You Sexy Thing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

You Sexy Thing by Cat RamboCaptain Nicolette “Niko” Larson knows better than most that leaving the service of the Holy Hive Mind is no small thing. It’s easy enough to join the ranks with promises of vast earnings to come. But once you’re in, it’s funny how the debt keeps mounting and  those payments never come.

For a moment, Niko thought she could work within the system but now, known throughout the system as the “Ten Hour Admiral,” Niko knows better.

Luckily for Niko and her crew, the only thing the Hive Mind values more than conquest is art. Including culinary art.

After proving their artistic prowess with food, Niko and her crew have settled at TwiceFar station where they try to make a go of their restaurant, The Last Chance. With a reservation book for a prestigious food critic empowered to award a coveted Nikkelin Orb to worthy restaurants, it seems like things might finally be looking up.

Until the station blows up, of course.

With their past reduced to a smoldering pile of space rubble, Niko and her crew escape onto a sentient ship called You Sexy Thing. Unfortunately, the bioship thinks it’s stolen and steers them towards a prison planet. And that isn’t even the worst of Niko’s problems as the crew tries to fend off sadistic space pirates, deliver an intergalactic heir safely to the seat of the empire, and keep Niko’s other plans alive all while still chasing that elusive Nikkelin Orb in You Sexy Thing (2021) by Cat Rambo.

Find it on Bookshop.

You Sexy Thing is a standalone space opera that hints at more to come. The story is told in omniscient third person following Niko and her motley crew. The cast of characters includes humans, humanoid aliens, and other alien characters with a range of skin tones, presentations, and gender identities. Vivienne Leheny narrates the audiobook and ably navigates the large cast during shifting perspectives and dialog.

Pragmatic strategist Neko is complimented well by the ensemble cast here including my personal favorite characters Dabrey, Niko’s four-armed former-sergeant responsible for the restaurant’s culinary achievements, and Lassite–a lizard-like priest who joined the crew to follow Niko on her journey along the spiral of destiny. Although the plot focuses squarely on Niko and her own plans, no character is given short shrift as the entire crew has moments to shine. The madcap journey of the first half of the story shifts to something darker and grittier (including moments of mental and physical torture that while not explicitly described are unpalatable–particularly in audio) before the novel’s denouement.

You Sexy Thing skillfully combines moments of sci-fi absurdity with action and high emotion as Niko and her crew face numerous obstacles after escaping TwiceFar station. Rambo delivers a story filled with adventure, found family, and ultimately with hope for the future to come.

Possible Pairings: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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

Be Dazzled: A Review

Be Dazzled by Ryan La SalaRaffy loves designing and creating costumes–even if he has to keep it a secret from his big-deal-art-gallery-running mom. Raffy knows that cosplay is art but try telling his mom that when she’s busy finding the next big talent.

But that’s okay because Raffy has a plan. If he can win this year’s biggest cosplay competition, he’ll win enough prize money to be able to do whatever he wants. Including going to art school for costume design.

The only problem is that Raffy had planned to compete with his boyfriend Luca. And now they’re broken up. And Luca is competing with Raffy’s nemesis.

Raffy knows all of the tricks to mend a costume gone wrong. But when the cosplay competition keeps throwing them together, Raffy isn’t sure if he’ll be able to mend his broken heart in Be Dazzled (2021) by Ryan La Sala.

Find it on Bookshop.

Be Dazzled is La Sala’s hilarious ode to all things fandom and cosplay complete with glitter, anime characters, and more hot glue than you can shake a stick at. Gay Raffy and bisexual Luca are presumed white with an inclusive supporting cast.

Raffy’s first person narration alternates between the present as Raffy embarks on his biggest cosplay competition ever and the past from Raffy and Luca’s meet cute at the craft store sponsoring the convention to their painful breakup. While Raffy does a grim postmortem of their relationship and everything that went wrong, he’ll have to decide if he’s willing to stop chasing perfection if it means having love.

Snappy prose and a fast-paced story make Be Dazzled totally engrossing. Come for the high stakes cosplay drama, stay for the will-they-or-won’t-they tension between Raffy and Luca.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castelucci, Perfect On Paper by Sophie Gonsales, Tahira in Bloom by Farah Heron, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Love Curse of Melody McIntrye by Robin Talley, Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Blackout: A Review

Blackout by by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola YoonEveryone who’s ever lived in New York City has a blackout story. Maybe it involves the looting and chaos of the 1977 blackout. Maybe you were at your first part-time job orientation about to get your ID photo taken when the blackout in 2003 hit the entire northeast (that’s mine). Maybe you were without power for five days after Superstorm Sandy in 2011 (still me). Maybe you have a different story.

For a group of Black teens things get a lot clearer after the lights go out. Like, all the lights. Everywhere.

They all start in different places. Stranded in Manhattan, isolated from friends, worried about elderly relatives, thinking about what comes next.

But tonight is the last block party of the summer. Missing it is not an option. Whether walking, biking, or going rogue in a NYC tour bus (for real) everyone has somewhere to be tonight. And, along the way, everyone has something to learn about themselves and their heart in Blackout (2021) by by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blackout is a collaborative novel featuring six interconnected stories from some of the best voices in writing YA fiction right now. Clayton–the initiator of the project–pulled these authors together to create their own version of the ubiquitous Hallmark romantic comedies that often fail to feature Black characters (or any characters of color) finding love. The audiobook is pitch perfect with narrators Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Dion Graham, Imani Parks, Jordan Cobb, Shayna Small, A.J Beckles and Bahni Turpin bringing the characters to life.

The book starts with “The Long Walk” by Tiffany D. Jackson, a story told in five acts throughout the novel as exes Tammie and Kareem reluctantly travel together back to Brooklyn after the blackout (and finding out they were both offered a single internship) leaves them stranded at the Apollo theater in Harlem. Tammie’s narration is sharp and still smarting after the breakup but as the two make their way to a block party where Kareem will be DJing, both teens realize that maybe growing apart doesn’t mean they have to stay apart.

In “Mask Off” by Nic Stone JJ (Tammie’s brother, who is bisexual) is trapped in a subway car with his longtime crush Tremain. Helping Tremain manage his claustrophobia as they escape the crowded subway allows the two to talk–and connect–more than their years at school together and JJ’s suspicions about Tremain’s sexuality have allowed. This is one of the shorter stories but Stone uses every word to great effect drawing readers into JJ and Tremain’s dramatic subway exit.

Even when her heart is broken, Nella loves visiting her grandfather at his nursing home, Althea House in “Made to Fit” by Ashley Woodfolk. There’s nothing like hearing about her grandparents’ love story or hanging out with all the cool seniors–especially when Joss and her therapy dog come around. When a cherished photo goes missing, the girls work together to try and track it down leading to a search through the house that reveals as much about their mutual interest as it does about the missing photo. Come for the cute banter, stay for the matchmaking grandfather.

“All the Great Love Stories … and Dust” starts with Lana’s big plans to finally confess her feelings for her best friend Tristan. A plan that is delayed when the blackout strands the two teens in the main branch of the New York Public Library. While Tristan never quite feels like a worthy love interest for her, Lana’s internal dialog as she tries to figure out how to finally admit her feelings is compelling and authentic.

Kayla thought she had problems before her class trip to New York City in “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” by Angie Thomas but that’s nothing compared to how the trip has been going. Things have felt stale with her longtime boyfriend Rashad for a while but that doesn’t mean that Kayla is prepared for her entire class to discuss the intricacies of her love life when Micah starts trying to get her attention. Kayla is an anxious, fast talker and her narration here is exhausting as she spins out when–with the advent of the blackout–it feels like things between her, Rashad, and Micah are about to come to a head. Unlikely advice from the class’s tour bus driver (Tammie’s dad) remind Kayla that before she can choose either boy, she has to remember how to choose herself.

Blackout wraps with “Seymour and Grace” by Nicola Yoon. Grace’s ride share to the block party takes an unexpected turn when she connects with her driver Seymour. Her entire plan for the night was to get to the block party looking sharp as hell while she gives her ex Tristan the earful he so righteously deserves. But plans change all the time. Maybe this ride share is a sign that Grace should make some changes too. Yoon brings her usual excellent prose and clever characters to this story making it a powerful conclusion to this collection.

Blackout is a fun, multifaceted story centering Black joy and highlightling love in many forms. The interconnected nature of the stories leaves room for fun Easter eggs to tie the different pieces together while leaving space for each author to shine in this book filled with humor, pathos, and plenty of love. Blackout is a must read for fans of contemporary romance–short story or novel–and a perfect introduction to these talented authors.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson, Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins, The Meet-Cute Project by Rhiannon Richardson, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Up All Night: 13 Stories Between Sunset and Sunrise edited by Laura Silverman, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm*

XOXO: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

XOXO by Axie OhSixteen-year-old Jenny Go’s entire life revolves her plan to get into a prestigious music conservatory. Jenny knows she is technically talented enough. But after her music teacher says her cello playing lacks spark, Jenny is worried that might not be enough.

Still smarting from the criticism, Jenny decides to try stepping out of her comfort zone when she meets a cute guy at her uncle’s karaoke bar in LA. Everything about this boy screams bad decision. But that doesn’t stop Jenny from having a great time with him. He even says he’ll keep in touch when he has to go back to South Korea.

But then he doesn’t.

Jenny’s plan to forget about the boy and focus on her music goes sideways when she finds out her grandmother needs surgery. Jenny and her mom are going to South Korea to support her with Jenny spending the semester studying at Seoul Arts Academy.

No one is more surprised than Jenny when she runs into Jaewoo at the school. And finds out he’s a member of one of the biggest K-pop bands ever.

XOXO is a big deal. Being friends with Jaewoo and the other members immediately puts Jenny under an unwanted spotlight. Pursuing a relationship with Jaewoo would be even worse when his label strictly forbids dating. Nothing about Jaewoo is part of Jenny’s plan. But sometimes you can’t plan for matters of the heart in XOXO (2021) by Axie Oh.

Find it on Bookshop.

XOXO is narrated by Jenny with a fast pace and lots of humor. All characters are Korean or Korean American. Readers interested in audiobooks will also enjoy the audio production narrated by Greta Jung.

Meet cutes and clandestine hangouts abound as Jenny and Jaewoo find common ground despite their very different musical niches and try to decide if they can have a romantic future. Vivid descriptions of Seoul and Korean cuisine (both in LA and Seoul) will make readers feel like they’re right next to readers throughout the novel. Avid K-pop fans won’t find a lot of new takes on the world of pop groups and idols but Oh offers an accessible introduction for newbie fans and those unfamiliar with the musical genre.

XOXO is a exuberant ode to all things K-pop and music with cinematic romance complete with one big grand gesture. Recommended for romance fans and K-pop stans alike.

Possible Pairings: Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, For the Record by Charlotte Huang, I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee, K-Pop Confidential by Stephan Lee, The Upside of Falling by Alex Light, Smash It! by Francina Simone, Night Music by Jenn Marie Thorne

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle LimNatalie Tan left home when her mother refused to support her dreams to become a chef.

Seven years later, Natalie returns to San Francisco’s Chinatown when her mother dies.

Her return is far from triumphant. The wounds from her failure to finish culinary school and her recently ended engagement are still fresh. The reconciliation Natalie always hoped for with her mother will never come. Even the neighborhood itself isn’t as vibrant as it once was; all of the shops are struggling.

When she finds out she has inherited her grandmother’s famous restaurant, Natalie’s fate is tied to the neighborhood–and her neighbors–whether she likes it or not.

Evelyn Yu predicts good fortune for Natalie and the restaurant in the tea leaves. But only if Natalie cooks three of her grandmother’s recipes to help her neighbors. While Natalie is keen to realize her dream of opening a restaurant, she isn’t sure her neighbors deserve her help after her childhood navigating her mother’s depression and agoraphobia alone.

As Natalie works through her grandmother’s cookbook she begins to realize that memories, like the best recipes, can take time to process. And perhaps the neighborhood didn’t abandon her as completely as Natalie once thought. With help from new recipes, a new friend, and new love, Natalie will learn that sometimes the simplest ingredients can lead to the best results in Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune (2019) by Roselle Lim.

Find it on Bookshop.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is Lim’s debut novel.

Lim blends elements of fabulism (Natalie cries crystal tears and hears peoples’ “songs”) into an engaging contemporary romance where Natalie finds a second chance at both professional success and love. All characters are Chinese/Chinese-American.

Recipes throughout the novel allow readers to imagine themselves at Natalie’s meals although the magical results may vary. Natalie enjoys a light (as in no steam) romance as she tries to reconcile her complicated history with her Chinatown home with what could be a bright future running her own restaurant.

Lyrical prose and delicious food descriptions add dimension to this story grounded in a strong sense of family and community. Lim also offers readers a thoughtful meditation on loss and family as Natalie grieves both her mother’s death and the relationship they never had while she learns more about her grandmother through the cookbook she inherits.

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is a richly flavored story filled with good food, good friends, and lots of fun. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta, Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien, A Thread of Sky by Diana Fei, Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron, Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, Lost and Found Sisters by Jill Shalvis, The Recipe Box by Vivian Shipman

The Heartbreak Bakery: A (WIRoB) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

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

The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. CapettaSeventeen-year-old baker Syd is an “agender cupcake” who still has a lot to figure out about love and the literal magic of baking.

Syd (no pronouns, please) has been with the same girlfriend since coming out as queer in middle school. Four years later it turns out the relationship Syd thought was perfect has more cracks than a badly set cheesecake, leading to a drawn-out breakup with W over one painful weekend. As Syd notes, “I think she’s great, and she thinks I like having a girlfriend too much to notice that sometimes she isn’t.”

Still smarting from the breakup and feeling blindsided, Syd does the obvious thing for a teen holding down a job as a baker while finishing high school: try to bake it out with an easy recipe for brownies which “require three things: a single bowl, a sturdy spoon, and a dedication to dark chocolate.”

Syd’s baking catharsis takes a turn when the post-breakup brownies turn out to be magical Breakup Brownies with all of Syd’s anger, frustration, and hurt baked in. Instead of letting Syd process all of those pent-up feelings, Syd has accidentally fed several bakery customers brownies that precipitate their own breakups–whether the breakups are warranted or not. Obviously, Syd feels awful and wants to erase the “special tang of guilt that comes with subtracting so much queer love from the world.”

Things get even worse when Syd witnesses bakery owners–and husbands–Vin and Alec eat the brownies and start fighting too. Every baker knows you have to clean up your own kitchen but now that the Breakup Brownies have drawn the Proud Muffin into their vortex, Syd is even more frantic to correct this magical mistake before it inadvertently causes the best queer bakery in Austin to shut down.

Proud Muffin’s cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they–it’s always on the pronoun pin, check it first) is surprisingly receptive to Syd’s magical baking confession and, even better, ready to help mend broken hearts across the city. As Syd works through an impressive baking repertoire ranging from Very Sorry Cake to Shiny New Scones, Syd is able to bond with Harley and process the breakup with W while trying to fix all the relationship collateral damage. The only problem is that as Syd’s feelings grow for Harley, it’s unclear if their chemistry will lead to a recipe for romance or more heartbreak in The Heartbreak Bakery (2021) by A. R. Capetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Heartbreak Bakery is an ode to the city of Austin, queer communities everywhere, and baked goods in all of their wonderfully varied forms. Fictional locations like the Proud Muffin complement actual Austin locations like Barton Springs and 24 Diner. Syd and Harley are white with a supporting cast that is diverse and inclusive with characters from across BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities showcasing the intersectionality of many identities.

Even as a member of the Proud Muffin’s enthusiastic and supportive queer community, Syd struggles to articulate to friends and family what it feels like to be agender when “every single time [Syd] stared at the mirror and what [Syd] saw screamed back girl.” Now Syd is “pretty sure that no particular body would make sense to [Syd] all of the time” but also isn’t always sure how to explain that to anyone as easily as others share their pronouns.

Each chapter ends with a recipe, sometimes for actual baked goods readers can make themselves like the peach, strawberry, and basil Honest Pie and sometimes for abstract concepts like Today’s Gender or Baby’s First Polyam Brunch. All of the recipes are written in Syd’s distinct, wry narration with witty asides like “Realize you probably should have added the zest earlier, but you’ve been distracted by the presence of a cute baking partner. Realize that everything is going to turn out delicious either way.”

Part romantic comedy and part bildungsroman, The Heartbreak Bakery beautifully follows Syd through the madcap quest to undo the damage of the Breakup Brownies while also unpacking Syd’s fledgling relationship with Harley and Syd’s journey to fully vocalize their identity as agender (with help from freshly baked Agender Cupcakes, of course) and find their people–agender, magical baker, and otherwise.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Simply Irresistible (1999)

ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calpse: A Graphic Novel Review

ParaNorthern: and the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calypse by Stephanie Cooke and Mari CostaFall break for Abby means helping out at her mom’s coffee shop and babysitting her little sister, Ella. Hopefully in between all that Abby will get to hang out with her friends Hannah (a ghost who immigrated from a spectral dimension), Gita (a wolf-girl), and Silas (a pumpkinhead doing his best to spread awareness and encourage a gourd-free autumn for all). If she’s really lucky Abby will also get to practice some of her spellwork and potions–if she gets goods enough maybe her mom will add some of Abby’s potions to the menu.

When Ella is bullied by speed demons, Abby obviously has to help. But something goes wrong with her magic. Instead of diverting the bullies Abbby opens a portal to another realm. A realm filled with chaos bunnies.

The bunnies are super cute when they’re on their side of the portal. When they start hopping through North Haven they’re decidedly less cute and markedly more chaotic.

With the bunnies leaving a trail of, well, chaos in their wake Abby will have to get help from her friends to fix her magic and stop this a-hop-ocalypse in its tracks in ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calpse (2021) by Stephanie Cooke, illustrated by Mari Costa.

Find it on Bookshop.

ParaNorthern: And the Chaos Bunny A-hop-calpse is a fun middle grade graphic novel that introduces readers to Abby, her friends, and the magical town of North Haven. Abby and her family are Black. Hannah is brown skinned and wears a hijab. Cooke and Costa have worked together to create a town that is presented as both inclusive and magical with background characters as well. This creates a lot of front-loading in terms of world building but it also makes North Haven a town readers will want to return to again and again.

Cooke drops readers into the middle of the story without a lot of explanation about North Haven’s clearly magical underpinnings or Abby’s abilities as a witch. As it turns out, that’s something Abby is still figuring out herself which becomes a big part of the book’s plot. Costa uses an orange-hued palette for scenes in North Haven while more magical panels on other planes are more purple. Snappy dialog between Abby’s friend group demonstrates support and gives space to a developing romance between Abby and Gita. Costa’s illustrations make bloodthirsty chaos bunnies cuter than they have any right to be while also admirably portraying motion and action including an expertly drawn double page spread of the rabbits runnning rampant through the coffee shop.

The fast clip of the story can feel rushed but remains enjoyable. Themes of support and love from both friends and family add heart to this magical adventure.

Possible Pairings: Moonstruck by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth; Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner; Snapdragon by Kat Leyh; Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks; Camp Midnight by Steven T. Seagle; The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner; Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

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

It All Comes Back to You: A Review

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz RishiKiran Noorani has life after high school all mapped out. She’ll stay close to home in Philadelphia for college so she can be near her dad. Being a premed freshman at UPenn will be challenging, of course, but Kiran she and her sister Amira will be able to make up for lost time when they move into an apartment together near campus. It won’t be perfect because Kiran’s mother will still be dead. But it will be close.

Except Amira has been dating someone for months without telling Kiran. Someone she might want to move all the way to California with even though she barely knows him. Kiran wants the best for her sister and she’s already certain this mystery man is not it.

Deen Malik couldn’t be happier when he hears that his older brother, Faisal, has a great girlfriend. It’s no less than Faisal deserves–especially after everything he’s given up for Deen.

Deen is less enthusiastic when he realizes that Amira’s sister is Deen’s secret ex. No one knew when Deen and Kiran dated three years ago. Which is fine. It’s long over between them. But Deen is determined to make sure Faisal’s own romance doesn’t meet the same fate.

While Kiran does everything she can to sabotage this relationship, Deen is just as determined to keep the romance on course. With the two of them so busy obsessing over their siblings’ relationship, will they miss their own chance at closure and maybe something more in It All Comes Back to You (2021) by Farah Naz Rishi.

Find it on Bookshop.

It All Comes Back to You alternates between Kiran and Deen’s first person narrations in the weeks leading up to Amira and Faisal’s wedding. Chats from the MMORPG that Kiran and Deen both play and text messages help flesh out the backstory that broke up their secret relationship three years ago. Kiran and Deen (and their relatives) are Pakistani American and Muslim.

Rishi packs a lot into this story that centers around the whirlwind wedding preparations. Kiran is still grieving her mother’s death the year before while trying to reconcile her premed plans with her love for dance Deen, meanwhile, is struggling to care about his freshman coursework and determined to self-destruct before anyone can expect better of him.

Although the two couldn’t be farther apart in real life, anonymous chats in their MMORPG game Cambria are a touchstone for both protagonists as they pursue their singular goals. Kiran and Deen both mean well and want the best for their siblings. They also both make some really terrible decisions to accomplish what they think is best. Kiran, in particular, is hard to cheer on while she works so hard to sabotage the wedding, expose secrets that aren’t hers to tell, and otherwise make sure Amira stays on the path that Kiran wants her to follow.

It All Comes Back to You is a fast-paced contemporary romance that is as focused on family as it is on second chances. Recommended for readers looking for a new hate-to-love romance and two main characters who have a lot of room to grow throughout the story.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Don’t Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey

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

Instructions for Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola YoonEvie Thomas is done with love.

After watching her parents’ marriage fall apart, she knows firsthand that love is a scam. Real life doesn’t have happy endings. The romance novels she used to adore are all lies.

While her mother tries to move on and her younger sister falls headfirst into every relationship she can, Evie is still angry at her father. And she’s furious that she wasted so much time believing in something that never lasts.

Giving up on love seems like the easiest course of action until Evie’s plan to donate her romance novel collection to a little free library goes horribly wrong. After accepting a mysterious book from a stranger, Evie can suddenly see people fall in love when they kiss. Her new visions trace each relationship from its tender beginning to the inevitable conclusion. It’s more than anyone can take but especially someone who is done with love.

Evie’s hunt for a way to stop whatever is happening leads her to La Brea Dance Studio and the owners’ charming, very cute nephew X. Where Evie is cautious, X is impulsive. If Evie is reserved, X is open–he always says yes. In other words, they are complete opposites and, through a series of events Evie barely understands, they are also suddenly partners in an amateur dance competition.

All Evie wants to do is stop her weird visions. If that means hanging out with X, fine. Falling for him is definitely not part of the plan, no matter how cute X might be. But the more time Evie spends with X, the more obvious it is that falling for him is as inevitable as standing close during the tango.

After witnessing so many heartbreaks firsthand, Evie knows that love always ends. As she gets closer to X, she’ll have to decide if having love at all is enough to risk the inevitable heartbreak in Instructions for Dancing (2021) by Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

In many ways Instructions for Dancing feels like a natural next step (pun intended) to follow up Yoon’s blockbuster sophomore novel The Sun is Also a Star. Through Evie’s visions this story spins out from main character Evie’s first person narration to show a world that is much larger, and more beautiful, that cynical Evie is at first willing to acknowledge. Elements of fabulism (think magic realism but not by latinx authors) add unexpected magic and whimsy to this subtle story. Evie and X are Black and backed up by an inclusive cast with strong friendships and memorable adults notably including X’s grandparents.

Evie’s reluctant immersion in the world of competitive dance adds a lot of humor to a story that tackles weighty topics like love and loss with nuance and care. Evie’s friend group also plays an important role in the novel as all of them prepare for the end of high school and what that will mean for each of them and their friend web.

Instructions for Dancing is the definition of bittersweet with an ending that is sure to garner a few tears from even the coldest of hearts. With a story that carefully balances hope and pragmatism, Instructions for Dancing is affirming and, ultimately, an ode to love in all of its forms.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

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

If the Shoe Fits: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

If the Shoe Fits by Julie MurphyCindy barely made it through her senior year in design school. She filled her portfolio with old shoe designs while all of the pent-up grief from her father’s death just before college finally caught up to her. Even now, as a fresh college graduate, Cindy is completely uninspired. No wonder she has no industry job prospects.

Leaving her chosen home in New York City to return to California to nanny her much-younger triplet siblings could be a much-needed chance to refocus. The plan starts to sound even better after Cindy has a meet-cute on the plane with dreamy Henry who could easily pass for Prince Charming.

Adrift and not sure how to restart her creativity, Cindy makes a surprising choice when she volunteers to appear as a contestant on her step-mother’s popular reality dating show. Sure, it’s unexpected. But it will give Cindy a chance to showcase her work and get some exposure. Plus she’ll be appearing with her other step-sisters so it’s not like Cindy will be on her own. She knows she won’t win the Suitor. But maybe she’ll land a job.

When the producers decide it would make more sense if Cindy has no connections on the show, she’s worried. When the show’s suitor turns out to be a certain charmer that Cindy got to know on a plane, she’s concerned–what are the rules for dating someone you already know while on national television?

Just when Cindy is ready to go home, she finds out that the show’s viewers have embraced her as the first plus-size contestant pushing body positivity one group date at a time. She has to stay for her new fans. As the sparks fly between her and Henry and her inspiration slowly returns, Cindy might have to stay for herself too in If the Shoe Fits (2021) by Julie Murphy.

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If the Shoe Fits is Murphy’s first novel written for adults. The book is also the start of Disney’s Meant to Be series of romances which will retell different Disney classics. Being a Disney property, this novel is high on the swoons while being light on the steam.

Fans of Murphy’s previous novels will appreciate Cindy’s no-nonsense first person narration as well as her comfort in her own skin as a fat woman who isn’t afraid of being called fat. That doesn’t mean Cindy doesn’t have to confront fatphobia throughout the novel as the show’s stylists refuse to stock clothing in her size and, during one group date, Cindy is forced to cobble together an outfit out of designer clothes from a label that doesn’t make anything in her size. Rather than becoming pain points for Cindy or readers, these moments showcase Cindy’s ingenuity as a designer and underscore the book’s continued message of inclusivity.

Cindy and Henry are white. There is diversity among the show contestants, staff, and designers met along the way including one of my favorite secondary characters, Jay, who is a non-binary style icon.

While comparing If the Shoe Fits to the original Cinderella is a stretch in some respects, fans of the original will recognize key details from the original including Cinderella’s squad of helpful mice, beautiful shoes, and even a reimagining of the Disney princess’s iconic outfit. Obvious chemistry between Cindy and Henry along with their smile-inducing banter move the story along even when it gets bogged down in the conventions of the dating competition–a show that fans of The Bachelor will immediately recognize.

If the Shoe Fits is a Cinderella retelling replete with positivity in a story that centers romance and magical moments without any of the toxic feminity inherent to the original as Murphy reinterprets Cindy’s relationships with both her step-mother and her step-sisters. A must-read for Disney fans and romance readers alike.

Possible Pairings: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert, Natalie Tan’s Books of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Charlie Glass’s Slippers by Holly McQueen

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