The Beauty of the Moment: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Nothing lasts forever. Not this snowflake. Not our homes, not our families. But it doesn’t mean you can’t live in the beauty of the moment.”

Susan Thomas doesn’t cause trouble. She does well in school and she always meets her parents exacting expectations. Maybe that’s why she goes along with her family’s move to Canada without much fuss. Now, instead of spending her senior year with her friends in the familiar surroundings of Saudi Arabia, Susan is in Canada dealing with winter, a school that– while less demanding–is co-ed, not to mention her mother’s depression while they both wonder if Susan’s father will actually make the move to join them in this new country.

According to almost everyone in his life, Malcolm Vakil is trouble. He remembers when he used to care about things like school and making his parents proud but it was a while ago. Before his mother died, before Malcolm found out about his father’s affair, and long before his father finally stopped hitting him and his younger sister. He knows what people see when they look at him. He doesn’t care enough to prove them wrong.

Susan and Malcolm have nothing in common except for wanting desperately to run away from their lives and, maybe, finding a welcome distraction in each other. But the problem with running away is that eventually you have to figure out somewhere–and maybe someone–to run to in The Beauty of the Moment (2019) by Tanaz Bhatena.

Bhatena’s sophomore novel is a contemporary romance set in the same world as her critically acclaimed debut novel A Girl Like That.

The Beauty of the Moment is a light story but don’t make the mistake of thinking that means it is slight. Bhatena effectively contrasts Susan and Malcolm’s points of view to highlight their differences as well as the common threads that draw them to each other in this story about perceptions and expectations.

This novel is as self-aware as its two main characters. Bhatena artfully explores typical conventions found in romantic comedies while subverting the familiar trope of the smart girl meets bad boy to move the story in unexpected directions. Like all of the best comedies, The Beauty of the Moment isn’t afraid to make fun of itself even drawing its title from a line that Malcolm himself recognizes as being incredibly corny seconds after he shares it.

The Beauty of the Moment is everything you could want in a romantic comedy. As with many things, it’s easy to ignore the work–the strength of Bhatena’s writing– because so much of it is hidden behind well-drawn characters and an engrossing plot. Not to mention beautiful sentence level writing that is sure to immediately draw readers into Susan and Malcolm’s world.

The Beauty of the Moment is a breezy, sweet story about an unlikely romance, complicated families, changed circumstances, and perception. Highly recommended for fans of the genre, readers looking for a new take on some familiar tropes, and anyone looking for a genuine story with authentic, intersectional characters.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Emergency Contact by Mary HK Choi, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, 96 Words for Love by Ava Dash and Rachel Roy, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy ColbertBirdie has always been a good daughter. She works hard in school, she’s responsible. She listens to her parents even when it’s hard like when she had to give up soccer to focus on her classes and college prep.

But it’s hard to balance being a good daughter with dating Booker–the new boy in her life. Birdie’s parents would never approve of Booker with his bad reputation and his juvenile record. Rather than upset her parents Birdie does what seems like the best thing for everyone: she decides to keep Booker a secret for as long as possible.

Then there’s her estranged aunt Carlene who is back in Chicago, and Birdie’s life, after years of struggling with substance abuse. Birdie barely remembers her aunt but she’s eager to reconnect now–especially when Carlene seems willing to listen to Birdie in a way her mother hasn’t for years. As Birdie grows closer to Carlene and to Booker, the secrets mount. When Birdie finds out that she isn’t the only one who’s been keeping secrets  everything she thought she knew about her family will be thrown into question in The Revolution of Birdie Randolph (2019) by Brandy Colbert.

Colbert’s latest standalone is an introspective novel about family, secrets, and what it means to be true to yourself. Birdie is an open and honest narrator struggling with how to balance what she wants with what her parents expect of her. Her story unfolds across a vibrantly described Chicago that is immediately evocative.

Typical stressors of school and college prep are amplified as Birdie finds herself keeping more and more secrets as she tries to spend time with Booker. Their sweet and new romance is tempered by the knowledge that they’ll soon have to figure out how far their relationship can go–if it can go anywhere at all, in fact–while contending with disapproving parents on both sides. Birdie faces a similar push and pull with her aunt who soon becomes a confidant despite the strain it causes with her parents.

In a lot of ways, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a story about decisions. The course of Birdie’s life up to this point has been shaped by decisions her parents, and even her aunt, have made. As Birdie begins to understand the ramifications of those choices, she has to decide for herself how to move forward. But luckily for her, and readers, she has a lot of support along the way.

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph is a smart, nuanced story about learning to be true to yourself–even when the truth about your past might not be what you expect. Come for the swoony romance, stay for the authentic intersectional identities, complex relationships, and memorable characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth Eulberg, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr

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

Bloodwitch: A Review

cover art for Bloodwitch by Susan DennardAs a Bloodwitch and a Carawen monk, Aeduan is uniquely suited to earning coin for his father the Raider King’s cause to end tyranny across the Witchlands. Two weeks ago that was enough for him. Now Aeduan and the enigmatic Threadwitch Iseult are desperate to reunite Owl, a young and powerful Earthwitch, with her family even as it draws Aeduan away from his father’s cause.

Across the Witchlands, Safi begins to understand the consequences of her Truthwitchery and her bargain to help Vaness, the Marstoki empress, clear her royal court of corruption. Meanwhile in Nubrevna, Vivia struggles to be the queen her country needs rather than the ineffectual ruler her ailing father and royal council expect.

After balancing for so long on the edge of Lady Fate’s knife, Aeduan must choose: continue as a tool for his father or commit to a different sort of life with different loyalties in Bloodwitch (2019) by Susan Dennard.

Unrest brews across the Witchlands in this third installment in Dennard’s popular fantasy series which begins with Truthwitch before continuing in Windwitch and the novella Sightwitch.

Cinematic prose and high action propel this story and its characters inexorably forward pushing them to their limits, and sometimes beyond, as the Witchlands move closer to a war where every character will have their own role to play.

Readers learn more about Aeduan and his complicated past as this installment  makes good on hints from previous volumes and confirms theories about the Cahr Awen, the ancient twelve Paladins, and especially Aeduan’s own role in the conflict to come.

Dramatic battles and suspense are countered with evolving character relationships as old friends are reunited and enemies make uneasy bargains while Iseult and Aeduan get the relationship arc they have always deserved.

Bloodwitch is a solid continuation in a series that gets better with each installment. Recommended for readers looking for solid friendships, the slowest of slow burn romance, and lots of adventure.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

*A more condensed version of this review was published in an issue of School Library Journal*

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