Book Recs: To All the Books I’ve Loved Before

In honor of the release of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before: P.S. I Still Love You on Netflix, and the triumphant debut of Jordan Fisher as the one and only John Ambrose McLaren, I wanted to make a list of some of books with my favorite romances, as well as some faves that aren’t romance-centric. One of my favorite aspects of the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before books is the emphasis on the relationships between Lara Jean and her sisters. While the romance is adorable and the main drive of the trilogy, the different dynamics Lara Jean has with Margot and Kitty are what really made the books stand out to me. So, if you’re in the mood to cuddle up with a good book, a cup of tea, a pup or a human, I have some recommendations for you based on some of my favorite elements in the TATBILB trilogy!

For those in the mood for sweet, contemporary romances with little to no angst and a whole lotta heart:

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

Synopsis: What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

If you are friends with or follow me on Goodreads, then you probably witnessed me read Red, White & Royal Blue twice within one week because my book hangover was that intense. This is exactly the kind of NA, super affirming, wholesome, hilarious, and hopeful book that I needed, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.

Love From A to Z by S.K. Ali

Synopsis: marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes—because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.

But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry. When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her. Then her path crosses with Adam’s.

Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father.

Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. Until a marvel and an oddity occurs…

Marvel: Adam and Zayneb meeting.
Oddity: Adam and Zayneb meeting.

How do I begin to describe Love From A to Z? It’s flawless. I hear Zayneb’s iconic blue hijabs are insured for a million dollars. One time, she punched me in the face with the power of her words, and it. was. awesome.

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

Synopsis: Meet Pepper, swim team captain, chronic overachiever, and all-around perfectionist. Her family may be falling apart, but their massive fast-food chain is booming ― mainly thanks to Pepper, who is barely managing to juggle real life while secretly running Big League Burger’s massive Twitter account.

Enter Jack, class clown and constant thorn in Pepper’s side. When he isn’t trying to duck out of his obscenely popular twin’s shadow, he’s busy working in his family’s deli. His relationship with the business that holds his future might be love/hate, but when Big League Burger steals his grandma’s iconic grilled cheese recipe, he’ll do whatever it takes to take them down, one tweet at a time.

All’s fair in love and cheese ― that is, until Pepper and Jack’s spat turns into a viral Twitter war. Little do they know, while they’re publicly duking it out with snarky memes and retweet battles, they’re also falling for each other in real life ― on an anonymous chat app Jack built.

As their relationship deepens and their online shenanigans escalate ― 
people on the internet are shipping them?? ― their battle gets more and more personal, until even these two rivals can’t ignore they were destined for the most unexpected, awkward, all-the-feels romance that neither of them expected.

It’s like Emma Lord reached down into the depths of my soul and my love for all things rom-com, grilled cheese, and punny, and wrote Tweet Cute to be even more amazing than I could have ever imagined. 10/10 rating on Yelp, for sure.

If you’re looking for a high stakes fantasy/sci-fi book where people accidentally find love in the midst of deception:

Crier’s War by Nina Varela

Synopsis: After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, designed to be the playthings of royals, usurped their owners’ estates and bent the human race to their will.

Now Ayla, a human servant rising in the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging her family’s death…by killing the sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier.

Crier was Made to be beautiful, flawless, and to carry on her father’s legacy. But that was before her betrothal to the enigmatic Scyre Kinok, before she discovered her father isn’t the benevolent king she once admired, and most importantly, before she met Ayla.

Now, with growing human unrest across the land, pressures from a foreign queen, and an evil new leader on the rise, Crier and Ayla find there may be only one path to love: war.

I’ve never, ever in my life wanted a robot and a human to kiss MORE than when I was reading Crier’s War. Not only is the enemies-to-lovers, different species trope done extremely well, Nina Varela also tackles the complexities of politics and representational government and we HAVE to stan!

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Synopsis: Maia Tamarin dreams of becoming the greatest tailor in the land, but as a girl, the best she can hope for is to marry well. When a royal messenger summons her ailing father, once a tailor of renown, to court, Maia poses as a boy and takes his place. She knows her life is forfeit if her secret is discovered, but she’ll take that risk to achieve her dream and save her family from ruin. There’s just one catch: Maia is one of twelve tailors vying for the job.

Backstabbing and lies run rampant as the tailors compete in challenges to prove their artistry and skill. Maia’s task is further complicated when she draws the attention of the court magician, Edan, whose piercing eyes seem to see straight through her disguise.

And nothing could have prepared her for the final challenge: to sew three magic gowns for the emperor’s reluctant bride-to-be, from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. With this impossible task before her, she embarks on a journey to the far reaches of the kingdom, seeking the sun, the moon, and the stars, and finding more than she ever could have imagined.

How could I not include my favorite read of 2019 in this list? Spin the Dawn is beautifully written, with Chinese mythology and cultural influences interwoven throughout the entire book, and Edan and Maia are just! so! dang! sweet!

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Synopsis: At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love? 

So I was a little late to the game in reading We Set the Dark on Fire, but now that I’ve read it, I am obsessed. It is incredibly profound, timely, and holds nothing back when it comes to critical commentary on the terrible treatment of immigrants and marginalized communities.

In case you’re feeling like a (found) family-centric novel but want little a romance, as a treat:

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

Synopsis: Anna Chiu has her hands pretty full looking after her brother and sister and helping out at her dad’s restaurant, all while her mum stays in bed. Dad’s new delivery boy, Rory, is a welcome distraction and even though she knows that things aren’t right at home, she’s starting to feel like she could just be a normal teen.

But when Mum finally gets out of bed, things go from bad to worse. And as Mum’s condition worsens, Anna and her family question everything they understand about themselves and each other.

A nourishing tale about the crevices of culture, mental wellness and family, and the surprising power of a good dumpling.

I’ve already written a love letter to The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling in my post featuring my little light up xiaolongbao here, but while Anna and Rory are adorable to say the least, what truly makes this book unforgettable is the rocky path Anna’s family goes on to reconnect with each other.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

Synopsis: It’s 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure-hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: An engineer with a debt to pay. A historian banished from his home. A dancer with a sinister past. And a brother in arms if not blood.

Together, they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history–but only if they can stay alive. 

If you’re looking for a heist book with an incredible found family dynamic, diverse (!!! in so many ways!!) characters, and originally, beautifully intricate world-building, with just a dash of should we, shouldn’t we pining, definitely pick up The Gilded Wolves.

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

Synopsis: Princess Hesina of Yan has always been eager to shirk the responsibilities of the crown, but when her beloved father is murdered, she’s thrust into power, suddenly the queen of an unstable kingdom. Determined to find her father’s killer, Hesina does something desperate: she engages the aid of a soothsayer—a treasonous act, punishable by death… because in Yan, magic was outlawed centuries ago.

Using the information illicitly provided by the sooth, and uncertain if she can trust even her family, Hesina turns to Akira—a brilliant investigator who’s also a convicted criminal with secrets of his own. With the future of her kingdom at stake, can Hesina find justice for her father? Or will the cost be too high?

In this shimmering Chinese-inspired fantasy, debut author Joan He introduces a determined and vulnerable young heroine struggling to do right in a world brimming with deception.

Descendant of the Crane is, in my opinion, criminally underrated. Joan He’s writing is stunning, her political intrigue is top-notch, and her characters are full of the tiny (and not so tiny) flaws that make us human.

And last but not least, if reading a book full of romance is the last thing you feel like doing:

Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor

Synopsis: A secret beats inside Anna Thatcher’s chest: an illegal clockwork heart. Anna works cog by cog — donning the moniker Technician — to supply black market medical technology to the sick and injured, against the Commissioner’s tyrannical laws.

Nathaniel Fremont, the Commissioner’s son, has never had to fear the law. Determined to earn his father’s respect, Nathaniel sets out to capture the Technician. But the more he learns about the outlaw, the more he questions whether his father’s elusive affection is worth chasing at all.

Their game of cat and mouse takes an abrupt turn when Eliza, a skilled assassin and spy, arrives. Her mission is to learn the Commissioner’s secrets at any cost — even if it means betraying her own heart.

When these uneasy allies discover the most dangerous secret of all, they must work together despite their differences and put an end to a deadly epidemic — before the Commissioner ends them first.

While I haven’t had the chance to read this yet, Tarnished Are the Stars has been on my list for ages. There’s ace, aro, and lesbian rep, and Rosiee Thor explores questions of morality and ethics, which, combined with sci-fi, is one of my many forms of kryptonite.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Synopsis: Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself – but first she has to make it there, alive.

I actually wrote an entire paper on questions of assimilation and cultural appropriation that Binti raised for me when I read it for class, and I highly recommend it to sci-fi fans who want a coming-of-age story that also deals with colorism, racism, xenophobia, and much more. It also has the bonus of being part of a trilogy, so if you love Binti, your journey together doesn’t have to end with the first book.

The Black Veins by Ashia Monet

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Blythe is one of seven Guardians: magicians powerful enough to cause worldwide panic with a snap of their fingers. But Blythe spends her days pouring latte art at her family’s coffee shop, so why should she care about having apocalyptic abilities?

She’s given a reason when magician anarchists crash into said coffee shop and kidnap her family.

Heartbroken but determined, Blythe knows she can’t save them alone. A war is brewing between two magician governments and tensions are too high. So, she packs up her family’s bright yellow Volkswagen, puts on a playlist, and embarks on a road trip across the United States to enlist the help of six strangers whose abilities are unparalleled—the other Guardians.

Sometimes, I really love the power of Twitter. After repeatedly seeing Ashia Monet’s tweets pop up on my feed, I took the plunge and hit the “follow” button, and was way too excited when I saw that she had published a book that had my favorite found family dynamic…without romance. I can’t wait to read this and stan it just as hard as I stan Ashia herself.

Whether you’re spending time with a significant other, family, or friends you consider family, I hope you’re all reminded of some of the many kinds of loves in your life and that you continue to love yourselves and your shelves, always.

Love always,

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