Last Chance Books: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Last Chance Books by Kelsey RodkeyMadeline Moore is counting the days until she can take over at her aunt’s beloved bookstore, Books & Moore. Her family has owned the store for generations; it’s always felt like a second home to Madeline. Her family stubbornly insists she has to go to college first. But Madeline knows after that she can come home and pick up right where she left off making her bookish dreams come true.

At least that was the plan until a chain bookstore opened across the street. With cheaper books and multiple locations, Prologue is a big threat to an indie like Books & Moore. Especially when Jasper Hamada starts scoping out the competition under the guise of flirting with Madeline. Flirting well. But still.

With her long-absent mother back in the picture and threatening to move home for good, Madeline’s personal life is a mess. She misses her brother who is spending more time at his dad’s to avoid the drama at home. She doesn’t understand why her aunt is always taking her mom’s side. Madeline needs one thing she can control and she’s pretty sure saving Books & Moore is it. She is definitely not going to let Assper Hamada distract her by being super cute and sort of . . . nice to her?

With help from her reluctant family, her BookTuber best friend Zelda, and the store’s community, Madeline hopes she can save the store and win an escalating prank war with Prologue. Turns out Jasper is as good at pranking as he is at flirting and more than prepared to give as good as he gets.

As sparks–and barbs–fly, Madeline will have to decide if connecting with Jasper Hotmada is worth risking her entire future. All’s fair in love and books (and prank wars) but that might not mean Madeline can have it all in Last Chance Books (2021) by Kelsey Rodkey.

Find it on Bookshop.

Last Chance Books is Rodkey’s debut novel. The story is narrated by Madeline who is white as is her mother and aunt. Her brother and his father are brown skinned. Jasper and his family are Japanese American.

Rodkey presents a well-developed cast and tackles a variety of side plots against the main focus of Madeline’s feud (and flirtation) with Jasper. Madeline has been raised by her aunt with a lot of help from her younger brother Benny’s father. Madeline and Benny’s mother, an aspiring actress and bit of a flake, has been absent for years leaving both Madeline and Benny to wonder about the ulterior motives–and permanence–of her return this time around. While Madeline has to deal with the possible upending of her clear plan for her future (taking over Books & Moore), Jasper faces a different challenge in getting his family to accept his dream of going into design–a passion he currently feeds through cosplay.

Moments of humor (and more than a few hijinks) add levity to the story and help flesh out the main characters as well as their authentically quirky retail settings. Madeline’s snappy narration and satisfying banter with Jasper make Last Chance Books a real treat. Recommended for readers with a soft spot for books about bookstores, enemies to lovers romances, and stories that will have them laughing out loud.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan, We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, It’s Kind of a Cheesy Love Story by Lauren Morill, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail

Baby and Solo: A (WIRoB) Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

Baby and Solo by Lisabeth PosthumaRoyal Oaks, Michigan, 1996: After being in and out of mental hospitals for years, seventeen-year-old Joel Teague is almost Normal. He hasn’t had any visible signs of What Was Wrong With Him since he was fifteen, he goes to therapy, and he even has a new prescription from his therapist: Get a part-time job. While Joel’s overbearing mother is wary of the advice, Joel’s father is hopeful. So is Joel, as he puts it, “Maybe all that remained between me and being Normal again was providing goods or services to my peers for minimum wage for a while. It was worth a try.”

Enter ROYO Video where Joel is soon working part-time and well on his way to becoming the “Doogie Howser of the video store corporate ladder.” In a store where every employee goes by the name of a movie character, Joel is more than ready to become Solo, short for Han Solo Star Wars—Joel’s favorite movie and a movie that’s been forbidden in his home since the Bad Thing Happened. With the new name, Joel also gets a tabula rasa (clean slate) to try making friends, working, and proving he is totally capable of being Normal.

At the store, Joel finds routine work surprisingly comforting as he gets to know his motley assortment of coworkers including sexy manager Jessica (Scarlet at the store) who claims “Scarlett O’Hara’s her favorite movie character” but lacks “the decency to spell her name with both t’s,” The Godfather—an Asian girl who “had presence in the way someone ballsy enough to call herself ‘The Godfather’ should,” and Nicole/Baby (from Dirty Dancing).

What starts as a routine job quickly becomes something more as Joel discovers the potential for real connection with his coworkers—especially Baby who is dealing with her own Something Wrong With Her while introducing Joel to the ins and outs of the video rental world and improving his film education one movie viewing at a time in Baby and Solo (2021) by Lisabeth Posthuma.

Find it on Bookshop.

As Joel becomes friendlier with Baby, he realizes that getting to know her might also involve letting her get to know him—including What Was Wrong With Him even after establishing his clean slate—a risk he isn’t sure he’s willing to take. As he notes, “It’s a lot of responsibility, knowing the entire truth about a person, and I was too busy trying to become what I might have been to get involved in What Was Wrong with someone else.”

This character-driven novel slowly unspools the intensely mutual (and notably platonic) friendship between Solo and Baby as they share their vulnerabilities and help each other through a tumultuous year including a pregnancy and continued mental health struggles. When new employee Maverick (Andres in real life) joins the ROYO video team, Joel is also forced to confront his own internalized homophobia courtesy of his mother and his family history with The Bad Thing That Happened and partially led to What Was Wrong with Joel.

Joel’s first-person narration is wry and straight to the point with careful asides hinting at his years “in and out of the psych ward” and how they impacted him (one notable example being that Joel is “hard to scandalize” now) alongside practical advice from his years of therapy that he shares with both readers and other characters processing complex emotions including grief and loss. After years of keeping people at a remove, Joel is terrified of connection, even as he craves it—a push and pull that continues throughout the story as Joel begins to understand that “if you want to experience healthy intimacy in relationships, you’re going to have to be emotionally vulnerable with someone at some point.”

As the title suggests, Joel and Baby are the central point of this story but they are far from the only worthwhile characters. The mostly white cast is fully developed and well-realized. 1990s pop culture, movie references thanks to the video store setting and an in-theater viewing of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and day-to-day retail struggles including quirky customers, a mandatory Secret Santa exchange, and more highlight Joel’s new reality while he hints at The Bad Thing that happened and works to find closure with What Was Wrong.

Whether or not readers were around for the 1990s and the pre-streaming world of video rental, Baby and Solo is a universal and timeless story of friendship, growth, retail employment and the ups and downs of all three.

Possible Pairings: Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes, The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle, Nice Try Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

Stay Sweet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“But maybe the only things stopping her were the limits she put on herself.”

Molly Meade began making ice cream with a hand churn ice cream maker in 1944 to cheer up the girls left behind while their loved ones were fighting overseas. From those humble beginnings Molly created Meade Creamery–the local ice cream stand that makes Sand Lake a tourist destination as much as the nearby lake.

The stand is always managed by local girls and known for the easygoing atmosphere and camaraderie between the staff. Amelia and her best friend Cate have worked there together for the past three summers–it’s how they became best friends. When Amelia is chosen to be “Head Girl” and manage the stand, both girls are looking forward to a perfect summer before they start college in the fall.

Except Molly dies before the stand opens for the summer, leaving the stand’s future uncertain. Amelia agrees to stay on to help Molly’s grandnephew figure out how to run the stand and,they hope, find Molly’s secret ice cream recipes. But Grady has big plans to modernize Meade Creamery based on his college business classes that make Amelia wonder if he understands anything about Molly’s legacy.

During a summer where everything is about to change, Amelia will have to figure out how to hold onto the past while forging ahead into an uncertain future in Stay Sweet (2018) by Siobhan Vivian.

 Find it on Bookshop.

This standalone contemporary is an ode to ice cream, the bittersweet nature of changing friendships, and of course to summer itself. Written in close third person the novel follows Amelia from the start of her summer when she finds Molly’s body through a season filled with growth and unexpected changes for both Amelia and the ice cream stand.

While everyone in Amelia’s life is eager to see her move on to college, Amelia is overwhelmed by nostalgia for life in Sand Lake and everything it has represented for her growing up. That love for her hometown and the ice cream stand makes it easy to tie her own summer plans to Grady and Meade Creamery–even at the detriment of her already tenuous friendship with Cate who sees her chance for a perfect last summer with Amelia slipping away.

This character driven novel is partly a contemporary romance but it’s also a love story on a much larger scale as Amelia discovers her passion, the strength of truly solid friendships, and yes a bit of young love too.

Stay Sweet is as sweet as the ice cream served at Meade Creamery. Come for the summery vibe, the romance, and the ice cream; stay for the solid themes of feminism, entrepreneurship, and female friendship.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, No One Here is Lonely by Sarah Everett, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

You can also check out my interview with Siobhan about this novel!

Comics Will Break Your Heart: A Review

cover art for Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin HicksArguably, Miriam’s family should be rich. After all, her grandfather co-created The TomorrowMen. But he also signed away his rights to the series in an acrimonious deal in that has left nothing but bitterness in its wake. Miriam’s mother says they have enough to get by. But just barely. And certainly not enough to let Miriam consider college in any serious way.

Then there’s the new guy in town, Weldon, who is really cute and really off limits once Miriam finds out he is the grandson of the man who cheated her grandfather all those years ago.

Knowing their families, Mir and Weldon are wary of starting anything together. But their hearts have other plans. Will mutual attraction, friendship, and maybe even love be enough to end a decades long feud? in Comics Will Break Your Heart (2019) by Faith Erin Hicks.

Find it on Bookshop.

Comics Will Break Your Heart is Hicks’ prose novel debut. Chapters alternate close third person perspective between Mir and Weldon.

Hicks’ prose debut is a uniquely Canadian, very comic-centric, and distinctly funny story. The story opens with a meet cute that escalates from bookstore shelf organizing to a fistfight and the stakes only climb from there.

Comics Will Break Your Heart is filled with witty banter, pop culture references (both real and fictional), as well as a deep and abiding affection for geek culture and the fandoms who love them. Recommended for anyone who’s ever scrambled to buy tickets opening day or stayed up way too late for a midnight launch party.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira; Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley; Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan; Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy; Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins; The Romantics by Leah Konen; Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills; Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud; Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura; Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

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

Love and Other Perishable Items: A Review

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura BuzoAmelia is fifteen and chafing under her stunning lack of control over her own life. She is also painfully and completely in love with Chris who works checkout with her at the local supermarket.

Chris is twenty-one.

Amelia is a smart girl and she knows that Chris is a smart guy. She knows that Chris talking to her about literature doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that no one else working at the Land of Dreams actually reads. She knows that being his confidant about his studies at university or even his partner for witty banter does not magically mean she’ll ever be his girlfriend.

But somehow when Amelia is with Chris, anything seems possible. Especially when, as time passes, it starts to feel like maybe Amelia isn’t the only one feeling the effects of this crush.

In a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of new things for both Amelia and Chris, this improbable pair will learn that friendships–and sometimes even more confusing feelings–can blossom anywhere in Love and Other Perishable Items (2012) by Laura Buzo.

Find it on Bookshop.

Love and Other Perishable Items is Buzo’s first novel (published in 2010 in Australia before making its way to the US in 2012). It was a finalist for the Morris Award for YA Debut Fiction in 2013.

Love and Other Perishable Items is an incredibly smart book with not one but two introspective narrators who are as approachable as they are authentic.

Amelia is sharp and clever as well as utterly endearing. The first part of the novel, called “Spheres of No Influence,” aptly highlights the breadth of her world as well as its limitations in a way that makes sense within the context of the plot as well as for an actual teenaged girl.

Spending so much of this novel seeing Chris through Amelia’s rose-colored glasses, it’s hard to view him as anything but perfect. In the frame of Amelia’s adoring descriptions, who wouldn’t fall in love with Chris just a little? Buzo brings Chris into sharper focus by presenting parts of the story through his journal entries. Chris is broken. He is lonely. He hurts. He is, like many young adults, lost and trying to find his way to adulthood in whatever form that may take.

The incredible thing here is how well Amelia and Chris’s stories come together. Their frustrations and hopes, on many levels, mirror each other as both characters struggle to figure out who they want to be and how to get to that version of themselves.

Love and Other Perishable Items is a melancholy, buoyant novel about looking for love and finding oneself with equal parts letting go and holding on. Nothing in this book is especially neat or clearly defined, but neither is real life. In many ways this story is only the beginning, for both Amelia and Chris, as readers are left to imagine what other marvelous things life has to offer these two well-realized protagonists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner