Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, by Katherine Howe (Voice 2009)

First line: “Peter Petford slipped a long wooden spoon into the simmering iron pot of lentils hanging over the fire and tried to push the worry from his stomach.”

Last week I was in a slump. I was in the middle of FIVE books, and I still somehow didn’t feel like reading any of them. The three books I was reading in print were all non-fiction (two of which I was reading at a slow and structured pace, so I was already caught up on those two), and I have very particular parts of my day that I would read an eBook or audiobook. I was craving a fiction book that I could hold in my hands and get lost in its story. So I pulled three books out, one from my Fall Hopefuls stack and two kind of random ones from my TBR bookcase, and read the first bits of each of them. Or, that was the plan anyway. One of them never got cracked, because I immediately became immersed in Deliverance Dane’s story.

Although we are introduced to Deliverance in the first chapter in the year 1681, this story is actually more significantly Connie Goodwin’s, PhD student at Harvard, where she is studying American Colonial life. It’s the summer of 1991, and Connie has just passed her qualifying exams, meaning she is ready to start research for her dissertation. Her advisor, Manning Chilton, suggests she find a new primary source to base her studies on, and she is determined to impress him, when she gets a call from her mother. Connie’s grandmother’s house, having been abandoned for the past two decades since her death, needs to be sold in order to pay the town of Marblehead the back taxes owed on the property, and Connie (being less than an hour from Marblehead) needs to be the one to do it. Begrudgingly, Connie decides she will take the summer to clean out the old house and put it on the market. After all, Marblehead is an old colonial town, right near the famous Salem, so maybe she’ll stumble across something for her research in the process. Stumble she does, and on the first night there, Connie discovers an old key buried in the pages of an ancient Bible, and inside the key is a small slip of paper with the name Deliverance Dane. Connie’s got a hunch that this name might lead some where, and so she, and the reader, is off on the hunt.

There was a lot that I loved about this novel, but mainly it was a vibe thing. I just listened to the most recent episode of Currently Reading yesterday, where they discuss the very scientific designation of “spoopy books”, and this book definitely fits in that category. Not quite spooky, but definitely gives off an atmospheric vibe that places it squarely in a fall reading list. Campus setting, a house that has no electricity, alchemy and ancient symbology, dusty old books in dark library stacks, Salem witch trials… there’s a lot that just oozes “spoopy.” And I loved every second of it. Add to that an interesting, easy romance, a multiple timeline narrative, and a loyal dog, and you’ve got an excellent combination of elements.

I’m glad I was undeterred from the terrible reviews it has on Goodreads. Although it has a fine star rating (3.7), almost all of the reviews I read were 1-2 stars, and these readers were angry. Going back after I’ve finished, I can see their points, but honestly, I feel like they need to ease up a bit. I don’t think this was supposed to be a masterpiece of literature. I think it was meant to be a fun, atmospheric escape, and that’s exactly what it was for me. I’m going to make sure I add my review, just to counter the hate a little bit.

For 95 percent of the books on my shelf, I bet I could tell you where, when, or from whom I got them. But I have no idea where this book came from. I’m pretty sure I bought it, but it was certainly on a whim, in the same way it was that I picked it up last week. And I’m sure glad it was here to whisk me away from my slump. Was it the best book I’ve ever read? No. Was it even that great? Probably not. But it was just the book I needed right now, and thus, it was perfect.

Review: Monday’s Not Coming

Monday’s Not Coming, by Tiffany D. Jackson; read by Imani Parks (Harper Audio 2018)

First line: “This is the story of how my best friend disappeared.”

I downloaded this audiobook as another of this summer’s Audiobook Sync free selections, and decided October was the time for me to give Tiffany Jackson another chance. Several years ago, we read her debut Allegedly in my Bibliobitches Book Club, and it left me devastated and feeling betrayed, despite completely captivating my attention. I know Jackson’s a stunning writer, I just wasn’t convinced she was for me.

I do think we have another impressive piece of fiction in this, her second novel. Thirteen-year-old Monday Charles is missing, and her best friend Claudia is the only one who seems to notice or care. When Monday doesn’t show up to the first day of 8th grade after Claudia’s been away at her grandparents’ all summer, she’s confused and worried. But as the days keep going by, and no one can offer any explanation for where Monday is, Claudia’s desperation grows. While Claudia has always felt like she and Monday were more like sisters than friends, she’s starting to wonder if she didn’t really know everything about her, and what secrets Monday was keeping from her.

Jackson jumps around in time a lot throughout this novel. Y’all know I love a non-linear timeline, and I loved it here too, although it was sometimes hard to keep straight on audio. We bounce between “Before”, “After”, and “Before the Before,” and I really had a hard time separating the Before and After timelines. Monday is present in the “Before the Before”, which makes that clear, but Jackson purposefully doesn’t explain what the event is that separates the other two, adding to the trickiness. I wonder if I would have had an easier time with that part in print. That being said, her structure definitely added to the suspense, and kept me listening to figure out what happened to Monday and how these three separate timelines contributed to her story.

I didn’t find the twist at the end quite as surprising or jarring as I did in Allegedly, which honestly, was a good thing, and I think I’ll keep reading Jackson’s novels. That’s not to say it wasn’t devastating — it definitely was. This is not an easy book, to say the least. It covers child abuse, sexual abuse, the viciousness of rumors, poverty, and violence. Not for the faint at heart. But I’m impressed by Jackson’s ability to spin a tale, to suck the reader in so completely and leave you whirling at the end. I know her YA audience devours her books and leaves them clambering for more, which is just what this teen librarian heart loves to see.

Review: One to Watch

One to Watch, by Kate Stayman-London (Dial Press 2020)

First line: “The flea market at Clignancourt was at the far northern edge of the city, a few blocks past the final stop on the number 4 Metro, where the Parisian architecture grew more simple, more mundane — a reminder that not all of the city was steeped in centuries of history and romance.”

I keep saying I’m not a romance reader, and then getting sucked in by reviews and posts about said romance books, and falling head over heels for the ones I read. So…maybe I like romance books?

One to Watch had been on my radar since it was a BOTM pick back in the summer, and a friend of mine had picked it and loved it. But the interview Sarah did with the author on her podcast Sarah’s Bookshelves Live sealed the deal for me, and I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. My dear friend the Libby app said, “Ask and ye shall receive” and I downloaded the eBook and the rest is history. Many hours squirreled away under the covers in the wee hours of night history.

In case you haven’t heard of this one, it’s basic premise is: what if the star of a Bachelorette-type show looked like the majority of America, instead of Hollywood-America? Enter Bea, plus-size fashion blogger who — although a huge fan of the show Main Squeeze — wrote a scathing blog post about the producers’ choice to only pick the stereotypical thin body types for their casts. Her post draws the attention of the new showrunner, and she’s suddenly swept up to be the next season’s new star, with 25 eligible and hunky men competing for her affection. Bea goes into the season expecting to use it as a chance to help her career. After all, she’s in no place emotionally to find the man of her dreams, after being completely shattered by the guy she’s been in love with for the past decade. But, as you may surmise, things don’t go according to Bea’s plans, and LOVE ENTERS IN.

I loved this book for everything it brought to the table: not only does it discuss body shaming and America’s flawed concept of beauty, it also slides in discussions of race, asexuality, bisexuality, sexual assault, divorce, infidelity, internet trolling, parenting, and more, ALL WHILE BEING DELIGHTFUL. It touches on all those things, while not dwelling or “being about” them per se, which is just so refreshing and impressive in itself. It also includes bits of podcast transcripts, magazine articles, blog posts, texts, and tweets interspersed between the regular chapters, some of which are devastatingly mean and ugly, some of which made me snort while trying to keep the bed from shaking and waking my sleeping spouse.

I devoured this book and loved every minute of it, and can’t wait to see what Kate Stayman-London does next.

Review: Running

Running, by Natalia Sylvester (Clarion Books 2020)

First line: “Gloria collects the mangoes from the tree in our backyard once they’ve fallen but before the birds or bugs can get to them.”

First of all, oh to have a mango tree in your backyard. What a life that would be.

Mariana Ruiz is not convinced her life is so great, however. Her best friend might be moving schools, her mother doesn’t seem to understand her at all, and — most dramatically — her father is running for president. This means that her life is being forced into the national spotlight whether or not she likes it, and like it she does not. It’s not that she doesn’t love her father; no, in fact, she idolizes him. But she’s starting to feel like he is more interested in what complete strangers have to say than what she has to say. To make matters worse, some new friends at school are suggesting that her father may be keeping some things hidden from the public eye (including Mari), that, if exposed, would certainly jeopardize the campaign.

This book was a slow burn for me. I felt a bit bored in the beginning, stuck in Mari’s endless — though totally valid — complaining about what her father’s campaign was doing to her life. She’s absolutely right — being the child of a presidential candidate sounds completely miserable. But it also wasn’t that fun to read about. The story did really pick up about halfway through, though, once Mari really started to take charge of her own life. I think lots of young people will really identify with Mari, as she struggles to make a place for herself, sorting out her own opinions from those of her parents or peers. It’s a challenge lots of us encounter, even if our parents aren’t on a national stage: What do you do when your hero disappoints you?

What I was frustrated by most, I think, was that Mari’s father comes across as such a one-note villain. Without spoiling the story, he doesn’t offer shades of gray or complexity, especially when compared to Mari’s mother. There’s no redemption or understanding there, and while I wasn’t looking for a nicely wrapped up bow at the end, there wasn’t much of a resolution either.

I think Sylvester does a beautiful job of showing how young people can and should engage with the political arena, even if they’re too young to vote. The PODER group Mari gets involved with at school is incredibly inspiring, and I know there are lots of teen activists out there doing similar work in real life. I love that she spotlights them in this novel.

This was the fifth book I read for Latinx Heritage Month, which wraps up today, including:

and I added several more to my TBR (including Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez and The Undocumented Americans, by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio) that I didn’t quite get to. While of course I don’t think we should only read Latinx authors during this month, I’m so glad to get to focus my reading on this population of authors during the these four weeks, and am thrilled to see these books all over Bookstagram. Many thanks, especially, to the Latinx bookstagrammers for bringing so many of these great stories to our attention.

Review: The Space Between Worlds

The Space Between Worlds

The Space Between Worlds, by Micaiah Johnson (Del Rey 2020)

First line: “When the multiverse was confirmed, the spiritual and scientific communities both counted it as evidence of their validity.”

It took me 15 days to finish this book. That is waaaay slower than typical for me. I was so excited for this one — in fact, I chose it for my BOTM choice in August, despite the fact that I don’t really like the cover. (I will rarely buy a book with a cover I dislike. That’s the beauty of library books. You can read ugly books that have great stories, but they don’t have to live on your shelves.) (Also, incidentally, the U.K. cover of this book is way better, in my opinion, despite it not telling you much about the story.) The premise is awesome: multiverse travel is possible, letting people travel between realities, as long as their counterpart on that world is dead. Our main character Cara has died in almost all of the 380 realities, making her an asset for the Eldridge Institute (the company that developed and profits from multiverse travel), and allowing her to rise above her station in life. There’s potential flirty banter with Cara’s handler Dell. All sounds RIGHT up my alley!

However. For about the first two-thirds of this book, I felt like I was totally lost in that space between worlds (see what I did there?). Partially it felt like the author was doing it on purpose — we would be going along in a chapter, feeling off-kilter and like I was missing something, and then there would be this sudden reveal that would make the rest of it make sense. In theory, I enjoy that kind of writing — I generally enjoy unreliable narrators and have fun trying to figure out what’s happening. But in this case, I was already struggling to understand this world, the two major settings of Wiley City (where Cara now lives and works) and her original home beyond the wall in Ashtown and the Rurals, the rules/technology for traversing, all the characters, etc., so adding in this element where the reader is not getting all the information upfront was just TOO MUCH. I couldn’t keep up. I wasn’t anxious to pick up the book, I only ended up reading a few pages before bed each night, and it just was draaaaggging on.

But then the last couple days I decided to buckle down and devote some more time to it, and I really sunk in. I finally felt like I grasped the world-building aspect of it, had it straight in my head what was where and how each of the cities operated, and could finally pay attention to the characters and their motivations and struggles. And that I LOVED. In fact, there was a lot about it I loved. I loved the constant tension between science and religion (that is referenced in that first sentence above), and where Cara ebbs and flows between the two. I loved the deity she identifies and grows to understand, Nyame. I loved Johnson’s treatment of the complexity of abusive relationships and how it’s not black and white. I loved her analysis of class and Cara’s struggle with her identity, her striving to get away from her past while still feeling so centered in it. I loved Pride & Prejudice-esque development of Cara and Dell’s relationship. I loved that it is gritty and uncomfortable and harsh, while also having beautiful writing. I loved the climax and resolution. I even loved the author’s acknowledgements at the end. (Do you read the acknowledgements? I almost always do, and I feel like it gives you a little glimpse into their real lives.)

So how do you rate a book when you didn’t like it for the vast majority, but then it carried you away in the end? I made a decision, but I’m not sure I’m happy with it. Part of me wants to jump right back in and read it again, so that I can enjoy it without feeling so lost. But then the other, bigger part of me is ready to let it go.

Review: Dear Haiti, Love Alaine

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite (Harlequin Audio 2019)

First line: “Dear Sister Wagner, When I first started this assignment, I was prepared to write it off as one of the many weird projects that we always get assigned at this school.”

I was scrolling through Hoopla looking for another audiobook to listen to for Latinx Heritage Month, and when I saw my homegirl Bahni Turpin narrated this one, I downloaded it immediately.

Alaine is the daughter of big-name TV journalist, Celeste Beauparlant, host of the show Sunday Politicos, cable’s hottest political interview show. Although Alaine and her mother have a very distant relationship (as Alaine lives with her father full time while her mother works in DC), she still idolizes her and wants nothing more than to be a journalist herself, applying to all sorts of journalism schools. But first she’s got to make it through her big Latin American History project, which turns out, isn’t going to be easy. When Alaine’s project goes off the rails, she’s able to weasel her way out of a suspension on her school record by shifting it to an “internship” abroad, helping her Tati Estelle, the Minister of Tourism of Haiti. While in Haiti, Alaine learns much more than Latin American history, as she begins to uncover parts of her mom’s past that Celeste has kept very much under wraps.

I thoroughly enjoyed Alaine’s story, although it took me quite a while to get into it. There was a lot going on, and it felt slow-moving for a while. I think part of that is due to the format of the book — a lot of the story is told through emails, tweets, text messages, postcards, journals, etc., and while I love Bahni’s voice in my ears, I think there were a lot of words that she was required to say that my eyes would naturally skim over instead (dates, times, screen names, headings, and the like). Because of that, I think this one might be better consumed in print. That being said, I loved Bahni’s Haitian and Creole accents, and thought she did a beautiful job, as always.

There’s a lot to this novel, and I think overall each part was handled very well. What could easily have been just a fun romp, was instead much deeper and intense than I expected. I think Alaine (and her authors) deserve a lot more attention than she’s been getting.

September Wrap Up

Good gracious, I read ALL THE BOOKS in September. And, amazingly, I actually REVIEWED them all too! I think this might be the first month that I got all my reviews finished before the month was over. A new record for me! Here’s what I read:

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor (Dial Books 2016, 1976): Easily my favorite read of this month was a re-read from my childhood. Approaching its 50th birthday, this book is still incredibly timely and accessible for young people and I want everyone to know the Logan family. Read my full review here.

Bibliophile: An Illustrated Miscellany, by Jane Mount (Chronicle Books 2018): Although I finally finished this this month, I’ve been paging through it lazily since I got it for Christmas last year. Every book lover needs a copy of this gem on their shelves. Read my full review here.

The Death of Vivek Oji, by Akwaeke Emezi (Riverhead Books 2020): Every sentence counts in this short and powerful novel, dissecting grief and love in all its forms. Read my full review here.

You Had Me at Hola, by Alexis Daria (Avon 2020): I loved everything about this steamy romance between two television actors. Swoonworthy romantic leads and HOT HOT HOT in the bedroom (and the couch and the kitchen…) Read my full review here.

Still Life (A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel #1), by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books 2005): My first venture into Three Pines left me wanting more, and I can’t wait to return to this Canadian village with these quirky and lovable characters. Read my full review here.

Burn Baby Burn, by Meg Medina (Candlewick on Brilliance Audio 2016): A story of a younger brother with a drug addiction set amidst the backdrop of the wild summer of 1977 NYC, including a city-wide blackout, arson, and a serial killer. Read my full review here.

Clap When You Land, by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen 2020): This wasn’t my favorite Acevedo novel, but I loved the ending and her incredibly sensory-filled language. Read my full review here.

Mexican Gothic, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey 2020): Yes, I bought this for the cover. And yes, it scared my socks off (because I’m a baby). But I thought the writing was excellent and the main character a badass. Read my full review here.

Intimations, by Zadie Smith (Penguin Random House Audio 2020): This shorty provides some highly relatable content for life during COVID and had me laughing and nodding my head along with her brilliant narration. Read my full review here.

We Were Restless Things, by Cole Nagamatsu (Sourcebooks Fire 2020): This inventive debut kept me on the edge of my seat and my heart pumping. I just wished it was a bit shorter. Read my full review here.

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening), by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers (Thomas Nelson 2019): I read this one with a specific conversation in mind, and although it didn’t give me quite the concrete action plan I had hoped, it did provide me with the even-keeled focus I need when talking politics in this very anxious world.

Out of Line: Women on the Verge of a Breakthrough (Amazon Original Stories, 2020): This short story anthology was a fun listen, narrated by some excellent actors, and let me dip my toes into a whole host of new-to-me authors. Read my full review here.

Genuine Fraud, by E. Lockhart (Ember 2017): I was disappointed by this YA thriller, especially after loving a previous novel of hers. Read my full review here.

Unrated: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, by Patrisse Kahn-Cullors and asha bandele (Macmillan Audio 2018): I left this memoir unrated, as it didn’t feel right rating such a heartbreaking and angering personal story. Definite recommended reading. Read my full review here.

What was your favorite read this month? Did we have any overlap? Would love to hear your thoughts! Happy October Reading, friends!

Review: I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening)

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations, by Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers (Nelson Books 2019)

First line: “Over the past few years, conversations about politics have started feeling toxic and hopeless.”

I’ll admit. I bought this book for my husband as a gift fully because I wanted to read it myself. (I mean, I also thought he might get a lot out of it, but come on, it was mostly for me.) When Kaytee from Currently Reading said she was going to start a read-along during the month of September, I jumped at the chance to finally crack it open.

Sarah and Beth are the creators of the Pantsuit Politics podcast, which they began as an attempt to have meaningful conversations about politics with someone from the opposite side of the aisle, to combat all the vitriol spewing during the lead up to the 2016 election. This book, which was published last year, is a primer for the rest of us who are interested in doing the same. They break it into two parts: First, we’ve got to do the inside work of self-reflection and understanding our own opinions, prejudices, values, baggage, etc., before we can converse effectively; Second, how do we interact with people whose opinions, prejudices, values, baggage, etc., are different from ours?

I did a lot of underlining in this one (sorry, honey), and I think Sarah and Beth make a lot of good points. There’s a big emphasis on giving grace (both to yourself and the person you’re talking to) and focusing on the humanity of those we disagree with, which is a great start. Unfortunately, I also felt like this was a case of too little, too late. I think if I read this book three or four years ago, I’d have a lot more to pull from, but as divisive as our country is right now, it’s hard to know how to give grace to someone with whom you can’t agree on what the facts are, not to mention, your values. (See: last night’s shitshow of a presidential debate. Ugh.) And Sarah and Beth don’t give us strategies for that. (I’m not saying I think there are actual strategies for that… but I found myself wanting more from this text.)

One point that I found incredible meaningful was one that felt almost thrown in there, as it wasn’t really the point of the chapter. In chapter 5, they are talking about giving grace to yourself, even if you feel your vote doesn’t matter. As someone who almost always votes blue in a state that will never vote blue, it’s hard not to feel that way sometimes. But as Sarah and Beth point out:

“…our votes matter because showing up matters. Extending grace to ourselves facilitates belief in our own value and worthiness — that our voices, our choices belong to the system, regardless of the outcome. Our participation contributes. The process would not be complete without us.”

This rang so true for me, and I love that I now have an answer to other people who say their vote doesn’t matter. It does. And this is why.

Overall, I was a bit let down by what I didn’t find in this book, but I still walked away from it with a renewed sense of purpose, invigorated for the possible conversations in my future. While it didn’t give me the step-by-step strategies I was looking for, necessarily, it did provide me with the confidence to use my voice in places that are scary, and for that I’m truly grateful. I’m also truly grateful for the group of women I got to meet through this read-along. We met after each chapter on Crowdcast, letting Kaytee lead us in a chat discussion, and for our final meeting yesterday, we got together on Zoom, so we could actually see and hear everyone! This is one of those things I would have never been able to participate in as a working mom and I’m again thankful that I’m able to stay home.

Review: Burn Baby Burn

Burn Baby Burn, by Meg Medina (Candlewick on Brilliance Audio 2016)

First line: “Mr. MacInerney drives way too slow, which is weird for a man who spends most of his life running into burning buildings.”

My phone is running out of storage space. Which is unfortunate, because I’ve only had it for a year or so, and we have a lotttt of baby pictures and videos left to go before I’m going to upgrade. (Yes, I know I can delete them because they’re backed up to Google Photos but HE’S MY BABY AND WHAT IF GOOGLE DIES?) So I was looking for ways to clear space, and realized I had a lot of storage filled with audiobooks in my Sora app. For those of you unfamiliar, Sora is the new Overdrive app used with the Audiobook Sync summer program, that provides free downloads of two books each week running from April-July. It’s a program I always talked up to my students at the end of the year, but typically I only personally downloaded one or two each summer. They bring a wide range of interests, and there were usually only a couple that piqued mine. But this year I downloaded EIGHT audiobooks. Crazy! Which means, that I need to start listening to them asap so I can delete and make more baby video room.

When deciding which one would be my next listen, I realized Meg Medina’s Burn Baby Burn would be a perfect choice as part of my celebration of Latinx Heritage Month (Sept 15-Oct 15). Win-win!

The premise for this one had me super intrigued: Set in 1977, culminating in the infamous New York summer of blackouts, arson, and the serial killer who deemed himself the Son of Sam, our main character Nora Lopez is attempting to finish up her senior year successfully, hoping for little more than an all-night disco celebration for her and her best friend’s 18th birthday. But with the dangers ramping up all over the city, things aren’t looking good, and even more so for Nora’s home life, and this is where the heart of the novel really lies. Nora lives with her hardworking mother (who struggles with English) and her younger brother, Hector, who is hanging out with the wrong people and developing a fire obsession, not to mention a drug problem. Meanwhile, her father lives in Manhattan with his new family, regularly forgetting to send his child support, forcing Nora and Hector to deal with an empty fridge and an unhappy super. While the dramatic historical setting seems like it the crux of the plot, it really only serves as a dangerous backdrop to the very real dangers developing in Nora’s own apartment with her brother and her mother’s refusal to recognize his problems.

I thought Medina presented the complexity of teenage addiction incredibly thoughtfully, deftly illustrating its strain on the family, the urge to cover it up or deny its effects, the pain of seeing someone you share such fond memories with turn into a completely different person. While the serial killer angle is arguably the more “juicy” story line, it’s this personal struggle that brings all the emotion, heartbreak, and strength to Nora and her story.

Review: You Had Me at Hola

You Had Me at Hola, by Alexis Daria (Avon 2020)

First line: “DUMPED! The word glared at Jasmine in bright yellow letters, emblazoned directly beneath a picture of her own face.”

You GUYS this romance was SO MUCH FUN. I’m not a romance reader, typically, but this one has been all over bookstagram since it released last month, and so when I happened upon it on Libby last week, I downloaded it immediately. And boy oh boy, I’m so glad I did.

Soap opera star Jasmine Lin Rodriguez has snagged a lead role on ScreenFlix (fictional Netflix) for a new Latinx-centered drama, which should thrill her, but all her emotional energy is currently going into her recent breakup with famous musician McIntyre, which she found out about via tabloid (ouch). Telenovela star Ashton Suarez was just notified he is up for the romantic interest in Jasmine’s new show, which will be his first stepping stone out of the telenovela world toward Hollywood. But while Jasmine’s secrets are spread all over the gossip pages, Ashton’s keeping his secrets close to his chest.

As you might expect from a romance, of course Jasmine and Ashton start to connect off screen as their characters start getting together on screen. And LET ME TELL YOU, things get SEXY behind the scenes. I don’t remember ever reading anything quite so open-door in a contemporary romance, but I was here for it. Ashton is an absolute dream-boat of a romantic lead, and it’s easy to see why Jasmine she falls for him. BUT, refreshingly, it’s super easy to see why Ashton falls for Jasmine as well! I loved that this was a dual-perspective novel, so we got to see things from Ashton’s point of view as well, including the way he sees Jasmine. Other things I loved about this one: the all-Latinx cast and crew of the show Carmen in Charge; the fact that vulnerability is shown as sexy; the way Spanish is used throughout, not always translated for the reader, but contextualized enough for us non-native speakers to figure it out (although I did still reference Google Translate a few times); the Primas of Power (Jasmine’s two favorite cousins who were the perfect balance of each other and Jasmine’s biggest support system); the snippets of the show we got to see interspersed throughout the main narrative, that casually reflected Jasmine and Ashton’s developing story; uhhhh the SEXY TIME. WOWZA.

Most romances I read (which admittedly aren’t very many) have me rolling my eyes, even if just a little. But I never once felt that way in this one. i had such a delightful time reading about Jasmine and Ashton, and it was everything I wanted it to be.