mini review, YA

Mini ARC Reviews: All I Want for Christmas Is… by Chelsea Bobulski

Morning everyone! It is almost Christmas and I can almost smell it in the air. Whether you celebrate it or not, I hope you are feeling the festivity in the air as the year ends for a new one to begin.

With that said, I am here to bring a set of 4 mini reviews on Chelsea Bobulski’s All I Want for Christmas series in time for the holidays. Almost all of these books have been released, with the fourth and last novel coming out on December 22, 2021!

I don’t know if you read holiday themed books at the time of said holiday, but this was a fun experience for me this year. I have decided to group all the reviews together in one post for your enjoyment.

Merry almost Christmas, friends!

Thank you Netgalley and Wise Wolf Books for these copies in exchange for an honest review.

Book 1

It’s a Wonderful Life meets Wish Upon A Star in this Christmas-themed young adult contemporary romance.

Graham Wallace has been in love with the girl next door for a decade. Unfortunately, she’s been dating his best friend for the past two years. Out of sheer desperation, Graham makes a wish on a shooting star—all he wants for Christmas is Sarah Clarke.

When Graham wakes up the next morning, everything has changed, and he’s the one who’s been dating Sarah for the past two years, not his best friend. Graham assumes the wish would have only come true if he and Sarah were meant to be together, but as it becomes clear that he and Sarah bring out the worst in each other, not the best, and as he starts to fall for the new girl in town, Graham wonders if some wishes come true in order to show us what’s not meant to be.

It’s not often that I find myself stuck in a teenage boy’s mind, but here I am with All I Want for Christmas is the Girl Next Door. Graham is your average teenager living in small-town Virginia. However, this town isn’t just any town, but a literal one named Christmas. With Christmas in the air 365 days of the year, Graham is itching to get out.

But that may also mostly stem from his unrequited crush on his best friend, Sarah Clarke, who lives next door.

I love the angst initially as we follow Graham’s longing whenever he sees his best friend and Sarah together. Who of us (mostly) hasn’t ever had an unrequited crush? But with his deep heartbreak after coming to the inevitable realization that Sarah may never choose him, he wishes upon a star in the sky and wakes up the next day in some warped alternate reality. He has been dating Sarah for the last two years, not his best friend.

I also appreciate the message that comes with this story as Graham navigates his new reality. Soon, he realizes that perfection isn’t all that he thought it would be. What if he had fallen in love with the idea of Sarah Clarke instead of who she really was? What if he spent so much time focusing on her and his longing for this relationship that he closed his mind off to the very real girl he was always meant to be with? Maybe love, the real kind of love meant for the long run, is known not by the feelings we initially get, but by how much we make one another shine to our brightest potentials.

This was a fun Christmas story with a lesson wrapped in a bow. It’s light, cute, and the kind of book to curl up with by the fireplace while it’s snowing outside.

Book 2

It’s the holiday season in this young-adult contemporary romance, and all Beckett Hawthorne wants is to make his way across the country and try to find some semblance of a life that looks nothing like his past…until he meets Evelyn Waverly.

Evelyn Waverley, Christmas High’s Senior Class President, volunteer at every Christmas charity drive, and basic overachiever, has a problem – she’s co-directing and starring in her dream role as Elizabeth Bennet in her high school’s production of A Pride and Prejudice Christmas, but Greg Bailey, the boy who was supposed to play Darcy broke his leg.

Enter Beckett Hawthorne, Aunt Bee’s nephew, former child prodigy, and recent juvenile delinquent. Beckett has arrived in Christmas, Virginia to spend his community service hours working at his uncle’s Christmas tree farm, as well as to get away from his heroin-addicted mother and abusive stepfather.

Of course, Beckett doesn’t have any interest in the role of Darcy either, but when he (mistakenly) mentions the play to his social worker, she presses him to do it. He agrees to play Darcy, not expecting Evelyn’s joyful attitude about life and all things Christmas to melt the permafrost that has formed around his heart. Soon he finds himself imagining a very different kind of future, one that is filled with the sorts of things he always thought were too good for him-hope, love, family-and he has Evelyn to thank for it.

All I Want for Christmas is the Girl in Charge brings the next installment in the series, and it is written in dual POV alternating between Beckett and Evelyn. Oddly enough, I didn’t connect as well with Evelyn as I would’ve hoped. I understand with her type A personality and how much her college applications relied on the success of the play she’d written that she would be absolutely anal about everything. But that’s not really my style and it was a little stressful reading just how stressed SHE was.

Beckett, on the other hand, I liked well enough. He’s your typical misunderstood bad boy with a gooey inside. We don’t know too much about why he needs to serve some community hours – obviously something bad happened that required such punishment – but he ends up stuck with the play in the lead role of Mr. Darcy. I didn’t emotionally connect with him much better than Evelyn, but I loved seeing his interactions with his Aunt Bee and Uncle Bill (who were a big enough part of the first book).

Graham and friends make cameos in this book too, set during Christmas time the following year after Graham’s story. There’s a little less focus on Christmas than book 1 but it’s in the little pieces, like Beckett working at the Christmas tree farm.

I wish I could’ve invested more in the relationship to have made this a more enjoyable Christmas read, but it was a light read either way for this time of year.

Book 3

The holiday season continues in this captivating third novel in Chelsea Bobulski’s All I Want for Christmas young-adult contemporary romance series.

What happens when you take a chance on someone unexpected?

Isla Riddle has been obsessed with True Love for as long as she can remember. Books, TV, movies-if it’s a story about star-crossed lovers, ill-fated love, or love conquering all, Isla has read it, seen it, and talked nonstop about it. She’s also dedicated her life to it by helping her mom build up Riddle’s Bridal Boutique and Wedding Planning, a business they started together after her dad left town … and they’ve just received their biggest break yet: a high society bride with a million-dollar budget.

August Harker doesn’t have to think much about his life-it’s already been planned for him. He has the parent-approved heiress girlfriend, the 4.0 GPA at an elite college preparatory school, and over a dozen lacrosse and debate team trophies. He has no reason to think his life won’t turn out just like his dad’s, which is exactly why he isn’t into planning weddings, parties, or any other event where hundreds of his father’s closest clients and legal associates discuss affidavits, jurisprudence, and all the things that make his father the most sought-after criminal defense attorney along the Eastern seaboard. It only reminds August that he’ll be discussing the same things with the same people in ten years’ time between glasses of champagne and unfortunate run-ins with the electric slide. However, planning a wedding is exactly where he finds himself as his older sister prepares to walk down the aisle.

As Isla works with August behind-the-scenes, she becomes more and more convinced that he’s the one: the soulmate she’s been waiting for. August feels it, too, that rightness of being with Isla, and as August hears Isla talk about dreams like they’re real possessions that can be achieved, he dares to hope for another future entirely, one in which he can become what he’s always wanted to be.

But can their love-and August’s newly-resurrected dreams-survive the layers of expectations and ambitions that have been placed upon him?

This must be the favourite of the bunch, but All I Want for Christmas is the Boy I Can’t Have was the perfect amount of romantic angst, miscommunication and unrequited love.

August Harker was the perfect kind of guy for a girl who’s as in love with love as Isla Riddle. We’ve already been introduced to Isla from book 2 and I definitely liked her outlook on love. Full of references to the best romantic comedies of the last few decades, this was an ode to love and the stories that bring people together.

I love the idea of a Christmas wedding, and what’s more romantic of a backdrop to set this story to? Isla and her mother have a wedding planning business and it was so much fun seeing their plans for August’s sister’s wedding.

But more importantly, the romance was cute even though it frustrated me at the same time. August was kind, considerate and a great friend. The instant love feel at first was a bit unrealistic as Isla just fell for him immediately, but their interactions over time sold me on their connection and by the end I just wanted the happily ever after for them.

If you want a cute winter read, with admittedly less focus on Christmas than just a winter romance, this is the one!

Book 4

College freshman Savannah Mason doesn’t believe in magic or true love. She believes in science, and science tells her that love is nothing more than a biological impulse to breed—an impulse that can, thankfully, be ignored. Which is a good thing because no woman in her family has ever been lucky in love. In fact, all of them have ended up broken hearted and insistent on blaming a mysterious, vengeful curse. But Savannah is determined to rewrite her story, and as far as she’s concerned, she’s never going to fall in love.

Jordan Merrick is a junior at William & Mary and on the fast track to obtaining his life’s goal: becoming the next Ron Chernow. He vaguely imagines that, someday, he’ll have a wife and kids. But like Hamilton himself, Jordan’s drive is to accomplish his goals as quickly as possible. Love can come another day once his career is cemented.

What neither Savannah nor Jordan planned on is meeting each other, and as they keep crossing paths on campus and Savannah finds herself helping at Jordan’s archaeology site, all their reasons for putting their love lives on the back burner start to blur.

Forged together, Savannah and Jordan investigate Savannah’s family’s curse on love and explore a collection of love letters between a revolutionary soldier and the girl he left behind. But when they come face-to-face with the truth about themselves—and with the truth about what they’ve become to each other—Jordan’s outlook on love starts to waver, and he begins to wonder if he can convince Savannah that love is real. But will Savannah run before her heart is able to let go of cynicism and believe in the power and magic of love?

At once thought-provoking and charming, All I Want for Christmas is the Girl Who Can’t Love will stir a longing in every reader’s heart for the hope in magic and romance that can only be found during the holiday season.

It’s not often I find a protagonist who dislikes love as much as Savannah did in All I Want for Christmas is the Girl Who Can’t Love, but I can understand why she has guarded herself from the emotional/higher power aspect of love beyond the scientific mechanism of hormonal chemistry in our bodies if it meant losing herself seeing how her mother does with each boyfriend.

I really enjoyed the dual POV between Jordan and Savannah. If I wanted a cute, romantic story that showed us love can be more, can actually be like magic, then this is the one to read. Jordan can definitely woo a girl and has the maturity of the college-age boy that he is, which is rare in YA novels.

The archaeological aspect where the two of them try to figure out the mystery behind a couple from the Revolutionary War era was a great way to look at history in the beautiful colonial Williamsburg (which I really need to visit someday) and to showcase love beyond genetic survival. As a scientist, I can understand how some people may like to think of it in this way, but as a hopeless romantic, I am 100% like Jordan too, rooting for love in every way.

One quick shoutout for the rep in highlighting Savannah’s struggle with dyslexia that cannot stop her from pursuing her dreams to be a travel writer someday. I love that it focuses on how studying can be hard for her while also not letting it be a foregone stumbling block to her dreams.

The ending wrapped well, with plenty of faces from the whole series that connects us full circle. I love seeing everyone together. Also, Jordan made a cameo in book 1 (that was SO cool) so it really is a full circle moment and I’m super glad I read this series in time for Christmas.

How’re you celebrating the holidays this year? Do you read holiday-themed books in December?

2 star, adult

Review: While We Were Dating by Jasmine Guillory

Series: The Wedding Date #6

Two people realize that it’s no longer an act when they veer off-script in this sizzling romantic comedy by New York Times bestselling author Jasmine Guillory.

Ben Stephens has never bothered with serious relationships. He has plenty of casual dates to keep him busy, family drama he’s trying to ignore and his advertising job to focus on. When Ben lands a huge ad campaign featuring movie star Anna Gardiner, however, it’s hard to keep it purely professional. Anna is not just gorgeous and sexy, she’s also down to earth and considerate, and he can’t help flirting a little…

Anna Gardiner is on a mission: to make herself a household name, and this ad campaign will be a great distraction while she waits to hear if she’s booked her next movie. However, she didn’t expect Ben Stephens to be her biggest distraction. She knows mixing business with pleasure never works out, but why not indulge in a harmless flirtation?

But their lighthearted banter takes a turn for the serious when Ben helps Anna in a family emergency, and they reveal truths about themselves to each other, truths they’ve barely shared with those closest to them.

When the opportunity comes to turn their real-life fling into something more for the Hollywood spotlight, will Ben be content to play the background role in Anna’s life and leave when the cameras stop rolling? Or could he be the leading man she needs to craft their own Hollywood ending?

When it comes to romantic contemporaries, I applaud Jasmine Guillory for creating such fantastically real and charming characters. In this sixth installment that features cameos of some fan favourites in her previous novels, While We Were Dating follows Ben Stephens, younger brother of a certain charming Theo Stephens, in his own endeavours with a Hollywood actress he’s working with.

I think the ordinary citizen meets celebrity trope is an interesting one that can either be something I really love or think it completely missed the mark. I unfortunately land closer to the latter with this novel. Maybe it comes down to both the individual characters and their romantic relationship.

Ben was someone who just liked to have a good time with many different women (no judgment), but was always a gentleman to every woman he was with. He avoided issues related to his dad and was seeing a therapist to maintain a healthy balance in the things he’s acknowledged need working in his life (kudos to him for this!). Meanwhile, Anna was just returning to the acting scene after a hard year struggling with anxiety on her own that made working as an actress particularly difficult. She was focused on building her career and didn’t have time for a relationship (that’s cool, I like a focused, ambitious woman). But I didn’t feel like this really made them three-dimensional characters. It was just one aspect of each of them, and it felt kind of bland to only focus on these “defining” traits because that’s what would fill the story and be the issues they’d have to conquer.

However, when these two were together, I can feel the sexual chemistry, for sure. That’s a given. But that doesn’t make for a relationship. They always just wanted to get into bed, and I wanted a bit more for them. Yes, Ben supported Anna when she most needed it, but the way they never quite worked out their issues together for most of the story bothered me.

If you’re a fan of the fake dating trope, that’s also thrown in here, but unfortunately at quite a late time in the novel. I wished we got to this part sooner because it was a little slow going prior to this decision. Perhaps more of the fake dating aspect would’ve made the story pace better, and given the romantic leads more than just chemistry to make their relationship feel real.

The ending was also at a point in time right where I was excited for what was about to happen. I suppose it wasn’t absolutely necessary to include the conversation I so desperately was curious about, but after setting up so much of Ben’s growth arc on that particular issue, I would’ve thought we would get more closure on it.

Regardless of my thoughts on the ending and romance of it, I always appreciate a book that highlights anxiety and mental health. We need to normalize more books discussing mental health, particularly in POC communities. I loved the way it was effortlessly placed in the story and how it impacted both Ben and Anna. People with anxiety definitely need a great support system to help, and I speak this with experience.

While this was probably my least favourite of Jasmine’s books, if you loved some of her other works, especially The Wedding Party, the book may work better for you than it did for me. I wouldn’t write it off completely.

Overall Recommendation:

While We Were Dating definitely featured some of the characters we’ve come to love in Jasmine Guillory’s other books, but I had a hard time loving our MCs, Ben and Anna. The ordinary citizen meets celebrity trope just didn’t work for me here when it felt like the only thing drawing these two together was sheer sexual chemistry and nothing else. Their individual characters felt too one-dimensional, focusing on one major aspect of their character or a current issue they were struggling with. The slower pacing for most of the book also made it hard to feel like continuing at times, but the fake dating trope that surprisingly was thrown in at a later point helped propel me to the end. I wished it was there earlier. The only highlight was the lovely normalization of mental health and therapy written throughout the novel that shows us how important this is, in both good times and the bad. I will still look forward to future books from Guillory but I hope it’ll settle better for me than this one did.

4 star, YA

Review: I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

Desi Lee believes anything is possible if you have a plan. That’s how she became student body president. Varsity soccer star. And it’s how she’ll get into Stanford. But—she’s never had a boyfriend. In fact, she’s a disaster in romance, a clumsy, stammering humiliation magnet whose botched attempts at flirting have become legendary with her friends.

So when the hottest human specimen to have ever lived walks into her life one day, Desi decides to tackle her flirting failures with the same zest she’s applied to everything else in her life. She finds guidance in the Korean dramas her father has been obsessively watching for years—where the hapless heroine always seems to end up in the arms of her true love by episode ten. It’s a simple formula, and Desi is a quick study.

Armed with her “K Drama Steps to True Love,” Desi goes after the moody, elusive artist Luca Drakos—and boat rescues, love triangles, and staged car crashes ensue. But when the fun and games turn to true feels, Desi finds out that real love is about way more than just drama.

I believed, and still believe, that you can build your dreams brick by brick. That you can accomplish anything with persistence.

Even falling in love.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is seriously the Asian rom-com I didn’t know I needed in my life. Desi’s drive to accomplish anything with her lists and Type-A attitude generally does achieve the results that she seeks. But not so much in her love life. But when she determines she can do so if only she had a guided list of steps to get a guy to fall for her, then it shouldn’t be so hard, right?

Where does one turn to when in need of romance guide? Why, of course, Korean dramas! Not only are they entertaining, it seems the characters all get the happily ever after they deserve: being together after multiple hardships.

Funny and wholly entertaining, Desi embarks to do just that when the perfect candidate enters her life: Luca Drakos, the new transfer to her high school. From setting up (mild) car accidents to kind of drifting into the ocean, Desi goes to great lengths to ensure this plan works!

I know from the outlook everything seems to be hilarious and hard to take serious, but there are certain more serious elements to the story. I like that Luca wasn’t just a “bad boy with the mysterious past” stereotype without exploring what exactly that past was or maybe where there was misunderstanding.

Representation was also wonderful, and I didn’t necessarily feel like they were completely throwaway. Desi’s two best friends, Fiona and Wes, aren’t East Asians and that’s awesome. In fact, Fiona is Mexican and I love that Desi is close enough to her family that her grandmother makes them Mexican cuisine when they’re over.

The one issue I had with the book was how much I personally enjoyed the romance. I know the whole point of the book is to get Luca to fall in love with her. And I did (kinda) believe that Desi developed such strong feelings for him the way that she did. Sometimes I wondered if she just liked him because he was cute and intriguing, the rest of it was that she wanted her plan to work, to get any guy to fall for her. Of course, I know she started really liking him as she got to know him (love triangles ensuing!), but it was a little bit quick in the beginning.

Then came the believability from Luca’s point of view. Sometimes I wondered after everything that had to happen in order for Desi to fulfill the steps on her list – and K dramas are known for having a lot of little events happening between the meet cute and happy ending – if Luca could still care for her in a romantic way. Is it weird that I semi wanted Desi to have a thing for Wes at times?

Overall, as rom-coms go (including Korean dramas!), predictability is part of the package. You can see where the misunderstandings would probably pop into the plot, and where the characters have the opportunity to make up – and hopefully declare their undying love for each other! This is also true of this book, but it’s part of the charm.

And at the end of the day, the important part is that love in all its messiness and unpredictability can be explored.

Yes, all the antics were fun, the cliches exhausting, and the drama dramatic. But in the end, they were about people sticking together through thick and thin, not knowing if it would work out. Real love: It was all about risk and having faith. There were no guarantees.

And that is why this novel was more than just its silliness and fun. Now I gotta go check out some K dramas! *peace out*

Overall Recommendation:

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is full of wonderful Korean drama references and a wholeheartedly fun love story as Desi embarks to get a guy to fall for her. Having always messed up so spectacularly with boys, overachiever Desi creates a guided plan based on every K drama in existence to help her out. With the new guy in school as her target, Desi pursues him with all that she’s got. Sometimes those antics were wildly crazy in my opinion, and sometimes it made me wonder how authentic a love this could be after all of this. So the romance may have faltered a little in my books, but the journey to love and its messiness when things inevitably fall away from the plan made up for it. Predictable, funny and an all-around sweet book with Asian representation (yay!), I look forward to more from Maurene Goo. And can’t wait until this is adapted on our small screens!