Romance Novels For Non-Romance Readers

Disclosure: Some of the links in this list of romance novels are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

romance novels list

Readers who don’t like romance novels often cite the kitschy tropes that make them roll their eyes as the reason for hating them. Others simply aren’t looking for bodice-ripping books that delve into the characters’ sex lives. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like love stories. They just need to find the right ones. Here are six romance novels for people who hate romance novels.

Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat

The story of Damen the warrior hero who gets captured and sent to Prince Laurent, the royalty of his country’s enemy nation, will keep non-romance readers turning the page. It features LGBTQ+ romance, political intrigue and family betrayal.

Loud is How I Love You by Mercy Brown

The first in the Hub City series follows Emmylou as she pursues her dreams of rock stardom. But when she falls for the band’s guitarist Travis she puts her career on the line for a burning hot love. For people who think they don’t like romance, this book will keep them yearning for more.

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

This story is a retelling of the Aladdin fairytale, but with a twist. Zahra is the jinni in the lamp that must grant Aladdin’s three wishes. But the King of the Jinn offers her a chance at freedom. The cost? Betray Aladdin, whom she’s falling for. This young adult romance will appeal to the Disney lovers out there.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Jones combines literary prowess with an analysis of racial injustice in America through this bittersweet love story. Celestial and Roy are newlyweds in the South, both with burgeoning careers, when the unthinkable happens: Roy is sent to prison. This is the story of how a marriage works when one spouse is imprisoned and the other must carry on.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Evelyn Hugo is a reclusive movie star of the past, but when she finally decides to tell her story, she chooses an unknown magazine reporter, Monique Grant. The protagonist Evelyn is a Cuban-American woman who details her adventures from moving to L.A. in the 50s to the several spouses she procured along the way.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ishiguro’s novel follows butler Stevens as he leaves Darlington Hall to explore his past through his time in England. The book follows the protagonist as he interacts with the history of fascism and the two world wars. All the while, he never realizes the unspoken love between him and his housekeeper.

Find the books in this list at my Bookshop page.

Travel Poetry: Running With Zeus

We visited the Temple of Zeus in Olympia on my trip to Greece in 2019. It’s hard to believe I’m already coming up on two years since that vacation. I felt like a kid exploring those ruins. I was obsessed with Greek mythology in middle school.

Running With Zeus poem from Temple of Zeus, Olympia, Greece
Olympia, Greece (May 2019)

Funny though, Zeus was never one of my favorite gods. But of course, he’s the one everyone always hears about. Sure, the Disney version in Hercules was fine. Kind of funny and sympathetic in his love for his son. The myths’ version though? Always sounded like such a tool. And yet, standing at the temple erected in his honor at the Olympia ruins, I felt that audacity. I finally understood what it is about Zeus that makes him such a lasting figure.

Below is the full poem I wrote inspired by that moment, standing before the ruins of his temple.

Strap on the sandals and fly
down the lane toward the end
of the plain, that wide open green
left and right straight up into
baby blue sky. Run with the wind
as it calls out your name, promising
only glory and fame. Run with the gods
just out of their sight. Run through
the day and into the night. Run with
the thunder, run with the rain. Run
as though you’ll never feel pain.

Originally posted on my Instagram here.

Find more travel poetry here.

Not the Weirdest Plot Line This Year

As 2020 comes to an end I thought I’d share a little story I wrote for a prompt I did for a writing retreat I participated in with my friends. And since those mysterious monoliths started appearing everywhere, this felt right.

CONTENT WARNING: PROFANITY

Image by Daniela Realpe from Pixabay

Wanderlust: Pichincha, Ecuador

Riding the teleferico up Pichincha trails

The final installment of my travels to Ecuador in 2018 end with a hike near the Pichincha volcanoes. We started with a teleferico ride up the mountainside to reach the first trail. Riding the cable car up the mountain, it’s blue sky and green hills all around. As the ride took us higher, I felt the thrill of climbing to heights reaching further into infinite sky.

We reached the first plateau where the volcano mirador stood. From that point, you can follow the peaks of Ecuador’s volcanoes along the horizon, using the mirador sign as your guide. After that, the path starts paved, heading toward a little church along the way up with a clear view of Rucu Pichincha.

Following the path is easier and takes you the long way, but you can go off road and climb the dirt paths created for horse riders and hardcore hikers. I still needed a little help to climb these paths, but I managed to make it up those dirt hills to see the view of mountains and grass all around. It leaves you breathless, but for someone like me, asthmatic and unathletic, it’s a triumph.

guagua pichincha ecuador
View of Guagua Pichincha

As we traversed the trail further up we got a clear view of Guagua Pichincha. The wind blew strong as we overlooked the cliffside, but I never felt more stable. There’s something about traveling to my father’s home country that makes it feel like home to me too, even though I’ve never lived there. I can only imagine what it feels like for him to return.

Experiences like these motivate me to become more active and involved in nature. This 2018 trip to Ecuador inspired me to take on hiking so I could get ready for the next adventure.

What trips have inspired you to become more active? Share in the comments!

Shop your local indie bookstore for a guide to Ecuador travel.

Weeknights With Walter

Had the great honor and pleasure to be published in LA LEY DEL KARMA: A JOURNAL DEDICATED TO WALTER MERCADO.

Many Latinx people from my generation grew up seeing Walter Mercado give astrological predictions on Primer Impacto as they watched their elders listen to him with rapture. Walter became a mainstay in many Latinx cultures simply by being himself, flourishes and all. I’m so happy I got to write a poem about what he meant to my own family ties and Latinx identity. Click the link above to see it!

Wayward Witch by Zoraida Cordova Review

Disclosure: Some of the links in this Wayward Witch review are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

The third and final installment in Zoraida Cordova’s Brooklyn Brujas series absolutely delivers. Wayward Witch follows the youngest sister, Rose Mortiz. She finds herself portaled from her Deathday party and into the Kingdom of Adas. It’s a fairy kingdom based in the Caribbean with fair folk inspired by Latinx cultures.

Find my review for Labyrinth Lost here and Bruja Born here.

Summary of Wayward Witch

Rose can’t leave well enough alone and casts a Canto to learn the truth. But she gets more than she bargained for. As her world comes crashing down, she and her father get pulled into the Kingdom of Adas. She must contend with her newly discovered power and survive King Cirro, the adas and the rot that threatens to consume the kingdom and break into her world. Along the way, she makes unlikely allies and friends and learns that she’s so much more than she thought.

Characters

The protagonist Rose was so relatable. She’s the youngest and suffers from baby of the family syndrome. She feels the pressure of being the good sister who doesn’t make huge mistakes. But when she casts her truth Canto, she gets sent on an adventure she never wanted. It leads her to understand her sisters and family better.

Throughout the novel, Rose hears the voices of her sisters in her mind, wondering what Alex or Lula would do in her situation. She starts out as a fine balance of bookish, quiet and sarcastic, evolving into a powerful, warrior bruja who eventually learns to listen to her own inner voice. It’s a fantastic journey as Cordova illustrates how an individual is shaped by their familial ties while finding their own way.

Supporting Cast

The cast of Wayward Witch consists of various magical beings and the different kinds of fae created for this Latinx-inspired fairy kingdom. The twins, Iris and Arco, the prince and princess of the kingdom, become Rose’s companions along with the chosen Guardians. They journey together on a quest to rid Adas of the rot. While Arco chooses the path of storyteller and historian, Iris chooses a soldier’s life. Both come to love Rose in their own ways, but the dynamic between Iris and Rose stands out. Iris starts out feeling disdain for Rose. But she comes to find there’s more to the young bruja than meets the eye. Throughout the narrative the relationship between Rose and Iris plays a significant role in bringing out Rose’s true power.

In the novel’s end notes, Cordova acknowledges how the first two books adhered to the gender binary, so she sought to make space for more identities in the final book. Enter Lin Octavio, a brujex that goes by they/them pronouns. Lin and Rose become attached quickly, since they share similar backgrounds of growing up with parents missing from the picture. They’re much closer than they think, and that’s all I’ll say about that.

It would take a novel of a post to go through each character in the cast, so I’ll leave it at this. Even in an ensemble of so many people, no one fades into the background. Each supporting character brings a memorable personality to the table, making for a well-rounded story.

Plot

While the first two books in the series are great, Wayward Witch showcases how far Cordova’s writing has come. The story had me turning the pages like crazy and every time I thought I saw where it headed, it took another twist and turn. Cordova created gasp-worthy revelations at the end that felt like an appropriate ending to the whole series.

The Kingdom of Adas takes inspiration from Latinx cultures and the Caribbean environment. Cordova paints a vivid and lush picture with specific details of food, the environment and characters’ physical features. Therefore, everything about the world built in this book lets the readers know where it finds its roots. Cordova created a refreshing take on the fairy kingdom idea by incorporating Latinx heritage, language and folklore into a brand new world.

Wayward Witch Rating

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars. It’s a wild ride from start to finish. It keeps you invested in the world and characters all the way through.

Get your copy here! Let me know if you read the book what you thought of it. What other witchy books do you recommend?

How to Write a Book Review

The first thing to note when learning how to write a book review is that there’s no one right way to do it. Throughout the years, I’ve gone through a few formats of book reviews myself. But today, I will outline the latest structure that works for me. I hope it helps other writers who want to start writing book reviews. Here is my outline for the anatomy of a book review.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

how to write a book review library shelf of books

How to Write a Book Review Summary

This is by far the hardest part of writing a book review. That’s why I recommend you save it for last. But when you do get to this part, keep it to no more than a paragraph (that’s five sentences max). Capture the essence of the plot with a taste of the characters in a few short sentences to entice your audience to keep reading the review. This will be easier once you’ve written the rest of it.

Character Development

Talk about the main characters or important secondary characters that move the story. Consider their character arcs and how they’ve changed from beginning to end. If they haven’t changed, that could be a type of critique to make in your review. You can also discuss the portrayal of certain character traits. Did the author use harmful stereotypes? Did characters react realistically to situations? Do the characters act as stand-in symbols? There are so many ways to interpret character development.

Plot Development

Dive a little deeper into the plot than you would in the summary. But don’t give a complete, beat-by-beat breakdown. It’s enough to talk about the main plot points and subplots that made the story interesting or dull. This is where you would address if the plot’s pacing worked well or had issues. You can also talk about setting and world-building. Where does the story take place and how does that affect the narrative? How does it affect or influence the characters? Explore the world to give readers a preview of what to expect.

How to Write a Book Review With Cultural or Social Critique

Authors don’t write novels in a vacuum. Every story has a theme or message that it wants to convey, and the author’s culture and society influences these messages. Perhaps the author’s characters challenge the status quo of their worlds. Maybe the entire story is a metaphor for current events. Likewise, some authors write a book as a call to maintain world order. Take all these aspects into consideration when writing a thought-provoking book review. Your personal opinions about events and circumstances will likely seep in at this point, and that’s ok.

Genre Discussion

Some bloggers like to discuss the book in terms of the genre it falls under. This helps readers understand what structure to expect. For example, romance novels are known for the HEA – the Happily Ever After. When a book that’s categorized as romance deviates, that’s cause for analysis. Is it really a romance novel? Or is it a story with romantic elements? I admit, that genre isn’t my forte, but I’ve seen this discussion. Fantasies and sci-fis create intricate worlds and systems of magic. Mystery thrillers set up red herrings. You can think about all these facets when writing your review.

Rating

Most readers and reviewers are familiar with the star rating, but that doesn’t mean you have to stick to it. Get creative with the way you rate a book. Use emojis to identify the emotions it made you feel. Pick a graphic that’s all your own and works similar to star ratings. I once saw a Latinx blogger use avocados as her rating system. Take a page out of Litsy’s book and rate books with a Bail, Pan, So-So or Pick. Whatever you choose, the most important thing a rating has to do is convey whether or not a reader would be interested in picking up the book.

Grab a book review journal here

Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz Review

Blazewrath Games book tour banner

Disclosure: Some of the links in this Blazewrath Games review are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

I received an ARC for the Hear Our Voices book tour. Thank you so much to them and the publisher for this opportunity. Let’s dive in!

Summary of Blazewrath Games

Lana Torres has dreamed of playing in the Blazewrath Games since she was a child and to represent her home country of Puerto Rico. When she catches the eye of the International Blazewrath Federation’s president and gets chosen as team Puerto Rico’s runner, she thinks all her dreams are coming true. But when she learns the sinister truth, she must fight against a system and people she’s admired all her life.

Characters

The protagonist Lana Torres is easy to root for. She’s spunky, brave, strong and smart. Her character also brings to light a discourse about what makes someone Latinx. Her teammate Victoria scrutinizes her for not having lived on the island her whole life. While Lana was born in Puerto Rico and lived there as a child, she hasn’t set foot on it since she left. Victoria calls into question if she deserves to represent Team Puerto Rico. She considers Lana an outsider. The book doesn’t delve too deep into the theme, but readers get a taste of a bigger discussion on identity within diaspora.

There are so many characters between the different Blazewrath teams that it’s hard to keep track of sometimes. But each one Ortiz introduces gets a chance to shine in their own way for at least a scene or two. It gives the story and Lana’s development just enough support to show she’s not in it alone. Team Puerto Rico gets the most stage time of course. It feels like Victoria gets the most though, as she represents the inner confrontation about Lana’s identity.

Victoria is a hard character to gravitate toward. It never goes into full detail, but her narrative does tell a story of abuse and survival. So, it’s easy to understand her harsh demeanor. However, the story felt like it lacked an important discussion: victims becoming abusers. While one can see and understand why Victoria would be so quick to judge and distrust, it doesn’t give her the right to verbally and emotionally abuse others the way she does to Lana. And by the end of the book, Victoria and Lana come to an understanding, but it happened too quickly to feel organic or earned.

Throughout the book, there are various characters that are queer and/or PoC. I appreciated the way Ortiz wove them into the tapestry of the story without making it a story about acceptance and tolerance. There were hints that homophobia exists in this world, but the story doesn’t go into detail with that. Instead, Ortiz chose to focus on the support such characters had from friends and family. It felt like an honest way to address the issues without making the characters live out their trauma on the page.

Plot of Blazewrath Games

Ortiz creates a contemporary world in which Regulars (non-magical people) and witches and wizards exist side by side. And of course, dragons. She creates an interesting point in her magic system, in which dragons mostly Bond with Regulars. This makes it possible for people without natural, magical abilities to experience it. But as with all worlds like this, not everyone’s on board. Some, like Lana’s mother and, later, her cousin, consider dragons dangerous creatures that cannot be trusted, even if they do Bond with a rider.

The way Ortiz opens each chapter of the book with an excerpt from a textbook, article or interview in-world helps flesh out the reader’s understanding of dragons and magic. It’s actually a clever way to offer background details without letting them bog down the narrative and action. And there is plenty of action. The details Ortiz provides when Lana’s on the field and when the final showdown happens leaves readers with a rush. It feels very much like they’re running right beside the characters.

Rating

Overall, it’s a fun book with a set of characters you can relate to and get invested in. There are certain themes and characters that feel like they could have gone deeper, but it doesn’t detract from the magical world Ortiz created. I’m looking forward to more from this author and this world.

Grab a copy of Blazewrath Games here!

About the Author

Amparo Ortiz, author of Blazewrath Games

Amparo Ortiz was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and currently lives on the island’s northeastern coast. Her short story comic, “What Remains in The Dark,” appears in the Eisner Award-winning anthology PUERTO RICO STRONG (Lion Forge, 2018), and SAVING CHUPIE, her middle grade graphic novel, comes out with HarperCollins in Winter 2022. She holds an M.A. in English and a B.A. in Psychology from the UPR’s Río Piedras campus. When she’s not teaching ESL to her college students, she’s teaching herself Korean, devouring as much young adult fiction as she can, and writing about Latinx characters in worlds both contemporary and fantastical. Her debut novel, BLAZEWRATH GAMES, hits shelves on October 6, 2020 from Page Street Kids.

Happy Latinx Heritage Month

Disclosure: Some of the links in this Latinx Heritage Month post are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

For those who don’t know, Latinx Heritage Month takes place from September 15 – October 15. And what better way to support and celebrate Latinx cultures across the world than with books? This week I’m participating by sharing a couple of YA horror books perfect for Halloween. Thank you to Tor Publishing for sending copies of the two books featured today.

Latinx Heritage Month celebrating with Five Midnights and Category Five by Ann Davila Cardinal spooky reads

Five Midnights for Latinx Heritage Month

Five Midnights is a young adult horror mystery that follows Lupe Dávila as she spends the summer with her uncle, the chief of police, on the hunt for a killer from legends hunting five childhood friends one by one.

Some believe their shady pasts finally caught up to them. Others believe it is El Cuco, a mythical beast of Latinx lore that is used to scare children. But what if El Cuco isn’t a myth? What if he’s real? It’s up to Lupe to find out and save her new friend, Javier Utierre.

Read my full review of Five Midnights here.

Category Five

In the sequel to Five Midnights, Cardinal brings us back to Puerto Rico with protagonist Lupe, this time in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Lupe looks forward to her summer vacation back on the island, her first time seeing her boyfriend Javier and best friend Marisol since the hurricane hit.

She hopes to lift their spirits and find out how she can help. But as she arrives in Vieques, she gets dragged into a mystery as her uncle investigates the murder of the sons of some wealthy investors. Lupe and her friends encounter specters and real-life killers as they try to help her uncle keep his job by solving the mystery for him.

Read my full review of Category Five here.

My favorite thing about Latinx Heritage Month is that it coincides with the spooky season. These are great reads to kill two birds with one stone: read Latinx and horror. Want more spooky and magical Latinx books for Halloween? Check out my Bookshop page with a few recs here!

Writing a Book That’s Smarter Than Me

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase, I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

writing a book smarter than me is confusing

I’ve been writing a book for almost 10 years now that has truly tested my intelligence. Two years ago I started writing another story, a YA sci-fi retelling of Thumbelina, that is beyond any science I ever learned. In fact, science was my weakest subject in school. So, why put myself through these struggles?

With the first story, I wanted to create a dystopian world that, frankly, looks more real every day. It started out with Star Wars vibes, a ragtag group of rebels fighting the government. But in writing a book that takes on themes of feminism, sex work, and dictatorships, I went in over my head. Or did I? The more I work on this manuscript, the more I see myself learning.

What I’ve Learned From Writing a Book About Dystopia

When I started writing Operation Succubus (pending title), I only looked at the story through a basic feminist lens. I focused on the overarching patriarchal society’s control of women’s bodies. But then I had to consider my characters and their lived experiences. I have a Chinese-American woman who’s a lesbian and a black trans woman as supporting characters. I’ve had to dig deep to write a narrative that does justice to their experiences as women. These are not perspectives that come from my own voice.

Hell, even my main character isn’t completely my own voice. I wrote her as Latinx American, with Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian roots. That’s me. But I decided to make her asexual. That’s not. Once more, I’ve had to do research, read blogs, and think about the ways feminism and her role in the world I created affect her.

Even though I’ve been writing a book with these characters and themes for years, it wasn’t until recently I stopped to think about what message it sent about sex work. I’d included it as a plot device in the narrative, but I never gave it nuanced thought. I realized I have to do better, to show at least a basic understanding of sex work’s role in feminist discourse. Again, I find myself diving into research and seeking resources to gain a better understanding of the topic.

What I’ve Learned From Writing About Nanotech

My second manuscript that’s lived less time in my brain took on the science of nanotechnology. I admit science has always been my downfall. Though I love science fiction dearly. When I started writing Belina (pending title), I had to do a little research to get the foundations of nanotech. I fell into a world beyond my understanding.

I’d barely passed biology both times I had to take it, once for high school and once for college. How on Earth could I start writing a book about nanotechnology? What even is it? How does it work? What are its basic applications? All these questions swam in my mind as I dove into the rabbit hole.

As I’ve continued to write and revise my book, I realized I don’t need to be an absolute expert. But I did need to have some semblance of understanding. My protagonist is a STEM character. She loves science. She loves solving puzzles. And that’s when I realized what I had in common with her. She wants to solve problems. That’s how I started understanding what role nanotech played in her life and in the story.

My question for fellow writers (or anyone who is thinking about starting): What stories have you written or plan to write have made you think critically? Let me know in the comments! And any recommendations for research on the aforementioned topics are also greatly appreciated.

Check out some books about writing here!