Book Reviews

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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Dramatically Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Serious Moonlight 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, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Book Reviews

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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, 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, Lucky Girl by Jamie Pacton, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, 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*

Book Reviews

This is What Happy Looks Like: A Review

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. SmithIt all started with a typo in an email address.

Graham Larkin thought he was emailing his pet pig’s walker, instead his email shoots across the country to Ellie O’Neill. Their conversations are always personal but they never reveal personal details. Ellie has no idea that Graham is a major celebrity. Graham knows very little about Ellie until she slips and reveals the name of her small town in Maine.

That’s all it takes for Graham to mark the town of Henley as the perfect location for his next film. And, of course, the perfect location to meet Ellie in real life.

But as Graham and Ellie get to know each other they are both hampered by “what ifs?” What if their relationship really is at its best in email form? What if a famous actor like Graham isn’t cut out for a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? What if Ellie is drawn into Graham’s spotlight has to reveal some closely guarded secrets of her own. Graham and Ellie have talked at length about happiness, but they still have to figure out if they can be happy together in This is What Happy Looks Like (2013) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Find it on Bookshop.

This story has a slow start as both Graham and readers are introduce to Ellie’s idyllic small town home. A charming cast of secondary characters and picturesque locations vividly situate each scene in this novel. Ellie and Graham’s correspondence is simultaneously authentic and endearing as emails and face-to-face interactions work together to give readers the full story of Graham and Ellie’s courtship. Snappy dialogue also helps to make this story shine.

Smith delves into the familiar territory of missed connections (The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight) and long-distance pining (The Geography of You and Me). While This is What Happy Looks Like has some of the same charm as Smith’s other novels, its characters never feel quite as well-realized or compelling.

This is What Happy Looks Like is a sweet and summery romance filled with small-town charm and memorable moments.

Possible Pairings: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, In Real Life by Jessica Love, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Book Reviews

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between: A Review

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. SmithAfter two years together, Clare and Aidan only have one night left to figure out what comes next. With both of them leaving for college and heading to opposite coasts, Clare is certain that breaking up makes the most sense. Aidan isn’t so sure. They’ve already stayed together for two years–can a few extra miles really tear them apart?

As Clare and Aidan retrace the steps of their relationship across their small town they will revisit fond memories and reveal some closely guarded secrets. While saying goodbye to their homes, their friends and their families, Clare and Aidan will have to figure out if it’s time to say goodbye to each other as well in Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between (2015) by Jennifer E. Smith.

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Jennifer E. Smith is a master when it comes to contemporary novels with a lot of heart and sweet romance. She is a phenomenal talent and I went into this book with high expectations after loving her recent novel The Geography of You and Me.

Which is why it’s so hard to say that this novel didn’t work for me. I think I’m atypical here and I think a lot of readers who dealt with (or will deal with) similar big changes to Aidan’s and Clare’s will totally identify with this novel.

I’m not one of those people. I put myself through college with scholarships, financial aid, and a part-time job. I commuted because my mom needed me at home, it was cheaper and because I didn’t want to go away. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I missed out on a fundamental college experience. And I don’t know, maybe that’s true. But it was my choice and even then I knew it was the right choice for me.

No one in this entire book makes a similar choice. I suppose it’s because Clare and Aidan are from an affluent community but even the students who are going to college nearby are planning on leaving and moving into dorms. The one character who is truly staying behind and living at home is going to community college. Because he didn’t get accepted anywhere else. It was a little strange (and maybe even off-putting) to see that aspect of the college experience completely erased from this community.

I think that’s a big part of my disconnect with Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. I never made the choices Clare and Aidan make and so for most of the book I had a really hard time understanding their choices. Although it made sense that the stakes are high for both characters, they never felt particularly pressing for me. Retracing the steps of a relationship that is now on the brink of collapse just felt depressing and often pointless.

The final decision for these characters seems obvious and inevitable from the beginning. Although Smith throws in a few twists and surprises, they come far too late in the story to make for any worthwhile changes.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between ends on an up note with a sweet note of optimism. Sadly, it also comes to late to make up for the rest of the novel. I’m not sure how it would have worked, but I wish the story readers got in this novel began where this book finished.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is an unlikely romance about leaving everything you know behind and striking out for the unknown. Although the romance is ultimately quite cute, a lot of the novel does read more like the postmortem of a relationship than the start or continuation of one. Recommended for anyone who had to move away for college or anyone who will. Readers looking to try Jennifer E. Smith for the first time might be better served with an earlier novel like, perhaps, my personal favorite The Geography of You and Me!

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley,  Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BEA 2015 for review consideration*

Book Reviews

The Geography of You and Me: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. SmithLucy and Owen meet in an elevator trapped between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City highrise during a citywide blackout. What could have been an ordinary night spent alone in the dark becomes a shared moment of wonder for Lucy and Owen. Together they explore a Manhattan that looks more like a party than a crisis before admiring the shockingly bright stars over Manhattan’s skyline.

But after that one magical night, Lucy and Owen find themselves pulled in opposite directions. Literally. Owen and his father head for points west while Lucy and her parents move to Edinburgh.

Lucy and Owen don’t have a lot in common to start with. They don’t even know much about each other. Still their relationship plays out across the miles in the form of postcards and sporadic emails. Although both Lucy and Owen try to move on they soon realize an unfinished something keeps pulling them back to each other in The Geography of You and Me (2014) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Geography of You and Me is a delightful story of an unlikely long-distance relationship and an ode to the joys of travel and old-fashioned correspondence. Smith brings the wonder and frustrations of a New York blackout delightfully to life in the opening pages. The evocative prose just gets better from there as readers travel across the country with Owen and across the Atlantic with Lucy.

The story alternates between Lucy and Owen’s perspective to offer insights not just into their correspondence but also into the relationships both have with their parents. As much as The Geography of You and Me is a romance it is also an anthem for family and communication. With Lucy coming from a well-to-do family and Owen being on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, there are also some interesting moments about privilege and what that can mean in modern life.

Smith offers nods to social networking and emails while also hearkening back to the simpler and often more sincere communications found in postcards. It is highly likely readers will seek a new pen pal or join Post Crossing after finishing this cheerfully well-traveled novel.

Possible Pairings: A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, All I Need by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Chit Chat

Blog Book Giveaway: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight[CLOSED]

One of my early 2012 favorites came out earlier this week: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith. (You can read my review here on the blog.)

Thanks to the publisher, I have an ARC to give away to celebrate.

**THIS GIVEAWAY IS OPEN TO US READERS ONLY **

TO ENTER: Leave a comment below (with a valid email in the email form field) telling me why you’re excited to read this book (or what you liked about it if you already read it).

This giveaway will run until January 10, 2012 when a winner will be selected via random number generator.

If I do not hear from the winner by January 12, 2012 I will have to pick a new winner.

Thanks again to Little Brown for providing this ARC to give away.

Book Reviews

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“There are so many ways it could have all turned out different.”

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. SmithIf she hadn’t forgotten the book, if she had tried on the dress sooner. If she hadn’t given herself a paper cut while printing her ticket, or lost her cell phone charger, if there hadn’t been traffic on the way to the airport. If she hadn’t missed the exit, or had run a bit faster to the gate.

Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Who ever heard of a plan leaving on time? Who would have thought that four minutes could change everything?

Instead of being on her plane, Hadley is trapped in the crowded airport watching it leave for England–without her–as she contemplates whether it will be worse to be late for her father’s second wedding or to miss it altogether. It should be one of the worst days of her life.

But, somehow, it isn’t. Instead Hadley meets the perfect boy in the airport waiting area. His name is Oliver. He is 18C. Hadley is 18A. And, somehow, through twists of fate and strange coincidences Hadley’s worst day might turn into something better in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (2012) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Find it on Bookshop.

Set over the course of twenty-four hours (with chapter headings that include the time in both Eastern Standard and Greenwich Mean Time), The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a fast, funny  read.

Smith perfectly captures the dizzying feelings of serendipity and chance in her writing. Hadley and Oliver are both realistic, witty characters that readers will root for throughout the story. Strangely for a novel set largely in an airport waiting terminal and on an airplane itself, Smith’s settings are strongly evocative bringing Hadley’s fear of small spaces and the daunting foreign landscape of London to life.

What makes The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight especially appealing is that it packs so much into such a small book (256 pages, hardcover). As the title suggests there is, of course, a love story but Smith also expertly captures the essences of both Hadley and Oliver’s characters while also writing a refreshingly honest story about family and dealing with the consequences of divorce.

Possible Pairings: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon,  Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2011