A Very Friendly Valentine’s Day (2021)

by Kayley Loring
ASIN/ISBN: B08RCZ2NK1
Publication: January 14, 2021
Series: Standalone – connected to A Very Bossy Christmas (2020)

**Jump to Review**

Get ready to spend Valentine’s Day with Eddie and Birdie!

A Very Friendly Valentine’s Day
is out today.

Goodreads
Amazon: US | UK | CA | AU

EDDIE: Cancel your dinky little roomette on the train. I’m booking us two of the big bedroom suites. 

BIRDIE: I’ll cancel it AFTER you’ve booked the other sleeper rooms. And reimburse you.

EDDIE: Don’t worry about it. Just cancel your tickets. I got this. Round trip. I’m on the Amtrak website right now.

BIRDIE: You don’t have to leave NYC when I do! You’ll hardly be able to spend any time with your Instagram girlfriend that you’ve never met!

EDDIE: It’s fine. She’ll be fine with it. Cancel your tickets.

BIRDIE: You aren’t going to stop texting me until I’ve canceled them, are you?

EDDIE: Damn right I’m not. Just do it. You can thank me later.

***

EDDIE: Um. Did you cancel your tickets?

BIRDIE: Yes, Edward. I canceled them.

EDDIE: Okay, because it turns out they only had one Family Bedroom from LA to Chicago. But the good news is I booked it for us. It’s the biggest room they had. The bad news is I booked it for us. And it’s the only sleeper room they have left now.

EDDIE: In related news, there was also only one room left from Chicago to New York. 

EDDIE: Hands up if you’re excited! *man raising hand emoji*

BIRDIE: I am so mad at you right now.

***

BIRDIE: I’ve compiled a list of ground rules re shared train bedroom. Check your email, please read carefully, and refer to it again on the ninth of February. Thank you.

EDDIE: *nerd face emoji* Received. I have some notes. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Before writing steamy romantic comedy novels, Kayley Loring got a BFA in creative writing from a Canadian university and had a fifteen-year career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles (under a different name). She mostly wrote PG-13 family comedies that studios would pay her lots of money for and then never make into movies. In 2017 she decided to move to the Pacific Northwest and write about all the fun stuff that she wasn’t allowed to write about in those PG-13 scripts. Now she’s breathing cleaner air and writing dirtier words. It’s an adjustment she’s happily getting used to.

Facebook |Facebook Group |Bookbub
Website | Instagram
Newsletter | Audio Newsletter


REVIEW

**I was provided a copy of the book by Give Me Books as part of the promotional campaign. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Best friends Birdie and Eddie straddle the line between friendship and possibly something more. While both are attracted to each other, Birdie doesn’t want to ruin a 6-year friendship and Eddie is trying really hard to stay faithful to his hot Instagram model girlfriend whom he has never met IRL. Separately, they make plans to head to New York for Valentine’s Day–Eddie to meet his girlfriend and Birdie to attend a Tedx talk–but decide to make the trip together.

A Very Friendly Valentine’s Day is short and sweet (short as in over 200 pages but under 300) Because it’s short, there isn’t a lot of room to digress from our leading couple. As a friends-to-lovers romance, this book hits all the good stuff from the angst of being in close quarters to the jealousy that occurs when someone tries to hit on your best friend…the one who you are very definitely not in love with. The chemistry and the angst start right away, making it easy to root for Birdie and Eddie. Missing was the endearing and very hilarious family bantering, although we hear from Eddie’s mom and his brother as well as get appearances from his cousins. However, as Eddie’s cousin Billy laments in the book, a lot of holidays like Christmas and New Year’s can be spent with family but Valentine’s Day is often about having a significant other so it makes sense that families only make brief appearances in this particular book. (Not that Valentine’s Day can’t be about friends and other relationships–I’m all for it. I’m just repeating what Billy said. Don’t shoot me.)

As a fan of rom coms, A Very Friendly Valentine’s Day is an example of why Loring has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I was reading this at 2AM because I couldn’t put it down. I had to self-ostracize to the living room because I kept laughing too much. If you’re a fan of friends-to-lovers and laughing (because laughing is one of life’s best cures!), this is the perfect novel to head into Valentine’s Day with.

Side note: As soon as I was done, I had to go reread A Very Bossy Christmas again (yup…you read that right, reread again as in I’ve already reread it a few times) because I needed some more laughs. Now that the single Cannavale brothers have had their stories, I very much need a story about Maddie’s niece Piper. I love her.

The Girl and the Ghost (2020)

Hanna Alkaf
ISBN: 9780062940957
Publication: August 4, 2020

**I received a copy of the book from the author and publisher through Edelweiss+. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**I wanted to thank Hanna Alkaf for helping ensure ARCs of the book were able to get into the hands of individuals who identified as Southeast Asian. I greatly appreciated the extra effort.**

Central to the story is the friendship between a girl and her ghost. Suraya inherits a ghost from her grandmother who has passed on. He quietly prCentral to the story is the friendship between a girl and her ghost. Suraya inherits a ghost from her grandmother who has passed on. He quietly protects her from all sorts of harm—she is a rather rambunctious girl—until he finally deems it is appropriate to reveal himself to her.  Despite his protests, she names him Pink. Their friendship blooms but becomes threatened when Pink displays a darker side to protect her from bullies and when he grows jealous of Suraya’s growing friendship with new student Jing.

Have you ever read a book that you liked so much it was difficult to put into words? The Girl and The Ghost was that for me. It was both heartwarming and heart wrenching. I experienced so many emotions reading this book. As I reached the end, my heart became heavy because the story itself spoke to me on so many different levels and it was really going to be over. An ending was truly in sight.

I don’t know if what I write can truly capture everything I feel about this book. I was completely charmed as soon as I began reading it. Alkaf transported me to a place that was both real and imagined, and at times terrifying. The first half of the book left me in this haze, full of childlike wonder, and turned me into a pile of goo. Suraya was so endearing as a little girl and it hurt my heart to see her bullied by other children. It was made more difficult knowing that home was not a sanctuary either because she felt unloved and neglected by her mother. To an extent, Pink was able to fulfill some of these holes in her life. Pink reminded me of a curmudgeon who refused to admit he is anything but what he appears to be. Despite Pink’s insistence that he was a dark spirit and lacked a heart, it was clear he was completely besotted by Suraya, acting more like a guardian and a friend than the terrifying creature he was supposed to be. I completely loved the first half of the book. 

The second half of the book takes a darker turn and is considerably creepier. I am also one to be easily scared so you can take the “considerably creepier” with a grain of salt. Pink takes matters into his own hands, playing tricks on bullies despite Suraya telling him not to. It gets substantially worse when he also dislikes that Suraya has a new friend, Jing. When jealousy rears its ugly head, it becomes difficult to justify why Suraya and Pink can or even should remain friends.  I liked Jing and her references to Star Wars. Suraya and Jing made for a formidable pair.

REFLECTING ON THE WRITING

Alkaf has a way with words—lyrical, emotional, beautiful, and comical. And the imagery is just…well, let me share some of my favorites so you can get a glimpse into how wonderful the writing in this book is.

Suraya compares befriending her to “the case of durian.” If you’ve smelled durian and tasted it, it is clear that it is an acquired taste. Like Suraya, I am not a fan of durian but those who like it, love it. Essentially, those who are able to see beyond the materialistic and become friends with Suraya will find someone who is worth their friendship.

Another one of my favorites is the binding between Pink and Suraya being compared to “digging out ear boogers,” something “you had to get out of the way every so often so that things worked the way they were supposed to.” Hahaha…It was an unexpected comparison but I think one we can all understand. This one made me laugh. Alkaf is able to evoke so many wondrous images and emotions in this book. I loved it!  

FURTHER REFLECTIONS

I read the line about the jars and bottles and it whisked me away to a different time. Scents from my childhood have now become a part of me as an adult. Nothing replaces the smell of my mom’s kapoon, which I really should learn how to make but moms always make it best, and the aroma of steamed rice drifting from the stove rather than an electric rice cooker. What used to be a pungent stench and even embarrassing as a child, I now thrive on: Vicks Vaporub, Icy Hot, and, when in dire need, monkey balm and tiger balm. My medicine cabinet is always stocked with Salonpas, now my cure for every ache and pain, from headaches to even sore throats. In what feels like my old age, whiffs of these transport me to my childhood, of my mom slathering any one of these ointments on my arms and my chest when I was sick. Rather than a lingering odor, they’ve become medicinal perfume, allowing me to recall my past and live my present. Will these same things be present in Suraya’s room when she grows up like they were in her mother’s? Like my own is a reflection of my mom’s, the answer is it most likely will.  

This leads me to ask, are there any scents that send you spiraling down memory lane? Something that you disliked as a child but now often permeates your own home? It’s funny how these things can happen without us realizing it.

This was a resounding 4.5 stars. I was completely charmed by the book. It was endearing and made me miss my childhood. A lot of different themes arise but friendship and what it means to be a friend is an important one. Also, loss and learning to move forward is something the book touches on. 

Being Southeast Asian American (Hmong), I could connect with the culture where ghosts and spirits are abundant. Hmong homes are believed to have hearth ghosts protecting members of the family from harm. And then there are other ghosts that may try to harm you, who try to steal your spirit and make you sick. As I began reading, I almost felt like I was predisposed to like this book because I saw a culture similar to my own reflected back at me. I imagine that if I had read this as a kid, I would have been even more excited because it was rare to see this kind of representation.  

In an interview, Alkaf says she hopes that the book shows how “ our stories don’t have to be about our traumas. They can be about us having adventures, encountering ghosts, dealing with making new friends and figuring out how to get along with our parents” and that “we are far more than the most painful parts of our existence.” I think she clearly accomplishes that with this book.

Despite being a middle grade read, many adults will enjoy the book. I obviously did! I do not read many middle grade novels, but I am starting to think that I should. If this book is any indication of their quality, I know I will enjoy them immensely. I liked the book so much that I am preordering a hard copy for myself.

Again, a huge thanks to the author and publisher for providing an copy of the book.

Sound of Stars (2020)

by Alechia Dow
ISBN: 97813335911551
Publication: February 25, 2020

The Sound of Stars is set in the U.S., mainly New York, where aliens—Ilori—have taken over to…wait for it…use it as a vacation spot.  (I know.  Doesn’t that make you mad too?) They will use humans as sleeves, inserting their consciousness into human bodies to experience earth as “natives.”  Before this can happen, a vaccine must be created and administered to make human bodies vacant, devoid of freedom and thought but still functioning.  M0Rr1S—since humans cannot produce the sound of his name pronounce it as Morris instead—is a labmade, created in a lab in the image of humans and from the genetic material of a true Ilori mother (true meaning fully Ilori and not mixed with any other type of genetic material).  As a labmade, he holds the title of commander largely due to his father’s status but is no more than a servant doing the bidding of true Ilori.  One of his tasks is to create the vaccine, which he successfully makes. But, being labmade makes M0Rr1S unique: he feels; he enjoys music; and he enjoys reading—all things outlawed by Ilori.

The other half of our pairing is seventeen-year-old Janelle, or Ellie as her friends call her, who silently defies Ilori restrictions by loaning out books—yup, she’s a rebel librarian (best title ever). She is not the most sociable person, proclaiming books to be her friends, except for one individual, Alice.  Ellie may live with her parents but she may as well be living on her own. Her father is no longer her father but a walking, breathing “half-shell” of the man he used to be after being given monthly injections of a vaccine. Her mother has fallen to a different kind of drug, alcohol, and even asks Ellie to help hide alcohol. 

Ellie’s current life is often interspersed with memories of life before the invasion when things were (relatively) better.  Her father was a librarian, her mother was a professor, and she played the cello. Her parents were in love not sleeping in different bedrooms and barely speaking to one another. Before the invasion, racism often reared its ugly head (not that it isn’t still present after the invasion; it’s just there are now other things to possibly be more concerned about). They weren’t welcome in their new home and people looked at her, wondering how she got into a prestigious school (hence not better, just only relatively).

Their lives intersect when M0Rr1S stumbles upon her hidden library.  Rather than turn her in, he requests her assistance in acquiring more music, and in return, he promises that she and her family will be spared from the vaccine.  Despite the danger, Ellie agrees to the bargain to save the people she loves.  All seems to go according to plan until someone notifies the guards of what she is doing, and she is to be immediately executed. Rather than allow this to happen, M0Rr1S rescues her and sets into motion a road trip to California, bonding over music and books, and trying to board a fallen Ilori ship to save the world.

REFLECTING ON
JANELLE “ELLIE” BAKER

Ellie is a character I related to immediately. She loved books and music, finding solace in them. She treasures her books like I treasure mine, but she’s a lot nicer than I am because she lends them out. Lucky for me (or maybe not so lucky), my friends don’t really like to read. She has a quiet strength others may overlook because she is not very social and doesn’t vocalize her concerns. She appears to be the last person who would willingly break the rules. I could relate to that, I was that person for my friends–of course, I’ve never broken the law. (Innocent until proven guilty. You have no evidence on me. And even if you did, it’s all circumstantial. It might also depend on which law you’re referring to…)

Ellie, as one half of our heroic duo, is not a flawless individual and I liked that about her character–it made her seem like a real person. She has hyperthyroidism. She has anxiety. And, she didn’t just wake up one day and randomly decide she would be a rebel librarian; she didn’t wake up with superpowers. Events in her life compelled her to resist Ilori rule in her way. She lives in fear of the consequences of actions but also refuses to go down without fighting. She didn’t originally choose to be a hero. She starts off only wanting to save her family but eventually it becomes more than just her family but saving humanity. Janelle is the hero I hope I have inside of me.

MORE REFLECTING ON THE BOOK

While I could immediately connect with Janelle and could also sympathize with M0Rr1S, for some reason it took me a bit to warm up to them as the OTP. I rather liked them individually and as friends–despite M0Rr1S essentially blackmailing her to become his friend. Their love of art–music and books–is what connects them, allowing them to bond over the span of about a week and a half. They just meet all of two seconds (okay, I’m exaggerating a bit) and he already likes her, bordering on being in love with her. She is still cautious of him and being demisexual means that she doesn’t feel the same immediate attraction that he does. So, I understood their connection to one another, but the romance felt forced to me because it seemed more like friendship. It didn’t feel like what M0Rr1S was making it out to be, until maybe the last quarter of the book when the potential was finally there.

I like how Janelle calls out the trope as well—falling in love in just a few days and how impossible it seems—because I kept thinking it too.  But even as she calls it out loud and M0Rr1s tries to make her believe otherwise, and even if I’m a nonbeliever now, being a lot more cynical than I used to be, I recalled a time when I was in love and in those seven days I felt like I made a connection that most people only ever dream about. It was even less time than Ellie and M0Rr1s had together…so maybe it isn’t so impossible.  It was a long time ago but this book made me wistfully remember when love felt like it conquered everything, and it was worth the risk.  And for Janelle, who is cautious, and M0Rr1S, who never fails to express himself, love empowers them to risk their lives for a better future. Just to be clear, it’s not a romantic love that initially pushes them forward. For Janelle, it is first her family and humanity. For M0Rr1S, it is his mother and his people. Although at the beginning of the book, Janelle insists that “it’s about time everyone understands that there is no hope,” by the end she is doing what only the hopeful would do, shoot for the stars.

The Sound of Stars is a unique read and feels very much like Alechia Dow’s love letter about books and music. It is about the power that resides in the arts, its ability to connect us; the power it has to evoke feelings so strong that it can, and maybe even should, lead us to rebel against oppression of those we may only think are different from us.

There is a lot to like, including pop culture references and the regular person/alien becoming a hero. One of my favorite parts in the book is the incorporation of lyrics into the writing, in particular “Dreams” from The Cranberries. Neither of them was singing, it was just M0Rr1S feeling like his life was changing, you know, “in every possible way.” I found myself smiling and reading those words to the tune (and I’m also a fan of The Cranberries so obviously there is bias on my part). When an author is writing about music and books, I think it should be expected that lyrics are incorporated in the writing and not just as lyrics being sung/spoken. It’s like sharing this knowing glance with the reader, a look that says, “Yes, I just did that. And, I know you know what song this is from.” Also, I very much need music of the Starry Eyed in my life. I need to hear Allister Daniels put those lyrics to a tune.

While the middle of the book was just so-so (I mean, things happen and it’s not bad or anything), I enjoyed the beginning and the ending most of all. Overall, I found that I could connect to both characters because of their connection to music and books and how it brought them together. Music spoke to M0Rr1S and Ellie like it speaks to me, songs triggering memories and emotions but also moments triggering the perfect song. We all have a soundtrack to our lives and Dow captures that well through the characters and the epigraphs.

Most of all, I liked that the book left me feeling empowered.  

**This is a very surface-level review and doesn’t really do the book justice. There are so many themes that are rampant in this book that I could dissect but maybe I can do that another time. For now, it’s just about my connection to Ellie and the theme of music and books.