With the Fire on High: A (WIRoB) Review

Here’s a teaser from the start of my review of With the Fire on High (2019) by Elizabeth Acevedo (originally reviewed for Washington Independent Review of Books):

cover art for With the Fire on High by Elizabeth AcevedoEven with help from her grandmother, ‘Buela, at home, Emoni Santiago has a lot more than college plans on her mind at the start of senior year in Philadelphia. While her best friend, Angelia, is looking at the best graphic-arts programs and enjoying her relationship with her new girlfriend, Emoni is trying to decide if college (or a relationship) can have a place in her future alongside the hopes and dreams she wants to make a reality for Babygirl. And she wonders if it’s time to focus on doing rather than “spending four years pretending to do” in college.

When an opportunity to take an immersive culinary-arts class comes up at school, Emoni knows this is one thing she has to do even if she isn’t sure what to expect — or even if she can afford the class’ trip to Spain alongside the day-to-day costs of helping ‘Buela keep their house afloat.

“If you ask her to tell it, ‘Buela starts with the same story” of Emoni hopping up on a stool and seasoning her first meal at age 4. Emoni doesn’t know what to believe, but “ever since then ‘Buela is convinced I have magical hands when it comes to cooking. And I don’t know if I really have something special, or if her telling me I got something special has brainwashed me into believing it, but I do know I’m happier in the kitchen than anywhere else in the world. It’s the one place I let go and only need to focus on the basics: taste, smell, texture, fusion, beauty.”

Unfortunately, her natural affinity for food and years of experimentation in the kitchen don’t go far when it comes to prepping Emoni for the rigors of the culinary class. Chef Ayden wants to prepare them for work in a restaurant, but Emoni chafes under the structure and restrictions that seem designed to impede her creativity.

Emoni already knows a lot about taking care of herself and the people she loves, but over the course of her senior year, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to learn even more about cooking, family, and opening her heart.

You can read my full review of With the Fire on High (2019) by Elizabeth Acevedo here: http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/index.php/bookreview/with-the-fire-on-high

Possible Pairings: A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Your Destination is On the Left by Lauren Spieller, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Symptoms of a Heartbreak: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Symptoms of a Heartbreak by Sona CharaipotraEight years ago Saira helped diagnose her best friend Harper’s cancer and conferred with her doctors about treatment options. It wasn’t enough to save her. Since then, Saira has been working toward helping other kids the way she couldn’t help Harper.

Saira is used to balancing friends and her boisterous Indian-American family with schoolwork–especially after graduating from med school at sixteen. But none of that prepared her for the rigors of her new internship in pediatric oncology. Or dealing with her mother running the pediatric department in the same hospital.

When she starts to fall for a patient, Saira is willing to do whatever it takes to try and improve his chances in treatment–even if it means risking her career in Symptoms of a Heartbreak (2019) by Sona Charaipotra.

Symptoms of a Heartbreak is Charaipotra’s solo debut.

Saira is a winning narrator with a lot of book smarts and a charming naivete that underscores the ways in which growing up often has nothing to do with learning more and everything to do with getting older.

There’s no way around this novel being a book about cancer. Saira is the lead doctor treating several patients and just like in real life, not all of them get better. While the novel ends on a hopeful note, the story remains bittersweet as it acknowledges that surviving cancer isn’t the same as curing it.

Despite the novel’s hospital setting, Symptoms of a Heartbreak does have a lot of humor. Saira has a big extended family to support her along the way including her doting parents, sassy grandmother, and caring older sister along with more aunties, uncles, and cousins than you can shake a stick at. Charaipotra expertly depicts the unique chaos of Saira’s life (and family) with tender and snappy prose.

Symptoms of a Heartbreak is a unique blend of humor, hospital drama, and a sweet romance. Recommended for readers who have always wanted an aged down Grey’s Anatomy and anyone with a soft spot for Doogie Howser.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen, Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

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.

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*

We’ll Always Have Summer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny HanBelly has loved two boys in her life: Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. Conrad was her first love and the first boy to break her heart. Jeremiah was the one who was there to pick up the pieces.

In the two years since, Jeremiah has been the perfect boyfriend. He’s fun, he’s dependable, and he has always loved Belly. But is that enough to build an entire future on?

Conrad knows he made a mistake when he pushed Belly away. He knew it even as he pushed harder. When Belly and Jeremiah announce their engagement, Conrad realizes that time is running out if he wants to try to win Belly back.

The Fisher boys have been part of Belly’s life forever. She never imagined that in choosing one of them she might have to break the other’s heart in We’ll Always Have Summer (2011) by Jenny Han.

We’ll Always Have Summer is the final book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins with The Summer I Turned Pretty and continues in It’s Not Summer Without You.

This book is narrated by Belly with a few chapters from Conrad. My only complaint is I wish we had more from him because it was so fascinating to finally see things from his point of view.

After Jeremiah won me over in book two, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the end of the trilogy. That I couldn’t decide how I wanted this love triangle to shake out speaks volumes to Jenny Han’s strengths as an author and how well-developed all of these characters become by the end of the series.

I always know I’m enjoying a series when it becomes impossible to choose a favorite book. I loved meeting these characters in book one, and I loved the way book two flipped everything I thought I knew upside down. But it might be this final book that has become my favorite as I think about the way things finally come together for Belly.

We’ll Always Have Summer is the perfect conclusion to what’s become a surprise favorite series. Come for the swoony romance and suspenseful love triangle, stay for the sweet ode to summer and growing up. A highly recommended series.

Possible Pairings: Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

It’s Not Summer Without You: A Review

cover art for It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny HanBeing with Conrad was supposed to make everything better, but instead it’s one more thing that’s fallen apart in the aftermath of Susannah getting sick again.

Belly doesn’t know who she is without summers at Cousins Beach. She doesn’t know what to make of Conrad’s apathy or the distance that’s grown between them since last summer.

In a year where so many things have changed, Belly isn’t sure if she can keep pining for Conrad. All she really knows is that when Jeremiah calls to tell her that Conrad has disappeared, she has to help find him in It’s Not Summer Without You (2010) by Jenny Han.

It’s Not Summer Without You is the second book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Belly narrates most of this book with a few chapters interspersed from Jeremiah’s point of view. Belly spends so much of this series focused on Conrad that it was interesting to see more of Jeremiah’s perspective.

With the addition of Jeremiah’s chapters and the story shifting away from Cousins, all of the characters are more developed here. The tension between Belly and both Fisher boys is palpable as all three try to reconcile themselves to the loss of the summer cocoon that used to bind them together.

It’s Not Summer Without You is a melancholy installment but the series is stronger because of it as another layer of depth is added to the story. Han takes the familiar elements from The Summer I Turned Pretty and inverts them to make this an entirely new reading experience.

It’s Not Summer Without You is, of course, a must-read for fans of the series and as much of a page-turner as you’re likely to find in a breezy contemporary–let’s just say I gasped more than once as I made my way to the end of this book!

Possible Pairings: Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

The Summer I Turned Pretty: A Review

cover art for The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny HanBelly’s life has always been measured in summers. Of course she and her brother have school the rest of the year, she has friends, she has an entire life. But summer has always been the important thing because summer means it’s time to return to Cousins Beach and the house her family shares with the Fishers.

Belly’s mom and Susannah Fisher have been friends for decades and Belly can’t think of anything more natural than spending every summer in Cousins with Susannah and her sons, Conrad and Jeremiah.

As the youngest, Belly is used to being left out or made fun of by the boys. But that’s never made her love her summers, or Conrad, any less. Almost as soon as they arrive, Belly knows that this summer is going to be different. She can feel it in the air, see it in way Conrad and Jeremiah look at her like she’s someone totally new. But every summer, even what promises to be a perfect one, has to end in The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009) by Jenny Han.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is the first book in Han’s Summer trilogy which continues with It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have Summer.

Han’s prose is as gentle and comforting as a warm summer breeze as Belly narrates this story and shares flashbacks from some of her favorite summer memories.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is an emotional roller coaster as readers join Belly on all of the ups and downs in what becomes a pivotal summer. This book does double duty laying the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy while also offering a contained story as Belly tries to make sense of growing up, her ever-present (painfully obvious) feelings for Conrad, and the fact that summers may not stay the same for her family or the Fishers for much longer.

The Summer I Turned Pretty should be required reading for anyone who is a fan of contemporary fiction, romance, and summertime. If, like me, you first discovered Jenny because of her Lara Jean books (which begin with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), be sure to loop back to this series because it is just as sweet, just as romantic, and maybe even more epic with one of my favorite love triangles of all time. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler

Last of Her Name: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“If you control your self, you control your fate.”

Last of Her Name by Jessica KhouryStacia knows all about the rebellion that tore through the Belt of Jewels sixteen years ago leaving the entire royal family dead, but it’s always felt removed from her quiet life on Amethyne with her parents and her best friends, Clio and Pol.

When the Direktor Eminent comes to Amethyne looking for Princess Anya, the youngest member of the murdered royal family, Stacia realizes the dangers of the Union’s authoritative regime have always been closer than she realized. Stacia is loathe to believe the his claims that she is the lost princess. But doubt doesn’t help when the shooting starts.

Escape comes at a price as Stacia and Pol are forced to leave leave Clio behind. On the run, forced to question her entire history, Stacia will have to embrace her true identity and claim her birthright if she wants to save her friend or her planet in Last of Her Name (2019) by Jessica Khoury.

Khoury’s latest standalone is a nail-biting story inspired by the lost Russian princess, Anastasia. Stacia’s first person narration and her richly imagined world bring this story, and its complex technology, to life in this new interpretation of a familiar story.

High action and shocking twists come together to make Last of Her Name an unforgettable reading experience. The high stakes of Stacia’s journey to reclaim her birthright contrasts well with quieter moments between Stacia and Pol as they both try to decide what Stacia’s true identity means for their already changing relationship.

Last of Her Name is the lost princess space opera of your dreams. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Romanov by Nadine Brandes, Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada, The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler

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