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*

When We Caught Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for When We Caught Fire by Anna GodbersenChicago, 1871: Emmeline Carter is about to blast her way into Chicago’s high society, helping her father make good on his rise to wealth with her engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor.

Living in luxury and the envy of so many society debutantes should be enough for Emmeline. It isn’t. Instead, as her engagement looms, Emmeline can’t stop thinking about her carefree days she used to share with her best friend Fiona Byrne and her sweetheart Anders Magnuson. Now Fiona is Emmeline’s maid and Anders a distant memory.

Fiona hopes that Emmeline’s engagement will bring her friend everything she wants–and allow Fiona to pursue Ander’s herself without guilt. Then Emmeline surprises everyone by risking everything she has gained to see Anders one last time.

As friendships are tested and bonds are broken, even the smallest spark might change everything for these three friends and the city they all call home in When We Caught Fire (2018) by Anna Godbersen.

This standalone novel plays out over the course of the summer as Emmeline, Fiona, and Anders move toward the cataclysmic Great Fire. The novel alternates between chapters following Emmeline and Fiona’s points of view.

Godbersen once again brings the past to life with evocative descriptions of the city (and, of course, the fashions) of the time. While the main focus is on the Great Fire, When We Caught Fire also explores the inequality and corruption that ran rampant through the Gilded Age.

At its core, When We Caught Fire is a story about a friendship and a love triangle. The relationships between the three characters remain the driving force of the story even as the events of the fire play out in the novel’s explosive final act.

An open ending and nuanced characters allow readers to draw their own conclusions while fleshing out the story. When We Caught Fire is frothy, slightly sensational, and utterly entertaining. Recommended for readers who want their historical fiction filled with all the gory details and juicy parts.

Possible Pairings: A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper, Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Tell Me No Lies: A (WIRoB) Review

cover art for Tell Me No Lies by Adele GriffinThis month I started reviewing for Washington Independent Review of Books so you may see more promo posts like this moving forward.

Tell Me No Lies (2018) by Adele Griffin.

Originally reviewed for Washington Independent Review of Books. You can find my full review here: http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/tell-me-no-lies

I will leave you with a quote from my review and some read-a-likes:

Tell Me No Lies is an atmospheric ode to the joys of self-discovery and true friendships. It’s an ideal choice for anyone interested in the 1980s or looking for a compulsively readable piece of historical fiction.

Possible Pairings: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

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, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, 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, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, 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, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, 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 Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, 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