4 star, adult

Review: The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Public radio co-hosts navigate mixed signals in Rachel Lynn Solomon’s sparkling romantic comedy debut.

Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can’t imagine working anywhere else. But lately it’s been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who’s fresh off a journalism master’s program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.

When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it’s this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it’s not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.

As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.



The Ex Talk is a fun and heartwarming story about storytelling and connecting with one another. The premise follows two rival coworkers at a radio station, Shay and Dominic, who are told to host a new radio show about exes giving out relationship advice. First of all, do we trust the advice coming from people who have broken up? But then again, if this was a real podcast, I’d probably be one of the first to check it out, let’s be honest.

This enemies-to-lovers trope was super well done. It’s one of the tropes I enjoy reading about, but I find some books have too much bitterness in the initial relationship that I don’t feel the blooming love, or they were practically like friends from the start. It isn’t the case here. Shay and Dominic are very different people. She’s content with her place in life while he’s ambitiously shooting up the ladder as fast as he can, potentially stepping on a couple of toes in the process. I liked that their differences were honestly explored so that their attraction and eventual deeper feelings made sense. Otherwise, it would just be lust, wouldn’t it?

The pacing was a little slow going at first, but I learned a lot about being on the other side of public radio from these parts. We also have other focuses in this story, including Shay’s feelings about her mom remarrying after the loss of her dad a decade ago. I liked that we got so much insight into why radio was so important to her, and the ongoing struggle holding onto the one thing she shared with her dad.

Some interesting things that stuck to me from other books in the romance genre was:

A) Dominic was Korean and I loved that it’s such a nonchalant thing thrown in there. I don’t see nearly enough Asian male romantic leads who are not written by Asian authors. Plus, a bit of the Korean American culture is present when Dominic introduces his favourite Korean restaurant foods to Shay.

B) Shay is about 6 years older than Dominic, a fact that is constantly highlighted. While some people may think this is no big deal and the emphasis Shay made in her own mind about being with someone younger may seem annoying, I kind of get it, especially for people in their 20s with different milestone markers that you hit in the decade. I’m in my 20s and I empathize with what Shay is feeling. Dominic had just graduated from his masters while she had been working for several years now. Maybe he seemed a little young in that sense because he was just starting out.

It’s not quite the norm as much as older men dating women a lot younger than them or in different life stages. But that makes me like this change more because it’s not always seen, and it helps normalize this for hopefully future generations.

C) The show snippets between chapters were some of my favourites. I don’t read enough romances to know if this is absolutely unique, but I really enjoyed the transcripts for some of their episodes and fan reviews of the show. It created a little bubble of fun and airiness as a breath of fresh air even when the emotion of the story intensified.

I also liked the way Solomon went about concluding this story. It wasn’t super neat with a bow on top. There were messy feelings, real life decisions and an understanding that we may not always have it together or know where life is leading, but that’s okay. The romance felt real even with the issues that came up (um, lying to everyone on your show?). This book is definitely cute AND heartwarming, a nice dive into relationships and what makes or breaks them.

Overall Recommendations:

The Ex Talk has a fun premise about fake exes pretending to be exes to host a relationship show. As that description depicts, it’s a mix of laughter and intensity, especially when real feelings chase these rival coworkers where feelings should not exist. The pacing was steady and the emotions just ramp up as you cheer for Shay and Dominic for their show’s success but more importantly for their happiness that may only be found in each other. I liked this more than I initially thought, and it definitely left warm feelings in my heart long after the book was closed.

5 star, YA

Review: Influence by Sara Shepard and Lilia Buckingham

Get ready to delve into the world of teen influencers like you’ve never done before–from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS Sara Shepard and sixteen-year-old actress and social media personality Lilia Buckingham comes a twisty mystery that takes place in the fiercely competitive world of Internet stars.

After a video she makes goes viral, everyone knows Delilah Rollins. And now that she’s in LA, Delilah’s standing on the edge of something incredible. Everything is going to change. She has no idea how much.

Jasmine Walters-Diaz grew up in the spotlight. A child star turned media darling, the posts of her in her classic Lulu C. rainbow skirt practically break the Internet. But if the world knew who Jasmine really was, her perfect life? Canceled.

Fiona Jacobs is so funny–the kind of girl for whom a crowd parts–no wonder she’s always smiling! But on the inside? The girl’s a hot mess. And when someone comes out of the shadows with a secret from her past, it’s one that won’t just embarrass Fiona: it will ruin her.

Who wouldn’t want to be Scarlet Leigh? Just look at her Instagram. Scarlet isn’t just styled to perfection: she is perfection. Scarlet has a gorgeous, famous boyfriend named Jack and there’s a whole fanbase about their ship. To everyone watching online, their lives seem perfect . . . but are they really? The sun is hot in California . . . and someone’s going to get burned.



Feeling my inner part Gen-Z mentality coming out here, but this was the surprise of the year so far for me. Influence follows the life of three young girls either just starting out in a career on social media or growing up as a childhood star. While I particularly loved one girl over the others, I was delighted to learn so much about what being an influencer is like through their eyes. This was only possible due to the personal knowledge and experience by one of the authors, Lilia Buckingham, an actual influential teenager who stands for justice and pride.

The story flows amazingly, with short chapters alternating between our three girls. Delilah, otherwise known as Lila D, was new to the game, having a video of her rescuing an animal from a burning building shooting her to viral fandom. I loved her because I could understand her the most. The confusion in moving to L.A, and figuring out the kind of lifestyle and rhythm influencers partake to constantly create and stay relevant for their fans. I liked that she stayed true to herself throughout, not pandering a certain persona to people to gain fame.

Jasmine was also a delight to follow. Having been a popular child star in a program for children, she was forced to maintain that persona through a literal contract for her sponsors which included a clause for morals. As in she couldn’t do anything that was deemed inappropriate by parents. The question became, how do you find yourself if you could never actually be yourself and explore? Her whole character reminded me of Miley Cyrus, and now I have even more sympathy for her who had to really go through such an ordeal in real life. And perhaps even larger spectacle to shed such image.

Lastly, there was Fiona and I’m glad the authors included her. She suffers from OCD and carries a deep secret from the past that may have triggered more of symptoms. Trying to keep everything under control while remaining calm for her fans and upcoming acting jobs is hard. It doesn’t get any better when someone started blackmailing her about this secret!

We follow these three friends as they navigate the spotlight, influencer events and gigs. I love that the authors take the time to get us settled in with their lives, the secrets they harbour, and the internal storm they each face that never surfaces on the faces they share with their audiences.

Then, this becomes a true crime mystery! Someone dies.

If you know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE mysteries, particularly whodunnits. It was like the icing on the cake. From the whole slew of cast and characters we meet through each girl, there are so many potential suspects who may want this person gone. And because we understand the intricacies of relationships behind the scenes, it’s easier to put on our detective hats and guess along as we go.

There’s also some angsty romance like the cherry on top. Delilah finds herself in a snare when a guy she had a meet-cute moment with turns out to be some famous Youtuber who is in a relationship! Oh, what will happen from that? I’m just grinning at this whole setup because it’s cheesy but so perfectly executed amidst everything else in this book. It’s not the focus for sure, but it’s a big part of Delilah’s POV and totally adds to the story.

The overall message of Influence is that it’s hard to show our real selves online, even more so when you have crafted a persona for yourself that has exploded among your fan base to the point that its taken a life of its own. While most of us may never experience such fame and the intricate balance of staying true to ourselves online, the lesson is still real and relevant regardless of how many eyes are on us. Vulnerability is hard, whether thousands of people are watching or even just one, but it’s a choice we ultimately need to make if we want to figure out who we are. What is seen on the outside may not always represent who are are inside but that doesn’t have to remain the case forever.

It is always a choice we can make for ourselves. And I love that behind the fun premise of the life of influencers, Influence is ultimately about this. Find your voice and be true to yourself.

Overall Recommendation:

Influence gives interesting insight into the lives of social media influencers, and a whopping story of the facades we show the world. I loved the realness of the three protagonists and their individual struggles as they seek out recognition, fame and ultimately, themselves. The overall pacing was great, flipping between the different POVs, with the suspense ramping up when a mystery presented itself halfway. While it may seem like strictly a teen book, I feel this story has complex layers to it that will appeal to a wider audience. Ultimately, Influence makes us question what our true selves are and how willing we are to reach for it.

YA

Review: You Have a Match by Emma Lord

A REESE’S BOOK CLUB WINTER YA PICK

A new love, a secret sister, and a summer she’ll never forget.

From the beloved author of Tweet Cute comes Emma Lord’s You Have a Match, a hilarious and heartfelt novel of romance, sisterhood, and friendship…

When Abby signs up for a DNA service, it’s mainly to give her friend and secret love interest, Leo, a nudge. After all, she knows who she is already: Avid photographer. Injury-prone tree climber. Best friend to Leo and Connie…although ever since the B.E.I. (Big Embarrassing Incident) with Leo, things have been awkward on that front.

But she didn’t know she’s a younger sister.

When the DNA service reveals Abby has a secret sister, shimmery-haired Instagram star Savannah Tully, it’s hard to believe they’re from the same planet, never mind the same parents — especially considering Savannah, queen of green smoothies, is only a year and a half older than Abby herself.

The logical course of action? Meet up at summer camp (obviously) and figure out why Abby’s parents gave Savvy up for adoption. But there are complications: Savvy is a rigid rule-follower and total narc. Leo is the camp’s co-chef, putting Abby’s growing feelings for him on blast. And her parents have a secret that threatens to unravel everything.

But part of life is showing up, leaning in, and learning to fit all your awkward pieces together. Because sometimes, the hardest things can also be the best ones.



“If you learn to capture a feeling, it’ll always be louder than words.”

A good dive into sisterly bonds and family secrets, it definitely leaned into those elements but took its sweet time building up to a point where we might fully care about the secrets it can unearth.

Abby is the kind of protagonist where I don’t fully understand so it can be hard to find sympathy for her in certain occasions. She has no plans for the future, demeans those who find work through sources she thinks isn’t the most fun (like, she asks, do influencers even love what they do?), and plays jokes that take it a step too far because someone told on her for breaking multiple camp rules.

That someone being her sister, the one she didn’t know she had. I fully love and understand Savvy a lot more, and this book may have been different if I got to see it through her lens instead. She was a rule follower but she also balanced compassion too, not just a cold, robotic figure who doesn’t care about anything else.

But let me backtrack a little and explain my thoughts on this book. I came in with super high expectations (yet again, this is a Reese’s book club choice so it must be halfway decent right? AND it’s Emma Lord). I don’t know why I thought this would be more focused on the romance, or at least half of the book would be about Savvy and half about Leo. It didn’t turn out that way.

I loved the bits of Leo’s characterization we got to see. He unfortunately was more off-page than I had hoped while Savvy took centre stage during most of the book. He kept the peace but still spoke his mind when he wanted to steer Abby away from another harebrained scheme that bordered on reckless. He was a brilliant budding chef (I’ve been watching MasterChef lately and I could just picture Leo in such a competition) and teased his friends good-naturedly.

So the romance is limited, and pretty cliched if you think about it. I like you but am too afraid to tell you. He likes me but just didn’t find the right time to tell me. Timing is always off, but will it ever be right? It almost felt pointless to have the romance aspect of it except to be the excuse for Abby’s perpetual anxiety. I don’t feel it had to be this way. There are plenty of other things she could and was worried about.

While the pacing was slow for a lot of it, I did eventually grow curious about Abby and Savvy’s history and how their separation came to be. It had good resolution, even if a little predictable, but it was nice to see how family can work things out together with better communication.

However, if its purpose was to give me the feels, it also fell short on that. The only aspect of this book that gave me any sort of tingle was Abby’s grandfather who had passed away prior to this story.

Usually I’m not sad when people bring up Poppy, because I’m already thinking about him most of the time. He’s in the weight of his old camera strapped to my shoulder, in the periphery of every photo I take, squinting at the same views and humming his approval.

Maybe I’m just sentimental, especially about grandparents due to my own upbringing, but having Poppy there was a good touch to a book that just fell short emotionally for me on every other level. I just couldn’t bring myself to care tremendously unless I put in a lot of effort to.

If you’re looking for a sweet romantic read, there are many out there (including Emma’s debut) that are by far more well-suited to that. This book is about family, and the secrets we keep and the issues we bury until they come exploding out. If you come into knowing that’s what you’ll get, it may be better for you.

But even then, don’t expect the waterworks to come exploding.

Overall Recommendation:

You Have a Match sounds like it has the makings of a good romance and heartfelt sister reunion, but the product just fell short from its description. The focus definitely was on Abby and Savvy’s family secrets (how did she become adopted?!), while the crush on Leo was just relegated to the anxious headspace Abby constantly carries around with her. A lot more thinking about him than actually talking to him here. While the family aspect could be entertaining, you have to invest pretty deep into the book to get the answers you’ve come for. This wasn’t the worst book by far, but it definitely didn’t meet my high expectations for being a Reese’s book club pick.