Mini-Reviews: Counting Down With You + Simone Breaks All the Rules + Rent a Boyfriend

I have a super-sized mini-review post for you today. I typically keep these posts two-reviews long, but when I was formatting this post, I remembered that I had written a review for Counting Down With You over the summer that I never got around to posting. It’s perfect because all three of these are contemporaries and I felt more or less the same about all of them. I enjoyed them and though there were certain elements that really stood out to me, I wasn’t completely blown away by them. I would still recommend all of these, so if there are things in my review that appeal to you, definitely pick these up.

Title: Counting Down With You Author: Tashie Bhuiyan Series: N/A Pages: 464 Publisher: Inkyard Press Release Date: May 4th 2021 TW: brief mention of forced outing and death of a child, anxiety attacks

"A reserved Bangladeshi teenager has twenty-eight days to make the biggest decision of her life after agreeing to fake date her school’s resident bad boy. How do you make one month last a lifetime? Karina Ahmed has a plan. Keep her head down, get through high school without a fuss, and follow her parents’ rules—even if it means sacrificing her dreams. When her parents go abroad to Bangladesh for four weeks, Karina expects some peace and quiet. Instead, one simple lie unravels everything. Karina is my girlfriend. Tutoring the school’s resident bad boy was already crossing a line. Pretending to date him? Out of the question. But Ace Clyde does everything right—he brings her coffee in the mornings, impresses her friends without trying, and even promises to buy her a dozen books (a week) if she goes along with his fake-dating facade. Though Karina agrees, she can’t help but start counting down the days until her parents come back. T-minus twenty-eight days until everything returns to normal—but what if Karina no longer wants it to?"

Tashi Bhuiyan’s Counting Down with You is perfect for contemporary fans looking for stories with complicated family dynamics and page-turning romance. Karina Ahmed is a Bangeldashi-American teen on the fast track to med school. Nothing could make her parents prouder. The problem? Karina wants to study English, but admitting this to her parents would break their hearts, something she isn’t prepared to do. When her parents travel to Bangladesh for a month-long trip, Karina can’t help but feel a sense of relief. When her English teacher asks her to tutor Ace Clyde, her school’s resident bad boy, Karina can’t think of a worst idea. When he asks her to be his fake girlfriend, all her plans to have a drama-free month without her parents go out the window. The more time she spends with Ace, the more she starts to want the things she hasn’t allowed herself to really want. Counting Down with You does a really good job of showing the many facets of Karina’s life. We see her with her immediate family, her extended family, her friend group, and with Ace. All of these relationships require Karina to be a different version of herself and at the end of the novel, she has to choose whether or not to reconcile these parts of herself or continue to only to show part of who she is to those closest to her. I really enjoyed the evolution of Karina’s relationship with Ace. Aside from all the flirtation, they are great influences on each other. In many ways they are polar opposites, but both struggle to reconcile who they are with how their families see them. By far my favorite relationship was the bond Karina had with her grandmother. There is so much love and support here and I loved that it wasn’t her friends or her love interest who she truly needs in her corner, but it’s her grandmother. Counting Down with You will win the hearts of readers with its likeable protagonist and nuanced take on familial expectations.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

Title: Simone Breaks All the Rules Author: Debbie Rigaud Series: N/A Pages: 320 Publisher: Scholastic Press Release Date: June 1st 2021

"Late bloomers unite! This fresh and funny #ownvoices novel from rising star Debbie Rigaud is perfect for fans of To All the Boys I've Loved Before and Booksmart. Simone Thibodeaux's life is sealed in a boy-proof container. Her strict Haitian immigrant parents enforce no-dating rules and curfews, and send Simone to an all-girls school. As for prom? Simone is allowed to go on one condition: her parents will select her date (a boy from a nice Haitian immigrant family, obviously). Simone is desperate to avoid the humiliation of the set up -- especially since she's crushing on a boy she knows her parents wouldn't approve of. With senior year coming to a close, Simone makes a decision. She and her fellow late-bloomer friends will create a Senior Year Bucket List of all the things they haven't had a chance to do. On the list: kissing a boy, sneaking out of the house, skipping class (gasp!), and, oh yeah -- choosing your own prom date. But as the list takes on a life of its own, things get more complicated than Simone expected. She'll have to discover which rules are worth breaking, and which will save her from heartbreak."

Debbie Rigaud’s Simone Breaks All the Rules is a fast-paced contemporary novel about learning to advocate for yourself. Haitian-American teen, Simone Thibodeaux, is tired of doing everything according to her parents’ rules. In an effort to take back control of her life, Simone and two classmates make a to-do list in hopes of breaking free from their parents’ overprotective natures. Simone calls herself a late bloomer, not because she didn’t want to date or go out partying but because her parents always had certain expectations of her and she acquiesced. As seventeen; however, she is thinking about adulthood: what she wants and what compromises she is now unwilling to make. She finds it difficult to find the words to tell her parents she doesn’t want to live at home when she goes to college. This bucket list for her senior year becomes a small way where she can rebel and declare independence. It also gives Simone the confidence she needs to finally tell her parents what she wants. Simone Breaks All the Rules is perfect for fans of contemporary books with an emphasis on family and friendship.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)


Title: Rent a Boyfriend Author: Gloria Chao Series: N/A Pages: 390 Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers Release Date: November 10th 2021

TW: fatphobia, slut-shaming

"To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda. Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents. Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him. When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community. But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?"

Chloe Wang would like nothing more than for her parents to stop insisting she get marry to the most unsuitable guy imaginable. In an effort to get them to finally back off, Chloe enlists the help of Rent for Your ‘Rents, a company that provides the perfect fake boyfriend to fool even the most hard to impress parents. Drew has been working for Rent for Your ‘Rents as a way to support himself after his parents cut him off for pursuing his dream of becoming an artist. Chloe is just one client on a long list of young women looking for help in dealing with difficult parents. Being her fake boyfriend shouldn’t be too hard, except the more time he spends with Chloe, the more the line between fake and real begins to blur. I really liked the opposites-attract aspect to Chloe and Drew’s relationship because of how knowing the other helps them overcome some of their biggest personal obstacles. Sometimes Chloe finds it hard to be herself in front of her parents. She wants to make them happy, but this often comes at the expense of her own happiness. Drew is terrified of sharing his work with others because if he fails, his decision to drop out of college and consequently, lose his family, wasn’t worth it after all. Chloe and Drew encourage each other not by taking on the other person’s problems but by supporting who they are and giving each other the space to take control of their own lives. Gloria Chao’s Rent a Boyfriend has an undeniably sweet romantic plot, but it is the complicated and fraught familial relationships that really stood out.

★ ★ ★
(3/5)

Mini-Reviews: Velvet Was the Night + The Wolf and the Woodsman

I am back from my blogging hiatus which means I am back with some reviews I wrote while on a break. I’m late with my review of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night, but kept reminding myself while away that it was okay to be late. It’s funny because we as bloggers internalize so many expectations for ourselves and forget that this isn’t a job or school. No one is going to punish us if we are a little late posting a review. I’ve only been book blogging for seven years and it’s finally starting to sink in that the only person who is watching to make sure I review an ARC before publication is myself. Going to sit with that one for a while. Does anyone else have a similar relationship reviewing ARCs?

Title: Velvet Was the Night Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Series: N/A Pages: 304 Publisher: Del Rey Release Date: August 17th 2021

TW: contains a gay slur and slur for Romani people **Disclaimer: I received a copy of this ARC from the publisher which does not influence my review**

"From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a 'delicious, twisted treat for lovers of noir' about a daydreaming secretary, a lonesome enforcer, and the mystery of a missing woman they’re both desperate to find.. 1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger. Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents. Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance—and grows more and more obsessed with this woman who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart. Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets—at gunpoint. Velvet Was the Night is an edgy, simmering historical novel for lovers of smoky noirs and anti-heroes.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s latest, Velvet Was the Night, is a mystery-driven noir that made me want to smoke a cigarette while reading and I don’t even smoke. Set against the backdrop of student protests in Mexico City in the 1970s, Velvet Was the Night unfolds at a leisurely pace shifting between two different POVs as characters converge on the truth behind a missing art student. Maite Jaramillo, a bored secretary whose biggest thrill is her weekly consumption of a tawdry romance comic, finds herself swept into her neighbor’s seductive world. El Elvis is nothing better than a hired thug, a member of an unofficial government-ran group tasked with quelling student activists. It’s a way to survive and nothing more. Both characters are playing parts, keeping reality at bay as best they can, but neither can hold on to their distorted and often naive view of the world. Velvet Was the Night will be enjoyed by those fond of the noir genre and those looking for sharp dialogue and antiheroes.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: The Wolf and the Woodsman Author: Ava Reid Series: N/A Pages: 448 Publisher: Del Rey Release Date: June 8th 2021

TW: racism, antisemitism, self-harm, domestic abuse

"In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered. But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother. As their mission takes them from the bitter northern tundra to the smog-choked capital, their mutual loathing slowly turns to affection, bound by a shared history of alienation and oppression. However, trust can easily turn to betrayal, and as Évike reconnects with her estranged father and discovers her own hidden magic, she and Gáspár need to decide whose side they’re on, and what they’re willing to give up for a nation that never cared for them at all. In the vein of Naomi Novik’s New York Times bestseller Spinning Silver and Katherine Arden’s national bestseller The Bear and the Nightingale, this unforgettable debut— inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish mythology—follows a young pagan woman with hidden powers and a one-eyed captain of the Woodsmen as they form an unlikely alliance to thwart a tyrant."

Ava Reid’s The Wolf and the Woodsman is a stunning and dynamic fantasy with rich world-building. Évike is an outsider in her own village, without family or magic. When the Woodsmen come to take another girl as a sacrifice to their king, magicless Évike is turned over as a ruse. But the scheme is short-lived as Évike and the Woodsmen are attacked. Now Évike and the Woodsman, Bárány Gáspár, must put aside their mutual contempt if they are to survive. Reid does a phenomenal job of painting a complex world of human prejudice and the negative side of religious fervor. There is a lot of juxtaposition between different religions and cultures. We see this play out in the relationship between Évike and Gáspár, whose world-views often clash. However, as they begin to rely on one another, they also begin to see each other as more than the enemy. They have both been defined as interlopers in their own societies, but despite the cruelties they’ve endured, still have a sense of loyalty to their people. With a mercurial lead, The Wolf and the Woodsman, takes off at a swift pace and is entertaining at every turn.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Blog Tour – Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth by Chantel Acevedo

Thank you to Paola @ Love, Paola for organizing this tour for Chantel Acevedo’s Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth. Check out the tour schedule for more Muse Squad content from fellow readers here. You can also check out my review of the first book in this duology, Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse, here.

Title: Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth
Author: Chantel Acevedo
Series: Muse Squad, #2
Pages: 352
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: July 6th 2021

**Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this tour which does not influence my review**

      “The finale of an action-packed middle grade fantasy duology about a young Cuban American girl who discovers that she’s one of the nine muses of Greek mythology. Perfect for fans of The Serpent’s Secret, the Aru Shah series, and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
      Callie Martinez-Silva is finally getting the hang of this whole goddess within thing. Six months after learning she was one of the nine muses of ancient myth, she and the other junior muses are ready for new adventures. Except first Callie has to go to New York City for the summer to visit her dad, stepmom, and new baby brother.
      Then the muses get startling news: an unprecedented tenth muse has been awakened somewhere in Queens, putting Callie in the perfect position to help find her. And she’ll have help—thanks to a runaway mold problem in London, Muse Headquarters is moving to the New York Hall of Science.
      But balancing missions and family-mandated arts camp proves difficult for Callie, especially once mysterious messages from spiders (yikes!) begin to weave a tale of ancient injustice involving Callie’s campmate Ari.
      Now Callie and her friends have to make a choice: follow orders and find the tenth muse or trust that sometimes fate has other plans.”

Chantel Acevedo delivers a heartfelt sequel with Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth, the final book in her middle grade duology inspired by Greek mythology. Callie Martinez-Silva’s life changed when she discovered she is one of the nine muses, tasked with inspiring humankind. While visiting her father over the summer in NYC, Callie finds herself caught between her responsibilities as a muse and helping a new friend. Like its characters, this sequel feels a little more grown up. Callie struggles with being a good leader and whether it’s ethical to use her gift on people without their consent. Callie and her friends face even more difficult challenges in this sequel as their journey pits them against dangerous mythical creatures and cunning gods. If that wasn’t enough, Callie must adjust to being a big sister for the first time and finding where she belongs in her father’s new family. Being a muse has never been more complicated, especially when it starts affecting her relationships. Callie has to figure out how to balance and navigate two very different parts of her life. Callie also finds herself clashing with her dad more and more. Growing up to her means being given more freedom, but to her father it also means being true to your word and understanding how your actions impact those around you, lessons Callie still needs to learn. Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth captures the perils of growing up, including making difficult decisions, but also the undeniable joys of finding friends who truly understand you and discovering who you want to be.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)

Muse Squad: The Mystery of the Tenth is available for purchase now:

Amazon

IndieBound

Barnes & Noble

Apple Books

About the Author:
Called “a master storyteller” by Kirkus Reviews, Chantel Acevedo is the author of the novels Love and Ghost Letters, A Falling Star, The Distant Marvels, which was a finalist for the 2016 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, and The Living Infinite hailed by Booklist as a “vivid and enthralling tale of love and redemption.” Muse Squad: The Cassandra Curse, Acevedo’s new middle grade duology (called “Riveting and suspenseful” by School Library Journal) was published by Balzer + Bray in 2020. The sequel, MUSE SQUAD: THE MYSTERY OF THE TENTH, will be published in July of 2021. She is Professor of English at the University of Miami, where she directs the MFA program.

Follow Chantel Acevedo: Website, Twitter, Instagram

Mini-Reviews: One of the Good Ones + The Mirror Season

I have so many reviews in my drafts and since I am going to go on hiatus very soon, I am going to do my best to get as many as I can out before then. This week I am bringing you reviews of two of the hardest books I’ve ever read. Both deal with heavy subject matter and I literally had to take breaks while reading them. Both were incredible reads, but definitely approach these titles with a bit of caution. Take note of the trigger warnings before diving in and always take care of yourself.

Title: One of the Good Ones Author: Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite Series: N/A Pages: 384 Publisher: Inkyard Press Release Date: January 5th 2021

TW: death of a sibling, police brutality, racism, assault, homophobia, lynching

"The Hate U Give meets Get Out in this honest and powerful exploration of prejudice in the stunning novel from sister-writer duo Maika and Maritza Moulite, authors of Dear Haiti, Love Alaine. ISN'T BEING HUMAN ENOUGH? When teen social activist and history buff Kezi Smith is killed under mysterious circumstances after attending a social justice rally, her devastated sister Happi and their family are left reeling in the aftermath. As Kezi becomes another immortalized victim in the fight against police brutality, Happi begins to question the idealized way her sister is remembered. Perfect. Angelic. One of the good ones. Even as the phrase rings wrong in her mind—why are only certain people deemed worthy to be missed?—Happi and her sister Genny embark on a journey to honor Kezi in their own way, using an heirloom copy of The Negro Motorist Green Book as their guide. But there's a twist to Kezi's story that no one could've ever expected—one that will change everything all over again.

Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite’s sophomore novel, One of the Good Ones, gives an unforgettable look at how victims of police brutality are stripped of their humanity, held up as saints or criminals under media scrutiny and deemed worthy or unworthy of being mourned as a result. Kezi has her whole life ahead of her. Passionate about history and social justice, Kezi has made a name for herself online with her YouTube channel. But her life is cut short after she attends a protest and is taken into police custody. One of the Good Ones for the most part alternates between Kezi’s POV before her arrest and present day from her sister Happi’s perspective. Kezi is dealing with internet fame, falling in love for the first time, and hiding the fact that she is gay from her very religious parents. After her death, her family is thrust into the spotlight and while her parents and older sister have adapted to this, her younger sister Happi struggles to deal with their grief constantly being put on display for public consumption. I loved reading about the different dynamics between the three Smith sisters: Happi, Kezi, and Genny. They are all very different people and don’t always have seamless sisterly interactions. It was both heartbreaking to read about how much Happi regretted not knowing her sister as well as she should have before her passing, but there is also a sense of hope as she begins to learn more about who Kezi was. I won’t spoil the book, but there is a POV in the novel that felt so pertinent as the book explores who and who isn’t publicly mourned when it comes to police brutality. The book also features letters and narrative non-fiction, the latter of which really stood out to me. Like their debut Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite utilize different mediums in One of the Good Ones, crafting a unique and unforgettable story that will undoubtedly stun readers.

★ ★ ★ ★
(4/5)


Title: The Mirror Season Author: Anna-Marie McLemore Series: N/A Pages: 320 Publisher: Feiwel Friends Release Date: March 16th 2021

TW: sexual assault (on-page), drugging, PTSD, panphobia, assault

"When two teens discover that they were both sexually assaulted at the same party, they develop a cautious friendship through her family's possibly magical pastelería, his secret forest of otherworldly trees, and the swallows returning to their hometown, in Anna-Marie McLemore's The Mirror Season... Graciela Cristales's whole world changes after she and a boy she barely knows are assaulted at the same party. She loses her gift for making enchanted pan dulce. Neighborhood trees vanish overnight, while mirrored glass appears, bringing reckless magic with it. And Ciela is haunted by what happened to her, and what happened to the boy whose name she never learned. But when the boy, Lock, shows up at Ciela's school, he has no memory of that night, and no clue that a single piece of mirrored glass is taking his life apart. Ciela decides to help him, which means hiding the truth about that night. Because Ciela knows who assaulted her, and him. And she knows that her survival, and his, depend on no one finding out what really happened."

Anna-Marie McLemore’s delivers their most emotionally-charged novel with The Mirror Season. Ciela is known as La Reina de las Nievas, gifted with the ability to read customers and know exactly what kind of pan dulce they need at her family’s pastelería. After she is sexually assaulted at a party, Ciela would like nothing more than to forget that night, but when the boy who was assaulted at the same party shows up at her school with only a vague memory of what happened, she is forced to relive events. The Mirror Season can be overwhelming at times as it recounts the aftermath of Ciela’s sexual assault, the continued trauma of seeing her perpetrators at school, and the turmoil of keeping the truth of what happened a secret. Her relationship with Lock becomes a double-edged sword. Their connection allows Ciela to talk about her sexual assault for the first time with someone who understands, but she is unable for Lock’s sake as well as her own to be entirely truthful. Ciela spends a lot of time lying to herself as a coping mechanism, dealing with misplaced guilt, and struggling to reconcile the person she was before the assault with the person she has become. Though her journey is heartbreaking, The Mirror Season is also about Ciela rediscovering the parts of herself she thought were lost for good, reclaiming these parts as her own, and standing up to her assailants. The Mirror Season is a difficult novel to get through, at times it will hurt, shock, infuriate you to read, but like Anna-Marie McLemore’s previous novels, the characters in this story are more than their trauma and their path to empowerment though not smooth still feels hopeful even in the midst of the wounds they endure.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
(5/5)