Hello readers! It’s been a jam-packed summer, so please pardon this late post about new book releases. Unlike my first round of reviewing Advance Reader Copies (ARCs), my book picks for the month of June weren’t great, so I’ve instead reviewed two books for July and one for August. 

I’m so glad to be reading on the regular (mostly) after so long. Big thanks to NetGalley for these ARCs!

Stirring Up Love

by Chandra Blumberg

Publication date: 26 July 2022
Genre(s): Adult, romance, contemporary 
Rating: 4 stars

CWs: Click here for the full list of warnings divided by graphic, moderate, and minor.

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Forced proximity. Lovable characters. More than meets the eye. 

Simone Blake and Finn Rimes couldn’t seem more different from each other. Yet, they’re about to face off in a competition that will determine who gets to chase their culinary dreams. What happens when they’re pushed together? 

I didn’t expect to read a story that starts with a turf war over barbecue sauce, but I’m so glad I did. Here’s another win for the enemies-to-lovers trope! Stirring Up Love is the perfect mix of real, entertaining, and cheesy. It will undoubtedly make you feel warm and fluttery, and I can’t recommend it enough. The chemistry and banter reminded me of a classic 2000s romcom! 

I’ve grown weary of the miscommunication trope, but if the characters are as nuanced as Simone and Finn, I’m willing to give it a go. I liked getting to know what made each of them tick through the dual third-person perspective, which did a great job of balancing both characters’ experiences. My main criticism is that the pacing is wonky, partly because so much of the story takes place during a road trip. 

Like many reviewers, I too believe that men written by women are the best. Finn always managed to pull at my heartstrings with his sincere efforts to acknowledge and overcome his past, eventually opening up to Simone, who shares his hope of belonging somewhere. Simone is a fierce, passionate woman who has recently returned to her family and former hometown. I found myself relating to her insecurities about fitting in and proving herself. And as a fellow woman of color, it means so much to see more stories written by and about WOC. 

Thank you Chandra Blumberg for this gem!

Boys I Know

by Anna Gracia

Publication date: 26 July 2022
Genre(s): Young Adult (YA), romance, contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars

CWs: Click here for the full list of warnings divided by graphic, moderate, and minor.

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June Chu is a messy, well-meaning teenager who has my whole heart. 

This story tackles important topics like coming of age while faced with cultural expectations, love, and more. Anna Gracia’s writing is honest, vulnerable, and real. 

Right off the bat, what struck me was the author’s note about how being a part of the Asian diaspora has been a barrier in their life. You can tell that they put a lot of thought into trying to capture this through June’s experiences! Though my own diaspora experience was different, I found myself relating to this book, especially trying to define one’s cultural identity while constantly chafing under the weight of “What will people think of you?” 

There are parts of this book I found frustrating, both in terms of the writing and the character development, which also made it harder to sympathize with June. But what kept me invested was how carefully the author captured an experience I haven’t read about in many YA books: being a young person who is so used to disappointing people that their fear of failure stops them from making an effort altogether. Impossible standards make us—especially when we are younger—so desperate to please everyone. In June’s case, this also meant seeking validation in romantic relationships (even toxic ones). All of this resonated with me, and I liked seeing June’s growth and imperfections, despite the secondhand anxiety I felt.
Lastly, the fraught relationship between June and her mom reminds me of the film Lady Bird (2017) as well as Lane and Mrs. Kim from Gilmore Girls (2000–2007). It blows my mind to think about how these experiences are so rooted in specific cultures, while also being universal for so many outside those contexts.

Goblin Market

by Diane Zahler

Publication date: 16 August 2022
Genre(s): Fantasy, horror, middle grade*
Rating: 3 stars 

CWs: Click here for the full list of warnings divided by graphic, moderate, and minor.

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Goblin Market is a dark whimsy tale that combines sisterhood, fairytales, and adventure. 

I loved reading about the sisters’ relationship, the vivid setting, and the Polish folklore. 

It was difficult to get invested in this story because I found myself wishing that the author had spent more time on world-building and character growth. But Lizzie, the protagonist, kept me hooked! She is a dynamic, relatable narrator—I especially empathized with her sensitive nature and her tendency to get overstimulated by touch and loud sounds. I love how her neurodivergence is normalized and found it interesting to read about how she sees sounds as colors (Synesthesia). 

If you’re already ready for fall and the start of spooky season, this is an enjoyable read to get you in the mood! Also, check out Christina Rossetti’s poem, ‘Goblin Market,’ the basis for Zahler’s retelling. 

*Please note that this book is categorized as middle grade, but its darker contents might be more suited for young adults and older.

Thanks for reading! What are some new books you’re excited about?