Kate Clayborn’s recent Love Lettering invites readers to stroll New York City streets with a hopeful new friend. Meg and Reid met as Meg designed Reid’s wedding program, and he finds his way back to her office a year later because he discovers that she successfully guessed his relationship’s demise. Both at potential turning points in their life, they connect over their new goals. Clayborn utilizes the signs on the streets to give insight into the characters as they progress through their journeys on foot and in their hearts. They get their opportunities to step forward rather than stagnate, leaving readers with a reminder they too can face their obstacles to reach new heights. The signs point the way when they recognize the directives and follow.
Jasmine Guillory’s latest romance Party of Two surpassed my expectations. With more substance and maturity than her previous stories, these characters had me not only rooting for their relationship but celebrating their personal growth. Lawyer Olivia Monroe and junior senator Max Powell have more age and career experience under their belts than the leads from The Wedding Date and The Proposal, and this serves to their advantage. They have a sense of their values and goals and take the time to consider how their next steps might or might not progress them. The communication and reflection may seem like they would slow down the story, but it allows the readers to savor the romance as well as contemplate healthy relationship adjustments.
I read Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein with a friend as a fun way to connect while we don’t get to see each other. The story follows a predictable but fun romance plot when would have been Olympic gymnast Avery reconnects with another former athlete when she moves back to their hometown and they start working together. Their shared goal to get a talented gymnast into the 2020 Olympics makes a good central point for discussion points like the abuse scandal, career and purpose, healthy relationship dynamics, and more. While these issues don’t get detailed responses on the pages, the characters, particularly the women, make positive models for how empathy and empowerment can grow when people reflect and adjust. I would have loved to see more character development there but appreciate the strong frame. Overall, it makes a quick but fun and motivating read.
I recently have reread The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins and have discovered a deeper appreciation than I had for it when I first tore through the first installment’s pages this time eleven years ago. In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins paints us a society we tell ourselves differs greatly from ours but that deserves our attention as a warning. Children regularly face publicized death in a system citizens fear to speak against. When Katniss Everdeen volunteers in place of her sister Prim, she sees herself as sacrificing her life in place of Prim’s. Yet she ignites a spark of hope instead.
Though the first time around I brushed off Peeta Mellark, the male tribute from Katniss Everdeen’s District 12, I have found a deep appreciation for his steadfastness. Only glimpsed in this introduction to the series, he shows the most unconditional love and stable support of his team. Katniss may look to her interests first, even if they are foremost for her family, but Peeta holds true to his values. This requires a look beyond the supposedly boring exterior presented through his seemingly lack of strength. A second read allows this opportunity of greater study of all the characters as well as Panem’s structure as a society.
The Hunger Games has brought Suzanne Collins notoriety for a reason. The books have an action-packed plot, the love triangle expected in a YA book, and likable characters. Seemingly an escape from reality, it offers a springboard for considerations about sacrifice, unconditional love, strength in all its forms, control, and rebellion. It has stirred a lot of contemplation in my mind when it comes to sacrifice, unconditional love, and mental health, particularly where those topics merge. I owe this series a token of gratitude for helping me see the strengths of the Peeta in my life.
Emily Henry’s romantic Beach Read offers all you hope to find during a coastal getaway. Packed with the flirtatious fun expected in a romantic comedy, Gus and January’s banter have you grinning constantly. Both authors facing deadlines and writer’s block, the former rivals unite in creating a challenge to finish their new books. Clever connections to classic movies, budding love, and a fun story setup keep you glued to Beach Read. To prove the story goes beyond the “everything is roses” layer, it explores deep topics as well. These issues allow character and relationship exploration that seal the book as a full picture of love and personal growth.
Abby Jimenez’s latest romance The Happy Ever After Playlist came into my orbit thanks to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide. The quick banter between Sloan and Tucker hooked me immediately. I found myself smiling at their quips, rooting for the relationship to evolve. The Happy Ever After Playlist maintained its fun tone throughout but unpacked some weight later in the story. Seemingly small yet realistic issues came to light, showing the characters making tough decisions to balance personal, career, and relationship goals. Themes of resilience and friendship abounded as Abby Jimenez’s characters moved forward in their lives. The story made a delightful escape as I stayed home and walked through the delights involved with falling in love, stepping forward in a career, and building emotional strength after setbacks by reading Sloan’s story.
Sarah Addison Allen weaves magic into real life, and the enchanting Lost Lake does not disappoint. Emerging from her initial mourning period, widow Kate takes her daughter to Lost Lake for fresh perspective. The destination that used to draw crowds for vacations no longer holds its allure, but it still pulls Kate and Devin into its orbit. They connect with the regulars at the lake as they too face new adjustments. Together, they find hope and resilience no matter their ages. Rich in backstory, small town camaraderie, and love, Lost Lake has you rooting for its characters to reach their next growth point.
Last year I fell in love with Taylor Jenkin Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six immediately after its release, ready to read it again before I turned the last page. Her prior book The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo did not disappoint either. Following a similar interview style format, the story followed actress Evelyn Hugo over the course of her career and husbands. Reid immersed readers in the Hollywood lifestyle and reminded us appearances do not tell the whole story. Though on some levels I couldn’t relate to Evelyn, I found myself wrapped up in her tension to propel her career and to fulfill her desires for her home life. Success in both posed an impossible challenge. Then despite some unlikable characteristics, Monique finds her own resolve strengthening as she interviews the star. The growth there made a great catalyst for moving forward with a proper foundation, one possibly not found in Evelyn’s history. I adore Taylor Jenkin Reid’s writing style and voice and look forward to reading more, especially Daisy Jones again.
Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child warms your heart with its realistic grown up fairy tale. Jack and Mabel live in the 1920s where, rather than encountering a wicked witch, they face the Alaskan wilderness in winter as well as the loneliness of yearning for a child. After the first snow, they meet a little girl named Faina. She lives alone in the woods but befriends this sweet couple. Heartrending yet also hopeful, this story invites you to sit by the fireside to enjoy life and love. In the flickers of the fire, you glimpse the raw pain, tenderness, and joy of marriage.
Colm Toibin’s quiet and introspective novel Brooklyn delivers a beautiful character driven story about an Irish immigrant who lands in New York. Young and ready to work the job her sister and pastor helped her secure, Eilis adjusts to life in a new country. Sometimes she stands out due to her nationality, and others she sticks out because she upholds a higher level of ethic than her housemates. Her experiences feel so real, I believed I really could see through her eyes. The uncertainty she faces, the joy and love she discovers, and the hope she holds all keep me rooting for her. Realistic and raw, this story shares a universal optimism.
In case you were wondering about the movie, this is one of those few times where the film is as good as, or maybe even better, than the book. Somehow it made a quiet entrance at the box office and appearance at the Oscars, but it deserves to be noticed as much as Eilis does.