29 Dates: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for 29 Dates by Melissa de la CruzJi-Su is an average student in her prestigious school in Seoul filled with overachievers. Hoping to help her stand out in college applications both in South Korea and abroad, Ji-Su’s parents decide to send her overseas to San Francisco.

There isn’t even enough time to say goodbye to her two best friends before Ji-Su is on a plane to California. Being so far from home doesn’t that mean Ji-Su is completely free to focus on her photography and having fun though. Instead Ji-Su is expected to focus on her schoolwork (which she would do anyway) and continue going on the seons (blind dates) that her parents have set up for her through a matchmaker.

Usually adults go on seons when they’re ready to settle down. But as far as Ji-Su’s mother is concerned it’s never to early to find your perfect match. Ji-Su doesn’t put much stock in the seons but it seems like an easy way to keep her parents happy and maybe even make some friends.

Just when Ji-Su starts to think she is getting the hang of being at a new school in a new city (and maybe even seons) she realizes that all of that is easy compared to falling in love for the first time in 29 Dates (2018) by Melissa de la Cruz.

De la Cruz’s latest contemporary has a unique perspective in Ji-Su’s first person narration. Each of Ji-Su’s twenty-nine seons are detailed between chapters. These are fun exchanges though their structure as dialogue only is jarring compared to the traditional prose in the rest of the novel.

The blend of romance and humor is tempered well with Ji-Su’s focus on school as she works on college applications and has to decide what to do as she ends up waitlisted at some of her schools.

29 Dates is a super cute romantic comedy perfect for fans of the genre. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, American Royals by Katharine McGee, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Say You’ll Remember Me: A Review

cover art for Say You'll Remember Me by Katie McGarryDrix is finally out of juvenile detention after serving out a year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Now as part of his plea deal Drix is serving as the face of the governor’s new Second Chance Program meant to help delinquent teens get off the streets and break the school-to-prison pipeline once and for all. Drix hates being at the beck and call of the governor and his entire team but he also knows this is his last chance to get his life back on track–even if it means he might have to give up his beloved drums for fear of letting them lead him down the wrong path again.

Elle knows life as the governor’s daughter is filled with privilege. But she also knows that it’s filled with pressure to be perfect all the time and display a certain face to the public–even if it might not be the face that feels like it’s really her. All Elle really wants to do is pursue coding and win a prestigious internship–something her parents seem to think is impossible while Elle continues to help her father’s campaign.

Drix and Elle have nothing in common but their connection is immediate. Which makes it that much harder when Drix realizes that Elle is the last girl he should be thinking about, forget talking to. Together Drix and Elle might be able to find the truth behind Drix’s conviction and give Elle a chance to gain some independence but only if they’re willing to stick together in Say You’ll Remember Me (2017) by Katie McGarry.

McGarry’s latest is a fun standalone romance written in alternating first person chapters between Drix and Elle. McGarry’s writing is fast-paced and filled with snappy dialog, particularly between Drix and Elle whose chemistry is immediate both to themselves and to readers.

Although both characters are seventeen at the start of the novel they often start to sound like adults (particularly Drix as he delivers smooth remarks including the observation that Elle has lips that are “made for sin”) which sometimes makes the prose a bit clunky.

The problem of Drix and Elle’s extremely star-crossed relationship takes a backseat for much of the story to the more immediate issue of figuring out who committed the robbery for which Drix was arrested. Elle’s strained and often painful relationship with her parents also adds dimension to her character.

Say You’ll Remember Me is an exciting romance that explores teen incarceration, non-traditional families, and life in poverty with nuance and authenticity. Recommended for readers looking for a realistic bit of escapism guaranteed to end well (as all romances should and do).

 

Possible Pairings: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Now and Forever by Susane Colasanti, Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Dear Yvette by Ni-Ni Simone, The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

All Rights Reserved: A Review

Speth Jime is about to turn fifteen. She is equipped with the requisite band and implants so the moment her birthday arrives she will be charged for every movement or word that falls under copyright. Every nod or scream will cost her 0.99/sec. Saying “sorry” is ten dollars and a legal admission of guilt.

Even with the most minimal words and gestures, Speth is never getting out of debt. Not with her family being sued for an illegal music download dating back five generations. All Speth can really hope for is to avoid being taken away by Debt Services the way her parents were to pollinate crops with a brush and eyedropper in Carolina until their debts are paid.

One thing that might help is Speth’s Last Day speech which she can use to win over sponsors who might offer product discounts or other lucrative perks that could lead to employment. Speth is ready to make that speech when she watches her friend Beecher jump off a bridge rather than work to pay off his family’s crippling debt.

She can’t imagine ignoring Beecher’s suicide to make a speech. But she also can’t imagine how to break her contract without also putting her family into even more debt. That is until Speth finds a loophole: she only has to recite her speech if she actually speaks. Instead Speth takes a vow of silence even avoiding copyrighted gestures.

What Speth doesn’t know is that when she stops speaking she’ll help start a revolution in All Rights Reserved (2017) by Gregory Scott Katsoulis.

All Rights Reserved is Katsoulis’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Speth’s first person narration brings her world to terrifying life from the extremely litigious culture and the power of copyright (Speth’s haircut is in the public domain, but only if it stays messy enough to be different from a pixie cut) to the 3D printed housing units that didn’t print quite right in the poorer sections of town.

Because of Speth’s decision to stop speaking, a lot of the book takes place in her head as she keeps herself at a remove from family and strangers trying to understand why she refuses to speak. As Speth’s actions gain momentum she also finds herself at the center of an unlikely rebellion as others begin to support her and even follow her lead. This one decision sets Speth on a course to learn dangerous truths about the rot at the center of her world and maybe even figure out how to stop it.

All Rights Reserved is a fast-paced story with action on every page and incredibly intricate world building. A worthy read-a-like for fans of dystopian classics like Uglies and The Hunger Games.

I love the world building here. It’s very absurd and will appeal to fans of the hunger games and uglies. But it’s also almost entirely focused on debt (much like one segment of where futures end) and it just stressed me the hell out.

Possible Pairings: Landscape With Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Proxy by Alex London, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

If I Fix You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Jill Whitaker knows the exact moment she fell out of love with Sean Addison. It was the same moment she caught him in a compromising position with her mother. It was just before her mother walked out leaving behind nothing but a post-it note by way of explanation.

In the aftermath of that horrible day, Jill is trying to relearn the intricacies of her life. She still works with her father at his garage. (She isn’t about to give up fixing cars when she could turn a wrench before she could tie her shoes.) She runs cross country with her best friend Claire to train for the high school track team. Sean is there too, but Jill isn’t sure how to be around him yet. She isn’t sure if she’ll ever be able to fix everything that has broken between them.

When a new guy moves in next door, Jill finds herself trying to fix him too. But as Jill gets closer to Daniel she realizes that his problems (and his scars) may be bigger than she imagined. There’s also the small matter that despite their obvious chemistry Daniel is twenty-one. Jill used to be able to fix anything but before she can move on, she’s going to have to learn how to fix herself in If I Fix You (2016) by Abigail Johnson.

If I Fix You is Johnson’s excellent debut novel.

Jill is a thoughtful and entertaining heroine. Her first person narration is conversational and breezy filled with evocative descriptions of a hot Arizona summer. Jill’s love for cars and skills as a mechanic are unexpected and add another dimension to this story.

I enjoyed Claire as a best friend and counterpoint for Jill but I do want to say that it was frustrating to see Claire described as overweight before her Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis and her subsequent efforts to get healthy which included becoming more athletic which, it turns out, she really enjoys. The conflation of being overweight with Type 2 Diabetes is a really tired and damaging stereotype. It’s also not at all accurate (going with the little information given by the author Claire should even have her diabetes under control if not reversed with her fitness and food regimen) and was one dark spot in an otherwise excellent story.

Johnson negotiates a complicated love triangle well. Jill’s interactions with both Sean and Daniel are fascinating with chemistry that is tangible. While the romance is a huge part of the story, If I Fix You is really about Jill and her own choices as she tries to decide how to move forward after the painful heartbreak of her mother’s departure.

If I Fix You is a solid and often unexpected contemporary romance. Recommended for readers who enjoy stories about characters pulling themselves back from the brink, books with chipper best friends, and romances that keep you guessing.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Never, Always, Sometimes: A Review

Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi AlsaidThe summer before freshman year, Dave and Julia made a promise: They would never fall into the trap of a cliche high school experience. No hair dyed a color found in the rainbow. No hooking up with a teacher. No crazy parties.

With senior year about to end, Dave realizes he’s broken rule eight: Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. Meanwhile rule number ten–never date your best friend–seems impossible to break.

Dave has loved Julia from afar for years. When she suggests they complete all of the items on the list of Nevers, Dave readily agrees. But as Dave and Julia work their way down the list, they realize they have been a lot by skipping the high school cliches even as they begin to understand that some rules shouldn’t be broken in Never, Always, Sometimes (2015) by Adi Alsaid.

Never, Always, Sometimes is Alsaid’s second novel.

Never, Always, Sometimes is a sweet blend of nostalgia for the quintessential high school experience (something Dave and Julia soon realize they have unfairly scorned for the past four years), fun hijinks and an unexpected romance.

While the premise is brimming with potential, the execution in Never, Always, Sometimes is often disappointing. Dave and Julia are, perhaps intentionally, unbearably pretentious at the start of the novel. While both protagonists do learn over the course of the story, it often comes too little to late in terms of making them sympathetic characters.

The novel is broken into three parts and alternates tight third-person focus between Dave and Julia. Some reviewers have mentioned having issues with Julia’s voice. I’d posit instead that the bigger issue is that Dave and Julia’s “voices” are often indistinguishable despite Alsaid often sharing the character’s inner thoughts throughout the narrative.

Alsaid does excel at creating a realistically diverse cast of characters while also letting them be characters (instead of talking points or part of a diverse checklist for the novel). Julia has two dads, Dave’s mother died when he was a child and his family is hispanic. Their high school class is as varied and diverse as readers would expect from a large California high school.

Never, Always, Sometimes is sure to appeal to readers looking for a new story about characters getting ready to start college. Readers looking for wacky hijinks and shenanigans will appreciate the list aspect of this story as Dave and Julia check items off their Never list with varying results.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

The Iron King: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Iron King by Julie KagawaMeghan Chase’s birthday is tomorrow. Sweet sixteen. It rolls off the tongue promising magic, romance and opportunity. It’s the age when girls become princesses and go to dances. Sixteen is when a girl is supposed to find true love while the stars shine for her and a handsome prince carries her off into the sunset. All the stories say so.

Meghan does find magic on her birthday, but it’s nothing like the stories talked about.

Instead of romance and happily ever after, Meghan finds her four-year-old half-brother replaced by a changling from the Nevernever. With the help of a very familiar fey, Meghan will have to venture into the treacherous world of fairyland to rescue her brother. Her mission will take her to the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. It will challenge everything she thought she knew about magic, fairies, and her own past. If Meghan can survive the Nevernever she might be able to save her brother, but there’s no escaping the truth in The Iron King (2010) by Julie Kagawa.

The Iron King is the first book in Kagawa’s The Iron Fey series.* It joins the ranks of many paranormal romances released for teens, not only by Harlequin Teen.** The blurb from the back of the book is filled with massively huge spoilers. You have been warned.

Kagawa’s premise here is really interesting. She blends elements of urban fantasy, traditional fairy lore, and even steampunk in an original way with a lot of potential for a great story with truly exciting characters. But for all that promise, The Iron King never really pulls itself together into a cohesive book.

The story is interesting and will have a lot of appeal for anyone who loves paranormal romances*** and fairies. But, for some readers, the flaws will outweigh the appeal.

Meghan narrates the story in the first person and her voice is very erratic. It’s also very repetitive with whole phrases being used verbatim again and again in the story. The descriptions seem to have too many adjectives to qualify things instead of just showing them to the reader.

Meghan herself is also very inconsistent. One minute she is completely believing everything she hears about fairies, the next she doubts the efficacy of fairy glamour. She is constantly told to be careful and follow certain rules and she constantly ignores them. She often contradicts her previous opinions throughout the story.****

The plot and Kagawa’s depiction of fairyland is almost enough to let Meghan’s inconsistency slide (the landscape of the Nevernever is one of the strongest aspects of the story). Almost. Until you get to the romance aspect of this story.

The Iron King is really thin on romance (like it doesn’t come up until halfway through the story thin) and, once again, inconsistent. Meghan’s supposed love interest is one dimensional and unconvincing. She keeps talking about how beautiful and sexy he is, but at a certain point you (or me anyway) begin to wonder who Megan is really trying to convince.

That isn’t to say The Iron King won’t have its fans. Indeed, it already does; this might be the only negative review you see out in the blogosphere. Inconsistencies and annoying aspects aside, The Iron King is reminiscent of Twilight and will find a lot of fans in readers looking for somewhere to go now that they’ve finished with Bella and Edward.

*I think this is a trilogy but it also might be a longer  series and the third book is the only one in the works right now (the first two are already out).

**They published The Iron King if that wasn’t clear.

***I’m starting to think I don’t and actually just like the more traditional fantasy/urban fantasy tropes. But that’s me.

****She also does an old fashioned about face as the story progresses. In the beginning of the novel, Meghan bemoans being poor, saying: “I wish we weren’t so poor, I know pig farming isn’t the most glamorous of jobs, but you’d think Mom could afford to buy me at least one pair of nice jeans” (page 11). Later, on page 141, Meghan completely contradicts her earlier frustration saying: “My whole life, I had worn ratty jeans and T-shirts. My family was poor and couldn’t afford designer clothes and name brands. Rather then bemoan the fact that I never got nice things, I flaunted my grunginess and sneered at the shallow rich girls who spent hours in the bathroom perfecting their makeup.” So that sneering would be everywhere except for on page 11 then?

Possible Pairings: Halo by Alexandra Adornetto, War For the Oaks by Emma Bull, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by C. S. Lewis, Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, Wings by Aprilynne Pike, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Exclusive Bonus Content (In which I rant and might have a spoiler or two): As you might have noticed from the above review, I didn’t love this book. Part of it was legitimate problems with the story and the characters. But part of it also that I am so over the paranormal romance genre.

Meghan’s best friend, it turns out, is Puck. He is funny and loyal and risks everything repeatedly to help her rescue her brother. And as soon as the sexy and gorgeous Ash (that would be her designated love interest) comes onto the scene, Meghan throws it in his face.

Oh and Puck pretty clearly loves Meghan. After Meghan makes a really dangerous deal with Ash, Puck is upset. He shouts at Meghan: “You don’t need his help! Don’t you trust me to keep you safe? I would’ve given everything for you. Why didn’t you think I’d be enough?”

And then Meghan proceeds to be extremely confused as to why Puck would be so upset. Really? (I am the queen of missing or misreading signals and I think in her situation even I could figure out why Puck was upset. Of course, I also love Puck so maybe that’s a bias?)

I’m so sick of the girl in books falling for the dark, broody bad boy who wants to kill her (literally Ash says he will kill her if he’s told to by the Unseelie Queen) when the funny, helpful boy is RIGHT THERE willing to risk everything for this girl who offers nothing in return.

To be fair, Kagawa tries to stack the decks by making Puck the irresponsible-prankster-who-takes-things-too-far (and is in a feud to the death with Ash) but he was honestly one of the only shining aspects a book that proved to be deeply frustrating.