This Adventure Ends: A Review

Sloane doesn’t have a lot of expectations when her family moves from New York City to a small Florida town to help her writer father find inspiration. In fact, Sloane doesn’t have many expectations about anything. She’s used to being a loner and focusing her singing and her family. It’s always been fine.

A chance encounter at a party draws Sloane into the vibrant and unexpected world of social media sensation Vera, her twin brother Gabe, and their close-knit group of friends. Sloane never thought she’d fit in so well with anyone. Until she does.

When a treasured painting by the twins’ deceased mother disappears, Sloane wants nothing so much as to help them. On her hunt to track down the painting and get it back, Sloane learns more about her new friends and herself as she discovers that some adventures can end unexpectedly while others are just the beginning in This Adventure Ends (2016) by Emma Mills.

This standalone contemporary focuses on characters with a meandering plot that gives Sloane and her new friends plenty of room to shine–particularly when it comes to Frank Sanger who remains one of the most enigmatic (and sadly minor) characters. Sloane’s first-person narration is relaxed and witty, filled with slick descriptions of her new surroundings and clever barbs about her new social group.

This Adventure Ends branches out from Sloane’s initial quest for the missing painting to explore the nature of creativity, grief, and even ambition. Sloane’s father, a Nicholas Sparks type writer, adds another dimension to this story with his own explorations of fan fiction and authorial intent. Sloane’s mother and younger sister, by contrast, remain woefully one-dimensional and serve as little more than a tantalizing missed opportunity for more complex characterization.

Although this story doesn’t tie everything up neatly, it does suggest that most problems can be solved even if it isn’t always in the way we hope or expect–a comforting thought for teens facing college on the horizon. Quality writing and fascinating characters elevate this promising if familiar story and hint at what Mills will accomplish in future projects. This Adventure Ends is an introspective diversion recommended for readers seeking a smart, summery read.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Even in Paradise by Chelsea Philpot, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

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Kissing in America: A Review

Kissing in America by Margo RabbEva Roth’s father died two years ago. She tells everyone it was the result of a heart attack because the real answer–that he died in a plane crash–is too sensational and messy. No one asks more questions about a heart attack.

Eva’s father was always the one who understood her, the one she’d sit with and write. In his absence Eva feels more friction than anything else when it comes to her women’s studies professor mother–something her mother suspects is at the root of Eva’s love of romance novels.

When Eva meets Will Freeman it seems like she might have found someone who really understands. Someone who can possibly help her to move past her grief. Until he moves away.

Afraid of losing Will and everything he promises, Eva and her best friend Annie Kim make a plan to travel across the country to find Will again. Along the way Eva and Annie will see unexpected pieces of the country and learn some surprising things about love in Kissing in America (2015) by Margo Rabb.

Kissing in America is Rabb’s followup to her YA debut Cures for Heartbreak. This novel treads similar territory as Eva tries to find her way through grief and her teen years. Although it is often touted as a light romance and a summery read, this story is filled with melancholy and very much mired in Eva’s grief.

Rabb’s writing remains superlative and evocative. Eva’s love of poetry also plays out in the novel with references to and poems from Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Nikki Giovanni, Marie Howe, and other authors add another layer to this story. While this book is marketed as a romance, it is really Eva’s relationship with her best friend and with her mother that makes Kissing in America shine.

Eva’s mother in an interesting character who is a vocal feminist and a women’s studies professor. She terms Eva’s love of romance novels as a rebellion which never quite rings true as the romance genre is one where women are able to dominate the market and a genre that is often referenced for its feminist elements and even promoting female equality. That this never comes up in the story remains a frustrating omission.

Kissing in America is a thoughtful and witty road trip story about best friends, family, grieving and, of course, love. Recommended for readers looking for a smart read that will have them smiling through the tears.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Black and White by Paul Volponi, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Wildlife: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The only person you should be is yourself. You can’t control perception. All you can control is how you treat someone else.”

Just before her term at her school’s outdoor education campus, Sibylla unexpectedly winds up on a billboard advertisement near her school. She also kisses her super popular and super cute longtime crush Ben Capaldi.

Lou is the unexpected new girl at school when the new term begins. She isn’t at the school to make friends or to fit in. Mostly she just wants to be left alone and get by without having to think about her old friends, her old school, or the fact that her boyfriend Fred is dead.

Sib thought going through a term of outdoor education at her school would be upheaval enough. But adding the billboard, the kiss, and her often rocky and now definitely changing relationship with her best friend Holly makes everything even more complicated. Lou thought a term in the wilderness would give her a chance to hide and grieve. Instead, she slowly finds herself drawn into the dramas of the girls around her like Sib and finds that she doesn’t want to stay quiet as she sees a betrayal unfolding in Wildlife (2014) by Fiona Wood.

Widlife is Wood’s second novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Cloudwish although it does function as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles. (For the most impact I do recommend reading these in order though.)

Wildlife‘s narration alternates between Sib and Lou. Sib relates her story to readers in conversational prose while Lou’s story is written in journal form–a coping mechanism suggested by her therapist as she transitions to a new school and out of therapy.

While Sib spends a lot of the novel trying to make sense of her confusing relationship with Ben and Lou is mourning Fred, the crux of Wildlife is really the growing friendship between these two girls. Sib and Lou are unlikely friends and both are reluctant to take a chance on adding a new person to their lives. But in the wilderness where most of their coursework is about building strength and stepping outside of their comfort zones, both Sib and Lou realize it might be worth the risk to trust someone new.

Wildlife is a thoughtful story about friendship, first love, and all of the complicated moments in between. Recommended for readers of contemporary novels, fans of humorous narratives with a lot of heart, and anyone who loves the great outdoors.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Words in Deep Blue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“And if there is no hope of saving the thing we love in their original form, we must save them however we can.”

“Sometimes, the end begins.”

Rachel Sweetie lays her heart bear when she writes Henry Jones a love letter and leaves it in his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. It is the ultimate grand gesture before she moves away with her family.

Henry never acknowledges it.

Years later Rachel is moving back to the city and, unbelievably, picking up a job at Howling Books. But nothing is the same as when she left because her brother Cal drowned months ago. She knows she isn’t the girl she was before–failing Year 12 and abandoning her dream of becoming a marine biologist prove that well enough. But she isn’t sure how she can be anything else when her brother is gone.

All Henry knows is that his best friend is back and, he hopes, willing to pick up their friendship where they left off. Henry could use a friend right now. He is perfectly content working in the family bookshop, hunting for secondhand books to buy and living upstairs with his father and his younger sister George. Henry’s comfortable world is shattered when his girlfriend dumps him and his parents start arguing about selling the bookshop. With everything changing, Henry’s perfect if unambitious future is threatened.

Howling Books is filled with memories in used books, love letters, and messages exchanged through the shop’s Letter Library. As she rediscovers the bookstore and the boy she left behind, Rachel realizes that is is possible to breathe and keep going even when everything feels broken. She and Henry both begin to understand that second chances can be as beautiful as new beginnings in Words in Deep Blue (2017) by Cath Crowley.

Crowley explores familiar themes of grief and reclaiming what was lost. Words in Deep Blue alternates between Rachel and Henry’s first person narrations. The lighthearted banter and romance of this story belie the deep melancholy and sadness that has settled over Rachel like a shroud after her brother’s death. Rachel’s pragmatic and introspective tone contrasts well with Henry’s more boisterous narration filled with references to books and poetry.

Rachel and Henry’s fragile relationship mends itself in front of the backdrop of the bookstore and its own uncertain fate. As Rachel works to catalog the notes and memories in the shop’s Letter Library other stories unfold and reveal secrets about longtime customers, Henry’s sister George, and even Rachel’s brother. These threads come together by the end of Words in Deep Blue in a neat but ultimately bittersweet conclusion as Rachel and Henry realize that some losses cannot be avoided.

The scope of the plot leaves little room in this slim novel for fully realized characters but the sketches readers do receive are more than enough to make this story crackle with potential. The evocative setting, particularly the world within Howling Books, adds another dimension to this story. Words in Deep Blue is a thoughtful story about healing and reunions as well as memory and salvaging that which is lost–whether it’s a beloved person or a cherished place. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Flannery by Lisa Moore, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

Windfall: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice buys a lottery ticket for her best friend Teddy–the boy she has loved from afar since freshman year–for his eighteenth birthday. It’s a small gift and it’s not likely to finally make Teddy reciprocate Alice’s feelings or even notice them. But it seems like a fitting gift.

Everything changes when Alice’s silly gift wins Teddy a whopping $140 million dollars.

Alice’s life already changed once when her parents died and she moved in with her aunt, uncle, and her cousin Felix. She isn’t sure she wants everything to change again even if the money is exactly what Teddy and his mother need after years struggling to overcome his father’s gambling debts.

Teddy has always been a constant in Alice’s life but in the wake of his luck changing it starts to feel like Teddy is changing too. But as Alice learns more about herself she starts to realize that maybe they’re both changing. And maybe that isn’t always a bad thing in Windfall (2017) by Jennifer E. Smith.

While Windfall is all about a big lottery win, this change of circumstance is often a backdrop in this character driven story. At eighteen, Alice is used to being an orphan and the stigma that sometimes comes from explaining her family history. What she isn’t used to, she realizes as she throws everything she has into her application to Standford, is defining herself without her parents.

Alice has always turned to the memory of her parents and their life in San Francisco as a guide for her own life which she has filled with tutoring and volunteering. But as Alice begins to make decisions about college and what comes next she realizes that modeling herself on her parents offers more questions than answers.

Alice’s confusion about her future and who she wants to be is complicated by Teddy’s lottery win. As questions of how to split, spend, and otherwise share the money come up Alice and Teddy’s previously breezy friendship becomes strained. In the midst of this Alice’s cousin Leo is dealing with the more concrete dilemma of what happens next when his boyfriend is in college in Michigan while Leo is still in Chicago.

Smith’s multifaceted story focuses on Alice and uses her grief and development as a lens for the rest of the story. Alice spends a lot of the novel viewing herself as an island set apart from the rest of her family–something that doesn’t always ring true when the loss of her parents is taken in the larger context of a familial loss affecting multiple people–but the ways she and her family come together by the end of Windfall is sweet and satisfying. Alice’s relationship with Teddy is similarly complex and a driving force of the plot.

Smith tackles questions of fate, privilege, and love in her latest standalone contemporary. Windfall is a smart and compulsively readable story about what happens when the impossible is suddenly not just possible but reality. A great choice for readers seeking a realistic romantic story with a healthy dose of escapism.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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

The Careful Undressing of Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I’ve been waiting for one thing, but love can be anything.”

“When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.”

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann HayduEveryone knows that Devonairre Street in Brooklyn is cursed. Being loved by a Devonairre Street girl ends in tragedy. Just look at the number of war widows on the street or the concentration of Affected families left without husbands and fathers after the Times Square Bombing in 2001.

Lorna Ryder and her mother have never put much stock in the curse even though they pretend to play along. Lorna celebrates a shared birthday along with Cruz, his sister Isla, Charlotte, and Delilah. She keeps her hair long and wears a key around her neck. She does everything she is supposed to just the way Angelika has advised since Lorna was a child.

But none of it seems to be enough when Delilah’s boyfriend Jack is killed in the wake of the grief and confusion surrounding another terrorist attack across the country. Lorna and her friends are shocked by Jack’s sudden death. Grieving and shaken, Lorna has to decide what this new loss means about the veracity of the curse and her own future as a part of Devonairre Street and away from it in The Careful Undressing of Love (2017) by Corey Ann Haydu.

The Careful Undressing of Love is Haydu’s latest standalone YA novel. Lorna narrates this novel with a breezy nonchalance that soon turns to fear and doubt as everything she previously believed about love and the curse on Devonairre Street is thrown into question. The style and tone work well with Haydu’s world building to create an alternate history that is simultaneously timeless and strikingly immediate.

Haydu’s characters are realistically inclusive and diverse. An argument could be made that it’s problematic that Delilah and Isla (the Devonairre Street girls who are not white) are the ones who suffer more over the course of this novel filled with loss and snap judgements by an insensitive public. But the same argument could be made that privilege makes this outcome sadly inevitable–a contradiction that Lorna notes herself when she begins to unpack her own privileges of being white contrasted with the burdens she has under the weight of the supposed curse and living as one of the Affected.

This story is complicated and filled with philosophical questions about grief and fear as well as love and feminism. While there is room for a bit more closure, the fate of Devonairre Street and its residents ultimately becomes irrelevant compared with Lorna’s need to break away to protect herself and her own future.

A quiet, wrenching story about the bonds of love and friendship and the ways in which they can break; a commentary on the stresses and pressures of being a girl in the modern world; and a story about self-preservation first. The Careful Undressing of Love is smart and strange, frank and raw, and devastating. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

You can also read my interview with the author about this book!

Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

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