to swim in the pool. Because he is different, not nearly as colorful as the other birds are, he is singled out. He finds a way to blend himself in with them, but ultimately finds that just being himself is best.

The book highlights being unique and accepting yourself the way you are even if other’s won’t necessarily do so at first. Apart from the positive storyline, the simple illustrations and the vibrant colors are some of the most memorable things about the book. I enjoyed the book. The nieces and I will be drawing some of our own birds after they finish with their online classes.

I had a chance to participate in a virtual meet with the author, and it was a complete joy to hear him speak about the book and the thought went into creating the different birds. He mentioned wanting to create birds that were simple enough for children to draw, and I appreciate that he took that into consideration. Not only does Oddbird offer a compelling story of being true to yourself, it also gives children an opportunity to create their own unique bird–any shape and any size, all sorts of colors and even different types of eyes. I’ll stop while I’m ahead, otherwise I might continue to rhyme.

Heart & Seoul (2021)

by Jen Frederick
ASN/ISBN: 9780593100141
Publication: May 25, 2021
Series: Seoul Series #1

**I received a copy of the book from the author and publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Growing up and wishing she looked like those around her, Korean adoptee Hara Wilson is very much removed from her Korean culture despite her mother Ellen often trying to engage her with it when she was younger. After the death of her adoptive father, she surprises even herself when she decides she wants to visit Korea. On the search for her biological parents, Hara also finds an unexpected romance along with messier than expected familial ties.

I like Frederick’s novels for tugging at my emotions and for the most part, the book does this. The beginning especially struck a chord with me as Hara related her relationship with her adoptive father and lacking a sense of belonging in a place she says likely “doubled the Asian population when her mom adopted her.” I cannot identify with Hara’s experience as an adoptee, I can only try to understand her story and this ended up often being through the lenses of being perceived as “other” while growing up Asian in a predominantly white community. In some ways, I could empathize with wishing to look more like those around her and pushing aside her culture. This aspect of the book was particularly well done, making the impetus for Hara’s trip to Korea a believable one when her search for identity is a greater pull than she realizes.

Like in her other novels, Frederick gives us a smart and strong protagonist in Hara Wilson. Her introspection throughout the novel displays growth, from being someone who particularly keeps to herself to becoming more vocal about who she is and what she wants. The question of her “Koreanness” was particularly thought provoking, although it left me unsettled at the amount of times her identity was questioned. It was interesting to see the answer evolve and the answer Hara chooses to accept as her own.

The heart and soul (heh…) of the book is Hara’s search for her identity. I wish the book had kept to this theme. Surprisingly, I could have done without the romance subplot–this is coming from someone who loves romance in just about everything. I could have also done without the additional drama that overpowers Hara’s overall journey toward the end of the novel. When the book took a turn for the dramatic and started to feel more like a Korean drama, my interest in it wavered and I enjoyed it less–this is also coming from someone who adores her Korean dramas.

The author’s acknowledgment was especially poignant to me, explaining that this story is just one narrative and not necessarily representative of every adoptee’s story. I hope that when reading this, and other books as well, readers take this into consideration. While there may be overlapping themes, remember that we each also have our own narratives.

Heart & Seoul is a good book, but those expecting a full blown romance might be disappointed as well as those who are expecting more soul searching. On the other hand, readers who like Korean dramas in their books may enjoy Heart & Seoul.

**I was excited to see the mention of Korean drama Signal (2016). It’s one of my favorite Korean dramas. It’s a mash of the movie Frequency and the television series Cold Case. It’s on Netflix but you can also find recaps at Dramabeans. It’s such a good drama and I needed to mention it.**

Before I Saw You (2021)

by Emily Houghton
ASIN/ISBN: 9781982149505
Publication: May 4, 2021

**I received a copy of the book from the publisher through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own. **

Alfie and Alice share a ward in St. Francis’s Hospital, both recovering from traumatic accidents. While Alfie is sociable and can hardly prevent himself from talking to anyone he meets, Alice prefers to remain silent and hidden by her curtains. Although she is initially annoyed with Alfie’s attempts at conversation, little by little he draws her out enough that she begins to look forward to conversations with him. From disgruntled roommates (at least on the part of Alice) and then to becoming friends, their relationship begins to feel like something more all without ever seeing each other.

The experience of reading Before I Saw You for the first time is one that I will be unable to replicate. Even if I reread it somewhere down the line, it’s unlikely that the first time Alice speaks to Alfie will be as exciting. And that ending, that damned ending, will not hit me the same way. I mean, I don’t know if I will ever feel about it the way I do right this moment because for some books, there’s nothing like the first time. I’m currently basking in the loveliness of this novel. If I could, I’d like to bottle up what I’m feeling so that I can feel this way whenever I wanted. My one regret is that I waited so long to read it. It’s an absolute gem.

If you’re looking for something exciting, this isn’t going to be the book that will satisfy that search. The book is slow and might even be perceived as repetitive, but oh how I savored the inner dialogue and the connection between Alfie and Alice. This is a moving, character driven story that follows two people in need of healing and unexpectedly finding solace in each other, all the while separated by a curtain and never laying eyes on one other. It’s an uplifting story of the power of the human spirit and the connections we make that can help us thrive even in trauma.

Alfie, with his generally cheery attitude and talkative nature, is like the sun with its gravitational pull, grabbing hold of the people around him and pulling them into his orbit. No one can really help it because he’s affable and genuinely enjoys making human connections. Even I wasn’t immune from it. I have to commend Houghton for capturing his personality so well, for making his excitement so infectious that he immediately brightened my mood as well. I was so happy at how happy he was when Alice spoke to him for the first time.

Alice, on the other hand, is his opposite with her dislike of socializing, preferring instead to keep to herself and having just her best friend. The accident adds to her insecurities. Although Alfie is immediately likeable, Alice is the one that spoke to me, shattering me in several places throughout the book. Although she tries to resist, eventually she is also pulled into Alfie’s orbit. They become friends, but more than that they become confidantes, sharing things they would rarely, if at all, tell anyone else. I loved how their relationship developed and the eventual change they inspire in each other.

Houghton had me chuckling one moment and near tears the next. Alfie and Alice would share these significant pieces of themselves that ripped my heart out, and then the most sarcastic thing would come out of their mouths. These are my kind of characters, and if they were real, they’d be my kind of people. Having been inside their heads so long, it felt like I was saying goodbye to friends. The book is a slow read that requires immersing yourself in this difficult period in Alfie’s and Alice’s lives, to connect with them as they connect with each other. I adored the book.