December 2020 Mini Reviews: Contemporary Edition

I always try to write reviews within 1-3 days right after finishing the book, but winter break brain has gotten to me – I’m not necessarily feeling guilty about this because I minimized as much time as possible on my laptop over the holidays and ate up as many books as possible. Between blogging in chunks this month and reading so, so much, I have plenty of mini reviews ready to go, including today’s reviews focused on contemporary romance and adult contemporary.

I know I usually include only 3 books in my mini review round-ups, but I decided to go with 5 of my recent reads from December since some of my reviews are on the shorter side (with the exception of one where I ranted a bit longer than I first thought while drafting the review, oops).

Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

I’ve been doing my best to keep up with as many new contemporary romances as possible in 2020, which led me to pick up Jane Igharo’s debut novel, Ties That Tether. Its cover immediately caught my attention one day while scrolling through bookstagram and I was equally intrigued by its synopsis. The novel follows Azere, a twenty-five year old Nigerian Canadian woman who has always been pressured by her family to only marry a Nigerian man. Azere’s mom is always setting her up on dates with Nigerian men, and feels even more pressured after promising her father before he died that she would marry a Nigerian man. Things get complicated for Azere when she meets Rafael, who is everything Azere wants in a guy…except he’s white. Things get even MORE complicated for Azere and Rafael when their one night stand turns into something a lot more complicated than they could have imagined.

Although it has some classic contemporary romance lightness and humor, Ties That Tether is definitely one of the more serious contemporary romances I’ve read for its discussions surrounding race, ethnicity, and culture. I haven’t read a contemporary romance that deals with a conflict like the pressure Azere feels from her family to marry a man from her culture. The book goes beyond who Azere should marry, as Azere has felt she has never been able to embrace both of her cultures as a Nigerian AND Canadian woman. 

What I ultimately wasn’t didn’t like about Ties That Tether was the romance. I was never really super in love with Rafael, and I didn’t think the few chapters from his perspective were necessary. Although they added some mystery, I think his big reveals would’ve still be impactful strictly coming from Azere’s perspective. I really thought at one point that Azere was perhaps going to realize that Rafael wasn’t the guy for her. I never really felt any deep chemistry between them, which could’ve resulted from the fact that they both have something to hide. I wish Azere would have been honest with him earlier about how her family feels about who she should marry. I also wasn’t super in love with the love triangle, as Azere’s mom keeps pressuring her to date a guy from her past… and he keeps just randomly showing up??

I enjoyed the book mostly for Azere’s personal growth and as much as she killed me for her stubborness, seeing how Azere and mom would resolve their conflict. I know a few readers have been mixed on revealing this spoiler, so I’ll stay vague, but there’s an added layer to Azere and Rafael’s relationship that I personally haven’t read too much in contemporary romances. An addition to their relationship (trying to be as non-spoilery as possible) puts so much pressure on their progress and causes more anger from Azere’s mom. Although Ties That Tether isn’t my new favorite contemporary romance, I enjoyed it because the novel tackles a few themes and plot elements I personally haven’t encountered  too much in other contemporary romances.

A Princess for Christmas by Jenny Holiday

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jenny Holiday’s A Princess for Christmas is the perfect holiday book for readers who love Hallmark Christmas movies or even some of Netflix’s cheesy Christmas movies. The book’s synopsis is literally a play on what’d you expect in one of those films, and the book does have a few references to Hallmark movies. Leo, a cab driver living in NYC doing his best to make ends meet and raise his little sister, gives an unexpected cab ride to the princess of Eldovia, Marie. Marie is in the city on royal business, but soon finds herself trying to spend any free opportunity with Leo and his sister, Gabby, until she decides to invite them back to Eldovia for the holidays. 

A Princess for Christmas was the quintessential, fluffy holiday read I was craving. Is it the best book I ever read? Not exactly. But was it better than most cheesy Christmas movies I could’ve watched instead? Absolutely! A Princess for Christmas was just so atmospheric. Like my recent Dash & Lily watch on Netflix, it made me so nostalgic for holiday-time NYC, like the scene where Leo and Marie goes ice skating in what I believe was Rockefeller Center. The Eldovia setting was also the holiday away of many of your dreams (picture any royal town in a Hallmark or Netflix movie), with Leo and Gabby staying in Marie’s palace in the snow. I knew A Princess for Christmas was a romance, but due to its fluffiness, I didn’t expect the romance scenes to be that STEAMY. Overall, A Princess for Christmas was the cute & festive holiday read that you may be crave during winter.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird was one of those books on my TBR that I knew I would eventually read, but wasn’t sure when I would. I think it was partially because the book’s synopsis felt so different from Josie Silver’s much loved holiday read, One Day in December, and the fact that I’m wary about books that feature alternate realities. However, as per usual with books I end up unexpectedly loving, I should’ve read The Two Lives of Lydia Bird so much sooner because this book was just so good! I think my love for it was a mix of just being a great read and being the women’s fiction-esque read I was craving at the moment. The book follows the title character, who has recently lost the love of her life and fiancé , Freddie, in a tragic accident. Lydia begins to take a pill to help her actually sleep at night, but when she sleeps, she ends up living in an alternate reality where Freddie is still alive. 

Like I said, I was super nervous that I wouldn’t like the alternate reality set-up and would enjoy one perspective over the other. Okay, maybe I was a little more invested in what was happening IRL for Lydia, but both types of her reality were executed so well. Lydia’s grief and love for Freddie is obviously a big part of the story, but I loved that there was equal focus on Lydia’s relationships with her family and Freddie’s best friend, Jonah, as well on an emphasis on her own self-growth. I feel slightly mixed about the very ending of the book, but I loved Lydia’s personal journey so much that the ending didn’t really influence or change my thoughts on the book overall. This has nothing to do with my rating of the book, but I also just genuinely loved the chapter font and stars in each chapter. It’s definitely an aesthetically pleasing book to have on your bookshelves!

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

My Rating: 5/5 Stars 

Okay, okay, maybe it’s time that I stop letting the hype prevent me from picking up a book because Rebecca Serle’s In Five Years was one of the most addicting reads of 2020. Maybe I should also stop the ‘alternate reality’ trope scaring me away from books – In Five Years ended up being way different from how it had been described to me in some reviews I’ve read. And to clarify, live love Goodreads, but this book is definitely NOT a romance (despite being a Goodreads Choice Awards nominee for best romance). 

However, I can’t necessarily blame anyone for ‘misleading’ me about what In Five Years is really about because it’s so hard to describe the book without including spoilers! In Five Years follows Dannie, a successful corporate lawyer who’s up for her dream job at one of the top law firms in the city, she’s still best friends with her childhood friend, Bella, and just got engaged to her boyfriend, David. The night of her proposal, Dannie falls asleep, only to wake up five years later with a man who is definitely not David and in an apartment she doesn’t recognize. When she wakes up, Dannie is back to her current reality, but lives in fear that her dream one day might come true…especially when she meets dream man IRL. 

In Five Years is way more of a book about friendship and self-growth than romance and relationships. Something about this book just had me hooked from the beginning and just about when I was going to put it down one night to go to bed, a shocking reveal sent me to read another 50 pages before bed! After listening to Bad on Paper Podcast’s book club episode on the book, I realized that I think I liked it because it subverted a lot about what we associate with women’s contemporary books – specifically, Dannie was the character who ‘had her life together’ and in most books, would be the side character or the main character’s best friend. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but I really liked having Dannie as the protagonist because she didn’t give up on any of her ambitions, but still made the right decisions (most of the time) about her friends and family.

Final verdict because I don’t want to be spoilery? If you want a contemporary book about friendship along with everything else you typically find in contemporary books or have even the slightest desire to read In Five Years, read this one ASAP! 

Grown-Up Pose by Sonya Lalli

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

As per usual, I alternated between a variety of genres and contemporary romance  in December, which included Sonya Lalli’s Grown-Up Pose. The book follows Anu, an Indian Canadian woman who is on the break of divorce from her husband, Neil, while also co-raising their six year old daughter and trying to figure out what she really wants in her life…which leads to maybe owning the yoga studio she’s always dreamed of?

I haven’t read too many contemporary romances where the lead is already married, so I liked that Grown-Up Pose is more on the mature side due to Anu and Neil’s relationship. The book also plays with the ‘girl-who-has-always-done-everything-right’ trope/storyline, as Anu has always felt pressure to be the perfect Indian daughter her parents wanted her to be (get married young, have children, enter a profession that isn’t yoga, etc.). I don’t know if Grown-Up Pose brought anything necessarily new to the contemporary romance setting, but I did enjoy its diverse setting and the fact that Anu does go a bit off-script and does some things for herself to make her happy. I really liked the theme around what it’s like to actually be a ‘grown-up’ and learning that it’s okay to not have everything exactly planned out.

Have you read any of the books I reviewed? Do you have any recommendations for me? What contemporary or contemporary romance books do you plan on reading in 2021? Share in the comments! 

3 thoughts on “December 2020 Mini Reviews: Contemporary Edition

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