They Wish They Were Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Why did the boys have the power? Why did they make the rules while we dealt with the consequences?”

Everything on Gold Coast, Long Island has a shine; a glimmer from expensive, well-made things and the people who can acquire those things so effortlessly.

Watching her parent’s struggle to keep up with their affluent neighbors and to pay her brother’s hefty tuition at Gold Coast Prep, Jill Newman has always known she doesn’t belong among the Gold Coast elite. The pressure she feels to maintain her scholarship and make good on all of her parents’ hard work is constant.

Being a Player is supposed to make it all easier. After a hellish year of hazing from the older members of the Gold Coast Prep secret society, Jill is in. With the Players’ impressive alumni network and not-so-secret app Jill has access to the answers to every test she might encounter at school and contacts to open any doors she wants for college and beyond. Once you get a seat with the Players, you’ll do anything to keep it.

Jill’s best friend Shaila Arnold never made it that far. Three years ago she was killed by her boyfriend, Graham, during the final night of initiation–the night Jill can barely think about. Graham confessed. The case has been closed for years. It’s over and Jill and her other friends have moved on.

Until Graham’s sister tells Jill that his confession was coerced. But if Graham didn’t kill Shaila, who did? As Jill delves deeper into the events leading up to Shaila’s death she’ll unearth old secrets about the Players on her way to the truth. But when you set yourself against a group that can get everything they want, they also have everything to lose in They Wish They Were Us (2020) by Jessica Goodman.

Find it on Bookshop.

They Wish They Were Us is Goodman’s debut novel. A TV adaptation called ‘The Players Table” is in development at HBO Max.

Jill is Jewish and most characters are presumed white aside from Jill’s other best friend Nikki whose family are Hong Kong emigres. Jill’s first person narration is tense as she reluctantly digs into Shaila’s murder while also reluctantly unpacking unpleasant memories from her own initiation into the players.

This plot-drive story tackles a lot while Jill deals with the pressures of her elite school and her complicated feelings about the Players and their hazing. Privilege, wealth, and self-presentation are also big topics as Jill begins to realize she isn’t the only one struggling to keep up appearances at Gold Coast Prep. Toxic masculinity and feminism also play big roles in the story although Goodman’s treatment of both can feel heavy-handed in its service to moving the story along.

Obvious red herrings, salacious twists, and the backdrop of luxe Gold Coast locales make They Wish They Were Us a frothy page turner.

Possible Pairings: Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, Admission by Julie Buxbaum, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

All Our Hidden Gifts: A (WIRoB) Review

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

All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O'Donoghue Unlike her successful and much older siblings, Maeve Chambers has never been known as an exemplary student. While Maeve and her former best friend Lily O’Callaghan both made it out of the slow reading class where they met, school is still a struggle for Maeve. A lot of things are a struggle for her when “sometimes frustration and rage surge through [Maeve], sparking out in ways [she] can’t predict or control.”

Adrift at her Catholic school, St. Bernadette’s, where she struggles to keep up with classwork and make new friends after her estrangement from Lily, Maeve is familiar with detention. “The story of how [Maeve] ended up with the Chokey Card Tarot Consultancy can be told in four detentions, three notes sent home, two bad report cards, and one Tuesday afternoon that ended with [her] locked in a cupboard.” After locating a mysterious deck of tarot cards while cleaning out said cupboard, Maeve discovers an unexpected knack for interpreting the cards for herself and classmates earning a certain notoriety (and some pocket money) as her reputation grows. Every card is easy to learn and understand except for one: The Housekeeper–a card that has no known meaning in any tarot guide Maeve can find.

What starts as a mysterious extra card soon invokes disastrous results when Maeve is goaded into offering a reading to Lily in front of their entire class. The Housekeeper’s appearance leads to harsh words between the former friends before Lily’s sudden disappearance.

Without a clear explanation for what happened to Lily, Maeve knows she’s an obvious person of interest in the case. As she tries to understand what happened to Lily and if it connects to the sudden increased popularity of a local fundamentalist group called the Children of Brigid, Maeve realizes that she, and the Housekeeper card, may have played a bigger role in Lily’s disappearance than she realized.

With help from Lily’s older brother Rory (Roe to those closest to him) and new friend Fiona, Maeve will have to uncover the truth behind the Housekeeper and her own affinity for magic if she wants to bring Lily home. Maeve describes Fiona as having an Irish first name, an English last name (Buttersfield), brown skin from her Filipina mother and limited “patience for other people’s bullshit” as many people try to fit her into various boxes. Most of the rest of the cast is presumed white.

All Our Hidden Gifts is Caroline O’Donoghue’s YA debut and the projected start of a series. Find it on Bookshop.

Black and white illustrations by Stefanie Caponi of different tarot cards–including the infamous Housekeeper–are included throughout the novel. Readers will learn tarot basics along with Maeve as she begins to interpret cards while readers familiar with tarot will recognize key symbology and common card meanings. Readers especially well-versed in tarot might also recognize the cover artwork by Lisa M. Sterle, the artist behind the Modern Witch Tarot deck and guide journal.

O’Donoghue folds many different elements into this often sprawling narrative that tries to unravel the dual mysteries of Lily’s disappearance and the Housekeeper card while also tackling increased intolerance throughout the Irish city of Kilbeg as escalated by the Children of Brigid and their eerily savvy American leader, Aaron. Mysticism and folklore add another layer to this already packed story as one character asserts “every culture you can think of has some version of the White Lady” whether or not she is called the Housekeeper.

Against this larger backdrop, Maeve tries to understand her–and the Housekeeper’s–role in Kilbeg’s unrest while navigating her new friendship with Fiona. Maeve’s fledgling romance with Roe–who sees his pronouns and gender identity as negotiable as he works on expressing his truest self with his chosen name and genderqueer fashion—adds some sweetness to an otherwise grim story trying to find Lily.

Flashbacks to the events leading up to Maeve and Lily’s falling out contrast with the tense present as the story builds to a dramatic conclusion that readers can only hope will be followed with a second book.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno, These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling

Simone Breaks All the Rules: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover for Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie RigaudThanks to her strict immigrant parents, Simone Thibodeaux’s life is 100% boy free. After three years with a curfew and doing everything that’s asked of her from her parents and her all-girl’s school, Simone is more than ready for a change.

College is supposed to be a fresh start but with her parents threatening to make her commute to Rutgers like her older sister, Simone knows it’s time for drastic action.

Enter new friends Amita and Kira and the trio’s senior playlist. All three girls are used to life on lockdown and they are sick of missing out. With one year left to cram in all the classic high school experiences they’ve missed the girls are ready to go dancing, skip class, and pick their own prom dates.

Simone thinks she has the perfect boy picked out. But what happens when the date her parents arranged for her years ago turns out to be better than she could have hoped? After a year of breaking rules, Simone will discover that sometimes you can’t plan for love (or heartbreak) in Simone Breaks All the Rules (2021) by Debbie Rigaud.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rigaud’s latest contemporary romance is an ode to high school nostalgia and small acts of rebellion. Simone’s narration is filled with funny quips and fun facts about teen activists she has researched for her senior project whom she draws from for inspiration throughout the story.

While readers might be quicker to recognize the OTP here than Simone herself, the journey to that discovery is well worth the wait. Simone and her new friends have instant chemistry and while they all pursue their own dates for prom, the real love story here is the lasting friendship they forge. Ben–Simone’s arranged prom date–is her perfect foil and their dialogue as they get to know each other adds a fun dimension to this story.

Simone Breaks All the Rules is a laugh-out-loud story about friendship, prom, and learning that sometimes you don’t have to look as far as you think to find yourself. Recommended for fans of stories with bucket lists, high school nostalgia, and witty banter.

Possible Pairings: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, 10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley Elston, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma

You can also read my exclusive interview with Debbie Rigaud here on the blog.

How We Fall Apart: A Review

How We Fall Apart by Katie ZhaoAt Sinclair Prep, the whispers never stop; it’s a small price to pay for being at the most elite private high school in the country. Graduating from Sinclair Prep will open doors for every student–even scholarship kids like Nancy Luo.

Nancy knows a full scholarship and perpetual class rank as second best isn’t enough to make her truly belong at Sinclair Prep. Nancy’s best friend, Jamie Ruan, is quick to remind Nancy of that whenever she lets herself forget. But even with Jamie’s vicious reminders, even with everything she’s had to sacrifice to get this far, Nancy knows Sinclair Prep is the first step to becoming one of the beautiful, entitled people who can get whatever they want.

When Jamie doesn’t show up for Honors night, Nancy thinks it’s her chance to step into the spotlight and finally claim her spot at the top.

Nancy realizes how wrong she was when Jamie is found dead. As rumors spread that Jamie was murdered, an anonymous post on Tip Tap, the school’s gossip app, from “The Proctor” points to Jamie’s best friends–Nancy, Krystal Choi, Akil Patel, and Alexander Lin–as the prime suspects. The Proctor promises to reveal all of their darkest secrets on Tip Tap until they admit their complicity in Jamie’s death.

If the Proctor makes good on their threats, Nancy and her friends could lose everything–including Nancy and Alexander’s coveted scholarships. In a group of friends where everyone is hiding something, could keeping a secret prove deadly?

At Sinclair Prep Nancy has always known that being good and being the best are mutually exclusive. As the stakes climb, Nancy will have to choose how much she’s willing to give–and to take–in order to stay at the top in How We Fall Apart (2021) by Katie Zhao.

Find it on Bookshop.

How We Fall Apart is the first book in a projected duology. The story, narrated by Nancy, starts with the fallout from Jamie’s death. Flashbacks throughout the novel shed light on the secrets Nancy and other members of her friend group are trying so hard to keep buried during the murder investigation.

How We Fall Apart is one of the best mysteries I’ve read this year. Zhao’s plotting is unrivaled as every single thread in this story proves to be crucial to the larger plot while also leaving just enough seeds to justify a second book. At the same time, readers should be advised that mental health plays a major part in this story–and in the circumstances of Jamie’s death. Be sure to check Zhao’s website for full trigger warnings.

Nancy is a calculating protagonist. She knows what she wants and exactly what price tag to attach to it as she struggles to keep her head above water within Sinclair Prep’s cutthroat social scene. With everything to gain, and so much to lose, Nancy is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her spot at the school leading her to increasingly ruthless choices as the novel progresses.

How We Fall Apart is an engrossing mystery set in the pressure cooker of an elite high school. Say hello to your next dark academia obsession.

Possible Pairings: Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee, The Best Lies by Sarah Lyu, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, People Like Us by Dana Mele, The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund

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

By the Book: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

By the Book by Amanda SelletMary Porter-Malcolm knows all of the potential pitfall for a young woman navigating the murky waters of socializing from engaging with a scoundrel, falling victim to ennui, to falling literally in front of a train. All of which was very hand information in the 19th century (the focus of her literature concentration at her alternative school) but less applicable to modern times.

Which is to say that Mary is feeling less than prepared on the first day of her sophomore year at the local public high school. Mary knows exactly three people, including one of her older sisters. That number quickly drops when Mary realizes the friend she was counting on during this scary transition is more interested in climbing the high school social ladder than hanging out with her.

A quick warning to another new girl at school gives Mary the false reputation of savvy advice giver and a new group of friends. As she helps her friends flesh out the Scoundrel Survival Guide, Mary embraces new experiences and even the prospect of new love.

But with Mary so focused on preserving her reputation with her friends, she might be missing all the signs that one potential scoundrel might not be as scandalous–or as uninterested in her–as she thought in By the Book (2020) by Amanda Sellet.

Find it on Bookshop.

By the Book is Sellet’s debut novel. It’s narrated by Mary and includes excerpts from her diary at the start of each chapter. Check the end of the book for a full listing of all the classic novels mentioned in the Scoundrel Survival Guide.

At the start of By the Book, Mary is naive to the point of being cringe-worthy. But she quickly grows on readers as her oblivious navigation of her own life is contrasted with wry (if sometimes entirely inaccurate) observations about her friends, siblings, and classmates in the context of her 19th century literature interests.

Mary’s large, white family includes absent-minded academic parents, three older sisters, and a younger brother all of whom are well-developed and enhance the story with their own dramas and contributions to Mary’s various dilemmas. While Mary does have some romance (and tension) with would-be scoundrel Alex, the story really shines as Mary learns about the gives and takes inherent to friendship with her new (and first) group of friends–girls who also defy stereotypes including Latinx Terry who is objectively beautiful but also obsessed with all things related to forensic pathology.

By the Book is a sweet story with a lot of heart and humor. Come for the witty banter and endearing friendships, stay for surprisingly on point 19th century literature jokes and high school shenanigans.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, It Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman

Be More Chill: The Graphic Novel: A Review

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

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

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

Find it on Bookshop.

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

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

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

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

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

by Hani and Ishu's Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba JaigirdarHumaira “Hani” Khan is one of the most popular girls in school. She’s also genuinely nice, so it’s no wonder everyone loves her. Unfortunately, popularity–and friendship–only go so far as Hani learns when she tells her friends she is bisexual. Instead of supporting her, Hani’s friends wonder if Hani is sure or if she can even know when she’s only dated guys.

Tired of being set up, invalidated, and otherwise having her identity questioned, Hani does what seems like the logical thing: She tells her friends that she’s dating another girl at their school. A girl Hani’s friends all hate.

Ishita “Ishu” Dey is not popular. She isn’t even well-liked. And she definitely doesn’t care as long as she can keep bringing home good grades to impress her strict parents. After years of feeling second best compared to her older sister, Nik, Ishu might finally have a chance to prove she’s best. But first she has to become Head Girl at school.

Head Girl is a popularity contest that Ishu knows she’s likely to lose. It’s also why she needs Hani’s help enough to go along with her hare-brained fake dating plan.

What starts as a business transaction to secure Hani acceptance in exchange for the visibility Ishu needs to win Head Girl quickly becomes something more when the girls start to realize they might actually like each other. Turns out staging a relationship is a lot easier than trying to start a real one in Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating (2021) by Adiba Jaigirdar.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating alternates chapters between Ishu and Hani’s first person narrations as they embark on their staged relationship and deal with other issues. These include Hani’s father’s political campaign as well as Ishu’s older sister announcing her plan to leave university to get married–a decision their parents refuse to support. A content warning at the beginning of the book details what readers should expect (and may want to avoid if triggering).

Despite the heavier topics, Jaigirdar’s latest novel is a breezy and sweet romance where opposites really do attract as easygoing Hani and abrasive Ishu grow closer. While Hani’s friends are infuriating, her home life is a lovely addition to this story with truly supportive parents. Hani is also navigating how she wants to observe (and express) her Muslim faith–something that comes up throughout the story with her father’s campaign and in the face of microaggressions from her white friends.

Ishu is a true acerbic wit. Her chapters are filled with biting humor and detached observations of the classmates who have never made space for her. While she lacks the same parental support as Hani, Ishu’s character arc is truly satisfying as her relationship with her older sister develops throughout the novel.

Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating is a funny, sparkling romantic comedy. Perfect for fans of stories with fake dating schemes, opposites attracting, and characters who thrive no matter what life throws at them.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi, The Black Kids by Kimberly Jenkins Reid

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

10 Truths and a Dare: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

10 Truths and a Dare by Ashley ElstonTruth: School has always been Olivia Perkins’ thing. It’s the reason she took so many AP classes that she had to squeeze in an off-campus gym class, the reason she knows exactly what she wants to major in next year at LSU, and the reason she will be salutatorian for her graduating class.

Truth: Olivia has been looking forward to Senior Party Week since she was a freshman. Every year graduating seniors host extravagant themed parties and they are not to be missed. With invites that include pajama parties, tea parties, a rodeo themed party, a scavenger hunt, and more, Olivia’s week is packed. Sure, her mother has a tracking app on Olivia’s phone while Olivia is home alone but she can handle that, right?

Truth: All of Olivia’s plans change when she finds out she might not graduate because she never completed the hours she needed to pass golf.

Truth: No one can find out about this mess and, with some help from her cousins and best friends, Olivia might be able to keep it under wraps. All she has to do is work at a golf tournament for four days while swapping phones with Charlie, Sophie, and Wes so that Olivia’s mom (and the rest of her enormous family) never finds out.

Truth: Senior Party Week is turning out to be nothing like Olivia expected with fewer parties, a lot more sunburn, and one cute golfer that even a planner like Olivia never could have prepared for in 10 Truths and a Dare (2021) by Ashley Elston.

Find it on Bookshop.

10 Truths and a Dare is a companion novel to Elston’s 10 Blind Dates which follows Sophie’s post-breakup shenanigans over winter break while she reconnects with her boisterous family–including cousins Olivia and Charlie and childhood friend Wes–and herself. This book is set the summer after Sophie’s adventures while Olivia works to make sure she graduates on time. Sections from Sophie, Charlie, and Wes’s point of view also show readers what’s happening while they are on phone duty pretending to be Olivia.

This story has a lot going on with parties, swapped phones, a very high-stakes golf tournament, and lots of secrets. Chapters start with a party invitation and a truth from Olivia, tying back to the book’s title and adding one more layer to an already packed story. For me, this felt like one element too many and working a bit too hard to fit Olivia’s story into a structure that made more sense for Sophie’s book.

That said, this is a still a really fun story filled with lots of great moments leading up to summer and graduation. Elston dedicates the book to the graduating classes who didn’t get these classic high school experiences because of the pandemic. My hope is that some of them can enjoy it vicariously with Olivia and her family.

10 Truths and a Dare is a fun, summery story filled with excitement for what’s next and nostalgia for what won’t come again. Recommended for readers looking for a summer romance where you’ll fall in love with the main character’s family right along with her love interest.

Possible Pairings: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway; 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz; I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks; Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno; Save the Date by Morgan Matson; Summer Days and Summer Nights edited by Stephanie Perkins; Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud; My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma; Recommended For You by Laura Silverman; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

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

The Secret Recipe for Moving On: A Review

The Secret Recipe for Moving On by Karen BischerTransferring high schools in the middle of junior year when her father’s restaurant went bust was hard but now Mary Ellen “Ellie” Agresti has the perfect boyfriend and new friends as she starts her senior year.

Until Ellie is dumped right when school starts so Hunter can get together with his childhood best friend Brynn.

Now Ellie has to watch Hunter and Brynn being lovey-dovey everywhere–including a class they all share. Applicable Life Skills for Young Adults (AKA Home Ec) was supposed to be an easy A but now it’s an easy way to get Ellie’s blood boiling.

Hoping to salvage the class and her senior year, Ellie focuses on revenge. If she can beat Hunter’s team, that will mean she wins the breakup and the class competition. The only problem is that Ellie’s pretend “family” for class is more like a group of misfits with loudmouth AJ, horse racing junkie Isaiah, and stunt-biker Luke.

Bonds can form in the unlikeliest places but even Ellie isn’t sure what to do when her “family” starts to feel like friends (or maybe even more with Luke) especially when she still isn’t sure how to get over the breakup she never saw coming in The Secret Recipe for Moving On (2021) by Karen Bischer.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On is Bischer’s debut novel.

Any charm to be derived from this plot, is lost early on as the entire first twenty per cent of the book focuses on the build up to the breakup and Ellie’s initial wallowing. While the immediacy of Ellie’s distress is admirable, I didn’t need to feel like I was going through the entire thing with her–particularly when jacket copy suggests the breakup is a done deal by the time the story starts.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On is also hopelessly mired in classism and sexism which, although it is acknowledged, is never fully interrogated. During the home ec class each group of students is assigned an imaginary family to work with for their budget and other class projects. Ellie’s group is “stuck” with a single mother raising two children on a bus driver’s salary. Much to the group’s dismay (even though both Ellie and Luke are low income students compared to their classmates).

Combining their initials, the group decides to call their family “JAILE” saying it will intimidate other teams (by implying prison connotations?) which is further insulting. Finally, the point where I knew I was done with this book was when a classmate in a rival “family” told Ellie and her group that their single mother could turn to stripping for extra cash or rely on food stamps during a grocery shopping exercise. While the character behind these remarks is eventually cast as a villain, the comments themselves stigmatizing poverty, sex work, and government support are never addressed or commented on.

During the same shopping exercise, AJ picks up two grapefruits pretending to be a woman while shopping (you can imagine) and the only comment is Luke acknowledging with a look that the joke might be less funny given Ellie’s presence. As part of the core group AJ has some growth as the story progresses too but, again, we are past the point where sexist remarks or actions like this should ever get a pass.

The Secret Recipe for Moving On has all of the pieces to be a fun and sweet story. Unfortunately, the book takes too long to interrogate all of the really problematic elements–for the ones that are examined at all. Readers looking for a fun rom com should pick this one up with caution.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Cake Pop Crush by Suzanne Nelson, A Taste for Love by Jennifer Yen

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

Happily Ever Afters: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Happily Ever Afters by Elise BryantAs a shy introvert, there’s nowhere Tessa Johnson would rather be that sitting down at her laptop writing. Tessa rarely sees herself in the romance novels she loves to read. So instead she writes her own, creating love stories where she and her best friend Caroline can finally see themselves as leading ladies. Writing is the one place Tessa feels like she is fully in control of her life. Sharing her writing with anyone but Caroline is a different story.

While moving for her father’s promotion is hard, Tessa hopes that starting her junior year at an arts school with a creative writing program will make the transition easier. The only problem is that Tessa fails to consider that being in a writing program means people will want to read–and critique!–her writing. Suddenly Tessa’s dream school turns into a nightmare when she loses all of her inspiration and her confidence.

Without any other ideas, Tessa agrees to follow Caroline’s advice: find some real-life inspiration with romance-novel inspired ideas while getting close to the incredibly cute, romance-cover-worthy visual arts student Nico. Checking things off her list turns out to be easy, but Tessa isn’t sure if it’s really going to help her find her words again–or the right guy for her own perfect ending in Happily Ever Afters (2021) by Elise Bryant.

Find it on Bookshop.

Happily Ever Afters is Bryant’s debut novel. The story is narrated by Tessa.

Having a Black father and a white mother, Tessa was used to never fitting in at her previous school where she and Caroline (who is Filipina) initially bonded as two of the only students of color. In addition to the culture shock of a conservatory program, Tessa is thrilled to find a much more diverse group of students at her new school as she bonds with new friends on her own for the first time.

Although Tessa struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, the novel is imbued with humor even as things go wrong. This levity is much needed to counter heavier parts of the story as Tessa balances her own life with the responsibilities and expectations her parents have for Tessa to help with her older brother Miles who has athetoid cerebral palsy which has led to mobility challenges and mental impairment.

While Tessa tries, with varying levels of success, to get closer to Nico, readers can appreciate Tessa’s swoony moments with neighbor and culinary arts student Sam. Both Tessa and Sam struggle with impostor syndrome as Tessa wonders if her romantic stories really “count” as creative writing while Sam tries to justify baking as an art to himself as much as to anyone else.

Happily Ever Afters is an ode to romance novels, creativity, and fandoms. A sweet story about how sometimes you have to learn to love yourself–and your passions–without apology before you can learn to love someone else.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Simone Breaks All the Rules by Debbie Rigaud, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon