In An Absent Dream: A Review

“You can be happy here or you wouldn’t be here. But ‘happy’ doesn’t mean the rules don’t apply to you.”

cover art for In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuireKatherine Lundy has always known the value of rules and, perhaps even more importantly, loopholes. Lundy would much rather spend her time reading and studying than prepare for a future as a proper housewife. But as a girl in the 1960s it’s hard for anyone to imagine that future as a real possibility for her–even her own family.

When Lundy finds a magic door, it leads to a world filled with logic, riddles, and a brutal kind of sense. The rules are simple: ask for nothing; remember that names have power; always give fair value; take what is offered and be grateful; and most importantly of all: remember the curfew.

Lundy is used to following rules and she revels in finding her way through these new ones. But even as she imagines a home for herself in the Goblin Market, her old life keeps calling her back. As the time for choosing draws near, Lundy will learn that finding a loophole doesn’t always mean you should use it in In an Absent Dream (2019) by Seanan McGuire.

In an Absent Dream is the fourth installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway and continues in Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Beneath the Sugar Sky.

This novella acts as a prequel following Lundy before she makes her way to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. Knowing the way things end for Lundy in other books make this a bitter volume, but it also can be an interesting entry point into the series.

McGuire once again uses an omniscient narrator to excellent effect to create prose that is filled with ominous foreshadow and warnings you can’t help but wish our heroine would heed.

In an Absent Dream is another fine addition to a series that only gets better with time. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy portal fantasies, adventure, and horror in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Save the Date: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“These memories, I was now realizing, had never been mine. They’d never been real, just ink and paper that I’d somehow folded into my real life, a revisionist history that I’d bought without a second thought.”

cover art for Save the Date by Morgan MatsonCharlie has always been proud to be a Grant. Not everyone gets to say their family inspired a beloved comic strip like her mother’s, Grant Central Station.

Charlie has been looking forward to the weekend of her big sister’s wedding for months. Finally, she’ll get to hang out with her siblings all at once without any distractions before the wedding and before her parents sell the family home.

But even before the big day, things start to go wrong. The wedding planner is on the run. The house alarm won’t stop going off. A shelter dropped off a dog for when Good Morning America talks with Charlie’s mom about ending her comic strip after twenty-five years. Then Mike, who has been estranged from the family for the last eighteen months, suddenly decides he does want to come home for the wedding. And that’s all before the guests start to arrive and the groom’s suit goes missing. Not to mention the wedding cake disaster.

Charlie is already having a hard time processing the sale of the house and starting college in the fall. She isn’t sure how to cope with all of these other problems. Pining after her longtime crush and helping Bill, the new wedding planner’s cute nephew, problem solve are both good distractions. But after she gets through the wedding, Charlie still has to decide how she’s going to get through the rest of her life when it feels like nothing stays the same in Save the Date (2018) by Morgan Matson.

Matson’s latest standalone contemporary is an absolute delight. The novel starts with a cast of characters and also features fun chapter titles and key comic strips from Grant Central Station. Despite its length the madcap shenanigans and pacing of this story–set over one short weekend–make Save the Date a quick and utterly entertaining read. (It might also be my favorite Matson novel to date!)

Save the Date features a true ensemble cast filled with characters who are as memorable as they are lovable. I would happily read a book any and all of the other Grant siblings (or long suffering paper girl Sarah Stephens). Matson makes this large cast shine in scenes filled with snappy dialog and witty banter while making sure every character is worthy of their own story.

Charlie’s family home, the site of numerous wedding mishaps and much drama, also feels like another character as evocative descriptions help readers understand Charlie’s grief over losing this key part of her youth.

While Save the Date is ostensibly a story about a wedding where everything that can go wrong does, Charlie’s character arc is about a lot more as she comes to terms with growing up and realizes that her longtime crush and even her family memories have realities that don’t quite match up with her idealized memories and hopes.

Save the Date is a fast-paced, hilarious novel filled with big personalities and memorable moments. A sold story about accepting change, embracing imperfections, and making peace with life’s complexities. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Once and For All by Sarah Dessen, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

Birthday: A Review

cover art for Birthday by Meredith RussoEric and Morgan would never have become friends if it weren’t for their shared birthday. Their families being trapped at the hospital together for three days during a freak blizzard in September also helped. Since then, since before they can even remember, Eric and Morgan have always celebrated their birthday together.

But it turns out being friends forever doesn’t guarantee that things will stay the same forever. It starts when they’re thirteen. Morgan isn’t happy and knows she needs help. But she doesn’t know how to articulate that she’s suffering and feels trapped. Especially if it means hurting her father–the only parent she has left–or losing Eric.

Eric doesn’t know how to balance the person he wants to be with the person his father expects. He knows that he could be popular and maybe happier if he focuses more on football. But how can he do that if it means leaving Morgan behind?

Over the course of five birthdays Eric and Morgan will drift together and grow apart. There will be breakups, make ups, secrets, and surprises. But through it all they’ll always have each other in Birthday (2019) by Meredith Russo.

Russo’s sophomore novel plays out across five birthdays, following Eric and Morgan in alternating chapters from the age of thirteen to eighteen as they come of age in small town Tennessee.

Birthday is a high concept story with a lot of heart. Russo capitalizes on a unique structure to showcase the growth and changes that both Eric and Morgan face as they try to decide who they want to become. While Morgan struggles to find the strength and vocabulary to articulate that she is transgender and live as her true self, Eric has to figure out how to break out of his father’s toxic orbit before he crashes.

Eric and Morgan are dealing with hard things and the bleakness of that, the isolation when it feels like no one can possibly care or understand, is sometimes hard to read. Despite this heaviness, Birthday shows how both characters find a way through. Their character arcs also emphasize how important it is to find support as both Eric and Morgan build support systems with family, friends, and in Morgan’s case an understanding therapist.

Birthday is an important, timely novel. Themes of acceptance, fate, and of course love add nuance and depth to this unique and hopeful romance. A must read.

Possible Pairings: Hope and Other Punchlines by Julie Buxbaum, Our Year in Love and Parties by Karen Hattrup, First and Then by Emma Mills, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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

Field Notes on Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Look, this is what I do. I tell stories. And stories are magic. Trust me on this.”

cover art for Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. SmithHugo is used to being a minor celebrity in England–that’s what happens when you’re a sextuplet. He’s used to being grouped with his siblings at home, at school, and even in posts on their mom’s parenting blog. He’s used to having a girlfriend and he’s dreading what happens when he starts college with all of his siblings next year.

But then his girlfriend dumps him and suddenly a lot of the givens in Hugo’s life are up in the air. Like the trip he and his now ex-girlfriend were going to take across the United States after graduation. Hugo still wants to go, is actually looking forward to the chance to travel alone if he’s being honest, but there’s one problem: the tickets are all booked under the name of his ex, Margaret Campbell. Nontransferable. No exceptions.

Margaret “Mae” Campbell has just been rejected from her dream film program. Her dads assure her that her application film was perfect. And Mae can always apply again as a transfer student. But with her life in small town New York already feeling so tiny, she’s ready to shake things up. Enter Hugo’s post online looking for a Margaret Campbell to take his spare ticket in exchange for making this trip happen.

Traveling together is meant to be a simple business arrangement. But how can Hugo help but be drawn in when Mae starts recording footage for a film about love? And how can Mae not want to help Hugo figure out how to follow his own dreams when she finds out how much he wants to learn who he is away from his brothers and sisters?

Sometimes you only get one chance to get what you want. As they near the end of their trip, Hugo and Mae have to decide how much they’re willing to put on the line for their dreams–and each other in Field Notes on Love (2019) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Set over the course of their whirlwind trip, Field Notes on Love alternates closer third person chapters following Hugo and Mae. Smith populates this story with a distinct and memorable cast of characters including Hugo’s large, boisterous family as well as Mae’s dads and her grandmother.

Hugo and Mae are excellent foils as they push each other to chase their dreams even if it means going outside of their comfort zones. Mae’s practical, savvy personality is a perfect contrast to Hugo who is more of a dreamer and still figuring out what he wants from life. Although both characters have very different visions for their future, Smith presents each course thoughtfully and honestly.

Field Notes on Love captures the strange intimacy of being forced into a small space with a person you don’t know and uses that starting point to build a fully realized love story that is effervescent and sweet. Field Notes on Love is the perfect story for anyone who’s ever wanted to take a vacation from their life, ever dreamed of making a big change, and anyone who has ever wanted that intangible something more. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Dramatically Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Comics Will Break Your Heart: A Review

cover art for Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin HicksArguably, Miriam’s family should be rich. After all, her grandfather co-created The TomorrowMen. But he also signed away his rights to the series in an acrimonious deal in that has left nothing but bitterness in its wake. Miriam’s mother says they have enough to get by. But just barely. And certainly not enough to let Miriam consider college in any serious way.

Then there’s the new guy in town, Weldon, who is really cute and really off limits once Miriam finds out he is the grandson of the man who cheated her grandfather all those years ago.

Knowing their families, Mir and Weldon are wary of starting anything together. But their hearts have other plans. Will mutual attraction, friendship, and maybe even love be enough to end a decades long feud in Comics Will Break Your Heart (2019) by Faith Erin Hicks?

Comics Will Break Your Heart is Hicks’ prose novel debut. Chapters alternate close third person perspective between Mir and Weldon.

Hicks’ prose debut is a uniquely Canadian, very comic-centric, and distinctly funny story. The story opens with a meet cute that escalates from bookstore shelf organizing to a fistfight and the stakes only climb from there.

Comics Will Break Your Heart is filled with witty banter, pop culture references (both real and fictional), as well as a deep and abiding affection for geek culture and the fandoms who love them. Recommended for anyone who’s ever scrambled to buy tickets opening day or stayed up way too late for a midnight launch party.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

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

The Poet X: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Poet X by Elizabeth AcevedoXiomara Batista may not know exactly who she is, but she knows who she isn’t. She isn’t the devout, proper girl her traditional Dominican mother expects her to be. She isn’t the genius like her twin brother. She isn’t the quiet girl that her teachers would probably before. And she definitely isn’t whatever it is that the boys and men who catcall her expect either.

Xiomara is tough. She is a fighter. She is unapologetic. She may not believe in god–or at least not enough to complete her communion classes the way her mother wants. She might be falling for a boy for the first time. And, after discovering slam poetry in her English class, she is starting to realize that she is a poet in The Poet X (2018) by Elizabeth Acevedo.

The Poet X is Acevedo’s powerful debut (verse) novel. It is also a National Book Award and Printz award winner.

Individual poems come together to tell Xiomara’s story as she journals her way through a tumultuous year in high school as she tries to reconcile expectations placed upon her with the person she wants to become.

Familial conflict is tempered with a sweet romance and Xiomara’s journey from quiet observer to a poet ready to take center stage. Questions of faith and what it means to be devout are also constantly on Xiomara’s mind as she tries (and fails) to be the kind of Catholic girl her mother expects.

The Poet X is a fierce, engaging, feminist story that explores what it means to create and live on your own terms. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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