If the Shoe Fits: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

If the Shoe Fits by Julie MurphyCindy barely made it through her senior year in design school. She filled her portfolio with old shoe designs while all of the pent-up grief from her father’s death just before college finally caught up to her. Even now, as a fresh college graduate, Cindy is completely uninspired. No wonder she has no industry job prospects.

Leaving her chosen home in New York City to return to California to nanny her much-younger triplet siblings could be a much-needed chance to refocus. The plan starts to sound even better after Cindy has a meet-cute on the plane with dreamy Henry who could easily pass for Prince Charming.

Adrift and not sure how to restart her creativity, Cindy makes a surprising choice when she volunteers to appear as a contestant on her step-mother’s popular reality dating show. Sure, it’s unexpected. But it will give Cindy a chance to showcase her work and get some exposure. Plus she’ll be appearing with her other step-sisters so it’s not like Cindy will be on her own. She knows she won’t win the Suitor. But maybe she’ll land a job.

When the producers decide it would make more sense if Cindy has no connections on the show, she’s worried. When the show’s suitor turns out to be a certain charmer that Cindy got to know on a plane, she’s concerned–what are the rules for dating someone you already know while on national television?

Just when Cindy is ready to go home, she finds out that the show’s viewers have embraced her as the first plus-size contestant pushing body positivity one group date at a time. She has to stay for her new fans. As the sparks fly between her and Henry and her inspiration slowly returns, Cindy might have to stay for herself too in If the Shoe Fits (2021) by Julie Murphy.

Find it on Bookshop.

If the Shoe Fits is Murphy’s first novel written for adults. The book is also the start of Disney’s Meant to Be series of romances which will retell different Disney classics. Being a Disney property, this novel is high on the swoons while being light on the steam.

Fans of Murphy’s previous novels will appreciate Cindy’s no-nonsense first person narration as well as her comfort in her own skin as a fat woman who isn’t afraid of being called fat. That doesn’t mean Cindy doesn’t have to confront fatphobia throughout the novel as the show’s stylists refuse to stock clothing in her size and, during one group date, Cindy is forced to cobble together an outfit out of designer clothes from a label that doesn’t make anything in her size. Rather than becoming pain points for Cindy or readers, these moments showcase Cindy’s ingenuity as a designer and underscore the book’s continued message of inclusivity.

Cindy and Henry are white. There is diversity among the show contestants, staff, and designers met along the way including one of my favorite secondary characters, Jay, who is a non-binary style icon.

While comparing If the Shoe Fits to the original Cinderella is a stretch in some respects, fans of the original will recognize key details from the original including Cinderella’s squad of helpful mice, beautiful shoes, and even a reimagining of the Disney princess’s iconic outfit. Obvious chemistry between Cindy and Henry along with their smile-inducing banter move the story along even when it gets bogged down in the conventions of the dating competition–a show that fans of The Bachelor will immediately recognize.

If the Shoe Fits is a Cinderella retelling replete with positivity in a story that centers romance and magical moments without any of the toxic feminity inherent to the original as Murphy reinterprets Cindy’s relationships with both her step-mother and her step-sisters. A must-read for Disney fans and romance readers alike.

Possible Pairings: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert, Natalie Tan’s Books of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Charlie Glass’s Slippers by Holly McQueen

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

Don’t Hate the Player: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Don't Hate the Player by Alexis NeddEmilia Romero is the star of her high school field hockey team, a straight A student, and a world class secret keeper. It’s the only way she’s found to keep her double life as a player on a competitive esports team in Guardians League Online (GLO) on the down low. Emilia isn’t ashamed of her gaming–she knows she’s great at it. But she also knows that the gaming community is very white and very male and not a great place for a Puerto Rican teen girl to be honest about who she is.

When her team qualifies for a local eSports tournament, Emilia knows she can’t miss this opportunity. Keeping her gaming life separate from her real life, gets a lot more complicated when Emilia recognizes one of the competitors.

Jake has had a crush on Emilia since they met as kids at an arcade birthday party. His underdog team qualifying for the tournament is exciting enough. Seeing Emilia and being thrown back into her orbit? That’s a whole other level.

Competing in the tournament should be as simple as letting the best player win. But when the stakes rise Emilia and Jake both realize they have a lot to gain–and potentially lose–depending on the tournament’s outcome. Growing closer as gamers is great but it will take more than the perfect hidden combo to make sure they can stay close in real life too in Don’t Hate the Player (2021) by Alexis Nedd.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t Hate the Player is Nedd’s debut novel. Most of the story is narrated by Emilia with some chapters in third person following Jake.

Nedd knows her stuff and delivers a story entrenched in online gaming that remains approachable to non-gamer readers. The high stakes of the tournament contrast well with the tension as, with Jake’s help, Emilia tries to keep her identity a secret to avoid harassment from the gaming community. Jake has been a gamer all of his life and is aware of the harassment faced by non-male/non-white players from the experiences of his own GLO teammates who include BIPOC players who are queer and trans.

Emilia’s efforts to balance her parents’ expectations with her own desires adds a lot of dimension to the story. Both Jake and Emilia’s friends offer a strong support system as the competition at the tournament amps up and add a lot of humor to the story.

Don’t Hate the Player is a funny, romantic story that shines a light on the joys (and hazards) of the gaming community while proving that sometimes a little competition can bring people together. Recommended for gamers, romantics, and readers looking for books with a healthy dose of humor.

Possible Pairings: Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi, Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi

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

An Unkindness of Magicians: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat HowardFortune’s Wheel has begun its Turning. When it ceases rotation, all will be made new.

So begins every Turning in the Unseen World. Letters, emails, and other missives are sent to every House throughout New York City–a warning to prepare.

Some like Laurent Beauchamps–an outsider as a Black man and a new initiate to magic–hope to establish their own Houses. Others like Laurent’s best friend Grey Prospero–a legacy to magic despite being disinherited–see this Turning as a chance to prove themselves and reclaim what should rightfully be theirs no matter the cost.

The Turning is also a chance for established Houses like the Merlins to maintain their position at the top ruling over the Unseen World. While leaders of larger Houses like Miranda Prospero hope to grasp at this chance to shake things up.

Houses can represent themselves in the Turning or hire out help. Miranda doesn’t know what to make of Ian Merlin choosing to represent her House instead of his own father’s but she knows she can’t afford to turn down Ian’s offer if she wants to finally wrest power away from Miles Merlin.

What no one at the Turning counted on was Sydney: the mysterious champion Laurent hires. An outsider herself, Sydney knows how magic works and she knows it is breaking. If she has her way, the entire magic system underpinning the Unseen World will be destroyed before she’s finished.

Fortune’s Wheel is turning. Some will rise, some will fall. But at the end of this one, everything will change and it will be time for the world to be remade in An Unkindness of Magicians (2017) by Kat Howard.

Find it on Bookshop.

An Unkindness of Magicians is a standalone urban fantasy with a shifting close third person narration. The story unfolds in different directions as the narratives shifts between Sydney, Miranda, Ian and other key players in both the Unseen World and the Turning itself.

Against the backdrop of the Turning and its magical competitions Howard builds out the Unseen World, its archaic hierarchies, and the iniquities at the center of how magic is used and distributed in a sharp examination of privilege and legacy. Unsolved murders throughout the Unseen World add another dimension to this already rich story.

An Unkindness of Magicians is a nuanced and intricate novel with a slow build as plots and characters begin to intersect in advance of a sensational conclusion. Howard populates this story with a group of fiercely determined and clever characters–especially women–looking for justice and victory in a world that would willingly to cast them aside. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly, Middlegame by Seanan McGuire, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth

The Night Circus: A Review

The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternThe circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

Long before its inception, the circus was destined to be something special. Visitors are charmed by the magical performances and the wondrous exhibits found in each black and white tent. Behind the scenes the circus is the site of a fierce competition between two magicians.

Celia and Marco have been trained for this competition from a young age as their instructors pit them against each other determined to see which magician (and which trainer) is superior. Both are warned to avoid the other, to keep their identity secret, but soon enough Celia and Marco crash into each other and into a dangerous love that threatens the contest.

All things must end and if this competition doesn’t have a clear victor it could have devastating consequences for Celia, Marco, and everyone who has come to call the circus home in The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern.

Find it on Bookshop.

Morgenstern’s debut novel hardly needs any introduction. I came late to this one after attempting (and, quite honestly, failing) to enjoy the author’s second novel The Starless Sea.

The Night Circus is a nonlinear story told across decades as our protagonists first begin their training through to the explosive conclusion of their competition. The sprawling story jumps back and forth in time while following multiple characters in close third person and spanning the globe as Le Cirque des Rêves travels to different locations.

Compared to such an elaborate setting and complex world, some of the characters fail to become fully realized. The story very clearly centers Celia and Marco while introducing others who become integral either to the circus or the contest–or both in some cases–although some feel closer to a deus ex machina than true characters in the story. The book also falls short of giving every character their due when it comes to a true ending.

It’s also worth mentioning that the only characters who are not white fall dangerously close to stereotypes with Tsukiko the inscrutable and enigmatic Japanese contortionist and Chandresh the eccentric and boisterous circus founder who is half Indian.

Morgenstern’s background as a visual artist is obvious in her prose which is extremely evocative and immediately draws readers into the circus as well as each and every one of Celia and Marco’s elaborate illusions. Intervals throughout the novel also pull readers into the story with sections told in second person that position the reader as a vital participant in the circus.

Much like the timeless Le Cirque des Rêves itself, The Night Circus is visually stunning, immediately clever, and often bittersweet. Recommended for readers looking for a fantasy with a setting in which they can luxuriate.

Possible Pairings: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Race the Sands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Life isn’t just about who you were—it’s about who you choose to be.”

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst“Call it what it is: monster racing. Forget that and you die.”

Tamra tells every one of her students that. She cautions them, every time, to stay focused on the race, the moment, and never forget that they are riding on the back of a monster. Not every rider remembers those lessons in the heat of the races.

The Becaran races are a chance for wealth and glory for the riders. The racers, the kehoks, get something else: a chance to be reborn as something less monstrous–a chance to try to redeem their damaged souls.

Tamra used to be a winner, a champion. Now she is a damaged trainer unsure how to overcome a bad reputation and mentor another champion. She only knows winning this season is her last chance to keep her daughter.

Raia is an untested rider. She has never raced, never even seen a kehok up close. Now she has to convince a trainer to take her on if she wants a chance to use the races to win her freedom and escape her domineering parents and fiance.

Together with a strange new kehok, Tamra and Raia have the potential to change the races and all of Becar forever. But only if they stay focused and remember: Only the race. Only the moment. Only the finish line in Race the Sands (2020) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Durst’s latest standalone fantasy introduces readers to the beautiful and often brutal world of Becar–a desert country where every action can stain or elevate your soul with immediate consequences for your next incarnation. This raises, for all of the characters, thoughtful questions of how to live a moral life while also doing what needs to be done throughout the novel.

In a kingdom in flux waiting for the new emperor to be crowned, Tamra and Raia face their own mounting stakes as both women are forced to take chances on themselves and each other to try and win.

The story unfolds with a close third person narration following Tamra, Raia, and other key players in the story to create a strong ensemble cast notably including Tamra’s daughter, Yorbel–an augur with his own interest in kehoks, and Tamra’s patron Lady Evara who is the obvious successor to my favorite inscrutable fashion plate Effie Trinket.

Race the Sands is a fantasy that explores many things but at its core this is a story of mindfulness and focus as both Tamra and Raia answer what they truly want to accomplish and how far they are willing to go for those goals. The story also considers what makes a family–found or otherwise–as well as what happens when the people trusted to maintain order in society betray that trust.

Race the Sands is a fast-paced story filled with intrigue, action, and, of course, competition. A twisty, perfectly paced adventure ideal for readers who want their high fantasy with a healthy dose of mystery.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah!

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted By the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena, The Hunter Games by Suzanne Collins, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

You Should See Me in a Crown: A Review

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah JohnsonLiz Lighty has never been one to break from the ensemble to go solo. That has served her quite well during her time at her high school in Campbell County, Indiana where she’s been able to focus on band, getting good grades, and doing everything she needs to in order to attend her mother’s alma mater Pennington College.

Unfortunately, even doing everything right isn’t enough to get Liz the last scholarship she needs to be able to afford tuition at Pennington. If her grandparents find out, they’ll want to sell the house to help Liz. But if they do that Liz and her younger brother will lose the last link they have to their mother who died from Sickle Cell Anemia. Liz isn’t going to be the reason for that. Not a chance.

Instead, Liz realizes her best option is running for prom queen. Liz has never cared about prom–not the way people are supposed to in her town where prom is a full-time obsession–but becoming prom queen comes with a crown and a scholarship.

Now Liz will have to complete community service, dodge spontaneous food fights, and deal with the friend who broke her heart when he he chose popularity instead of their friendship. That’s all while campaigning to climb the ranks running for prom queen and figuring out what to do when new girl Mack turns from enigmatically cute to new crush and maybe even potential girlfriend.

Prom season is always hectic in Campbell and competition is always fierce. Liz knows most people in Campbell don’t see her as prom queen material. The better question is if Liz is ready to step out of the ensemble and use her solo to convince them otherwise in You Should See Me in a Crown (2020) by Leah Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

You Should See Me in a Crown is Johnson’s debut novel. This funny contemporary is set over the course of the six weeks of Liz’s prom campaign culminating in the prom itself. I won’t spoil the prom queen results, but maybe you can guess. Despite the prom focus the main event is watching Liz come out of her shell and embrace all of her personality (and her queer identity) while making space for herself in both her school and her town.

Campaign shenanigans and gossip from the school’s social media app Campbell Confidential add drama and humor to this story. Although she doesn’t tell them everything she’s struggling with, Liz’s grandparents and brother are great supports for her and quite funny in their own rights.

Liz’s friends also try to help with the campaign which leads to questionable decisions from best friend Gabi as she lets winning overshadow being a good friend–an ongoing problem as Gabi begins to understand that being a friend (and an ally) has to more than offering campaign advice.

Then of course, there’s Mack and one of the sweetest romances you’ll find in YA Lit.

You Should See Me in a Crown is a prom-tastic read with a story that is as funny, smart, and endearing as its heroine. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Prom by Saundra Mitchell with Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, Matthew Sklar, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, 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, The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne, Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

The Light at the Bottom of the World: A Review

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London ShahThousands of feet underwater, humanity tries to find a way forward on a planet that changed forever sixty-five years ago when the water levels started to rise and never stopped. Strange as it may be, it’s the only world Leyla McQueen has ever known.

When her father is accused of the worst possible crime and arrested with no chance to defend himself, Leyla knows she has to get him out. Even if her best chance to do that is trying to win the ultra competitive, ultra dangerous London Submersible Marathon.

When the race doesn’t go to plan, Leyla realizes her father’s arrest is tied to much bigger secrets in London. With no other options and no help in sight, Leyla has to leave the only home she has ever known and confront dangerous truths to save her father before it’s too late in The Light at the Bottom of the World (2019) by London Shah.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Light at the Bottom of the World is Shah’s debut novel and the start of her Light the Abyss duology.

Leyla is a great narrator who has obvious affection for her small corner of this underwater world while acknowledging the devastation that led humanity to it. Despite a strong premise and evocative setting, the stakes of Leyla’s mission never translates to an actual sense of urgency even as she is caught in a race against time to save her father before she is detained by the authorities herself.

The story and its slang remains very grounded in modern cultural references and terminology even though the story is set decades in the future. The varied cast of secondary characters are unfortunately under-utilized for a lot of this plot-driven novel.

The Light at the Bottom of the World is a classic dystopian featuring a kickass Muslim girl, lots of submarines, lots of water, and lots of action. Recommended for readers seeking any or all of the above in their science fiction.

Possible Pairings: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau, A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Matched by Ally Condie, Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Warcross by Marie Lu, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, The Program by Suzanne Young

Dramatically Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Dramatically Ever After by Isabel Bandeira

Em Katsaros’s senior year is not quite what she imagined. Her boyfriend is dreamy and sweet. But he’s also five thousand miles away–and still not the best at English since he spent most of his semester in the US making out with Em instead of studying, which makes emailing and texting a challenge.

Then there’s the fact that Em’s dad just got laid off. With money tight and the future uncertain, Em has to hustle for scholarships if she wants to be able to afford to attend her first choice university and its amazing acting program.

Luckily, Em has the perfect plan. All she has to do is channel her scene-stealing acting skills for a speech competition. Making it to the national round of the US Youth Change Council competition means a week in Boston and the chance to win a national scholarship.There’s only one thing standing in her way: Kris Lambert–senior class president, total jerk, Em’s long-time nemesis, and unbelievably her fellow state representative for New Jersey.

Kris seems different once they get to Boston, but Em isn’t easily fooled. With so much on the line, Em is willing to do whatever it takes to secure her win–even if it means she’ll have to pretend to flirt with Kris to throw him off is his game. But as the final competition gets closer, Em starts to realize her strategy to foil Kris might have spectacularly backfired when Kris starts to give as good as he gets in Dramatically Ever After (2017) by Isabel Bandeira.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dramatically Ever After is the second book in Bandeira’s Ever After trilogy which begins with Em’s best friend Phoebe in Bookishly Ever After. Each book in the series functions as a standalone so they can be read independently.

As the title suggests, Em is a dramatic narrator who is always ready to add a little drama to her life whether it means pretending to flirt with Kris during their trip to Boston or over romanticizing her long-distance relationship that may have run its course. Em isn’t always the nicest or easiest heroine. She embraces those parts of her personality and has no patience for anyone who is unwilling to accept all of her on her own terms.

Kris and Em are great foils as both are incredibly aware of each other’s strategies to win the speech competition and determined to prove who’s the best once and for all. As a result Dramatically Ever After is filled with witty banter and aggressive flirting on both sides as Em and Kris start to realize they might have met their match in each other (and that it might not be a bad thing).

Dramatically Ever After brings readers back to Lambertfield and all of its wonderful characters while also expanding the world and giving readers a new perspective on everyone’s favorite drama queen. Romantic comedy style plots, writing that gets better with each installment, and swoons galore make this series a winner. Be sure to start it now so you’re ready when book three, Practically Ever After, hits shelves!

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Nothing by Annie Barrows, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roate, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Isabel too!

*A copy of this title was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2017*

Wildcard: A Review

*Wildcard is the conclusion of Marie Lu’s Warcross trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with Warcross.*

cover art for Wildcard by Marie LuEmika Chen was a bounty hunter and a hacker. Now, she’s a fugitive.

Emika’s tried to hack the Warcross Championship and stop Hideo’s NeuroLink algorithm from going online. She failed.

Now Hideo is using the algorithm to prevent crimes and force criminals to turn themselves in. But with Hideo controlling almost everyone in the world, how long before he becomes corrupt himself?

Still determined to stop him, Emika enlists the help of her former teammates, the Phoenix Riders, to find a way to shut the algorithm down before its too late. But Hideo isn’t the only threat anymore.

With a bounty on her head, Emika becomes entangled with mysterious hacker Zero and the Blackcoats–a ruthless crew of vigilantes. The Blackcoats want to stop Hideo too. But they don’t care about any extra bloodshed along the way.

With nowhere to hide and no one to trust, Emika will have to decide for herself how far she’s willing to go to stop the Neurolink–especially if stopping the algorithm means sacrificing Hideo in Wildcard (2018) by Marie Lu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Wildcard is the conclusion to Lu’s high tech sci-fi duology that started in Warcross.

Wildcard picks up right where Warcross left off. With days left before the Warcross Closing ceremony and the launch of the algorithm to all Neurolink users, Emika and her friends are at a loss for how to stop what seems inevitable. Emika’s efforts to stop the algorithm are further complicated by her continued attraction to Hideo and her hope that he might be still be saved from himself.

Despite the ostensibly higher stakes, it’s hard to feel invested in Wildcard‘s plot. Even the imminence of the algorithm’s worldwide launch and Emika having to literally fight for her life at every turn failed to add any sense of urgency to the story. The shift in focus as Emika’s challenges become more internal (Should she work with Zero? Can she save Hideo?) combined with much more time spent in the Neurolink’s virtual world make the story feel that much more abstract.

Warcross had a plot that could have easily been resolved with a few honest conversations. This flaw is amplified in Wildcard and much harder to ignore. Most of the plot revolves around a fundamental, and baffling, lack of communication between characters right until a deus ex machina ending brings everything to a quick (if sometimes messy) resolution.

This duology introduces readers to a fantastic world filled with surprisingly plausible technology and a truly memorable group of characters. Despite shortcomings in the plot, Wildcard offers fans a satisfying and appropriate conclusion for a favorite cast of characters.

Possible Pairings: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, For the Win by Cory Doctorow, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Strange Exit by Parker Peevyhouse, The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, Partials by Dan Wells

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

Noteworthy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Noteworthy by Riley RedgateJordan Sun is a scholarship student at the prestigious Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Jordan is a junior now and she has never been cast in a school play. Something her mother is quick to remember whenever she wonders if Jordan would be more valuable to the family closer to home where she can work while going to school.

The problem isn’t Jordan’s skill or talent. The problem is that Jordan’s height and deeper voice don’t fit the narrow mold of most female roles.

Jordan can’t change either of those things. But in a moment of desperation she realizes that she can use them by auditioning for The Sharpshooters–one of the school’s a cappella groups. The only problem is she’ll have to audition as a boy because the Sharpshooters are an all-male group.

Being found out could be devastating leaving Jordan shunned for the rest of her time at Kensington-Blaine and known forever as the girl who infiltrated an a cappella group. Basically the least impressive spy of all time. But the rewards are worth the risk with all of the school’s a cappella groups competing for a chance to accompany Aural Fixation on the European leg of their tour as show openers.

All Jordan wants is to prove to her school and her parents (and maybe herself) that she can thrive in a leading role. She’ll stay with the Sharps long enough to win the competition, nail the tour, and move on. Keeping the guys at arm’s length for that long should be simple. But as her friendships with the Sharps (and competition with a rival group) grow, the lies start to mount and Jordan realizes that sometimes you have to get close to people. Even if it means you might get hurt in Noteworthy (2017) by Riley Redgate.

Jordan is a first generation American and a low income student at her historically white and affluent at Kensington-Blaine. She struggles with the dissonance between her life at boarding school and her family’s struggles to make ends meet through part-time and retail jobs. Adding to that pressure are mounting hospital bills from her father’s recent hospital stay when his pre-existing health issues (he is a paraplegic) make a light cough so much worse. Still stinging from her breakup, Jordan also starts to acknowledge her bisexuality for the first time.

Despite being in a predominantly white school, Jordan’s circle of friends and acquaintances is thoughtfully diverse with characters coming to terms with parental expectations, school pressures, and their sexuality among other things. In the Sharps, Jordan quickly bonds with dry witted Nihal who is Sikh and one of my absolute favorite characters.

I so appreciate the way that Jordan acknowledges both her limitations as a poor scholarship student and also her privilege in being able to cross dress essentially on a lark–a decision she struggles with long before her secret is revealed (because of course it is revealed). While the middle is bogged down in numerous issues of varying important to the story, Noteworthy still ends suddenly and leaves readers wanting to see more of the Sharps (and maybe some payback for their rivals the Minuets).

Noteworthy is a thoughtful commentary on gender, agency, and ambition. By inhabiting the role of Julian, Jordan starts to realize how many limitations have been placed on her life–both through outside expectations from family, friends, and teachers as well as by herself. It’s only by hiding in plain sight as a boy that Jordan really gets the chance to shine and embrace her own dreams. Recommended for readers looking for a light contemporary with some meat on its bones and, of course, a cappella fans everywhere.

Possible Pairings: Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, The Victoria in My Head by Janelle Milanes, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle