What I Like About You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

What I Like About You by Marisa KanterHalle Levitt has been online friends with Nash for years. She was there at the beginning of his now-viral webcomic. He was one of the the first fans of One True Pastry–a YA book blog where Halle is known for her reviews and custom cupcakes baked and decorated to match her favorite book covers.

Even though they’ve never met in real life, they talk about almost everything. There’s one thing Nash doesn’t know: Halle’s real name.

Online Halle goes by Kels–a name to match her cool influencer persona where she’s funny, collected, and she never says or does the wrong thing. At first Halle used Kels to distinguish her own publishing in-roads as an aspiring publicist from her connection to her publishing royalty grandmother. Now it feels safer to be Kels because Kels always has it together while Halle knows she decidedly does not.

Being two people is confusing enough but when Halle and her brother move in with their grandfather the lines between Halle’s real life and her online life begin to blur once she realizes Nash is one of her new classmates.

Nash is even better in real life. But it’s still so much easier to keep her online identity a secret. The only problem is that as Halle and Nash grow closer she realizes that Nash’s affections are divided because even if he’s getting closer to Halle he’s still nursing a major crush … on Kels in What I Like About You (2020) by Marisa Kanter.

Find it on Bookshop.

What I Like About You is Kanter’s debut novel. Halle and her family are Jewish. Nash is Jewish and half Korean.

Halle’s narration is interspersed with ephemera between chapters including excerpts from social media posts, text threads between Halle and Nash or Halle and other friends, and emails. The tension between Halle’s double life is lent more urgency by the looming deadline of BookCon where Halle might appear as a panelist thus revealing her real identity not only to all of her fans and followers but also to Nash and the other online friends she has unaware of her double life.

Kanter’s prose is filled with snappy dialog and thoughtful explorations of family dynamics as Halle and her brother adjust to living with their grandfather and all three of them grieve the death of Halle’s grandmother the year before. The story is focused not just on the teen characters but the world of teen content creators–an influential niche in social media but one that isn’t always reflected authentically (or at all) in pop culture.

Although certain elements of the book might date the story–particularly the finale set at the no-longer-extant BookCon and social media that’s always changing–What I Like About You is a universal story; come for the mistaken identity love triangle, stay for the bookish shenanigans and feel-good humor.

Possible Pairings: Perfectly Parvin by Olivia Abtahi, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Alex Approximately by Jenn Bennett, The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert, Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, The Fill-In Boyfriend by Kasie West, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Accidentally Engaged: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Accidentally Engaged by Farah HeronReena Manji’s finance career bores her, her parents are constantly setting her up with eligible Muslim bachelors, her relationship with her sister still hasn’t recovered after her sister blew up Reena’s food blog (in a very bad way). But there is one thing Reena has always had under control: baking bread.

With a complement of sourdough starters, recipes galore, and a fair bit of know-how in the kitchen from her food blogger days, Reena is a whiz at baking bread which, luckily, is the one thing that still lets Reena escape the rest of her problems.

Reena is fully prepared to add new neighbor Nadim Remtulla to that list of problems when she finds out that he’s in Toronto as part of a business deal between their fathers. Except . . . he’s a lot more fun–and hot–than Reena expects a cog in her father’s real estate business to be. Best of all, Nadim seems to love eating her bread as much as Reena loves baking it. Reena has no intention of marrying anyone her parents pick for her, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be friends with bread benefits, right?

When Reena’s career hits yet another roadblock, it seems like the perfect time to enter a TV cooking competition where Reena can prove her chops and win a free ride to the artisan bread course of her dreams. There’s only one catch: the show is for couples who cook together. When a drunken quest for homemade snacks leads to a surprisingly cute audition tape, faking an engagement with Nadim seems harmless. It’s not like her parents or her sister will ever watch the show.

But faking feelings for Nadim in front of the camera, leads to a lot of feelings behind the scenes. As they grow closer, Reena knows her fake fiancé is keeping secrets of his own. She isn’t worried because a fake engagement can’t lead to anything real. Except secrets getting out is almost as inevitable as sourdough starter growing, and feelings–even half-baked ones–make for a recipe that’s hard to ignore in Accidentally Engaged (2021) by Farah Heron.

Find it on Bookshop.

This standalone romance is set in Toronto, Canada. Reena and Nadim are both Muslim. Reena and her family are Indian. Nadim grew up in Dar es Salaam and attended an English boarding school before landing in Toronto which adds layers to his character and his feelings as a twice immigrant. Readers who enjoy Reena’s support system of friends should also check out her previous novel The Chai Factor, which focuses on Reena’s best friend Amira. Accidentally Engaged is a lot of fun on audio as narrated by Soneela Nankani who nails Nadim’s British accent and immediately draws listeners into Reena’s world.

After years trying to maintain distance between herself and her family, Reena is forced to confront how many of her life choices were inspired by wanting to go against her parents and how many might have let her get off track. With Nadim’s unflagging support throughout the competition Reena is able to fully embrace her passion (and talent!) as a chef while finding her way back to her favorite activity. Their new friendship and (spoiler) romantic relationship also help Reena re-evaluate other areas in her life as she reconnects with her family and her heritage. Along the way, Reena also finding healthier coping mechanisms for life’s inevitable curveballs which would previously have her running to the nearest bar.

Heron perfectly balances weightier topics like Nadim’s fraught relationship with his father and the complicated history Reena has with her sister with humor. Accidentally Engaged is upbeat and fast-paced. When I read it last year this book was exactly what I needed to get through a very hard time as I followed Reena dealing with her own challenges (and competitions). Snappy dialog and obvious chemistry between Reena and Nadim make Accidentally Engaged delectable. Be sure to read Accidentally Engaged with a snack (or two) nearby because Heron’s descriptions of Reena’s culinary creations are guaranteed to make your mouth water.

Possible Pairings: Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake, The Dating Plan by Sara Desai, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho, Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel, The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

You Sexy Thing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

You Sexy Thing by Cat RamboCaptain Nicolette “Niko” Larson knows better than most that leaving the service of the Holy Hive Mind is no small thing. It’s easy enough to join the ranks with promises of vast earnings to come. But once you’re in, it’s funny how the debt keeps mounting and  those payments never come.

For a moment, Niko thought she could work within the system but now, known throughout the system as the “Ten Hour Admiral,” Niko knows better.

Luckily for Niko and her crew, the only thing the Hive Mind values more than conquest is art. Including culinary art.

After proving their artistic prowess with food, Niko and her crew have settled at TwiceFar station where they try to make a go of their restaurant, The Last Chance. With a reservation book for a prestigious food critic empowered to award a coveted Nikkelin Orb to worthy restaurants, it seems like things might finally be looking up.

Until the station blows up, of course.

With their past reduced to a smoldering pile of space rubble, Niko and her crew escape onto a sentient ship called You Sexy Thing. Unfortunately, the bioship thinks it’s stolen and steers them towards a prison planet. And that isn’t even the worst of Niko’s problems as the crew tries to fend off sadistic space pirates, deliver an intergalactic heir safely to the seat of the empire, and keep Niko’s other plans alive all while still chasing that elusive Nikkelin Orb in You Sexy Thing (2021) by Cat Rambo.

Find it on Bookshop.

You Sexy Thing is a standalone space opera that hints at more to come. The story is told in omniscient third person following Niko and her motley crew. The cast of characters includes humans, humanoid aliens, and other alien characters with a range of skin tones, presentations, and gender identities. Vivienne Leheny narrates the audiobook and ably navigates the large cast during shifting perspectives and dialog.

Pragmatic strategist Neko is complimented well by the ensemble cast here including my personal favorite characters Dabrey, Niko’s four-armed former-sergeant responsible for the restaurant’s culinary achievements, and Lassite–a lizard-like priest who joined the crew to follow Niko on her journey along the spiral of destiny. Although the plot focuses squarely on Niko and her own plans, no character is given short shrift as the entire crew has moments to shine. The madcap journey of the first half of the story shifts to something darker and grittier (including moments of mental and physical torture that while not explicitly described are unpalatable–particularly in audio) before the novel’s denouement.

You Sexy Thing skillfully combines moments of sci-fi absurdity with action and high emotion as Niko and her crew face numerous obstacles after escaping TwiceFar station. Rambo delivers a story filled with adventure, found family, and ultimately with hope for the future to come.

Possible Pairings: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle LimNatalie Tan left home when her mother refused to support her dreams to become a chef.

Seven years later, Natalie returns to San Francisco’s Chinatown when her mother dies.

Her return is far from triumphant. The wounds from her failure to finish culinary school and her recently ended engagement are still fresh. The reconciliation Natalie always hoped for with her mother will never come. Even the neighborhood itself isn’t as vibrant as it once was; all of the shops are struggling.

When she finds out she has inherited her grandmother’s famous restaurant, Natalie’s fate is tied to the neighborhood–and her neighbors–whether she likes it or not.

Evelyn Yu predicts good fortune for Natalie and the restaurant in the tea leaves. But only if Natalie cooks three of her grandmother’s recipes to help her neighbors. While Natalie is keen to realize her dream of opening a restaurant, she isn’t sure her neighbors deserve her help after her childhood navigating her mother’s depression and agoraphobia alone.

As Natalie works through her grandmother’s cookbook she begins to realize that memories, like the best recipes, can take time to process. And perhaps the neighborhood didn’t abandon her as completely as Natalie once thought. With help from new recipes, a new friend, and new love, Natalie will learn that sometimes the simplest ingredients can lead to the best results in Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune (2019) by Roselle Lim.

Find it on Bookshop.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is Lim’s debut novel.

Lim blends elements of fabulism (Natalie cries crystal tears and hears peoples’ “songs”) into an engaging contemporary romance where Natalie finds a second chance at both professional success and love. All characters are Chinese/Chinese-American.

Recipes throughout the novel allow readers to imagine themselves at Natalie’s meals although the magical results may vary. Natalie enjoys a light (as in no steam) romance as she tries to reconcile her complicated history with her Chinatown home with what could be a bright future running her own restaurant.

Lyrical prose and delicious food descriptions add dimension to this story grounded in a strong sense of family and community. Lim also offers readers a thoughtful meditation on loss and family as Natalie grieves both her mother’s death and the relationship they never had while she learns more about her grandmother through the cookbook she inherits.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is a richly flavored story filled with good food, good friends, and lots of fun. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta, Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien, A Thread of Sky by Diana Fei, Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron, Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis, The Recipe Box by Vivian Shipman

The Heartbreak Bakery: A (WIRoB) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. CapettaSeventeen-year-old baker Syd is an “agender cupcake” who still has a lot to figure out about love and the literal magic of baking.

Syd (no pronouns, please) has been with the same girlfriend since coming out as queer in middle school. Four years later it turns out the relationship Syd thought was perfect has more cracks than a badly set cheesecake, leading to a drawn-out breakup with W over one painful weekend. As Syd notes, “I think she’s great, and she thinks I like having a girlfriend too much to notice that sometimes she isn’t.”

Still smarting from the breakup and feeling blindsided, Syd does the obvious thing for a teen holding down a job as a baker while finishing high school: try to bake it out with an easy recipe for brownies which “require three things: a single bowl, a sturdy spoon, and a dedication to dark chocolate.”

Syd’s baking catharsis takes a turn when the post-breakup brownies turn out to be magical Breakup Brownies with all of Syd’s anger, frustration, and hurt baked in. Instead of letting Syd process all of those pent-up feelings, Syd has accidentally fed several bakery customers brownies that precipitate their own breakups–whether the breakups are warranted or not. Obviously, Syd feels awful and wants to erase the “special tang of guilt that comes with subtracting so much queer love from the world.”

Things get even worse when Syd witnesses bakery owners–and husbands–Vin and Alec eat the brownies and start fighting too. Every baker knows you have to clean up your own kitchen but now that the Breakup Brownies have drawn the Proud Muffin into their vortex, Syd is even more frantic to correct this magical mistake before it inadvertently causes the best queer bakery in Austin to shut down.

Proud Muffin’s cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they–it’s always on the pronoun pin, check it first) is surprisingly receptive to Syd’s magical baking confession and, even better, ready to help mend broken hearts across the city. As Syd works through an impressive baking repertoire ranging from Very Sorry Cake to Shiny New Scones, Syd is able to bond with Harley and process the breakup with W while trying to fix all the relationship collateral damage. The only problem is that as Syd’s feelings grow for Harley, it’s unclear if their chemistry will lead to a recipe for romance or more heartbreak in The Heartbreak Bakery (2021) by A. R. Capetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Heartbreak Bakery is an ode to the city of Austin, queer communities everywhere, and baked goods in all of their wonderfully varied forms. Fictional locations like the Proud Muffin complement actual Austin locations like Barton Springs and 24 Diner. Syd and Harley are white with a supporting cast that is diverse and inclusive with characters from across BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities showcasing the intersectionality of many identities.

Even as a member of the Proud Muffin’s enthusiastic and supportive queer community, Syd struggles to articulate to friends and family what it feels like to be agender when “every single time [Syd] stared at the mirror and what [Syd] saw screamed back girl.” Now Syd is “pretty sure that no particular body would make sense to [Syd] all of the time” but also isn’t always sure how to explain that to anyone as easily as others share their pronouns.

Each chapter ends with a recipe, sometimes for actual baked goods readers can make themselves like the peach, strawberry, and basil Honest Pie and sometimes for abstract concepts like Today’s Gender or Baby’s First Polyam Brunch. All of the recipes are written in Syd’s distinct, wry narration with witty asides like “Realize you probably should have added the zest earlier, but you’ve been distracted by the presence of a cute baking partner. Realize that everything is going to turn out delicious either way.”

Part romantic comedy and part bildungsroman, The Heartbreak Bakery beautifully follows Syd through the madcap quest to undo the damage of the Breakup Brownies while also unpacking Syd’s fledgling relationship with Harley and Syd’s journey to fully vocalize their identity as agender (with help from freshly baked Agender Cupcakes, of course) and find their people–agender, magical baker, and otherwise.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Simply Irresistible (1999)

Books with Bakers, Chefs, and Other Food Enthusiasts

Everyone has to do it eventually but surprisingly few YA fiction books have any reference to it. I’m talking about cooking and baking, of course. This list features books for teens with bakers, chefs, and foodies.

collage cover art for Books with Bakers book listClick book titles to read my review where applicable. You can shop the titles on this list plus a few bonus suggestions on Bookshop.

If you want even more titles check out the “cooking & baking” tag on my blog for every book I’ve reviewed that features cooking or baking.

  • Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake: Hadley and Sam are both hurting. They’re feeling abandoned and maybe even betrayed by their parents’ choices. Neither of them expects to find comfort or connection with the other–especially Sam who knows exactly how ludicrous their mutual attraction really is–but then they find exactly that. And maybe more
  • A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis: Lainey dreams of becoming a chef and having her own cooking show one day. With the lack of African American female chefs–not to mention vegetarian ones–she figures her odds of hitting it big are excellent. When her best friend (and crush) moves away, Lainey finds comfort in the kitchen as she works through new recipes and makes peace with the past.
  • Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen: Sydney is used to living in her older brother Peyton’s shadow. When Peyton is sent to jail for drunk driving, Sydney tracks down the victim of the accident and finds herself drawn into the warm and chaotic world of the Chathams and the pizza parlor they run.
  • Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg: Both Macallan and Levi are pretty sure they’re better as friends than anything else. Except they can’t help wondering if the complications that come with being more than friends might just be worth it.
  • Taste Test by Kelly Fiore: As accidents mount in the kitchen arena of Taste Test, a new televised cooking competition, Nora has to try to find the culprit while proving she has what it takes to win.
  • Stir It Up! by Ramin Ganeshram: Anjali dreams of hosting a cooking show where she can showcase dishes inspired by her Hindu and Trinidadian heritage. When she has the chance to compete in a cooking show will she be able to defy her family and attend the audition?
  • The Cupcake Queen by Heather Hepler: Penny’s life is far from sweet when her mother moves them from the big city to Hog’s Hollow so that she can open a cupcake bakery.
  • The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil, illustrated by Mike Lawrence: Alba loves living behind the bakery, drawing comics, and watching bad TV with her friends. Unfortunately Alba’s comfortable life is thrown into chaos by the return of a boy she used to know, complications with her best friend, and the flock of doomsday enthusiasts coming to Eden Valley for the end of the world.
  • Sunshine by Robin McKinley: Baker Rae “Sunshine” Seddon’s life takes a dramatic turn when she is abducted by a gang of vampires. And survives.
  • Heartless by Marissa Meyer: Catherine is more interested in baking than the attentions of Wonderland’s unmarried King–especially when she has big plans to open her own shop and is secretly courting Jest. Cath wants to choose her own path but in a land filled with madness and magic, she may not get the chance.
  • Cake Pop Crush by Suzanne Nelson: Alice Ramirez loves baking and helping at her father’s bakery, Say It With Flour. When a rival coffee shop opens across the street, Ali tries to give her family an edge with trendy cake pops.
  • The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier: Keri has her hands running her bakery when she is unexpectedly chosen as the next Lady of Nimmera. Only time will tell if one inexperienced and unexpected heir will be enough to repair Nimmera’s quickly fading boundary magic and help the small country thrive even in the face of imminent invasion.
  • Bittersweet by Sarah Ockler: Hudson gave up her ice skates for baking cupcakes at her mom’s diner after a betrayal completely altered her plans for her future. When she has a chance to start coaching the boys hockey team, Hudson will also haveto decide if she wants to start skating again on her own terms.
  • The Prank List by Anna Staniszewski: Rachel Lee will do anything to save her mother’s cleaning business if it means not moving to Connecticut and losing her new best friend, almost-boyfriend, and her pastry classes.
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater: Every year when the temperature drops, Sam changes into a wolf–Grace’s wolf, the one always watching her from a safe distance–trapped in his changed form until spring when the temperatures rise and he can become Sam again. Once Grace knows the truth, sees her wolf made human, losing him is unimaginable. Being with Grace is all Sam has ever wanted; the one thing he always held onto as a wolf. But the temperature is falling in Mercy Falls and Grace and Sam are running out of time.
  • Pizza, Love & Other Stuff That Made Me Famous by Kathryn Williams: Sophie Nicolaides grew up in her family’s Italian-Greek restaurant. But is that enough to prepare her to compete on the Teen Test Kitchen reality show?
  • Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood: Between moving, having no money, changing schools, and his father suddenly revealing that he’s gay Dan has more than enough issues without an impossible crush on the girl next door. Dan narrows all of his problems to six impossible things. With a penchant for making lists and following through, Dan is optimistic about fixing at least some of them–maybe even his mom’s wedding cake business that seems to result in more cancelled weddings than actual cakes.

An earlier version of this piece originally appeared on YALSA’s Hub Blog in 2017.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea KempPenelope “Pen” Prado dreams of opening her own pastelería next to her father’s restaurant (and local institution in Austin, Texas): Nacho’s Tacos. While Pen has managed to get her experimental desserts on the menu, her traditional parents are unwilling to let Pen go any further instead wanting her to focus on nursing school. Watching her brother flounder managing the restaurant, Pen finally admits she’s been skipping classes and finds herself fired.

Pen’s last day is Xander Amaro’s first and his opportunity to finally change his luck and make a place for himself with his aging abuelo. Meeting when both of them are spinning out, shouldn’t lead anywhere. Except it does drawing Pen and Xander together in the heady reality of first love, finding their own paths, and working together to save the restaurant that comes to mean everything to both of them in Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet (2021) by Laekan Zea Kemp.

Find it on Bookshop.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is Kemp’s debut novel. The story alternates between Pen and Xander’s first person narration.

Kemp brings the setting of Austin, Texas and its Chicanx vibrantly to life while offering a carefully detailed behind-the-scenes look at the fast-paced, high octane world of a restaurant kitchen.

Staccato writing and snappy dialog immediately draw readers into Pen and Xander’s stories as the two crash into each others’ orbit. Pen’s vicious anxiety attacks and Xander’s own stressors worrying about his grandfather and his own immigrant status can make for a claustrophobic–and nerve-inducing–narration.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet is a thoughtful, fast-paced story perfect for readers looking for a romance with an unlikely connection and delicious food descriptions.

Possible Pairings: Permanent Record by Mary HK Choi, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, Lobizona by Romina Garber, When We Collided by Emery Lord, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

The Secret Recipe for Moving On: A Review

The Secret Recipe for Moving On by Karen BischerTransferring high schools in the middle of junior year when her father’s restaurant went bust was hard but now Mary Ellen “Ellie” Agresti has the perfect boyfriend and new friends as she starts her senior year.

Until Ellie is dumped right when school starts so Hunter can get together with his childhood best friend Brynn.

Now Ellie has to watch Hunter and Brynn being lovey-dovey everywhere–including a class they all share. Applicable Life Skills for Young Adults (AKA Home Ec) was supposed to be an easy A but now it’s an easy way to get Ellie’s blood boiling.

Hoping to salvage the class and her senior year, Ellie focuses on revenge. If she can beat Hunter’s team, that will mean she wins the breakup and the class competition. The only problem is that Ellie’s pretend “family” for class is more like a group of misfits with loudmouth AJ, horse racing junkie Isaiah, and stunt-biker Luke.

Bonds can form in the unlikeliest places but even Ellie isn’t sure what to do when her “family” starts to feel like friends (or maybe even more with Luke) especially when she still isn’t sure how to get over the breakup she never saw coming in The Secret Recipe for Moving On (2021) by Karen Bischer.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On is Bischer’s debut novel.

Any charm to be derived from this plot, is lost early on as the entire first twenty per cent of the book focuses on the build up to the breakup and Ellie’s initial wallowing. While the immediacy of Ellie’s distress is admirable, I didn’t need to feel like I was going through the entire thing with her–particularly when jacket copy suggests the breakup is a done deal by the time the story starts.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On is also hopelessly mired in classism and sexism which, although it is acknowledged, is never fully interrogated. During the home ec class each group of students is assigned an imaginary family to work with for their budget and other class projects. Ellie’s group is “stuck” with a single mother raising two children on a bus driver’s salary. Much to the group’s dismay (even though both Ellie and Luke are low income students compared to their classmates).

Combining their initials, the group decides to call their family “JAILE” saying it will intimidate other teams (by implying prison connotations?) which is further insulting. Finally, the point where I knew I was done with this book was when a classmate in a rival “family” told Ellie and her group that their single mother could turn to stripping for extra cash or rely on food stamps during a grocery shopping exercise. While the character behind these remarks is eventually cast as a villain, the comments themselves stigmatizing poverty, sex work, and government support are never addressed or commented on.

During the same shopping exercise, AJ picks up two grapefruits pretending to be a woman while shopping (you can imagine) and the only comment is Luke acknowledging with a look that the joke might be less funny given Ellie’s presence. As part of the core group AJ has some growth as the story progresses too but, again, we are past the point where sexist remarks or actions like this should ever get a pass.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On has all of the pieces to be a fun and sweet story. Unfortunately, the book takes too long to interrogate all of the really problematic elements–for the ones that are examined at all. Readers looking for a fun rom com should pick this one up with caution.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Cake Pop Crush by Suzanne Nelson, A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen

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

Don’t Date Rosa Santos: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Demand more of your possibilities.”

Don't Date Rosa Santos by Nina MorenoEveryone knows that the Santos women don’t go near the water. Not anymore. Rosa Santos knows that better than anyone. After her grandfather died to make sure Rosa’s pregnant grandmother made it to Florida, and after her own father died at sea when her mother was eighteen and pregnant, Rosa knows that the Santos women and boys on boats don’t mix.

Despite her grandmother’s bad memories, Rosa is desperate to visit Cuba herself. Something she thought she had finally figured out with a dual enrollment program at her local community college and a study abroad program at a four year university.

Just when Rosa can start to imagine herself walking along the maricon in Havana, the study abroad program is cancelled leaving all of Rosa’s plans up in the air. Which is how Rosa, the girl who has never set foot near Port Coral’s beach finds herself organizing the annual spring festival to try and save the local marina.

Rosa’s reluctant helper is Alex Aquino whose family owns the marina. Back in town for the first time since graduation, Alex is not the gawky boy Rosa remembers. This Alex has tattoos, a beard, and a smile that just might be lethal. He also has baking skills and, worst of all, his own boat.

As Rosa and Alex grow closer, Rosa has to decide if a family curse is a good enough reason to give up on all of the things she wants most in Don’t Date Rosa Santos (2019) by Nina Moreno.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is Moreno’s debut novel. Through Rosa’s narration readers are introduced to the charming town of Port Coral, Florida and its quirky residents.

While the main plot focuses on Rosa’s efforts to save the Port Coral marina, this is a story about grief and family history. Rosa has grown up with her grandmother, Mimi, learning Mimi’s tricks when it comes to brujeria and making a home for herself in Port Coral. Meanwhile, Rosa’s mother is a wandering artist who hasn’t felt at home in Port Coral since her teens when Rosa’s father died. All three generations of women have been touched by tragedy–a linking thread that drives the family further apart instead of drawing them together.

These ruminations on grief are tempered with the madcap preparations for the festival and Rosa’s tentative romance with Alex–one of the best male leads you’ll find in a YA rom com–and Rosa’s efforts to try and understand her own family’s history both in Port Coral and in Cuba.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a perfect blend of the setting from Gilmore Girls, the magic in Practical Magic, and just a hint of the strong family ties in Charmed. The perfect choice for readers looking for a sweet romance with humor and intrigue in equal measure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

Happily Ever Afters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Happily Ever Afters by Elise BryantAs a shy introvert, there’s nowhere Tessa Johnson would rather be that sitting down at her laptop writing. Tessa rarely sees herself in the romance novels she loves to read. So instead she writes her own, creating love stories where she and her best friend Caroline can finally see themselves as leading ladies. Writing is the one place Tessa feels like she is fully in control of her life. Sharing her writing with anyone but Caroline is a different story.

While moving for her father’s promotion is hard, Tessa hopes that starting her junior year at an arts school with a creative writing program will make the transition easier. The only problem is that Tessa fails to consider that being in a writing program means people will want to read–and critique!–her writing. Suddenly Tessa’s dream school turns into a nightmare when she loses all of her inspiration and her confidence.

Without any other ideas, Tessa agrees to follow Caroline’s advice: find some real-life inspiration with romance-novel inspired ideas while getting close to the incredibly cute, romance-cover-worthy visual arts student Nico. Checking things off her list turns out to be easy, but Tessa isn’t sure if it’s really going to help her find her words again–or the right guy for her own perfect ending in Happily Ever Afters (2021) by Elise Bryant.

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Happily Ever Afters is Bryant’s debut novel. The story is narrated by Tessa.

Having a Black father and a white mother, Tessa was used to never fitting in at her previous school where she and Caroline (who is Filipina) initially bonded as two of the only students of color. In addition to the culture shock of a conservatory program, Tessa is thrilled to find a much more diverse group of students at her new school as she bonds with new friends on her own for the first time.

Although Tessa struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, the novel is imbued with humor even as things go wrong. This levity is much needed to counter heavier parts of the story as Tessa balances her own life with the responsibilities and expectations her parents have for Tessa to help with her older brother Miles who has athetoid cerebral palsy which has led to mobility challenges and mental impairment.

While Tessa tries, with varying levels of success, to get closer to Nico, readers can appreciate Tessa’s swoony moments with neighbor and culinary arts student Sam. Both Tessa and Sam struggle with impostor syndrome as Tessa wonders if her romantic stories really “count” as creative writing while Sam tries to justify baking as an art to himself as much as to anyone else.

Happily Ever Afters is an ode to romance novels, creativity, and fandoms. A sweet story about how sometimes you have to learn to love yourself–and your passions–without apology before you can learn to love someone else.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett; Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne; Blackout by by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon; I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon