Ophelia After All: A Review

Ophelia Rojas knows who she is: a girl who’s all about Cuban food, supporting her best friends, and her roses–both the ones she grows in her garden and the ones that embellish almost every piece of clothing she owns.

Ophelia has a reputation for one other thing: her numerous crushes on way too many boys. Ophelia gets a little tired of all the teasing sometimes but she is who she is.

Except when Talia Sanchez shows up at school, Ophelia realizes she might not know who she is quite as well as she thought. With high school ending, friendships changing, and a new crush that is totally off script, it feels like everything is up in the air. Now Ophelia has to decide if she can stay true to this new version of herself while holding onto the things and people she cares about in Ophelia After All (2022) by Raquel Marie.

Find it on Bookshop.

Ophelia After All is a standalone contemporary and Marie’s debut novel. Ophelia’s is biracial-Cuban on her mother’s side and white on her father’s leading to some thoughtful observations on racial stereotypes, microaggressions, and colorism. There’s a lot of diversity among the supporting cast including characters across the LGBT spectrum.

Ophelia’s narration is funny and thoughtful as she navigates her senior year of high school and the growing understanding that she might be bisexual–or something else she hasn’t learned the name of yet. With support from new friends like Wesley, Ophelia realizes that sexuality, like most things about a person’s identity, can be fluid and changeable. By the end of the story, Ophelia (and readers) also see that the queer community is open to all even if you’re still figuring things out.

With a crush that doesn’t go to plan and the bittersweet understanding that not all friendships are meant to last, Ophelia After All is a hopeful story about about endings and new beginnings.

Possible Pairings: The Pursuit of Miss Heartbreak Hotel by Moe Bonneau, Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju, All the Invisible Things by Orlagh Collins, The One True Me and You by Remi K. England, The Year I Stopped Trying by Kate Heaney, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve

The Other Merlin: A Review

In the great kingdom of Camelot, Arthur is reluctant to take up his roles as prince and future king ever after pulling the sword from the stone. He was drunk, it was a joke! How can an old sword mean he’s destined to be a great hero when he would much rather be a botanist who spends all his time in the library?

Lancelot is happy to flirt with almost anyone who crosses his path. Except the last time he picked very badly and everything went very wrong leaving him demoted to a castle guard instead of following his dreams of becoming a knight who will faithfully serve Arthur.

Emry Merlin’s future has never been as certain as her twin brother’s. It’s always been clear that Emmett would be the child to follow in their father’s footsteps serving as Camelot’s court wizard. Never mind that Emry works harder and better when it comes to all things magic. Instead, Emry has to settle for using her magic to create alarmingly realistic stage effects.

At least, she used to.

With the sword out of the stone, things are changing in Camelot and Emmett is summoned to court to take up his role as court wizard. Except he can’t go. Which the current king, Uther, is not going to appreciate. At. All.

It seems simpler–and safer–for everyone if Emry go instead. It’s not hard to disguise herself as Emmett. It will only be a week. Except the longer Emry spends at court the more she’s caught up in the court’s intrigues and scandals, more drawn into Arthur’s inner circle, and even his longtime enemies like Lord Gawain. The more time Emry spends at court the more she learns about her magic. The more she finds herself drawn to Arthur.

When secrets are revealed and alliances threatened, Emry will have to choose between her own ambition and the prince she’s come to love in The Other Merlin (2021) by Robyn Schneider.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Other Merlin is the first book in Schneider’s Arthurian duology which continues in The Future King. Most characters are cued as white with characters falling across the LGBT spectrum notably including our narrator Emry who is bisexual.

With irreverent banter, anachronisms, and a healthy dose of teen spirit The Other Merlin is a fresh a take on familiar source material. Emry breathes new life into Camelot as she contemplates how privilege (especially in the form of wealth) and gender identity offer different characters wildly different opportunities. Emry knows she is as deserving, possibly more deserving, than her brother to act as court wizard. Whether the rest of Camelot will be able to see that beyond her gender remains to be seen in this first installment.

Multi-faceted characters, numerous side plots, and lots of action and humor make The Other Merlin a page-turning adventure. Readers faithful to the Arthurian canon may be flummoxed by Schneider’s numerous changes but those looking for an original retelling will appreciate her interpretations and updates.

Possible Pairings: Once & Future by AR Capetta and Cory McCarthy, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, Legendborn by Tracy Deonn, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

The First Thing About You: A WIRoB Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

The First Thing About You by Chaz Hayden

Moving from California to New Jersey is a great chance for 15-year-old Harris Jacobus to reinvent himself. After growing up surrounded by inaccessible beaches and being defined by his wheelchair, he’s ready for some more traditional high-school experiences. Having spinal muscular atrophy means he’ll never be able to do some things the way other people do, but it doesn’t mean he can’t use this move to try to become more popular, go to parties, and maybe find a girlfriend.

Honestly, he’d settle for finding any real friends.

Unfortunately, using a wheelchair in a school that’s supposedly accessible is still hard. And working with the school on an individualized plan for his disability is met with resistance; a lot of people need to understand that “inclusivity was not making someone feel uncomfortable for the enrichment of others.”

Instead of finding a cool crowd, Harris finds himself sitting at the loser table with Zander, a freshman who turns to “Mean Girls” for wisdom since the film “provides all the answers to our adolescent questions. How do I determine the cliques? What will it take to become popular? When do I wear pink? You see, it’s not just a movie, but a guide for the weak and afraid. Not to mention a great resource for devastating comebacks.”

Then there’s Nory, the cute girl who refreshingly treats Harris like any other guy who blocks her locker or flirts badly. (In his defense, have you ever tried to flirt while your mom — saying she’s your executive assistant — accompanies you to school?)

Harris has a foolproof strategy for gauging whether he’ll get along with someone: Ask their favorite color. “I thought about colors a lot, actually,” he explains. “Especially when I was about to meet anyone new. It was always the first question I asked them. A person’s favorite color says a lot about who they are.”

A blue himself, Harris knows that greens and purples are too close on the color wheel to make good friends, while yellows like Zander can encourage a more outgoing nature. But Nory won’t tell Harris her favorite color, leaving him unsure if it’s worth pursuing her.

After struggling to find a nurse young enough to blend in around school (and that insurance will cover), Harris’ family hires Miranda, a nursing student as eager for the work experience as she is to help Harris on his mission of reinvention. She seems perfect. Her favorite colors are orange and red, and she even graduated from Harris’ new school.

With Miranda’s help, Harris figures out how to flirt with Nory, starts sitting with the popular kids, and even gets invited to his first party. But as she pushes him to try newer, riskier things, it becomes clear that having complementary favorite colors might not be enough for a lasting relationship in The First Thing About You (2022) by Chaz Hayden.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hayden channels his own experiences growing up with spinal muscular atrophy into this contemporary debut. Harris’s wry, matter-of-fact narration clearly outlines how Harris navigates the world with his disability including daily nebulizer treatments to clear his lungs, using a laptop to complete all of his classwork, and how he eats: “My disability makes it difficult for me to life my arms and feed myself. Even small things like a piece of cereal or a plastic spoon pose a challenge. I used to have the muscles to eat independently, but over time I’ve lost them.”

This narrative lens hints at how the rest of the Jacobus family adjusts to the move, with Harris’ father balancing a big promotion with a long commute, and his mother taking on more work than ever before as Harris’ de facto nurse both at home and (later in the story) at school. Meanwhile, Harris’ older brother, Ollie, is trying to fit in at his own new school, where his lacrosse teammates resent his rising-star status and his willingness to speak out against their ableist comments.

As Harris learns more about Miranda and her history — which includes the death of a close friend and an abusive relationship — he begins to realize that growing closer to her might mean losing his friendships with Nory and Zander. It’s a loss he must weigh against Miranda’s ability to pull him out of his shell and toward the kinds of encounters he thinks he wants.

While Hayden teases out the complicated dynamic between these two characters, the questionable nature of Miranda’s behavior as an adult working with a teen — she not only encourages Harris to take risks but fosters an inappropriate bond between them, such as when she climbs into his bed after he gets sick — is never fully addressed.

Despite this plot hole, The First Thing About You presents a well-rounded story about first love, friendship, and high school with disability representation that will serve as a much needed window (or mirror) for all readers.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick by Diana PeterfreundJust when everyone thought things couldn’t get worse at the formerly prestigious Blackbrook Academy, an accident strikes bringing another tragedy to the school’s door and into the lives of the infamous Murder Crew.

Orchid has survived her toxic former career and a deadly encounter with her stalker. But she isn’t sure how to survive losing Vaughn when they were just getting started.

Beth is still recovering from her injuries in the car crash that killed Vaughn. Tennis is a wash. But maybe that will give her a chance to focus on something else.

After losing her status as part of Blackbrook’s best platonic power couple, Scarlett’s confidence in choosing the right people is shaken. She can support Orchid and help her launch Vaughn to posthumous super-stardom. But it’s just not the same as plotting and dominating with Finn.

Finn is desperate to get back in Scarlett’s good graces for help protecting his invention as much as for their friendship. But he isn’t sure what to do if winning Scarlett’s friendship means risking whatever it is he has with Mustard.

Mustard doesn’t know what to do about his growing feelings for Finn or the deteriorating state of his new school. Things get even worse when Mustard’s roommate turns up dead and Mustard is the prime suspect.

With Blackbrook crumbling around them, the Murder Crew will have to rally together one more time to save one of their own, finally unearth the last of Blackbrook’s secrets, and throw a prom that no one is going to forget in In the Ballroom With the Candlestick (2021) by Diana Peterfreund.

Find it on Bookshop.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick is the final 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.

This final installment picks ups soon after the dramatic conclusion of book two with the entire Murder Crew still picking up the pieces as they sort through the school’s remaining secrets–most notably Vaughn’s past and his history with the school.

Readers who have been with the series from the beginning will appreciate the growth of all of the characters as they work together to solve one final round of mysteries at everyone’s least favorite boarding school. Finn and Mustard in particular have a lot of development as they try to navigate their fledgling relationship. Unfortunately, the primary focus of this series remains squarely on Orchid and Vaughn despite them arguably being some of the least interesting characters among the Murder Crew.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick stay true to the board game (and the now classic 1985 film!) that inspired this series delivering murder, mayhem, and multiple endings that guarantee that this finale will have something for everyone.

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

Witches of Brooklyn: A Graphic Novel Review

Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie EscabasseAfter her mom dies eleven-year-old Effie is shipped off to live in Brooklyn with Aunt Selimene and her partner Carlota–two weird old ladies she’s never met.

Effie misses her mom, her home, and her old life. Surly Selimene isn’t much happier about the change to her comfortable routine.

Things take an unexpected turn when Effie finds out her new family puts the strange in strangers. Turns out her aunts aren’t just eccentric. They’re witches! And Effie is too.

As she learns more about her family and her powers, Effie finds new friends and plenty of surprises in Brooklyn–especially when cursed pop star Tilly Shoo shows up at the family brownstone looking for help in Witches of Brooklyn (2020) by Sophie Escabasse.

Find it on Bookshop.

Witches of Brooklyn is the magical start to Escabasse’s Witches of Brooklyn series. The cast includes characters with a variety of skintones, body types, and styles all depicted with care in detailed illustrations. Bright colors, sharp lines and interesting choices like making Selimene’s pet Lion (a dog with some of his own magic) magenta give this graphic novel a unique palette and a distinct feel while reading. Sly pop culture references including unmistakable similarities between Tilly Shoo and a certain pop star add extra fun and whimsy to this story.

Effie’s initial grief and adjustment both to her new surroundings and her new magical identity are handled well. Escabasse makes great use of page design to showcase the beautifully detailed surroundings in Effie’s new home and neighborhood in larger panels while close ups help bring motion and body language into the narrative.

Witches of Brooklyn is the perfect blend of humor and heart with found family, action, and magic (of course!). While this volume has a self-contained story arc, fans will be eager to check out the next installment and return to Effie’s world.

Possible Pairings: ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calpse by Stephanie Cooke and Mari Costa, The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill, The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, Kiki’s Delivery Service

The Last Graduate: A Review

“They were saving me, and I was going to save them. It felt more like magic than magic. As though it could make everything all right. As if the whole world had become a different place.”

The Last Graduate by Naomi NovikAt the Scholomance, surviving the schoolyear is only part of the story. The real test, the final hurdle, is surviving the literal gauntlet of graduation. Every student knows the real challenges start senior year with alliances formed, weapons being tested, and the final run from the dorms through a hall filled with all of the worst magic-eating monsters waiting for the annual all-they-can-eat buffet.

This is the way it’s always been at the school. But with two once-in-a-generation talents in this year’s senior class it’s clear that things are about to change.

After spending his entire tenure at the Scholomance saving every student he can, Orion Lake is used to fighting mals and protecting everyone–often to his own detriment. With a tight rein on her own monstrous dark magic Galadriel “El” Higgins has spent the last year trying to protect Orion from himself and everything else the school has to throw at them.

Now, with senior year upon them, El has to build her alliance, prepare for graduation, and figure out if her mom’s advice to stay the hell away from Orion is prescient or just common sense. She’s going to ignore it either way, but it’s good to know when it comes to her mom’s edicts.

With no teachers or staff of any kind, the school’s motivations are always opaque but as graduation nears, it becomes clear the magical building is trying to say something to El specifically. If El listens in time it could change everything at the Scholomance–not just for this graduating class but for every wizard who will come after in The Last Graduate (2021) by Naomi Novik.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Last Graduate is the second book in Novik’s Scholomance series and picks up mere moments after the conclusion of book one A Deadly Education–start there to avoid spoilers and get the most out of this story.

There was a lot happening around the release of book one including a passage that had to be removed from the text and criticism of racist world building. My review of A Deadly Education provides links to articles detailing all of that–I decided I wanted to see how Novik built and improved on book one.

I won’t say that The Last Graduate is perfect–as a white reader I’m not the reader who needs to make that call–but I think Novik does take a lot of the potential with the world building that was baked into book one and works to do better here. Other readers may not want to give this series a second chance which is also fair.

After laying out what students–and readers–can expect from the Scholomance, Novik expertly upends all of that multiple times as not only the game but every rule is changed while El and her allies-turned-friends (or is it friends-turned-allies) prepare for graduation. Although still narrated by El, readers get to see and learn more about many characters within El’s widened social circle (most notably Aadhya and Liu).

El’s status as potentially the worst villain the magical world has ever seen is as fundamental to her character as her choice every day to fight against that destiny. This internal battle to choose to be better and do better rather than taking the easy or self-serving option is writ large as El is forced into an unexpected direction by the school itself which becomes a character in its own right in this installment.

The Last Graduate takes the raw potential of this series and makes it even better with thoughtful explorations of love, friendship, and classism within the confines of a magical adventure.

The Last Graduate is a dramatic, laugh-out-loud story where magic has sharp edges and villains can be heroes.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert; The Cruel Prince by Holly Black; All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman; Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey; An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard; Killing November by Adriana Mather; The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix; Deadly Class by Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge; Carry On by Rainbow Rowell; And I Darken by Kiersten White; Fable by Adrienne Young

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things: A Review

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya PrasadFour sisters, four seasons, four romances as Nidhi, Avani, Rani, and Sirisha Singh find love at their family home, The Songbird Inn, which just happens to be the Most Romantic Inn in America.

As the oldest, Nidhi is always the sister with a plan. That is until autumn crashes onto Orcas Island with a sudden storm that brings a tree crashing through Nidhi’s bedroom wall. Once Nidhi starts thinking about what could have happened, she can’t stop wondering if her perfect plan to study baking in France before starting college is perfectly wrong. Getting to know Grayson–one of the construction crew fixing the storm damage–brings even more doubts as Nidhi starts to imagine a future where she lets herself live in the moment and maybe even discover India for herself instead of only hearing stories about it in family stories.

Avani knows that she can seem scattered and flighty–especially to perfect Nidhi–but the truth is if she stops moving she thinks the grief over Pop’s sudden death last year might overwhelm her. Pop was more than their dad’s husband, he was part of what made the inn and their family so special. So when it’s time for the first winter without him, Avani knows she has to throw the perfect Winter Ball in his honor. Except planning a giant party requires a lot of attention to detail. And a lot of help. Which is how Avani ends up working with Fernando Gutiérrez, the boy she accidentally stood up and has been avoiding ever since.

Painfully shy, Sirisha has always been more comfortable hiding behind a camera and letting her older sisters fill in the silence. But when a cute actress named Brie shows up at the Songbird with a seasonal theater troupe in the spring, Sirisha thinks it might be a sign to make some changes and finally speak up for herself. If only everyone would give her time to find the right words.

Rani loves all things love. Which is why it has been so frustrating watching all of her sisters–even her twin Avani!–find love while she languishes alone. Helping her father plan his next wedding is the perfect preparation for Rani’s own shot at love. But what happens when summer comes to the Pacific Northwest bringing not one but three potential suitors? After acting as the official love guru to all of her sisters, Rani will have to follow her heart if she wants to find her own Bollywood-worthy ending in Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things (2022) by Maya Prasad.

Find it on Bookshop.

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things is Prasad’s debut novel. Set over the course of the year, the story is broken up by season–complete with a wealth of seasonal touches and locales–with a close third person narration following each sister on her own personal and romantic journey.

The Singh family is North Indian and cued as Hindu with love interests who are from a variety of backgrounds including Mexican American Fernando, Black Brie, and more. I especially appreciate the care Prasad takes with the girls’ father–a man who immigrated with his wife (their mother) from India, met Pop–a white man–while opening the Songbird, and has his own journey both in love with Pakistani Amir and with his family including relatives who were slow to accept his second marriage to a man.

Through the different relationships this book explores first love, second chances, missed connections, and what it means when feelings change and grow. With lots of humor and a coterie of popular tropes Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things has a romance for everyone while highlighting the empowerment the genre offers despite the ways that it is often dismissed by mainstream media as “fluffy” or “silly.” Emotional arcs including grief over Pop’s sudden death and reconciliation with estranged relatives contrast well with humorous meet-cutes and other shenanigans the Singhs encounter throughout the year.

Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things is a joyful story about family, romance, and finding yourself–whoever that may be. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman, What I Like About You by Marisa Kanter, Seoulmates by Susan Lee, Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya Menon, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi, Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Maya Prasad here on the blog.

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

Seoulmates: A Review

Seoulmates by Susan LeeHannah Cho’s dreams of perfect summer before senior year go up in smoke when her boyfriend dumps her. Nate, like most of their friend group, is obsessed with K-pop and K-dramas. While Hannah is Korean American, she has no use for Korean pop culture. After years of leaning into the American parts of her identity to better fit in, Hannah doesn’t know how to handle this shift. Especially when it leaves her suddenly single.

As a rising K-drama star, Jacob Kim struggles with questions of whether he’s committed enough–and Korean enough–to succeed. After years of training, he isn’t sure how much longer he can deal with the pressure to make himself constantly available to his publicity team, his costars, and the press. When a press junket leads to Jacob needing some down time, he’s excited. Until he finds out his mom plans to have them stay with the Chos.

Jacob and Hannah used to be inseparable as kids. But that was before everything soured between them. The two strike an uneasy bargain–and an even more tenuous truce–when Hannah enlists Jacob’s help to win back her boyfriend and Jacob, in turn, asks Hannah to help him complete his summer bucket list of all the things he’s missed in San Diego over the years.

As Hannah and Jacob get to know each other again they’ll have to decide if new memories are enough to make up for old hurts and whether they’re headed for a happy ending or some K-drama level tears in Seoulmates (2022) by Susan Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Seoulmates is Lee’s debut novel. The novel alternates close third person perspective between Hannah and Jacob with some fun vignettes from their mothers’ points of view along the way. All principle characters are Korean or Korean American.

Hannah’s relationship with K-dramas and K-pop is partially inspired by the author’s own journey to embrace her heritage and cultural identity. As such, Seoulmates is lovingly filled with as many zany adventures and heart-string tugs as K-drama fans would expect. While Hannah starts the novel bitter and angry at Jacob, her hurt is clearly defined on the page never leaving readers in doubt of the long history between these characters and the difficult conversations they have in order to get back to each other.

Their hate to love relationship plays out against the backdrop of a summer filled with big questions. Hannah has to figure out what it means to be Korean American when, at last, being Korean finally seems to make her cool enough without trying to change herself. Jacob, meanwhile, has to figure out if continuing as an actor is worth the lack of privacy and the pressure–a stressful question to consider when he’s also been supporting his family since his father’s death years ago.

Lee balances these different plot threads well leaving room for the characters to realistically learn and grow as they reconnect while also delivering gasp-worthy twists in the rocky road of Hannah and Jacob’s relationship.

Seoulmates is a fun and breezy summer romance where finding love is tempered well with finding yourself.

Possible Pairings: The Charmed List by Julia Abe, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Susan Lee here on the blog.

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

The Perfect Escape: A Review

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne ParkNate Jae-Woo Kim is a young entrepreneur with his eye on the prize. By which he means money. With college ahead, a much younger sister, and parents already stretched thin Nate’s main goal is to make lots of money so his family can stop struggling.

Which is why it’s so tempting when one of his entitled classmares offers Nate an obscene amount of money to help him cheat and manipulate the grading curve. The money on offer would be life changing. But so would the legal ramifications if Nate participates in this level of fraud.

Sometimes Kate Anderson feels like all she has is money. After her mother’s death Kate certainly doesn’t have her father’s attention. Or his support.

Which is why Kate’s new job at a zombie-themed escape room has to remain secret. Playing a zombie is exactly what Kate needs to stretch her makeup skills and keep a hand in when it comes to acting until she earns enough money to move out and try her luck in New York’s theater scene.

Surprisingly, a zombie-themed survivalist competition could help both Nate and Kate get exactly what they need. Together. Teaming up to win the zombie run would mean a big cash prize–even if it’s split. What neither of them counted on is the fact that secrets–and growing feelings–could be just as dangerous as zombies in The Perfect Escape (2020) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Perfect Escape alternates first person narration between Nate–who is Korean American–and Kate–who is white. The audiobook narrators–Raymond J. Lee and Kate Rudd–do an excellent job of bringing these characters to life.

Park’s background as a stand-up comedian is on full display in this laugh-out-loud funny story where all’s fair between love and zombies. Although Nate and Kate start with a lot of secrets between them their obvious chemistry comes across in banter filled dialog and their adventure filled trek through the zombie run.

Nate is a no-nonsense character very focused on his future (by which he still means money) and I knew he was my favorite as soon as he detailed his deep admiration of Scrooge McDuck (described by Nate: “Scrooge McDuck was rich, focused, and no-nonsense.”). Kate’s troubled home life and her own aspirations further flesh out this dynamic duo. Fast-paced action and a race that will test both wits and loyalty serve as the perfect backdrop for Nate and Kate’s blossoming relationship as both characters wonder if sticking together might be more important than sticking to their plans.

The Perfect Escape is a quirky, often hilarious story where getting what you want might mean incapacitating a few zombies along the way.

Possible Pairings: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, The Knockout by Sajni Patel, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, Geek Girl by Holly Smale, Love Decoded by Jennifer Yen, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Finding Audrey: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Finding Audrey by Sophie KinsellaAudrey hasn’t left the house in mouths. How can she when she can’t even take off her dark glasses in the house? After everything that happened during her last brief moments in an actual high school, it’s all too much. Audrey doesn’t want to think about what the other girls did or the breakdown that came after. It’s hard enough to think about the anxiety she’s stuck with as a result.

Audrey knows it hasn’t been a picnic for her parents or her siblings either. She’s just not sure how to get from where she is–in her house, mostly alone, in dark glasses–to actually going out again.

Enter Linus, her brother’s friend and Audrey’s unlikely support as she tries to venture out into the world, or at least to Starbucks in Finding Audrey (2015) by Sophie Kinsella.

Find it on Bookshop.

Finding Audrey is Kinsella’s first YA novel. The audiobook is primarily narrated by Gemma Whelan but features full cast moments when Audrey is filming scenes of a documentary about her family as part of her therapy (which appear as film transcripts in print copies). All characters are assumed white.

This is a small story about big issues as Audrey tries to deal with the aftermath of intense bullying that led to a mental breakdown and ensuing mental health problems that primarily manifest as extreme anxiety. Nothing about this is sugarcoated and Audrey’s recovery (and pitfalls when she tries to stop her medication) feels earned through processing her trauma and work with her therapist.

Laugh out loud moments with her absurd parents and long suffering siblings add levity to what could have become an overly heavy and maudlin plot. The slice-of-lice nature of this story offers a brief glimpse into Audrey’s life as she learns how to cope with her anxiety and other challenging things like flirting with cute Linus.

Finding Audrey is an authentic story of recovery with genuinely funny moments throughout.

Possible Pairings: Off the Record by Camryn Garrett, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia