Lucky Caller: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It doesn’t devalue what you had with them, the stuff you experienced, the time you spent with them. That’s still valid, even if it wasn’t built to last. It’s not any less significant.”

Lucky Caller by Emma MillsNina is fine coasting through high school. After all, it’s called the path of least resistance for a reason. Taking radio broadcasting as her elective is one more way to have an easy senior year.

Until it isn’t.

Nina’s radio team is not at all who she would have chosen. There’s Joydeep–who is happy to steer their radio show toward the easiest theme possible and steps up to host despite his obvious lack of comfort behind the mic–and Sasha–a girl who has never slacked on anything and doesn’t know what to make of this group of misfits. Then there’s Jamie, the childhood friend Nina has been actively trying to avoid since middle school.

Turns out, no one on the team knows what they’re doing with the radio show. Nina’s home life is on the verge of a big change as her mom gets ready to remarry. And Jamie, confusingly, might want to talk to her again. Then just when Sounds of the Nineties seems to be hitting its stride as a show, internet rumors and rogue fandoms threaten to ruin their fragile success.

When it starts to feel like nothing is made to last, Nina will have to decide if some things are actually worth working for in Lucky Caller (2020) by Emma Mills.

Find it on Bookshop.

Mills’ latest standalone contemporary is set in the same world as her previous novels and once again taps into themes of fandom and belonging to great effect.

Nina is a self-proclaimed passive participant in her own life. She doesn’t like to think too deeply about anything and she avoids conflict. Both of which led to her years-long avoidance of her best friend Jamie despite his living in the same apartment building.

While the plot of Lucky Caller centers Nina’s radio show and her family dynamics as she adjusts to the idea of her mom remarrying, Nina’s willful ignorance about her father’s short-comings as a long distance parent and her own potential for change add a secondary layer to this otherwise straightforward story. As Nina works through these self-delusions she, along with readers, begins to get a clearer picture of her own life compared to the performative persona Nina presents in public to make things easier.

Despite the lack of self-awareness, Nina is incredibly pragmatic and acknowledges that a lot of life is transient and changing. She knows relationships, like so many other things don’t always last, but she also learns that a set expiration date doesn’t make a friendship or any other relationship any less valuable.

Lucky Caller is a thoughtful, sentimental, laugh out loud funny story with one of my favorite plot twists of all time in the final act. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Four Days of You and Me by Miranda Kenneally, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Past Perfect by Leila Sales, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Listen to Your Heart by Kasie West, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

Anna K.: A Love Story: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes people can’t help but make poor choices and hurt the ones they love, I guess.”

Anna K.: A Love Story by Jenny LeeAnna K. is an It Girl–maybe even the It Girl–in both Manhattan and Greenwich’s upper echelons. She is popular and always in demand despite preferring the company of horses and her show-winning Newfoundland dogs to people. She has impeccable style, effortless beauty, and the perfect boyfriend.

She also can’t stop thinking about Alexia Vronsky–the sexy AF playboy she meets during a chance encounter at Grand Central. Anna and Alexia seem to be proof that opposites attract. But is lust at first sight enough to form a lasting relationship? More importantly, is it enough for Anna to throw away the reputation she’s spent years building? in Anna K.: A Love Story (2020) by Jenny Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

Anna K.: A Love Story is a sexy, modern retelling of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. The story centers half-Korean-American, half-white Anna and her totally scandalous attraction to Alexia alongside simultaneous plots following Anna’s brother Steven and his longtime girlfriend Lolly as well as Steven’s tutor and childhood friend, Dustin, who is smart, not rich, and hopelessly infatuated with Lolly’s younger sister Kimmie. If that list of characters seems overwhelming, don’t worry. There’s a handy list of characters at the beginning of the book to help you keep track.

Lee infuses her spin on Tolstoy’s classic with obvious affection for the source material as illustrated in her author’s note at the end of the book. Instead of a straight retelling Lee uses the original framework of Anna Karenina to reinterpret a familiar story and add a unique spin especially with the agency Anna has to shape her own path here.

Lolly–a surprisingly self-aware social climber who knows she is “money pretty” and works hard for every scrap of praise she receives–and Kimmie–another effortless beauty like Anna who struggles as she realizes being pretty and rich isn’t always enough to make things easy–provide interesting counterpoints and contrasts to Anna’s story.

This book does a lot of things well–especially with Anna, Lolly, and Kimmie’s characters. But I also want to talk about something that wasn’t handled well: There is some racially insensitive language in the story coming from both characters and the third person narrator without any interrogation (or teachable moment) in the text. These issues appear on page197 in the hardcover where one characters describes herself as a stepsister “which is even lower on the totem pole than a half sibling” and on page 227 where Anna’s friends surround her at a party “like a wagon circle in the early frontier days.” In both instances the book leans into Native American stereotypes and cultural appropriation. I have spoken with the editor about this and can confirm that these issues will be addressed and corrected in future printings of the book.

Anna K.: A Love Story is a splashy, often sensational story that plays out against lavish and luxurious settings in New York City and beyond. The characters, much like the plot itself, are sometimes messy and oddly endearing as they muddle through first love, breakups, and a fair bit of sex and casual drug use.

Possible Pairings: Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin; Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi; City Love by Susane Colasanti; Together We Caught Fire by Eva V. Gibson; Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert; The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle; Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy; Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen; Gossip Girl by Cecily Von Ziegesar

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

The Night of Your Life: A Review

The Night of Your Life by Lydia SharpJJ and Lucy made pact to go to prom together if they both wound up dateless. While JJ’s being single is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point, he’s surprised to find Lucy still dateless and going with him on the day of the prom.

Prom is the perfect chance for JJ to have a last hurrah with all of his friends and he can’t imagine anyone he’d want to spend it with more than Lucy.

Except everything goes wrong.

JJ wants nothing more than to forget that prom ever happened. But when he wakes up, it’s prom day again.

With endless chances to try and fix things, JJ has to figure out if he can chase his perfect prom while holding onto his best friend in The Night of Your Life (2020) by Lydia Sharp.

Find it on Bookshop.

This standalone contemporary takes on a speculative twist as JJ relives his prom over and over again trying to improve events and break the loop. Despite the high concept premise, The Night of Your Life‘s main strength is the LGBTQ+ representation which adds a nice layer to an otherwise flat story.

JJ is an extremely vanilla narrator with few defining traits beyond being excited about prom and an unfortunate predilection for making up words (like “twibble). He is a terrible friend who chooses not just to ditch Lucy when a cute girl’s car breaks down but also never tells her what is actually happening. Why he deserves numerous chances to fix his prom night, let alone why he deserves a friend like Lucy, remains unclear.

Stilted writing in both JJ’s first person narration and the dialog make most of the relationships in the novel feel forced and do nothing to hint at even a little chemistry between JJ and Lucy as the next phase of their friendship (and if they should pursue anything more) becomes the main question of the story.

The Night of Your Life is an uninspired take on a familiar premise. Unless you’re all about that prom setting, skip this one and read A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody for a better executed version of the same conceit.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

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

Malice: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Malice by Pintip DunnAlice Sherman is more interested in taking delicious looking pictures of her not-always-edible cooking for her foodie Instagram account and dreaming of a future as a photographer for National Geographic than she is in math and science.

She knows the only reason that she is at her super competitive, STEM-focused school is because her older brother Archie is a certified genius and science prodigy. She doesn’t mind. Someone has to keep an eye on Archie to make sure he remembers things like eating instead of equations sometimes–especially in the years since their mom left and their dad has become more and more distant.

Her mundane life is upended when a sudden, sharp pain hits during lunch. A voice in her head tell Alice that she can make the pain stop. All Alice has to do is tell Bandit Sakda that she loves him. Embarrassing, but easy enough.

Except the Voice isn’t done with Alice. There’s something else she has to do. Something that might prevent the creation of a virus that will kill two thirds of the population. Something that might make Alice a killer. Something that is going to be that much harder for Alice to do if she ever lets herself fall for Bandit in Malice (2020) by Pintip Dunn.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dunn’s latest standalone adventure follows Alice as she tries to figure out who the Voice is and how far she is willing to go to prevent the dire future the Voice warns her about.

While some of the twists and turns will be predictable for readers familiar with time travel shenanigans, Alice’s journey remains unique and puts a strong focus on the ways in which free will and compassion can change everything. Alice’s best friend Lalana Bunyasarn and Alice’s reluctant love interest Bandit add some needed levity (and chemistry) to a potentially bleak story.

Malice is a delectable blend of time travel and suspense. Recommended for readers who like their romance with a little sci-fi or vice versa.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

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

Practically Ever After: A Review

Practically Ever After by Isabel BandeiraGrace Correa has always been the girl with a plan. She knows exactly what she’s going to study in college (at her first choice university, naturally), she picked the perfect extracurriculars to balance her love of dance and make her a more desirable applicant, she is popular and fashionable. Grace even has the perfect group of friends and the perfect girlfriend, Leia.

At the end of her senior year, Grace’s perfect life turns into a perfect mess. With responsibilities mounting, projects looming, and pressure on all sides she’s no longer sure how to balance everything while making it look effortless–or even if she’s balancing the right things.

When a fight with Leia goes too far it seems like breaking up is the obvious choice–especially since long distance college relationships never last. Except Grace is starting to realize that maybe, just maybe, life (and love) don’t always have to be perfectly planned in Practically Ever After (2019) by Isabel Bandeira.

Find it on Bookshop.

Practically Ever After is the final book in Bandeira’s contemporary Ever After trilogy which begins with Bookishly Ever After and Dramatically Ever After. Although the books are set sequentially each book follows a different character and all can be read as a standalone.

After playing a supporting role to both Phoebe and Em, Grace finally shares her story as she struggles to balance the perfect plan for her life with the person she thinks she wants to be in the future. As the title suggests, Grace is imminently practical with a no-nonsense outlook that forces her to think very hard about what pursuing her dreams can look like and the risks inherent to following her heart when a future with Leia (who is going to a different college) is uncertain.

Partially informed by the author’s own career path, Grace also tries to find a happy medium to balance her interest in dance and cheering with her professional aspiration to become an engineer as she maps out her college plans.

Grace and Leia are used to being a power couple among their friends and it’s an interesting contrast watching them try to figure out how to stay together instead of watching them get together over the course of the story.

Practically Ever After is a satisfying conclusion to a light, funny trilogy that celebrates friends, love, and big dreams in all of their forms. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Nothing by Annie Barrows, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roate, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Isabel too!

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

A Girl Like That: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Girl Like That by Tanaz BhatenaAt sixteen, Zarin Wadia’s reputation already precedes her. She is an orphan, the daughter of a gangster, the product of a scandalous marriage. She is a smoker, she is reckless, she has left a trail of boyfriends in her wake despite the constant need to dodge the Religious Police. She is the subject of endless rumors at her school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Everyone knows that no one would want to get involved with a girl like that.

Which is why it’s so shocking when Zarin dies in a car crash with eighteen-year-old Porus Dumasia–her childhood friend and, by all counts, a boy with a good head on his shoulders.

Everyone thought they knew Zarin but as her story and the circumstances of the crash come together, it’s very clear that Zarin was always more than the rumors would have you believe in A Girl Like That (2018) by Tanaz Bhathena.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Girl Like That is Bhathena’s debut novel. The story unfolds from multiple viewpoints with Zarin and Porus observing the aftermath of the car crash and flashbacks from both Zarin and Porus as well as other characters in Zarin’s life. Through these multiple first person viewpoints the novel explores both the events leading up to the crash and its fallout.

Zarin is a strongly feminist heroine who pushes against the limits placed on her by both her family and her surroundings in the conservative city of Jeddah. Through Zarin and her classmate Mishal’s narratives, Bhathena expertly explores themes of feminism and agency as both girls find their worlds unfairly narrowed because of little more than their gender.

A Girl Like That is a poignant and bittersweet story and perception versus reality, rumors, and truth. A quiet meditation on all of the ways society as well as friends and family can fail young people trying to make their way through a world that is often far from gentle. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali, Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll, Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The First Part Last by Angela Johnson, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed, The List by Siobhan Vivian, Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

The Deceivers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Careful is a luxury you have when your baseline isn’t chaos.”

The Deceivers by Kristen SimmonsBrynn Hilder is willing to do whatever it takes to get out of her hardscrabble neighborhood in Chicago. Unfortunately, a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to paying for college.

When her mom’s sleazy boyfriend finds out about Brynn’s low level cons and the money she’s already saved up, he steals all of it and gives Brynn an ultimatum: start running cons for him or start selling his drugs.

Enter Vale Hall, an elite boarding school that seems to be the answer to all of Brynn’s problems. The school promises a free ride to any college of her choice . . . for a price. Instead of earning good grades and building up her extracurriculars, Brynn and the other Vale students are expected to use their conning abilities to help the school with special projects.

Brynn knows she’s up to the task. But as she learns more about her first mark and the lines she’ll have to cross to entrap him, Brynn has to decide how far she’s willing to go to get what she wants in The Deceivers (2019) by Kristen Simmons.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Deceivers is the start of Simmons’ Vale Hall trilogy–a con filled story partially inspired by the story of Odin and his Valkyrie.

Brynn is a practical, calculating narrator. She has spent years hardening her heart and telling herself she can do whatever it takes to chase a better life without fully understanding the risks or the costs. After being the poorest person in the room for so long, her time at Vale Hall forces Brynn to confront the fact that she isn’t the only one facing hard choices and limited opportunities.

Used to depending on herself and no one else, Brynn slowly and reluctantly builds up a support system at Vale Hall as she gets to know the other students, especially her potential love interest Henry and his group of friends–part of a supporting cast of characters who are as varied as they are authentic.

The Deceivers is the perfect blend of action and suspense as Brynn delves deeper into Vale Hall’s underworld and the stakes continue to climb for her and the another students. Smart cons, snappy dialog, and pitch perfect pacing set this novel apart. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, Killing November by Adriana Mather, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carry Ryan, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Frankly in Love: A Review

Frank is a second generation Korean American. He is a senior in high school and what he call a Limbo. Like the other Korean American kids in his community, Frank finds himself caught between his parents’ expectations and his own wants as an American teen in Southern California.

Frank is all too aware of what his parents want him to do–especially when it comes to dating (spoiler: any girl he brings home had better be Korean). The only problem is that expectations are the last thing on Frank’s mind when he falls for Brit Means who is beautiful, popular, and white.

When Frank realizes his fellow Limbo, Joy Song, is facing the same problem it seems like they have found an obvious solution: pretend to date each other. Fake dating gives Frank and Joy freedom to do what they want without disappointing their parents. But as their fake relationship brings them closer together, Frank wonders if he’s ever understood love at all in Frankly in Love (2019) by David Yoon.

Frankly in Love is Yoon’s debut novel. (Yes, before you ask, he and Nicola Yoon are married!)

Frank’s first person narration toes the line between humor and sardonic wit as he shares insights into the push and pull between his life at home with his Korean immigrant parents and his identity outside of their home and community.

While the fake relationship and related chaos add a lot of levity to this story, Frank’s journey throughout the novel is heavier as he tries to figure out who he wants to be (not to mention who he wants to be with) and struggles with how best to interrogate his parents’ racism and prejudices.

Frankly in Love is a contemporary romance with zero toxic masculinity and a charcter asking hard questions about choosing your path and who you love while choosing your battles. Recommended for readers looking for a romance with humor that still skews toward literary.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

The Beauty of the Moment: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Nothing lasts forever. Not this snowflake. Not our homes, not our families. But it doesn’t mean you can’t live in the beauty of the moment.”

Susan Thomas doesn’t cause trouble. She does well in school and she always meets her parents exacting expectations. Maybe that’s why she goes along with her family’s move to Canada without much fuss. Now, instead of spending her senior year with her friends in the familiar surroundings of Saudi Arabia, Susan is in Canada dealing with winter, a school that– while less demanding–is co-ed, not to mention her mother’s depression while they both wonder if Susan’s father will actually make the move to join them in this new country.

According to almost everyone in his life, Malcolm Vakil is trouble. He remembers when he used to care about things like school and making his parents proud but it was a while ago. Before his mother died, before Malcolm found out about his father’s affair, and long before his father finally stopped hitting him and his younger sister. He knows what people see when they look at him. He doesn’t care enough to prove them wrong.

Susan and Malcolm have nothing in common except for wanting desperately to run away from their lives and, maybe, finding a welcome distraction in each other. But the problem with running away is that eventually you have to figure out somewhere–and maybe someone–to run to in The Beauty of the Moment (2019) by Tanaz Bhathena.

Find it on BookShop.

Bhathena’s sophomore novel is a contemporary romance set in the same world as her critically acclaimed debut novel A Girl Like That.

The Beauty of the Moment is a light story but don’t make the mistake of thinking that means it is slight. Bhathena effectively contrasts Susan and Malcolm’s points of view to highlight their differences as well as the common threads that draw them to each other in this story about perceptions and expectations.

This novel is as self-aware as its two main characters. Bhathena artfully explores typical conventions found in romantic comedies while subverting the familiar trope of the smart girl meets bad boy to move the story in unexpected directions. Like all of the best comedies, The Beauty of the Moment isn’t afraid to make fun of itself even drawing its title from a line that Malcolm himself recognizes as being incredibly corny seconds after he shares it.

The Beauty of the Moment is everything you could want in a romantic comedy. As with many things, it’s easy to ignore the work–the strength of Bhathena’s writing– because so much of it is hidden behind well-drawn characters and an engrossing plot. Not to mention beautiful sentence level writing that is sure to immediately draw readers into Susan and Malcolm’s world.

The Beauty of the Moment is a breezy, sweet story about an unlikely romance, complicated families, changed circumstances, and perception. Highly recommended for fans of the genre, readers looking for a new take on some familiar tropes, and anyone looking for a genuine story with authentic, intersectional characters.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Emergency Contact by Mary HK Choi, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, 96 Words for Love by Ava Dash and Rachel Roy, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

*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, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Pride by Ibi Zoboi