Book Reviews

Wildlife: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The only person you should be is yourself. You can’t control perception. All you can control is how you treat someone else.”

Just before her term at her school’s outdoor education campus, Sibylla unexpectedly winds up on a billboard advertisement near her school. She also kisses her super popular and super cute longtime crush Ben Capaldi.

Lou is the unexpected new girl at school when the new term begins. She isn’t at the school to make friends or to fit in. Mostly she just wants to be left alone and get by without having to think about her old friends, her old school, or the fact that her boyfriend Fred is dead.

Sib thought going through a term of outdoor education at her school would be upheaval enough. But adding the billboard, the kiss, and her often rocky and now definitely changing relationship with her best friend Holly makes everything even more complicated. Lou thought a term in the wilderness would give her a chance to hide and grieve. Instead, she slowly finds herself drawn into the dramas of the girls around her like Sib and finds that she doesn’t want to stay quiet as she sees a betrayal unfolding in Wildlife (2014) by Fiona Wood.

Widlife is Wood’s second novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Cloudwish although it does function as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles. (For the most impact I do recommend reading these in order though.)

Wildlife‘s narration alternates between Sib and Lou. Sib relates her story to readers in conversational prose while Lou’s story is written in journal form–a coping mechanism suggested by her therapist as she transitions to a new school and out of therapy.

While Sib spends a lot of the novel trying to make sense of her confusing relationship with Ben and Lou is mourning Fred, the crux of Wildlife is really the growing friendship between these two girls. Sib and Lou are unlikely friends and both are reluctant to take a chance on adding a new person to their lives. But in the wilderness where most of their coursework is about building strength and stepping outside of their comfort zones, both Sib and Lou realize it might be worth the risk to trust someone new.

Wildlife is a thoughtful story about friendship, first love, and all of the complicated moments in between. Recommended for readers of contemporary novels, fans of humorous narratives with a lot of heart, and anyone who loves the great outdoors.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Book Reviews

Six Impossible Things: A Review

1. Kiss Estelle.
2. Get a job.
3. Cheer my mother up.
4. Try not to be a complete nerd/loser.
5. Talk to my father when he calls.
6. Figure out how to be good.

Six Impossible Things by Fiona WoodFourteen-year-old Dan Cereill (pronounced “surreal”) is reeling from moving and changing schools when the family’s fortune, such as it was, is completely gone. On top of that Dan’s father has announced that he is gay leaving Dan to wonder if his father ever wanted to be a father.

Inheriting a house should be a godsend. And in some ways it is because Dan and his mother have nowhere else to go. But the house is old, drafty, and filled with strange museum-quality possessions that cannot be sold for some much-needed cash. His mother sets up a wedding cake business in the kitchen but that seems to repel more clients than it retains.

Dan has enough problems without an impossible crush on the girl next door. But he knows he’s a goner for Estelle from the moment he sees her–especially once he realizes how much they have in common (although he doesn’t want to talk about exactly how he knows that).

Dan narrows all of his problems to six impossible things–with a penchant for making lists and following through, Dan is optimistic about fixing at least some of them in Six Impossible Things (2015) by Fiona Wood.

Find it on Bookshop.

Six Impossible Things is Wood’s first novel. It is a companion set in the same world as  Wildlife and Cloudwish although it does function as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles.

There is something very soothing about Fiona Wood’s writing. Her blend of humor and pathos as Dan struggles with the changes in his life make a winning combination. Dan’s narration is authentic and understandably sardonic as he adjusts and tries to make sense of his new home, new school, and new life.

Dan’s relationship with his mom is refreshingly two-sided as they both try to pull themselves together. Their challenges are realistic while also still feeling manageable in a narrative that is overwhelmingly hopeful.

Dan starts Six Impossible Things with no one. His support system is fractured and his everyday life is unrecognizable. Over the course of a rocky few months in a new house and a new school, readers watch Dan rebuild and regroup only to come out stronger than before. The slowly developing friendships with Estelle and other characters are wonderful additions to this charming story. No one captures whimsy and moments of everyday magic quite like Wood. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi; Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo; Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton; I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo; Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon; I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson; Kissing in America by Margo Rabb; 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario; The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider; The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle; Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes; Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner; Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Book Reviews

Cloudwish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cloudwish by Fiona WoodVân Uoc is used to walking a tightrope between her Vietnamese immigrant parents’ expectations for her to become a financially secure doctor and her own dreams of becoming an artist.

During a creative writing class Vân Uoc could have wished for less schoolwork as she works to maintain her scholarship to her fancy private school. She could have wished for her parents to talk more about the PTSD her mother has struggled with since they emigrated from Vietnam. But she doesn’t. Instead Vân Uoc wishes for Billy Gardiner to find her fascinating and like her more than any other girls.

When Vân Uoc‘s wish impossibly (magically?) comes trues, she doesn’t know what to think. She isn’t used to finding magic in her world and she isn’t sure if she should ignore it or embrace this strange bit of wonder while it lasts.

As Vân Uoc and Billy get to know each other, Vân Uoc realizes there’s more to her longtime crush than she expected. As she confronts the possibility that her wish came true (or even stranger that it didn’t), Vân Uoc realizes that there might be more to her than everyone expects too in Cloudwish (2016) by Fiona Wood.

Cloudwish is Wood’s third novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Wildlife although it functions as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles.

Before discussing anything else about Cloudwish it’s important to note that Fiona Wood is a white Australian author writing about a Vietnamese-Australian heroine. Wood has clearly done her research and had Vietnamese readers look at her novel, but as some reviews (notably Kirkus) have pointed out, some of the cultural elements in this novel do not ring true. I can’t speak to any of that and, for me, it did not detract from the books merits. But it’s worth keeping in mind while reading.

Like many children of immigrant parents, Vân Uoc faces added responsibility at home where she acts as interpreter and caregiver making sure her mother takes the medication she has been prescribed for her PTSD.

Vân Uoc‘s parents have struggled and saved to make sure that Vân Uoc has advantages that were never a possibility for them in Vietnam. They don’t talk about their struggles or their harrowing flight from Vietnam because it’s the past and things are better now. They’ve survived. Compared to their struggles, Vân Uoc‘s own difficulties with mean girls at school and her relatively low social status seem trivial.

When Vân Uoc inexplicably attracts Billy Gardiner’s attention, she doesn’t know what to think. Her school friends worry that Billy is going to hurt her when he inevitably loses interest. She and her best friend Jess wonder if Vân Uoc could possibly be the subject of a long-term joke Billy is planning. But Vân Uoc has no experience with boys and Jess is a self-prescribed “lesbian-in-waiting” so neither of them are sure.

As Billy starts following her around, Vân Uoc wonders if her crush was misplaced. Billy is certainly attractive and funny. But he also has a habit of making mean-spirited jokes and a complete lack of awareness when it comes to his own privilege–something Vân Uoc has no problem pointing out to him.

While contemplating the possibility of her wish being granted and of Billy genuinely liking her, Vân Uoc also begins to reassess her life choices in other areas with an eye toward her literary idol, Jane Eyre. As Vân Uoc embraces Billy’s attentions and her own dreams for a larger life beyond studying and waiting for college.

Cloudwish is a thoughtful and meditative novel that contemplates both the everyday and the place (and possibility) of magic in the real world. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, Birthday by Meredith Russo, As You Wish by Chelsea Sedoti, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Odd One Out by Nic Stone, Frankly in Love by David Yoon, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Book Reviews

This is What Happy Looks Like: A Review

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. SmithIt all started with a typo in an email address.

Graham Larkin thought he was emailing his pet pig’s walker, instead his email shoots across the country to Ellie O’Neill. Their conversations are always personal but they never reveal personal details. Ellie has no idea that Graham is a major celebrity. Graham knows very little about Ellie until she slips and reveals the name of her small town in Maine.

That’s all it takes for Graham to mark the town of Henley as the perfect location for his next film. And, of course, the perfect location to meet Ellie in real life.

But as Graham and Ellie get to know each other they are both hampered by “what ifs?” What if their relationship really is at its best in email form? What if a famous actor like Graham isn’t cut out for a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? What if Ellie is drawn into Graham’s spotlight has to reveal some closely guarded secrets of her own. Graham and Ellie have talked at length about happiness, but they still have to figure out if they can be happy together in This is What Happy Looks Like (2013) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Find it on Bookshop.

This story has a slow start as both Graham and readers are introduce to Ellie’s idyllic small town home. A charming cast of secondary characters and picturesque locations vividly situate each scene in this novel. Ellie and Graham’s correspondence is simultaneously authentic and endearing as emails and face-to-face interactions work together to give readers the full story of Graham and Ellie’s courtship. Snappy dialogue also helps to make this story shine.

Smith delves into the familiar territory of missed connections (The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight) and long-distance pining (The Geography of You and Me). While This is What Happy Looks Like has some of the same charm as Smith’s other novels, its characters never feel quite as well-realized or compelling.

This is What Happy Looks Like is a sweet and summery romance filled with small-town charm and memorable moments.

Possible Pairings: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, In Real Life by Jessica Love, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Book Reviews

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between: A Review

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. SmithAfter two years together, Clare and Aidan only have one night left to figure out what comes next. With both of them leaving for college and heading to opposite coasts, Clare is certain that breaking up makes the most sense. Aidan isn’t so sure. They’ve already stayed together for two years–can a few extra miles really tear them apart?

As Clare and Aidan retrace the steps of their relationship across their small town they will revisit fond memories and reveal some closely guarded secrets. While saying goodbye to their homes, their friends and their families, Clare and Aidan will have to figure out if it’s time to say goodbye to each other as well in Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between (2015) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Find it on Bookshop.

Jennifer E. Smith is a master when it comes to contemporary novels with a lot of heart and sweet romance. She is a phenomenal talent and I went into this book with high expectations after loving her recent novel The Geography of You and Me.

Which is why it’s so hard to say that this novel didn’t work for me. I think I’m atypical here and I think a lot of readers who dealt with (or will deal with) similar big changes to Aidan’s and Clare’s will totally identify with this novel.

I’m not one of those people. I put myself through college with scholarships, financial aid, and a part-time job. I commuted because my mom needed me at home, it was cheaper and because I didn’t want to go away. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I missed out on a fundamental college experience. And I don’t know, maybe that’s true. But it was my choice and even then I knew it was the right choice for me.

No one in this entire book makes a similar choice. I suppose it’s because Clare and Aidan are from an affluent community but even the students who are going to college nearby are planning on leaving and moving into dorms. The one character who is truly staying behind and living at home is going to community college. Because he didn’t get accepted anywhere else. It was a little strange (and maybe even off-putting) to see that aspect of the college experience completely erased from this community.

I think that’s a big part of my disconnect with Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. I never made the choices Clare and Aidan make and so for most of the book I had a really hard time understanding their choices. Although it made sense that the stakes are high for both characters, they never felt particularly pressing for me. Retracing the steps of a relationship that is now on the brink of collapse just felt depressing and often pointless.

The final decision for these characters seems obvious and inevitable from the beginning. Although Smith throws in a few twists and surprises, they come far too late in the story to make for any worthwhile changes.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between ends on an up note with a sweet note of optimism. Sadly, it also comes to late to make up for the rest of the novel. I’m not sure how it would have worked, but I wish the story readers got in this novel began where this book finished.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is an unlikely romance about leaving everything you know behind and striking out for the unknown. Although the romance is ultimately quite cute, a lot of the novel does read more like the postmortem of a relationship than the start or continuation of one. Recommended for anyone who had to move away for college or anyone who will. Readers looking to try Jennifer E. Smith for the first time might be better served with an earlier novel like, perhaps, my personal favorite The Geography of You and Me!

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley,  Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BEA 2015 for review consideration*

Book Reviews

The Geography of You and Me: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. SmithLucy and Owen meet in an elevator trapped between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City highrise during a citywide blackout. What could have been an ordinary night spent alone in the dark becomes a shared moment of wonder for Lucy and Owen. Together they explore a Manhattan that looks more like a party than a crisis before admiring the shockingly bright stars over Manhattan’s skyline.

But after that one magical night, Lucy and Owen find themselves pulled in opposite directions. Literally. Owen and his father head for points west while Lucy and her parents move to Edinburgh.

Lucy and Owen don’t have a lot in common to start with. They don’t even know much about each other. Still their relationship plays out across the miles in the form of postcards and sporadic emails. Although both Lucy and Owen try to move on they soon realize an unfinished something keeps pulling them back to each other in The Geography of You and Me (2014) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Geography of You and Me is a delightful story of an unlikely long-distance relationship and an ode to the joys of travel and old-fashioned correspondence. Smith brings the wonder and frustrations of a New York blackout delightfully to life in the opening pages. The evocative prose just gets better from there as readers travel across the country with Owen and across the Atlantic with Lucy.

The story alternates between Lucy and Owen’s perspective to offer insights not just into their correspondence but also into the relationships both have with their parents. As much as The Geography of You and Me is a romance it is also an anthem for family and communication. With Lucy coming from a well-to-do family and Owen being on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, there are also some interesting moments about privilege and what that can mean in modern life.

Smith offers nods to social networking and emails while also hearkening back to the simpler and often more sincere communications found in postcards. It is highly likely readers will seek a new pen pal or join Post Crossing after finishing this cheerfully well-traveled novel.

Possible Pairings: A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, All I Need by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Book Reviews

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“There are so many ways it could have all turned out different.”

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. SmithIf she hadn’t forgotten the book, if she had tried on the dress sooner. If she hadn’t given herself a paper cut while printing her ticket, or lost her cell phone charger, if there hadn’t been traffic on the way to the airport. If she hadn’t missed the exit, or had run a bit faster to the gate.

Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Who ever heard of a plan leaving on time? Who would have thought that four minutes could change everything?

Instead of being on her plane, Hadley is trapped in the crowded airport watching it leave for England–without her–as she contemplates whether it will be worse to be late for her father’s second wedding or to miss it altogether. It should be one of the worst days of her life.

But, somehow, it isn’t. Instead Hadley meets the perfect boy in the airport waiting area. His name is Oliver. He is 18C. Hadley is 18A. And, somehow, through twists of fate and strange coincidences Hadley’s worst day might turn into something better in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (2012) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Find it on Bookshop.

Set over the course of twenty-four hours (with chapter headings that include the time in both Eastern Standard and Greenwich Mean Time), The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a fast, funny  read.

Smith perfectly captures the dizzying feelings of serendipity and chance in her writing. Hadley and Oliver are both realistic, witty characters that readers will root for throughout the story. Strangely for a novel set largely in an airport waiting terminal and on an airplane itself, Smith’s settings are strongly evocative bringing Hadley’s fear of small spaces and the daunting foreign landscape of London to life.

What makes The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight especially appealing is that it packs so much into such a small book (256 pages, hardcover). As the title suggests there is, of course, a love story but Smith also expertly captures the essences of both Hadley and Oliver’s characters while also writing a refreshingly honest story about family and dealing with the consequences of divorce.

Possible Pairings: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon,  Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2011