This Time Will Be Different: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Be careful about what you share and who you share it with. Own your power, and don’t apologize for demanding respect. Control the narrative.”

“But the trees whisper to me that life is bigger than my fears . . .”

CJ Katsuyama is the mediocre daughter in a family known for its grit.

Instead of a series of accomplishments that would make her family proud, CJ has a lot of failures that her mom likes to refer to as learning opportunities.

How can that compare to her grandfather who worked for years to buy back Heart’s Desire after his father was forced to sell it at a fraction of the cost before he and his family were interned with other Japanese Americans during WWII? How can CJ hope to impress her mom who had CJ on her own while being the first woman of color to earn a top position at her venture capital firm when CJ herself managed to fail out of coding camp?

It’s no wonder CJ feels like she has more in common with her free spirited aunt Hannah, especially now that she’s learning about flower arranging and the language of flowers as Hannah’s apprentice at the family flower store Heart’s Desire.

Just when it feels like she could be good at something, CJ finds out that Heart’s Desire is struggling and might have to be sold. CJ is willing to try anything to save the shop, even scheming with her nerdy fellow shop apprentice Owen Takasugi. With everything she cares about on the line CJ starts to learn more about her family’s history and realizes she might finally be ready see how much she has to offer in This Time Will Be Different (2019) by Misa Sugiura.

This Time Will Be Different is Sugiura’s sophomore novel.

First things first: CJ’s voice is so great in this book. Her first person narration is conversational and honest and made it a lot easier to swallow all of the ways this book called me out for not taking risks or being proactive in my own life. I am not sure I have ever felt so called out by a book.

While the crux of the story focuses on CJ’s efforts to save Heart’s Desire and thereby discover some of her own grit, Sugiura also looks head on at the ugly legacy of the Japanese American internment and the racism at its core. The long term effects of that legacy play out on a personal level as CJ sees how both her mother and her aunt try to deal with their family history and the ramifications it has had in CJ’s town where so many public spaces are named after the white man who was at the forefront of advocating for internment.

CJ is also forced to confront her own biases when her best friend Emily starts crushing on Brynn–a white, overachieving student and CJ’s longtime nemesis–a conflict that is resolved with some incredibly thoughtful conversations about what it means to be an ally and one of the best interrogations of the white savior problem that I’ve ever read.

The plot is fleshed out with a lot of humor, one madcap run with a ladder, and CJ’s own confused navigation of romance as she tries to get closer to her crush, gets to know Owen, and deals with quite a few missed connections.

This Time Will Be Different is a smart story about a girl learning that you don’t always have to win to succeed—sometimes you just have to try. Recommended for readers who are ready to be an advocate or an ally and anyone who’s ever needed someone to tell them to start saying yes.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Picture Us in the Light: A Review

“I don’t believe you can put anything meaningful into the world without having a kind of innate generosity, something to give of yourself.”

Danny Cheng feels stuck. He’s got an eye toward college next year with an acceptance to RISD with a full ride and, rarer still in Cupertino, complete support from his immigrant parents.

But Danny is still haunted by the loss of a friend who committed suicide last year and every time he tries to imagine next year without his best friend Harry Wong he finds himself spiraling into a panic. Not to mention wondering if Harry really is as in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan, as he claims.

When Danny finds a box of old news clippings and letters in his father’s closet he starts to realize that there might be a reason his parents never talk about their past–a reason that Danny never would have imagined.

As Danny hurtles toward the end of his senior year and delves deeper into his family’s past he will have to confront uncomfortable truths about his parents and acknowledge his own dreams and wants if he ever wants to move forward in Picture Us In the Light (2018) by Kelly Loy Gilbert.

Picture Us In the Light is Loy Gilbert’s sophomore novel.

Danny is the core of the story as he tries to imagine a future without Harry and away from everything he knows in California. His existential dread at both prospects is palpable in Danny’s first person narration and makes for a tense read. Loy Gilbert’s prose shines while focusing on Danny and his friends but an overly packed plot detracts from what should have been a character driven novel.

With so many things happening to Danny it is, perhaps, unsurprising that the final act of the novel feels rushed after a slow build up with layers of suspense padded with a lack of communication between characters–especially between Danny and Harry as Danny struggles with how (or if) to tell Harry that he is in love with him and has been for years.

Picture Us In the Light is a complex story about connection, privilege, and hope. Readers able to overlook a sensationalist plot will appreciate Danny’s relatable narration, clever dialog, and authentic characters.

Possible Pairings: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, American Panda by Gloria Chao, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest and Kali Ciesemier, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Beauty That Remains by Ashley Woodfolk, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Alex, Approximately: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bailey “Mink” Rydell loves few things as much as she loves classic movies. It’s the basis for her entire relationship with Alex, a boy she met in a classic movie fan forum. Alex seems like the perfect guy for Bailey–the only problem is that she doesn’t know anything about him except for his profile name.

When Bailey moves cross country to live with her dad, it should be her opportunity to finally meet Alex in person. Except then she panics and starts to wonder if it wouldn’t be smarter to try and scope Alex out in real life before she makes any grand gesture. After all, what if he’s a total creep? Or a poser?

Her efforts to uncover Alex’s true identity are hampered by making sense of her new home, a new job at the local museum that is as kitschy as it is eccentric, and discovering a new nemesis. Porter Roth is cocky and quick to put her in her place in the most embarrassing ways. He’s also painfully good looking and impossible to ignore.

With two guys vying for her attentions Bailey has the rest of the summer to figure out if she’s willing to risk her heart on a messy reality instead of pining for a fantasy that may not exist offline in Alex, Approximately (2017) by Jenn Bennett.

Alex, Approximately is a gentle standalone contemporary romance. Bennett introduces readers to Bailey’s new hometown with evocative landscapes, quirky shops, and all of Bailey’s awe. Epigraphs of quotes from classic films can be found at the start of each chapter.

Snarky banter, madcap shenanigans, and genuine moments of vulnerability help to develop Bailey and Porter’s relationship in this story about first impressions and connection. A varied and well-rounded cast of secondary characters add another layer to an already richly imagined novel.

Alex, Approximately is a sweet, summery book ideal for fans of stories with mistaken identities, hate to love romance, and fantastic vintage vespas.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail

Frankly in Love: A Review

Frank is a second generation Korean American. He is a senior in high school and what he call a Limbo. Like the other Korean American kids in his community, Frank finds himself caught between his parents’ expectations and his own wants as an American teen in Southern California.

Frank is all too aware of what his parents want him to do–especially when it comes to dating (spoiler: any girl he brings home had better be Korean). The only problem is that expectations are the last thing on Frank’s mind when he falls for Brit Means who is beautiful, popular, and white.

When Frank realizes his fellow Limbo, Joy Song, is facing the same problem it seems like they have found an obvious solution: pretend to date each other. Fake dating gives Frank and Joy freedom to do what they want without disappointing their parents. But as their fake relationship brings them closer together, Frank wonders if he’s ever understood love at all in Frankly in Love (2019) by David Yoon.

Frankly in Love is Yoon’s debut novel. (Yes, before you ask, he and Nicola Yoon are married!)

Frank’s first person narration toes the line between humor and sardonic wit as he shares insights into the push and pull between his life at home with his Korean immigrant parents and his identity outside of their home and community.

While the fake relationship and related chaos add a lot of levity to this story, Frank’s journey throughout the novel is heavier as he tries to figure out who he wants to be (not to mention who he wants to be with) and struggles with how best to interrogate his parents’ racism and prejudices.

Frankly in Love is a contemporary romance with zero toxic masculinity and a charcter asking hard questions about choosing your path and who you love while choosing your battles. Recommended for readers looking for a romance with humor that still skews toward literary.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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

29 Dates: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for 29 Dates by Melissa de la CruzJi-Su is an average student in her prestigious school in Seoul filled with overachievers. Hoping to help her stand out in college applications both in South Korea and abroad, Ji-Su’s parents decide to send her overseas to San Francisco.

There isn’t even enough time to say goodbye to her two best friends before Ji-Su is on a plane to California. Being so far from home doesn’t that mean Ji-Su is completely free to focus on her photography and having fun though. Instead Ji-Su is expected to focus on her schoolwork (which she would do anyway) and continue going on the seons (blind dates) that her parents have set up for her through a matchmaker.

Usually adults go on seons when they’re ready to settle down. But as far as Ji-Su’s mother is concerned it’s never to early to find your perfect match. Ji-Su doesn’t put much stock in the seons but it seems like an easy way to keep her parents happy and maybe even make some friends.

Just when Ji-Su starts to think she is getting the hang of being at a new school in a new city (and maybe even seons) she realizes that all of that is easy compared to falling in love for the first time in 29 Dates (2018) by Melissa de la Cruz.

De la Cruz’s latest contemporary has a unique perspective in Ji-Su’s first person narration. Each of Ji-Su’s twenty-nine seons are detailed between chapters. These are fun exchanges though their structure as dialogue only is jarring compared to the traditional prose in the rest of the novel.

The blend of romance and humor is tempered well with Ji-Su’s focus on school as she works on college applications and has to decide what to do as she ends up waitlisted at some of her schools.

29 Dates is a super cute romantic comedy perfect for fans of the genre. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, American Royals by Katharine McGee, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Way You Make Me Feel: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene GooClara Shin is good at two things: getting into trouble and making people laugh. With her two friends, Patrick and Felix, Clara has coasted through her first two years of high school leaving a trail of chaos and epic pranks. Along the way she has also managed to infuriate her nemesis Rose Carter quite a few times. But that’s just a bonus. It’s not like Clara’s an actual bully or anything.

When her latest joke goes too far ending in a fight and a fire, even Clara’s usually laid-back father Adrian knows that things have gone too far. Clara’s plans for a laid-back summer and a vacation with her Instagram-famous influencer mom are cancelled. Instead Clara gets to look forward to working on her dad’s food truck, the KoBra, to pay back the school for fire damage. Worse, she’ll be working with Rose.

Clara isn’t sure how to deal with having actual responsibilities let alone working with uptight, perfectionist Rose whose ambitions and extracurriculars make the Obama daughters look like slackers. But there is Hamlet Wong–the boy who is as earnest and open as a Labrador, really cute, and totally not Clara’s type even if he does think she’s hilarious.

As Clara starts to learn more about the food truck, Rose, and her own family she starts to care about what happens with the KoBra and, more importantly, what other people think of her. After years of treating life as one big joke, Clara might be ready to let herself be more than a punchline in The Way You Make Me Feel (2018) by Maurene Goo.

The Way You Make Me Feel is a delightfully funny contemporary filled with food, family, and evocatively described Los Angeles locations.

Clara’s parents are Korean by way of Brazil–a cultural identity that comes through in their personalities as much as in the food that Adrian prepares on the KoBra–they’re also young and not married, things that don’t come through a lot in contemporary YA. While I’m never a fan of stories where the main character pines after an absentee parent the way Clara does with her mother. However Goo handles the inevitable dose of reality well and in a way that makes sense for her character.

Clara’s first person narration is acerbic, sarcastic, and often laugh out loud funny. She is used to not being well-liked and she doesn’t care as long as it doesn’t impact the persona she has created for herself. One of the only people to call Clara on her attitude and her bad behavior is Rose, an overachiever trying to balance dance classes, school, and her punishment on the food truck. Rose is also struggling with anxiety–the one chink in the otherwise perfect image she presents to the world.

While there’s some romance with Clara and the always adorable Hamlet, the main event in this novel is friendship as Clara and Rose start to understand and, much to their own dismay, appreciate each other the more they’re thrown together.

The Way You Make Me Feel is a funny, smart, and utterly entertaining story that reminds you it’s never too late to make a few changes. A novel that’s guaranteed to make you laugh and leave you smiling. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, It Started With Goodbye by Christina June, The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, Your Destination is On the Left by Lauren Spieller, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Starry Eyes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Starry Eyes by Jenn BennettZorie and Lennon used to be best friends. But that was before the homecoming dance last year and well before their families started feuding around the time that Lennon’s moms opened a sex toy shop right next to the massage shop that Zorie’s parents run.

Seeing Lennon and remembering how close they used to be still stings, but they’ve gotten good at avoiding each other. At least, Zorie thought they had until her mom adds a surprise adventure to Zorie’s carefully scheduled summer. (Even though she knows that being spontaneous gives Zorie hives. Literally.)

What starts as a luxe week-long glamping trip to cheer up a friend (and maybe hook up with her longtime crush) turns into a nightmare when Zories realizes that Lennon is rounding out the group. Then things go really wrong and Zorie and Lennon are stranded in the wilderness. Alone.

Needing each other to survive without any distractions might be just what Zorie and Lennon need to reconnect as they try to get back to civilization. But even after working through old hurts and secrets, they’ll have to see if their renewed friendship is ready for the real world in Starry Eyes (2018) by Jenn Bennett.

Bennett’s latest standalone contemporary romance is an absolute delight and has made me an instant fan. I also love the way this book is designed. The book is broken into three parts, each accompanied by a sketch by Bennett (who has a fine arts degree) of Zorie and Lennon’s camping gear. Lennon is an amateur mapmaker and Bennett also created maps to accompany the story which really help bring their down and the trails they travel to life.

Starry Eyes has a refreshingly varied cast and also highlights two of the many alternatives to a “traditional” nuclear family. Lennon lives with his moms but is also close with his Egyptian-American father–something that becomes more important as the plot progresses. Meanwhile Zorie’s mother died when she was eight and since then Joy, her Korean-American stepmother, has been more of a parent than her father leading to divided loyalties as Zorie uncovers a secret that could  tear her parents’ marriage apart.

Zorie is a type A nerd who plans and micromanages her own life to fend off her anxiety while also pursuing her passion for astronomy. She’s a fun and honest narrator who takes being pushed way out of her comfort zone (mostly) in stride. Laid back Lennon is the perfect foil to Zorie. His interests lie in horror, snakes, maps, and (luckily for Zorie) hiking and camping–two things that just might get them back home in one piece. While the hurt on both sides is obvious as they try to piece together what went wrong, their chemistry crackles throughout the novel.

Starry Eyes is a rich and entertaining romance. Come for the witty banter and tension, stay for the evocative descriptions, clever plotting, and nuanced characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins