Verona Comics: A Review

Verona Comics by Jennifer DuganJubilee is an elite cellist. She has incredible talent and, according to her instructors, no emotion as she gets lost in the technical details of playing. With her biggest audition yet coming up for a summer conservatory program, Jubilee has a simple task: take a break. Which is how Jubilee finds herself selling comics with her mom and step-mom at their indie booth at a comic convention and, later, cosplaying as a peacock superhero at the con’s annual prom event.

Ridley doesn’t know who he is yet. All he really knows is that he’s a chronic disappointment to his parents and a barely tolerated presence in his own family. Which is why, despite his out-of-control anxiety, Ridley finds himself at comic con and representing his father’s company, The Geekery, while dressed as Office Batman at prom.

Neither Jubilee nor Ridley are looking for anything long-term, but their connection is immediately obvious. Unfortunately it’s also immediately inconvenient due to their parents’ intense dislike of each other and their rivalry.

With Jubilee’s audition approaching, Ridley’s anxiety spiraling out of control, and circumstances conspiring against them, Jubilee and Ridley will have to figure out if love can conquer all or if some romances are destined for tragedy in Verona Comics (2020) by Jennifer Dugan.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t let the cover of this one fool you, Dugan’s latest standalone novel tackles some heavy stuff wrapped in a light romance. Which is, perhaps, to be expected with a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Lesbrary has a really thoughtful review talking about all the ways that this does in fact nod back to Romeo and Juliet and it makes a lot of sense for exactly why this story is so heavy.

The story alternates between Jubilee and Ridley’s first person narration. In addition to preparing for her audition, Jubilee also has her best friend Jayla–an accomplished Black cosplayer with her eye on FIT for college, and her mom and step-mom to keep her grounded. Jubilee has always been attracted to people of different genders but isn’t sure if that makes her bisexual or something else. And she isn’t sure if any of that “counts” when she’s only ever dated her ex-boyfriend and, now, Ridley.

Ridley, on the other hand, has no support system. He feels isolated and like even more of a failure to his parents after his failed suicide attempt and the betrayal of his last boyfriend. Worst of all, his sister Gray (the only relative Ridley likes) is across the country most of the time. In a desperate bid to stay near Gray and the family home, Ridley tells his father he has a way to get close to The Geekery’s biggest rival. Which, of course, leads to Ridley being in the very bad position of potentially spying on his new girlfriend’s family.

As much as that is to deal with, Ridley is also struggling with crippling social anxiety and chronic stress from his father’s abusive behaviors and his mother’s neglect. Ridley’s unhappiness and his anxiety are palpable in every chapter. Readers should also be warned that there is suicide ideation as well. Later, when Jubilee and Ridley’s relationship seems to have reached a breaking point, both teens also have to confront the fact they might be dealing with co-dependence issues.

While no one dies in Verona Comics, don’t expect a traditional happy ending here either as both Jubilee and Ridley take time to regroup in the wake of a relationship that often brought out the worst in them. Dugan is a great writer and brings all of the fun (and less fun) elements of the comics world to life in this inventive take on Shakespeare’s classic play.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jennifer Bennett, Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Lucky Caller: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It doesn’t devalue what you had with them, the stuff you experienced, the time you spent with them. That’s still valid, even if it wasn’t built to last. It’s not any less significant.”

Lucky Caller by Emma MillsNina is fine coasting through high school. After all, it’s called the path of least resistance for a reason. Taking radio broadcasting as her elective is one more way to have an easy senior year.

Until it isn’t.

Nina’s radio team is not at all who she would have chosen. There’s Joydeep–who is happy to steer their radio show toward the easiest theme possible and steps up to host despite his obvious lack of comfort behind the mic–and Sasha–a girl who has never slacked on anything and doesn’t know what to make of this group of misfits. Then there’s Jamie, the childhood friend Nina has been actively trying to avoid since middle school.

Turns out, no one on the team knows what they’re doing with the radio show. Nina’s home life is on the verge of a big change as her mom gets ready to remarry. And Jamie, confusingly, might want to talk to her again. Then just when Sounds of the Nineties seems to be hitting its stride as a show, internet rumors and rogue fandoms threaten to ruin their fragile success.

When it starts to feel like nothing is made to last, Nina will have to decide if some things are actually worth working for in Lucky Caller (2020) by Emma Mills.

Find it on Bookshop.

Mills’ latest standalone contemporary is set in the same world as her previous novels and once again taps into themes of fandom and belonging to great effect.

Nina is a self-proclaimed passive participant in her own life. She doesn’t like to think too deeply about anything and she avoids conflict. Both of which led to her years-long avoidance of her best friend Jamie despite his living in the same apartment building.

While the plot of Lucky Caller centers Nina’s radio show and her family dynamics as she adjusts to the idea of her mom remarrying, Nina’s willful ignorance about her father’s short-comings as a long distance parent and her own potential for change add a secondary layer to this otherwise straightforward story. As Nina works through these self-delusions she, along with readers, begins to get a clearer picture of her own life compared to the performative persona Nina presents in public to make things easier.

Despite the lack of self-awareness, Nina is incredibly pragmatic and acknowledges that a lot of life is transient and changing. She knows relationships, like so many other things don’t always last, but she also learns that a set expiration date doesn’t make a friendship or any other relationship any less valuable.

Lucky Caller is a thoughtful, sentimental, laugh out loud funny story with one of my favorite plot twists of all time in the final act. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Four Days of You and Me by Miranda Kenneally, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Past Perfect by Leila Sales, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Listen to Your Heart by Kasie West, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes small and unspectacular things can be a universe.”

cover art for Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff ZentnerFor most of high school best friends Delia and Josie have spent every Friday night transforming themselves into Delilah Darkwood and Rayne Ravenscroft, hosts of Midnite Matinee their public access show on TV Six where they show a campy B (or C) horror movie with their own shorts in between.

The movies are never good and Delia and Josie’s segments aren’t much better, but it’s their show that they built up from scratch which counts for a lot. Even if it isn’t enough to ensure the show will continue now that high school is ending.

Josie is eager to pursue her lifelong dream of being on television when she goes to college but isn’t sure what to do when her dreams might be leading her away from her hometown and her best friend.

Delia, meanwhile, is desperate to find a way to help Midnite Matinee grow beyond its current syndication so that Josie can pursue her dream without leaving Delia behind the way her father did.

With one last summer to make it big or call it quits, Delia and Josie’s friendship and their show will be tested as they confront old hurts, embrace new dreams, and take one epic road trip to a horror convention with the potential to change everything in Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee (2019) by Jeff Zentner.

Find it on Bookshop.

Zentner’s latest standalone contemporary is a funny, strange story that explores all of the things that brought Josie and Delia together and all of the things that are starting to pull them in different directions.

Josie and Delia alternate first person narration in this story and by the end of the novel both girls completely won me over. Although Delia and Josie are facing some big decisions, they do it all with levity and obvious affection for each other as well as the other important people in their lives.

Zentner has filled this book with Easter eggs from his earlier novels as well as some amazing jokes–I can’t reveal too much but let’s just say I’m still cracking up about the baby Basset Hounds.

Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is a story about big dreams, big chances, and the mediocre results we sometimes end up with as a result. Josie and Delia are hilarious, endearing, and some of my favorite characters to date. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Happy Messy Scary Love by Leah Konen, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, Baby and Solo by Lisabeth Posthuma, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Jeff about this book!

Foolish Hearts: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Foolish Hearts by Emma MillsThe entire construct of a pink party works on the expectation that the guests wear pink. Iris Huang wearing lavender to Amber Brunati’s pink party suggests exactly what she thinks of Amber and the party. But that’s just the way Iris operates–a surliness that is usually balanced out by her sweeter girlfriend, Paige Bruckner. The two have been together for most of high school and always present a united front. Always.

At least they did before Claudia overhears Paige breaking up with Iris. And gets caught eavesdropping.

Being on Iris’s bad side is punishment enough but it gets worst when Claudia and Iris have to write a paper together. Which they fail. Claudia is certain that working with Iris on the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for extra credit promises even more torture.

But somewhere between bombing her audition and shopping for materials to help with costume production, something funny happens. Suddenly instead of sticking to what she knows and keeping her head down, Claudia’s world is starting to get bigger.

Soon Claudia realizes that appearances can be deceiving as she discovers a boy band obsession, the ineffable Gideon Pruitt, and perhaps most surprisingly of all an unexpected friendship with the last person she expects in Foolish Hearts (2017) by Emma Mills.

Find it on Bookshop.

In her latest standalone contemporary Mills explores friendship, romance, and fandom. Claudia’s world is pretty small. She has her family and her best friend Zoe, her scholarship to a fancy prep school, and all of the culture shock that implies. Claudia also has Battle Quest the massively multiplayer online role playing game she plays with her older brother and sister, her brother-in-law, and Zoe. Together they explore the game and pursue quests to find and vanquish the elusive Lord of Wizard. Claudia knows it’s not the most interesting of lives, but she’s always liked it.

At the start of senior year everything is changing as Claudia considers a near future where she and Zoe will be separated. That paired with Iris’s threat to ruin Claudia if she blabs about overhearing the breakup is more than enough excitement and uncertainty. Usually it would also force Claudia into a tactical retreat to maintain her low profile. Working on the school play changes that as Claudia is thrust into the world of costume creation and becomes a de facto drama coach helping the cast make sense of their dense dialogue.

I almost never say this but everything about Foolish Hearts makes me so happy. This book is all of the things that I loved in This Adventure Ends (including a male lead every bit as compelling and quirky as Frank Sanger) with none of the frustrating parts. Mills’ cast is thoughtfully and effortlessly inclusive (just like real life) and features a cast of memorable, quirky characters readers will love.

Even months after finishing Foolish Hearts I am still completely overwhelmed by how much I love it and how happy this story and these characters made me. A must read for fans of contemporary (romance) novels and anyone who’s ever fallen headfirst into a fandom without looking back. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Eliza and Her Monsters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How can I want something so badly but become so paralyzed every time I even think about taking it?

Eliza Mirk is a name that should belong to a comic book character. Not necessarily a cool one but at least a low level villain.

Real life Eliza is neither of those things. She’s quiet and awkward. Her parents relentlessly try to get her into sports even though they are well aware she isn’t athletic like her younger brothers. Sully and Church don’t understand Eliza anymore than she understands them. And, honestly, with Eliza going away to college in a couple of years she doesn’t see the point of trying to connect. Real life feels secondary to the world Eliza has made for herself and her fans online as Lady Constellation, the creator of the enormously popular webcomic Monstrous Sea. Between her comic, fans, and her online friends Eliza doesn’t need anyone else.

Eliza’s secret life collides with her real life when Wallace Warland transfers to her school. Online Wallace is Monstrous Sea’s biggest fanfiction writer. In real life he is the first person who’s managed to not only draw Eliza out of her shell but actually make her want to stay there.

Eliza’s carefully ordered life is turned upside down when her secret is revealed. As she deals with the fallout Eliza will have to decide if letting everyone in her life–online and off–know the real her is worth the risk in Eliza and Her Monsters (2017) by Francesca Zappia.

Find it on Bookshop.

Eliza’s first person narration is interspersed with excepts from Monstrous Sea fanfiction, message boards, emails, and illustrations of parts of the Monstrous Sea comics done by Zappia. This story is character driven but also fast-paced as Eliza’s world slowly starts to expand with help from Wallace. Eliza struggles with anxiety as she pushes against the limitations of what she feels capable of managing versus what she actually wants.

Eliza and Her Monsters sounds like it will be a story about a comic and a secret identity–maybe with a little romance. Instead it’s really a story about connection within a fandom and finding your thing and your people but losing yourself along the way. It’s also about fixing that–a lesson Eliza learns throughout the course of the novel.

Zappia offers an honest and thoughtful portrayal of a character with anxiety here and some interesting perspective on what it means to create and engage within a fan community. Eliza’s online friends are given as much, if not more, weight than her real life friends in a way that will feel authentic to anyone who’s ever made friends through social media whom they may never meet in person.

**SPOILERS AHEAD**

After her secret life as Lady Constellation comes out, Eliza suffers crippling doubt and anxiety as she is faced with drawing more Monstrous Sea installments with everyone knowing her identity. Honestly, I didn’t understand Eliza’s doubts and paralysis in the face of creating after her identity was revealed. It was one of those things that didn’t compute. Then in August I had one of my own tweets go viral on Twitter gaining thousands of RTs/impressions and bringing almost a thousand new followers to my feed. Suddenly, Eliza’s reaction started to make a lot more sense as I struggled myself with how to move forward while knowing so many people were watching me. It’s a hard thing to adjust to and learn to ignore.

Once that started to make sense I was still left with one major issue: I hated the way Eliza’s relationship with Wallace played out. Throughout their friendship, Wallace is working to novelize the Monstrous Sea comic–something that Eliza loves and supports. After she is outed, Wallace reveals that he has a book deal with a publisher for that novelization once it’s completed. He needs Eliza’s permission which she readily gives. But he also needs Eliza to finish the comic so that he can finish the novelization. Something she feels incapable of doing in the face of everyone knowing her name and watching her, ready to pounce.

Wallace doesn’t understand this until Eliza almost considers suicide in the face of all of this pressure and instead of supporting her her only wants what he needs from her. Aside from issues of these publishing logistics (none of it sounded quite right within the text) it felt out of character for Wallace to suddenly negate Eliza’s concerns in the face of his own ambition. Every other aspect of their relationship was sweet, but this thread with the publication of Monstrous Sea was frustrating at best and problematic at worst.

**END SPOILERS**

Eliza and Her Monsters is a perfect book for readers who liked Fangirl (especially if you didn’t skip the fanfic parts) and comics fans looking for something new. Recommended for readers seeking a book that offers sarcasm, pathos, and affirmation in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castellucci, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, In Real Life by Jessica Love, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

Fangirl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellCath isn’t exactly ready for college. She isn’t even looking forward to much except the advanced level English class she talked her way into during registration.

College itself is daunting enough. Then Cath’s sister, Wren, announces that she doesn’t want to be roommates on campus. Suddenly the entire prospect has gone from horrible to possibly unbearable.

Cath’s roommate is loud and scary. She’s also kind of mean. And her boyfriend is around All. The. Time.

The dining hall is too horrible to even contemplate.

She’s worried about her dad who is going to be living alone for the first time in years.

And Cath doesn’t know what to expect from her classes.

In the midst of so much unwelcome change, Cath does have one constant: Simon and Baz.

Cath, like most everyone, is a Simon Snow fan. She knows the community. She goes to the release parties. She also writes fan fiction about Simon and his nemesis Baz.

The only problem is that Cath isn’t sure fan fiction alone is going to be enough to get her through a turbulent freshman year in Fangirl (2013) by Rainbow Rowell.

Find it on Bookshop.

Fangirl is a meandering journey through Cath’s first year of college as she adjusts to dorm life, college classes and even the nuances of dating and friend politics. (Not to mention all of her family drama.)

Epigraphs accompany each chapter with relevant excerpts either from the Simon Snow books or from Cath’s fan fic about the characters. The technique works surprisingly well as readers are drawn into the world of Simon Snow and come to care about him (and Baz) as much as Cath does.

One of the best things about Fangirl is that all of the characters are very well developed. Although the novel focuses on Cath it feels like any of the characters could be the star here–they all have their own stories.

Rowell’s writing is as excellent as fans would expect. She also unpacks complicated topics such as the line between fan fiction and plagiarism. Cath is a strong, neurotic heroine who is far from perfect but also very, very real. Fangirl also summoned all sorts of nostalgia about the college experience and friendships.

Because this book covers a large range of time some matters are addressed more than others; some things are tied up more than others. There are questions at the end of Fangirl but there is also enough room for readers to imagine their own endings.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

Beautiful Decay: A Review

Beautiful Decay by Sylvia LewisWhen Ellie Miller touches things–people, furniture, paper–they begin to rot. Her bare hands can leave trails of mold of spawn infectious bacteria. She doesn’t know why she has this condition or how to control it. All she knows is that she is dangerous and, as far as everyone is concerned, has an “immune disorder.” Right.

Compared to her anti-septic house and terrified parents, school could almost be considered a relief. At least it could if Ellie wasn’t simultaneously bullied and ostracized. Luckily, the Internet can keep Ellie’s secrets so she is able to have online friends like Mackenzie who loves her unconditionally. Although Mackenzie also doesn’t know the details of Ellie’s condition. No one does.

Except a new guy shows up at school and he does seem to know about Ellie. Instead of being afraid or dismissive, Nate acts like he wants to know her. Nate seems to recognize what she can do and maybe even know what how to control it, that is if Ellie can even stand to talk to him in Beautiful Decay (2013) by Sylvia Lewis.

Beautiful Decay is an interesting take on the world of necromancers and their rarer counterparts viviomancers.* There is definitely a lot more to both Nate and Ellie than raising the dead or hanging out with zombies.

A slow start only serves to underscore just how much action there is in the latter parts of the story as Ellie learns more about herself and begins to connect more with Nate and Mackenzie. Although the pacing is off–the story could easily have started fifty pages in and added somewhat more closure at the end–the plot is solid and fairly entertaining.

That said, descriptions of the decomposition left in Ellie’s wake is disgusting. Beautifully written but also very gross. While it was a turn off for me at times, it will likely be very appealing to readers who might otherwise shy away from a book that hints at romance (or has a female narrator). References to the Harry Potter fandom, recent Marvel movies and Tumblr might also draw readers in. These elements also have the potential to date the novel fairly quickly.

Beautiful Decay is a thoughtful, often clever novel that hints at more to come about Ellie, Mackenzie and Nate.

*According to this book anyway. I have no idea if viviomancers are a real thing. Although it would be cool if they turned up in other books.

Possible Pairings: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Alchemy by Margaret Mahy, The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel, Pivot Point by Kasie West

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher*