We’ll Always Have Summer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny HanBelly has loved two boys in her life: Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. Conrad was her first love and the first boy to break her heart. Jeremiah was the one who was there to pick up the pieces.

In the two years since, Jeremiah has been the perfect boyfriend. He’s fun, he’s dependable, and he has always loved Belly. But is that enough to build an entire future on?

Conrad knows he made a mistake when he pushed Belly away. He knew it even as he pushed harder. When Belly and Jeremiah announce their engagement, Conrad realizes that time is running out if he wants to try to win Belly back.

The Fisher boys have been part of Belly’s life forever. She never imagined that in choosing one of them she might have to break the other’s heart in We’ll Always Have Summer (2011) by Jenny Han.

We’ll Always Have Summer is the final book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins with The Summer I Turned Pretty and continues in It’s Not Summer Without You.

This book is narrated by Belly with a few chapters from Conrad. My only complaint is I wish we had more from him because it was so fascinating to finally see things from his point of view.

After Jeremiah won me over in book two, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the end of the trilogy. That I couldn’t decide how I wanted this love triangle to shake out speaks volumes to Jenny Han’s strengths as an author and how well-developed all of these characters become by the end of the series.

I always know I’m enjoying a series when it becomes impossible to choose a favorite book. I loved meeting these characters in book one, and I loved the way book two flipped everything I thought I knew upside down. But it might be this final book that has become my favorite as I think about the way things finally come together for Belly.

We’ll Always Have Summer is the perfect conclusion to what’s become a surprise favorite series. Come for the swoony romance and suspenseful love triangle, stay for the sweet ode to summer and growing up. A highly recommended series.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

It’s Not Summer Without You: A Review

cover art for It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny HanBeing with Conrad was supposed to make everything better, but instead it’s one more thing that’s fallen apart in the aftermath of Susannah getting sick again.

Belly doesn’t know who she is without summers at Cousins Beach. She doesn’t know what to make of Conrad’s apathy or the distance that’s grown between them since last summer.

In a year where so many things have changed, Belly isn’t sure if she can keep pining for Conrad. All she really knows is that when Jeremiah calls to tell her that Conrad has disappeared, she has to help find him in It’s Not Summer Without You (2010) by Jenny Han.

It’s Not Summer Without You is the second book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Belly narrates most of this book with a few chapters interspersed from Jeremiah’s point of view. Belly spends so much of this series focused on Conrad that it was interesting to see more of Jeremiah’s perspective.

With the addition of Jeremiah’s chapters and the story shifting away from Cousins, all of the characters are more developed here. The tension between Belly and both Fisher boys is palpable as all three try to reconcile themselves to the loss of the summer cocoon that used to bind them together.

It’s Not Summer Without You is a melancholy installment but the series is stronger because of it as another layer of depth is added to the story. Han takes the familiar elements from The Summer I Turned Pretty and inverts them to make this an entirely new reading experience.

It’s Not Summer Without You is, of course, a must-read for fans of the series and as much of a page-turner as you’re likely to find in a breezy contemporary–let’s just say I gasped more than once as I made my way to the end of this book!

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

The Summer I Turned Pretty: A Review

cover art for The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny HanBelly’s life has always been measured in summers. Of course she and her brother have school the rest of the year, she has friends, she has an entire life. But summer has always been the important thing because summer means it’s time to return to Cousins Beach and the house her family shares with the Fishers.

Belly’s mom and Susannah Fisher have been friends for decades and Belly can’t think of anything more natural than spending every summer in Cousins with Susannah and her sons, Conrad and Jeremiah.

As the youngest, Belly is used to being left out or made fun of by the boys. But that’s never made her love her summers, or Conrad, any less. Almost as soon as they arrive, Belly knows that this summer is going to be different. She can feel it in the air, see it in way Conrad and Jeremiah look at her like she’s someone totally new. But every summer, even what promises to be a perfect one, has to end in The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009) by Jenny Han.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is the first book in Han’s Summer trilogy which continues with It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have Summer.

Han’s prose is as gentle and comforting as a warm summer breeze as Belly narrates this story and shares flashbacks from some of her favorite summer memories.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is an emotional roller coaster as readers join Belly on all of the ups and downs in what becomes a pivotal summer. This book does double duty laying the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy while also offering a contained story as Belly tries to make sense of growing up, her ever-present (painfully obvious) feelings for Conrad, and the fact that summers may not stay the same for her family or the Fishers for much longer.

The Summer I Turned Pretty should be required reading for anyone who is a fan of contemporary fiction, romance, and summertime. If, like me, you first discovered Jenny because of her Lara Jean books (which begin with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), be sure to loop back to this series because it is just as sweet, just as romantic, and maybe even more epic with one of my favorite love triangles of all time. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

When We Caught Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for When We Caught Fire by Anna GodbersenChicago, 1871: Emmeline Carter is about to blast her way into Chicago’s high society, helping her father make good on his rise to wealth with her engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor.

Living in luxury and the envy of so many society debutantes should be enough for Emmeline. It isn’t. Instead, as her engagement looms, Emmeline can’t stop thinking about her carefree days she used to share with her best friend Fiona Byrne and her sweetheart Anders Magnuson. Now Fiona is Emmeline’s maid and Anders a distant memory.

Fiona hopes that Emmeline’s engagement will bring her friend everything she wants–and allow Fiona to pursue Ander’s herself without guilt. Then Emmeline surprises everyone by risking everything she has gained to see Anders one last time.

As friendships are tested and bonds are broken, even the smallest spark might change everything for these three friends and the city they all call home in When We Caught Fire (2018) by Anna Godbersen.

This standalone novel plays out over the course of the summer as Emmeline, Fiona, and Anders move toward the cataclysmic Great Fire. The novel alternates between chapters following Emmeline and Fiona’s points of view.

Godbersen once again brings the past to life with evocative descriptions of the city (and, of course, the fashions) of the time. While the main focus is on the Great Fire, When We Caught Fire also explores the inequality and corruption that ran rampant through the Gilded Age.

At its core, When We Caught Fire is a story about a friendship and a love triangle. The relationships between the three characters remain the driving force of the story even as the events of the fire play out in the novel’s explosive final act.

An open ending and nuanced characters allow readers to draw their own conclusions while fleshing out the story. When We Caught Fire is frothy, slightly sensational, and utterly entertaining. Recommended for readers who want their historical fiction filled with all the gory details and juicy parts.

Possible Pairings: A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper, Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Ash Princess: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Ash Princess by Laura SebastianTen years ago invaders killed Theodosia’s mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, enslaved her people, and stole her name.

Over many long years, Theo has learned how to play the game. Don’t anger the Kaiser and stay alive. She plays along with his manipulations, silently accepts his punishments, and hides behind the persona of Thora–the meek girl the Kaiser thinks she has become.

But when Theo is forced to do the unthinkable she reaches a breaking point.

Survival is no longer enough. After years of hiding, it’s time for Theo to fight and reclaim everything that has been stolen in Ash Princess (2018) by Laura Sebastian.

Ash Princess is Sebastian’s debut novel and the start of a trilogy.

Sebastian’s richly described world, complex elemental magic, and fraught politics add new twists to this familiar story. Unfortunately one element that remains the same is that the enslaved Astreans are “tawny skinned” and dark haired while the invading Kalovoxians are pale and blonde–a common trope that is played out and could do with more unpacking in this and other similar titles.

Theo is a survivor who has learned how to hide in plain sight. Because of her small world and her captivity her first person narration often feels claustrophobic as she struggles to plot her way out of the Kaiser’s clutches.

Ash Princess’s promising in contrived plot is marred by an erratic timeline that brings Theo’s interactions with the Kaiser’s son Prinz Søren from calculated seduction as part of an assassination attempt to actual love in the blink of an eye. Theo’s shift from trying to keep herself alive while waiting for a rescue that never comes shifts equally fast to Theo placing herself in the center of a rebellion plot as a spy.

Theo’s perilous situation and the high stakes of the story are not enough to distract from a second half that drags while characters dither over who to trust, who to love, and (perhaps most relevantly) who to kill. While Theo is an interesting and strong heroine, she is not always sympathetic with unclear motivations for her numerous poor decisions throughout the book.

Ash Princess is an entertaining, plot-driven fantasy. Recommended for readers who like their fantasy angsty and their characters morally ambiguous at best.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, Everless by Sara Holland, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene

Amber & Dusk: A Review

cover art for Amber & Dusk by Lyra SeleneSylvie has always known that she was destined for greater things. She is certain that her life as an orphan with the Sisters of Scion is only a small blip on her path to greatness. When she comes into her legacy–a magical talent that is believe to only belong to the upper class–Sylvie knows it’s a sign.

Sneaking onto a caravan Sylvie makes her way from the very edges of the Dusklands when the darkness of the Dominion constantly looms into the Amber City’s palais Coeur d’Or at the heart of the Amber Empire. In this city where the sun never sets, Sylvie assumes that her magic to create illusions will be enough to earn her a place in the Empress’ court.

Instead Sylvie finds herself the center of a wager, the butt of a cruel joke, among the palais courtiers. Sponsored by an enigmatic noble called Sunder Sylvie must learn to control her legacy as she navigates the dangerous games within the palais. Under her new name, Mirage, she will have to fight to earn her place at the palais while deciding how much she is willing to lose in Amber & Dusk (2018) by Lyra Selene.

Amber & Dusk is Selene’s debut novel.

Luxuriant descriptions underscore the complex world Selene has created where the sun never leaves the sky and the moon never rises. Complex magic and class systems add layers to this story, particularly once Sylvie arrives at a court reminiscent of Versailles.

Sylvie is unapologetic about her ambitions and shrewdly pursues her imagined destiny despite numerous obstacles and warnings from other characters that the palais is not the paradise she might imagine. Reckless and sometimes ruthless, Sylvie throws herself into her new life as Mirage without fully considering the risks or consequences of her choices.

While Sylvie/Mirage is a compelling if sometimes frustrating heroine, the rest of the cast is often one-dimensional by comparison. Mirage’s sponsor Sunder–so named for his legacy’s ability to cause pain–is as mysterious as he is problematic.

Amber & Dusk is a seductive fantasy filled with magic and machinations in equal measure complete with an ending that will leave fans clamoring for a sequel.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, Stain by A. G. Howard, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, Enchantée by Gita Trelease, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, And I Darken by Kiersten White

Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love Triangles: A Review

cover art for Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love TrianglesEvery reader has an opinion on love triangles. Some avoid them at all costs. Others, including myself, are happy to read them provided they are done well. (You can also check out the defense of love triangles and instalove that I put together on Veronica’s blog for Contemporary Conversations: “Bad” Romance: In Defense of Love Triangles and Insta-Love.)

As a fan of love triangles in a variety of genres, I was excited to check out Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love Triangles (2017) a short story collection edited by Natalie C. Parker. This collection features a variety of authors and offers a fairly inclusive group of voices among the authors and characters. The stories cover a variety of love triangle configurations with male, female, and gender fluid characters of varied sexual orientations. The stories also exhibit a diversity of incomes and lifestyles and cover themes of mental illness as well. (It’s worth noting that physical disabilities are not featured in this collection.) Most importantly, these stories cover a variety of genres spanning the spectrum from straight contemporary to hard sci-fi and high fantasy.

Read more for my short reviews of the individual stories:


Riddles in Mathematics by Katie Cotugno
: Rowena is newly out to her family and friends and still figuring out if she fits into her family the way she did before. She’s also still dealing with a painful and all-encompassing on her brother Steve’s best friend Taylor–the girl everyone is pretty sure Steve is going to marry one day. This story is cute but I never connect with Cotugno’s writing and this story was no exception. Ro’s relationships with Steve and Taylor were sweetly handled and the story resolves neatly if abruptly.

Dread South by Justina Ireland
: This story is set in the same world as Ireland’s forthcoming novel Dread Nation. The story follows white, southern teen Louisa as all hell breaks loose and she is saved repeatedly from zombie hoards by Juliet–a Negro girl trained in combat to protect useless girls like Louisa. The triangle here is interesting and, of course, being from Justina Ireland it offers a smart and incisive look at race relations as well as Louisa’s white privilege. How you feel about this one may depend a lot on how you feel about zombie stories.

Omega Ship by Rae Carson
: A lot of reviewers are citing this story as a standout in the collection and I’m still not sure why. Carson is a very hit or miss author for me. I love her Gold Seer trilogy but The Girl of Fire and Thorns left me cold. I liked this story even less. Eva, Dirk, and Jesse are the last three survivors from Earth. Meant to travel to a new planet on the Omega Ship these three teens were part of a mission to colonize and save humanity. Then the ship crashes and everyone else dies leaving Eva as the only woman capable of saving humanity–provided she wants to spend the rest of her life in an endless cycle of childbirth. It turns out Eva doesn’t want that but you’ll have to read the story to see what she does about it. My biggest issue with the story: the ship’s mission timeline has to be sped up and everything is too heavy. Rather than lose arts and culture the colonists decide to give up clothes.

La Revancha del Tango by Renee Ahdieh
: This story was a bit of a surprise since I know Ahdieh more for her fantasy novels and expected more of the same here. Instead we get a contemporary story about a girl traveling on her own to Buenos Aires the summer before college. Nothing is quite as she expects including the snobby English boy with the terrible beard that she meets at her youth hostel.

Cass, An, and Dra by Natalie C. Parker
: Cass can see into the future whenever she makes a decision. And for as long as she can remember her present and her future have always included An. When Cass looks ahead and sees a future with Dra it shakes everything Cass thought she knew about who she is and who she wants to be with. In addition to have a f/f relationship in the triangle Dra is genderfluid too making this a really nice addition to an already inclusive collection.

Lessons for Beginners by Julie Murphy: Ruby isn’t just a great kisser, she’s a great kissing teacher–something that has led to plenty of business for her and her friend/manager Paul. When Ruby gives lessons to her childhood friend Annie and her boyfriend it sparks new chemistry between the girls. The premise, for me, was totally bizarre here but Murphy’s writing is super cute. I liked the way everything was handled here, so much so that I might be picking up Ramona Blue soon.

Triangle Solo by Garth Nix
: I will read anything that Garth Nix writes and am happy to report that I loved this one just as much as I expected too. Connor and Anwar are both percussionists in the school orchestra. Anwar hates playing the triangle beyond all reason but Connor refuses to play the triangle for Anwar because he wants attractive and charming Anwar to have some things that don’t go his way. When Connor’s childhood friend Kylie shows up back on Mars, Connor is pretty sure she’ll end up dating Anwar. Why wouldn’t she? Which makes Connor even more determined that Anwar will play this next triangle solo–that is until he realizes who is behind this new composition. This was really cute sci-fi that felt like contemporary. I’d expect nothing less from Nix.

Vim and Vigor by Veronica Roth: I can’t confirm but I have a sneaking suspicion that this story is set in the same world that Roth created for her short story in the Summer Days and Summer Nights anthology. Edie is horrified when two boys ask her to prom. After an unexpected reunion with her estranged friend, Kate, Edie uses Kate’s father’s decision making machine to see who she should choose. The answer isn’t entirely what Edie expects. This was a pretty charming story that reminds readers that sometimes the right choice can be no one.

Work in Progress by E.K. Johnston
: I loved this story and honestly, I feel like I could write an entire blog post just about this one story. It’s really nine stories in one about storyteller Alex, quick thinking Tab, and street smart CJ. This is written in second person so the characters are all genderless. In version 1.0 readers get a sci-fi story following three friends trying to survive as mutineers overtake the crew of their space ship. Will they stay together? Will they survive? Choose. 2.0 is contemporary. Three friends at a lake house every summer. Again the same questions. Will they stay together? Should they? Choose. 3.0 is high fantasy. Alex is a knight embarking on a quest with Mage Tab who is chronicling the venture and thief CJ who is there to keep them alive. The three are stronger together. But only if they continue to choose each other. The format and structure here are so clever and inventive. I also appreciated the idea of a love triangle that might be more of a friend triangle. i’d love to hear more about Johnston’s thought process and inspiration and intent for this story. This is the first story in the collection where I said to myself “Wow this should really be a full novel.”

Hurdles by Brandy Colbert
: My main takeaway from this story is that I really need to read some Brandy Colbert novels because this (like every short story I’ve read by her) was excellent. What happens when the thing that makes you YOU stops being the thing you love? A young track star isn’t sure and struggles to balance pressures from her coach father with her own needs and maintaining her relationship with her boyfriend. That all goes out the window when the love of her life comes back from rehab and asks her to run away with him.

The Historian, the Garrison, and the Cantankerous Cat Woman by Lamar Giles: If you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer you are going to love this story. Nothing is quite as it seems here and, honestly, I can’t tell you more without ruining the story’s payoff. This wasn’t a favorite of mine but I definitely enjoyed it enough that I’ll be keeping my out for some of Giles’ novels at the library.

Waiting by Sabaa Tahir
: Another surprise contemporary story from a fantasy author. Ani is waiting to start at Stanford. Waiting to leave her small town. And waiting for her best friend Sam to get out of prison and tell her what that kiss between them meant. While Ani waits she starts an unexpected friendship with Félix–a boy she never thought she could befriend forget possibly care about. Is Félix being there when Ani needs him enough to justify a relationship? Is Sam really worth the wait? You’ll have to read this one to find out. This is the kind of story where I am having as much fun imagining possible outcomes for these characters down the line as I did reading it. Such a pleasant surprise. I don’t think the writing will be in the same style but I’m definitely considering picking up Tahir’s fantasy series now.

Vega by Brenna Yovanoff
: I love everything Yovanoff writes and this was no exception. A love triangle between a girl, a boy, and the city the girl loves—the same one that is slowly killing the boy. This story is evocative and eerie and sizzles as much as Vegas’ summer heat. It was also quite the nailbiter as I worried that Elle might let Vegas’ glitter distract her from Alex. (Don’t worry, all ends as it should. Phew!) This story is easily my favorite of the collection.

A Hundred Thousand Threads by Alaya by Dawn Johnson
: At first I thought this story was a gender-swapped futuristic Zorro. In retrospect I think it’s actually more The Scarlet Pimpernel although maybe they are ultimately the same thing. Either way this story is set in the future in Mexico City with a complicated love triangle between a somewhat clueless boy, a savvy girl, . . . and the girl’s secret identity as a vigilante/spy/hero. Johnson has been hit or miss for me in the past so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this story. It’s a lot of fun and really pushes the limits of what short stories can do. I’ll definitely be giving Johnson’s novels a second chance.

Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton: Gratton’s writing is intense and sexy as Safiya struggles with her desires for both her body double and a strange soldier as well as her duties as the Moon God’s mistress. Being a story from Tessa Gratton this story also has incredibly intricate world building to the point that I was convinced there must be some historical basis to the characters and belief system (there isn’t, the writing is just that good). I once heard author Sarah Rees Brennan talk about how love triangles rarely resolve in favor of Team Naughty Threesome. THIS IS THAT STORY.

Unus, Duo, Tres by Bethany Hagen
: Enoch is sure that he and Casimir can be happy together forever–or as happy as vampires can be. Then a new student discovers the boys together and it changes everything. I like a very specific type of vampire story. This wasn’t that kind of story although it was another interesting spin on the love triangle.

Any anthology runs the risk of being uneven–not every story or author can be for every reader, after all–but I have to say that for the most part Three Sides of a Heart is one of the most solid short story collections I’ve read. A must read for fans of love triangles and an excellent introduction to some the hottest names in YA right now. Recommended.