We are unbelievably excited to launch Love Yo Shelf 2.0!! For a while, Love Yo Shelf manifested as an idea, where we really wanted to evoke specific feelings of welcome and warmth for anyone who visited our blog, but we lacked a cohesive image that truly represented both that feeling and what the blog meant to us. After a lot of chaotic back and forth through text, plus a bare bones “sketch” in Nana’s notes app that will never see the light of day, we landed on a concept that combined the best parts of the blog, and were extremely lucky to work with Vinny @ Film and Fiction for our redesign. Now, Love Yo Shelf looks how it’s always made us feel, and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it!Read more
For such short novellas, Nghi Vo sure does pack a punch. For those of you who have been with us for a while, you already know that here at Love Yo Shelf, we love, well, love. A good love story, whether it’s between lovers, friends, enemies, or even places, stays with you for a long time in the most subtle ways. The Singing Hills Cycle is no different. Both stories create such vibrant histories with truly remarkable characters who reminded me how important it is to do everything with empathy, wit, and all the strength I can muster.
Synopsis: A young royal from the far north is sent south for a political marriage. Alone and sometimes reviled, she has only her servants on her side. This evocative debut chronicles her rise to power through the eyes of her handmaiden, at once feminist high fantasy and a thrilling indictment of monarchy.
When I first started The Empress of Salt and Fortune, I must admit I was a bit confused (though, mostly because of my tendency to forget what I’ve read in synopses), but once it clicked into place, I couldn’t finish it quickly enough. The Empress of Salt and Fortune was inventive and masterfully told from the unexpected perspective of handmaiden Rabbit to cleric Chih and their sassy companion, Almost Brilliant. The significance of the recording of history takes center stage in both stories in entirely different ways. In TEOSAF, the significance lies in the act of remembering.
Accuracy above all things. You will never remember the great if you do not remember the small.
As Rabbit recalls the tale of Empress In-yo in pieces, it becomes clear that these large aspects of their lives come from and produce small, seemingly obscure meanings, and In-yo becomes living proof that meaning is made. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum, because we as people don’t exist in a vacuum. One of my favorite aspects of this story is that In-yo herself is a living memory; Rabbit’s recollection of her breathes life into every laugh, every secret code, and every order that she’s given. In every way, The Empress of Salt and Fortune was a love letter written to all the women who had been forgotten in In-yo’s story, pieces of their power being returned to them the more Chih learns.
Empress In-yo herself is truly the embodiment of strength (that being said without ever actually meeting her), and her relationship with Rabbit is one of the most quietly intricate and thoroughly heart-wrenching loves I’ve been able to read about. Again I say, in such few words, Nghi Vo has excelled in the art of making the words count.
Synopsis: The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.
Although When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain can be read as a standalone, I highly recommend reading them together; the feeling was something magical. In this story of Anh, the significance of recording history lies in how a story gets remembered, and how time and people twist the truth.
So question it now.
Instead of Chih being in the position to record an untold story, they must now tell a story in their attempts to stay alive. The story of the tiger Ho Thi Thao and the scholar Trung Dieu is one that was told to Chih as a child, and one that they’re forced to question now when faced with tigers who might know the story a different way. Normally, when we read stories about two different sides, they’re stories of victors and heroes, but in a story of love and betrayal, warped by time and ego, how do decide which story to tell?
As Chih told their story – and the tigers stepped in to correct their version of it – I found myself transported to Anh, watching a history change in front of me. Where In-yo’s story was a love letter to forgotten women and those who are regaining their power, Ho Thi Thao and Dieu’s story was a love letter to what once was. Together, The Singing Hills Cycle is a lyrical test of time and love, and serves as a reminder to question the stories we’re told because at the end of the day, what we learn from them is due to how they’re told, what we make of them, and how we carry them afterwards.
In case you couldn’t tell, The Singing Hills Cycle has quickly become a favorite comfort read of mine. On top of being a quick read, they’re the kinds of stories that sneak up on you bit by bit, and leave you with a sense of yearning for more.
If you’re planning to read When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain when it comes out Dec. 8, don’t forget to (re)read The Empress of Salt and Fortune. If you can think of any other favorite dual-sided stories, list them down in the comments for everyone to check out!
Links to The Singing Hills Cycle:
Until my next love letter to you,
Thank you to Wednesday Books for sending me an ARC of the book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All quotes are from an advance copy and are subject to change in final publication.
Synopsis: 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.
Emma Lord’s debut, Tweet Cute, is one of my comfort reads for rainy days, so I had high hopes for her sophomore novel. With a knack for sort of wacky, but nonetheless fun and heartwarming plots, Lord is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary authors as she continues to interweave complex family relationships and emotions in an extremely relatable way. However, it is important to note that You Have a Match contains multiple Harry Potter references throughout the book, so I would just be mindful of that for readers who are trying to avoid engaging with Rowling’s work as much as possible.
As someone who has literally never attended camp before in her entire life, You Have a Match was a surprisingly nostalgic and charming read. Although I didn’t have any camp-related memories of my own to reminisce over, I used to devour the Camp Confidential series by Melissa J. Morgan, and You Have a Match dug up old memories of conspiring and whispering with my cousin and getting up to mischief with my friends from orchestra after hours of practicing together. There are some books that, while far from perfect, still manage to leave their mark because they come into your life at exactly the right time, and this was definitely the case for me. Maybe it was the childhood best friends to lovers of it all, maybe it was the sheer The Parent Trap vibes, but whatever it was, You Have a Match transformed me into a puddle of tears.
If you learn to capture a feeling, he told me, it’ll always be louder than words.
Annie and Halle Abby and Savvy and Camp Confidential
One of the things that I love most about reading recent YA contemporaries is seeing different manifestations of anxiety through different characters; I genuinely believe that if I had had some of these books when I was in high school, I would have realized that I had anxiety a lot sooner. On the surface, our narrator, Abby Day, seems like a reckless, impulsive, conflict-avoiding teen who’s struggling in school, but as multiple people point out during the book, a lot of what Abby sees as her most negative traits are actually caused by anxiety. She’s used to staying silent and repressing her own feelings in order to keep the peace, but throughout her time at Camp Reynolds, where she’s conspiring with her sister to uncover the mystery of their parents’ past, Abby learns how to be brave and advocate for herself and what she wants. And, thanks to Savvy, Abby finally knows what that is.
Savannah “Savvy” Tully is #goals. She’s a wellness machine with an Instagram following of half a million people, and her fans are even known as Savanatics. She’s also the complete opposite of her younger sister Abby. Savvy has a need for control that Abby can’t relate to, one that makes her seem less approachable, but Savvy’s grip on her life actually comes from her desire for freedom. When she’s in control, it means other people aren’t, and for Savvy, that almost feels like autonomy. Savvy and Abby both have something to learn from the other, even as they’re just barely starting to get to know each other and far from figuring out how to be sisters after so many years.
Abby and Savvy are naturally the most well-developed characters in You Have a Match because it is their story, but I also grew very fond of their friends, Leo, Connie, Mickey, and Finn. More than anything, I really appreciated how Leo, Mickey, and Finn frequently call Abby out on her snap judgments of Savvy. While they all develop their own relationships with Abby and Savvy as individuals, the other campers are still strong advocates of their friends, and challenge Abby about her attitude towards Savvy and encourage her to give her sister a chance. Friends should support you and lift you up, but they should also care enough to call you out when you’re in the wrong and help you do better – both Abby and savvy are lucky to have friends who do just that.
Brave. It’s a word I’m still getting used to, after a lifetime of ducking from my problems. But maybe I’m growing into it, in my own way. A little less running and a little more talking. A little less wandering and a little more found.
The Plot: Found Family (Literally)
At this point I wouldn’t be surprised if someone’s 23&Me test actually did reveal they had a full-blooded sibling who had half a million Instagram followers, but also it’s that just barely believable, ridiculous Parent Trap kind of situation that raises the stakes of the book while still being wildly entertaining. You Have a Match is a wild ride from start to finish, but while some of it may require a suspension of belief in order to enjoy the read, there’s an honesty and rawness to the emotions and experiences of the characters that I, for one, wasn’t expecting.
When we meet Abby, she’s still grieving her late grandfather, Poppy, and struggling to navigate a world without him in it. On top of that, her parents are so intent on helping her get her grades up that she barely has any free time between school and tutoring, which means things between her and her two best friends, Connie and Leo, are still pretty awkward because of the BEI – big embarrassing incident. But when Abby decides to do a DNA test to be supportive of Leo, she never expects to receive a message from Savvy, telling her they’re full-blooded sisters and asking if she wants to meet. They hatch a plot to go to Camp Reynolds together to try and uncover the reason why Abby’s parents put Savvy up for adoption, and why they never told Abby she had a sister, but their shared history is far more complicated than either of them could have expected.
The plot of You Have a Match is pretty far-fetched, to say the least, but the heart of the story contains messages that can hit home even for people who don’t find a surprise sibling through an ancestry website. Emma Lord tackles sibling relationships, family communication, loss, change, and trying to find a sense of belonging, but perhaps most impressively of all, she almost made me want to go to summer camp.
I think in life you can know you’re loved without peering too closely at the edges of it.
Reasons to Recommend You Have a Match
Abby’s friendship with Connie and Leo may have been my favorite part of the book because it is simultaneously so simple and not simple at all. They’re there for each other unconditionally, without question and without hesitation, and yet there is an undeniable awkwardness hanging over their little group because of Abby’s feelings for Leo and how they might shift the group dynamic. This was, unfortunately, all too relatable, because I was in the same exact situation with two other friends not just once, but twice. With the same people, just different roles. RIP high school Lauren, am I right.
But change is scary, and all of the characters work through that in their own ways. The misunderstanding between Abby and Connie is directly caused by Connie’s fear of change which, in some ways, is shared by Abby, who is desperately trying to get back some sense of normality after the BEI with Leo. Abby also has to contend with the fact that meeting Savvy means her life is inexplicably changed forever, and she’s initially not sure if that change is welcome. Is her relationship with Savvy worth altering the one she has with her parents, or is she making a huge mistake by digging into a past that’s been hidden from her? Abby can’t know for sure, so she just has to take a leap of faith – we all do, sometimes, and I think I needed that reminder.
And while change can be a great thing, it can also bring with it a peculiar kind of grief. Abby is no stranger to grief, but after meeting Savvy, she starts to grieve the relationship she once had with her parents before she realizes that what comes after might just be better after all. Abby discovers what she wants, how to ask for it, and how to make it happen while she’s at Camp Reynolds; she learns how to be brave, and that grounds her even when it feels like her entire world is shifting.
Overall, You Have a Match evoked feelings of nostalgia and wistfulness that I barely even knew I had about high school – because good God, who wants to go back to high school?? I recommend this to fans of The Parent Trap and Jenny Han, and anyone who wants some ridiculous, heartfelt charm in their lives.
Add it on Goodreads!
Will you be picking up a copy of You Have a Match? Have you, unlike me, actually gone to summer camp and had fun??
Let me know in the comments below!
Thank you to Margaret K. McElderry Books for an e-ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. All quotes are from an advance copy and are subject to change in final publication.
Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Chloe Gong
Publication Date: November 17th, 2020
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: Digital ARC via publisher
Age Range & Genre: YA, historical fantasy, romance
Content warnings: murder, gore, violence, death, loss of loved ones, disease/sickness, self-harm & suicide, transphobia, racism, colonialism, insects
This post is brought to you by people apparently claiming that anything containing a magic school or a school in general is a rip off of Harry Potter and is sponsored by my ensuing indignation and outrage.
Every once in a while, I’ll be doom-scrolling on Twitter and will come across a screenshot from Goodreads, which, despite its name, never actually means anything good, at least in terms of book-ish opinions. I think the most recent one that personally infuriated me was someone’s review of The Poppy War, comparing it to Harry Potter because – and I kid you not – the main character attends an academy. That’s it. Because comparing a series that is written by a woman of color and is based on the second Sino-Japanese War to one written by a known terf is perfectly acceptable. The existence of an academy is, for some people, enough to prove that the author directly took inspiration from one series in particular instead of literally anything else. That was probably the last straw for me, because at this point, I’m just tired.Read more
Title: Malcolm and Me
Author: Robin Farmer
Publication Date: November 17, 2020
Genre and age range: historical fiction, middle grade
Many thanks to Paige Herbert (publicist) for reaching out and providing a digital copy for an honest and unbiased review.
Something my history teacher used to say a lot was, “History may not exactly repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” Reading Malcolm and Me, I could see so much of what he meant, though it confused me at the time. Robin Farmer finds the connections between her own past during the Black Power Movement and the world we live in today. As someone with a little brother and cousin around Roberta’s age, I found myself questioning what it might mean for them to read this with me (Aiden is starting it as we speak!).
The genius of Robin Farmer’s novel is that although I’d class it as middle grade/early YA, it creates a familiar enough environment that feels good to learn in, yet challenges young people to consider things that they may be exposed to for the first time. As a character, Roberta is empowering and fun and everything I wished I was – at only 13 years old! We watch Roberta get hit by some of the worst life has to offer a Black girl in Catholic school in the early 70’s in America, and she uses her own genius to pull herself through it all. At such a developmental age it was inspiring to watch her make sense of the world around her, ugly bits and all, using history as inspiration to do what she knows best.
On top of Roberta being the most powerful 13 year old I’ve ever (kinda) met, the novel itself generates and fosters such a deep interest in history and literature. In the middle of her own personal struggles, Roberta reads Malcolm X’s autobiography and builds a relationship with him as a way to cope, which in itself leads her down her own revolutionary path. On the other side of things, she questions the relationship she’s had with God as the traditions of her Catholic school prove to have problematic and tangled roots. She sets the stage for some difficult questions to ask – and very few adults willing to answer them with honesty – and personally, it provided a much-needed perspective, especially as age plays a role.
At its core, Malcolm and Me highlights how Roberta is learning to grow up, which often comes with emotional and spiritual growing pains. All of the new experiences she’s gaining comes with new ways of understanding the world around her, and herself, which collide in her heart and stretch it out to the point of breaking. Much like anyone else, she learns how easy it is to want to hate the people that hurt her, to make them want to see it and soak it in. For a middle-school aged audience and their initial introductions to the complexity of the world, this would be a great novel to read for class, or even with the adults/older siblings in their lives. Again, the genius of this novel is that it pulls out very key experiences for many adolescents’ development while also touching on a highly nuanced perspective, introducing a younger audience to a world that isn’t black and white, which means the people aren’t either.
If there are young people in your life who enjoy reading and rebelling, do you think they’d like reading about Roberta and Malcolm?
On November 17th, you can find it at the following links:
Until then, add it on Goodreads!
The longest/shortest year ever is finally coming to an end, and I’ve already surpassed my original Goodreads challenge of reading at least 60 books!! This is a huge deal for me as I went nearly four years without reading much at all, and reading 50 books last year was a bit of a struggle, so I’m thrilled that I’ve seemed to find a good place with reading again. I’ve already bumped my goal up to 75, but since I just finished my 70th book, I think I’m going to try for 85-90 by January 1, 2021 – wish me luck!
At the beginning of the year, I set a goal of reading 41-50 books by Asian authors in 2020 as a part of the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge hosted by CW, Shealea, Lily, and Vicky. With a little under 2 months left to go to complete the challenge, I thought I’d do a little update on my progress!Read more
Title: A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow
Author: Laura Taylor Namey
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Age range and genre: YA contemporary romance