Good Luck Charm (2018)

by Helena Hunting
ISBN: 9781538760154
Publication: August 7, 2018

One of the most difficult parts of second chance romances is how the feelings you used to have betray you when you see one another again. It’s over, maybe it’s been a long time or maybe it was just moments ago, yet just the sight of the other person can stir your heart, your memories. Unbidden. Ethan and Lilah are caught in this position when, after eight years, they finally see one another again. When they broke up, it wasn’t because love disappeared. It was due to circumstances. He was away at college and headed for a professional hockey career, and she was still trying to finish high school to be with him. He was an ass and broke up with her over the phone–yes, that needed to be said–then ceased speaking to her again. Even after eight years, no one else has ever fit, or felt, quite right. This is their potential second chance.

When I first read Good Luck Charm, I was disappointed because I disliked the trajectory of the storyline. The romantic tension was immediate, and it was obvious feelings were still there. They moved on with their lives or at least tried, but a single touch was still enough to ignite a spark.  I wanted more of the chase, a lot more groveling, and then a happily ever after that made up for a failed first time. I got one out of the three. At first, it was infuriating on my part. I wanted him to suffer some more but what was the use of the chase and groveling if she already knew she still loved him–to have him suffer of course, but she loved him enough not to do that. Argh! I couldn’t stop thinking about the book. It was as though I didn’t really give it a chance to be better.

A few days ago, I gave Good Luck Charm a second chance, and I was well-rewarded this time around. Because I was wrapped up with what I didn’t get, there were things I missed that I caught this time, moments that hadn’t stuck out to me before. I better understood Lilah’s mixed emotions and her struggles as well as her concerns over her new relationship with Ethan. The story isn’t just about getting a second chance but ensuring the second chance would work. The HEA here required more time to work toward because second chances carry with it new and old fears, new and old expectations. For their love to win, Ethan and Lilah would have to face each of this head-on. They needed to work through the problems that could lead to their eventual downfall if not heeded early on. Although Hunting didn’t give me more groveling, she provided patience and understanding. She provided maturity and well-needed introspection.

I enjoyed Good Luck Charm much more this time, changing it from 3 stars to 4 stars. Like Ethan and Lilah, it wasn’t about my lack of affection for the book; that was very much present even if I didn’t realize it. I had a chance to set aside elements I wanted in a second chance romance, choosing to look at the pieces already there, and watched as they fell into place. Did I wish the chase was longer? Yes. Did I still want more groveling? Yes. But, I was also able to appreciate it for its own merit. Some books deserve second chances; I’m glad I gave a second chance to this second chance romance.

Gin’s Tonic (2020)

by Olivia Owen
ASIN/ISBN: B085RQJYWR
Publication: April 16, 2020

Virginia “Gin” Lee’s life is turned upside after a devastating loss. Running away from what’s left of her life in So Cal and looking for a place where she can be no one instead of someone, she finds herself in small town Jasper, Colorado after nearly running someone over. Yup, it’s a “city girl looking for escape in a small town” book. This may prompt an eye roll because of the abundance of similar books but Gin’s Tonic is so well-written. I picked it up on a whim but it was the book I needed in that exact moment. It embraced me like only a comfort read could. With imperfect characters, found family, and healing, Gin’s Tonic soothed a part of me I didn’t realize needed it.

Gin is broken and aware of it. She recently takes up smoking to purposely shorten her lifespan. She considers ending her life, even attempting it at one point. Anyone in her situation–going through the motions of living while not really living at all–might act in a similar way. While I cannot relate to Gin on every level, there were things about her I identified with, making the story feel more personal in some ways. The town easily embraces her, and she finds herself becoming part of the town’s “we” rather than the no one she wanted to be. The church ladies break the typical church lady stereotypes and are a fun bunch, and Aunt May and Becca essentially adopts her into their small family.

Roman is a big brooding alpha male. He’s the silent, protective type and seems to always show up when Gin needs him most. If this was real life, I’d be a little bit terrified but it’s a romance book so, for now, let me have swoon. I’m always on the fence about alpha males and some of their tendencies but Roman’s personality and overall behavior doesn’t particularly trigger any of my alarms and eyerolls the way other alpha male characters normally do. I loved how patient he was with Gin.

It’s told solely from Gin’s perspective, which is surprising considering the majority of my romance reads alternate viewpoints of the potential couple. As much as I liked Roman and would have liked to hear his thoughts–in the beginning I was wondering when would I get his perspective–I quickly realized that I preferred it without. I liked that this was solely Gin’s story; this was her journey to healing.

I flipped back and forth on the romance. Initially, I loved it because Gin and Roman seemed to fit so well but upon rereading my favorite parts over, it was difficult to understand why they gravitated toward each other. In piecing their progression from strangers to lovers, I found I wasn’t as easily convinced the second time around. It’s attraction at first, but becomes this unexplained connection that draws them to each other. It’s attraction mingled with lust bordering on instalove but they talk about it as if it’s something more. Eventually, it could be but I don’t know if I believe it is. Of course, maybe it’s just the cynical me who comes out when I try to understand rather than simply believing. Alternatively, it makes just as much sense to say Owen just doesn’t explicitly write it. It could be the brokenness they see in each and their loneliness that connects them to each other or something but there’s no explicit confirmation. Of course, after all of that (I’m so sorry for putting you through my rant) the hopeless romantic in me still enjoyed them together.

This is Owen’s debut novel and I liked it so much. I continuously looked at how much I still had left to read every few pages because I was scared I was getting close to the end. And, I didn’t want it to just yet. While I wished it would keep going, my heart was content with the ending, epilogue included. The book leaves a lot of room to continue the stories of those connected to Gin, but I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave Gin and Roman behind just yet. I will be rereading this book many times over.

Girl Gone Viral (2020)

by Alisha Rai
ASIN/ISBN: 9780062877888
Publication: April 1, 2020
Series: Modern Love #2

Katrina is a former model who has since left that life behind and now tries to stay out of the camera as much as possible. After sharing her table with a stranger at a cafe, Katrina finds her privacy invaded when the whole thing is posted on social media in real-time. To escape the potential media frenzy, her bodyguard–whom she’s secretly in love with–takes her to his hometown so they can figure out her next steps.

Recently, I was skimming books I liked for my top 5 favorite romance tropes for a post and I came across Girl Gone Viral. It was one of the books I read right after overcoming a long reading slump. Skimming the book turned into a full-blown reread. I wondered if its effects on me had worn off but quickly realized I had nothing to worry about. It still put a goofy smile on my face 8 months and many romance novels later.

The Modern Love series focuses on love in the modern age with apps to swipe right, social media, and meet cutes going viral. Rai addresses the darker aspect of social media and issues around privacy. The conversations in the book surrounding this were thoughtful in presentation. It’s a bit overwhelming to know that anything you do can potentially be uploaded somewhere for entertainment. That’s always bothered me when someone is live posting as things happen to someone or to people around them. There is always the potential that your privacy is being invaded because someone decides to share a picture or a video online. Maybe sharing without audio/video and images might not be so bad but I am not a fan of sharing things that might make people easily identifiable without permission. For individuals like Katrina who value their privacy, this can be both frightening and overwhelming. It’s common decency to think twice about what or who you’re posting about.

A few things about Girl Gone Viral make it stand out among the romance novels I’ve read. Girl Gone Viral remains one of the most racially/ethnically diverse romance novels I’ve read up to date. One would think the diversity that exists in the real world would be reflected in the more books being published, but that isn’t the case. Katrina is biracial, half-White and half-Thai, and Jas is Punjabi but also with Mexican heritage. They’re both considered non-traditional leads in a romance novel, which shouldn’t be the case but is. Jas’s family is one of my favorite parts of the book. His entire family including mom, dad, brother, and Grandpa are all likeable. Although Jas’s relationship with his family is somewhat strained, they all love each other dearly. The person he seems to get along the least with is his grandpa but it’s mostly because they’re both so much alike.

The romance itself is another aspect of the novel I adored. A lot of my original review posted on Goodreads still rings true, especially as it relates to the progression of Katrina and Jas’s relationship. It isn’t all passion and hormones. Their romance is slow but they both have this sweet innocence that makes it so easy to root for them. They’re both adults but lack more recent relationship experience. Both constantly wonder and second guess about whether the other person feels at all the same because they don’t believe their feelings are returned. I thought it was endearing. They’re always thinking of each other as well. Katrina wants to do things for Jas, and Jas always tries to make sure Katrina has everything she needs. How more thoughtful could two people be? The ending remains as sweet as ever.

It might not necessarily be for everyone because the beginning is slow but it’s worth it to get to the end. It’s a well-written novel with a diverse cast of characters with two endearing leads suffering from what each believes is unrequited love and are caught in a slow-burn romance. Alisha Rai knows how to bring on the zings while also addressing meaningful topics like romance in the age of social media and viral posts. I am looking forward to her next installment of the series with First Comes Like out on February 16.



Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood (2021)

by Gary Paulsen
ISBN: 9780374314156
Publication: January 12, 2021


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

Hatchet was a book I read for class probably when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I remember enjoying it at the time, although I remember less of it now than those books I chose to read as opposed to those I had to. The draw of this particular book was that it is a middle grade nonfiction book, Paulsen’s memoirs. It’s supposed to be a glimpse into those moments that shaped him into who he is today. How does one write a memoir that will still maintain the interest of middle grade readers? You write it exactly like Paulsen does.

The memories are carefully selected, with the first half of the book focused on only a few months of life when he was five. It’s clear this is when his love for the wilderness began and likely when he was at his happiest. It moves forward through his childhood until we meet the librarian who made an impact on his life and, finally, we are thrust forward again until he enlists in the army. 

Paulsen allows readers to serve as observers in his life like they’re reading a novel rather than someone’s memoirs. Written in the third person, it reads more like fiction than not, which I liked, but just as I settled into it like I would any other novel, I would be reminded differently: these are moments he lived through; no, this is not fiction. It’s these moments in particular that struck a chord with me. It’s also these moments when the imagery in the book is at its best. 

Young or old, if you’re a fan of Gary Paulsen or his books made an impact on your life, this is a worthwhile read. Some of the content might be mature for those who are younger, but it doesn’t exactly fit into YA either. If you’re a librarian or an educator, or someone who just genuinely cares about kids, the section on the library and the role the librarian played in his life was especially meaningful. I hope the librarian knew how much she positively affected his life. It made me cry. However, I’m a pretty sentimental person and cry at a lot of things. The section reinforced why I chose to be an educator.

**1/12/2021 Update: I attended a Webinar on release day and Paulsen didn’t mention whether the librarian knew but he did reiterate her role. He said she was the difference between life and death in his life. Made me teary again.**

Girl on the Ferris Wheel (2021)

by Julie Halpern & Len Vlahos
ISBN: 9781250169396
Publication: January 12, 2021


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

Contemporary YA is not a genre I typically read unless bloggers I follow recommend it (see…bloggers are influential and contribute to the bookish world going round, woohoo!).  With a glowing review and an interesting synopsis, I may be persuaded to pick it up. I don’t know if I would have picked The Girl on the Ferris Wheel had I not had access to an ARC. I’m glad I did because Girl on the Ferris Wheel turned out to be really good.

Halper and Vlaho took me on an emotional ride while navigating first love with Dmitri and Emilia.  It reverted me to high school when insecurities were often at their pinnacle and love was thought to conquer everything.  They successfully captured the ins and outs of a relationship, from the butterflies and sparks to the tears that often accompany the anguish and confusion.  While the book focuses on first love and a first relationship, many of the messages that can be taken away from Dmitri and Emilia’s relationship is universal to all relationships: relationships are hard and communication is key.  And, oftentimes, to put our best foot forward in a relationship, we have to learn to love ourselves first.

Emilia’s battle with depression was an added layer to her character and subsequently the relationship. I thought it was depicted fairly well, providing both the perspective of the person suffering from depression as well as the person in love with someone suffering from depression.  Emilia already had a lot of self-doubts but the depression seemed to exacerbate those doubts while Dmitri kept trying to show her how much he loved her. Experience with depression allowed me to connect easily with Emilia but Dmitri provided me a glimpse of what it feels like to be the person on the other side. It can be difficult for all those involved.

(A fast list of gripes and likes.) I hated the way Emilia treated her dad, and I had to remind myself that at that age sometimes I could be a little sh*t too. Some of the things she said about her guidance counselor also annoyed me despite all the things he did for her. Yia Yia, Dmitri’s grandma, was one of my favorite characters.  Her wisdom at poignant moments in the book was greatly welcomed.  Janina exemplified what a best friend should often be, someone who is supportive and listens but willing to give a push when needed.  I was back and forth about the inclusion of Dmitri’s family, particularly his father, being racist and anti-black, because I’m not sure how much value, if any, that added to the narrative. It appeared like it was meant to add to the detail of his father being ultra conservative. There is also an abundance of Harry Potter references–not one or two but scattered in nearly every chapter.

Overall, I think Halper and Vlaho pretty much nailed it.  It’s written well and I greatly enjoyed it. There were moments that made me laugh, moments I could relate to, and moments that made me shake my head because I recalled those feelings so well. In terms of age level, it might fall at the lower end of YA but that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be enjoyed by those older—again, I enjoyed it a lot.