MUST-READ YA FT. KOREA & ROMANCE: XOXO Review

Summary (from the publisher):

81Kz+Kr3LRLCello prodigy Jenny has one goal: to get into a prestigious music conservatory. When she meets mysterious, handsome Jaewoo in her uncle’s Los Angeles karaoke bar, it’s clear he’s the kind of boy who would uproot her careful plans. But in a moment of spontaneity, she allows him to pull her out of her comfort zone for one unforgettable night of adventure…before he disappears without a word.

Three months later, when Jenny and her mother arrive in South Korea to take care of her ailing grandmother, she’s shocked to discover that Jaewoo is a student at the same elite arts academy where she’s enrolled for the semester. And he’s not just any student. He’s a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands in the world—and he’s strictly forbidden from dating.

When a relationship means throwing Jenny’s life off the path she’s spent years mapping out, she’ll have to decide once and for all just how much she’s willing to risk for love.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars 

My Thoughts:

Nearly any book that I read cover to cover while floating around my pool IN one afternoon is a fantastic book for me – and if this scenario seems oddly specific, the book I am talking about is Axie Oh’s YA contemporary, XOXO! This YA contemporary following Jenny’s semester abroad at a performing arts school in Seoul, South Korea, and yes, falling in love a K pop star along the way, completely grabbed my attention as I floated around the pool on a hot afternoon. I would not go inside until I had this book completed – if you’re looking for a cute read to read in less than four hours, this is the book for you. 

The book is narrated by Jenny, a rising cellist who spends an unforgettable night with a cute guy, Jaewoo, in her hometown of LA….only to never hear from him again. Three months later, Jenny and her mom move temporarily to South Korea to help take care of her grandmother, and Jenny enrolls in a prestigious performing arts high school there.. only to discover on the first day that not only is Jaewoo one of her classmates, but he’s also one of the members of a rising K-pop group. While improving her cello playing skills, forming friendships, and falling in love with a new city, Jenny and Jaewoo begin to develop a relationship while trying to avoid the spotlight and the strict expectations he must follow as part of the K-pop group.  

Something (aka everything) about XOXO grabbed me from the get-go. The book was so well-balanced between Jenny’s family life, her friendships, discovering Seoul, her dream to study music and keep performing in college, and of course, her romance with Jaewoo. I admit that I was a bit hesitant going into this one because of the slight K-pop premise since I’m not a K-pop fan, but you totally don’t need to know too much about K-pop to enjoy this one (even though you’ll probably catch some inspired references that I likely missed). 

XOXO doesn’t immediately jump into South Korea, but I though the transition from Jenny & Jaewoo’s first night together & Jenny’s life in LA to Seoul was really well done and added to Jenny’s character growth. I loved all the friendships she made there, along with the growth in her relationships with her mother & grandmother. The book reminded me of Abigail Hing Wen’s Loveboat, Taipei and even Jenny Lee’s Anna K:Away, likely because of the setting and performing arts school. 

Overall, XOXO is a YA contemporary release not to miss this summer! If you love books set in other countries and a cute romance that well balances so many other elements, check this one out!

XOXO comes out on July 13th, 2021. 

This review is based on an advance reader’s edition provided by the publisher. By no means did receiving this ARC affect my thoughts & opinions.

Is XOXO on your TBR? What YA books have you been loving lately? Have you read any books by Axie Oh? Share in the comments! 

FAMILY & LOVE YA: Indestructible Object Review

Summary (from the publisher):

81CxOVihawLFor the past two years, Lee has been laser-focused on two things: her job as a sound tech at a local coffee shop and her podcast “Artists in Love,” which she cohosts with her boyfriend Vincent.

Until he breaks up with her on the air right after graduation.

When their unexpected split, the loss of her job, and her parent’s announcement that they’re separating coincide, Lee’s plans, her art, and her life are thrown into turmoil. Searching for a new purpose, Lee recruits her old friend Max and new friend Risa to produce a podcast called “Objects of Destruction,” where they investigate whether love actually exists at all.

But the deeper they get into the love stories around them, the more Lee realizes that she’s the one who’s been holding love at arm’s length. And when she starts to fall for Risa, she finds she’ll have to be more honest with herself and the people in her life to create a new love story of her own.

Funny, romantic, and heartfelt, this is a story about secrets, lies, friendship, found family, an expired passport, a hidden VHS tape, fried pickles, the weird and wild city of Memphis, and, most of all, love.

 

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

As much as I love my YA contemporary books where romance is the focus, I really enjoy YA contemporaries that are much more about character growth and family,  including Mary McCoy’s recent release, Indestructible Object. Also, important sidetone that I am obsessed with this book’s cover, especially the color scheme. The book takes place in Memphis, and I love all the nods on the cover to places in the story. 

Of course, Indestructible Object does have something to do with love and romance. Just having graduated from high school, Lee’s life feels like it’s falling apart- her parents are finally separating (and despite having relationship problems for quite some time, they actually seem to be leaving each other this time..) and to top it all off, Lee’s boyfriend has just broken up with her on their podcast about art & love. After snooping through some of her parents’ things, Lee teams up with a family friend, Max, and a new friend, Risa, to figure out what happened with her parent’s relationship to cause their split and unravels so much about Lee’s own life that she wasn’t expecting. 

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A MORGAN MATSON FAVE: Take Me Home Tonight Review

71B40ODmXcLSummary (from the publisher): 

Two girls. One night. Zero phones.

Kat and Stevie—best friends, theater kids, polar opposites—have snuck away from the suburbs to spend a night in New York City. They have it all planned out. They’ll see a play, eat at the city’s hottest restaurant, and have the best. Night. Ever. What could go wrong?

Well. Kind of a lot?

They’re barely off the train before they’re dealing with destroyed phones, family drama, and unexpected Pomeranians. Over the next few hours, they’ll have to grapple with old flames, terrible theater, and unhelpful cab drivers. But there are also cute boys to kiss, parties to crash, dry cleaning to deliver (don’t ask), and the world’s best museum to explore.

Over the course of a wild night in the city that never sleeps, both Kat and Stevie will get a wake-up call about their friendship, their choices…and finally discover what they really want for their future.

That is, assuming they can make it to Grand Central before the clock strikes midnight.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

My Thoughts: 

I haven’t met a Morgan Matson book that I haven’t LOVED, including her latest release, Take Me Home Tonight. I am a huge fan of her work, so I should premise here that I am likely to fall in love with any of her books. Her writing style just pulls me in – it’s has this detailed just binge-able quality with unique plots that grab my attention again & again. 

Like Morgan’s other books, the book is set in the fictional Stanwich, CT, as best friends Stevie and Kat decide to go into New York City by themselves for the night while waiting for the cast list for their high school’s King Lear production. Stevie’s dad cancels their birthday dinner plans at an exclusive restaurant, so Kat convinces her to still take the reservation while having ulterior motives: go see their theatre department lead teacher’s own play to maybe influence his casting decisions for the show. A series of mishaps early in the night leads to getting locked out an apartment with their stuff inside, taking care of the world’s cutest Pomeranian, a broken cell phone, and Kat & Stevie left figuring out what they each want for their future and friendship.  

Before I really dive into my review, I just wanted to include a sidetone that Morgan Matson still has some of the best covers in the YA contemporary game. Although Take Me Home Tonight isn’t my favorite cover – Morgan Matson’s books usually have models/real people on them whereas Take Me Home Tonight has this 3D object-like quality-, I do like that the illustrator got Kat & Stevie’s outfits to the exact detail (and of course included Brad). It might seem a little odd to people who haven’t read the book, but I LOVE the full cover image of Brad/Pomeranian on the back. I borrowed Take Me Home Tonight from my library so I wasn’t able to see it in a full detail, but I also love how the backside of Morgan Matson’s cover jackets are also illustrated. 

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An Emotion of Great Delight Review

81yS1ku0WWLSummary (from the publisher):

It’s 2003, several months since the US officially declared war on Iraq, and the American political world has evolved. Tensions are high, hate crimes are on the rise, FBI agents are infiltrating local mosques, and the Muslim community is harassed and targeted more than ever. Shadi, who wears hijab, keeps her head down.

She’s too busy drowning in her own troubles to find the time to deal with bigots.

Shadi is named for joy, but she’s haunted by sorrow. Her brother is dead, her father is dying, her mother is falling apart, and her best friend has mysteriously dropped out of her life. And then, of course, there’s the small matter of her heart—

It’s broken.

Shadi tries to navigate her crumbling world by soldiering through, saying nothing. She devours her own pain, each day retreating farther and farther inside herself until finally, one day, everything changes.

She explodes.

An Emotion of Great Delight is a searing look into the world of a single Muslim family in the wake of 9/11. It’s about a child of immigrants forging a blurry identity, falling in love, and finding hope—in the midst of a modern war.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

I read Tahereh Mafi’s first YA contemporary, A Very Large Expanse of Sea, back in 2018, and was recently fortunate enough to dive back into her second & latest YA contemporary release, An Emotion of Great Delight. Fans of the former book & readers who enjoy hard-hitting YA releases will especially enjoy An Emotion of Great Delight. I wish I could think of better word than ‘enjoy,’ as this book has some super dark and somber moment surrounding grief, loss, and harassment. 

Set two years after 9/11, Muslim American teen, Shadi, experiences both verbal and physical harassment nearly every day as the Muslim community becomes a larger target in the US. Shadi is grappling with so much loss, between the death of her brother a year prior, her father’s health issues, her mother who is deeply depressed, her sister who she feels like she cannot talk to, and her best friend who mysteriously dropped her a few months ago. The only person Shadi can remotely hold a conversation with is said former ex-best friend’s brother, Ali, who should be off limits, but helps Shadi in her darkest moments. 

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A FAVORITE YA FROM FAV. AUTHOR:We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This Review

Summary (from the publisher):

WCKMLTQuinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email—and then he left for college without a response.

Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings—the flashier, the better—while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.

Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher.

Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all—and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

IMG_4183

Rachel Lynn Solomon is one of my auto-read/auto-love authors because I’ve loved every single one of her books, YA and adult contemporary alike. Her 2020 YA release, Today Tonight Tomorrow, was my favorite YA book last year & her 2021 adult contemporary release, The Ex Talk, will be making many appearances on my favorite books of 2021 lists. You might know that I am a huge fan of books that involve some sort of wedding premise, so take one of my favorite authors and a book with a protagonist whose family owns a wedding planning business, and you had me sold on Rachel Lynn Solomon’s 2021 YA release, We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This.

Quinn’s family owns a Seattle-based wedding planning business, Borrowed + Blue, often working alongside Tarek Mansour’s family-owned catering company. There are a few reasons why Quinn doesn’t want to be playing her harp at various ceremonies and helping plan weddings alongside her parents and sister. One, the family dream isn’t necessarily her dream & two, Quinn can’t help but think of the email she sent to Tarek at the end of the summer confessing her feelings for him…aka, the email Tarek also never replied to. When Tarek is home for the summer working & Quinn is forced to help plan the business’ biggest wedding yet, her and Tarek are forced to work figure out their feelings. 

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This had all of the hallmarks of what I love in Rachel Lynn Solomon’s books. Her books just feel so mature, often having thoughtful reflections and conversations surrounding sex, identity and religion. As with all of her other books, Quinn is Jewish and there are some conversations surrounding her relationship with Judaism, especially as her engaged sister, Asher, begins to adopt new religious customs with her fiancé. Tarek is Muslim, and I really liked a particularly conversation him and Quinn on a date about their relationships with religion. The book also has mental health representation, as Quinn has OCD and another character in the book (no spoiler) has clinical depression. I’ve never seen OCD like Quinn’s depicted in a book before and it taught me aspects of OCD that I hadn’t realized before. 

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GILMORE GIRLS MEETS GAP YEAR: The Marvelous Mirza Girls Review 

Summary (from the publisher):

91DHMxk5y5LTo cure her post–senior year slump, made worse by the loss of her aunt Sonia, Noreen is ready to follow her mom on a gap year trip to New Delhi, hoping India can lessen her grief and bring her voice back.

In the world’s most polluted city, Noreen soon meets kind, handsome Kabir, who introduces her to the wonders of this magical, complicated place. With Kabir’s help—plus Bollywood celebrities, fourteenth-century ruins, karaoke parties, and Sufi saints—Noreen begins to rediscover her joyful voice.

But when a family scandal erupts, Noreen and Kabir must face complicated questions in their own relationship: What does it mean to truly stand by someone—and what are the boundaries of love? 

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

In a world where we are traveling less than we used to, I’ve been really attracted to books taking place in other countries than the US, which helped lead me to Sheba Karim’s The Marvelous Mirza Girls. A year after the loss of her aunt Sonia, Noreen decides to take a gap year in between high school and college and join her mother on a work trip to New Dehli for a few months. There, Noreen meets Kabir, who shows her various sites around New Dehli to help Noreen confront her grief and learn more about her culture. 

The Marvelous Mirza Girls has so many great elements that were all really well-balanced. Noreen is a writer and dreams of writing a TV show one day, but has struggled to write since the unexpected death of her aunt Sonia. The book starts off a year after Sonia’s death, and Noreen remains in deep grief. Her mother, Ruby, hopes that a change in location to New Delhi will help lift both their spirits and get Noreen back to writing. I’m usually hesitant about comparing books to TV shows, but The Marvelous Mirza Girls completely deserves the Gilmore Girls comparisons. Ruby and Noreen have such a relaxed, yet strong mother-daughter dynamic. They both easily agree to spending some of Noreen’s gap year in New Dehli together, they talk about dating and relationships with ease, and like Lorelai and Rory, they have a penchant for junk food. I also thought Noreen’s grief and emotions surrounding her aunt’s death were well developed. With each site Kabir takes Noreen to, she works through her grief and feels a closer connection to her aunt. The book also somewhat delves into Noreen’s relationship with her estranged father, making Noreen all the more grateful for her relationship with her mother. I loved the emphasis and inclusion of positive female relationships, especially between a mother and daughter. 

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A FAVORITE YA ROM-COM: Better than the Movies Review

Summary (from the publisher):

better-than-the-movies-9781534467620_hrPerpetual daydreamer Liz Buxbaum gave her heart to Michael a long time ago. But her cool, aloof forever crush never really saw her before he moved away. Now that he’s back in town, Liz will do whatever it takes to get on his radar—and maybe snag him as a prom date—even befriend Wes Bennet.

The annoyingly attractive next-door neighbor might seem like a prime candidate for romantic fantasies, but Wes has only been a pain in Liz’s butt since they were kids. Yet, somehow, Wes and Michael are hitting it off, which means Wes is Liz’s in.

But as Liz and Wes scheme to get Liz noticed by Michael so she can have her magical prom moment, the pair grow closer, and Liz is forced to reexamine everything she thought she knew about love—and rethink her own ideas of what Happily Ever After should look like.

 

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

IMG_4157Everyone knows that I love rom-coms in book form, but I also love rom-coms in movie form, especially ones from the ‘80s and ‘90s, much like Liz in Lynn Painter’s YA contemporary, Better Than the Movies. I’ve really loved recognizing all the nods to popular rom-com films on the  cover! Better Than the Movies features some of my favorite tropes, like enemies-to-lovers, against senior prom season and Liz’s love for rom-coms. Liz teams up with her childhood enemy & next-door enemy, Wes, to help get her forever crush, Michael, as her prom date. As Wes and Liz spend time together to get Liz her prom moment, Liz finds herself actually enjoying spending time with Wes and begins to question if her beloved rom-coms gave her the right picture of a happily ever after ending after all. 

Better Than the Movies was such a fun and adorable take on enemies-to-lovers. I feel like prom used to be such a major setting for YA contemporaries a few years ago, and it was fun being back in that world for Liz’s quest for the perfect prom date. The book gave me slight To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before vibes, since Liz and Wes kind’ve fake date in order for Liz to spend more time with Michael, who’s recently moved back to town and has hit it off once again with Wes. Wes also slightly reminded me of Peter K between his humor and personality, but was actually a slightly more down-to-earth version of him. Liz and Wes’ relationship was really fun, and I loved their mini adventures and mishaps. The book definitely has those classic rom-com vibes because of the mishaps that occur again and again as Liz tries to get closer to Michael. 

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ONE OF MY FAVE 2021 YA BOOKS: Kate in Waiting Review

kaSummary (from the publisher):
Contrary to popular belief, best friends Kate Garfield and Anderson Walker are not codependent. Carpooling to and from theater rehearsals? Environmentally sound and efficient. Consulting each other on every single life decision? Basic good judgment. Pining for the same guys from afar? Shared crushes are more fun anyway.

But when Kate and Andy’s latest long-distance crush shows up at their school, everything goes off script. Matt Olsson is talented and sweet, and Kate likes him. She really likes him. The only problem? So does Anderson.

Turns out, communal crushes aren’t so fun when real feelings are involved. This one might even bring the curtains down on Kate and Anderson’s friendship.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

IMG_3782Over the years, I’ve enjoyed Becky Albertalli’s books. I think the only one I haven’t yet read is her co-written novel with Aisha Saeed, Yes No Maybe So, and her book, The Upside of Unrequited, is one of my FAVORITE YA contemporaries. There was just something about her upcoming book’s synopsis, Kate in Waiting, that made me instantly add it to my TBR. The book follows Kate, a high school junior with a love for theatre, and her best friend’s crush on the same guy from the summer camp. Kate and Andy have had communal and often unrequited crushes on the same guys throughout their friendship and are ready to leave their crush on Matt behind at camp… until Matt transfers to their school. Suddenly the two are left to discover if either of their feelings for Matt are unrequited after all, as they all work on the school musical together. 

I was fortunate enough to begin my 2021 reading with Kate in Waiting back in January. I really enjoyed jumping back into Becky Albertalli’s writing style and this new fictional high school world. Kate was such a fun protagonist. While the book is about her friendships with Andy & their squads and figuring out her relationship with Matt, the book is also super about her self-growth, as she begins to find herself outside of her friendship with Andy. Don’t get me wrong, Kate and Andy have such a solid and fun friendship, but their mutual feelings for Matt definitely strains their relationship. Kate often contemplates how she is to respect Andy’s feelings while dealing with her own emotions and spending some one-on-one time with Matt for the play. Maybe I’m biased because I genuinely loved Kate, but I thought Andy wasn’t so respectful of Kate’s own feelings. Becky Albertalli’s books always feature diversity surrounding religion (Kate is a Jewish female lead), sexuality and gender, and coming out was another element to the love triangle that made Kate and Andy’s boundaries for one another difficult. 

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Best Books I’ve Read So Far: January – March 2021 Edition 

Aside from reading all the amazing books, one of my other favorite things to do is talk about all the great books I’ve read. Today, I’ll be sharing my favorite books of 2021 so far, aka favorites from the books I read in January, February and March. I read a total of 30 books over the first 3 months of 2021! I’m beyond content with that amount, given my hectic IRL schedule, but I’ve really prioritized reading over anything else (sorry TV) when I do have free time. While quantity can feel rewarding, I also just genuinely enjoyed most of the books I’ve read, as there’s only been maybe a handful that I’ve felt mixed about. This amount also sets me up quite nicely for my my reading goal of at least 100 books in 2021. 

I thought about sharing a post with just my favorite books of January and February, and then saving my March faves for my spring best books… but I honestly read so many of my favorite books so far in March & I didn’t want to wait any longer to share. I’ll likely end up doing another best books post in June to discuss the best books I read in spring/April & May. 

We Came Here to Forget by Andrea Dunlop – As you go through my favorites, you may start to notice that books set abroad from my native US is a theme with some of my favorite books, including Andrea Dunlop’s We Came Here to Forget. The book switches between Katie’s past as an Olympic skier and her present as a tour guide in Buenos Aires, putting together the pieces of her sister’s mysterious behavior and the downfall of her skiing career. I loved both settings and this book’s plot & mystery was really unique. 

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli – I feel like I’m cheating a tiny bit here because Kate in Waiting doesn’t come out on April 20th, but I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of Becky Albertalli’s upcoming release. This book reminded me so much of my favorite Becky Albertalli book, The Upside of Unrequited. I loved the focus on friendship & personal growth. 

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes –  Evvie Drake Starts Over screams quiet contemporary read. There was a perfect blend between light and warmness, as Evvie rents out her spare bedroom to an ex-major league baseball player hiding away from the spotlight, while dealing with heavier themes surrounding loss and grief. This book also made me want to rent a house in Maine ASAP. 

The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman – If you want a fun read that screams wanderlust, look no further than The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany. Emilia accompanies her estranged aunt on a trip to Italy to help reunite her with the love of their life, while trying to override a curse placed on second-born daughters in their family. I was little hesitant going into this one because of that ‘curse,’ but the book really had nothing to do with ‘magic.’ Instead, Emilia learns how to break out her shell and the expectations set by her family…while maybe she’s not cursed to never fall in love after all… 

A Court of Silver Flames by Sarah J. Maas – This is likely one of the least surprising favorites on here, if you know me as the huge SJM fan that I am. Nesta and Cassian were my two favorite characters from ACOTAR even before they got their own installment, so I loved both of their journeys and relationship development in this one. ACOSF made me so much more intrigued about what SJM will be doing in the rest of the series! 

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ADORABLE YA READ: Kisses and Croissants Review

71vmkJOAG2LSummary (from the publisher):

As sweet as a macaron from Laduree, with writing as crisp as a freshly baked baguette, this romantic novel set in Paris about an American ballerina and a charming French boy is parfait for fans of American Royals and Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Seventeen-year-old Mia, an American girl at an elite summer ballet program, has six weeks to achieve her dreams: to snag an audition with one of the world’s best ballet companies. But there’s more to Paris than ballet—especially when a charming French boy, Louis, wants to be her tour guide—and the pair discover the city has a few mysteries up its sleeve.

In the vein of romances like Love and Gelato, this is the perfect summer adventure for anyone looking to get swept away in the City of Love. 

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

My Thoughts:

If you’re craving a sweet YA contemporary this spring, look no further than Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau’s Kisses and Croissants. This book is the perfect blend of Stephanie Perkins’ Anna and the French Kiss and Disney+’s On Pointe documentary series, as rising high school senior, Mia, spends six weeks at an elite ballet program in Paris. Mia dreams of being a professional ballet dancer, and she spends her summer working towards an audition for one of the top ballet companies in the world, trying to figure out a family mystery involving a famous painter, and not-so resisting the temptation of a cute French boy. 

I spent one of the first warm & sunny Sundays this spring devouring Kisses and Croissants in just a few hours. Make sure you have a croissant or pastry near by as you read because this book will seriously leave you craving some French pastries and cheese. Mia’s adventures around Paris instantly transported me to the country from the first chapter. Soon after I finished reading, I found myself diving into Paris vlogs from my travel vloggers, Kara and Nate, and planning my trip there in my head. The setting was so well-described,  and I loved the book’s details surrounding art and museum culture in Paris, as Mia researches if one of the ballet dancers in a famous painter’s work was indeed one of her great grandmothers. 

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