Prom Theory (2021)

by Ann LaBar
ASIN/ISBN: 9781534463080
Publication: March 30, 2021

Prom Theory reminds me of classic teen movies like Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, and She’s All That. There’s the regular lead, the best friend(s), the popular potential interest, and the popular rival. They’re all variations of the same teen romance and I can’t ever get enough of them. Prom Theory also adds its own twists to the story. Iris Oxtabee isn’t interested in Theo Grant, the popular athlete who recently became single, but she is interested in proving to her best friend Seth/Squeak that love, like many things, is a product of science and can be explained through the use of the scientific method. She comes up with a social experiment to get Theo to ask her to prom, which will also help her other friend Esther to get her crush to ask her to prom.

I’m always excited to see diversity in all its forms. In this case, we have a neurodiverse protagonist in Iris. She has nonverbal learning disability (NVLD), which has many traits associated with autism. Individuals with NVLD struggle with social skills, with one difficulty being an inability to fully comprehend social cues (NVLD.org). Science and structure help Iris to make sense of the world. It’s why she is committed to her experiment and unwilling to put an end to it even after she recognizes things aren’t going exactly as planned.

I also couldn’t help but crush on how sweet Squeak/Seth was. Prom Theory succeeded in giving me butterflies because Squeak/Seth is really sweet. While he is Iris’s best friend, there are multiple hints throughout the book that he might possibly see her as more than a friend. He goes above and beyond to be with her when she needs him, and I was completely all for it. Can we have more sweet best friend/potential love interests like this?

Despite how much I liked it, by about halfway I was ready for several things to happen. I needed the experiment to come to an end or at least be interrupted, preferably indefinitely. I was ready for Iris to pay better attention to her experiment and all the things that weren’t going the way she planned it. I appreciated the thoroughness in Iris’s experiment but it became redundant (for reading purposes) after a while. She would implement a new variable and readers would get to read the experience. Then there would be observations written down by Iris and Esther, and the process would start over again. This continued for many chapters.

Iris is super smart for someone her age and has taken a psychology course so…it wouldn’t be a stretch for her to know about human subjects regulations and the difficulty of determining the effect of a variable when dealing with human subjects. There is a lot of variability in a social experiment, especially when the environment cannot be easily controlled. I am sure I am just being nit picky but I had to put it out there since science is her thing.

I needed Squeak to stop being so evasive and just spit it out. What I wasn’t a fan of was his insistence that she understand certain nonverbal social cues. Uh, hello? You’re her bff and knows she doesn’t do very well with them but you expected what now?

It’s a cute story, and I came away with a lot of fluttery feelings. I was also stretched thin with frustration so couldn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I thought I would. If you like teen romances, Prom Theory puts its spin on it but also be prepared to be a bit frustrated as well.

Perfect on Paper (2021)

by Sophie Gonzales
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250769787
Publication: March 09, 2021

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

Darcy Phillips has a secret. She’s the person behind locker 89.  For a small fee of $10, peers drop off letters detailing their relationship woes, and she provides them with advice.  If her advice doesn’t work, she’ll return the fee. Her anonymity comes to an end when Alexander Brougham finds her taking the letters out of the locker.  Brougham blackmails convinces Darcy to help him get his ex-girlfriend back in exchange for a fee and, of course, for keeping her secret.

Darcy is a developed main character who has a window into the relationships of her peers.  Darcy doesn’t just make up her relationship advice as she goes, she does research.  She collects relationship theories and applies them accordingly.  It’s clear she takes what she does seriously but she also learns that objectivity can be difficult. While the transaction is supposed to be anonymous, this isn’t always the case. There are often bits of information that allow her to infer who the writer is, and this becomes problematic. Although she tries to stay objective in providing advice, it isn’t always easy when the relationship woes she reads about have the potential to impact her life. As much insight as she has about relationships, it starts to become clear that it can be difficult to navigate when they are your own—made much more complicated when it makes you question your identity.  Ultimately, relationship theories are just a simplification of the world, and real life is much more complex.

I was roped in by the book description but completely sold on it when Gonzales tackled the main questions I had as soon as I started reading the book, the question of objectivity when the advice-r (heh…), to an extent, knows the people asking for advice and where Darcy was getting all this relationship information.

I liked the progression of Brougham and Darcy’s relationship. Being in close proximity and sharing in each other’s secrets allowed them an intimacy they couldn’t afford to others. When they became more than just business aquaintances and turned into friends, it wasn’t abrupt but organic to their development. (Okay…there’s a chance I am going to reread my favorite parts if not the whole thing right now…hahaha)

Perfect on Paper isn’t the simple friends/enemies-to-lovers story it appears to be.  It is complex and touches on multiple themes including friendship, healthy relationships, and identity. Gonzales does a wonderful job of handling these multiple themes, with the highlight being the exploration of identity and acceptance.  My favorite part of the book is actually at the end where a question is raised about identity. The Queer & Questioning Club is such a great club, one that all schools should have. There is a range of representation in the novel that contributes to making this a worthwhile read from race/ethnicity to gender identity. I enjoyed Perfect on Paper and look forward to reading more by Gonzales. 

 

Princess Knight (2020)

by G.A. Aiken
ISBN: 9781496721259
Publication: November 24, 2020
Series: The Scarred Earth Saga #2


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

The Princess Knight follows the 2nd eldest Smythe sister Gemma as she and her older sister Keeley attempt to protect the world from the treachery of their younger sister Beatrix. Gemma is the titular princess knight and struggles between remaining sidelined as sister to the queen, protecting her family, and maintaining her vows as a war monk. When temples and monasteries are pilfered and their residents murdered, Gemma decides to return to the Order of Righteous Valor to try to provide them sanctuary with her queen.

(It’s difficult to write about The Princess Knight without also comparing it to The Blacksmith Queen (The Scarred Earth Saga #1). I apologize in advance.)

The Princess Knight retains the same humor and bickering among siblings as its predecessor so I was not disappointed in the overall story. Many of the same characters return along with a barrage of new characters, making it difficult to follow at times. Strong female characters remain dominant and many more are added to the series. For instance, Ainsley Smythe is another skilled Smythe sister readers are introduced to. The long-running joke that neither Gemma nor Keeley pay attention to Ainsley and is constantly forgotten is both funny and infuriating. Being a younger sister myself, it pained me that Ainsley kept being ignored. I hope Ainsley will be the focus of the next book and that being forgotten will be an asset she will use to her advantage. I did love how the centaurs didn’t forget about her though.

Gemma Smythe was one of my favorite characters in The Blacksmith Queen so I was excited to have her as lead in the sequel. Gemma is not as likeable as Keeley, who easily opens her heart (and arms) to any individual and animal needing help. Gemma is much more suspicious of others as well as more prickly than Keeley. She remains hot-tempered and retains her single-track mind (set on destroying Beatrix). While the above was expected, Gemma’s confidence in herself seems to have eroded a little though the confidence she has in her skills remains. Her indecisive nature was the most bothersome to me because I found it to be somewhat uncharacteristic of her as compared to the Gemma in the first book. It frustrated me when Quinn (centaur and constant companion) constantly stepped in to point things out to her because of it.

There is a tenuous friendship that ultimately culminates into love but the romance isn’t present. The characters are constantly around one another but there is no chemistry beyond camaraderie to assume there could be an actual relationship beyond what ends up happening between the two. Maybe this might be addressed better in the next installments…maybe? I really hope so if they’re meant to be endgame.

The Princess Knight is for those who like humor in their fantasy and sword-wielding female characters who are not afraid to get their hands bloody. If you enjoyed The Blacksmith Queen, it is highly likely you’ll like the sequel as well. Although The Princess Knight stands well enough on its own, it doesn’t quite meet the bar set by The Blacksmith Queen. I enjoyed reading it and am ready for the next book in the series! (This might actually be a new favorite series but I’m hoping saga doesn’t mean more than 5 books.)

Pride and Papercuts (2020)

by Staci Hart
ISBN: 9798695274769
Publication: October 13, 2020
Series: The Austens #5 (also connected to series The Bennet Brothers)

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

You don’t have to be a Pride and Prejudice (P&P) fan to enjoy Pride and Papercuts.  In fact, not reading P&P might even be beneficial because if you’ve read (or watched) the former, you might end up making too many comparisons and forget to enjoy Hart’s retelling on its own merit. Overall, Pride and Papercuts is better than average at 3.5 stars. 

The book tracks the original well, integrating new elements into the original plot quite nicely.  There were points when I wondered how an incident would fit in, but Hart managed it seamlessly.  In particular, Lydia is now Luke and married (see Coming Up Roses) so I wondered what would happen to Wickham but this was resolved satisfactorily.  Hart infuses enough of her flair to make the story her own. Like many of her other novels, the imagery and the evocation of emotions is present (these are largely why I am a fan of Staci Hart and continue to read her novels even if I haven’t loved all of them).  While I came here for the romance between Liam (Darcy) and Laney (Lizzy), it was the bonds between siblings and the commitment to family that I truly took away from the novel. Of course, this isn’t to say that readers will be disappointed in the romance.  This is an enemies-to-lovers novel after all, and it checks all the right boxes: bickering, angst, and desire.

***The remaining is the comparison I couldn’t help but make.***

I found the elements outside Liam and Laney’s relationship to be the real standouts of the novel.  Hart’s Georgie is the most welcomed change. Georgie is a combination of two characters, Bingley (Darcy’s best friend) and Georgiana (Darcy’s sister).  I always felt Georgiana was a missed opportunity in Austen’s novel. She was treated delicately with nothing much to do but this iteration of Georgiana is one I like much better. Georgie still loves her brother but she isn’t so fragile that something like seeing Wickham again could break her.  While Georgie still listens to Liam, they are at least on a more equal footing than they were in P&P. 

Georgie and Liam’s relationship, one of respect and adoration, demonstrates Hart’s strength in writing strong familial bonds.  Like Georgie and Liam, Jett and Laney are quite close, likely even closer than P&P’s Jane and Lizzy. The lengths they’re willing to go to for one another made me root for their HEA even more.  I did wish more time was spent showcasing Mr. Bennet’s fondness for his daughter.

More difficult for me to enjoy or settle into was Liam and Laney’s relationship. I did like Laney and felt she was an accurate depiction of present-day Lizzy. I liked Liam as well–I really liked being able to see into his head– but I’m not exactly sure how I feel about them together. They verbally sparred so often it became difficult for me to believe they could be attracted to one another despite each repeatedly noting how they were attracted to the other.  While P&P has less interaction between the leads (as compared to Pride and Papercuts) it still creates this slow burn that makes hearts race when Darcy unexpectedly confesses, Pride and Papercuts’ leads, more often than not, left me frustrated. The consolation, however, was how much I liked them working together when they could overlook one another’s perceived faults. Of course, I’m also quite aware that I hold Lizzy and Darcy in a special vault in my heart.  I may have made Lizzy and Darcy too much to live up to.  But, it’s also possible I would still feel this way about the book even if I wasn’t a P&P devotee.

P.S. I Like You (2017)

by Kasie West
ISBN: 9780545850971
Publication: July 26, 2016

This is a recommendation that originally came from the Trope-ical Readathon to fulfill the secret messaging trope.  Obviously, it’s too late for the readathon but I had to wait a few weeks for it to become available through the library.  I am glad I followed through with the library loan (Libby is awesome) because I ended up enjoying the book. 

The book isn’t overly complicated.  It’s about a girl who finds a connection with a fellow student through anonymous letters in chemistry class (chemistry in chemistry…what a perfect set up right??). Initially, the connection is enough but it is inevitable that Lily starts to wonder who it is she has been sharing so much of herself with. Who is it that seems to understand her so well? I’m a bit of a romantic so I started to look forward to the letters as much as Lily did.  I also shared her anxiety at the realization that weekends and vacations meant no letters to read or to write back. (Where are my letters??)

The book gives us the upside of communicating anonymously, tapping into the romantic ideal of falling for someone for who they are rather than what they look like. The letters aren’t terribly deep or introspective but they’re intimate. Within the letters are things neither writer would probably tell anyone else, even to best friends for that matter. That’s the beauty of being anonymous. You can be vulnerable in a way that you’d be afraid to be in real life; you don’t have to be self-conscious.        

Of course, when dealing with a trope about communicating anonymously, it cannot be helped that the author tries to have readers do a bit of guessing —whoever could this person be??? Thankfully, West does not drag it out too long and if she had, I might have stopped reading it or skipped pages. As much as I liked the anonymity, I think I like what happens after a bit more. It calls for certain discussions that I can’t exactly talk about without giving things away. (But if you’ve already read it and want to discuss it, we should definitely do that.)  

Having read so many stories with absent parents or bad familial relationships, it was nice to have a main character with a loving family despite life being somewhat chaotic–Thanksgiving with her family was fun.  I generally liked Lily even though she could be flaky at times. Because she has to fulfill family obligations, she constantly has to reschedule hanging out with her best friend, who seems to just have to take it in strides. Of course, I sympathized with Lily just a bit more than her best friend because of my own experiences with trying to balance family expectations with anything outside of the family.

A few events leading up to the ending weren’t necessary. But, that’s just my opinion. The book would have been fine without the additional hurdle. Also, the book ends rather abruptly. I had to swipe to back and forth to make sure I hadn’t skipped over anything, to make sure there were no more pages.  (This is it? It’s really over?) Despite this, I think it ends on a note that will leave readers somewhat satisfied. I mean, I eventually came to terms with it but would not have minded a few more pages to close it off a bit more neatly. Overall, it was a good book.