By the Book: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

By the Book by Amanda SelletMary Porter-Malcolm knows all of the potential pitfall for a young woman navigating the murky waters of socializing from engaging with a scoundrel, falling victim to ennui, to falling literally in front of a train. All of which was very hand information in the 19th century (the focus of her literature concentration at her alternative school) but less applicable to modern times.

Which is to say that Mary is feeling less than prepared on the first day of her sophomore year at the local public high school. Mary knows exactly three people, including one of her older sisters. That number quickly drops when Mary realizes the friend she was counting on during this scary transition is more interested in climbing the high school social ladder than hanging out with her.

A quick warning to another new girl at school gives Mary the false reputation of savvy advice giver and a new group of friends. As she helps her friends flesh out the Scoundrel Survival Guide, Mary embraces new experiences and even the prospect of new love.

But with Mary so focused on preserving her reputation with her friends, she might be missing all the signs that one potential scoundrel might not be as scandalous–or as uninterested in her–as she thought in By the Book (2020) by Amanda Sellet.

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By the Book is Sellet’s debut novel. It’s narrated by Mary and includes excerpts from her diary at the start of each chapter. Check the end of the book for a full listing of all the classic novels mentioned in the Scoundrel Survival Guide.

At the start of By the Book, Mary is naive to the point of being cringe-worthy. But she quickly grows on readers as her oblivious navigation of her own life is contrasted with wry (if sometimes entirely inaccurate) observations about her friends, siblings, and classmates in the context of her 19th century literature interests.

Mary’s large, white family includes absent-minded academic parents, three older sisters, and a younger brother all of whom are well-developed and enhance the story with their own dramas and contributions to Mary’s various dilemmas. While Mary does have some romance (and tension) with would-be scoundrel Alex, the story really shines as Mary learns about the gives and takes inherent to friendship with her new (and first) group of friends–girls who also defy stereotypes including Latinx Terry who is objectively beautiful but also obsessed with all things related to forensic pathology.

By the Book is a sweet story with a lot of heart and humor. Come for the witty banter and endearing friendships, stay for surprisingly on point 19th century literature jokes and high school shenanigans.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman

Allergic: A Graphic Novel Review

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated Michelle Mee Nutter
Maggie has been feeling like the odd one out at home for a while. Her parents are busy getting ready for the new baby. Her younger brothers are twins and always speaking their own language. Literally. Maggie hasn’t had anything just for her for a while.

Which is why getting a puppy for her tenth birthday is the best gift ever.

But there’s one problem: Maggie breaks out in hives the minute she tries to choose her new dog.

Turns out Maggie is allergie to anything with fur. With her pet options severely limited Maggie will have to get creative if she wants to find the perfect pet in Allergic (2021) by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated Michelle Mee Nutter.

Find it on Bookshop.

Allergic is a really fun, full color graphic novel. Maggie’s father is depicted as white while her mother is darker skinned.

This story packs a lot into a slim volume. It’s sure to appeal to fans of contemporary graphic novels. Maggie struggles to come to terms with her allergies–and the numerous shot treatments she needs for them–while letting go of her idea of the perfect pet.

At the same time, Maggie makes new friends with a boy at school who has food allergies helping her put her own situation in perspective as something that just happens sometimes. She also befriends new neighbor Claire who is a grad ahead at school and tries to support Maggie on her pet search. While the girls have some growing pains with jealousy and related arguments, their friendship is back on solid ground by the end of the story.

Allergic is a relatable, funny story perfect for readers who enjoy slice-of-life comics and animals–with or without fur.

Possible Pairings: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Even and Odd: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Even and Odd by Sarah Beth DurstEven and Odd are sisters who share magic on alternating days. On her even days twelve-year-old Emma “Even” Berry tries to pack in as much magic use as she can while she prepares for her next exam from the Academy of Magic. With her level five exam looming, Even needs all the practice time she can get to make sure she stays on schedule with her plans to become a hero. As a hero Even will be able to accept quests and travel throughout the neighboring magical kingdom of Firoth helping people.

Eleven-year-old Olivia “Odd” Berry would be just as happy skipping her magic days altogether. Except for turning her sister into a skunk when she’s annoying, Odd rarely has control of her magic. Odd’s magic might improve with practice, but she’d much rather focus on spending time volunteering at the animal shelter in their sleepy town in Connecticut where the Berrys run a border shop helping visitors from Firoth navigate the mundane world.

When the hidden portal behind Fratelli’s Express Bagels suddenly closes, no one can access their magic. Worse, a lot of magical Firoth residents are stranded far from home and cut off from their families. Even is eagerto help investigate as hero practice and Odd is excited to get to know the unicorn Jeremy who also offers assistance if it means getting home before his parents ground him.

When they find themselves trapped on the wrong side of the border, both sisters will have to rely on all of their skills–magical and otherwise–to figure out who is stealing the border magic and how to fix it in Even and Odd (2021) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Even and Odd is filled with humor and timely commentary on the harms of closed borders. Narrated in close third person following Even, the story explores magic from both sides as Even embraces all things magical and Odd is readier to find magic in the mundane world (like new kittens!).

With help from Jeremy, a unicorn with a surprising fondness for soda, Even and Odd explore their birthland Firoth for the first time while trying to fix the border. The magic system here is logical and has several parallels to climate change as magical energy is treated as a limited resource–a fact that leads to dangerous consequences for the border and all of Firoth.

Whimsical magical elements and humor help temper these weightier topics as the sisters realize that sometimes being a hero has a lot less to do with proper training and a lot more to do with offering to help. Even and Odd is a fast-paced, magical adventure perfect for readers who like their fantasy with a bit of humor and a lot of sisterhood.

Possible Pairings: The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis, The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer, Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connelly, Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger, The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

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

The Cousins: A Review

The Cousins by Karen M. McManusThe Story family always lived by one simple rule: family first, always.

That was before the family matriarch mysteriously disinherited and banished all of her children from the family estate on Gull Cove Island with nothing but a letter saying, “You know what you did.” Now cousins Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah barely know each other. They’ve never met their infamous grandmother.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t familiar with the Story family reputation: glamorous, mysterious, and just a little bit tragic. It doesn’t mean they aren’t just a little bit curious when their grandmother reaches out inviting the cousins to work at a local resort for the summer and reconnect. They soon realize the letters they received are a far cry from the real grandmother they find when they arrive on the island.

Everyone in the Story family has secrets but there’s something seductive about family secrets and the way they can become a part of you until exposing them feels just like losing part of yourself. After a lifetime of secrets surrounding their family history, Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah will have to uncover the truth to help their entire family move on in The Cousins (2020) by Karen M. McManus.

Find in on Bookshop.

The Cousins is a standalone mystery. Chapters alternate between Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah’s first person narrations. Third person chapters interspersed throughout the story from Milly’s mother, Allison, in 1996 show the events leading up to the disinheritance. With the exception of Milly who is half-Japanese, the Story family is white. A few secondary characters are BIPOC and play small but key roles in the story.

McManus packs a lot into this slim, fast-paced novel as the cousins begin to collaborate to start putting together the pieces of their family’s troubled past. Aubrey, a guileless narrator eager to connect with her estranged family, is a fun contrast to calculating Jonah and shrewd Milly who have more complicated reasons for coming to the island.

The Cousins balances its multiple timelines and plot threads shifting viewpoints so the right character is able to present the right information to readers for maximum impact. Tightly controlled narratives and excellent plot management leave just enough breadcrumbs for readers to try to make sense of the Story family’s secrets along with the protagonists.

The Cousins is an utterly engrossing mystery filled with suspense, complex family dynamics, and three narrators that are as multifaceted as the mystery they’re trying to solve.

Possible Pairings: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao, Knives Out

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba JaigirdarHumaira “Hani” Khan is one of the most popular girls in school. She’s also genuinely nice, so it’s no wonder everyone loves her. Unfortunately, popularity–and friendship–only go so far as Hani learns when she tells her friends she is bisexual. Instead of supporting her, Hani’s friends wonder if Hani is sure or if she can even know when she’s only dated guys.

Tired of being set up, invalidated, and otherwise having her identity questioned, Hani does what seems like the logical thing: She tells her friends that she’s dating another girl at their school. A girl Hani’s friends all hate.

Ishita “Ishu” Dey is not popular. She isn’t even well-liked. And she definitely doesn’t care as long as she can keep bringing home good grades to impress her strict parents. After years of feeling second best compared to her older sister, Nik, Ishu might finally have a chance to prove she’s best. But first she has to become Head Girl at school.

Head Girl is a popularity contest that Ishu knows she’s likely to lose. It’s also why she needs Hani’s help enough to go along with her hare-brained fake dating plan.

What starts as a business transaction to secure Hani acceptance in exchange for the visibility Ishu needs to win Head Girl quickly becomes something more when the girls start to realize they might actually like each other. Turns out staging a relationship is a lot easier than trying to start a real one in Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating (2021) by Adiba Jaigirdar.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating alternates chapters between Ishu and Hani’s first person narrations as they embark on their staged relationship and deal with other issues. These include Hani’s father’s political campaign as well as Ishu’s older sister announcing her plan to leave university to get married–a decision their parents refuse to support. A content warning at the beginning of the book details what readers should expect (and may want to avoid if triggering).

Despite the heavier topics, Jaigirdar’s latest novel is a breezy and sweet romance where opposites really do attract as easygoing Hani and abrasive Ishu grow closer. While Hani’s friends are infuriating, her home life is a lovely addition to this story with truly supportive parents. Hani is also navigating how she wants to observe (and express) her Muslim faith–something that comes up throughout the story with her father’s campaign and in the face of microaggressions from her white friends.

Ishu is a true acerbic wit. Her chapters are filled with biting humor and detached observations of the classmates who have never made space for her. While she lacks the same parental support as Hani, Ishu’s character arc is truly satisfying as her relationship with her older sister develops throughout the novel.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is a funny, sparkling romantic comedy. Perfect for fans of stories with fake dating schemes, opposites attracting, and characters who thrive no matter what life throws at them.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi, The Black Kids by Kimberly Jenkins Reid

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

10 Truths and a Dare: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley ElstonTruth: School has always been Olivia Perkins’ thing. It’s the reason she took so many AP classes that she had to squeeze in an off-campus gym class, the reason she knows exactly what she wants to major in next year at LSU, and the reason she will be salutatorian for her graduating class.

Truth: Olivia has been looking forward to Senior Party Week since she was a freshman. Every year graduating seniors host extravagant themed parties and they are not to be missed. With invites that include pajama parties, tea parties, a rodeo themed party, a scavenger hunt, and more, Olivia’s week is packed. Sure, her mother has a tracking app on Olivia’s phone while Olivia is home alone but she can handle that, right?

Truth: All of Olivia’s plans change when she finds out she might not graduate because she never completed the hours she needed to pass golf.

Truth: No one can find out about this mess and, with some help from her cousins and best friends, Olivia might be able to keep it under wraps. All she has to do is work at a golf tournament for four days while swapping phones with Charlie, Sophie, and Wes so that Olivia’s mom (and the rest of her enormous family) never finds out.

Truth: Senior Party Week is turning out to be nothing like Olivia expected with fewer parties, a lot more sunburn, and one cute golfer that even a planner like Olivia never could have prepared for in 10 Truths and a Dare (2021) by Ashley Elston.

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10 Truths and a Dare is a companion novel to Elston’s 10 Blind Dates which follows Sophie’s post-breakup shenanigans over winter break while she reconnects with her boisterous family–including cousins Olivia and Charlie and childhood friend Wes–and herself. This book is set the summer after Sophie’s adventures while Olivia works to make sure she graduates on time. Sections from Sophie, Charlie, and Wes’s point of view also show readers what’s happening while they are on phone duty pretending to be Olivia.

This story has a lot going on with parties, swapped phones, a very high-stakes golf tournament, and lots of secrets. Chapters start with a party invitation and a truth from Olivia, tying back to the book’s title and adding one more layer to an already packed story. For me, this felt like one element too many and working a bit too hard to fit Olivia’s story into a structure that made more sense for Sophie’s book.

That said, this is a still a really fun story filled with lots of great moments leading up to summer and graduation. Elston dedicates the book to the graduating classes who didn’t get these classic high school experiences because of the pandemic. My hope is that some of them can enjoy it vicariously with Olivia and her family.

10 Truths and a Dare is a fun, summery story filled with excitement for what’s next and nostalgia for what won’t come again. Recommended for readers looking for a summer romance where you’ll fall in love with the main character’s family right along with her love interest.

Possible Pairings: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway; 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz; I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks; Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno; Save the Date by Morgan Matson; Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins; Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud; My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma; Recommended For You by Laura Silverman; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

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

Mayhem: A Review

Mayhem by Estelle LaureCalifornia, 1987: Mayhem Brayburn and her mother have never been like everyone else. May can see it in her mother Roxy’s constant pain, her pull to the water, the gaping hole of her father’s absence in the wake of his suicide years ago.

When her step-father goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem make their way back to the beach town–and the family history–that Roxy left behind when May was a baby. Santa Maria is everything May always hoped it would be. She meets her aunt’s foster kids, finds the family she always wanted and, amazingly, discovers her own connection to the Brayburn family’s long line of magic.

But not everything is magical in Santa Maria. Girls are going missing. Soon, Mayhem’s own efforts to find the culprit draw her into a strange world of vigilante justice and revenge as she learns more about the town–and her family’s–darker secrets in Mayhem (2020) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

If this standalone fantasy sounds a lot like the 1987 film The Lost Boys, that’s because it is. While Laure imbues Mayhem with its own magic and world building, the story stays close to the original plot of the classic vampire film complete with brief appearances by the iconic Frog brothers. Laure also brings more diversity to the cast in her update–the Brayburns are white but May’s farther was Brazilian and Jason and Kidd are biracial (Black and white).

Questions of why this story had to be set in 1987 instead of modernized are also inevitable and not well answered by any authorial choices.

How you feel about this book might depend on your familiarity with the film and your feelings about it. Mayhem includes a lot of nods to the original film but shifts in surprising ways to make space for the Brayburn’s family history as seen in a mysterious diary Mayhem finds upon exploring her new home. Unfortunately these two storylines don’t always mesh well feeling more like two separate stories than one, cohesive plot.

Mayhem is ideal for readers who like their witches fierce and their vampire references vintage.

Possible Pairings: The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Lost Boys

Tokyo Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko JeanIzumi Tanaka is used to not quite fitting into her small, mostly white, town in northern California. She goes by Izzy because it’s “easier,” she’s grateful to be best friends with the only other non-white girls at school. And she’s always been close to her single mother.

At least she thought she was.

After Izumi finds out the truth about her father’s identity, she isn’t sure what to think of her mother or her own life anymore.

Turns out Izumi’s never-in-the-picture father is the Crown Prince of Japan. In other words: Izumi is suddenly a princess!

In a whirlwind of preparation and dodging paparazzi, Izumi travels to Japan to meet her father and learn more about this side of her family. But it turns out being a princess isn’t as easy as putting on a new tiara. Izumi is woefully unprepared for the rigid royal protocols, Japanese culture shock, and the media attention. Worse, she might be “too American” for Japan after years of being “too Japanese” in her hometown.

Add to the mix even more press, a cute bodyguard who might hate Izumi (or not?!), and plenty of scheming cousins and Izumi is in for a trip she–and the rest of Japan–won’t soon forget in Tokyo Ever After (2021) by Emiko Jean.

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Tokyo Ever After is tailor made for anyone who loves a royal romantic comedy (or royal gossip) complete with near misses, embarrassing shenanigans, and opposites attracting.

Izumi is an irreverent and authentic protagonist. She makes a few mistakes along the way (notably: not reading up on protocol on her flight) but she’s also quick to acknowledge her flaws and admit her mistakes. Jean brings Japan to life for readers as Izumi explores and learns more about her royal heritage.

Tokyo Ever After is a breezy, exuberant story with a winning heroine (and brooding male lead) you can’t help but cheer on. A must read for fans of romantic comedies–and tiaras, of course.

Possible Pairings: Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, This Time Will be Different by Misa Sugiura

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

Lucky Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lucky Girl by Jamie PactonFortuna Jane Belleweather has always been good with numbers. As the only winner of the most recent lottery jackpot, Jane know there are 58,642,129 to claim the ticket. And every one of them includes a dollar sign.

Unfortunately, Jane can also see four big problems that stand between her and the big prize:

  1. Jane is still seventeen for two weeks. This isn’t terrible since she has 180 days to claim the ticket. Except if anyone finds out she bought the ticket as a minor it’s a criminal offense. So aside from being in big trouble, she wouldn’t be able to claim the winnings.
  2. The most obvious solution is to give her mom the ticket to cash. But after her father’s death, Jane’s mother has started hoarding other peoples’ possessions (and their memories, whatever that means) so Jane isn’t sure she can trust her mother with that much cash. Or really any cash.
  3. Jane’s best friend Brandon Kim is determined to reveal the big winner on his website, Bran’s Lakesboro Daily, to better prove his chops as an aspiring journalist and land a coveted internship at CNN.
  4. Then there’s the biggest problem: Jane’s ex-boyfriend Holden is back on the scene with a lot of ideas about spending Jane’s winnings. And trying to claim them for himself.

Winning the lottery should be the luckiest thing to ever happen to Jane, but as she struggles with keeping her big secret and figuring out how to claim her winning’s she wonders if this is a case where a strike of luck is more bad than good in Lucky Girl (2021) by Jamie Pacton.

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Jane narrates this standalone contemporary. Jane, like most of the small Wisconsin town residents, is white. Her best friend Brandon is Korean. Jane is bisexual.

Pacton packs a lot into a short novel as Jane comes to terms with her life-changing win and figures out how to claim her winnings (or if she even should). While this decision understandably drives most of the plot, Jane and her mother are also still grieving the death of Jane’s father and dealing with the aftermath (isolation for both of them and hoarding for Jane’s mom).

While some of the plot–particularly everything to do with Holden–can feel heavy-handed, Pacton delivers a very sweet slice-of-life story focused very squarely on Jane and her support system. Jane’s friendship with Brandon (and Brandon’s long-distance girlfriend who is in Australia) nicely centers this story and, once Jane comes clean, proves that she has more people in her corner than she realizes.

Lucky Girl is a fun bit of escapism that also thoughtfully tackles heavier themes of grief and loss. Recommended for readers seeking a change of pace in their next read.

Possible Pairings: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Jackpot by Nic Stone, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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

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, When We Collided by Emery Lord, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez