I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter: A Review

Julia’s life is in freefall after her older sister is hit by a truck on her way home from work. Julia always knew her sister, Olga, was the favorite but watching her parents fall apart along with dealing with her own grief is overwhelming. Julia copes by looking into Olga’s life–something she was never very interested in when Olga was alive–but Julia ends up with more questions than answers and soon realizes that knowing the truth doesn’t always lead to closure in I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (2017) by Erika L. Sánchez.

I am happy this book exists but I am 100% not the audience for it which I think influenced my lukewarm feelings about it. Julia is an interesting narrator–it’s still rare to see girls being unapologetic about being unhappy and being themselves, two things that come across immediately in Julia’s story. That Julia is Mexican American adds another dimension to the narrative and makes her voice even more badly needed.

Sánchez’s writing in this novel is authentic and literary without being neat. Sometimes Julia uses course language, sometimes she isn’t polished. But she’s always real and so is the Chicago neighborhood she inhabits–things that I am sure contributed to this book’s nod for the National Book Award long list.

In its review of this book, Kirkus points out that Julia isn’t likable. I don’t think she has to be and I don’t think we’re going to get very far as a society until we stop demanding female characters be likeable at all times. That said, sometimes Julia’s discontent felt a little vague. I wanted to know more about why she feels so unsatisfied and always has been. It’s never quite explained in the text.

There’s a lot going on in this book with side plots; some to good effect, some with unrealized potential. Julia is always striving and learning and while she isn’t always the nicest character, her growth over the course of the novel is all the more satisfying because of it.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter is a story about a first generation American trying to do the best she can. Give this to readers looking for a new story of the immigrant experience, readers who need their characters to be real rather than sweet, and above all give this to anyone looking for a character who loves art and words as much as they do.

Possible Pairings: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr


Windfall: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice buys a lottery ticket for her best friend Teddy–the boy she has loved from afar since freshman year–for his eighteenth birthday. It’s a small gift and it’s not likely to finally make Teddy reciprocate Alice’s feelings or even notice them. But it seems like a fitting gift.

Everything changes when Alice’s silly gift wins Teddy a whopping $140 million dollars.

Alice’s life already changed once when her parents died and she moved in with her aunt, uncle, and her cousin Felix. She isn’t sure she wants everything to change again even if the money is exactly what Teddy and his mother need after years struggling to overcome his father’s gambling debts.

Teddy has always been a constant in Alice’s life but in the wake of his luck changing it starts to feel like Teddy is changing too. But as Alice learns more about herself she starts to realize that maybe they’re both changing. And maybe that isn’t always a bad thing in Windfall (2017) by Jennifer E. Smith.

While Windfall is all about a big lottery win, this change of circumstance is often a backdrop in this character driven story. At eighteen, Alice is used to being an orphan and the stigma that sometimes comes from explaining her family history. What she isn’t used to, she realizes as she throws everything she has into her application to Standford, is defining herself without her parents.

Alice has always turned to the memory of her parents and their life in San Francisco as a guide for her own life which she has filled with tutoring and volunteering. But as Alice begins to make decisions about college and what comes next she realizes that modeling herself on her parents offers more questions than answers.

Alice’s confusion about her future and who she wants to be is complicated by Teddy’s lottery win. As questions of how to split, spend, and otherwise share the money come up Alice and Teddy’s previously breezy friendship becomes strained. In the midst of this Alice’s cousin Leo is dealing with the more concrete dilemma of what happens next when his boyfriend is in college in Michigan while Leo is still in Chicago.

Smith’s multifaceted story focuses on Alice and uses her grief and development as a lens for the rest of the story. Alice spends a lot of the novel viewing herself as an island set apart from the rest of her family–something that doesn’t always ring true when the loss of her parents is taken in the larger context of a familial loss affecting multiple people–but the ways she and her family come together by the end of Windfall is sweet and satisfying. Alice’s relationship with Teddy is similarly complex and a driving force of the plot.

Smith tackles questions of fate, privilege, and love in her latest standalone contemporary. Windfall is a smart and compulsively readable story about what happens when the impossible is suddenly not just possible but reality. A great choice for readers seeking a realistic romantic story with a healthy dose of escapism.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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

Tell Me Three Things: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Over email and text, though, I am given those few additional beats I need to be the better, edited version of myself.”

Tell Me Three Things by Julie BuxbaumJessie doesn’t want to live in California. She doesn’t want a new stepmother when her mother’s death two years earlier is still painfully fresh. She can definitely do without her snobby new stepbrother. She hates leaving her best friend behind in Chicago and wishes her dad would try to understand why she’s so upset.

Her new super fancy prep school in Los Angeles is filled with pretentious students, confusion, and very few potential friends. When she receives an email from someone, Somebody/Nobody to be more specific, offering to help her make sense of her perplexing new life Jessie isn’t sure what to think. Is his offer a genuine chance to get some help? Could it be an elaborate prank?

The potential of a new friend and some much-needed information win out. The more Jessie and SN email and text, the more she wants to meet him in person. But as she gets closer to discovering SN’s identity, Jessie also wonders if some mysteries should remain unsolved in Tell Me Three Things (2016) by Julie Buxbaum.

Jessie feels like a stranger in a very strange land when she is thrust into a higher income bracket at her predominantly white private school. This relative privilege is addressed and handled well over the course of the novel while Jessie tries to reconcile her middle class sensibilities with the new luxuries she is starting to enjoy. Jessie’s online friendship with SN and her real life struggles to befriend her classmates serve as another contrast in this story where perception can change everything.

This novel also ruminates on the nature of grief and moving on as Jessie struggles to hold onto memories of her mother while watching her father start a shiny new life. The awkward and often frustrating dynamics of becoming a (reluctantly) blended family add depth to this already absorbing story.

Tell Me Three Things is filled with humor and wit as a sweet romance unfolds. Jessie’s narration features a singular voice with a unique perspective on her surroundings and her new classmates. She is self-aware enough to acknowledge her shortcomings in struggling to reconcile herself to her new step-family and home while also harboring a healthy dose of naiveté about other aspects of her life.

Buxbaum breathes new life into a familiar premise in Tell Me Three Things. Readers may be quicker to guess SN’s identity than Jessie but that journey, like the rest of Jessie’s story, is all the more satisfying for the serendipity and potential near-misses along the way. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia


Ten Cents a Dance: A Review

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine FletcherChicago, 1941: When her mother becomes too sick to work, Ruby Jacinski knows it’s her responsibility to look after the family and make sure money is coming in. Ruby doesn’t mind dropping out of school. But working in the factory just about kills her. Leave it to Ruby and her fiery temper to lose a sweet spot slicing bacon and end up working in Pig’s Feet.

When a local legend and all-around tough guy suggests that Ruby could use her talents as a dance teacher to earn some real dough, Ruby jumps at the offer. But teaching dancing is the last thing on the clients’ minds when Ruby begins working as a taxi dancer.

With no other choices, Ruby immerses herself into the world of taxi dancing and learns the fine art of drawing extra gifts in the form of meals, clothes and even cash from her clients. Soon, Ruby is making more money than she could have imagined. Soon Ruby realizes that the unsavory aspects of her work are starting to stick to her as much as the stink of pickled pig’s feet used to. With no one else to help, Ruby knows that it’s her choice to make another change for herself in Ten Cents a Dance (2009) by Christine Fletcher.

Ten Cents a Dance was partly inspired by one of the authors relatives as detailed in the author’s note at the end of the novel.

Fletcher offers a well-researched novel that brings the world of the Chicago Yards neighborhood to life. Ruby is a tough as nails heroine who isn’t afraid to make hard choices to get what’s coming to her. If Ruby is coarse or gritty during the story it is because she has to be to survive.

While Ruby’s decisions are often fueled by impulsive judgments of painfully naive notions, she is a very authentic heroine and one that readers will understand. Although Ruby makes mistakes again and again (and again) during the narrative she always owns up to the them. She always acknowledges what she did and works to make it right.

Ten Cents a Dance is a vivid story of the darker side of pre-war Chicago. Sure to appeal to readers looking for a noirish read they can sink their teeth into.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor


The Vanishing Season: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is my work. This is the one thing I have to do.

“I am looking for the things that are buried.”

The Vanishing SeasonMaggie Larsen doesn’t know what to expect when she and her parents move from Chicago to Door County. But then, it’s not like there is another choice with her mother having been laid off and money being tight.

Although Maggie is sorry to leave Chicago behind, it is surprisingly easy to find a new place for herself in the small town of Gill Creek. As the days turn into weeks their ramshackle house on Water Street starts to look like a home. As the weeks turn into months, Maggie realizes she has found friends here in carefree, beautiful Pauline and Liam who is as kind as he is introspective.

While Maggie lives her new life, girls in Gill Creek are disappearing. No one knows who the killer is. No one knows who might be next. No one knows if it will stop.

All the while, a ghost is tethered to the house on Water Street. She can see the danger circling. She can even see some of the pieces of the story–a scorched key, a love letter, a bracelet with a cherry charm. But even the ghost isn’t sure why she is still here watching the season unfold to its final, disastrous conclusion in The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

The Vanishing Season is a quiet, aching read that builds slowly to a conclusion that is both shocking and inevitable. Anderson expertly weaves together Maggie’s story with the first-person narration of the ghost to create a haunting puzzle of a story. Even readers who think they have predicted every plot point may well be surprised by the way everything fits together by the end.

This story has romance and suspense. There is a foolish girl who breaks things sometimes by accident and sometimes because she can. Vignettes of small town life are interspersed with thoughtful commentary on privilege and ownership.

Anderson’s pacing is spot-on as the story builds to the denouement which is handled both eloquently and cleverly. The Vanishing Season is a beautifully written and subtle story about friendship and love and even heartbreak as well as a meditation on what living a life, and living it well, really means. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Frost by Marianna Baer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford


Bad Luck Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Callie LeRoux. She left her home in the Dust Bowl and traveled across three different worlds to free her parents from the evil king. Along the way she found her worst enemy, her best friend, and her own name.”

Bad Luck Girl by Sarah ZettelCallie has been through a lot since leaving behind the Dust Bowl in Slow Run, Kansas and traveling across the country to Los Angeles to rescue her parents from the Seelie King. Fast-talking and quick-thinking Jack Holland has been beside Callie since the beginning because that’s what best friends do.

Now that Callie’s parents are free, it feels like there should be some kind of happy ending. Or at least a rest. But the Seelie King is still spitting mad. Both the Seelie and the Unseelie courts want to find Callie. They hope to use her to manipulate the prophecy that Callie will close the gates between the worlds in their favor.

Callie wants nothing to do with any of the Seelies or her Unseelie relatives. After a whole lifetime not knowing him, Callie isn’t even sure she wants anything to do with her fairy Papa. She’s even less sure how to go back to being her Mama’s daughter when so much has happened since she left Kansas.

But none of them have time to think about that. Callie’s bad luck is already a known thing and it is none too helpful as Callie, Jack and her parents try to get away from the fairies chasing them.

As word of Callie’s bad luck and her connection to the prophecy spread, Callie realizes there is never going to be a happy ending or any kind of peace. Not if Callie doesn’t take a stand in Bad Luck Girl (2014) by Sarah Zettel.

Bad Luck Girl is the conclusion of Zettel’s American Fairy Trilogy which started with Dust Girl and Golden Girl.

Zettel once again delivers a perfect blend of fantasy and historical details in the conclusion to one of my favorite trilogies. Although Callie is sometimes rash and even reckless, the story still focuses on her resilience and her development as a character. Readers and characters alike will see Callie’s growth throughout this series as well as her inner strength. Callie also contends with changing feelings for her best friend Jack as well as figuring out what it means to have parents again after so long on her own.

1935 Chicago is brought to life with Zettel’s evocative descriptions which make the city just as vivid as the characters who populate it. The fairy lore and world-building builds here to several surprising twists and an ending that is as clever as it is unexpected.

Bad Luck Girl is the perfect conclusion to a nearly perfect trilogy about fairies, Depression Era America, and a girl trying to find her place in the world. I can’t recommend this book or this series highly enough.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, The Iron King by Julie Kagawa, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff


Tandem: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tandem by Anna JarzabSasha is beyond thrilled when cute, popular Grant Davis asks her to prom. After years of pining for Grant, it seems like Sasha’s dreams are finally coming true.

Then prom is over and things start to go horribly wrong.

Grant isn’t Grant and, after receiving a strange gift, Sasha isn’t in her Chicago. Suddenly all of the theoretical things Sasha has learned from her grandfather about alternate universes are painfully real.

Thrust into a life that isn’t her own, Sasha has to play the part of a princess in a world that shouldn’t exist if she ever wants a chance to return home in Tandem (2013) by Anna Jarzab.

Tandem is the first book in Jarzab’s Many Worlds trilogy.

While the framework is original, the story is nothing so much as a riff on The Prisoner of Zenda–amovie that’s been made several times where a man is recruited (unwillingly) to pretend to be the king of Ruritania when the real king is kidnapped. Chaos ensues.

Although the premise is clever and appears in lots of other books and movies, I couldn’t shake the similarity between the two.

Alternate universe stories are always interesting in terms of setting and this one is no exception with an alternate Chicago that is markedly different even with eerie similarities. Jarzab does a great job supporting the science of her story and making the Tandem and analogs and other elements convincing and plausible.

The problem is that the book is too long. At 448 pages (hardcover) the book takes a good hundred pages to get to Aurora (the alternate world) and even then the actual story, the one described in the plot summary, still doesn’t start right away. Readers looking for an alternate universe/parallel universe story will likely find the initial groundwork fascinating, others may find it tedious.

Although Jarzab’s writing was enjoyable and Sasha was an appealing heroine, the story took too long to get off the ground with too much build up to ever truly be engaging.

Possible Pairings: The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine, Proxy by Alex London, Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young, Planesrunner by Ian McDonald, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Fair Coin by E. C. Myers, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Pivot Point by Kasie West