Harley in the Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn BowmanHarley never thought she’d have to run away to the circus. Not when her parents already run a successful one in Las Vegas. After years of dreaming of becoming an aerialist and performing on the static trapeze, Harley hopes her parents will finally see her how serious she is and let her begin training professionally after high school.

Instead they double down on their demand that Harley focus on college first and then consider the circus–even though Harley knows she is in her prime as a performer right now, something that may not be true after four years in school studying something she has no interest in learning.

After her latest fight with her parents goes too far, Harley feels like she only has one choice: join a rival traveling circus.

Life on the road isn’t what Harley expected. The performers at Maison du Mystère don’t trust her, the trapeze artist who is supposed to mentor Harley actively hates her, and worst of all Harley has to live with the guilt over what she did to her parents so that she could snatch this opportunity. Harley has never felt like she fit into her family–never enough of any one thing to truly share biracial parents’ and her grandparents’ histories–and now she’s afraid she may not be enough for the circus either.

As she struggles to carve out a place for herself at the Maison du Mystère and proof to herself and her parents that she has what it takes, Harley will have to decide if the sacrifices–and the choices–that she’s made to get to this point are worth it in Harley in the Sky (2020) by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Harley in the Sky tackles a lot but it’s all handled exceptionally well and works to create a well-rounded, character-driven story. While trying to earn a spot in the circus Harley  grapples with her identity as the child of two biracial parents and what that means for her own cultural identity (or her lack thereof when she feels she is not quite enough of any one thing to truly claim it). She also tries to explain the coping mechanisms she has created for herself to deal with depression and mania and the stigma her own parents carry toward discussing mental illness. (Harley remains undiagnosed in the novel because, as she tells other characters, the way she moves through the world is normal to her and not something she needs help handling right now.)

Harley is a smart, passionate narrator. She understands her world through her physicality–something Bowman captures beautifully–and she isn’t afraid to go after what she wants even if she sometimes goes too far chasing those dreams. But she is also constantly learning and growing and, perhaps most importantly, she is always trying to do better–something that can never be undervalued in a novel or in real life.

Harley in the Sky is an ode to the beauty and the work of circus life as seen through the eyes of someone who loves every aspect of it. Come for the circus setting, stay for the sweet romance and thoughtful conversations on friendship, intersectionality, and work. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Akemi Dawn Boman about this book!

Possible Pairings: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Circus by Olivia Levez, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, American Girls by Alison Umminger

The Lady Rogue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Lady Rogue by Jenn BennettTheodora wants nothing more than to join her father on his hunts around the world for priceless relics. Unfortunately, her father still sees Theo as a little girl instead of the capable researcher she has become at seventeen years of age.

While Theo sits at their hotel doing crosswords to pass the time, her father is out gallivanting his nineteen-year-old protégé Huck Gallagher–the boy Theo once thought she might love.

After a painful parting and a long separation, no one is more surprised than Theo when Huck shows up in Turkey with nothing but her father’s travel journal and instructions to get Theo to safety.

Theo has other ideas and soon the unlikely duo is combing through the travel journal as Theo tries to follow her father’s trail on his hunt for the legendary and supposedly magical bone ring of Vlad the Impaler. They hope that finding the ring will also lead them to Theo’s missing father. But Theo and Huck aren’t the only ones hunting the ring and Theo’s father may not be the only one in danger in The Lady Rogue (2019) by Jenn Bennett.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Lady Rogue is a standalone historical adventure set in 1937. With high speed chases, fast-pacing, and even some magic this story is an enjoyable homage to all of the things that make action movies like The Mummy (starring Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz) great.

Theo and Huck are a reluctant team at the start of this story which inspires much banter as well as regrets on both sides as the pair tries to make their way back to each other. Ciphers, puzzles, and excerpts from Richard Fox’s travel journal add to the story as Theo tries to follow Richard’s trail to the bone ring.

The Lady Rogue is a whip-smart adventure with hints of romance and the supernatural. As the book’s dedication suggests, The Lady Rogue is an ideal choice for meddlesome girls and anyone who’s ever been unable to walk away from a good puzzle.

Possible Pairings: The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee, The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Mummy (1997)

Serious Moonlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You have the chance to make different choices.”

Serious Moonlight by Jenn BennettBirdie Lindberg’s previously small life is in flux after her strict grandmother’s death. In a bid to gain some independence after finishing homeschooling and earning her high school equivalency, not to mention getting some work experience before college, Birdie convinces her grandfather to let her job hunt on the mainland.

Working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel won’t be interesting, but it should be easy. Plus, there’s the added bonus of giving Birdie plenty of opportunities to hone her observation skills as an aspiring detective.

At least until Birdie realizes that she’ll be working with Daniel Aoki–amateur magician, graveyard shift van driver, and the other half of an awkward one-afternoon fling that Birdie thought she could safely pretend never happened.

Ignoring Daniel to preserve what’s left of her dignity proves impossible when he asks for her help investigating a reclusive writer holding secret meetings at the hotel. Faced with Daniel’s smoking hotness, his genuine need, and her own curiosity, Birdie knows she has to help.

As Birdie and Daniel work on this real-life mystery together, she soon realizes that the bigger mystery might be what to do about her own feelings for Daniel in Serious Moonlight (2019) by Jenn Bennett.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bennett’s latest standalone novel is filled with all of my favorite things including tons of references to classic detective stories. Birdie is a capable, smart heroine still learning how to come into her own with support from her grandfather and her nonconformist artist aunt, Mona. Daniel is charismatic, funny, and everything Birdie (and readers) could want in a male lead.

The hotel mystery and Birdie’s approach to life as she works to pursue her dream of becoming a private investigator add a lot of intrigue and fun to this contemporary romance.

On a personal level, it also felt like this book was written just for me. I identified so much with Birdie throughout the story as she struggles to come out of her shell and give herself the space and permission she needs to grow and thrive. This book is also the first time I have ever seen a story truly capture the weird blend of abject panic and genuine desire inherent to actually wanting to interact with someone.

Serious Moonlight is fantastic, filled with just enough tension to make the mystery aspect interesting while keeping the main focus on Birdie and her relationships. Birdie and Daniel are delightful lead characters complimented by an eccentric and entertaining cast of supporting characters. A new favorite for me, and maybe for you too. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore; Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert; The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson; Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus; Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke; The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee; The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe; Past Perfect by Leila Sales; Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

Past Perfect: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Past Perfect by Leila SalesThere are only three types of kids who get summer jobs at Colonial Essex Village as historical reenactors living their best 1700s lives instead of working at the mall like everyone else:

There are the history nerds. You may recognize them by how hotly they debate the virtues of bayonets over pistols, their pale skin, and their generally unappealing personalities.

There are the drama kids. While they couldn’t care less about historical accuracy, drama kids are all about dressing up and staging cool scenes where they get fake shot and fall down fake dead while the history nerds gripe about how that isn’t how it really happened blah blah blah.

The third type of teenager working at Colonial Essex Village is, arguably, the rarest type: The kids whose parents already work there.

Chelsea’s father is the Essex Village silversmith and her mother is the silversmith’s wife, which means that Chelsea has been spending every summer as the silversmith’s daughter for basically forever.

Now that she’s sixteen Chelsea is looking forward to working at the mall with her best friend, Fiona, where they can hone their skills as ice cream connoisseurs and Chelsea can finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart.

Except Fiona is very much a drama kid and very much looking forward to working at Colonial Essex. So obviously Chelsea has to work there too. Even if Ezra is also working there. Even if it means Chelsea gets sucked into being second-in-command in the annual war all of the teen staffers at West Essex stage every year against the Civil Warriors from the Civil War reenactment site across the street and, worst of all, even if Chelsea’s new crush is one of those very same Civil Warriors in Past Perfect (2011) by Leila Sales.

Find it on Bookshop.

Chelsea is a very specific type of protagonist who will not work for everyone. She is often self-centered to the point of being low key unreliable and she’s incredibly snarky. I, for one, think she is a riot and appreciate the conversational tone Sales manages to evoke in Chelsea’s first person narration.

While Chelsea is a reluctant historical reenactor, she is nothing if not loyal to Essex and its legacy as the superior historical site in town compared to the subpar Civil Warriors. (Don’t even get her started on the Ren Fairies from the renaissance faire.) This loyalty leads to some difficult choices when Chelsea has to decide how far she’s willing to go to help her side win–not to mention if there’s such a thing as too far when it comes to war.

There is definitely some romance and some flirting, but the real love story here is between Chelsea and her best friend Fiona. As they are pulled in different directions by their jobs at Colonial Essex (and the war), their friendship experiences growing pains for the first time as both girls are forced to evaluate their priorities.

This book explores themes of friendship and ethics while asking interesting questions about history and the past–especially if anything can ever truly be in the past. Past Perfect is a funny, clever story about friendship, ethics, history and the unexpected moments where they intersect. Recommended for readers who like their stories of summer employment with a lot of history and snark.

Possible Pairings: All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Pilgrim’s Don’t Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm, My Faire Lady by Laura Wettersten

Alex, Approximately: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bailey “Mink” Rydell loves few things as much as she loves classic movies. It’s the basis for her entire relationship with Alex, a boy she met in a classic movie fan forum. Alex seems like the perfect guy for Bailey–the only problem is that she doesn’t know anything about him except for his profile name.

When Bailey moves cross country to live with her dad, it should be her opportunity to finally meet Alex in person. Except then she panics and starts to wonder if it wouldn’t be smarter to try and scope Alex out in real life before she makes any grand gesture. After all, what if he’s a total creep? Or a poser?

Her efforts to uncover Alex’s true identity are hampered by making sense of her new home, a new job at the local museum that is as kitschy as it is eccentric, and discovering a new nemesis. Porter Roth is cocky and quick to put her in her place in the most embarrassing ways. He’s also painfully good looking and impossible to ignore.

With two guys vying for her attentions Bailey has the rest of the summer to figure out if she’s willing to risk her heart on a messy reality instead of pining for a fantasy that may not exist offline in Alex, Approximately (2017) by Jenn Bennett.

Alex, Approximately is a gentle standalone contemporary romance. Bennett introduces readers to Bailey’s new hometown with evocative landscapes, quirky shops, and all of Bailey’s awe. Epigraphs of quotes from classic films can be found at the start of each chapter.

Snarky banter, madcap shenanigans, and genuine moments of vulnerability help to develop Bailey and Porter’s relationship in this story about first impressions and connection. A varied and well-rounded cast of secondary characters add another layer to an already richly imagined novel.

Alex, Approximately is a sweet, summery book ideal for fans of stories with mistaken identities, hate to love romance, and fantastic vintage vespas.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail

Analee in Real Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Analee in Real Life by Janelle MilanesAnalee Echevarria knows she doesn’t come across that great in real life. Her mom died three years ago and it feels like it’s never going to stop hurting. Her father is marrying a yogi who drives Analee crazy–don’t even get her started on her soon-to-be stepsister. Then there’s Analee’s best friend who isn’t her best friend, or really any friend at all, anymore.

All in all, Analee is much happier spending her time playing her favorite online game where she can be Kiri–the night elf hunter who never struggles to say or do the right thing. It doesn’t hurt that her in-game sidekick Xolxar (played by a boy named Harris) has quickly become her best friend even though Analee and Harris have never met in person.

High school is just something to get through, and Analee knows she can do that if she just keeps her head down and stays out of the way of the popular kids. The only problem is that Seb Matias–undisputed school heartthrob and jerk–wants Analee to pose as his girlfriend while he tries to make is ex jealous.

Much to his surprise, and Analee’s, she agrees hoping the fake relationship can help her practice real connections and work up the nerve to finally meet Harris. But as their fake relationship threatens to turn into a real friendship, Analee has to wonder if she’s ready to connect with anyone in the real world–especially herself in Analee in Real Life (2018) by Janelle Milanes.

Analee in Real Life is equal parts thoughtful and funny as Analee navigates grief, friend breakups, and her future step-mother’s nightmare diet schemes (kale chips, anyone?).

Analee is a no-nonsense narrator. She knows she has work to do and she knows she is one hundred percent terrified of putting in that work when it means doing scary things. As much as this novel explores romance and friendship, it’s really a story about Analee learning how to start to like herself and understand her place in a family that has irrevocably changed.

Analee in Real Life is an empowering and sometimes painfully realistic story about a girl who realizes that the most challenging role she has to play is herself. Recommended for readers who like their characters sharp, their humor sardonic, and their romances to toe the line between reality and hoax.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart; Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; In Real Life by Jessica Love; From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon; Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills; Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

The Wicked Deep: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Wicked Deep by Shea EarnshawTwo hundred years ago in the town of Sparrow three sisters were drowned as witches. Every year since then the Swan sisters have returned to Sparrow, claiming the bodies of unwitting local girls and using them to wreak their vengeance on the town by drowning boys foolish enough to fall under their sway.

Every Swan Season is the same, ending only when each sister has claimed a new victim.

Penny can see what others can’t including long buried secrets about the sisters and the Swan Season. But she knows that secret can only go so far against a curse. She is used to watching the Swan Season unfold with wary detachment, certain that this one will be  like all the others ending with death, suspicion, and grief.

Except this year there is a new outsider in town—a boy named Bo who refuses to believe the Swan sisters can pose any real danger to anyone, especially him. A boy that Penny is determined to protect. As the Swan Season unfolds Penny and Bo will work together to unravel the truth of the curse and the sisters. But as the Swan Season nears its end Penny realizes that the only way to save Bo might be by sacrificing herself in The Wicked Deep (2018) by Shea Earnshaw.

The Wicked Deep is Earnshaw’s debut novel.

The Wicked Deep is a tense bit of fantasy woven through with suspense as the novel builds toward the disastrous conclusion of the Swan Season. Penny’s first person narration is frank and often cynical with lyrical prose as she slowly searches for a way to break the curse and save Bo.

This story is filled with twists and surprises about both Penny and Bo. Unfortunately the story also flags in the second act as Penny and Bo repeatedly discuss what ending the curse might entail and how far they are willing to go if it means freeing the island from the sisters’ menace forever.

The Wicked Deep is an atmospheric story filled with witches, secrets, and a scorching romance with far-reaching consequences. Recommended for readers looking for a spooky book to read curled up by a fire and fans of Practical Magic especially.

Possible Pairings: The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

500 Words or Less: A Review

cover art for 500 Words or Less by Juleah del RosarioWhat happens when your attempt to be a better person might be making you worse?

Nic Chen isn’t going to spend her senior year known only as the girl who cheated on her boyfriend with his best friend. She had enough grief when her mom left under a cloud of scandal. This year isn’t going to be a repeat of that.

To revamp her reputation with her Ivy League obsessed classmates, Nic has a simple plan: she will write college admission essays. For a price.

But as Nic learns more about her classmates, she realizes she still has a lot to learn about herself and her moral compass in 500 Words or Less (2018) by Juleah del Rosario.

500 Words or Less is a shining verse novel with a strikingly original story. Through free verse poems Nic contends with painful memories from her past including when her mother left and her last year in high school that changed everything.

Nic is a flawed character well aware of her own shortcomings both in reality and in the eyes of her peers. She grapples with her identity, both as a biracial teen and an outsider at her school, as she tries to figure out how to embrace all of herself–even the ugly pieces.

500 Words or Less is a unique story whose format works well to emphasize elegant prose and complex characterization. An excellent debut that proves del Rosario is an author to watch. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

Starry Eyes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Starry Eyes by Jenn BennettZorie and Lennon used to be best friends. But that was before the homecoming dance last year and well before their families started feuding around the time that Lennon’s moms opened a sex toy shop right next to the massage shop that Zorie’s parents run.

Seeing Lennon and remembering how close they used to be still stings, but they’ve gotten good at avoiding each other. At least, Zorie thought they had until her mom adds a surprise adventure to Zorie’s carefully scheduled summer. (Even though she knows that being spontaneous gives Zorie hives. Literally.)

What starts as a luxe week-long glamping trip to cheer up a friend (and maybe hook up with her longtime crush) turns into a nightmare when Zories realizes that Lennon is rounding out the group. Then things go really wrong and Zorie and Lennon are stranded in the wilderness. Alone.

Needing each other to survive without any distractions might be just what Zorie and Lennon need to reconnect as they try to get back to civilization. But even after working through old hurts and secrets, they’ll have to see if their renewed friendship is ready for the real world in Starry Eyes (2018) by Jenn Bennett.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bennett’s latest standalone contemporary romance is an absolute delight and has made me an instant fan. I also love the way this book is designed. The book is broken into three parts, each accompanied by a sketch by Bennett (who has a fine arts degree) of Zorie and Lennon’s camping gear. Lennon is an amateur mapmaker and Bennett also created maps to accompany the story which really help bring their down and the trails they travel to life.

Starry Eyes has a refreshingly varied cast and also highlights two of the many alternatives to a “traditional” nuclear family. Lennon lives with his moms but is also close with his Egyptian-American father–something that becomes more important as the plot progresses. Meanwhile Zorie’s mother died when she was eight and since then Joy, her Korean-American stepmother, has been more of a parent than her father leading to divided loyalties as Zorie uncovers a secret that could  tear her parents’ marriage apart.

Zorie is a type A nerd who plans and micromanages her own life to fend off her anxiety while also pursuing her passion for astronomy. She’s a fun and honest narrator who takes being pushed way out of her comfort zone (mostly) in stride. Laid back Lennon is the perfect foil to Zorie. His interests lie in horror, snakes, maps, and (luckily for Zorie) hiking and camping–two things that just might get them back home in one piece. While the hurt on both sides is obvious as they try to piece together what went wrong, their chemistry crackles throughout the novel.

Starry Eyes is a rich and entertaining romance. Come for the witty banter and tension, stay for the evocative descriptions, clever plotting, and nuanced characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

Bad Girls With Perfect Faces: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I didn’t know then what I know now: Be careful when your feelings are too strong, when you love someone too much. A heart too full is like a bomb. One day it will explode.”

cover art for Bad Girls With Perfect Faces by Lynn WeingartenSasha always looks out for her best friend Xavier. She’s the one who helped him put the pieces back together after his girlfriend Ivy cheated. She’s the one who dyes his hair. She’s the one who watches documentaries about the ocean and sea life with him.

Sasha is the one who would be perfect for Xavier. She loves him and she would never hurt him the way Ivy did. She’d never lie to him. And she’s just about ready to tell him all of that when Ivy shows up again.

Xavier and Ivy are a toxic combination–something that Xavier fails to remember when they get back together. All Sasha wants to do is protect him and prove once and for all that Ivy is a liar and a cheat.

So she poses as a guy online to attract Ivy.

What starts as a simple scheme to prove Ivy will cheat on Xavier again escalates quickly until the lies and the secrets start to spiral out of control. As Sasha’s plan to pretend to be someone else starts to go terribly wrong, she begins to worry about who she’s becoming in Bad Girls With Perfect Faces (2017) by Lynn Weingarten.

Bad Girls With Perfect Faces is a fascinating thriller that imagines what might happen when a seemingly minor case of catfishing goes horribly wrong. The novel is written in alternating chapters with the majority of the story falling to Sasha’s world-weary narration as she relates the events that blew her world apart. Text messages and other conversations between Sasha’s fake profile guy and Ivy are also interspersed throughout.

I can’t tell you much more about this story without giving something important away except that this is a perfect read-a-like for fans of Gone Girl. Bad Girls With Perfect Faces is a tense, sexy, thriller that promises to take readers on a wild ride from its ominous start to a twisted finish.

Possible Pairings: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre, Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda, This is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*