The Astonishing Color of After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. PanLeigh knows that her mother turned into a bird after she killed herself. The bird came to her before the funeral. She came again with a box for Leigh to take with her when she goes.

She isn’t sure what the bird wants or how to help her mother. All she knows is that she and her father are now in Taiwan and Leigh is meeting her maternal grandparents for the first time.

Nothing about the trip or her family is what Leigh expected. Her world feels colorless and confusing–coated with grief and filled with ghosts. But as Leigh learns more about her family, her heritage, and her mother’s past it starts to feel like Leigh might be able to find a way through in The Astonishing Color of After (2018) by Emily X.R. Pan.

The Astonishing Color of After is Pan’s debut novel.

It’s taken me a while to review this book because I’ve been struggling with separating how hard this book is to read with how very good it is.

The novel opens shortly after Leigh’s mother has killed herself. Leigh comes home just in time to see her body being taken away, to see the blood, and she is haunted by the thought that she might have been able to do something if only she’d been home instead of celebrating 2.5s Day with her best friend and longtime crush Axel.

Leigh finds a way to channel her grief when a bird comes to her. Leigh knows it’s her mother. She knows the bird is real. She also knows that her mother the bird has things she shouldn’t have–photographs that were burned, heirlooms that were sent to Taiwan.

In traveling to Taiwan Leigh thinks she can somehow rescue her mother the bird and bring her home. Instead Leigh embarks on a journey of discovery and understanding as she learns more about her heritage and her family’s past. She still hurts, she still mourns, but she also begins to learn how to move on and how to forgive.

In traveling to Taiwan Leigh also begins to learn more about her family’s heritage and culture–things that were hard to hold onto as a biracial girl–especially with her mother eager to embrace her new life in America and leave the past behind.

The Astonishing Color of After is not an easy read–Pan’s writing is too visceral, too evocative for that. Instead readers are immediately drawn into Leigh’s journey. Flashbacks shed light on Leigh’s relationship with Axel–a thread that ties the novel together from its painful opening to its hopeful conclusion–while memories from Leigh’s relatives shed light on her mother’s past while also underscoring the flaws in Leigh’s memories and the things she has tried to forget.

The Astonishing Color of After is a powerful and nuanced story about loss, forgiveness, art, and all of the things that make a family–whether it’s blood or a deeper bond. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Boman, Tell Me No Lies by Adele Griffin, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo: A Review

“I’ve never thought of myself as a force to be reckoned with. Maybe I should start thinking of myself that way; maybe I deserve to.”

cover art for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidEveryone remembers Evelyn Hugo. The old Hollywood actress is surrounded by an aura of glamour and mystery. After retiring from the public eye decades ago, Evelyn is finally ready to tell her story.

Bizarrely, Evelyn only wants to tell her story to Monique Grant–a magazine reporter still starting her career and largely unknown. No one is as surprised as Monique at the offer. But as Monique warms up to assignment she also realizes that no one is as prepared to maximize this opportunity either.

From the confines of her luxurious Upper East Side apartment Evelyn tells the story of her career from her fateful move to California in the 1950s to her abrupt retirement in the 1980s. Along the way she also reveals all the gory details about the seven husbands she married and left behind along the way.

As she learns about Evelyn’s unapologetic ambition and her stunning career, Monique quickly realizes that there has always been more to Evelyn than meets the eye. But even as Monique starts to admire the shrewd actress she realizes that Evelyn Hugo is still holding back some secrets and some surprising revelations about Monique’s own part in them in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (2017) by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

This standalone novel is a blend of historical and contemporary fiction. The majority of the story relates Evelyn’s story as she tells it to Monique in seven parts–one for each husband, of course. In between sessions with Evelyn Monique also deals with upheaval in her own life as she comes to terms with her imminent divorce and tries to figure out next steps in her career.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is written in the first person as Monique receives the assignment and meets Evelyn and also with Evelyn narrating her own parts as she dictates them to Monique. Evelyn and Monique are both very nuanced characters whose stories are handled thoughtfully in this novel. That said I’m still not sure how I feel about a white author writing in the first person voice of a latina actress who was made over and passed as white for the sake of her career (something that actually happened to real life film star Rita Hayworth) or a biracial journalist like Monique.

I can’t say much more about the plot without giving something away. There are a few surprises and Jenkins Reid’s pacing is flawless as she moves from one surprise to the next. Both Evelyn and Hugo’s stories are less about romance (or marriage) and more about strong women acknowledging their own ambitions and embracing them.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an engaging novel filled with old Hollywood glamour, wry commentary, and two heroine with a lot to teach their readers. Recommended.

Fragments of the Lost: A Review

Jessa so doesn’t want to clear out her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room after he dies. It’s hard enough to grieve and dodge questions about how she’s managing. But when his mother asks, she can’t say no. Jessa knows this is her penance—her punishment for being part of the puzzle of Caleb’s last day.

She can’t explain why Caleb was at her track meet that day anymore than anyone else can. She only knows what came after. His drive along the bridge as it flooded, the car crash, the body that was never found.

As Jessa sorts through Caleb’s possessions and begins the tedious, painful work of packing everything away she starts to remember details from the start of their relationship when things were still fresh and there was so much to learn. These pieces of his life also bring back painful memories of the end of their relationship and the distances that eventually grew between them.

As Jessa delves deeper into Caleb’s life she realizes his room might hold secrets to that strange last day and his death. She also realizes she might not be the only one looking in Fragments of the Lost (2017) by Megan Miranda.

Miranda delivers an eerie and atmospheric mystery in this latest standalone. Narrated by Jessa the novel moves through time with chapters marking Jessa’s present weekend project clearing out Caleb’s room and the past with chapters named for items Jessa discovers that bring up memories of her year-long relationship with Caleb. This premise is used to good effect to demonstrate Jessa’s (often self-imposed) isolation in her grief and her desperation to understand what really happened on the day Caleb died.

A taut narrative told over a short span of time amps up the tension as Jessa slowly begins to realize that something is incredibly wrong. While the big twist might be easily predicted by habitual mystery readers, Jessa’s arc throughout the novel is strong enough to still make for a compelling read. Recommended for readers looking for a chilling page turner and fans of mysteries or thrillers.

Possible Pairings: I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Forget Me by K. A. Harrington, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The After Girls by Leah Konen, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

What to Say Next: A Review

Kit doesn’t know why she decides to avoid her best friends Annie and Violet at lunch. Or maybe she does. Ever since her father died in a car accident, it feels like no one knows how to talk to Kit or what to say to make it better. No one seems comfortable with Kit’s grief and sadness–not even her own mother.

David is floored when Kit sits at his lunch table–the first time anyone has in the 622 days he has attended Mapleview High School. David doesn’t necessarily mind sitting alone. It’s nice to have some quiet in the middle of a too-noisy day and sometimes it’s too hard to figure out what to say to people without being able to check his notebook to see if they are someone he–and his older sister Mini–thinks David can trust.

Nothing about Kit and David’s friendship makes sense on the outside but Kit appreciates David’s bluntness and his honesty. David, meanwhile, finally feels like he’s found someone who might be okay with David being himself. As they grow closer, Kit asks for David’s help understanding the inevitability (or not) of her father’s death which leads to a truth that might end their friendship forever in What to Say Next (2017) by Julie Buxbaum.

This standalone contemporary novel alternates first person perspective between David and Kit.

David is smart and self-aware despite his lack of emotional intelligence. He knows his limitations and strengths. He also knows how people are likely to perceive him because of his position on the autism spectrum and the coping mechanisms he has employed to continue to function in a sometimes overly stimulating school environment. Kit is still adjusting to life without her father–the parent who was always the one to nurture in the past–while also negotiating life in her small town as a girl who is biracial (Kit’s mother is Indian).

Seeing a neurologically diverse male lead alongside a heroine who is described as curvy and having brown skin is fantastic and makes this an obvious book to highlight and promote. That said, Buxbaum tackles a lot in this novel with varying levels of success.

David and Kit have distinct voices but the way other characters engage with David is often frustrating and demonstrates a fundamental lack of both empathy and understanding a person on the autism spectrum may engage with the world. The fact that David’s behavior is used as a plot point for one of the main conflicts between himself and Kit makes this treatment even more frustrating.

What to Say Next is an entertaining novel with unique characters, an engaging plot, and a cute romance. Readers looking for a quick but substantive diversion will enjoy this story that blends themes of connection with grief and family. Recommended for readers seeking a romance that will broaden their horizons.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Kissing in America: A Review

Kissing in America by Margo RabbEva Roth’s father died two years ago. She tells everyone it was the result of a heart attack because the real answer–that he died in a plane crash–is too sensational and messy. No one asks more questions about a heart attack.

Eva’s father was always the one who understood her, the one she’d sit with and write. In his absence Eva feels more friction than anything else when it comes to her women’s studies professor mother–something her mother suspects is at the root of Eva’s love of romance novels.

When Eva meets Will Freeman it seems like she might have found someone who really understands. Someone who can possibly help her to move past her grief. Until he moves away.

Afraid of losing Will and everything he promises, Eva and her best friend Annie Kim make a plan to travel across the country to find Will again. Along the way Eva and Annie will see unexpected pieces of the country and learn some surprising things about love in Kissing in America (2015) by Margo Rabb.

Kissing in America is Rabb’s followup to her YA debut Cures for Heartbreak. This novel treads similar territory as Eva tries to find her way through grief and her teen years. Although it is often touted as a light romance and a summery read, this story is filled with melancholy and very much mired in Eva’s grief.

Rabb’s writing remains superlative and evocative. Eva’s love of poetry also plays out in the novel with references to and poems from Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Nikki Giovanni, Marie Howe, and other authors add another layer to this story. While this book is marketed as a romance, it is really Eva’s relationship with her best friend and with her mother that makes Kissing in America shine.

Eva’s mother in an interesting character who is a vocal feminist and a women’s studies professor. She terms Eva’s love of romance novels as a rebellion which never quite rings true as the romance genre is one where women are able to dominate the market and a genre that is often referenced for its feminist elements and even promoting female equality. That this never comes up in the story remains a frustrating omission.

Kissing in America is a thoughtful and witty road trip story about best friends, family, grieving and, of course, love. Recommended for readers looking for a smart read that will have them smiling through the tears.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Black and White by Paul Volponi, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett: A Review

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea SedotiEveryone in town is devastated when Lizzie Lovett disappears. Well, almost everyone.

Hawthorn Creely couldn’t care less.

When Hawthorn hears about Lizzie’s disappearance, she expects that to be the end of it. But then instead of moving on with her life, Hawthorn accidentally becomes part of the investigation. As she learns more about Lizzie, Hawthorn also inserts herself more and more into Lizzie’s life. The only one who seems to understand or want to help is Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo.

The closer Hawthorn gets to the truth, the more it feels like her own life is falling apart. When Hawthorn finally digs through all of the lies surrounding Lizzie and her disappearance she will have to decide if there is room for unexplained phenomenon and wondrous moments in a world that is all too painfully real in The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett (2017) by Chelsea Sedoti.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett is Sedoti’s debut novel.

Hawthorn is a quirky, fascinating heroine and an engaging unreliable narrator. Her voice is offbeat, sardonic and convincingly tone-deaf given her initially self-centered attitude. Although Hawthorn is jaded and solitary, she is painfully aware her friends maturing and changing while she wants everything to stay the same. Hawthorn still wants to believe in a world where magic is possible; a world where a girl turning into a werewolf is not only likely but also a plausible explanation for her disappearance.

Sedoti’s story is weird and entertaining but, for most of the novel, still an effective mystery with suspense surrounding Lizzie’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, the mystery thread ultimately falls flat with a reveal that, while predictable, is frustrating and problematic.

***Spoilers ahead as I discuss specific plot points.***

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But Then I Came Back: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Time served on planet earth is yours to use as you see fit. It keeps spinning, and just because someone’s life ends or pauses doesn’t mean we have to do the same.”

“We do have to rescue ourselves in the end, no matter how much we learn to lean on other people.”

Eden Jones fell in the river and hit her head. She was in a coma for a month. But then she woke up.

That’s when the real recovery begins as Eden has to teach her body how to walk, talk, and even eat again. All easy compared to trying to fit herself back into a life that moved on without her. Eden struggles to reconnect with her twin brother who used to know her better than anyone, her best friend who saved her, and her parents. But maybe she isn’t the person they remember anymore. Maybe she isn’t the person she remembers either.

Eden still feels a pull to wherever she was while she was in a coma–to the In Between place filled with flowers and a girl trying to tell her something that she can’t hear. The flowers follow Eden back into the real world where they start appearing everywhere. It turns out the girl followed Eden back too.

Jaz is in the hospital room next to Eden, comatose and unresponsive except that Eden still feels a pull toward her. As she tries to understand their connection, Eden also forms a surprising friendship with Joe–the boy who is desperate for Jaz to wake up. Eden might be the only person who can get Jaz to come back. Helping Jaz could mean losing a piece of herself. Or it could help Eden find something she’s been missing all along in But Then I Came Back (2017) by Estelle Laure.

But Then I Came Back is a companion to Laure’s debut novel This Raging Light. It begins a few weeks after the end of This Raging Light and tells Eden’s story.

Although she is facing a lot of external change most of Eden’s journey and development is internal as she tries to make sense of her interpersonal relationships–both new and old–and figure out who she is now and who she wants to become. For most of her life, Eden has defined herself as a ballet dancer with big plans. That future is thrown into doubt at the start of But Then I Came Back and Eden’s return to dance is a compelling addition to this story and as satisfying as her blooming relationship with Joe.

Laure channels Eden’s frenetic, energetic personality in a first person narration filled with staccato observations as she wakes up in the hospital and begins the arduous process of returning to her old life.The glaring contrast between Eden’s current reality and the pieces of her time In Between that begin to bleed into the waking world lend an eerie quality and a sense of urgency to this otherwise quiet story.

Eden’s voice and her experiences are completely different from Lucille’s in This Raging Light but themes of connection and perseverance tie these two characters and their stories together. But Then I Came Back is about loss, recovery, self-discovery, and choice. A powerful story about a girl who has to lose a lot before she can find herself again. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Fracture by Megan Miranda, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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

Be sure to check out my interview with the author about this book!

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But Then I Came Back was one of my most anticipated 2017 releases. I couldn't wait to read this companion novel to Laure's electric debut This Raging Light. Stop by my blog today to check out my interview with Estelle Laure about the book and check tomorrow for my review. For now I'll leave you with a teaser of my summary for the book: 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Eden Jones fell in the river and hit her head. She was in a coma for a month. But then she woke up. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 That's when the real recovery begins as Eden has to teach her body how to walk, talk, and even eat again. All easy compared to trying to fit herself back into a life that moved on without her. Eden struggles to reconnect with her twin brother who used to know her better than anyone, her best friend who saved her, and her parents. But maybe she isn't the person they remember anymore. Maybe she isn't the person she remembers either. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Eden still feels a pull to wherever she was while she was in a coma–to the In Between place filled with flowers and a girl trying to tell her something that she can't hear. The flowers follow Eden back into the real world where they start appearing everywhere. It turns out the girl followed Eden back too. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Jaz is in the hospital room next to Eden, comatose and unresponsive except that Eden still feels a pull toward her. As she tries to understand their connection, Eden also forms a surprising friendship with Joe–the boy who is desperate for Jaz to wake up. Eden might be the only person who can get Jaz to come back. Helping Jaz could mean losing a piece of herself. Or it could help Eden find something she's been missing all along in But Then I Came Back (2017) by Estelle Laure. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #butthenicameback #estellelaure #clarendonfilter

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