With the Fire on High: A (WIRoB) Review

Here’s a teaser from the start of my review of With the Fire on High (2019) by Elizabeth Acevedo (originally reviewed for Washington Independent Review of Books):

cover art for With the Fire on High by Elizabeth AcevedoEven with help from her grandmother, ‘Buela, at home, Emoni Santiago has a lot more than college plans on her mind at the start of senior year in Philadelphia. While her best friend, Angelia, is looking at the best graphic-arts programs and enjoying her relationship with her new girlfriend, Emoni is trying to decide if college (or a relationship) can have a place in her future alongside the hopes and dreams she wants to make a reality for Babygirl. And she wonders if it’s time to focus on doing rather than “spending four years pretending to do” in college.

When an opportunity to take an immersive culinary-arts class comes up at school, Emoni knows this is one thing she has to do even if she isn’t sure what to expect — or even if she can afford the class’ trip to Spain alongside the day-to-day costs of helping ‘Buela keep their house afloat.

“If you ask her to tell it, ‘Buela starts with the same story” of Emoni hopping up on a stool and seasoning her first meal at age 4. Emoni doesn’t know what to believe, but “ever since then ‘Buela is convinced I have magical hands when it comes to cooking. And I don’t know if I really have something special, or if her telling me I got something special has brainwashed me into believing it, but I do know I’m happier in the kitchen than anywhere else in the world. It’s the one place I let go and only need to focus on the basics: taste, smell, texture, fusion, beauty.”

Unfortunately, her natural affinity for food and years of experimentation in the kitchen don’t go far when it comes to prepping Emoni for the rigors of the culinary class. Chef Ayden wants to prepare them for work in a restaurant, but Emoni chafes under the structure and restrictions that seem designed to impede her creativity.

Emoni already knows a lot about taking care of herself and the people she loves, but over the course of her senior year, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to learn even more about cooking, family, and opening her heart.

You can read my full review of With the Fire on High (2019) by Elizabeth Acevedo here: http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/index.php/bookreview/with-the-fire-on-high

Possible Pairings: A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Your Destination is On the Left by Lauren Spieller, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Symptoms of a Heartbreak: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Symptoms of a Heartbreak by Sona CharaipotraEight years ago Saira helped diagnose her best friend Harper’s cancer and conferred with her doctors about treatment options. It wasn’t enough to save her. Since then, Saira has been working toward helping other kids the way she couldn’t help Harper.

Saira is used to balancing friends and her boisterous Indian-American family with schoolwork–especially after graduating from med school at sixteen. But none of that prepared her for the rigors of her new internship in pediatric oncology. Or dealing with her mother running the pediatric department in the same hospital.

When she starts to fall for a patient, Saira is willing to do whatever it takes to try and improve his chances in treatment–even if it means risking her career in Symptoms of a Heartbreak (2019) by Sona Charaipotra.

Symptoms of a Heartbreak is Charaipotra’s solo debut.

Saira is a winning narrator with a lot of book smarts and a charming naivete that underscores the ways in which growing up often has nothing to do with learning more and everything to do with getting older.

There’s no way around this novel being a book about cancer. Saira is the lead doctor treating several patients and just like in real life, not all of them get better. While the novel ends on a hopeful note, the story remains bittersweet as it acknowledges that surviving cancer isn’t the same as curing it.

Despite the novel’s hospital setting, Symptoms of a Heartbreak does have a lot of humor. Saira has a big extended family to support her along the way including her doting parents, sassy grandmother, and caring older sister along with more aunties, uncles, and cousins than you can shake a stick at. Charaipotra expertly depicts the unique chaos of Saira’s life (and family) with tender and snappy prose.

Symptoms of a Heartbreak is a unique blend of humor, hospital drama, and a sweet romance. Recommended for readers who have always wanted an aged down Grey’s Anatomy and anyone with a soft spot for Doogie Howser.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen, Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

Past Perfect Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth EulbergAlly Smith loves her life in small-town Wisconsin. After moving around with her father for most of her childhood, Ally is thrilled that they landed in a place where she can feel at home surrounded by friends who are more like family.

She knows that things are going to change soon since she’s a senior in high school but that still feels far away–especially when figuring out if she and her friend Neil are still just friends or becoming something more seems much more urgent.

Ally isn’t sure what to do when she finds out that everything she thought she knew about her perfectly ordinary life has been a lie. Ally’s past isn’t what she’s been told. Her family isn’t what she thought. In fact, her name isn’t even Allison–it’s Amanda.

With her old life blown apart, Ally has to figure out how she can fit herself into this strange new life. And if she even wants to try in Past Perfect Life (2019) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Eulberg’s latest standalone novel veers into mystery and suspense territory with a plot reminiscent of Caroline B. Cooney’s classic The Face on the Milk Carton.

While Past Perfect Life could have become sinister, the story manages to stay upbeat thanks to the vast support system that Ally has around her while her world begins to fall apart. With everything changing, she finds comfort in old friends and new family both in Wisconsin and her new home in Tampa, Florida.

Ally’s first person narration complements the tension of the plot as she learns the truth about her life although the novel’s slow pacing diminishes some of the impact as readers begin to understand the truth about Ally’s family and her past. Well-drawn characters shift the story from black and white to morally ambiguous grey as Ally and readers try to understand what happened and who should be blamed (or forgiven).

Past Perfect Life is a surprisingly gentle story about found family, embracing the messy parts of your past, and learning who you are. Recommended for readers who want a thriller with less nail biting and more friendship and romance.

Possible Pairings: The Opposite of Here by Tara Altebrando, The Last Forever by Deb Caletti, The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney, Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

We Rule the Night: A Review

“No right choice, no way to win.”

cover art for We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza BartlettRevna is a factory worker helping to create war machines out of living metal for the Union of the North. She is always careful to keep a low profile, careful to do what is expected–it’s the only way to make sure her family doesn’t fall even lower than they have in the wake of her father’s arrest as a traitor. When she is caught using illegal magic Revna is certain she’ll join her father in prison, leaving her mother and younger sister to fend for themselves and possibly destitute.

Linné is loyal member of the Union. In fact, her desire to fight for her country is so great that she defies her general father and disguises herself as a boy to fight on the front lines. No one can dispute her war record, her skill with spark magic, or her heroism. But none of that matters when her greatest secret is discovered.

Instead of the punishment they expect, both girls are given the chance to join a new military unit. The One Hundred Forty-Sixth Night Raiders regiment is comprised entirely of women–unlikely soldiers with the unique ability to manipulate the same magic their enemy has been using to attack them from the air.

The Night Raiders will take on dangerous flights under the cover of darkness, when the enemy least expects it. Success could give Linné the notoriety and recognition she craves while it will guarantee safety and security for Revna and her family. But if the girls want to fly together they’ll first have to survive their training. And each other in We Rule the Night (2019) by Claire Eliza Bartlett.

We Rule the Night is Bartlett’s debut novel. This fantasy adventure was partly inspired by the Night Witches–the actual airwomen who flew night flights for the Soviet Union during World War II. The novel alternates between close third person chapters following Revna and Linné.

We Rule the Night is at its best when it focuses on the girls as they try to make it through their training while constantly pushing against the limits placed on them as women in a patriarchal society run by a dangerous regime. Linné comes from a relative position of privilege as the daughter of an esteemed general, while Revna is part of the Union’s lowest social strata. Because of her precarious position she is also forced to tolerate numerous slights as people assume she is less capable because of her prosthetic legs–something she is keen to prove false even if it means taking on dangerous missions with her new regiment.

With so much riding on the regiment’s success, the sense of urgency and tension is palpable as both girls struggle through their training and early missions. The depth of Bartlett’s characters and stark prose nearly make up for a comparable lack of world building that relies heavily on the book’s inspiration to situate the Union both in the world and the war that started with a rival nation trying to protect sacred godplaces on Union land.

We Rule the Night is a fierce tale of reluctant friendship, war, and what it means to be a hero–especially when you live in a world that refuses to acknowledge the least of what you can achieve. Recommended for anyone who loved Code Name Verity but wanted more battles and fantasy readers who need more feminism and less world building.

Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Witch Born by Nicolas Bowling, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Dark of the West by Joanna Hathaway, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, A Thousand Sisters: The Heroic Airwomen of the Soviet Union in World War II by Elizabeth Wein, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Dramatically Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Dramatically Ever After by Isabel BandeiraEm Katsaros’s senior year is not quite what she imagined. Her boyfriend is dreamy and sweet. But he’s also five thousand miles away–and still not the best at English since he spent most of his semester in the US making out with Em instead of studying, which makes emailing and texting a challenge.

Then there’s the fact that Em’s dad just got laid off. With money tight and the future uncertain, Em has to hustle for scholarships if she wants to be able to afford to attend her first choice university and its amazing acting program.

Luckily, Em has the perfect plan. All she has to do is channel her scene-stealing acting skills for a speech competition. Making it to the national round of the US Youth Change Council competition means a week in Boston and the chance to win a national scholarship.There’s only one thing standing in her way: Kris Lambert–senior class president, total jerk, Em’s long-time nemesis, and unbelievably her fellow state representative for New Jersey.

Kris seems different once they get to Boston, but Em isn’t easily fooled. With so much on the line, Em is willing to do whatever it takes to secure her win–even if it means she’ll have to pretend to flirt with Kris to throw him off is his game. But as the final competition gets closer, Em starts to realize her strategy to foil Kris might have spectacularly backfired when Kris starts to give as good as he gets in Dramatically Ever After (2017) by Isabel Bandeira.

Dramatically Ever After is the second book in Bandeira’s Ever After trilogy which begins with Em’s best friend Phoebe in Bookishly Ever After. Each book in the series functions as a standalone so they can be read independently.

As the title suggests, Em is a dramatic narrator who is always ready to add a little drama to her life whether it means pretending to flirt with Kris during their trip to Boston or over romanticizing her long-distance relationship that may have run its course. Em isn’t always the nicest or easiest heroine. She embraces those parts of her personality and has no patience for anyone who is unwilling to accept all of her on her own terms.

Kris and Em are great foils as both are incredibly aware of each other’s strategies to win the speech competition and determined to prove who’s the best once and for all. As a result Dramatically Ever After is filled with witty banter and aggressive flirting on both sides as Em and Kris start to realize they might have met their match in each other (and that it might not be a bad thing).

Dramatically Ever After brings readers back to Lambertfield and all of its wonderful characters while also expanding the world and giving readers a new perspective on everyone’s favorite drama queen. Romantic comedy style plots, writing that gets better with each installment, and swoons galore make this series a winner. Be sure to start it now so you’re ready when book three, Practically Ever After, hits shelves!

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Nothing by Annie Barrows, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roate, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Isabel too!

*A copy of this title was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2017*

We’ll Always Have Summer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny HanBelly has loved two boys in her life: Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. Conrad was her first love and the first boy to break her heart. Jeremiah was the one who was there to pick up the pieces.

In the two years since, Jeremiah has been the perfect boyfriend. He’s fun, he’s dependable, and he has always loved Belly. But is that enough to build an entire future on?

Conrad knows he made a mistake when he pushed Belly away. He knew it even as he pushed harder. When Belly and Jeremiah announce their engagement, Conrad realizes that time is running out if he wants to try to win Belly back.

The Fisher boys have been part of Belly’s life forever. She never imagined that in choosing one of them she might have to break the other’s heart in We’ll Always Have Summer (2011) by Jenny Han.

We’ll Always Have Summer is the final book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins with The Summer I Turned Pretty and continues in It’s Not Summer Without You.

This book is narrated by Belly with a few chapters from Conrad. My only complaint is I wish we had more from him because it was so fascinating to finally see things from his point of view.

After Jeremiah won me over in book two, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the end of the trilogy. That I couldn’t decide how I wanted this love triangle to shake out speaks volumes to Jenny Han’s strengths as an author and how well-developed all of these characters become by the end of the series.

I always know I’m enjoying a series when it becomes impossible to choose a favorite book. I loved meeting these characters in book one, and I loved the way book two flipped everything I thought I knew upside down. But it might be this final book that has become my favorite as I think about the way things finally come together for Belly.

We’ll Always Have Summer is the perfect conclusion to what’s become a surprise favorite series. Come for the swoony romance and suspenseful love triangle, stay for the sweet ode to summer and growing up. A highly recommended series.

Possible Pairings: Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

It’s Not Summer Without You: A Review

cover art for It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny HanBeing with Conrad was supposed to make everything better, but instead it’s one more thing that’s fallen apart in the aftermath of Susannah getting sick again.

Belly doesn’t know who she is without summers at Cousins Beach. She doesn’t know what to make of Conrad’s apathy or the distance that’s grown between them since last summer.

In a year where so many things have changed, Belly isn’t sure if she can keep pining for Conrad. All she really knows is that when Jeremiah calls to tell her that Conrad has disappeared, she has to help find him in It’s Not Summer Without You (2010) by Jenny Han.

It’s Not Summer Without You is the second book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Belly narrates most of this book with a few chapters interspersed from Jeremiah’s point of view. Belly spends so much of this series focused on Conrad that it was interesting to see more of Jeremiah’s perspective.

With the addition of Jeremiah’s chapters and the story shifting away from Cousins, all of the characters are more developed here. The tension between Belly and both Fisher boys is palpable as all three try to reconcile themselves to the loss of the summer cocoon that used to bind them together.

It’s Not Summer Without You is a melancholy installment but the series is stronger because of it as another layer of depth is added to the story. Han takes the familiar elements from The Summer I Turned Pretty and inverts them to make this an entirely new reading experience.

It’s Not Summer Without You is, of course, a must-read for fans of the series and as much of a page-turner as you’re likely to find in a breezy contemporary–let’s just say I gasped more than once as I made my way to the end of this book!

Possible Pairings: Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler