Adult · contemporary · Discussion

Out of My Comfort Zone #6

My sixth post in the Out of My Comfort Zone series! If you hadn’t heard about this before, it’s a series of posts in which I talk about my experiences with books/stories/formats I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

The last post was about movie adaptations of YA contemporaries; this one is about full-length adult contemporary romances.


My History With Romance

I’ve said in the past that I don’t really read romance, and that’s not true. When you say “romance”, people immediately think about contemporary/historical adult novels. But romance is so much more, and I’ve actually read plenty of it – YA contemporary romances like Under the Lights, YA fantasy romances like The Star-Touched Queen, adult fantasy romances like Witchmark, and novellas like Once Ghosted Twice Shy are still romances.

It’s just that none of them are full-length adult contemporary romances.

37648566Of these, I think I’ve ever only read and finished one, Syncopation by Anna Zabo, a non-romance story with an aromantic character in the romance genre – and even then, I read it just for the aro representation (which I really liked, even though me and that aro character had nothing in common but that).

It’s not the only adult contemporary romance I’ve tried. I’ve tried several by Rebekah Wheaterspoon because of twitter hype, and DNFed them (I think I just don’t like her writing style); I tried excerpts of Helen Hoang’s and other well-known authors and always got bored before the end of the sampler. They always fail to hold my attention, and I’m not really sure why. Because I’m aromantic? Because I’m reading the wrong ones? Because sometimes you just don’t like a genre?


What I Read

This time, I decided to read two novels, one from Alyssa Cole, who wrote one of my favorite romance novellas, and one from an author I had never read anything from before, Avon Gale.

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A Princess in Theory: so, this didn’t start out badly, but it ended pretty much as I expected, which is to say, I was really bored for half of this book and just wanted it to end. It wasn’t that it was bad, because it’s really not, and it wasn’t that I was annoyed with certain tropes I often find in m/f romances, because this time those weren’t there. It was that after 50%, there was basically no tension, and the political subplot was so lackluster that I couldn’t wait for the book to be over. Also, I found the writing significantly less… detailed than it was in Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, and I missed the atmosphere I could feel in that one. I loved the beginning, however, and thought it was really cute – it’s just that me and adult contemporary romances almost always lose each other before halfway through.

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The Love Song of Sawyer Bell: this was an interesting experience, as it started out boring and became interesting a quarter of the way through instead of the opposite. I like this combination a lot better, and I also like how this author writes sex scenes (no awkward euphemisms! the character talk and joke and you can tell they’re having fun! doesn’t read like a grocery list!). Also, I will always be a bit biased when it comes to f/f romances. However, this was very short (under 300 pages) and I know that if it had been any longer I would have been so bored, because the characters weren’t that interesting to begin with and the author decided that atmosphere and setting were for the weak.


Will I Read Other Adult Contemporary Romances?

Maybe, but only if the premise sounds really interesting to me (and, probably, only if they’re queer). I still want to at least try the really popular ones (for example, I will try Red, White and Royal Blue at some point) but if the samplers don’t work for me, I won’t continue, because adult romance always ends up being some kind of boring and I can’t rely on the idea that they will get better.

I think part of the reason they don’t work for me is that a romance isn’t enough to carry a book. You either need internal conflict (often fueled by miscommunication, and that’s… usually annoying to read and not something that will make me think the relationship will last much) or external conflict, which will be something I probably won’t care about – in YA, the characters deal with external conflicts I have experienced or have seen other teens experience; with contemporary adult characters, I… haven’t been there, so what happens to them doesn’t hold as much emotional weight (one of the reasons I don’t really reach for adult contemporary fiction in general). This might or might not change as I Grow Up™.
Also, I’m aromantic. All of this is by definition unrelatable, which doesn’t affect me too much but that I can’t completely ignore; another reason for why I’m not dying to read more romance.

Another thing that doesn’t help is that the authors often don’t bother to describe anything about the setting. If YA contemporary seems to try once in a while, I still haven’t found an adult one that did, but that could be because I haven’t read many of them. And if I avoided historical romances up until… last month, basically, I have discovered that queer historical romances aren’t always full of homophobia and that they usually have something resembling an atmosphere (The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was especially good at this, but it’s not like A Little Light Mischief was bad). Maybe I do like historical more than contemporary in this genre, which is not something I would have ever seen coming, but again, I’m only interested in the f/f ones.


What do you think of adult contemporary romance? Do you read it? And if so, what are your favorites?

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Adult · Book review · contemporary · historical fiction · Short fiction

Reviews: Two M/M Adult Books + Two Non-Binary Graphic Novels

After making a post with two short reviews of F/F YA books I had read recently, today I’m making one for two M/M adult ones (a novella with a trans main character and a historical fiction book with steampunk aspects) and two graphic novels with non-binary main characters.


Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

32146161Coffee Boy is a new adult romance novella following Kieran, a young trans intern who gets a crush on his supervisor Seth, who has himself a crush on their boss.

I don’t have a lot to say about this one, because it’s very short, but I can say that the romance was adorable (novellas are the best length for romance, it’s the truth), and that it’s so refreshing to read a contemporary romance with trans representation in which there is no outing anywhere in the book. There is some misgendering, because the main character doesn’t always pass, and there are some scenes about well-meaning but condescending and sometimes outright clueless “allies” that were… very awkward and very real, at the same time – but, overall, this is a happy story.

Anyway, if “younger person who can’t keep his mouth shut” and “older, distinguished grump who is actually secretly a mess” is your kind of thing, I really recommend it! And it’s for sure a short, cute romantic read perfect for Pride month.

My rating: ★★★★½


The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

22929563What happens when you care about the characters a lot but the writing meanders so much that you almost end up DNFing a book? You end up skimming. Which is why I didn’t enjoy The Watchmaker of Filigree Street as much as I could have.

It was as if the author felt the need to describe every single thing. Which, sometimes, was interesting, as I love details – especially when it came to the steampunk aspects, and the atmosphere was perfect – but for the most part, wasn’t. There were whole scenes that could have easily been cut, or maybe I just missed their significance because at that point I was so bored that I was skipping paragraphs. That’s possible. It’s just… how can one put together such a compelling premise, featuring historical gay people, steampunk technology, clairvoyance and bombings and make a boring story out of it? I don’t know. This book managed, and its characters weren’t even that bland.

Or – Nathaniel could have won the “blandest man of the year” award, but Grace wasn’t bland at all, if unlikable, and Mori was… unlike every character I had ever read about before, in a good way. The romance was also very sweet, and there was a mechanical octopus, and the book said so many interesting things about chances vs. choices, but this book was still so boring that nothing could save it – not even that ending, the best possible ending, or the fact that I knew it was going to be slow beforehand.

One more thing: I feel iffy about some things in here – it’s not my place to talk about how the anti-Asian racism is portrayed, but know that, if you’re interested in reading this book, there’s a lot of it in here (and, just like the misogyny in this book – which is also what you would expect from English people of the time, but still, ehh – not all of it is explicitly challenged).

My rating: ★★★


The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

34506912I wouldn’t have thought the day people in my country could walk into a bookstore and find a YA book with a non-binary main character on the shelves was going to be anytime soon, and I’m so glad to know that I was wrong.
I knew that book was probably going to be translated, seeing how the popular Italian YA books usually are. This one was, and I can’t even complain: it’s a graphic novel with a happy ending, one that doesn’t make a mess with the character’s pronouns, and overall a cute read.

It means a lot.

I’ve seen a few reviews say that we shouldn’t call this cute, or fluffy, because the main character gets outed. And I know. But this had such a light tone overall, and the main character is accepted by the people around him (the prince is genderfluid and both he/him and she/her pronouns are used during the story), including his family, so that by the end this story felt more like a reassurance to me – even if bad things could happen to you, you can still have a happy ending.

What I’m more annoyed by is the fact that books with this exact storyline (this one, Simon vs., and more recently Red, White and Royal Blue) or books that I really did found to be about queer pain (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoare the ones that get the most popularity and then are almost the only ones that could even get a chance of being translated, so that the message becomes more “bad things will happen to you”. But you know, we don’t really get to be picky about representation here.
[This is why, by the way, I’m so glad that Leah on the Offbeat exists: no outing or queer pain in that one, and it got translated.]

Anyway. This is a story about a dressmaker with big dreams and a prince who likes to wear dresses, with an f/non-binary romance, set in an alt-history version of Paris. The art is very cute, and while it isn’t exactly my thing – I think I just prefer more realistic stlyes? – I still had fun with this.

My rating: ★★★★


The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

42369064The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion prequel to the graphic novel The Tea Dragon Society, a cute fantasy graphic novel I liked but didn’t love. This installment convinced me a lot more. It features both old and new characters and just as many adorable dragons. The art is gorgeous, as always, but this time I liked both the characters and the setting more (there were fungi and beautiful woods! I loved that a lot.)

The story follows a non-binary main character who loves gathering food from the forest, and a confused dragon who woke up after eighty years of sleep. The story was cute, but what made it truly stand out was how it normalized queerness and sign language. Also, it’s so refreshing to read about a world in which people of many different ethnicities coexist and the world doesn’t always default to western customs – see which kinds of food was drawn and sometimes the eating utensils, for example.

Another thing I really appreciated was that this graphic novel said that just because something is easy for you, it doesn’t mean it has no value. More than anything, this is a story about community, and finding your own place in it, and I thought it was wonderful.

The only thing I didn’t love was the part at the end that attempted to explain dragon taxonomy, made a mess in which it mixed up species and subspecies, and capitalized specific epithets. I kind of wish it hadn’t been there at all, because I care about that sort of thing.

My rating: ★★★½


Have you read or want to read any of these?

Adult · Book review · historical fiction

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

42117380The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is an F/F historical romance set in England in 1816, and it’s currently my favorite adult romance novel. It wasn’t perfect, as I did struggle with the pacing as I usually do with this genre, but to read a novel like this one, about unashamedly happy queer women during the Regency era, was such a refreshing experience.

The main characters of this novel are Lucy Muchelney, an astronomer who runs away to London to translate a French astronomical text, and Catherine St Day, the widowed Countess of Moth, who accompanied her scientist husband on travels around the world and now lives in London, free of that emotionally abusive marriage.
I had never read about a romance with a ten-year age gap before (Lucy is in her mid-twenties and the Countess is 35, I think), so I was a bit hesitant, but I ended up liking these characters’ dynamic – they were good at communicating and solving conflict; the moments of miscommunication never lasted long. I also thought that the sex scenes were well-written, that one bad simile notwithstanding.

One of the first things that stood out to me about this novel was the writing: it’s so detailed and atmospheric that I wanted to make an aesthetic board for this book, and I would have were I able to do that kind of thing. From star charts to libraries, from embroidery to seashell art – there was so much beauty in this book, and I knew me and it were going to get along from the moment I knew that one of the heroines was a scientist and that the other was an artist who liked to embroider plants (and the Tapeinochilos ananassae is objectively a good subject, Catherine is right).

More than anything, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is a story about art and science, their similarities and differences, and the ways women were excluded from them through time. It’s not a book that tries to tell you which of the two is more important, it’s a book that talks about the importance and beauty of science while talking about how men in this era did many unethical things in the name of it, it’s a book that talks about the complexities of art while also pointing out that the forms of it that were associated with women (like embroidery) weren’t seen as art at all.
I loved this message.

For what didn’t work for me as much – well, the characters get together before the 40% mark, which is… really early for a romance novel, or any novel, one could say. And while I did appreciate how the conflict in this book wasn’t internal to the relationship, the book did seem kind of aimless around the halfway point. The ending, however, made up for it.
Another thing that I could have done without was the part in which they called an Italian character “Contezza”. Will Americans ever not disappoint me like that? (It’s “Contessa”, and even google translate can tell you that. “Contezza” means “knowledge” or “awareness” and even then, it’s a word I’ve never seen anyone use.)

My rating: ★★★★½

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

40148146Love From A to Z is the perfect balance of adorable, romantic and real. It’s the kind of contemporary that manages to develop a very sweet romance while also talking about painful and heavy topics, without neglecting any of these aspects.

This is the story of Zayneb, a hijabi girl of Pakistani and Caribbean (West Indian, specifically Guyanese and Trinidadian) descent living in America, and Adam, a biracial Chinese-Canadian boy who converted to Islam, as they meet in an airport during their trip to Doha, in Qatar. They’re both going through a difficult time in their lives, as Zayneb has just been suspended for speaking out against an Islamophobic teacher and Adam is coming to terms with being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
It’s a story about young Muslims living and falling in love, dealing with what it means to be a young Muslim in love in today’s world.

This book starts with a scene in which a teacher is being openly, unashamedly Islamophobic in front of his students. I wish I could say it felt unrealistic, exaggerated – I wish this weren’t the truth of so many people’s lives (and I wish I could say I didn’t have an experience with teachers being openly bigoted in class). This is a book that gets what it means to live when many people are uncomfortable with your simple existence. It gets the weight of everyday microaggressions, and the way they feed into bigger things; it gets what it means to notice that many people believe your life is worth less.

It gets all of these things, and yet it’s a happy book. I don’t mean that just because it’s hilarious at times – the sense of humor and banter in here… wow – but because while living as a marginalized teen means dealing with all of these things, marginalized teenagers experience joy as much as pain, and with its hopeful message, Love From A to Z shows the importance of finding your voice and speaking up against injustice, and also of accepting help while doing that.

I loved Adam and Zayneb, both as individual characters and as a couple. Zayneb is fierce and outspoken while Adam is quiet and kind, and they balance each other so well. While they do encounter obstacles in their relationship, they find a way to communicate and overcome them, and they were always respectful of each other. I felt really strongly about her romance – which is something seeing how overwhelmingly heterosexual this book was (which is probably the only thing I didn’t like about it, because I never like that, but all things considered, it’s minor).
Zayneb’s PoV was my favorite. She’s brave and flawed and just trying her best, and I both understood her and admired her. She feels so much and and is told to bury it, because society tells you you’re not supposed to mind everyday injustice. My favorite part about Adam’s PoV was his relationship with his family, how he cares about them and they care about him, and they’re all trying to help and not hurt each other while going through a difficult situation. They mess up, sometimes, but they’re always there for each other.

Love From A to Z is a love story written by a Muslim author for a Muslim audience, and it shows. It doesn’t feel the need to explain the things the characters do in everyday life, which means that sometimes I had to use google, and I loved that. I love learning new things in books that aren’t written to teach, and I love reading stories set in non-western countries that don’t pander specifically to a white, Christian, American point of view. No matter your situation, I think you can get something out of this, be it an adorable love story you can relate to or seeing things from a point of view that you hadn’t seen before in literature (or both!)
Also, I’m not American, and I really hope this book gets translated in my country. I think it really could be helpful to many people here, in different ways – for its multilayered and positive portrayal of Muslims, for its callout of white feminism and Islamophobic microaggressions, for being a very well-written, healthy romance.

One more thing: if you’ve read Saints and Misfits, this book has a Sausun cameo and… that was the most satisfying cameo I’ve ever seen in a YA book.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Book review · contemporary · Short fiction

Review: Color Outside the Lines, edited by Sangu Mandanna

40960763Color Outside the Lines is an anthology about interracial relationships across time and genres. It’s about the ways these relationships are both different and the same as the ones that aren’t interracial; it doesn’t only talk about love, culture, and prejudice, but also about family, friendships, communication, expectations and legacies, from many different points of view.

I thought this was a solid anthology. As usual, I didn’t like every single story, but while the ending was a bit weak, I found some favorites in here.

Turn the Sky To Petals by Anna-Marie McLemore – 5 stars
This might be my favorite McLemore short story? I’ve loved Roja from All Out and Glamour from The Radical Element too, but not as much as this one, and I don’t think this even had magical realism elements – the atmosphere and themes made this perfect and just as magical as her stories that actually had magic in them.
It’s a story about a Romani boy who once played the cimbalom and a Latinx girl who liked to dance, brought together by their experiences with chronic pain. They meet while they’re helping their town to prepare for a rich man’s wedding, and said wedding includes the most beautifully described rain of flowers ever.

TK by Danielle Page – no rating, not in the review copy

What We Love by Lauren Gibaldi – 2.5 stars
This story is about a Jewish girl and an Indian boy, and it talks about what it’s like to not fit in and be othered, and how people who are from different backgrounds can experience this in different yet similar ways. It also talks about familial expectations and about legacies – the focus on what we leave behind was what I appreciated the most about this story (and: if you like Star Wars references, read this). However, I found this story disappointing, because the antagonist is the stereotypical Blonde Mean Girl Who Wears Revealing Dresses (she’s wearing a short, tight dress and grinding on a boy!). It’s not that racist bullies who are also attractive white girls don’t exist, but the problem is that she’s racist and a bully, not her clothes.

Giving Up the Ghost by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas – 2 stars
This is the story that worked for me the least. It’s about a world in which everyone has a ghost who is one of their ancestors, and it follows a South Asian boy (I think?), whose ghost is probably the most successful pirate in history, Ching Shih. I loved the worldbuilding here and how it talked about communication and history, but sadly the fearsome Ching Shih read like a bratty ten-year-old and this ended up not being enjoyable at all.

Your Life Matters by L.L. McKinney – 4 stars
The first f/f story! It’s about a black superheroine, her white girlfriend/sidekick, the Black Lives Matter movement, and people changing for the better. It deals with some heavy themes – like police violence and dating someone from a racist family – and at its heart is an hopeful story, which I really appreciated. It made me want to try McKinney’s novels, even though Alice in Wonderland retellings have never been my kind of thing.

Starlight and Moondust by Lori M. Lee – 5 stars
This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. It follows Hlee Khue, a Hmong girl, and it’s a story about stories (I always love those). It’s not just about Hlee, even though she’s the main character: it also talks about an old woman who is a healer, and a boy with a mysterious past. It talks about the way non-western stories and beliefs are held to different standard from western ones, seen as sillier/more absurd just because they’re not western.
It’s a magical story full of beautiful descriptions (the atmosphere! the food! the dragons!) and now I want to read more from Lori M. Lee, since I never had before.

Five Times Shiva Met Harry by Sangu Mandanna – 4 stars
A not-always-lighthearted but cute story about an Indian girl and a white boy who start dating almost by accident. It’s about how sheltered, privileged people can grow up without ever challenging racist and imperialist assumptions – but they can also change once that’s brought to their attention. I liked how this story casually mentioned that Shiva’s brother is dating a boy who is Zimbabwean-American.

The Agony of a Heart’s Wish by Samira Ahmed – 4 stars
This was heartbreaking. It’s a story about colonialism, following an Indian girl and an Irish boy as they meet on a train in colonial India, and bond over Yeats’ poems. They never meet again, but meeting each other changed their lives.

The Coward’s Guide to Falling in Love by Caroline Tung Richmond – 4.5 stars
Not a Romeo and Juliet retelling!
I loved the setup in this one, the themes, and the main character’s voice. It’s the kind of lighthearted contemporary I love – fun and never lacking in depth. It follows a Chinese-American girl who has a crush on a boy of Montenegrin descent. I remember that I also really liked another short story by this author a few years ago, The Red Raven Ball from A Tyranny of Petticoats, so I can’t wait to read her story in Hungry Hearts too.

Death and the Maiden by Tara Sim – 5 stars
An f/f Hades and Persephone retelling with an Indian main character! This story was beautifully written and it made me want to read more of Tara Sim’s books even though I didn’t love Timekeeper. This had the best aesthetics, atmosphere (the writing reminded me of Strange Grace, which is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read), themes I loved – it’s about life, death, and growth. I want this to become a full-length novel so badly.

Faithfull by Karuna Riazi – 3.5 stars
A story about a girl and her complicated relationships with her self-absorbed mother, who is now marrying a Moroccan man. This is mostly about friendships, food (so many food descriptions!) and what makes a family. I didn’t feel strongly about it but I liked the message.

Gilman Street by Michelle Ruiz Keil – 3.5 stars
This is a story about self-discovery following a biracial, bisexual Mexican girl as she meets a biracial boy who is Filipino, kisses a Mexican girl, and discovers that some people are better left behind. This is historical fiction – set in 1980, I think – and now I want to see what the author will do with her debut novel this year, as I’ve heard it’s historical fiction too.

The Boy Is by Elsie Chapman – 3.5 stars
This is a story about dating as a Chinese-American girl. It talks about the conflicting expectations of family members, yellow fever, and… pros and cons. It was an interesting read, if really short. Elsie Chapman was also a new-to-me author, and I think I like her writing, so maybe I’ll try her novel Caster when it comes out.

Sandwiched in Between by Eric Smith – 3 stars
I don’t think Eric Smith’s writing is for me, and that’s the main reason I’m not rating this story high – I like what this said about family, adoption, communication and “colorblindness”, but I just can’t get into his books.

Yuna and the Wall by Lydia Kang – 3.5 stars
A fantasy story following the daughter of a poisoner and a boy who is hated for his scars. It’s about people finding each other when society doesn’t accept them; I liked its message and what I saw of this world. Like Kang’s Toxic, this story almost read like middle grade, but this time I didn’t have any problems with that because I expected it.

TK by Adam Silvera – no rating, not in this copy

My average rating is 3,80, which is pretty good for an anthology (and I think that if the Adam Silvera story had been there, the rating would have been even higher).

Adult · Book review · contemporary

Review: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole

42128976I know nothing about the trilogy of which Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is a spin-off, I read this novella just because it was a second-chance romance about two black women falling in love – and then falling in love again – in New York, and that premise was enough for me. And now I can say two things:

  1. you do not need to have read A Princess in Theory to understand this or understand the characters;
  2. you might want to read A Princess in Theory first anyway, because after reading this you’ll want to read it for sure, Alyssa Cole’s writing is amazing, and you might as well read things in order!

I loved this book more than I expected to, and with that premise, I had high expectations. The main reason it surprised me? The writing. All the descriptions – the sounds, the food, the clothes – were so vivid that I could picture everything effortlessly. It’s a contemporary romance that is actually atmospheric, and I can’t believe how rare that is. One of my main problems with American contemporaries is the way they never describe the setting, because they assume that you – the reader, who is of course American, because it’s not like books written in the US are read (and translated!) worldwide, no – already know how it looks like. And I don’t! I love when books don’t assume I do.

I also loved the romance, of course. Fabiola and Likotsi had chemistry (these two!! I can’t. They were adorable), the conflict was believable, the pacing was slow but not so slow that it became a problem for me (and this is why I prefer romance novellas to novels).
Once Ghosted, Twice Shy is also a story that talks about some heavy themes – like deportation – without losing the lightheartedness that is typical of the romance genre, and it has, of course, a happy ending.

If you’ve ever wanted to read a story about a Haitian-American bisexual woman who dreams of making and selling jewelry falling in love with an African woman (from the fictional country of Thesolo) who is the assistant of a prince… here it is. It was everything I didn’t know I wanted.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Book review · contemporary · Fantasy

Reviews: Queer New Adult Romance

38965901I read this book in less than a day. This doesn’t happen often to me anymore, but with all its flaws, I have to admit I found this addicting.

If I Loved You Less by Tamsen Parker is a f/f new adult retelling of Emma set in Hanalei Bay, Hawaii. It follows Theo, a 25-year-old woman who is a “matchmaker” in her small town, but isn’t interested in marriage herself.
I thought Theo was a really interesting character, and with that I mean that she annoyed me a lot – in a way no character ever had before.
Unlikable narrators are difficult to write, and Theo got on my nerves a lot, but I can’t say I had ever read about a character like her. You see, Theo is a very well-meaning, extroverted person who happens to be bad at reading social cues and who has little understanding of boundaries. She is irritating and kind of clueless, especially at the beginning, but I ended up caring about her. I appreciated her character development, but what I liked the most was how, for once, this book broke the “introverted = socially awkward / extroverted = good at reading and understanding people” stereotype. People like Theo exist, but so far I had only seen them as annoying side characters you’re meant to hate on.

I can’t say I liked the side characters as much. All of them were a bit flat, even the love interest – I liked her and the way the romance developed, but I didn’t feel that strongly about Kini and Theo as a couple. They were cute, and not much more. The other side characters, however, were one-dimensional and all ended up paired up together because… plot? (but we’ll talk about that later). Brock is boring and a plot device, Austin isn’t much better, Laurel felt like a walking stereotype – she never got more characterization than “nerdy East Asian sidekick with no spine”, which was a shame – and the other characters were so forgettable I don’t even remember their names.

I also didn’t love the way the main character and the story were obsessed with romance. Trying to push people to date isn’t great, this is acknowledged in the book, but all the major characters end up paired up anyway. I would have loved if someone was shown to be happy without needing a partner, especially since part of this book was about Theo being pushy about romance.

What I liked the most about this book were the setting – Hanalei Bay is a beautiful place and I could feel that – and the food descriptions. There were a lot of them, because Kini is a baker and Theo loves eating sweets. I don’t know exactly what it is about food descriptions but they always make me like a book more. Just like atmosphere, they make the setting feel more real.

Also, this book is easy to read. If I Loved You Less is the kind of book you can fly through when you have to spend hours in a hospital waiting room, and it will make you forget you’re there. It gets that right, and that’s why I’m giving it a positive rating even though I often struggled with the characters.
While this book is new adult, there are no explicit sex scenes, which helped (sex scenes are great! Just not what I’d read in a waiting room). If you have a lot of time during which you have nothing to do but you need something that is easy to read and will keep you distracted, I can say that this works.

My rating: ★★¾


38102484Undertow is the second novella in the paranormal romance series Port Lewis Witches. The first, Darkling, is one of my favorite novellas I read this year, and this sequel didn’t disappoint.

While Undertow is a direct sequel and not a companion, it’s told in Liam’s PoV, and this time we get to know more about both the witchy world of Port Lewis and about Liam’s family.

One thing I really loved about the first book was the rainy small town atmosphere, which set the perfect tone for the story. I appreciated this aspect even more in this book – not only this novella was atmospheric and immersive, it also got creepy at times. Undertow follows a water witch, and the water hides a lots of mysteries. I love books with sea horror scenes (I think the ocean is terrifying).
Undertow also expanded the worldbuilding, introducing other magical creatures apart from witches and demons, and that was really interesting to read.

I really like Liam’s and Ryder’s relationship. Demon involvement can lead to trouble, but they try to make it work. Also, it’s a m/m romance with a trans love interest! Their relationship with the rest of their circle, however, is strained at the moment – prejudices against necromancers and secrets kept for too long worsened the situation – and those scenes were a bit painful to read (I just want them all to be fine!) but I still really liked reading about this very queer group of witches.
The main reason Undertow isn’t a 4.5 stars for me, unlike the first book, is that it’s told in Liam’s PoV. I really liked Liam, but that meant we see very little of Jordan (Ryder’s sister), who is probably my favorite character in the series. I love her a lot and wanted to know more about her, but I liked getting to know more about her girlfriend Thalia.
I also still don’t love the writing.

My rating: ★★★★

[Content warnings for explicit sex scenes and blood magic.]