Valentine's Day is right around the corner, so here are an array of reads to enjoy this weekend!
Midnight Poppy Land by lilydusk
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5)
This "book" is actually a Webtoon comic series that is posted and updated weekly on Webtoon. For anyone unfamiliar with the platform, Webtoon allows authors to share their digital comics on a weekly schedule, using the platform's marketing, etc., to reach an audience! While I don't know too much about how it work on the creators' side, Webtoon compiles hundreds, if not thousands, of stories right in one place, all with original artwork and writing!
Midnight Poppy Land is my favorite comic on Webtoon, and I'm currently waiting for season two to arrive on the platform. The story focuses on a young woman named Poppy who, having moved to a big city, is desperate to succeed at the small publishing company where she works!
On a mission to sign a big client, Poppy's path continues to cross with that of a man named Tora as he tries to keep her from getting further involved with his lifestyle and background. Born and raised into the life of a mobster, Tora's the brunt of the operation, following orders and working behind the scenes to keep Poppy safe and get even with the men around him.
The relationship that stems between Poppy and Tora is playful, endearing, and realistic. Despite his background, Tora isn't some over-the-top gangster that continuously puts Poppy in danger. He's street-smart, consistent, emotionally intelligent, and hyper-aware of his own situation.
Poppy is smart and unafraid without being naive. Despite what Tora tries to hide from her, Poppy is aware of who he is, even without delving deep into his past. Poppy, however, is able to see who Tora is separate from the lifestyle he's in, and their moments together are tender and realistic, both of them so well written and characterized that the story ignites when they're together.
Although told in an "unconventional" format (at least for something recommended on a book blog), Midnight Poppy Land is the best thing I've read in awhile and the characterization would have me going back even without the gorgeous artwork. Honestly, my desire to turn this into a book is at an all time high. What lilydusk created with this series is addicting.
(Obviously the art belongs to lilydusk.art on Instagram)
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5)
Okay, so including Outlander on a list marketed as "weekend reads" isn't really fair to anyone, seeing as the books (all eight of them) clock in around 900 pages each. However, would it really be a romance list without Claire and Jamie??
Outlander is a love story sensation that spans the centuries and infuses magic with history.
World War II nurse, Claire Randall, was married just before she and her new husband were sent off to the front. After years of being apart more than they're together, Claire and Frank explore the history and culture of the Scottish Highlands in honeymoon style. However, when Claire disappears from a solo day trip around the land surrounding Inverness, she awakes in the middle of a nightmare... or a movie set with props right out of the 16th century.
Passed back in time and without a clue how it happened (or what even happened), Claire is alone, disoriented, and at the mercy of the Scottish Highlanders who save her. It's here, among this band of outlawed Highlanders than Claire meets Jamie, a young Scottish Highlander with a history of his own and a penchant for looking out for her.
The story that unfolds between them is unlike other books. Their romance is complicated, facing too many odds, too much history, and very different ways of life. The two of them come together for survival, but bond in the dangerous Scottish Highlands of 1743, where the Highlander way of life is on the brink of being washed from history, and Claire is caught in the middle of their extermination.
After by Anna Todd
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ (3.5)
This fanfiction turned best-selling novel series is one of my guilty-pleasure reads, namely because of the actor who played the MC in the Netflix movies! Hero Fiennes Tiffin got me in the door with that accent, but the difficult relationship between Hardin and Tessa had me sticking around for the books.
While there has been some criticism of the book for portraying a co-dependent and "problematic" relationship, I'm strongly in the camp that books don't have to be good role models for relationships. Honestly, most "high-brow" literature doesn't subscribe to the idea, so why do mainstream books have to show strong and healthy relationships?
Hardin Scott has issues; that's clear from the beginning, but when he comes across Tessa in her first year at University, he can't drop the attitude long enough to admit to his friends that he might not be as tough as he wants everyone to think.
The draw for me is Hardin. It's his constant struggle between letting down the wall and slamming it right back up again, only for his attitude and actions to get worse. After is really Hardin's story of learning how to deal with the trauma and learning that the what he does to other people actually affects those people. Over and over again, Tessa and Hardin cause problems for each other because they refuse to communicate like adults, but they're young college kids in their first real relationships with emotions and backgrounds too heavy to just shrug off. They recognize the toxicity of their relationship, yet they're unable to walk away from the vulnerable parts they see in each other.
I'm not saying it's perfect, and I'm not saying it's right. I'm just saying, at its base, that the relationship is fairly realistic to what I've seen of people my age and younger. Young people hurt each other over and over again while they learn to communicate, learn to recognize the needs of other, and learn to simply grow up. I think the merit in After comes in that conversation - in facing the difficulties of unbalanced relationships and traumatized people.
I'm not saying I'd support the two of them in real life, but as fictional characters in a book that's meant to showcase a toxic relationship? Of course I want them to grow up and learn to stop hurting each other when they can't handle their own emotions.
For a side-by-side comparison of a toxic young relationship versus a relationship that could be toxic if it weren't for the maturity of the adults in the story, read After, then checkout how well done Midnight Poppy Land is in dealing with the trauma as characterization. It's night and day.
Birthday Girl by Penelope Douglas
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4.5)
Birthday Girl is a stand-alone contemporary, published in April 2018. It's a romance novel featuring a college student named Jordan, who is trying to figure out her life and where she fits in, as well as what she wants now that she's becoming an adult. I like that it's college-aged. As an adult, I love the creativity and community of YA books, but I struggle to read about teenagers on a daily basis. It's just not relatable anymore! Birthday Girl, despite the title, is a surprise favorite from my past.
This book... while it doesn't hinge entirely on the huge plot twist that pops in early in the novel, I went into the book with no clue about what would happen. It was recommended by a friend, so I dived in without reading a synopsis, and I was definitely surprised by the turn of events.
I recommend skipping the official synopsis and jumping right in, but here's a spoiler-free rundown (which is VERY hard to do, given the plot of this book!)
Centering around a young woman named Jordan, she finds herself discontent with the life she's created with her boyfriend. Always having someone to pick up the pieces for him, he's never learned to stand on his own, and Jordan finds herself in his life as more maid, chef, and support than girlfriend. They're comfortable, she thinks, until their circumstances propel them into a new environment, and Jordan very quickly comes face to face with a man who's everything she's been missing in her current relationship.
Birthday Girl is well-written. The emotions in the novel are realistic and they help make the plot seem like something that could really happen, so it helped me adjust to the twist moment and keep chugging along (like a freight train). I don't want to tell you too much about it, but Birthday Girl made my Favorite Books List of 2019, and it's a great New Adult read for Valentine's Weekend!
Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5)
This top Webtoon series flips the Greek Myths on their heads, mashing the stories we all know into one digital comic, where the gods drive sports cars and update Fatesbook statuses. Lore Olympus is a feat in and of itself, bringing the story of Hades and Persephone into the modern age.
Lore Olympus is the number one series on Webtoon, and it was what initially drove me to the platform! The story focuses on the relationship between Persephone and Hades, as well as their perspective roles in the lore and their world. The world building is so unique, because the "Human realm" takes place during Greek times (with the clothing and cities), but Olympus is a modern city, with cars, technology, and modern clothing.
In this comic, Persephone grew up in the modern world, sheltered from the Olympians by her mother, Demeter, but at the beginning of Lore, Persephone is newly in the city, starting at the university, and eager to experience the world her over-protective mother kept her from her entire life.
Circumstances how (AKA petty and jealous gods and goddesses), bring Demeter directly into Hades' world. Not the doom and gloom Hades of surface-level Hades stories - Smythe's Hades is more in line with who you see when you read between the lines of the original myths.
Lore Olympus is so great because it's the story of two people in roles they don't necessarily fit, with expectations on them that've shaped their views of themselves. Hades is multifaceted. Yes, he's the Hades of retribution and justice, capable of dark things, but the motion of the story is that Hades is discovering his ability to be more than that - more than the role he's held for thousands of years.
Persephone, manipulated and contained by her mother until this first glimpse of freedom in Olympus, is young and oblivious to what the world is really like. She's also hopeful and excitable, and she immediately sees the good in people. When something happens to her in the city that changes that, Persephone has to face her own trauma, from Olympus and before.
For a more in-depth look at some of my favorite romance reads, check out some of my previous reviews by clicking on the "Romance" genre bubble at the bottom of this article (or on the main reviews page!).
What are some other great romance books and stories?