Past Perfect Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth EulbergAlly Smith loves her life in small-town Wisconsin. After moving around with her father for most of her childhood, Ally is thrilled that they landed in a place where she can feel at home surrounded by friends who are more like family.

She knows that things are going to change soon since she’s a senior in high school but that still feels far away–especially when figuring out if she and her friend Neil are still just friends or becoming something more seems much more urgent.

Ally isn’t sure what to do when she finds out that everything she thought she knew about her perfectly ordinary life has been a lie. Ally’s past isn’t what she’s been told. Her family isn’t what she thought. In fact, her name isn’t even Allison–it’s Amanda.

With her old life blown apart, Ally has to figure out how she can fit herself into this strange new life. And if she even wants to try in Past Perfect Life (2019) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Find it on Bookshop.

Eulberg’s latest standalone novel veers into mystery and suspense territory with a plot reminiscent of Caroline B. Cooney’s classic The Face on the Milk Carton.

While Past Perfect Life could have become sinister, the story manages to stay upbeat thanks to the vast support system that Ally has around her while her world begins to fall apart. With everything changing, she finds comfort in old friends and new family both in Wisconsin and her new home in Tampa, Florida.

Ally’s first person narration complements the tension of the plot as she learns the truth about her life although the novel’s slow pacing diminishes some of the impact as readers begin to understand the truth about Ally’s family and her past. Well-drawn characters shift the story from black and white to morally ambiguous grey as Ally and readers try to understand what happened and who should be blamed (or forgiven).

Past Perfect Life is a surprisingly gentle story about found family, embracing the messy parts of your past, and learning who you are. Recommended for readers who want a thriller with less nail biting and more friendship and romance.

Possible Pairings: The Opposite of Here by Tara Altebrando, The Last Forever by Deb Caletti, The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney, Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

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

Better Off Friends: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth EulbergMacallan and Levi are great as friends. In fact, they’re best friends. Family. Which is great for both of them.

Most of the time.

The problem is not everyone understands how a boy and a girl can be such good friends. It gets weird when Levi starts dating one of Macallan’s other friends but still keeps joking with her. It gets worse when Macallan gets a boyfriend.

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 in Better Off Friends (2014) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Find it on Bookshop.

Better Off Friends is another cheerful confection from Eulberg complete with a beautifully designed book package. Written with chapters that alternate between Macallan and Levi’s narration, Eulberg’s story here spans years from the day our protagonists meet through the highs and lows of their friendship.

While Levi’s interest veers toward sports, Macallan discovers a fondness for culinary arts. United by a common love for a British comedy, Macallan and Levi are both approachable characters who are extremely easy to like.

Eulberg brings the Wisconsin setting to life with a brief, beautiful told jaunt to Ireland thrown in as well. Every word counts here and is used to good effect, from the first chapters to the dialogues Macallan and Levi share between chapters. Better Off Friends is an effervescent read that is sure to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, To All the Boys I’ve Love Before by Jenny Han, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, The Book of Love by Lynn Weingarten, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

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

Author Interview: Elizabeth Eulberg on Take a Bow

Elizabeth Eulberg‘s third novel Take a Bow came out earlier this year. Having already enjoyed her previous novels The Lonely Hearts Club and Prom and Prejudice, I was delighted with her latest effort filled with drama and excitement at a performing arts school in New York City.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Elizabeth Eulberg (EE): I still can’t get used to saying that I’m a writer! I never thought being an author was a possibility growing up, this was in the dark ages before the internet and blogs, so authors were these mythical creatures. I loved to read and tell myself stories, but never once thought I’d be a writer. I went to school for public relations and got a job in publishing as a publicist. It was author Dav Pilkey who first encouraged me to write, I was scared to admit that I had been thinking about it. But there’s a huge difference between thinking and doing. And one day I decided to sit down and write.

MP: What was the inspiration for Take a Bow?

EE: I was obsessed with performing arts high schools growing up (I blame the movie Fame). I was in every musical offering at my high school – band, marching band, jazz band, pep band – but always envied people who got to go to schools that focused on the arts. So I decided to write a book set in one.

MP: Take a Bow is set in the fictional New York City School of the Creative and Performing Arts. What kind of research did it take to write about a performing arts school?

EE: I went online and looked at a few different performing arts high schools to see what the entrance requirements were and what a normal day looked like. My fictional school is loosely based on the La Guardia School in NYC and the Houston High School for the Visual and Performing Arts.

MP: Take a Bow is your third novel. It’s also your first with multiple narrators. How did you decide which characters would get a voice in the narration? How did writing multiple narrators compare to having just one narrator in terms of your writing process?

EE: Originally the book was only supposed to be told from Emme’s point of view…then I decided to take a shower! I was thinking about the story in the shower, as one often does, and realized that you really don’t get the full story if you don’t know what Sophie’s thinking. So I thought, okay, I can do both of them. Then I realized you really need to hear from Ethan as well. Okay, three points of view… I was thinking about Carter, who originally was only supposed to be a secondary character, Sophie’s celebrity boyfriend, when I realized he had a secret. I shut off the faucet right away before I decided to give the piano a POV!

I plotted out the story the same and then decided who would tell what. I knew that some characters would have more of a voice than others. But I really like how it worked out. I think you get a fuller story this way.

MP: With which of your four narrators—Emme, Ethan, Sophie or Carter—did you most identify? Who would you have wanted to be like in high school? Who was the most fun to write?

EE: I liked writing all of them, but think I’m probably most like Emme now and even back in high school. I will say that writing from Sophie’s POV was a lot of fun since we are so different. I did lean forward a little more and type fiercely when I was writing her. But I also liked being an emo boy with Ethan. But Carter surprised me the most.

MP: A big part of this story is Emme and Sophie’s changing friendship during their senior year. It’s obvious early on that Sophie is desperate to be a star. She’s also cunning and willing to use every advantage she can find. What was it like not just writing a character that is often unsympathetic but also having her tell part of the story?

EE: I knew from the beginning that Sophie would be unlike any character I’ve ever written and would be someone people wouldn’t necessary like. But there are people like that and I didn’t want her to have a teachable moment either, because some people never learn! I will admit that when writing Sophie, I started feeling sorry for her, mostly because she felt sorry for herself. It’s funny when people ask me about her, because they think I’m going to be offended that they don’t like her. It’s a compliment to write a character that brings out a strong reaction from readers – even if it’s a negative one!

MP: Aside from worrying about school performances and college auditions, Emme is in a band with her friends. Were you in a band in high school? What would your dream band look like? What instrument would you want to play?

EE: I wish I was in a band like Teenage Kicks! I was super jealous of Emme for that. I was only in the bands I mentioned above. I wasn’t cool enough to be in a proper band. But I would still love to be in a band, I’d play both guitar and piano…and get a singing solo every once in awhile. So basically, Teenage Kicks is my dream band. Watch out, Emme!

MP: Do you have a playlist for Take a Bow? If so, do any of the songs mentioned in the book feature on the playlist?

EE: I don’t have an “official” playlist for Take a Bow. But “Teenage Kicks” by the Undertones, “Beat It” by Michael Jackson, and Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” would definitely be on it!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

EE: My next book, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, comes out in March. I’m really excited about it. It’s about a girl named Lexi who’s the funny, clever girl that never gets the guy. To make matters worse, her younger sister is a beauty queen contestant so all her family’s time and resources focus on that. So Lexi decides she’s had enough of being the wallflower and starts to bloom.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

EE: READ! WRITE! Then read some more and WRITE! I really believe in writing the story you want to hear, not what you think will be popular or the next big trend. I’ve had to read and edit all my books countless times so if it wasn’t something I truly loved, I would’ve had gone crazy by now…well, more than I already am!

Thanks again to Elizabeth Eulberg for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find more information about her books on her website.

If you want to read more about Take a Bow check out my review!

Take a Bow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Take a Bow by Elizabeth EulbergEmme’s never been comfortable in the spotlight. Not that she has to be as a song writer. She’s fine writing songs and having her best friend Sophie sing them while Emme stays in the background. Except Sophie might not be the friend Emme thought she was. And being in the background might not be enough to get Emme what she wants anymore.

Sophie knows she is destined to be a star. Sure, her path to stardom hasn’t gone exactly to plan since she arrived at the New York City High School of the Creative and Performing Arts. But senior year is just starting and she still has time to make a statement. If that means exploiting her best friend Emme and riding on her trophy boyfriend Carter’s famous coattails, so be it.

Carter has been playing parts for his entire life. Next It actor. Former Child Star. Soap Opera Actor. Big Ticket Attraction at CPA school performances. Now that senior year is here Carter realizes it might be time to stop acting and start living. Even if he isn’t totally sure where that road will lead.

Ethan never worries about performances or auditions. Music is the one thing Ethan knows he is good at even when he manages to ruin everything else–especially relationships. Ethan knows having Emme as a friend makes him a better person. He knows he needs her in his life. What he doesn’t know is how to convince Emme that she needs him.

With their time at CPA coming to an end Emme, Sophie, Carter and Ethan are all looking to leave their mark–or at least find their way. At a school where everyone is talented and everyone wants to be famous, these four are going to find out exactly what it takes to shine in Take a Bow (2012) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Take a Bow is Eulberg’s third novel and perhaps her most ambitious to date. It is also possibly my favorite so far.

This novel has four first person narrators. Chapters rotate between Emme, Sophie, Carter and Ethan throughout the novel with Emme and Ethan taking up the bulk of the chapters as the plot progresses. With a variety of voices and techniques (Carter’s chapters read like scenes written in a screenplay) Eulberg expertly juggles all four characters making sure they each stand out.

Set in a specialized New York City high school, Eulberg captures the unique stress and frenzy of both getting into and staying in a competitive high school. Being grounded in the school and New York City, Eulberg also writes a well-rounded look at the work and passion it takes to be a performer. Sophie’s desperation is especially palpable and sympathetic even when she is at her worst.

Really, though, the star of the book is Emme. Having her narration and also seeing how the other characters perceive her, Eulberg does a phenomenal job showing Emme’s transformation as she moves from the background to the spotlight.While all of the characters ring true, Emme will strike a chord with anyone who is waiting for (or has already found) the way to be the star of their own life. Her fears and hang ups are believable as is her shift as she realizes it’s time to make a change.

One of the best things about Take a Bow is how aptly Eulberg focuses on the changing friendships of the characters going through the full spectrum from toxic friendships that inevitably fall apart to relationships that can survive anything. While there is a romantic aspect to the story it’s really the friendships between all of the characters that make the story stand out.

Filled with its fair share of drama, romance, and of course music, Take a Bow is definitely a book that will have readers singing its praises.

Possible Pairings: When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Being Friends With Boys by Terra Elan McVoy, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

You can also read my exclusive interview with Elizabeth Eulberg!

The Lonely Hearts Club: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth EulbergPenny Lane Bloom is done with boys. Love might be all you need, but Penny has her doubts. Especially when the dating pool is limited to the losers, players, jerks and wannabes otherwise known as the male population of McKinley High School.

After a summer romance gone wrong once again leaves Penny miserable because of a guy she decides to call it quits. No more boys. No more dating. At least until the end of high school. Taking inspiration from the only men who never let her down, Penny decides to start her own anti-dating club: The Lonely Hearts Club, total members: one.

But when her friends join and the girls at school hear about the Club, Penny finds herself at the center of attention as news of her stance on boys and her club spread throughout the school.

As Penny builds a community of strong, capable girls she might even realize that some boys–even if they aren’t John, Paul, George, or Ringo–might be okay (and maybe even worth dating) in The Lonely Hearts Club (2010) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Find it on Bookshop.

Everything about Eulberg’s debut novel* The Lonely Hearts Club is charming from the cover to the delightful plot, not to mention the Beatles motif throughout the novel.

Penny is a clever, authentic narrator. Readers will love her frank tone and her humility as her Club morphs from an angry declaration against all boys to an important force for good at her high school. Penny’s journey throughout the story both as leader of the Lonely Hearts Club and as a girl who has been burned by one too many boys is realistic and well-written.

What really sets this book apart and makes it so wonderful is that the book is literally filled with strong female characters. In fact, that’s kind of the whole point as Penny and the other Club members learn to focus on themselves and put their own interests first instead of focusing on boys. In short The Lonely Hearts Club is really the perfect blend of old fashioned girl power feminism and romantic sentiment. (And it’s really fun and includes tons of Beatles references besides!)

*Previously the mastermind behind publicity for the Twilight books (and lots of other titles you would recognize), Eulberg wrote this book in 2010. She followed it up with Prom and Prejudice in 2011. She also recently announced that she was planning on pursuing her writing career full time which, as a fan of her work, is extremely exciting!

You can also visit Eulberg’s website for a full list of the Beatles’ songs mentioned in the novel. (Click on “The Beatles”)

Possible Pairings: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg**, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Boy Book by E. Lockhart, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

**I don’t usually list an author’s other books in possible pairings because I feel like it’s implied but I made an exception here because I think the two books, aside from both being delightful, really hit some of the same high notes and pick up the same themes and they just work well together aside from being by the same author. (Want to see what I mean? Read this review.)

Exclusive Bonus Content: Just wanted to take a moment to applaud Becky Terhune and Elizabeth B. Parisi for the fabulous jacket design here. Also props to Michael Frost for the ah-may-zing cover photo. Needless to say this is one of my favorite covers ever.

While you’re reading this, let me ask: Is going to a dance alone still really as radical as it is in this book? I went to my senior prom alone (and met a group of friends at the door). I didn’t realize it could create such a sensation in some circles. Regular readers must be seriously wondering about my high school career by now between this and my ramblings in my Ruby Oliver book reviews . . .

Prom and Prejudice: A (Valentine’s Day) Review

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.

Prom is a seriously big deal at Longbourn Academy. It’s everything a girl could dream of and, after winter break, the only thing most girls can think about.

Prom is the farthest thing from Lizzie Bennet’s mind. Yes, she is single but she is definitely not a girl of high standing at Longbourn. A scholarship student, she is the subject of hazing, ridicule, and even outright hatred. All she wants is to survive by keeping up her grades and practicing her piano playing to maintain her tenuous place at Longbourn.

Lizzie tries to put on a strong face for her best friend Jane by going to parties and pretending to have a good time, but like everything else school related it usually ends in disaster. Jane is thrilled when Charles Bingley comes back from a semester abroad. And Lizzie tries to be too because Charles is really nice. But his friend Will Darcy is another story. Snobby, pretentious, and downright obnoxious–Darcy is a complete jerk to Lizzie and drives her to distraction.

Still, there’s something about him. There must be if everyone else likes him so much. But Lizzie still has her doubts. Will Lizzie’s pride and Darcy’s prejudice keep them apart forever? Or will they realize they might be a perfect match in Prom and Prejudice (2011) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, Prom and Prejudice is a retelling and reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice.

Tinkering with a classic is always risky but Eulberg makes it look easy. Prom and Prejudice delivers a charming story that manages to stand on its own while also staying true to the spirit of Austen’s much-loved original.

Narrated by Lizzie herself, Eulberg offers readers a unique view of a story they might already know as Lizzie herself tells readers everything she hates (and perhaps eventually comes to love?) about Darcy. Aside from providing a most excellent title the focus on prom updates the story while keeping all of the urgency and tension Austen herself created. (Setting the story in a boarding school also allows Lizzie to have “sisters” around without them being actually related–so clever.)

Lizzie’s breezy narration and many mishaps, not to mention her myriad misunderstandings, will draw readers in from the familiar opening line right down to the surprise ending. Eulberg creates a delightful story that is both romantic and captivating in Prom and Prejudice.

Novel Novice also has a full playlist for the book!

Possible Pairings: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Scarlett Fever by Maureen Johnson, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Exclusive Bonus Content: First and foremost, you all must see Elizabeth Eulberg in person if you can. She is one of the funniest most charming authors I have ever seen. Hearing Eulberg reading from the book was hysterical because she did voices for all of the characters. Her editor, the inimitable David Levithan, was also his usual dynamo self at the release event I attended with my friend Nicole, the Book Bandit.

Second, I wanted to mention the cover. Some reviews have mentioned that it’s too pink or not their cup of tea. I, for one, love it. The pink of the background is actually my favorite color. I also had a prom dress almost like the one on the cover. What I really like is the person holding up the dress is ready to cut the strap. The cover is subtle–very straightforward with the prom dress but also subversive with that small gesture with the scissors. I thought it was a nice counter part to the book itself–a straightforward Jane Austen adaptation but with a clever twist. (And if you take off the dust jacket you’ll find an inlay of a silhouette of the prom dress on the cover. How cool is that?) This jacket, like many others that I praise here, was designed by Elizabeth B. Parisi (she also masterminded the covers for the Hunger Games and Green Witch books).