The Insomniacs: A Review

The Insomniacs by Marit WeisenbergMost of Ingrid Roth’s life is a mess. Her mother is barely home, always taking extra shifts at the hospital. Their house is rundown and falling apart. Ingrid hasn’t spoken to any of her friends in the neighborhood cul de sac in years. And, of course, Ingrid’s father is long gone. But Ingrid has always had diving under control.

Competitive diving is supposed to be a safe space–her ticket to a college scholarship, the way she’ll one day get her father’s attention. Diving is the one thing Ingrid always does right.

Until she doesn’t.

Ingrid doesn’t remember the accident. She knows she must have frozen up, lost control. She knows her head hit the board and she’s supposed to be resting to recover from the head trauma.

The only problem is Ingrid hasn’t been able to sleep in days.

Haunted by her lack of memory of the accident, as scared to return to the diving board as she is to fall behind in training, Ingrid spends her nights watching the neighborhood and Van–her neighbor, her former best friend, the boy she’s had a crush on forever.

Then Ingrid finds Van watching her.

Van and Ingrid start spending their sleepless nights together as they both try to find a way to rest. Will the promise of answers be the thing that brings Ingrid and Van back together? Or will it drive them apart once and for all? in The Insomniacs (2020) by Marit Weisenberg.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Insomniacs is a heady blend of the vague menace reminiscent of the Hitchcock classic Rear Window and the summery nostalgia and romance in The Summer I Turned Pretty. Ingrid’s narration is choppy and tense as she tries to put together the pieces to explain her accident.

While both Ingrid and Van are focused on fixing their insomnia, the lack of sleep soon becomes a stand in for other problems. After years of letting her athleticism and physicality shape her daily life, Ingrid is paralyzed in the face of so much introspection as she has to confront her feelings about diving and, worse, the memories she can’t quite summon of the moments leading up to the accident. Van, meanwhile, struggles to understand what secrets his girlfriend and best friends seem to have been keeping from him and what they have to do with the abandoned house on the cul de sac.

The Insomniacs is an atmospheric story filled with secrets and suspense. Ingrid and Van drive the story but their neighborhood is as much of a character in this tense story where both characters have to confront some hard truths–including acknowledging when they need to ask for help. Ideal for readers who like their protagonists to have a lot of chemistry and their suspense to have tension thick enough to cut with a knife. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, Tonight The Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, We Are the Wildcats by Siobhan Vivian, Rear Window (1954)

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

Love and Other Train Wrecks: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah KonenAmmy doesn’t believe in true love. But she’s still riding a train from Virginia to upstate New York to attend her dad’s second wedding. She isn’t sure if her mom will ever forgive her. But she also knows it’s too late to turn back.

Noah is a total romantic. So much so that he’s taking a train back home to try and win back his first love—the girl he broke up with before he left for college.

Ammy and Noah are both desperate to get to their destination–even if it means they’re stuck traveling together after their train breaks down in a snow storm.

When a quick detour turns into an all-day trip it seems like Ammy and Noah might be falling for each other. But at the end of the journey an unexpected surprise changes everything and leaves both Ammy and Noah wondering if love and their train wreck relationship can be salvaged in Love and Other Train Wrecks (2018) by Leah Konen.

Love and Other Train Wrecks is a standalone novel. This contemporary romance plays out over the course of twenty-four hours during their madcap journey to upstate New York.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of books where a main character is forced to choose between their parents because of divorce. Ammy, unfortunately, has no good choices and spends a lot of the novel wondering if going to her father’s wedding is worth the effort when she isn’t sure if her father even wants her there or it her mom will ever forgive her. But Konen’s characterization and plotting more than makes up for starting the novel with this premise. Ammy and Noah are fun and sympathetic whether you’re a romantic or not.

Love and Other Train Wrecks is a fast-paced contemporary novel filled with humor and romance. Readers will immediately be swept up in Ammy and Noah’s journey–bumps and all.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Once and For All by Sarah Desseh, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

The Romantics: A Review

The Romantics by Leah KonenGael Brennan is a textbook Romantic; he believes in love and he loves the idea of being in love. Unfortunately, life seems intent on squashing his Romantic tendencies first with his parents’ painful separation and a painful breakup with his first girlfriend.

Love has big plans for Gael and can see big things in his future. But only if Gael’s youthful relationships go a certain way–and do not include a dreaded Rebound. When Romantic Gael meets a Serial Monogamist, it seems like Love’s plans for Gael are doomed to failure.

Fortunately, Love has more than a few tricks ready to use to set Gael straight. In trying to redirect Gael’s path to the right romance, Love (and Gael) will realize that sometimes even the best relationships aren’t meant to last forever in The Romantics (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Romantics is narrated by Love who is an omniscient presence throughout the novel. Although Love does not interact with any characters directly, Love does play a hand in near-misses, coincidences, and other interventions to try and move things in the right direction with Gael.

Gael is a fun protagonist and his journey both with romantic love and his other relationships is authentic and entertaining. Gael has a lot of knocks between a painful breakup and his parents’ separation which is painful both in its reality and because it comes as such a shock to Gael and his younger sister.He is realistically angry and frustrated but also remains optimistic as he tries to move forward.

Although the story understandably spends a lot of time on Gael’s romantic travails, The Romantics also underscores that love comes in all forms–both romantic and not–including a really lovely friendship arc between Gael and his best friend Mason. (Though it is worth noting that the novel is generally hetero-normative as the main relationships remain male-female.)

Because Love spends time with all of the major characters, The Romantics also has a thoroughly developed cast and a plot that develops from multiple angles with some surprising results. The Romantics is a breezy and fun story and a sweet romance filled with witty asides from Love along with footnotes and illustrations. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows; Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Flannery by Lisa Moore, My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also check out my interview with Leah Konen about this book.

Suffer Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Suffer Love by Ashley Herring BlakeHadley St. Clair’s family fell apart last year when she came home to a door covered in papers that revealed, again and again, that her father cheated on her mother. Everyone is telling Hadley that it’s time to move on. Her best  friend doesn’t recognize the girl Hadley has become. Her father is constantly hurt by Hadley’s anger. Her mother says she is trying to save their marriage but she can barely stand to be around Hadley or her father.

Sam Bennett hopes he can start over when he moves to a new town with his mother and younger sister after his parents’ bitter divorce. Sam is tired of drama and wary of relationships. All he wants to do is survive senior year and move on to college where he can be far away from his parents and their tacit disapproval.

Hadley and Sam are both hurting. They’re both 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 in Suffer Love (2016) by Ashley Herring Blake.

The story alternates first-person narration between Hadley and Sam whose distinct personalities come across clearly. The hurt and anger both characters feel comes across strongly throughout the novel making parts of this story a bit brutal.

Hadley and Sam’s connection, hinted at as mysterious in the jacket copy, is revealed early on as Sam realizes he knows exactly who Hadley is and her connection to his family. While this element adds tension to the plot, the real crux of the story is how Hadley and Sam connect to each other and their families.

Both Hadley and Sam are authentic characters and realistically flawed. Neither of them have made the best decisions in the last year and they are both suffering the aftermath of their families being laid to waste with one marriage ending in divorce and the other barely holding it together.

Sam and Hadley are both nuanced and well-developed characters, often making their friends and parents seem one-dimensional in comparison. This character-driven novel interestingly works Shakespeare (whose plays Sam and Hadley are studying in class) into the plot which does add an extra something to the story.

Suffer Love is a visceral and emotive contemporary novel. Recommended for readers looking for a quick and romantic read.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

The Word For Yes: A Review

*I don’t think this review is spoilery given what readers know from the publisher copy and the title. But you might disagree so read with caution.*

The Word for Yes by Claire NeedellJan, Erika, and Melanie Russell have never been especially close as sisters.

Eldest Jan is less present as she begins her first year at Brown where she struggles with lingering doubts that her life as an overachieving high school student will leave her stranded as a mediocre college freshman.

Effortlessly beautiful Erika with her science know-how and low social cognition has always been the beloved oddity in the family. Everyone worries about Erika being able to take care of herself in a world that is far less kind than she would imagine.

Youngest Melanie, at fifteen, is still figuring out where she fits with her high-achieving parents and sisters. Perpetually angry and frustrated by everything Erika does, Melanie is eager to leverage her own social savvy against the constraints of her youth to have some actual fun at the coolest concerts and parties she can find.

When Melanie is sexually assaulted at a party, the entire family is thrown into turmoil. In the wake of the date rape, Erika is sure the crime should be reported while Melanie is desperate to get back to normal. In the weeks after the rape, questions of consent and intention swirl about both Melanie and Gerald at their private school as both of them–and even Erika and Jan–wonder how to move forward in The Word For Yes (2016) by Claire Needell.

The Word For Yes is Needell’s first novel.

The narration alternates chapter viewpoints to follow each sister and even Gerald–the boy who assaults Melanie–throughout the novel in close third person. However, because The Word For Yes is so short, these chapters often feel abrupt and cursory as the novel moves from subplot to subplot.

It’s hard to think of The Word For Yes as anything but an issue book since the entire driving force of the story is Melanie’s rape and its aftermath. As such, certain comparisons are inevitable. While this book joins recent publications like Aaron Hartzler’s What We Saw and Consent by Nancy Ohlin in the important conversation about rape and sexual assault, it fails to add anything new to that discussion. It also falls short compared to classics like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson or Inexcusable by Chris Lynch.

The Word For Yes also touches upon issues of bullying, adjusting to college, and changing family dynamics. Sadly this book ultimately lacks the depth to offer anything but a quick read that takes on too much. Plot threads for each sister–including what is meant to be a powerful confrontation scene for Melanie–come off as decidedly anti-climactic and even clinical with so little time being spent on individual aspects of the story.

While The Word For Yes should be applauded for attempts to thoughtfully discuss issues surrounding rape, as well as some level of diversity, this novel is ultimately too slight to be anything but a forgettable issue-driven story.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, What We Saw by Aaron Hartzler, Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, Althea and Oliver by Christina Moracho, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

This Song Will Save Your Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You think it’s so easy to change yourself.

“You think it’s so easy, but it’s not.”

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila SalesElise Dembowski has tried countless times to make herself better. Less different. Less precocious. Every time it’s been a horrible failure.

It turns out trading in her unicorn boots for normal sneakers, researching pop culture online, and wearing a new headband on the first day of school isn’t enough. Nothing is ever enough.

Elise is ready to give up. She can’t go on like this–the punchline of every joke, the obvious target for every bully. With friends it might be bearable. But making friends, it turns out, is just as hard as becoming cool.

Then one magical night something finally does change when Elise wanders into a warehouse dance party. At the party Elise also finds people who accept her; not some mainstreamed version of herself, not the invisible version or the fake one. Just her. In the midst of the party and the magic Elise also finds something almost as important: DJing.

With a chance at real friends and something that makes her truly happy, Elise might be able to change herself after all in This Song Will Save Your Life (2013) by Leila Sales.

Find it on Bookshop.

There is so much to love in this story. This Song Will Save Your Life is an obvious read for music fans. (Sales includes a partial playlist at the end of the novel.) Even at her lowest, Elise remains a proactive, sympathetic heroine. She is capable and, above all, Elise is very much herself.

While Elise is the powerhouse center of this novel, This Song Will Save Your Life is also peppered with fully realized secondary characters including Elise’s very modern, very blended family and the absolutely delightful Vicky.

Sales’ writing has a verve and spark here that makes Elise’s story infinitely compelling. Throughout the story Elise’s narrative remains sharp and very well-focused. Although she is troubled, Elise remains extremely self-aware and always questions outcomes throughout the story in a way that is both effective and refreshing. This Song Will Save Your Life is a smart, witty story filled with as much enthusiasm and energy as any dance party.

Possible Pairings: Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going, Looking for Alaska by John Green, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality: A Chick Lit Wendesday Review

Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth EulbergLexi knows she is smart and funny–even if she might not be quite as smart as her friend Cam or quite as funny as her friend Benny. Cam and Benny keep telling Lexi she isn’t bad looking, but whatever that’s what friends say. At the end of the day Lexi has a Great personality with a capital “G” making her the witty girl everyone likes.

Which is fine.

It’s not like there’s room for another beauty in her family anyway. Not when her mother channels all of their energy and time (and more of their money than they can spare) into baby sister Mackenzie’s beauty pageant competitions. Mac is only seven and she’s already spoiled and bratty, she already wears false eyelashes and needs butt glue for the bathing suit portion of each pageant.

Seriously, Lexi has enough going on without wasting even more time making herself pretty.

The only problem is Lexi is tired of being that girl. The one all the guys talk to but no one asks out–the one her long time crush Logan considers a really great friend and nothing else.

When an opportunity comes to get Benny out of his own shell and talking to a real live boy he likes, Lexi reluctantly takes it even though she has to wear actual makeup (lip gloss doesn’t count), nice clothes (no more too-big t-shirts), and style her hair (hairspray: not for sissies).

Turns out a change in appearance can do a lot to improve a girl’s social status. But family problems and new friends (and crushes) force Lexi to ask some tough questions about herself and do some things that even a Great personality won’t make easy in Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality (2013) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

At a mere 272 pages, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality has a lot going on. Eulberg touches on matters including divorce, family dynamics, beauty pageant culture (of course), even popularity and bullying. Lexi is a smart, funny girl but she is also fiercely independent and loyal almost to a fault. She is an aspiring fashion designer with dreams of leaving Texas behind for the bright lights of New York City.

There are some terrible moments for Lexi throughout the story as readers learn why Lexi decided it was easier to try to be funny than pretty. The pageant issue for Lexi’s family also comes to a head with painful results for everyone involved as Eulberg, through Lexi, asks the tough questions about what it means to parade children’ around a stage in pageantry wear. The issue is generally balanced though by the end Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality does get a bit preachy about pageant culture–not to say Lexi’s feelings aren’t justified, after everything that happens they totally are–to the point of being a bit over the top, much like pageants themselves.

But again, this is a short read.  While Eulberg touches on a variety of things, nothing is quite finished by the end of the novel as Lexi is still dealing with a very broken, damaged family and the aftermath of some of her choices throughout the narrative. There is no doubt Lexi (and even Mackenzie) will pick themselves up and start again (and I love the choice Lexi makes at the end to try and do just that) but it would have been nice to see just a bit more of that in the actual story. Similarly, Cam and Benny are strong friends and had the potential to be well-rounded characters had there been more room in the book for them to have complete stories. (Much like aspects of Lexi’s life, both Cam and Benny feature in the story for key reasons but the threads are ultimately left dangling–though again with certainty that things will work out because these characters deserve nothing less.)

As always Eulberg’s writing is funny and fresh from her clever chapter titles to Lexi’s insightful observations about both pageant culture and high school life. Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality is a great read for anyone looking for a few laughs and a lot of heart with just a touch of Texas to taste.

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Nothing by Annie Barrows, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Miss Smithers by Susan Juby, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“There are so many ways it could have all turned out different.”

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. SmithIf she hadn’t forgotten the book, if she had tried on the dress sooner. If she hadn’t given herself a paper cut while printing her ticket, or lost her cell phone charger, if there hadn’t been traffic on the way to the airport. If she hadn’t missed the exit, or had run a bit faster to the gate.

Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Who ever heard of a plan leaving on time? Who would have thought that four minutes could change everything?

Instead of being on her plane, Hadley is trapped in the crowded airport watching it leave for England–without her–as she contemplates whether it will be worse to be late for her father’s second wedding or to miss it altogether. It should be one of the worst days of her life.

But, somehow, it isn’t. Instead Hadley meets the perfect boy in the airport waiting area. His name is Oliver. He is 18C. Hadley is 18A. And, somehow, through twists of fate and strange coincidences Hadley’s worst day might turn into something better in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (2012) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Find it on Bookshop.

Set over the course of twenty-four hours (with chapter headings that include the time in both Eastern Standard and Greenwich Mean Time), The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a fast, funny  read.

Smith perfectly captures the dizzying feelings of serendipity and chance in her writing. Hadley and Oliver are both realistic, witty characters that readers will root for throughout the story. Strangely for a novel set largely in an airport waiting terminal and on an airplane itself, Smith’s settings are strongly evocative bringing Hadley’s fear of small spaces and the daunting foreign landscape of London to life.

What makes The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight especially appealing is that it packs so much into such a small book (256 pages, hardcover). As the title suggests there is, of course, a love story but Smith also expertly captures the essences of both Hadley and Oliver’s characters while also writing a refreshingly honest story about family and dealing with the consequences of divorce.

Possible Pairings: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon,  Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2011