Simone Breaks All the Rules: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover for Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie RigaudThanks to her strict immigrant parents, Simone Thibodeaux’s life is 100% boy free. After three years with a curfew and doing everything that’s asked of her from her parents and her all-girl’s school, Simone is more than ready for a change.

College is supposed to be a fresh start but with her parents threatening to make her commute to Rutgers like her older sister, Simone knows it’s time for drastic action.

Enter new friends Amita and Kira and the trio’s senior playlist. All three girls are used to life on lockdown and they are sick of missing out. With one year left to cram in all the classic high school experiences they’ve missed the girls are ready to go dancing, skip class, and pick their own prom dates.

Simone thinks she has the perfect boy picked out. But what happens when the date her parents arranged for her years ago turns out to be better than she could have hoped? After a year of breaking rules, Simone will discover that sometimes you can’t plan for love (or heartbreak) in Simone Breaks All the Rules (2021) by Debbie Rigaud.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rigaud’s latest contemporary romance is an ode to high school nostalgia and small acts of rebellion. Simone’s narration is filled with funny quips and fun facts about teen activists she has researched for her senior project whom she draws from for inspiration throughout the story.

While readers might be quicker to recognize the OTP here than Simone herself, the journey to that discovery is well worth the wait. Simone and her new friends have instant chemistry and while they all pursue their own dates for prom, the real love story here is the lasting friendship they forge. Ben–Simone’s arranged prom date–is her perfect foil and their dialogue as they get to know each other adds a fun dimension to this story.

Simone Breaks All the Rules is a laugh-out-loud story about friendship, prom, and learning that sometimes you don’t have to look as far as you think to find yourself. Recommended for fans of stories with bucket lists, high school nostalgia, and witty banter.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, 10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

You can also read my exclusive interview with Debbie Rigaud here on the blog.

How We Fall Apart: A Review

How We Fall Apart by Katie ZhaoAt Sinclair Prep, the whispers never stop; it’s a small price to pay for being at the most elite private high school in the country. Graduating from Sinclair Prep will open doors for every student–even scholarship kids like Nancy Luo.

Nancy knows a full scholarship and perpetual class rank as second best isn’t enough to make her truly belong at Sinclair Prep. Nancy’s best friend, Jamie Ruan, is quick to remind Nancy of that whenever she lets herself forget. But even with Jamie’s vicious reminders, even with everything she’s had to sacrifice to get this far, Nancy knows Sinclair Prep is the first step to becoming one of the beautiful, entitled people who can get whatever they want.

When Jamie doesn’t show up for Honors night, Nancy thinks it’s her chance to step into the spotlight and finally claim her spot at the top.

Nancy realizes how wrong she was when Jamie is found dead. As rumors spread that Jamie was murdered, an anonymous post on Tip Tap, the school’s gossip app, from “The Proctor” points to Jamie’s best friends–Nancy, Krystal Choi, Akil Patel, and Alexander Lin–as the prime suspects. The Proctor promises to reveal all of their darkest secrets on Tip Tap until they admit their complicity in Jamie’s death.

If the Proctor makes good on their threats, Nancy and her friends could lose everything–including Nancy and Alexander’s coveted scholarships. In a group of friends where everyone is hiding something, could keeping a secret prove deadly?

At Sinclair Prep Nancy has always known that being good and being the best are mutually exclusive. As the stakes climb, Nancy will have to choose how much she’s willing to give–and to take–in order to stay at the top in How We Fall Apart (2021) by Katie Zhao.

Find it on Bookshop.

How We Fall Apart is the first book in a projected duology. The story, narrated by Nancy, starts with the fallout from Jamie’s death. Flashbacks throughout the novel shed light on the secrets Nancy and other members of her friend group are trying so hard to keep buried during the murder investigation.

How We Fall Apart is one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year. Zhao’s plotting is unrivaled as every single thread in this story proves to be crucial to the larger plot while also leaving just enough seeds to justify a second book. At the same time, readers should be advised that mental health plays a major part in this story–and in the circumstances of Jamie’s death. Be sure to check Zhao’s website for full trigger warnings.

Nancy is a calculating protagonist. She knows what she wants and exactly what price tag to attach to it as she struggles to keep her head above water within Sinclair Prep’s cutthroat social scene. With everything to gain, and so much to lose, Nancy is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her spot at the school leading her to increasingly ruthless choices as the novel progresses.

How We Fall Apart is an engrossing mystery set in the pressure cooker of an elite high school. Say hello to your next dark academia obsession.

Possible Pairings: Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee, The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, People Like Us by Dana Mele, The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund

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

It Sounded Better In My Head: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina KenwoodNatalie isn’t sure if she should be madder that her parents waited until Christmas to announce their divorce–months after they reached the decision–or that neither of them seem to be that upset about it. Where’s the fighting?

Even venting about the whole thing to her best friends, Zach and Lucy, is awkward now that they’ve become a couple. Natalie should have seen it coming. Objectively, the signs were all there. But she also always thought she and Zach would be the ones to end up together. If Natalie had just managed to be brave and say the right thing for once in her life.

That never happens to Natalie. She used to be able to blame things like that on her cystic acne and her relatedly low self-confidence. Now that her skin is clear, her life hasn’t suddenly become the one she’s always imagined. She’s still single, still a third wheel, and still very awkward most of the time.

Natalie is used to being uncomfortable in her own skin–and in most other places as well, if she’s being honest. So she’s as confused as anyone when Zach’s hot older brother Alex starts paying attention to her, and talking to her, and maybe kissing her. After years of doing everything she can to disappear, Natalie has to decide if she’s ready for someone to finally see all of her in It Sounded Better in My Head (2020) by Nina Kenwood.

Find it on Bookshop.

It Sounded Better in My Head is Kenwood’s debut novel. It was a finalist for the 2021 Morris Award. All characters are presumed white.

A conversational narrative voice makes it clear that Natalie still bears scars from her acne–both literal and figurative–after being defined for so long by the thing that shattered her self-esteem. Natalie’s first-person narration also amplifies her confusion and stress navigating attention from Alex after years of knowing him only as her best friend’s cool older brother.

Natalie’s self-deprecating humor and wry observations make her anxiety bearable combining levity and pathos in one story. Set in Melbourne this character-driven plot plays out during the end of Natalie’s senior year in high school as she (and friends Zach and Lucy) try to decide what comes next. The trio’s focus on college admissions contrasts well with Alex’s efforts to become an apprentice chef.

It Sounded Better in My Head is a truly funny novel with a truly clever narrator. Ideal for readers looking for a contemporary novel that is both sweet and genuine. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Past Perfect by Leila Sales, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories: A Review

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black, illustrated by Rovina CaiOnce upon a time there was a boy with a wicked tongue. Dressed in rags, raised on cat’s milk, he soon discovered that the best way to be seen was to be unkind. Later you might get to know him as a cruel prince and a wicked king. But before that he was a boy trying to make his way in a world that could have destroyed him if he hadn’t come to rule it in How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories (2020) by Holly Black, illustrated by Rovina Cai.

Find it on Bookshop.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is a companion novella to Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy which includes The Cruel PrinceThe Wicked King, and The Queen of Nothing. The novella is largely focused on Cardan’s childhood but a framing story is set after the events of the trilogy so be sure to read all of them first to avoid spoilers.

This novella is really for the fans of the series. What a delight to return to the world of faerie and get another glimpse of my favorite monstrous girl (Jude) and my favorite wicked boy (Cardan). Black balances showcasing what comes after the original series in the framing story with flashbacks to Cardan’s upbringing as a neglected-if-spoiled youth in the royal court.

Questions of inevitability and change play out both for young Cardan and throughout the novella as Cardan encounters the same fairytale multiple times–each with subtle changes. This conceit brings the entire novella together with a dynamic finale while also nodding to the power of story–an element which imbues every book in this series.

How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is illustrated throughout with lavish full color artwork that brings Cardan and his world to live. Cai does a beautiful job giving life to these characters who already have so much personality in prose. A lovely return to a world that hints at even more stories to discover.

Possible Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Legendary by Stephanie Garber, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

By the Book: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

By the Book by Amanda SelletMary Porter-Malcolm knows all of the potential pitfall for a young woman navigating the murky waters of socializing from engaging with a scoundrel, falling victim to ennui, to falling literally in front of a train. All of which was very hand information in the 19th century (the focus of her literature concentration at her alternative school) but less applicable to modern times.

Which is to say that Mary is feeling less than prepared on the first day of her sophomore year at the local public high school. Mary knows exactly three people, including one of her older sisters. That number quickly drops when Mary realizes the friend she was counting on during this scary transition is more interested in climbing the high school social ladder than hanging out with her.

A quick warning to another new girl at school gives Mary the false reputation of savvy advice giver and a new group of friends. As she helps her friends flesh out the Scoundrel Survival Guide, Mary embraces new experiences and even the prospect of new love.

But with Mary so focused on preserving her reputation with her friends, she might be missing all the signs that one potential scoundrel might not be as scandalous–or as uninterested in her–as she thought in By the Book (2020) by Amanda Sellet.

Find it on Bookshop.

By the Book is Sellet’s debut novel. It’s narrated by Mary and includes excerpts from her diary at the start of each chapter. Check the end of the book for a full listing of all the classic novels mentioned in the Scoundrel Survival Guide.

At the start of By the Book, Mary is naive to the point of being cringe-worthy. But she quickly grows on readers as her oblivious navigation of her own life is contrasted with wry (if sometimes entirely inaccurate) observations about her friends, siblings, and classmates in the context of her 19th century literature interests.

Mary’s large, white family includes absent-minded academic parents, three older sisters, and a younger brother all of whom are well-developed and enhance the story with their own dramas and contributions to Mary’s various dilemmas. While Mary does have some romance (and tension) with would-be scoundrel Alex, the story really shines as Mary learns about the gives and takes inherent to friendship with her new (and first) group of friends–girls who also defy stereotypes including Latinx Terry who is objectively beautiful but also obsessed with all things related to forensic pathology.

By the Book is a sweet story with a lot of heart and humor. Come for the witty banter and endearing friendships, stay for surprisingly on point 19th century literature jokes and high school shenanigans.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman

In the Study With the Wrench: A Review

*In the Study With the Wrench is the second book in Peterfreund’s trilogy based on the board game Clue. Start at the beginning with In the Hall With the Knife to avoid spoilers.*

In the Study With the Wrench by Diana PeterfreundOne blizzard and one murder later, Blackbrook Academy is a disaster. The campus is still in disarray with unrepaired storm damage. Students are withdrawing faster than you can say, “Did you hear about Headmaster Boddy’s murder?”

And, in the midst of the media firestorm, six students have earned an unwelcome reputation as the Murder Crew after discovering the body and helping to solve the murder.

Orchid relishes being back on campus even with the school’s tanking reputation because being there, being Orchid, means she’s safe from her past. Vaughn Green is thrilled that he and Orchid have a chance to spend more time together–but he also knows that means she’ll have more time to figure out what he’s hiding. In the wake of discovering some of Finn Plum’s secrets, Scarlett is reeling as one half of a former platonic power couple while Finn struggles to figure out how to win back her trust. Beth “Peacock” Picach is back on top of her tennis game thanks to a new life coach. Then there’s Sam “Mustard” Maestor who is still trying to make sense of his new (surprisingly dangerous) school … and his infatuation with the often deeply annoying Finn.

In a school that’s still filled with unaswered questions, maybe it’s no surprise when another dead body turns up and brings the Murder Crew to the center of another investigation in In the Study With the Wrench (2020) by Diana Peterfreund.

Find it on Bookshop.

In the Study With the Wrench is the second book in Peterfreund’s trilogy based on the board game Clue (find it on Amazon). Start at the beginning with In the Hall With the Knife to avoid spoilers.

Like its predecessor, this novel is broken up into alternating chapters between the six main characters. Scarlet is Indian American, Mustard is Latinx, the rest of the cast is presumed white.

In the Study With the Wrench picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one as students return for a new term to find the school and its campus much changed. Peterfreund expands on plot twists revealed in the previous novel’s final chapter while delving deeper into Blackbrook Academy’s secrets in this second installment. Readers also learn more about Vaughn’s tense home life and his complicated connection to the school as well as seeing more of more of Orchid’s past.

While this information sets up a lot of interesting plot threads to be tied up in the conclusion of this fast-paced trilogy, Vaughn and Orchid are often the least interesting characters as readers quickly learn more about their respective situations than either character–or anyone else in the book–giving some later plot twists less impact. The classic game characters, reinterpreted by Peterfreund, continue to be the greatest strength of this series.

With an almost literal cliffhanger ending, more murder, and plenty of suspects, In the Study With the Wrench is another exciting installment in a mystery that is equal parts humor and suspense.

Possible Pairings: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett, Heist Society by Ally Carter, I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Killing November by Adriana Mather, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

Luck of the Titanic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Of the eight Chinese passengers aboard the Titanic, six survived.

Valora Luck almost misses her chance to be one of those passengers when her entry is blocked thanks to the Chinese Exclusion Act which restricts the admission of Chinese immigrants into the United States. Valora is used to obstacles, though, and isn’t about to let a silly policy stop her from getting on board and seeing her twin brother Jamie for the first time in years.

Jamie is traveling on the Titanic as a seaman on his way to Cuba with the rest of his crew but Val has bigger plans for both of them. Reunited for the first time since their father’s death, this is the perfect opportunity for the twins to revive their acrobatics act–an act that Val knows will be good enough to attract the attention of the Albert Ankeny Stewart. One look at their performance and Mr. Stewart will have to recruit them for the Ringling Circus. Then Val and Jamie can finally get back to being family again instead of near strangers.

Val’s plan is perfect. Until disaster strikes and, as the Titanic begins its last night as an ocean liner, Val and her brother will have to worry about surviving the present before they can plan for the future in Luck of the Titanic (2021) by Stacey Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Luck of the Titanic is narrated by Val as she struggles to board the luxury liner and secure passage into America for herself and her brother. The story is inspired by the real Chinese passengers on the TitanicYou can read more about Lee’s real-life inspiration to write this story in an essay she wrote for Oprah Daily.

Lee once again delivers a masterful work of historical fiction. Luck of the Titanic is carefully researched with front matter that includes a cast of characters and diagrams of the famous ship. The balances portraying the very real racism and intolerance Val and her fellow Chinese passengers would have encountered on the ship (or in attempting to travel to the United States) while also highlighting small joys as Val reconnects with her brother, befriends his crewmates, and as all of them discover the magic of this larger-than-life ship before it strikes an iceberg and begins to sink.

Val is an accomplished acrobat which adds a fun dimension to the story. Because of the novel’s setting, this aspect of Val’s life can never be the main point of the story but it still adds so much to her character as readers see her talent and joy in her work–and the contrast in how Jamie feel’s about the same performance skills.

Readers familiar with the history of the Titanic will recognize many key points including the iconic state rooms and grand stairway while the story also shows more of third class (steerage) where Jamie and his crew are located. The novel does include an attempted sexual assault which moves the plot forward (necessitating the separation of Val and some of her friends as the iceberg hits) but also feels excessive in a story that already has plenty of tension and strife for the characters.

Lee also includes nods to common theories about contributing factors to the disaster including the lack of binoculars for crew working in the crow’s nest, the pressure on Captain Smith to drive at speed, and of course the lifeboats (of which there were too few) being launched without reaching full capacity. Other details (the lack of proper warnings from the Marconi operators, the confusion as Titanic tried to signal for help from nearby ships) are left off-page in favor of a focus on the characters. While Lee shows more behind-the-scenes areas of the ship, this novel is largely populated by fictional characters whenever possible leaving notable survivors like Molly Brown and crew member Violet Jessop out of the narrative entirely.

Luck of the Titanic is both gripping and melancholy as the novel builds to its inevitable conclusion. This story of survival and family is completely engrossing while also asking readers to consider whose stories are deemed worth telling in history–and how we can work to widen that scope. Recommended for fans of adventure and historical fiction novels.

Possible Pairings: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo, Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolf

Even and Odd: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Even and Odd by Sarah Beth DurstEven and Odd are sisters who share magic on alternating days. On her even days twelve-year-old Emma “Even” Berry tries to pack in as much magic use as she can while she prepares for her next exam from the Academy of Magic. With her level five exam looming, Even needs all the practice time she can get to make sure she stays on schedule with her plans to become a hero. As a hero Even will be able to accept quests and travel throughout the neighboring magical kingdom of Firoth helping people.

Eleven-year-old Olivia “Odd” Berry would be just as happy skipping her magic days altogether. Except for turning her sister into a skunk when she’s annoying, Odd rarely has control of her magic. Odd’s magic might improve with practice, but she’d much rather focus on spending time volunteering at the animal shelter in their sleepy town in Connecticut where the Berrys run a border shop helping visitors from Firoth navigate the mundane world.

When the hidden portal behind Fratelli’s Express Bagels suddenly closes, no one can access their magic. Worse, a lot of magical Firoth residents are stranded far from home and cut off from their families. Even is eagerto help investigate as hero practice and Odd is excited to get to know the unicorn Jeremy who also offers assistance if it means getting home before his parents ground him.

When they find themselves trapped on the wrong side of the border, both sisters will have to rely on all of their skills–magical and otherwise–to figure out who is stealing the border magic and how to fix it in Even and Odd (2021) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Even and Odd is filled with humor and timely commentary on the harms of closed borders. Narrated in close third person following Even, the story explores magic from both sides as Even embraces all things magical and Odd is readier to find magic in the mundane world (like new kittens!).

With help from Jeremy, a unicorn with a surprising fondness for soda, Even and Odd explore their birthland Firoth for the first time while trying to fix the border. The magic system here is logical and has several parallels to climate change as magical energy is treated as a limited resource–a fact that leads to dangerous consequences for the border and all of Firoth.

Whimsical magical elements and humor help temper these weightier topics as the sisters realize that sometimes being a hero has a lot less to do with proper training and a lot more to do with offering to help. Even and Odd is a fast-paced, magical adventure perfect for readers who like their fantasy with a bit of humor and a lot of sisterhood.

Possible Pairings: The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis, The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer, Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connelly, Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

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

A Psalm for the Wild-Built: A Review

“The human body can adapt to almost anything, but it is deceptively selective about the way it does so.”

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky ChambersSibling Dex begins to dream of hearing crickets in the wild. Sibling Dex is very good at what they do as a monk in Panga’s city-located monastery. But have they become complacent?

Thinking the answer might be yes, Dex decides to become a tea monk. There’s nothing arcane about it but there is still a learning curve as Dex figures out how to listen to peoples’ problems and offer them a perfectly brewed cup of tea. With a self-sustaining wagon and increasing experience, Dex has everything they need.

But it turns out crickets are extinct in most of Panga.

After years of traveling the same route between Panga’s outermost villages, Dex decides their last chance to hear those crickets is to travel even farther out. Into the wild.

Then Dex meets Splendid Speckled Mosscap in the middle of the forest. Mosscap is one of the many robots on Panga who, after gaining self-awareness a century ago, chose to abandon the city and travel into the wild.

Now, the robots feel it’s time to check in on the humans and see what they need. And Mosscap has decided that Dex is the perfect person to help it figure that out. But as Dex struggles to figure out what they want for themself, the monk doubts that they can help a robot answer such a large question for all of Panga. Maybe there will at least be some crickets along the way in A Psalm for the Wild-Built (2021) by Becky Chambers.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the first novella in Chambers’ new solarpunk series, Monk & Robot.

Chambers turns her considerable world building talents to imagine a bright future for humanity where society is harmonious, sustainable, and sees robots as little more than the stuff of legend until Mosscap comes along.

The gentle, character-driven narrative gives readers ample time to get to know Dex and understand the nuances of their work as a tea monk (as well as Dex’s restlessness) as Dex travels alone and, later, when Dex and Mosscap begin to talk. Philosophical questions of how robots and humans can (or should) interact as well as discussions of where passions can fit into this future pepper the story as Dex and Mosscap begin to understand what they can accomplish together.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the bright start to a series that promises to be as thought-provoking as it is cozy. Recommended for readers looking for science fiction with a little more tenderness and a lot of tea.

Possible Pairings: Last Day by Ruta Domenica, Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh, The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, All Systems Red by Martha Wells

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

Rise to the Sun: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Rise to the Sun by Leah JohnsonOlivia is trying to make her way through yet another heartbreak with help from her best friend and trying to figure out how she can ever face going back to school after her latest romantic disaster.

Toni is grieving the death of her roadie father and trying to figure out what happens next when pursuing her dreams feels a lot like making the same mistakes her father seems to have made.

Two different roads lead to the same destination and Olivia and Toni end up at the Farmland Music and Arts Festival. The festival is a chance to enjoy live music and for both girls a chance to have one last really good time before everything changes.

What neither of them counted on is meeting each other. With chemistry that feels inevitable, Olivia and Toni are immediately drawn to each other. But after spending so long making bad choices, will either of them be ready to make the right one this time?

When the festival goes from a safe haven to anything but, both Olivia and Toni will have to dig deep to find their way back to each other and to the music they both love in Rise to the Sun (2021) by Leah Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rise to the Sun is Johnson’s sophomore novel. This standalone contemporary can be read alone but readers familiar with Johnson’s previous novel You Should See Me in a Crown will recognize secondary character Mack and everyone’s favorite band. Olivia, Toni, and Olivia’s best friend are Black. Toni’s best friend Peter is presumed Indian (last name Menon). The story alternates between Olivia and Toni’s first person narrations.

This story is an ode to music–both performing and listening–as well as live performance. Farmland is such a well described setting that it quickly becomes a character in the story as the novel builds to a final act where the fate of the long-running music festival is called into question.

At the start of the novel, Toni is still grieving her father’s death and still unsure how to reconcile her love of music with her father’s seeming lack of success in the same profession before his premature death. Scared to be hurt again, she instead closes herself off with self-destructive choices to deny what (and who) she really wants.

Olivia, meanwhile, is a self-described nightmare person. Constantly surrounded by drama from her endless search for love, Olivia is used to having her hand held by best friend Imani through any and every stumbling block. The tension between long-suffering Imani and oblivious Olivia adds another layer to this story as Johnson explores what makes a healthy friendship alongside the specific pain of unrequited love.

Rise to the Sun is a story of first love, second chances, friendship, and one epic music festival. Recommended for readers who enjoy books with festivals or road trips, music, and characters with chemistry.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest, Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, The Summer of Jordi Perez and the Best Burgers in Los Angeles by Amy Spalding