Somewhere Only We Know: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lucky is the biggest K-pop star around and an unprecedented solo act. After wrapping up her solo tour in Hong Kong, Lucky is preparing to make her North American debut on The Tonight Show. After years of hard work, it finally feels like everything is coming together. And that would be everything Lucky could hope for if she wasn’t dying for a cheeseburger and also wondering when her music career stopped feeling like a dream come true and started feeling a lot like a trap.

Jack wants nothing more than to be a photographer–something he’s pretty sure his parents won’t understand when they could barely get on board with his plan to take a gap year between high school and college. To supplement his paltry income and prove he can make it as a photographer Jack freelances as a paparazzo capturing celebrities in compromising positions. It’s not savory work. But it is lucrative. Especially when Jack runs into a girl outside a hotel wearing slippers and hell-bent on finding a cheeseburger.

Lucky and Jack both have secrets and dreams they’re afraid to share. After one unforgettable day together in Hong Kong they’ll both have to decide if chasing what they really want is worth being honest with themselves–and each other in Somewhere Only We Know (2019) by Maurene Goo.

Goo’s latest standalone contemporary is a loose retelling of Roman Holiday with chapters that alternate between Lucky and Jack’s first person narration.

Lucky and Jack both start this story disillusioned, frustrated, and extremely jaded as they are forced to confront all of the limitations that have left them stagnant. Pushed out of their comfort zones for one day away from their typical lives, both teens start to wonder if things can be different while the secrets between them continue to mount.

Somewhere Only We Know is a very character-driven story with most of the focus on Lucky and Jack’s development throughout the novel than on their adventures. Both protagonists have to confront hard questions about identity and achievement as they consider how much they are willing to put on the line to get what they really want–not to mention figuring out if they have been their own biggest obstacles all along.

Somewhere Only We Know is an evocative, fast-paced romance perfect for fans of stories with humor, mayhem, and heart–not to mention vivid descriptions of Hong Kong’s sights, sounds, and foods.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Permanent Record by Mary H. K. Choi; Just One Day by Gayle Forman; 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz; Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins; There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon; This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith; Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash; Frankly in Love by David Yoon; The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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

Starfish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanAll of Kiko Himura’s hopes are pinned on getting accepted to Prism–her dream art school. At Prism Kiko knows that it won’t matter that she’s half-Japanese and knows barely anything about her own culture. She won’t need to regret her failed relationships with her brothers. She’ll be able to get away from her mother who is alternately suffocating and neglectful. Best of all, Kiko knows that at Prism she’ll finally be understood the way she always used to be by her childhood best friend, Jamie.

After Prism rejects her, Kiko is forced to consider other options–especially when her abusive uncle moves into the house and makes life even more unbearable. When Kiko and Jamie meet up at a party, Kiko jumps at the improbable chance to tour art schools with him on the west coast. Along the way Kiko will learn how to be brave and and let herself be heard while understand that sometimes second choices can lead to second chances in Starfish (2017) by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Starfish is Bowman’s debut novel and a finalist for YALSA’s 2018 Morris Award.

This is a quiet and deliberate novel. Kiko knows better than most that words have weight thanks to what happened when she spoke out about her uncle’s abuse and also from the methodical way Kiko’s mother uses them to break her down. Kiko’s visions of vivid sketches and lavish paintings are interspersed throughout Starfish helping Kiko give voice to her emotions when she doesn’t feel strong enough to share them herself.

While Kiko’s strained relationship with her mother and her uncle’s abuse are key factors in Starfish, the main story here is Kiko’s growth and resilience as she begins to realize she has more options than she ever imagined.

Starfish is both heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful as Kiko comes into her own and discovers her own strength. Evocative settings and an obvious love for art are imbued in this story along with a subtle romance. Kiko is an empowering heroine readers will immediately want to cheer on. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, Your Destination is On the Left by Lauren Spieller, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Summer in the Invisible City: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“In some ways, it doesn’t matter what happened next, or in the year and a half since then. That night was perfect and I’ll always have it. I’ll hold on to the memory tight as I want, because it’s mine.”

Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana RomanoSadie Bell knows exactly what she wants to happen during the summer before her senior year of high school. She is going to befriend the popular girls at her school after bonding during their summer photography class. She is going to see her father for the first time in years and it will be better this time because they’ll have art in common and she can finally impress him with her photos. She is definitely going to get over Noah after pining over him and stewing over all of the mistakes she made with him eighteen months ago.

Almost as soon as it starts, Sadie’s summer isn’t what she expects. Her photography class is great. But making new friends comes with new challenges. Her father remains as distant as ever. Noah seems to be popping up everywhere both in Sadie’s memories and in real life. Then there’s Sam–the boy Sadie never expected to meet–who only wants to be friends even as Sadie thinks she might want more.

Life seems simple when it’s seen through a photograph and the details are clear. Real life, it turns out, is much less focused. To understand all of the things she’s had along, Sadie may have to give her entire life a second look in Summer in the Invisible City (2016) by Juliana Romano.

This standalone contemporary novel is set over the course of one summer in New York City (mostly Manhattan). Readers familiar with the city will recognize familiar settings and smart nods to the city (high school friends from Xavier, movies in Union Square with candy smuggled in from Duane Reade) while realizing that Sadie lives in a privileged (largely white) version of New York.

Narrated by Sadie both in the present and in flashbacks of time spent with Noah or her father, Summer in the Invisible City asks a lot of questions about relationships and how much someone should have to give up to maintain them. Sadie is desperate for approval from the people she thinks matter whether it’s popular girls, older guys, or her father. Sadie is so eager to show that she belongs with them that she spends most of the novel alienating the friends and family who have always been supporting her including her single mother and her best friend, Willa. Readers will soon realize that Sadie is sometimes self-destructive but her growth and development during the novel is all the sweeter because of that.

This nuanced story is further complicated by the poorly executed plot surrounding Sadie’s efforts to connect with her father. By the end of the story Sadie’s fraught relationship with her father is explained and reaches an unsatisfying but realistic resolution. What doesn’t make sense at any point in the story, is how things get to that point. Sadie has a loving and supportive mother. She is already eight or nine when she first meets her father and has seen him scant times since. Where does the idolatry come from? Sadie’s mother, unlike a lot of fictional parents, doesn’t sugarcoat his shortcomings anymore than she encourages a false sense of closeness and connection. That all comes from Sadie for reasons that are never clearly articulated in the text. (On a separate note, given the father’s absence for most of Sadie’s life, it’s also unclear why or how he and Sadie share a last name.)

Summer in the Invisible City is partly a summery romance and partly a story about a young artist finding her eye and voice with what she chooses to capture and present in her artwork. Reading about Sadie’s process and vision as she searches out new photography material is inspiring and compelling enough to erase questions debating whether or not print photography is on the verge of obsolescence. Recommended for readers who are fans of novels set in New York City, artists or aspiring artists, and fans of contemporary romances with a healthy dose of introspection.

Possible Pairings: Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff, City Love by Susane Colasanti,  How to Love by Katie Cotugno, My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu, Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature: A (Non-Fiction) Picture Book Review

Ansty Ansel: A Life in Nature by Cindy Jenson-Elliot and Christy HaleWhen he was a child, Ansel Adams could not sit still. He fidgeted. He wanted to run. He did not like being indoors.

By contrast, Ansel loved the great outdoors–especially the parks surrounding his California home. When his father recognizes that his son will not thrive in a traditional school, he helps Ansel educate himself with access to books and also studying nature.

This choice will change the path of young Ansel’s life in Antsy Ansel: Ansel Adams, A Life in Nature (2016) by Cindy Jenson-Elliot, illustrated by Christy Hale.

This non-fiction picture book introduces young readers to an iconic American photographer and his work documenting the country’s National Parks. Jenson-Elliot’s text is long enough to be informative but brief enough to remain approachable for younger readers.

The biographical book also includes some little known facts about Adams such as his accomplishments as a pianist (and his subsequent choice between pursuing a career as a professional pianist or as a photography). The back matter in the book has additional details, resources, and some reprints of Adams’ actual photos.

Large page spreads work to bring natural wonders to life in this vibrantly colored picture book. Hale makes “antsy Ansel” immediately fascinating along with the stunning pieces of nature that captivate Adams for much of his life and career. Detailed illustrations also reproduce some of the photographer’s iconic photos throughout the book.

Antsy Ansel is a beautifully illustrated introduction to one of the foremost photographers in the United States. A great choice for anyone looking to introduce young readers to biographic texts and a timely read for the centennial of the National Parks System.

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

Two Summers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanAn unexpected phone call at the airport forces Summer Everett to make a split second decision. Should she answer the phone? Should she get on the plane?

One decision will lead to two very different outcomes as Summer’s choices play out in parallel worlds.

In one world Summer ignores the phone call and heads to France as planned for what should be a perfect trip. Summer is thrilled with the chance to catch up with her dad and get to see his portrait of her hanging in a fancy gallery–all while enjoying the beautiful French countryside.

In the other world Summer answers the phone and her plans are ruined. No trip to France. No time with Dad. Just three boring months off from school in her same old small town. She has the chance to take a photography class for the first time, but it’s hard to think of that as anything but a consolation prize.

Neither outcome is quite what Summer expects.

In France or her home town Summer will find unexpected surprises and growing pains, along with the promise of first love and self-discovery. Each vacation will also bring Summer closer to a shocking secret whose revelation will have lasting repercussions regardless of Summer’s initial choice. Some decisions might lead Summer to the same outcomes in both worlds, but it’s up to her to decide what shape her life will take from here in Two Summers (2016) by Aimee Friedman.

Two Summers gives readers the best of both worlds in this two-for-one story of one (or perhaps two) pivotal summers. 

Summer is a smart, authentic narrator who learns a lot in each plot whether its how to stand up for herself in France or how to appreciate her own artistic abilities in a photography class at home. Throughout the novel Summer also learns how to be alone and how to step out of her comfort zone. Sweet romances and well-developed characters round out this charming novel that brings the lazy heat and possibility of a long summer vacation to life.

Careful plotting allows readers to watch both timelines play out in “real” time with little nods to the dual narrative which help to bring a cohesive quality to the overall story. The idea of causality and that some outcomes are inevitable is another interesting thread throughout as Two Summers builds toward a satisfying conclusion for both plots. A great summery story and a delightful introduction to time travel and parallel worlds. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings:  In Some Other Life by Jessica Brody, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols, Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Be sure to enter my Two Summers giveaway too!

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Aimee!

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

In the Shadow of Blackbirds: A Review

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat WintersIt is 1918 and it feels like the entire world is falling apart. Boys are dying overseas fighting in World War I while the Spanish Influenza is cuts a swath across America leaving countless dead, and still more ruined, in its wake.

When sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is forced from her home in Portland, Oregon, she travels south to live with her aunt in San Diego. The flu is just as bad in California, if not worse. A quarantine is in effect. Face masks are mandatory at all times in public.

In the midst of this chaos and fear, Mary Shelley watches with dismay and skepticism as mourners seek comfort in seances and spirit photographs.

When a dear friend appears in a photograph of her and begins to ask her for help, Mary Shelley will have to put aside her doubts to solve a mystery that will bring her to the brink in In the Shadow of Blackbirds (2013) by Cat Winters.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is Winters’ first novel. It was also a finalist for the Morris Award in 2014.

Winters delivers a well-researched and atmospheric story of desperation and loss in this historical mystery with supernatural elements. Period photographs and carefully chosen true-to-life details bring this story and the horrors Americans faced in 1918 to life.

While ghosts feature heavily in the story, In the Shadow of Blackbirds remains firmly grounded in reality as Mary Shelley works to out a spirit photographer as a fraud while trying to unravel the final days of her dear friend after his death.

Mary Shelley is an exceptional heroine with a strong interest in science and technology as well as a complete lack of fear when it comes to saying (or doing) what is right. Although this story includes romantic elements in its back story and denouement, Mary Shelley remains the capable center of this novel as she works largely on her own to unearth the truth.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is an impressive historical novel. It is also a sensational mystery with enough twists to keep even the most seasoned mystery reader guessing. Recommended for fans of both genres.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes a girl needs to lose.”

Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle ZevinIn a different life, in a different story, she might have been named Nataliya or Natasha. She might have lived in Russia her whole life and never even thought of Brooklyn or yearbooks or cameras.

But in this life, in this story, her name is Naomi. She was adopted by a couple in Brooklyn and–although she won’t remember it for a while–she does think about yearbooks and cameras.

It starts with a coin toss. If Naomi had picked tails she never would have gone back for the camera. She wouldn’t have tripped on the stairs and hit her head. There would have been no ambulance and no amnesia. Naomi would remember her boyfriend and whatever it was they had in common. She’d remember the lives her parents have been living. She would remember her best friend Will and why he calls her Chief and keeps making her mix tapes.

But Naomi picked heads in Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (2007) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Broken into parts titled “I Was,” “I Am,” and “I Will,” Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a nuanced, thoughtful story. With Naomi’s amnesia at the center of the plot, this book asks interesting questions on the ties that hold a family together and what happens when the context that makes two people friends (or more) is suddenly taken away.

Elements of music, photography, and book design theory all add an artistic feel to this story that will hold special appeal for creative readers. Zevin’s writing is as sharp and insightful as ever while Naomi finds herself all over again during the course of the novel. With a keen focus on Naomi’s relationships as well as her romances, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac is a delightful ode to friendships as well as an unexpected love story.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Can’t Look Away by Donna Cooner, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon