Pride: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Pride by Ibi ZoboiZuri Benitez loves her family and her block in Bushwick in equal measure. She is proud to be Afro-Latinx and she is proud to have a part of the fabric of Bushwick long before the neighborhood started to gentrify.

Which is why Zuri wants nothing to do with the Darcy family when they move in across the street even if the brothers are cute. While her older sister Janae falls hard for Ainsley, Zuri cannot stand Darius.

In Zuri’s eyes Darius represents everything that’s going wrong in Bushwick as new rich families buy up houses and push out poorer families like Zuri’s, changing the neighborhood forever. Worse, he is a total snob with absolutely no redeeming qualities.

When Zuri and Darius are repeatedly thrown together, their mutual dislike starts to shift to a hesitant understanding and maybe even something else. With college looming and so many changes in her future, Zuri has to decide if her pride and her prejudices might be stopping her from embracing a wonderful opportunity in Pride (2018) by Ibi Zoboi.

Pride is Zoboi’s sophomore novel and a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice.

Pride is a sweet story imbued with Zuri’s love for her family, her neighborhood, and her words as Zuri often journals her thoughts as spoken word poems. Zuri is a decidedly modern narrator but in trying to capture teen authenticity this story leans heavily on nicknames (which don’t always make sense) and slang that has the potential to date this story very quickly.

In addition to Zuri’s evolving relationship with Darius, a lot of this story explores gentrification both as a way to bring classism into the story and also as it relates to Zuri’s beloved Bushwick neighborhood. This aspect is the weakest of the story as Zuri’s opinions and idealism of the past feel much more authentic for a much older character with a very different life experience. The message and discussion are important but never quite make sense coming from a teenager who would have limited memories at best of the Bushwick of her so-called youth.

Pride is a short novel that stands nicely on its own as a contemporary romance despite limited space to develop the large cast of characters. Readers already familiar with the source material (or one of its numerous adaptations) will catch more of this novel’s nuance and shorthand nods to elements from the original

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt

A Room Away From the Wolves: A (WIRoB) Review

cover art for A Room Away from the Wolves by Nova Ren SumaHere’s a teaser from the start of my review of A Room Away From the Wolves (2018) by Nova Ren Suma (originally reviewed for Washington Independent Review of Books):

Sabina “Bina” Tremper is used to being known as a liar and a thief. The real surprise comes when Bina’s mother, Dawn, sides with Bina’s stepsisters and refuses to even consider that. this time, Bina might be telling the truth.

Hoping to defuse the situation, Dawn plans for Bina to temporarily move out. She hopes if Bina stays with her stepfather’s church friends, the girls will have time to reconcile.

But Bina has other plans. She instead decides to go to New York City in this exploration of unfulfilled potential, female friendship, and second chances . . .

You can read my full review of A Room Away From the Wolves (2018) by Nova Ren Suma here: http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/bookreview/a-room-away-from-the-wolves

Possible Pairings: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, You Are the Everything by Karen Rivers, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

The Dinner List: A Review

cover art for The Dinner List by Rebecca SerleWho are the five people (living or dead) with whom you’d like to have dinner?

Sabrina knows her answer: her best friend Jessica, her estranged father Robert, her philosophy professor from college, Audrey Hepburn, and Tobias the love who broke her heart when he left.

What Sabrina doesn’t expect when she arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner is that her dinner list is actually happening. And Audrey is already annoyed that they’ve been waiting an hour.

Over the course of this unlikely dinner Sabrina will confront old regrets, lost opportunities, and perhaps most importantly second chances in The Dinner List (2018) by Rebecca Serle.

Serle makes her adult debut in this whimsical and poignant novel. Chapters alternate between Sabrina’s birthday dinner and flashback chapters that detail her decade-long romance with Tobias from their first meeting in college to the moment that ended it all.

The Dinner List combines a fun premise with solid writing. Thoughtful contemplation both at the dinner and in the flashbacks force Sabrina (and readers) to consider what it means to let go of old regrets and choose a new path moving forward.

Because of the structure, the writing can sometimes feel stiff as if readers are at a remove from the characters but as at any good dinner party the guests warm up over time. Serle’s writing is deliberate and restrained as she walks readers to a somewhat surprising reveal and a bittersweet conclusion.

The Dinner List is the perfect choice for readers who like their fiction with just a big of magic.

Love and Other Train Wrecks: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah KonenAmmy doesn’t believe in true love. But she’s still riding a train from Virginia to upstate New York to attend her dad’s second wedding. She isn’t sure if her mom will ever forgive her. But she also knows it’s too late to turn back.

Noah is a total romantic. So much so that he’s taking a train back home to try and win back his first love—the girl he broke up with before he left for college.

Ammy and Noah are both desperate to get to their destination–even if it means they’re stuck traveling together after their train breaks down in a snow storm.

When a quick detour turns into an all-day trip it seems like Ammy and Noah might be falling for each other. But at the end of the journey an unexpected surprise changes everything and leaves both Ammy and Noah wondering if love and their train wreck relationship can be salvaged in Love and Other Train Wrecks (2018) by Leah Konen.

Love and Other Train Wrecks is a standalone novel. This contemporary romance plays out over the course of twenty-four hours during their madcap journey to upstate New York.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of books where a main character is forced to choose between their parents because of divorce. Ammy, unfortunately, has no good choices and spends a lot of the novel wondering if going to her father’s wedding is worth the effort when she isn’t sure if her father even wants her there or it her mom will ever forgive her. But Konen’s characterization and plotting more than makes up for starting the novel with this premise. Ammy and Noah are fun and sympathetic whether you’re a romantic or not.

Love and Other Train Wrecks is a fast-paced contemporary novel filled with humor and romance. Readers will immediately be swept up in Ammy and Noah’s journey–bumps and all.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Once and For All by Sarah Desseh, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Everywhere You Want to Be: A Review

cover art Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina JuneMatilda “Tilly” Castillo is used to doing what’s expected of her. But after almost losing her chance to be a professional dancer forever after an injury, Tilly knows she has to take her chance now or lose her dreams forever.

She has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to join a dance troupe in New York City for the summer which could be her best chance to make things happen. Her mother also thinks it will be Tilly’s last hurrah as a dancer before she starts at Georgetown in the fall. But her mother doesn’t need to know that Tilly deferred her admission for a year. At least not until finishes the summer and proves she can make a living as a dancer.

Armed with her vintage red sunglasses and a promise to visit her abuela often in New Jersey, Tilly is ready to take New York by storm. What she doesn’t count on is the fierce rivalry she’ll encounter with another dancer or Paolo–a handsome drummer from her past–surprisingly spending the summer in New York himself.

Over the course of a summer filled with new experiences, loves, and adventure Tilly will have to decide if she wants to follow the path her mother has laid out for her or venture in a new direction to follow her dreams in Everywhere You Want to Be (2018) by Christina June.

Everywhere You Want to Be is June’s sophomore novel and a contemporary riff on Little Red Riding Hood. It is a companion to her debut It Started With Goodbye (a contemporary retelling of Cinderella).

Tilly’s first person narration is thoughtful and quirky as she takes in all of the sights and sounds that New York has to offer. She is a pragmatic heroine who is willing to dream big and work hard to get to where she wants as a professional dancer. Her new friendships and budding romance offer the perfect counterpoint to her escalating rivalry with another dancer.

Everywhere You Want to Be is a perfect summer read. An ode to the big city, big dreams, and growing up.

Possible Pairings: American Panda by Gloria Chao, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano

Bruja Born: A Review

*Bruja Born is the second book in Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Labyrinth Lost.*

cover art for Bruja Born by Zoraida CórdovaLula Mortiz has always been the healer, the beautiful one. That was before her younger sister Alex accidentally trapped Lula and all of her family in the underworld of Los Lagos, before maloscuros attacked Lula leaving her with scars across her cheek.

Sisterly bonds and everything Lula thought she knew about magic are tested as she struggles to move on the way the rest of her family has. When Lula is involved in a fatal bus crash she’s determined bring back her boyfriend, Maks, who has been the one stable thing in her life. But every bruja knows it’s impossible to beat Death–even with powerful magic on your side in Bruja Born (2018) by Zoraida Córdova.

Bruja Born is the second book in Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Labyrinth Lost.

This fantasy sequel picks up shortly after the events of Labyrinth Lost where readers meet the Mortiz family as Alex first tries to magic away her powers and then has to rescue her family from Los Lagos with her best friend (and now girlfriend) Rishi. This time around the story is narrated by Lula as she tries to cope with the aftermath of Los Lagos including the attack that has left her face scarred and the sudden return of her long-missing father.

Córdova blows the world of the Brooklyn Brujas series wide open as readers learn more about the Mortiz family and the Deos. Brooklyn Bruja also introduces the Knights of Lavant and the leaders of the Thorne Hill Alliance who manage all magical beings within the city. (The Thorne Hill Alliance made their first appearance in the author’s debut series The Vicious Deep.)

Excessive zombies and hunts for answers bring Lula and her sisters across Brooklyn in this plot-driven novel. Lula’s introspective narration shifts neatly to high action as the zombie outbreak heats up and Lula works to restore the balance between life and death.

A cliffhanger of an epilogue and questions surrounding youngest sister Rose and the family’s sometimes ally Nova will leave fans eager for the next volume. Bruja Born is a fast-paced story sure to appeal to fans of the first novel in particular and urban fantasy in general.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

*A more condensed version of this review was published in the May 2018 issue of School Library Journal as a Starred Review*

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street: A Review

The Vanderbeekers have a problem. The family have lived in their Harlem brownstone for six years–so long that the younger Vanderbeekers don’t remember any other home. When their reclusive landlord, Mr. Biederman, announces that he won’t be renewing the family’s lease none of the Vanderbeekers are sure what to think. Even Mama and Papa are at their wit’s end trying to prepare the five Vanderbeeker children and themselves for the move with only eleven days before their lease expires.

Determined to stay in the home they know and love, the Vanderbeeker children take matters into their own hands to try and convince Mr. Biederman to let them stay. But despite the careful planning and heartfelt efforts, it seems like every attempt manages to go horribly wrong. As the days on their lease tick by, the kids begin to wonder if wanting something to happen can be enough to make it so in The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (2017) by Karina Yan Glaser.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is Glaser’s first novel and the start of a series following the Vanderbeekers and their adventures in Harlem. This story follows the entire Vanderbeeker family with a third person perspective that shifts between the five Vanderbeeker children: studious and scientific-minded Jessie (12), violin playing Isa (12 and Jessie’s twin), avid reader Oliver (9), crafty Hyacinth (6), and the youngest Laney (4 and three quarters). While that is a lot of characters to juggle, Glaser gives each kid their due with a distinct personality and a satisfying story arc.

The story never mentions anyone’s race explicitly but it’s worth noting that the Vanderbeeker family is biracial with Mama having dark eyes and straight hair while Papa has big, curly hair and light eyes. Glaser does a good job of painting a fairly inclusive neighborhood but I wish some of the ethnic identities were a little more overt on the page.

As a New Yorker myself my biggest outcry with this book was the concept of anyone having their lease revoked with only eleven days to move. I suppose it’s possible and it certainly lends urgency to the plot, but it also felt wildly improbable. The denouement of the novel also felt a bit too neat without adequate explanations for Mr. Biederman’s behavior (or his sudden change of heart) but both qualms are forgiveable in their efforts to move along a charming story.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is a funny slice-of-life story with a lot of heart. Readers will feel like part of the Vanderbeeker family as they get to know the kids, their building, and their neighborhood. The delightful start to what will hopefully become a long running series.

Possible Pairings: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall, The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue, Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker and Marla Frazee, Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead