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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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

In the Study With the Wrench: A Review

*In the Study With the Wrench is the second book in Peterfreund’s trilogy based on the board game Clue. Start at the beginning with In the Hall With the Knife to avoid spoilers.*

In the Study With the Wrench by Diana PeterfreundOne blizzard and one murder later, Blackbrook Academy is a disaster. The campus is still in disarray with unrepaired storm damage. Students are withdrawing faster than you can say, “Did you hear about Headmaster Boddy’s murder?”

And, in the midst of the media firestorm, six students have earned an unwelcome reputation as the Murder Crew after discovering the body and helping to solve the murder.

Orchid relishes being back on campus even with the school’s tanking reputation because being there, being Orchid, means she’s safe from her past. Vaughn Green is thrilled that he and Orchid have a chance to spend more time together–but he also knows that means she’ll have more time to figure out what he’s hiding. In the wake of discovering some of Finn Plum’s secrets, Scarlett is reeling as one half of a former platonic power couple while Finn struggles to figure out how to win back her trust. Beth “Peacock” Picach is back on top of her tennis game thanks to a new life coach. Then there’s Sam “Mustard” Maestor who is still trying to make sense of his new (surprisingly dangerous) school … and his infatuation with the often deeply annoying Finn.

In a school that’s still filled with unaswered questions, maybe it’s no surprise when another dead body turns up and brings the Murder Crew to the center of another investigation in In the Study With the Wrench (2020) by Diana Peterfreund.

Find it on Bookshop.

In the Study With the Wrench is the second book in Peterfreund’s trilogy based on the board game Clue (find it on Amazon). Start at the beginning with In the Hall With the Knife to avoid spoilers.

Like its predecessor, this novel is broken up into alternating chapters between the six main characters. Scarlet is Indian American, Mustard is Latinx, the rest of the cast is presumed white.

In the Study With the Wrench picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one as students return for a new term to find the school and its campus much changed. Peterfreund expands on plot twists revealed in the previous novel’s final chapter while delving deeper into Blackbrook Academy’s secrets in this second installment. Readers also learn more about Vaughn’s tense home life and his complicated connection to the school as well as seeing more of more of Orchid’s past.

While this information sets up a lot of interesting plot threads to be tied up in the conclusion of this fast-paced trilogy, Vaughn and Orchid are often the least interesting characters as readers quickly learn more about their respective situations than either character–or anyone else in the book–giving some later plot twists less impact. The classic game characters, reinterpreted by Peterfreund, continue to be the greatest strength of this series.

With an almost literal cliffhanger ending, more murder, and plenty of suspects, In the Study With the Wrench is another exciting installment in a mystery that is equal parts humor and suspense.

Possible Pairings: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett, Heist Society by Ally Carter, I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Killing November by Adriana Mather, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

The New Kid Has Fleas: A Picture Book Review

The New Kid Has Fleas by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Eda KabanNo one is sure about the new kid. She is quiet with curly red hair. But that’s not the weird part. There’s something distinctly canine in her shadow. She doesn’t wear shoes. She might even have fleas.

When he’s paired with the new kid for a project, one boy doesn’t know what to expect. But as they work together he realizes that even though she’s a little different, some things like caring parents and afterschool snacks, remain the same in The New Kid Has Fleas (2021) by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Eda Kaban.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dyckman’s text is brief and to the point as our non-new kid narrator expresses concerns about the new kid. Kaban’s digitally painted, cartoon style illustrations tease out the subtext of the story as the new kid is seen with a distinctly wolf-like shadow among other oddities in class. Our narrator and the new kid are presented as white (or at least light skinned) with varied skintones among the rest of the class.

When mean girl Molly starts a rumor that the new kid has fleas, our narrator is very worried about working together on a project–perhaps fairly when he finds out the new kid has literally been raised by wolves. But despite their (big) differences the new kid’s parents are doting and conscientious. Things like after school snacks are different (roasted squirrel anyone) but still good.

Molly’s rumor backfires when she’s the one who ends up out of school with lice. Whether she has learned her lesson or refuses to see the error of her ways is left to readers’ imaginations and not addressed in the story. While our narrator isn’t sure about a lot of other things at the end of the story he is sure that Kiki is no longer the new kid–she’s just a new friend.

The New Kid Has Fleas has a lot of interplay between what’s shown in the pictures and what is being said in the text which makes this a good one to read through a couple of times. This text vs. subtext dynamic will make it fun for one-on-one readings or with smaller groups–Kaban’s detailed illustrations may not translate as well to a larger setting if the images are not clearly visible to all readers.

Kids literally raised by wolves are always a favorite in the picture book scene and this one is a fun addition to that niche genre. The New Kids Has Fleas is also ideal for anyone looking for stories about making friends, embracing differences, or going to school.

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

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

Rise to the Sun: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Rise to the Sun by Leah JohnsonOlivia is trying to make her way through yet another heartbreak with help from her best friend and trying to figure out how she can ever face going back to school after her latest romantic disaster.

Toni is grieving the death of her roadie father and trying to figure out what happens next when pursuing her dreams feels a lot like making the same mistakes her father seems to have made.

Two different roads lead to the same destination and Olivia and Toni end up at the Farmland Music and Arts Festival. The festival is a chance to enjoy live music and for both girls a chance to have one last really good time before everything changes.

What neither of them counted on is meeting each other. With chemistry that feels inevitable, Olivia and Toni are immediately drawn to each other. But after spending so long making bad choices, will either of them be ready to make the right one this time?

When the festival goes from a safe haven to anything but, both Olivia and Toni will have to dig deep to find their way back to each other and to the music they both love in Rise to the Sun (2021) by Leah Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rise to the Sun is Johnson’s sophomore novel. This standalone contemporary can be read alone but readers familiar with Johnson’s previous novel You Should See Me in a Crown will recognize secondary character Mack and everyone’s favorite band. Olivia, Toni, and Olivia’s best friend are Black. Toni’s best friend Peter is presumed Indian (last name Menon). The story alternates between Olivia and Toni’s first person narrations.

This story is an ode to music–both performing and listening–as well as live performance. Farmland is such a well described setting that it quickly becomes a character in the story as the novel builds to a final act where the fate of the long-running music festival is called into question.

At the start of the novel, Toni is still grieving her father’s death and still unsure how to reconcile her love of music with her father’s seeming lack of success in the same profession before his premature death. Scared to be hurt again, she instead closes herself off with self-destructive choices to deny what (and who) she really wants.

Olivia, meanwhile, is a self-described nightmare person. Constantly surrounded by drama from her endless search for love, Olivia is used to having her hand held by best friend Imani through any and every stumbling block. The tension between long-suffering Imani and oblivious Olivia adds another layer to this story as Johnson explores what makes a healthy friendship alongside the specific pain of unrequited love.

Rise to the Sun is a story of first love, second chances, friendship, and one epic music festival. Recommended for readers who enjoy books with festivals or road trips, music, and characters with chemistry.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest, Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, The Summer of Jordi Perez and the Best Burgers in Los Angeles by Amy Spalding

Don’t Hate the Player: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Don't Hate the Player by Alexis NeddEmilia Romero is the star of her high school field hockey team, a straight A student, and a world class secret keeper. It’s the only way she’s found to keep her double life as a player on a competitive esports team in Guardians League Online (GLO) on the down low. Emilia isn’t ashamed of her gaming–she knows she’s great at it. But she also knows that the gaming community is very white and very male and not a great place for a Puerto Rican teen girl to be honest about who she is.

When her team qualifies for a local eSports tournament, Emilia knows she can’t miss this opportunity. Keeping her gaming life separate from her real life, gets a lot more complicated when Emilia recognizes one of the competitors.

Jake has had a crush on Emilia since they met as kids at an arcade birthday party. His underdog team qualifying for the tournament is exciting enough. Seeing Emilia and being thrown back into her orbit? That’s a whole other level.

Competing in the tournament should be as simple as letting the best player win. But when the stakes rise Emilia and Jake both realize they have a lot to gain–and potentially lose–depending on the tournament’s outcome. Growing closer as gamers is great but it will take more than the perfect hidden combo to make sure they can stay close in real life too in Don’t Hate the Player (2021) by Alexis Nedd.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t Hate the Player is Nedd’s debut novel. Most of the story is narrated by Emilia with some chapters in third person following Jake.

Nedd knows her stuff and delivers a story entrenched in online gaming that remains approachable to non-gamer readers. The high stakes of the tournament contrast well with the tension as, with Jake’s help, Emilia tries to keep her identity a secret to avoid harassment from the gaming community. Jake has been a gamer all of his life and is aware of the harassment faced by non-male/non-white players from the experiences of his own GLO teammates who include BIPOC players who are queer and trans.

Emilia’s efforts to balance her parents’ expectations with her own desires adds a lot of dimension to the story. Both Jake and Emilia’s friends offer a strong support system as the competition at the tournament amps up and add a lot of humor to the story.

Don’t Hate the Player is a funny, romantic story that shines a light on the joys (and hazards) of the gaming community while proving that sometimes a little competition can bring people together. Recommended for gamers, romantics, and readers looking for books with a healthy dose of humor.

Possible Pairings: Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi

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

Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel: A Review

Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel by Ned Vizzini, adapted by David Levithan, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi Jeremy Heere is an average high school boy even though his decided lack of popularity sometimes makes him feel well below average. Jeremy pines for the beautiful Christine and wishes he could figure out all the rules the popular kids seem to know out so easily to be, well, popular.

Then Jeremy learns about the squip. It’s from Japan. Quantum nano-technology CPU. The quantum computer in the pill will travel through your blood until it implants in your brain and it tells you what to do.

With a pill-sized supercomputer telling him what to do, Jeremy knows he can finally win over Christine, gain popularity, and become the coolest guy in school. But as Jeremy relies more and more on the squip’s influence, he’ll have to decide if being cool is worth giving up on being himself in Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel (2021) by Ned Vizzini, adapted by David Levithan, illustrated by Nick Bertozzi.

Find it on Bookshop.

Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel is, as you might have guessed, the graphic novel adaptation of Vizzini’s 2004 novel by the same name. The original book also inspired a musical adaptation which I may more or may not have quoted in my booktalk above–did you catch the reference?

Levithan’s adaptation of the text works well to bring the book into graphic novel form. Bertozzi’s illustrations are primarily black and white with blue as an accent color. This choice works very well to focus reader attention as the story moves forward. It’s worth noting that this a faithful adaptation of Vizzini’s original text which features a dramatically different story arc than the musical.

Readers familiar with the story but new to graphic novels will enjoy this new format even without the madcap changes found in the musical. Recommended for readers looking for a contemporary graphic novel with elements of speculative fiction and caustic wit.

Possible Pairings: Simon Vs. The Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Deacon Locke Went to Prom by Brian Katcher, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Broken Web: A Review

Broken Web by Lori M. LeeThe Soulless is awake and recovering in the Dead Wood. The long peace between the nations of Thiy might be crumbling. And Sirscha and her best friend Saengo still have no idea how to fix any of it.

The world believes that Sirscha is a rare soulguide but she and Saengo know that Sirscha is actually a soulrender–just like The Soulless. Despite the dangers, Sirscha is determined to stop The Soulless and, if she can, save Saengo from the rot he infected her with that is slowly killing her.

With powerful allies and even more powerful enemies circling, Sirscha will have to risk everything to find–and fight–the most immediate danger in Broken Web (2021) by Lori M. Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Broken Web is the second book in Lee’s Shamanborn trilogy which begins with Forest of Souls.

Set two weeks after the explosive conclusion of book one, Sirscha and Saengo are still trying to understand Sirscha’s new powers and Saengo’s role in nurturing them as a familiar. Treachery is a constant threat hanging over the girls and their allies as they try to learn more about the Soulless and how to stop him once and for all.

Lee has created a nuanced and compelling world in this series although this book focuses more on action to move the series toward what promises to be a shocking conclusion.

Broken Web is a fast-paced, exciting installment in a singular fantasy series. A must read for fans of book one; a recommended series for readers seeking a new friendship focused fantasy adventure.

Possible Pairings: Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, The Reader by Traci Chee, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer, Fireborne by Rosaria Munda, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

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

Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends: A Graphic Novel Review

Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends by Jess KeatingBunbun has it all: a delightful bunbun nose, a bunbun smile, bunbun ears, and even a fluffy bunbun tail.

What Bunbun does not have is a friend.

All of that changes when an unassuming rock turns out to be … Bonbon.

Bonbon has a purple candy shell, a sugary candy body, and two sparkling candy eyes.

Together, this unlikely pair becomes fancy friends as they don bowties and top hats, eat fancy foods, and prepare for a fancy party in Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends (2020) by Jess Keating.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends is the first book in a new series of graphic novels perfect for the youngest comics fans and early readers. Large panels and bold text for the story and speech bubbles make the story sequencing easy to follow whether being read aloud or independently.

Keating’s illustrations are bold and colorful bringing Bunbun and Bonbon’s fancy world to life with clean backgrounds that convey the setting without cluttering the panels. A limited vocabulary also makes the story easy to follow while introducing new words (notably bonbon among others) throughout. The story broken into chapters that can be read as self-contained stories or all at once.

Bunbun and Bonbon: Fancy Friends is everything I never knew I always wanted in a story. Bright artwork, clever dialog, and gentle stories come together to make this series a standout for readers of any age. Perfect for fans of Elephant and Piggie, Toon Books, and Geisel award winners.

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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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*