Stephen P. Kiernan’s Universe of Two is a time machine back to the year 1943. The story takes place in the United States as the country is at war with the allied forces in World War II. Unlike many World War II novels, Universe of Two doesn’t follow the story of a soldier or officer fighting in the war. Instead, it focuses on the connection between two civilians who play just as significant a part in the war efforts as any man in battle.
Brenda Dubie is a spoiled nineteen-year-old girl who spends her time working at her family’s music shop and dating every soldier she can find who is home on leave. Her life changes when she meets a young mathematician named Charlie Fish who is at work doing calculations for the US government. As the pair build a romantic connection, Charlie is pulled deeper into the war efforts, eventually finding himself in New Mexico working as a vital piece of the Manhattan Project. His role in the project to create the atomic bomb riddles Charlie with guilt. Brenda, who pushes him so hard to pursue his work, shares the heavy moral burden Charlie faces when she finally realizes the consequences of his work. The pair are faced with the difficult task of trying to love each other while making up for the horrible destruction they helped to create.
What impressed me most about Universe of Two was the way it didn’t try to romanticize either war or love. Although it is a historical romance, the novel was utterly realistic about the moral challenges faced by its characters. The chapters alternate between Brenda’s narration and a omniscient narrator reporting on Charlie’s top-secret work. As a reader, I felt a deep frustration at how naïve Brenda was to the severity of Charlie’s situation. Kiernan was able to play with my emotions, drawing me into the story as if it were a train wreck that I could not look away from. Universe of Two is anything but the stereotypical romance novel—it is an honest look at the ways a relationship can be tested and morals overlooked in pursuit of victory. I would recommend Kiernan’s novel to anyone who relishes in the feeling of a bittersweet ending.
Thank you to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.
In a dystopian world, the United States has become a monarchy named Illea where citizens are forced into a One (royalty) through Eight (criminals and outcasts) caste system. The prince of the country is looking for a new wife and will hold a competition with ordinary girls from all different castes and locations around the country to choose his new princess.
Kiera Cass’s novel, The Selection, is another classic 2010’s dystopian piece similar to Divergent, Hunger Games, with even a little bit of “The Bachelor” mixed in. The main protagonist in the story is a fiery red-head named America, a Five, who does not want to follow the rules of this repressive government. She is already in love with Aspen, a Seven, but when she is selected to enter into the Selection (basically the Prince’s version of “The Bachelor”), she is forced to leave behind her old life and enter into this cutthroat competition against girls of all different castes and locations for the crown.
Throughout the book, America comes to learn more about herself and what she is capable of and questions the beliefs and prejudices she has held for her whole life.
The Selection in its plot is very ordinary, almost fulfilling that checklist of YA dystopian novels: the love triangle, the feisty main character who has a blatant disregard for the rules, and the clear mistrust between the protagonist and the main leadership character (in this case, America and the King Clarkson). Despite its seemingly “normal-ness,” the book actually always sticks with me. Why? It’s not only because I have a taste for these dystopian YA novels, but because the book used such descriptive language so that I could see each character, emotion, and location clearly in my head. The images and feelings that were described by America and her backstories to help the audience understand the context of the situation are so detailed that I could imagine each of the scenes in my head, play-by-play. I knew exactly how the palace looked, her feelings about the Prince, the Selection, and even the strawberry tart she had before her first official meeting with Prince Maxon. The imagery in the text was strong and will make it memorable in this way for the audience.
One of the most interesting themes of the story was actually along the lines of judgement and prejudice. Throughout the book, each of the characters has some sort of a judgment about the other characters due to the stereotypes of the castes and royalty that they have learned growing up. This stubborn prejudice clouds America’s judgement and prevents her from seeing the important and caring qualities that Maxon has, and her innate quality to rule. Maxon, on the other hand, also had prejudices about those from lower castes but he was quick to learn from his mistakes, which shows a stark contrast between America and Maxon’s characters and learning curves.
Overall, although the book was a bit predictable and followed the classic YA fiction tropes, I still found that it combined interesting themes and borrowed from pop culture in ways that were new (such as using the concept behind The Bachelor). It was the perfect before-bed read—relaxing, interesting, with the perfect amount of romance mixed in.
As the weather gets warmer and the flowers start to bloom, it’s the perfect time to pick up a new book. Whether you’re taking a break from spring cleaning or looking for an excuse to sit on the porch and relax, I’ve compiled a list of books sure to keep you occupied on a nice, spring afternoon.
Safe Haven – Nicholas Sparks. This is a great novel to begin with, but it is especially great for spring, a season of fresh starts. It follows Katie Feldman as she flees to the coast of North Carolina to start over. She attempts to lay low and keep to herself, but is won over by a local named Alex, who was recently widowed. As Katie grows closer to him and his two kids, she finally starts to feel a sense of belonging—until one day, when her past comes back to haunt her. Eventually, she has to decide between facing it or running away for the rest of her life. Throughout the novel, the reader is given small hints at what Katie’s past entails, which heightens some of the drama. This novel perfectly blends mystery and suspense with a heartfelt romance. It is sure to keep you on your toes and warm your heart at the same time.
The Spectacular Now – Tim Tharp. What kind of spring book list would it be without a blossoming romance? This novel is exactly that, and it is fantastic. The Spectacular Now follows the story of Sutter and Aimee, polar opposites with seemingly nothing in common. One morning, Sutter wakes up on someone’s front lawn and Aimee finds him. After learning a bit about her and her lifestyle, Sutter takes it upon himself to show her the “fun” side of life. But, what he doesn’t realize is how harmful his way of life is, as he drags her down with him. This novel takes place during a transitional time in life, making it perfect as we transition into spring. It is a bit on the heavier side, but will definitely keep you occupied—it’s a page turner! So, clear your afternoon and get ready for the roller coaster that is The Spectacular Now.
Always Never Yours – Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka. This novel is great for fans of YA fiction. It’s lighthearted and a bit corny—but in the best way. And, let’s be honest, we all could use a bit of that sometimes. It follows the story of Megan Harper, who dates someone until she finds them falling in love—with someone else. She doesn’t let this get her down though, and focuses on the next fling as well as getting into her dream school. To do so, she has to fulfill an acting requirement, which consequently lands her the lead in her school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. Through this, she expects to find her next “thing” but ends up making an unlikely friend, who may end up being the one for her and not someone else. This novel is refreshing and sweet, making it the perfect light read for a nice spring day.
Dear Evan Hansen– Val Emmich. Winter can be a tough season mentally, so as we transition out of it, a book around mental health can be a great addition to the process. Adapted from the musical, the novel follows Evan Hansen as he attempts to navigate the world. He starts his senior year of high school with a broken arm after falling out of a tree. On that same day, Connor Murphy, his classmate, commits suicide. Evan gets tied into the situation when Connor’s parents find what they believe is a suicide letter from their son addressed to Evan Hansen, leading the Murphy parents to believe Evan was their son’s only friend. In reality, the two were never friends—and the letter wasn’t actually Connor’s. It was a letter Evan wrote as an assignment from his therapist that Connor had stolen earlier that day. Afraid to upset Connor’s parents further, Evan goes with it and the lie spirals from there. He is forced to face the truth of the situation and about himself. This novel is definitely on the heavier side but a great staple for the transition of seasons. It is sure to keep you busy for the whole day and hopefully bring you some warmth as spring approaches.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and love is in the air! Whether you plan to celebrate with friends, family or a significant other, it’s a great day to remind people why you love them—and what better way to get into the spirit than with romantic novels? Here, I’ve compiled some of my favorite reads for Valentine’s Day that are sure to help even the most cynical fall in love with love.
The Last Song – Nicholas Sparks. This novel has always had a special place in my heart. It follows Ronnie Miller as she and her brother move to North Carolina to stay with their dad for the summer. However, ever since he left their family three years ago, Ronnie has held a grudge against him. She is an amazing musician with a scholarship to Julliard, but finds herself fighting that part of her because of the anger she holds towards her father. While in North Carolina, she meets Will who begins to thaw her heart. The more time she spends with him and learns about his family life, the more she learns to appreciate her own. It is both a heartwarming and heartbreaking story that beautifully captures the sweetness of new love, and the ups and downs of father-daughter relationships.
Me Before You– Jojo Moyes. Warning, this one is a real tear jerker, but, if this book doesn’t make you want to fall in love, I don’t know what will. The story follows Louisa Clark as she gets a job as a care-taker for a young man named Will Traynor. Will used to spend his time traveling the world doing every outdoor activity imaginable until he got in a motorcycle accident rendering him a quadriplegic. He’s been hardened by the accident and rarely interacts with people, but Louisa is determined to remind him how exciting life can be. The characters in this book are beautifully crafted and will truly leave a mark on your heart. The story is both sweet and heart-wrenching, the perfect mix for a Valentine’s Day read.
P.S. If you love this one, there’s two more in the trilogy!
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan. On more upbeat note, this novel is both funny and heartwarming. Rachel Chu is a professor at NYU dating Nick Young. Nick’s childhood best friend is getting married in Singapore and Nick is set to be the best man. Rachel has never met Nick’s family and has no idea what she is getting into by agreeing to attend the wedding with him. She is thrown into the whirlwind that is royalty in Singapore and doesn’t really know how to react. While in Singapore she learns about her own past as well as Nick’s, leaving her with very important decisions to make about her future. This novel is a beautiful blend of humor, family strife, and love. Plus, it’s also a part of a trilogy!
The Time Traveler’s Wife– Audrey Niffenegger. This is another tear jerker that is totally worth it. It follows the love story of Clare and Henry as they try to maneuver through a life where Henry, essentially, time travels. He is diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder, which causes him to spontaneously transfer to a different time period of his life. Despite the difficulties this creates, Clare loves him so deeply that she tries her best to live with it. This life style is constantly testing the strength of their love as the world seems to be against it. The story is captivating and stressful at times, making it a real page turner. It’s sure to put you in all the feels and is the perfect addition to any Valentine’s Day reading list.
As the weather begins to cool down (or so we can hope), there’s nothing better than cozying up with a warm blanket and a heartwarming book that just makes you feel good. These books are light and sweet, and always leave me with that warm & fuzzy feeling. So, settle down, wrap yourself up, and be prepared to stay there for hours.
The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris—Jenny Colgan. The book primarily follows Anna Trent, an Englishwoman who gets sent to work at a chocolate shop in Paris (the most famous chocolate shop in Paris, I might add) after an unpleasant accident at the old chocolate shop she worked in where she lost one of her toes. In Paris, she meets the owner of the shop, Thiery Girrard (Claire’s former lover), and his son, Laurent. The story switches between the past, showing Claire and Thierry’s story, and the present, showing how Anna and Laurent’s unfolds. The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris is both humorous and enchanting, making me want to book a one-way ticket to Paris as soon as I finished it, and the addition of chocolate making and tasting made it even sweeter. Colgan’s writing style makes the heavy stuff feel less so, making this book the perfect “get comfy by the fire” read.
P.S I Still Love You—Jenny Han. This is the second book in the Jenny Han’s trilogy, and it is just as magical as the first. Lara Jean Covey is what most would call a hopeless romantic, and she writes letters each time she has intense feelings for someone. This novel follows the aftermath of the first in the series, where Peter and Lara Jean have decided to explore their very real feelings for each other. In this novel, another boy from Lara Jean’s past, John, comes into the picture. She ends up in a battle between her feelings for Peter and her compatibility with John. She leans on her sisters now more than ever, and we get to see their bond grow even more. P.S. I Still Love You is full of the Covey family bond that we grew to love in the first novel and romantic love—making it one of my favorite heartwarming reads.
Love, Rosie—Cecilia Ahern. Also known as Where Rainbows End, this book has everything a feel good book should have. It follows the story of Rosie and Alex who have been best friends pretty much forever. When it comes time to go to University, Alex finds out he is moving from Dublin to Boston. The two plan to go to college there together, but then Rosie gets some life changing news that keeps her from going. The story continues to follow their relationship across the two countries, through all the ups and downs. They can never seem to get their timing right but I feel myself rooting for them the entire time each time I pick up this book. Their story is funny, at times stressful, yet most of all, heartwarming. Ahern’s wonderful novel combines friendship with love the most delightful way, and you can’t help but fall in love with the characters yourself. Love, Rosie is one of the coziest reads, keeping you so immersed you might just finish the whole thing in one sitting.
Everything, Everything—Nicola Yoon. This one is a little bit heavier, but I still consider it a good cozy read. Madeline lives with her mother in isolation because she has a rare disease called SCID, which essentially means her immune system is very weak and cannot fight off diseases properly; a common cold could end her life if she is not careful. So, she is home-schooled and never leaves the house. As one would guess, Madeline’s mother is essentially her best friend, and there are no secrets between them. That is, until a new boy, Olly, moves across the street and they begin communicating. The book follows their story as they begin to fall in love; though, they aren’t allowed to touch each other. Everything, Everything was impossible for me to put down, making it a great book to read when you have nothing to do and just want to lay in bed wrapped up in your favorite blanket. It is more bittersweet than just sweet, but it is 100% worth it.
Publisher: Shadow Mountain, 2018 Genre: Proper Romance Pages: 358 Format: Paperback Buy Local My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Greta’s best friend Will promises that he always delivers on her birthday presents, and this year he out-does himself, fulfilling her wish for a perfect boyfriend. While Greta is shelving books at her job as an assistant librarian, Will arranges for her to meet his cousin, Mac, who is single, incredibly attractive, and even seems obviously interested in Greta, based on his adorably poetic texts.
Greta falls for Mac quickly, enjoying the free hot chocolate at the cafe where he works and his clear interest in her, but she can’t help but wonder why he is always so much better at expressing himself in texts. Busy with research and planning various events to save her beloved library from impending foreclosure, Greta has to recognize what she really wants and whether she is willing to go far enough to get it.
Honestly, I was afraid this book was going to be too cliché, but it surprised me in a great way. I ended up reading it all in one sitting, not even just to see how Greta’s relationship would end up, but also because her character arc was so compelling.
In Check Me Out, Becca Wilhite crafts a charming world where Greta takes the reader between the library and the cafe with increasingly more dramatic stakes and powerful recognitions. The romance is not as uncomplicated as it seems from Greta and Mac’s immediate mutual attractions in the first chapter, and Greta’s purposeful choices provide a sense of more weighty thematic elements than just “and they lived happily ever after.”
Greta has poignant interactions with her mother and the library neighbor Mr. Greenwood, and her friend Marigold is simply delightful in her memorable appearances on the page. In the end, the only aspect that felt too cliché was Mac’s relatively flat character, though I fully acknowledge that that was part of the point of his presentation in the novel. Even with that minor wish for more depth, I still really enjoyed this book! You should all go check it out!
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good, clean romance, especially all those who can see themselves as readers who are dedicated enough to do anything to save their town’s library.