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BookTok worth it or not: Spring break edition

Spring break came and went pretty quickly but I utilized my time well by reading for fun instead of for class! And since I am in my 21-going-on-81 era, I’ve been sticking with romance books that you can find on the shelves when traveling in airports. I’m kidding—kinda. I was in a romance book kick, though, that is true. So this whole article will be dedicated to the romance books that have taken BookTok by storm that I have finally gotten around to reading.

Here’s what we do in this column. If you are new to this column, you know the drill, skip to the next paragraph. Basically, I take books that go viral on BookTok—which is the subsection of TikTok specifically for books—and then I rate whether they deserved the hype or the hate that they got from the masses. Now I don’t have TikTok but I do have Instagram Reels which is TikTok two weeks late from what I hear. But let’s face it “Bookstagram Worth it or Not” just isn’t as catchy of a title you know. So here we are, now onto why you’re actually reading—the reviews.

This week we will be reviewing three romance books: “Love & Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch, “Before We Were Strangers” by Renée Carlino and “Love & Other Words” by Christina Lauren. 

“Love & Gelato” by Jenna Evans Welch

Starting with “Love & Gelato” which I read way back at the beginning of break, we have a cutesy little romance book. The book is definitely geared for Young Adults (YA) and perhaps I am outside the age range of the targeted audience, however, I did still enjoy it absolutely. I have to admit I did get kind of sidetracked because did you know there is also a movie on Netflix based off of the book. I did not personally and went to watch the trailer and OH BOY was I disappointed. I mean like seriously disappointed, colossally disappointed, words cannot describe disappointed. The trailer also reminded me about all the reasons I liked the book.

For starters, they’ve completely changed the ages of the characters. Lina, our protagonist, is meant to be 16 in the book. She is still in high school while she is going through the loss of her mother (this is not a spoiler it is legit on the back of the book so calm down). Now I know what you’re thinking. “Victoria, they age up characters from books all the time, what’s the big deal?” But you see Lina’s age is essential for her story arc. Lina’s mom—Hadley—has one wish for Lina after she passes. She wants Lina to go and live in Italy with her father who she has never met. So you see, aging her up to 18 and about to go off to college changes the severity of having to move to Italy. Lina in the book is planning on uprooting her life in the US and leaving behind her high school friends to attend a new school in Italy AND live with the father she never knew. It’s not meant to be some fun little trip before college like how the movie trailer depicts it, it’s meant to be a new living situation entirely. So yeah, frustrating that the movie adaptation took the liberty to change that plot point. 

Now is the plot a little unbelievable? I mean yeah, duh, it’s a YA romance book, what do you expect? But the book overall is a really quick read and she’s fun and light which is a nice thing to have while you’re stressing about final papers and graduation. This book is also like “Mama Mia” meets “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” so if you like either of those there is a chance you will like this book. 

It honestly wasn’t one of my favorite reads but I would still recommend it if you are looking for a light read to help distract you a little bit. 

“Before We Were Strangers” by Renée Carlino 

Next up we have “Before We Were Strangers.” I think out of all of the books I am reviewing this week this one had to be my favorite. “Before We Were Strangers” is also a romance book (duh) but is definitely geared towards an older audience compared to “Love & Gelato.” It actually technically falls into the New Adult category which I think is such a funny category to exist but I’m not complaining. 

“Before We Were Strangers” centers on Matt Shore who we meet as a 30-something-year-old working a desk job at National Geographic in New York City. Right off the bat, you should be queued in that this is a romance book because the main character’s full name is absolutely ridiculous. Matt is basically going through a quarter-life crisis—he’s divorced but still works with his ex who is now pregnant with his co-worker’s kid and he doesn’t really have a drive for what he’s doing anymore. The book literally starts with “Life was passing me by at high speed.” So he’s down bad for real. 

Then one day Matt unexpectedly runs into Grace on the subway. Now, cue time jump! We get flashed back to 15 years earlier when Matt and Grace were both in their senior year of college. We spend the rest of the book piecing together their love story across the two-time points to see how they came together and fell apart only to inevitably come back together. 

I really liked the way Carlino executed this book. I think having the story go back and forth between Matt and Grace in college versus in the present day is really fun because from one perspective we are watching their love story start and in the other perspective we are trying to pick out where it went wrong. 

Now fair warning this does include the miscommunication trope. Mind you this is a pretty major miscommunication trope so if that isn’t your thing this book is certainly not for you. I’m not going to lie, I got to the last quarter of the book and I just kept thinking to myself “What in the Wattpad story is happening here?!?!”

The book was a good read in spite of this in my opinion. It is a quick story to get through and it is pretty light so it doesn’t require much concentration to get pulled into the plot. 

“Love & Other Words” by Christina Lauren

Last up we have “Love & Other Words.” What can I say about this book except that I had such high expectations for it, and it simply did not live up to them. Now this isn’t to say that I regret the time I spent reading the book—I didn’t hate it that much. But I do perhaps regret investing money into purchasing the book and wish I had just borrowed it from the library instead. But it was buy one get one half off so a deal is a deal. 

Now I know I made a joke about this before, but romance books have a tendency to be entirely unrealistic. However, on the scale of unrealistic-ness, this one is just SO FAR OFF THE CHARTS. I mean seriously I don’t know whether this can even fall onto or not or if it’s just in its own ballpark. 

We start the book by meeting Macy, whose mother tragically died when she was young. This is important because it is a big part of Macy’s identity as a character. Similar to “Before We Were Strangers” we spend the novel jumping between two different time points. One with Macy as a teenager and one as an adult. The book’s whole shtick is about an all-consuming love. Now maybe this was just too romance-y for my little frozen heart but I mean come on what BS. 

Macy meets Elliot as a teenager after her father purchases a vacation home at the request of her dead mother—bizarre I know. Elliot is her first love but as we jump between the time points we see that something has gone astray between the two of them and we are trying to find out what. 

The ending to this book was so out of left field. I mean seriously I cannot even bring myself to review it because it was just so—. I don’t have words. I’m honestly a little mad because everyone hyped this one up on BookTok and we should’ve been hearing more about “Before We Were Strangers” or literally any other book. 

This is probably the harshest review I’ve written but I think this is one of those cases where expectations were set too high and I was then let down. It’s not a poorly written book, I just cannot get behind the plot twists that you get taken on. 

So there you have it. I did have to end my romance book reading kick after “Love & Other Words” because I just couldn’t anymore. It was a blessing in disguise though because it did lead me to read “The Maidens” by Alex Michaelides which I thoroughly enjoyed. So tune in next week when I completely flip the switch and start reviewing dark academia reads.

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