Any fans of reality TV shows that focus on love will know how addictive they can be! Set to be released July 7th (but released early for Book of the Month members), Kate Stayman-London’s debut novel feels like it's pulled straight from television and placed in a funny and heartwarming romance. One to Watch shows how while not all reality TV may be real, the feelings that develop on such shows definitely are!
Bea Schumacher is a devastatingly stylish plus-size fashion blogger who has amazing friends, a devoted family, legions of Insta followers--and a massively broken heart. Like the rest of America, Bea indulges in her weekly obsession: the hit reality show Main Squeeze. But Bea is sick and tired of the lack of body diversity on the show. Since when is being a size zero a prerequisite for getting engaged on television? Just when Bea has sworn off dating altogether, she gets an intriguing call: Main Squeeze wants her to be its next star, surrounded by men vying for her affections. Bea agrees, on one condition--under no circumstances will she actually fall in love. She's in this to supercharge her career, subvert harmful anti-fat beauty standards, inspire women across America, and get a free hot air balloon ride. But when the cameras start rolling, Bea realizes things are more complicated than she anticipated. She's in a whirlwind of sumptuous couture, Internet culture wars, sexy suitors, and an opportunity (or two, or five) to find messy, real-life love in the midst of a made-for-TV fairy tale. Bea has to decide whether it might just be worth trusting these men--and herself--for a chance to live happily ever after.
If you love reality TV, rom-coms, or love stories, then this book is a must-read! It was like The Bachelorette in book-form and I was here for it!! I adored the concept of this novel and could help but fall in love with the book! While the subject matter isn’t very tame, the content itself doesn't get much steamier than a few innuendos. However, it still packs a rom-com punch and will satisfy any cravings for a good love story.
I also really enjoyed the way the story was told. The mixture of text conversations, news articles, and third person narration was interesting, yet made the story move at a good pace. This book is as binge-able as any reality TV show and will have you laughing and cringing at the awkwardness and beauty of finding love. Similar to The Bachelor franchise, I found myself rooting for one guy over the others, but still found myself liking most of them.
I loved Bea and her honest struggles with her appearance. She shows that even though she is proud of who she is and seems confident, she still struggles with her insecurities. The concepts of haters and negativity play a big role in the novel and Bea’s attempts to deflect the backlashes he gets show a raw and honest side to fame and showing your vulnerabilities not just to a loved one, but to the whole world. This real side to being in the public eye makes Bea a relatable protagonist that anyone who has felt insecure about themselves can relate to.
Overall, this book has drama, romance, laughter, and heartbreak. However, the whirlwind of emotions you’ll feel while reading this book will totally be worth it! This book is the perfect, flirty summer read to enjoy while sitting on the beach or to make your next book club choice!
*I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
In Laura Zimmermann’s debut novel, My Eyes Are Up Here, one girl struggles with her body image and being seen for who she is and not what she looks like. Laced with bluntness and wittiness, this YA novel, out June 23rd, is hopeful, funny, and a little bit heartbreaking.
Fifteen-year-old Greer Walsh has a big problem; well two of them. Greer’s two problems, that have made her world a very small, very lonely place, come with a label: 30H. 30H is her bra size - or it was the last time anyone checked. She stopped letting people get that close to her with a tape measure a while ago. Ever since everything changed the summer before ninth grade, Greer has felt out of control. She can't control her first impressions, the whispers that follow, or the stares that linger after. The best she can do is put on her faithful XXL sweatshirt and let her posture - and her expectations for other people - slump. But people - strangers and friends - seem strangely determined to remind her that life is not supposed to be this way. Despite carefully avoiding physical contact and anything tighter than a puffy coat, Greer finds an unexpected community on the volleyball squad, the team that hugs between every point and wears a uniform "so tight it can squeeze out tears." And then there's Jackson Oates, newly arrived at her school and maybe actually more interested in her banter than her breasts. Soon Greer starts to realize that maybe instead of hiding, she can try to embrace who she truly is.
The way Greer grapples with her body image and constantly compares herself to others is something that so many teenagers do. However, she doesn’t realize that every person she encounters is different in their own way: whether they don’t feel skinny enough, feel too tall, wear a headscarf, or have neon green hair! The way all of these different body types and looks are seen as normal or praised in Greer’s mind contrast the way she views herself. Meanwhile, she lacks the confidence to view herself in the same light that she views others: beautiful in their own way.
Greer gets really into her head and it’s so all encompassing of a self conscious teenager that it makes this book super relatable. The issues Greer deals with, like finding a “normal-size” dress that fits or coming home and lying on her back because her chest feels so heavy, are simple, everyday concepts that shouldn’t be concerns for a fifteen year old girl; but they are. The way that Zimmermann focuses on the mundane moments of teen-hood that make this book such an engaging and relatable book.
This novel isn’t just about being insecure; it’s about being a teenager and dealing with both the pressures of society and school while trying to come out of your shell. If you’re looking for a quick and funny book with underlying important issues, then My Eyes Are Up Here is the book for you!
*I received an ARC from PenguinTeen in exchange for my honest opinion.
Hi everyone! I can't even tell you how excited I am to be writing this right now!
I had the amazing opportunity to ask Jeannie Mobley, author of The Jewel Thief, a few questions about her inspiration for the writing the story, her favorite characters, and possible sequels! This book has quickly become a contender for one of my favorite reads of the year (see my review of it here), so I had a lot of fun picking Jeannie's brain and hearing what she had to say about her newest book!
What was your inspiration for writing THE JEWEL THIEF?
I wanted to write about an artwork (I love books like Girl With a Pearl Earring, The Gold Finch, or The Last Painting of Sara de Vos that center on art), but I also wanted to expand outside the usual box of what people think of as “art.” So, I brainstormed other forms of art, and thought gem cutting/jewelry making would be interesting. I thought of Cartier and the Hope Diamond, but when I began researching it, I discovered the earlier story of the French Blue, and was immediately drawn in.
What made you want to be a writer?
I think I’ve always been a day dreamer, and my writing was a natural extension of that. When I was a kid, my family took long road trips (before the days of audiobooks or DVDs players in cars) and I would pass the time by imagining myself into stories in the landscape outside the windows. My first “novel” was written in the sixth grade, after my family got back from a summer road trip from Colorado to Alaska and was based on the extended story I made up in my head on the way there and back.
That said, stories have always been a part of my family. I spent many Sundays as a kid at family gatherings at my grandma’s house listening to my aunts and uncles tell family stories. So, telling stories came naturally to me for that reason too.
What was the easiest or hardest thing about writing THE JEWEL THIEF?
I think the easiest, or at least the most enjoyable part for me is usually the plotting. I enjoy creating twists and turns to a plot; it’s usually what my mind is doing in the hours when I’m not writing, when I’ve gotten up from the desk to do the laundry or cook dinner, or when I go to bed at night. The hardest part for me is getting the romance right. I think I am a romantic at heart, but as a kid I was often ridiculed for liking sappy, romantic things and came to see that as one of my negative traits. So, I have to be given permission to be romantic on the page. I have to fight the feeling that I am exposing a part of myself that I shouldn’t expose in public. Fortunately, I have a fabulous editor at Viking who gives me the permission and the encouragement I need.
What was one of the most interesting fun facts you discovered while doing research for the book?
The history (or perhaps I should say, the lack of history) around diamonds is fascinating. Famous diamonds have so many stories, legends, myths, and curses. No story is any easier to substantiate than any other, and some of the stories are pretty outrageous (one story has the French Blue being pried from the forehead of a Hindu idol, even though Tavernier clearly states which mine he acquired it from). At first, it was frustrating, because there was so much conflicting information, but after a while I found it freeing. After all, if the truth about diamonds can’t be substantiated, that gives me a lot of flexibility in the story I tell about them. I wasn’t constrained by hard facts.
Who is your favorite character from the book and why?
Juliette, of course, is a favorite, as she’s the tough cookie that has to step in when the men in her life crumble, and there’s always something very satisfying in that. But in addition, I’m a sucker for grandfatherly figures in books, so the Jewish gem cutter, Master Benzacar is a favorite for me, even though his role in the book is small. I also think that Louis XIV’s arrogance is so palpable in his portraits that it was fun transcribing that personality onto the page.
Did you have a favorite scene or part of the book that was fun to write?
I love to write clever dialog, so the scenes where Juliette crosses linguistic sabers with Louis XIV and with Nicolas Fouquet were fun.
Did you consider alternate endings or plot lines for the book?
When I very first imagined the book, I thought of Juliette taking a position in the house of the Jewish gem cutter as a maid to steal the secret. But before I got very far into the story, I realized that wasn’t very plausible, given the restrictions on Jews at the time. As for the ending, I played with several options, some darker than others. But in the interest of avoiding spoilers, enough said.
If you could have Juliette or her father make you one piece of jewelry, what would you commission from them?
I would love to see the French Blue in its original setting. We know what it looked like in the reign of Louis XV, when it was put in an ornament displaying the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece. We also know what it looked like when worn by Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution. I would like to see it in the setting originally designed for it by the master who cut it. There is no depiction or even description of that.
What’s one thing you want readers to take away from THE JEWEL THIEF?
That indescribably yummy satisfaction that comes from having just devoured a delicious book.
Do you have any plans for a sequel? Or are you working on a new novel?
I am working on a sequel, but it will not be your traditional sequel. The character that continues from the first book to the second is the French Blue diamond. The second book is set in 1792-93, in the French Revolution when the diamond is stolen from the Crown Jewels. Other jewels were recovered, but the French Blue was not, at least not until it shows up in England years later recut as the Hope Diamond. So the sequel (currently with the working title of The Jewel Smuggler) is about how and why the diamond is stolen and taken from France to England. It will once again have a female protagonist, a romance, and a glittering royal court (this time the court of Prince George IV of England.) Watch for that in the fall of 2021.
Special thanks to Jeannie Mobley for taking the time to speak with me and for everyone at Penguin Teen for making this possible!
The Jewel Thief by Jeannie Mobley is available now and you can find Jeannie @jmobleyauthor on Instagram. Click here to check out Penguin Random House and grab a copy for yourself and trust me, you'll be glad you took the time to read such a captivating book!
#thejewelthief #jeanniemobley #penguinteen
In Natalie Mae’s debut novel, one girl gets tangled up in three royals’ quest for the crown. Just released on June 16th, The Kinder Poison blends YA fantasy and magic into a spellbinding new series for YA fans to sink their teeth into.
Zahru has long dreamed of leaving the kingdom of Orkena and having the kinds of adventures she’s only ever heard about in stories. But as a lowly Whisperer, her power to commune with animals means that her place is serving in the royal stables until the day her magic runs dry. All that changes when the ailing ruler invokes the Crossing: a death-defying race across the desert, in which the first of his heirs to finish—and take the life of a human sacrifice at the journey’s end—will ascend to the throne and be granted unparalleled abilities. With all of the kingdom abuzz, Zahru leaps at the chance to change her fate if just for a night by sneaking into the palace for a taste of the revelry. But the minor indiscretion turns into a deadly mistake when she gets caught up in a feud between the heirs and is forced to become the Crossing’s human sacrifice. Zahru is left with only one hope for survival: somehow figuring out how to overcome the most dangerous people in the world.
The way Mae creates this world of kingdoms, magic, and sacrifices is amazing. The types of magicians there are and the different regions within the kingdom are well thought out and really fascinating to read about. The plot itself was engaging to read about. The way Zahru’s story starts and where it ends up is a rollercoaster that isn't even close to being over by the book's conclusion, yet the idea of the Crossing and being around people she never thought she’d interact with makes it even more fun to read about!
The way Zahru thinks and sees each royal child’s point of view, hopes, and dreams really shows that people aren't just black and white. The theme of shaping one’s destiny and forging your path in life is so important to the core of this novel. Zahru is strong, intelligent, and yet so scared of what will happen during the Crossing. She oddly seems to be a culmination of all of the royals out to win the Crossing and it just makes her, as a character, even more interesting.
Overall, this is a great start to a new series that any fans of Holly Black or Suzanne Collins would enjoy! This is a great addition to your summer reading list and I will definitely be keeping my eye out for the sequel in the future!
*I received an ARC from PenguinTeen in exchange for my honest opinion.
In Jaquira Diaz’s debut book, Ordinary Girls, she chronicles her life growing up on the streets of Puerto Rico and Miami Beach. Originally published last year and winning awards like the 2019 Whiting Award in Nonfiction, this memoir is poignant, engaging, and a book that everyone should read at some point in their lives.
While growing up in housing projects in Puerto Rico and Miami Beach, Jaquira Díaz found herself caught between extremes: as her family split apart and her mother battled schizophrenia, she was surrounded by the love of her friends; as she longed for a family and home, she found instead a life upended by violence. From her own struggles with depression and sexual assault to Puerto Rico’s history of colonialism, every page of Ordinary Girls vibrates with music and lyricism. Díaz triumphantly maps a way out of despair toward love and hope to become her version of the girl she always wanted to be.
Diaz’s story is a truly inspiring tale of a juvenile delinquent who seems like she wouldn’t amount to anything, yet defied the odds and turned her life around. The way she recalls her younger self and the things she did with both fondness and frustration is heartbreaking. However, the way she weaves the story of dealing with her schizophrenic mother, neglectful father, two abuelas (one loving and the other not so much), and friends she considered family, into a memoir/nonfiction piece is amazing.
The descriptions and historical background of Puerto Rico mixed with Diaz’s own life stories shows her Puerto Rican pride and how she is a culmination of all of the things that happened in the past. However, being defined by these things isn’t necessarily a bad thing sometimes. She takes the phrase “ordinary girls” and uses it to describe the simplicity and complications of what life was like for her back then and how it wasn’t ordinary at all, but to her it was. Despite being a street fighter, runaway, and high school dropout, Diaz candidly expresses how she takes those labels, along with her struggles with drug abuse and depression, and tries to make sense of her identity and strove to be ordinary, or what she assumes “ordinary” to be. The way Diaz tells her story is unlike any other memoir I’ve read and it is fascinating to read about what it was like for her to grow up in the projects.
If you’re looking for an own-voices story or a book that will allow you to live someone else’s life for a short time, then this book is a must-read! This novel is inspiring, raw, and novel-esque in the way it’s told. The paperback version will be released on June 16th and it is definitely one to keep an eye out for.
Released in 2019 and praised for its wit and charm, Evvie Drake Starts Over has been claimed to be one of the best debut books of 2019. Linda Holmes’s beautiful novel shares the story of Evvie Drake, a recently widowed woman, and Dean Tenney, a recently retired baseball player and how their relationship helps them heal and move forward in life.
In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth "Evvie" Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn't correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy's childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the "yips": he can't throw straight anymore, and he can't figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button. When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie's house, the two make a deal: Dean won't ask about Evvie's late husband, and Evvie won't ask about Dean's baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken—and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they'll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they've broken, the plans they've changed, and the secrets they've kept. They'll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there's always a chance—right up until the last out.
Simply put: this is a beautiful story about a woman restarting her life (as the title suggests). Holmes’s storytelling style is wonderfully captivating and readers will be turning page after page to see what’s going to happen next. The narration is something you need to pay attention to since it moves the timeline along smoothly, albeit quickly.
The friendship between Andy and Evvie is something refreshing and beautiful. How two people can just be sources of stability for one another and never need anything more than friendship is a beautiful thing that isn't normally seen in romance, at least in my experience.
The way Evvie’s struggles and Dean’s problems are one in the same yet completely different makes the story so beautiful. You would think a woman dealing with her husband’s death and a baseball player dealing with his inability to pitch anymore is a weird thing to compare. But the fact of the matter is they both lost something that was integral to who they are as people and the public who think they know them are quick to judge and throw labels on them. Through their love, respect, and understanding for one another, Evvie and Dean both learn to move on and grieve their losses by starting anew with the people who care about them.
Overall, this is a heartfelt romance that also deals with tough issues and regrets. While this isn't your usual funny rom-com, it’s just as easy to fall in love with Evvie, Dean, and their story. I cannot wait to see what Holmes will write next and I sincerely hope this isn't the last time we see Evvie Drake.
Heather Buchta’s debut novel, Beyond the Break, focuses on a girl who grapples being a modern teenager with her faith. This young adult contemporary deals with the tough questions like what it means to fall in love and how to be a good Christian while doing so.
Manhattan Beach native Lovette has two rules in life. One: no surfing. Not after her brother's accident. Two: absolutely, no dating. And going into her junior year of high school, she's pretty happy with that arrangement. She has friends, her church youth group, and God to fall back on when things get dicey. But after Jake Evans walks into her life, following these two simple rules gets a lot more complicated. Jake is the boy from Lovette's childhood who grew up. Handsome and sweet, he unlocks the part of Lovette that wants nothing more than to surf the waves again. And as their relationship grows, she begins to question what it means to be faithful: to her family, to God, but mostly, to herself.
Fans of YA will definitely enjoy reading Lovette’s story; however, I don't think that this book is for everyone. There is a lot of talk of Jesus, Christianity, and what it means to be a person of faith. All of this can be tough to talk about, yet I think Buchta does an excellent job of trying to make the story relatable to a 2020 audience. The beginning can seem a bit too preach-y, but I think it just reflects how naive and strict in her beliefs Lovette is at that point in the novel. Throughout the story, she slowly learns that not everything is black and white and she learns to mesh her faith and her desires to create a new lifestyle and way of thinking.
The way Lovette struggles with her faith while trying to navigate her relationship with Jake is relatable to anyone who is taught to believe one thing, yet sees a majority of others doing the opposite. However, the way the two try to communicate with one another and express their feelings makes you root for Jake and Lovette. As a reader, you want to see them overcome their past struggles, find comfort in one another, and become better people in the process.
Dealing with issues like peer pressure and self reflection, this novel is a great YA book to add to your summer reading list. If you’re not comfortable with discussions about Christianity and faith, then you might want to pass on this book; however, I found that Buchta did a great job of showcasing the struggles that certain teens of faith deal with in modern society.
*I received an ARC from Penguin Teen in exchange for my honest opinion.
Hi! My name is Elisa and my bookshelf is quite literally overflowing! Join me in my journey of reading as many books as humanly possible!