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*

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 Bhatena.

Bhatena’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. Bhatena 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. Bhatena 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 Bhatena’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*

Black Wings Beating: A Review

cover art for Black Wings Beating by Alex LondonNothing in Uztar is more sacred than birds of prey. No one is more respected than the falconers who capture and train them.

Brysen wants nothing so much as he wants to be a great falconer. He dreams of proving to his abusive father, and himself, that he can contribute to the family legacy as falconers.

Kylee, Brysen’s twin sister, wants nothing to do with the family trade or the ancient gifts that should make her one of the most gifted falconers ever. She dreams of leaving their home in the Six Villages forever even as war threatens to make that impossible.

When the boy Brysen loves makes a terrible mistake, Brysen is determined to save him–and maybe find the glory that keeps eluding him–by trapping a Ghost Eagle. Understanding the dangers better than her brother, Kylee follows him hoping to help and perhaps make up for her own past. Whoever controls the Ghost Eagle can control the fate of Uztari. But first Brysen and Kylee will have to decide if they control their own fates in Black Wings Beating (2018) by Alex London.

Black Wings Beating is the first book in London’s Skybound trilogy. The book alternates close third person chapters between Brysen and Kylee.

London presents a fully-realized world complete with its own mythology and a little understood magic system tied to the art of falconry. Brysen and Kylee are complex, often flawed characters. They act rashly, they make mistakes, but they always look out for each other (even when they’d prefer not to!).

Black Wings Beating is high fantasy at its best. Recommended for readers with an interest in killer birds, killer writing, and killer twists.

Possible Pairings: Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor, Updraft by Fran Wilde

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

The Boneless Mercies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They called us the Mercies, or sometimes the Boneless Mercies. They said we were shadows, ghosts, and if you touched our skin, we dissolved into smoke.”

“Only fools want to be great only fools seek glory.”

cover art for The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve TucholkeEveryone knows about the Mercies and their dark but necessary work. Frey and her band of girls travel the land. They are hired to complete mercy killings. Their work is meant to be quick and quiet. No one speaks of them with respect. No one sings of their glories.

Frey has bigger dreams for herself.

Fate comes in the form of rumors of a fierce monster in a nearby town. Killing a beast like that would guarantee fortune and, more importantly, fame. Victory will be hard won but if the girls succeed, it could change everything in The Boneless Mercies (2018) by April Genevieve Tucholke.

The Boneless Mercies is Tucholke’s gender-swapped, standalone, retelling of the epic poem Beowulf.

Tucholke’s writing is evocative with a lilting cadence that immediately brings to mind the oral tradition used to impart our oldest stories and myths. The story centers Frey and her insatiable ambition among a cast of well-realized and multi-faceted characters.

The Boneless Mercies is an evocative and feminist fantasy for fans of mythology, stories filled with ichor, and girls seeking glory.

Possible Pairings: Zenith by Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg, The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton, The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Seafire by Natalie C. Parker, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, And I Darken by Kiersten White

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

The Way You Make Me Feel: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene GooClara Shin is good at two things: getting into trouble and making people laugh. With her two friends, Patrick and Felix, Clara has coasted through her first two years of high school leaving a trail of chaos and epic pranks. Along the way she has also managed to infuriate her nemesis Rose Carter quite a few times. But that’s just a bonus. It’s not like Clara’s an actual bully or anything.

When her latest joke goes too far ending in a fight and a fire, even Clara’s usually laid-back father Adrian knows that things have gone too far. Clara’s plans for a laid-back summer and a vacation with her Instagram-famous influencer mom are cancelled. Instead Clara gets to look forward to working on her dad’s food truck, the KoBra, to pay back the school for fire damage. Worse, she’ll be working with Rose.

Clara isn’t sure how to deal with having actual responsibilities let alone working with uptight, perfectionist Rose whose ambitions and extracurriculars make the Obama daughters look like slackers. But there is Hamlet Wong–the boy who is as earnest and open as a Labrador, really cute, and totally not Clara’s type even if he does think she’s hilarious.

As Clara starts to learn more about the food truck, Rose, and her own family she starts to care about what happens with the KoBra and, more importantly, what other people think of her. After years of treating life as one big joke, Clara might be ready to let herself be more than a punchline in The Way You Make Me Feel (2018) by Maurene Goo.

The Way You Make Me Feel is a delightfully funny contemporary filled with food, family, and evocatively described Los Angeles locations.

Clara’s parents are Korean by way of Brazil–a cultural identity that comes through in their personalities as much as in the food that Adrian prepares on the KoBra–they’re also young and not married, things that don’t come through a lot in contemporary YA. While I’m never a fan of stories where the main character pines after an absentee parent the way Clara does with her mother. However Goo handles the inevitable dose of reality well and in a way that makes sense for her character.

Clara’s first person narration is acerbic, sarcastic, and often laugh out loud funny. She is used to not being well-liked and she doesn’t care as long as it doesn’t impact the persona she has created for herself. One of the only people to call Clara on her attitude and her bad behavior is Rose, an overachiever trying to balance dance classes, school, and her punishment on the food truck. Rose is also struggling with anxiety–the one chink in the otherwise perfect image she presents to the world.

While there’s some romance with Clara and the always adorable Hamlet, the main event in this novel is friendship as Clara and Rose start to understand and, much to their own dismay, appreciate each other the more they’re thrown together.

The Way You Make Me Feel is a funny, smart, and utterly entertaining story that reminds you it’s never too late to make a few changes. A novel that’s guaranteed to make you laugh and leave you smiling. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, It Started With Goodbye by Christina June, The Secret Ingredient by Stewart Lewis, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, Your Destination is On the Left by Lauren Spieller, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Unclaimed Baggage: A (Blog Tour) Review

“Sometimes you had to give something up to get what you really wanted in the first place.”

cover art for Unclaimed Baggage by Jen DollNell, Grant, and Doris have nothing in common.

Nell is a Chicago transplant unsure what to do with herself in small town Alabama–especially when her amazing boyfriend is still back home.

Grant used to be the the star quarterback. His family and coach are keen to help him keep that persona by covering up his recent DUI. But he’s starting to think he might just be a has been.

Then there’s Doris. She knows she’s an outsider. How can she be anything else as an outspoken liberal feminist in her conservative small town? She doesn’t mind because at least she has free reign of Unclaimed Baggage where she works sorting through and selling lost luggage.

As the three become reluctant coworkers for the summer Nell, Grant, and Doris will have to work together if they want to manage all of their own excess baggage in Unclaimed Baggage (2018) by Jen Doll.

Unclaimed Baggage is Doll’s debut novel. The story alternates between Nell, Grant, and Doris’ first person narrations with smaller vignettes throughout detailing the many journeys that brought key pieces of lost luggage to the store.

Over the course of one summer these three unlikely characters become friends as their lives entwine in unlikely ways. Doris is still grieving her aunt’s sudden death last year, Nell is shaken up by the culture shock of her move, and Grant is trying (and often failing) to come to terms with his drinking problem.

Each character has a distinct narrative voice while the surprisingly compelling luggage vignettes have a more omniscient tone. Doll brings small town Alabama to life with its charms (notably seen at a balloon festival) and its small-mindedness as Doris struggles with the stigma she hasn’t been able to shake since a boy in her church group groped her and she refused to stay quiet (or return to church) and, later in the novel, another character is targeted in a racially motivated attack.

Unlikely friends, hints of romance, and a mystery surrounding an empty suitcase flesh out this character driven plot. Unclaimed Baggage is a charming slice-of-life novel about one formative summer and the small moments that can lead to big changes. Recommended.

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Jen about Unclaimed Baggage too!

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen, The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason, Moxie by Jen Mathieu, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

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

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say: A Review

“It takes such a brief time to destroy someone’s life and forget that you ever did it. But rebuilding a life—that’s different. That takes forever.”

cover art for If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila SalesWhat happens when the worst thing you ever said is the only thing people know about you?

Winter Halperin has always been good with words—something that served her well as a National Spelling Bee champion a few years ago.

Now, after thoughtlessly sharing one insensitive comment online, words (and the entirety of the internet) have turned against Winter.She is stripped of her Spelling Bee title, condemned by strangers, and loses her college acceptance.

Winter always thought she was a good person. She still does. But mounting evidence online suggests otherwise. So does the mounting panic Winter feels every time she looks herself up online. Because how can she stop looking when some new horror could be added at any moment?

As she grapples with the aftermath of The Incident Winter is forced to confront hard truths about her own bigotry and its role in what happened as well as the nature of public shaming in the internet age in If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say (2018) by Leila Sales.

Sales’ latest standalone novel is a timely, sometimes brutal contemporary novel. Winter is a white girl from a fairly well off family. Her comment–meant, she claims, as a fact-based joke on historical Bee winners–suggests that the latest winner of the National Spelling Bee (a twelve-year-old African American girl) can’t spell and is a surprising winner.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say starts with Winter posting that comment before bed and waking up to a nightmare of notifications, hateful messages, and other bad publicity as awareness of her comment grows and grows.

Although the novel is written in the first person Sales is careful to neither condone nor condemn Winter’s actions throughout. It’s up to readers to decide what punishment (or forgiveness) Winter may or may not deserve. When Winter develops crippling anxiety and panic attacks surrounding her online presence and what people are saying about her she enters a program to try and make amends for her actions and also to cope with the very public and very painful online shaming.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say is very plot driven without being high action. The focus of the story is squarely on what Winter did and the aftermath. The contrast between Winter confronting her own internalized bigotry/racism while also being subjected to such intense online shaming is incredibly powerful and thought provoking.

Winter is not always a likable character. It’s easy to feel bad for her as she faces death threats, of course. But it’s also hard to understand her thoughtlessness or how she is more focused on how many likes her joke might receive than on how hurtful it could be. In other words, Winter is a lot like many people who are active on social media.

Winter’s character arc balances dealing with the fallout both internally as she confronts her own biases/bigotry that she hasn’t grappled with before with the very public shaming. Does Winter learn anything from The Incident? Maybe, probably. Is it enough? Readers will have to judge that on their own.

If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say is a timely novel that will start a lot of hard but necessary conversations.

Possible Pairings: Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World by Ana Homayoun, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson, American Street by Ibi Zoboi