Popular opinion: December is downright delightful. During this time of year, I honestly can’t get enough hot cocoa, family time, scented candles, and, of course, hours in front of the fire with a good book. It’s cozy and calm and just completely wonderful.
Okay, yes, I’m gushing. But with good reason: For the December/January edition of Chloe’s Book Club, we’re reading three fantastic, fit-for-the-fireplace holiday picks. Much like the Lukasiak family Christmas tree, these titles are totally tricked out (seriously, my mom does not hold back when it comes to decorations..). 96 Words for Love takes us to India, where Raya falls for an adorable aspiring filmmaker while uncovering secrets about her late grandmother’s life. In Cole & Sav: Our Surprising Love Story, the internet-famous couple detail their happily ever after. And in Grim Lovelies, we meet an animal-turned-teen on the quest of a lifetime.
So, here’s the plan: Snag a mug of something warm and sweet, settle in…and read on for my full review of each book!
When a college-bound teen loses her grandmother, she journeys back to her Indian roots for the summer of a lifetime.
Usually, running away is, well, not a great thing to do. But that’s not quite the case for soon-to-be UCLA freshman Raya Liston in 96 Words for Love, by celeb authors Rachel Roy and Ava Dash—a mother/daughter duo best known for Rachel’s stunning fashion line and Ava’s charity work.
After the passing of Raya’s Daadee (her grandmother), running away could be just about the best thing she’s ever done. Right before Daadee passed, she let Raya and her cousin, Anandi, in on a little secret: She scattered treasures from her youth around India for them to find. Unfortunately, Daadee didn’t provide any clues on how to locate them, with the exception of this: “You will know where to find them—you and Anandi,” she says in the final hours before her death. “If you wish to find what I have left, simply search what you know.” Not going to lie, I get chills just thinking about that part!
So instead of wallowing in sadness in California, Raya and Anandi go back to their roots—all the way to the Himalayan Mountains in India—and get lost in the very place where their grandparents fell in love.
Minus the whole amazing scavenger hunt in another country thing, Raya’s situation brought me right back to the spring of 2015 when I lost my great-grandmother. I know the deep cut of that loss all too well, and I understood Raya’s feelings exactly. What’s magical, though? Even though her Daadee is gone, over the course of the novel, Raya grows closer and closer to her as she learns more about the incredible woman. I had a similar experience: As my family shared more stories about my great-grandmother after her death, I felt like I got to know her better. It seems almost impossible, but, in a way, we grew closer.
While in India, Raya lives in an ashram (which is like a Hindu monastery). There, she starts viewing the world through new eyes, uncovering long-held family secrets and—as luck would have it—meeting cute boys. Or a boy, I should say: Kiran.
I heart a good love story (see below!), so I was enthralled by Raya and Kiran’s chemistry. These two spent their time chatting on long walks and dreaming of life after the ashram. They were real and connected and completely on the same level. Real talk: Reading this book low-key made me feel super single…but it’s fine! Totally fine…I’m…fine. LOL.
But more than Raya’s relatable experience with loss and her heart-fluttering connection with Kiran, what I found most powerful about this novel is the devastatingly real human trafficking element that’s woven into the storyline. While teaching students at a local school, Raya befriends Pihu, a brave and intelligent kid who’s just learning how to read. Raya reads to Pihu each and every week—until one day when Pihu doesn’t make it home from school. And being in Delhi, which Raya describes as “basically the capital of the India sex trafficking industry,” they begin to suspect the worst: that she has been taken by sex traffickers.
Rachel and Ava completely awed me in the graceful way they handled such a wrenching topic (one that impacts at least twelve percent of the Indian population, according to the International Labour Organization). This line in particular felt incredibly relevant:
“Thoughts and prayers were nice. Necessary. And I wasn’t one of those people who thought prayer was meaningless—I was living in an ashram, for goodness’ sake. But they were just words. Words that were said all too often with nothing behind them.”
Even better: Rachel and Ava are donating a portion of the profits from the novel to the World of Children Organization, a global recognition and funding program exclusively serving the needs of children. How amazing is that?
In most love stories, boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, and then boy and girl live happily ever after—but Cole and Sav LaBrant prove that love is not always a straight line.
Honesty hour: I’m a memoir novice. More often than not, you’ll catch me with a fast-paced fantasy or an indulgent romance novel. But after reading Cole & Sav: Our Surprising Love Story, I have to admit, I’m a huge fan of these real and raw stories.
Before YouTubers Cole and Savannah LaBrant ever met, the two had become prominent fixtures in the social media scene. Cole was well known for his hilarious Vines and had even been a contestant on The Amazing Race. Savannah was a Musical.ly. mainstay and (still is!) an Instagram queen.
The couple put their entire story down on paper in this book. From their awkward first meeting and their tough long-distance relationship to their fairytale engagement and gorgeous wedding, they put the good, the bad, the sad, and the happy into one of the most enlightening and uplifting stories I’ve ever read.
The best part of this memoir? It’s told from dual perspectives. We know exactly what’s happening in Sav’s head and Cole’s head during every step of their story. As a young teenager, Cole was an almost-victim of sexual assault; he and his family struggled with finding the right church community for them; and Cole was hit hard by his mom’s decision to distance herself from God.
Sav didn’t always have it easy, either. She experienced the difficult impact of her dad’s infidelity; the experience of being cheated on by not one but two of her boyfriends; and, most monumental of all, becoming a mom at just nineteen years old.
In the book, Cole and Sav also recount their *shared* experiences, like how it felt to actually hang out for the first time and what it took to work through tough but necessary relationship-building conversations.
Despite all their individual challenges, they credit finding each to their optimistic attitudes and their faith. I found that really inspiring. They met on a whim and, even though they lived over two thousand miles away from each other (Sav in Cali and Cole in Alabama), that didn’t matter. They knew they were meant for each other.
Along with their attitudes and their faith, social media also played an integral part in Cole and Sav meeting each other—which, when you think about it, isn’t uncommon when it comes to dating. But in today’s internet-obsessed world filled with negative takes on curated feeds and attention-hungry influencers, it was refreshing to read something that indirectly celebrates social media. At their cores, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. are all about connection, and they have the potential to be really positive places where we all support each other if we use them wisely.
And without them, Cole and Sav wouldn’t have met, written this book…and given me *all* the feels.
After Anouk is accused of murder, the seventeen-year-old and her fellow beasties are on the brink of being turned back into animals.
It should come as no surprise by now that I’m obsessed with fantasy novels. My bookshelf is lined with them, and I’ve already featured a few amazing faves in this book club. I love that they can be dark or lighthearted, frightening or whimsical, action-packed or slow-burning.
Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd is both dark *and* whimsical, and it moves so quickly. One minute we’re in a lavish Paris home and the next we’re transported to a massive, rippling field of lavender outside of the bustling city.
Our MC, Anouk, is a beastie (aka, an animal turned human). She’s ruled by Mada Vittora, the Diamond Witch—a member of the society of magic handlers in France called the Haute. She’s a conveyer of dark magic, and because of the spell that’s been put on Anouk, the beastie is not allowed to step foot outside of the house. Like, not at all. (And in a city as pretty as Paris, that’s an incredible shame!) So the seventeen-year-old is resigned to the worst of the worst: endless house chores like laundry, sewing and cleaning. There’s actually *one* time when Mada Vittora actually allows her to go outside to the roof…but that’s only so that she can do more chores. (Rough, I know.)
Despite all of her hard work and loyalty, Anouk is suspect no. 1 when Mada Vittora winds up dead…even though she was downstairs doing (what else?) cleaning when she heard a heavy thud—the kind that only death can bring—from the sixth floor of the witch’s home.
Okay…I just have to say that my last trip to Paris was not anywhere close to this intense. Don’t get me wrong, eating macarons on the top of the Eiffel Tower was a crazy magical, once-in-a-lifetime moment (and, I won’t lie, one that was inspired by Gossip Girl). But it definitely didn’t involve getting accused of murder or running for my life.
Anyway, post–murder accusation, Anouk flees with her fellow beasties to Mada Zola, the Lavender Witch, who’s a former member of the Haute. But why flee to her? Mada Zola is Mada Vittora’s worst enemy and was banished to South East France and excommunicated from the Haute after Mada Vittora (allegedly) set her up. The Lavender Witch is mysterious and maddening, yes, but she’s also incredibly intriguing. What led to her excommunication? What secrets can she share? And, most importantly, can she extend Anouk’s enchantment so that she—and her friends—can live on as humans?
I don’t want to spoil too much…but I’ll let you in on a little secret: The beasties just might possess more power than they ever imagined. If you think I’m *not* stoked for the second book in this duology, you are 100 percent incorrect. Trust me when I say that this fantastical murder mystery is a suspenseful ride from start to finish. It’s supernatural and spellbinding—and I loved reading every last word of it.
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