Lobizona: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lobizona by Romina GarberManuela “Manu” Azul has always been told that her father is part of an infamous criminal family in Agentina. She has always been told her strange eyes with their star-shaped pupils, could be fixed with a special surgery. She has always been told that hiding is the only way to stay safe.

None of these things are true.

Manu’s small world as an undocumented immigrant is blown apart when her mother is detained by ICE. After years of dodging raids and hiding with her mother in Miami, Manu doesn’t know what would be worse: leaving her mother in ICE detention or being caught herself.

Plague by debilitating menstrual pains without medication provided by her mother and terrified that she’ll be separated from her mother forever, Manu knows she has to do something. But she isn’t sure how one girl can stand strong with so many obstacles in her way.

Manu’s quest to find her mother leads to surprising truths about her father, her strange eyes, and Manu’s powerful connection to a world she thought only existed in Argentine folklore in Lobizona (2020) by Romina Garber.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lobizona is the first book in Garber’s Wolves of No World series. She has also published the Zodiac series under the name Romina Russell. All characters are Latinx or Argentine with a range of skintones and other identities that are further explored throughout the series.

Garber expertly blends Argentine folklore surrounding witches, werewolves, and the powerful magic of so-called “Septimus” the seventh children of seventh children into a nuanced and enchanting urban fantasy. Complex magic and highly evocative settings draw readers immediately into a story where magical powers are no guarantee of belonging and secrets have power.

As Manu struggles to find a world willing to make space for her, Lobizona offers a scathing commentary on our own world where children are left in cages and the government can callously decide who does and does not belong or qualify as “legal”. Manu thoughtfully interrogates these concepts as she learns more about the world of the Septimos and her own tenuous place in it.

Lobizona is the action-packed start to a sophisticated, high concept series for genre and literary fans alike. Come for the timely look at current events, stay for the inventive folklore inspired fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Labryinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laeken Zea Kemp, Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, Infinity Son by Adam Silvera, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Rachel Gilliland Vasquez

Ferryman: A (WIRoB) Review

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

Ferryman by Claire McFallWhen Scottish teenager Dylan boards a train from Glasgow to Aberdeen to meet her estranged father for the first time in years she is certain that the momentous trip will change everything. What she won’t realize until later is that instead of meeting her father she will never complete her journey–dying when her train crashes.

Except Dylan wakes up inside her train car, alone and in the dark after the crash, where “Her imagination filled in the blanks, packing the route through the carriage with upturned seats, luggage, broken glass from the windows, and squishy, slick things that were solidifying in her mind’s eye into limbs and torsos.” Outside of the wreckage there is no sign of  disaster recovery; all Dylan sees is a solitary, sandy-haired teenage boy watching her.

It’s clear that something is different about this cobalt eyed boy who does not “stand or even smile when he [sees] her looking at him” and “just continue[s] to stare.” The only two people in an isolated area, Dylan reluctantly agrees to follow Tristan across the unwelcoming landscape away from the wreckage. Along the way Dylan begins to realize that she is not trekking across the Scottish highlands with a startlingly attractive teenage boy–the kind who always “made her nervous” because “they seemed so cool and confident, and she always ended up getting tongue-tied and feeling like a total freak.”

Dylan is dead, traveling through the aptly named wasteland alongside Tristan, her personal ferryman.

As a ferryman Tristan “guide[s] souls across the wasteland and protect[s] them from the demons” keen to devour new and pure souls like Dylan’s. Along the way he also “break[s] the truth to them, then deliver[s] them to wherever they’re going.” Tristan has shepherded more souls than he can count across the wasteland, a task that has become increasingly transactional as his journeys blend together into goodbyes. “Each soul that waved goodbye at the end of the journey had taken a small piece of him with them, torn off a tiny piece of his heart. After a while, he had hardened.” As he reminds Dylan, everyone has to cross the wasteland which he describes as “Their own personal wilderness. It’s a place to discover the truth that you have died and come to terms with it.”

The wasteland is not a place to make friends or fall in love. But as they learn more about each other, and themselves, Dylan and Tristan realize they are not prepared to admit that reaching the end of their path will also mean their inevitable separation as Dylan goes where Tristan cannot follow in Ferryman (2021) by Claire McFall.

Find it on Bookshop.

First published in the UK in 2013 and nominated for the 2014 Carnegie Medal, McFall’s acclaimed debut novel Ferryman has made its way to the US with the rest of the trilogy, Trespassers and Outcasts, slated to follow. A movie adaptation is also in the works. All characters are cued as white in this series with world building loosely inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Charon.

With a heavy focus on the drudgery of walking through the wasteland, McFall is slow to unpack Dylan and Tristan’s mutual attraction although both characters find something they lack in the other.

In spite of himself Tristan appreciates Dylan’s unique perspective and unexpected kindnesses to him when “Most souls, when they discovered what had happened to them, were too absorbed in their own sorrow and self-pity to show much interest in this road between the real world and the end” much less in the ferryman guiding them through it. After countless years changing himself to appear to “look appealing” and trustworthy to each of his souls, Tristan is shocked to have the space to define himself as more than his role as a ferryman and whatever the souls in his charge choose to project onto him.

Dylan, meanwhile, is used to feeling the limits of her agency as a teenage girl who is constantly concerned with doing and saying the right thing. “She was the shy, serious student. Quiet, diligent, but not particularly clever. All of her successes had to be earned through hard work, which was easy when you had no friends.” But in Tristan Dylan finally finds the appreciation she had previously lacked with Tristan who sees Dylan as “a soul worth protecting. A soul worth caring about. A soul that he wanted to give a piece of himself to.”

Although Tristan initially acknowledges some of the unequal power dynamics at play between himself–an ageless, supernatural being–and Dylan–a seemingly ordinary girl despite the high caliber of her soul–this aspect of the plot is never fully explored. Tristan’s initial hesitation since “as her protector, he would be taking advantage of her vulnerability if he acted on his feelings” shifts quickly to a heartfelt confession and both struggling with their looming separation.

With their slog through the wasteland and unspoken longing taking up much of the plot, Ferryman is slow to build to its dramatic conclusion. The novel’s final act offers tantalizing glimpses of world building surrounding what comes beyond the wasteland and what it will mean for both Dylan and Tristan. Readers new to this series will be excited to see these aspects more fully explored in later installments.

Possible Pairings: Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, You Are the Everything by Karen Rivers, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

The Heartbreak Bakery: A (WIRoB) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

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

The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. CapettaSeventeen-year-old baker Syd is an “agender cupcake” who still has a lot to figure out about love and the literal magic of baking.

Syd (no pronouns, please) has been with the same girlfriend since coming out as queer in middle school. Four years later it turns out the relationship Syd thought was perfect has more cracks than a badly set cheesecake, leading to a drawn-out breakup with W over one painful weekend. As Syd notes, “I think she’s great, and she thinks I like having a girlfriend too much to notice that sometimes she isn’t.”

Still smarting from the breakup and feeling blindsided, Syd does the obvious thing for a teen holding down a job as a baker while finishing high school: try to bake it out with an easy recipe for brownies which “require three things: a single bowl, a sturdy spoon, and a dedication to dark chocolate.”

Syd’s baking catharsis takes a turn when the post-breakup brownies turn out to be magical Breakup Brownies with all of Syd’s anger, frustration, and hurt baked in. Instead of letting Syd process all of those pent-up feelings, Syd has accidentally fed several bakery customers brownies that precipitate their own breakups–whether the breakups are warranted or not. Obviously, Syd feels awful and wants to erase the “special tang of guilt that comes with subtracting so much queer love from the world.”

Things get even worse when Syd witnesses bakery owners–and husbands–Vin and Alec eat the brownies and start fighting too. Every baker knows you have to clean up your own kitchen but now that the Breakup Brownies have drawn the Proud Muffin into their vortex, Syd is even more frantic to correct this magical mistake before it inadvertently causes the best queer bakery in Austin to shut down.

Proud Muffin’s cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they–it’s always on the pronoun pin, check it first) is surprisingly receptive to Syd’s magical baking confession and, even better, ready to help mend broken hearts across the city. As Syd works through an impressive baking repertoire ranging from Very Sorry Cake to Shiny New Scones, Syd is able to bond with Harley and process the breakup with W while trying to fix all the relationship collateral damage. The only problem is that as Syd’s feelings grow for Harley, it’s unclear if their chemistry will lead to a recipe for romance or more heartbreak in The Heartbreak Bakery (2021) by A. R. Capetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Heartbreak Bakery is an ode to the city of Austin, queer communities everywhere, and baked goods in all of their wonderfully varied forms. Fictional locations like the Proud Muffin complement actual Austin locations like Barton Springs and 24 Diner. Syd and Harley are white with a supporting cast that is diverse and inclusive with characters from across BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities showcasing the intersectionality of many identities.

Even as a member of the Proud Muffin’s enthusiastic and supportive queer community, Syd struggles to articulate to friends and family what it feels like to be agender when “every single time [Syd] stared at the mirror and what [Syd] saw screamed back girl.” Now Syd is “pretty sure that no particular body would make sense to [Syd] all of the time” but also isn’t always sure how to explain that to anyone as easily as others share their pronouns.

Each chapter ends with a recipe, sometimes for actual baked goods readers can make themselves like the peach, strawberry, and basil Honest Pie and sometimes for abstract concepts like Today’s Gender or Baby’s First Polyam Brunch. All of the recipes are written in Syd’s distinct, wry narration with witty asides like “Realize you probably should have added the zest earlier, but you’ve been distracted by the presence of a cute baking partner. Realize that everything is going to turn out delicious either way.”

Part romantic comedy and part bildungsroman, The Heartbreak Bakery beautifully follows Syd through the madcap quest to undo the damage of the Breakup Brownies while also unpacking Syd’s fledgling relationship with Harley and Syd’s journey to fully vocalize their identity as agender (with help from freshly baked Agender Cupcakes, of course) and find their people–agender, magical baker, and otherwise.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Simply Irresistible (1999)

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, 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

The Splendor: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Splendor by Breeana ShieldsEveryone says The Splendor can give you things you don’t even know you want. The glamorous hotel is the stuff of dreams; offering decadent meals, lavish rooms, and everything a person could want.

People come back from the hotel changed. But Juliette doesn’t understand what that means until her sister, Clare, spends a week at The Splendor. Clare is different when she comes back. Distant and cruel where she had previously been attentive and kind. Juliette isn’t sure who she is without her sister’s love, with her sister little better than a stranger.

Desperate to understand what went wrong inside the hotel’s gilded walls, Juliette steals their savings to go to The Splendor herself. It’s easy to fall for everything The Splendor offers its guests even as Juliette searches for answers. Drawn to the young illusionist at the center of the hotel’s magic, Juliette begins to realize there’s more to the hotel and its staff than meets the eye.

Henri helps make The Splendor what it is, offering every guest a Signature Experience tailored to their every want. But all Juliette wants is for Clare to be who she was before she ever went to the hotel. As Henri learns more about Juliette he realizes that giving her what she wants will be even harder when he’s the one responsible for everything that’s gone wrong in The Splendor (2021) by Breeana Shields.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Splendor is a standalone fantasy novel. The story alternates close third person point of view between Juliette and Henri. The main characters are assumed white.

Shields throws readers right into the story with little introduction to the world or the magic that makes the hotel possible. While this creates immediate drama and action, it offers little in the way of clarification for the related magic system.

The cautious beginnings of romance between Juliette and Henri plays out sweetly alongside questions what is really needed to earn true loyalty or honesty–things Juliette and Henri will need in large supply before their story is over. Both protagonists are uncertain if they can trust the other with their hearts (or their secrets) adding tension to their chemistry and near immediate attraction.

The Splendor is a fast-paced and romantic adventure sure to sweep readers away.

Possible Pairings: Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Belle Époque by Elizabeth Ross, Hotel Ruby by Suzanne Young

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

Gilded: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Blog Tour) Review

Gilded by Marissa MeyerAs a young man Serilda Moller’s father earned favor for his daughter from Wyrdith, the god of stories and fortune. But everyone knows a blessing from a god is not so different from a curse; especially when it comes from a trickster god like Wyrdith, the god of lies themself.

Now Serilda is almost grown and known throughout the village of Märchenfeld. The children adore her for her stories. The adults, quicker to call her a liar, are decidedly less enthusiastic. But Serilda knows every story has two sides and she knows the power in telling the most interesting story possible spinning a tale as rich as gold from seemingly nothing.

Serilda is mostly content with her small life at the mill with her father until one of her tales draws the attention of the Erlking. Whisked away by his wild hunt, Serilda is ordered to make one of her biggest lies come true. He wants her to spin straw into gold.

Desperate to save herself and her father from the Erlking’s ire, Serilda makes a bargain with a mysterious boy who haunts the Erlking’s castle. Not quite a ghost but not quite human, the boy wants to help. But all magic requires payment. And as Serilda’s lies get bigger and her feelings for the boy grow, Serilda is uncertain how much more she can afford to pay.

There are two sides to every story. The hero and the villain. The dark and the light. The blessing and the curse. Fortunes are always changing. And Serilda will soon learn that the turning of fortune’s wheel might be the greatest lie of all in Gilded (2021) by Marissa Meyer.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gilded is the first book in a duology retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Although the story is grounded in Germanic folklore and Serilda is white, Meyer works to create a world that is more inclusive than that of traditional fairytales with secondary characters with brown skin and LGBTQ+ relationships. The gods in the pantheon of this world are non-binary.

Serilda is a sly narrator who is keenly aware of her reputation as a liar–a reputation she does little to deny even to her detriment–although she views her world with clear eyes and honest assessments of her place in it as well as the dangers of drawing the Erlking’s attention.

Fully developed characters and lush settings combine with Meyer’s nuanced world building and intricately presented mythology to create a riveting adventure. Serilda’s travails and her resilience keep the story moving forward despite the high page count (512 pages hardcover).

Meyer returns to her roots with this latest reinterpretation of Rumpelstiltskin. Gilded imbues the source material with gothic horrors, mythical creatures, and dangerous magic to create a dark and thrilling tale.

Possible Pairings: A Curse As Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, Stain by A. G. Howard, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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

The Nature of Witches: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Nature of Witches by Rachel GriffinWitches maintain the weather and climate in every season. But as the weather becomes more erratic, the climate more damaged by shaders (those without magic) who take the witchs’ help for granted, it’s becoming harder for the witches to keep nature in balance. More witches are dying of depletion than ever before as they push their seasonal powers beyond their limits to try and help.

Clara could change that. As the first Everwitch born in a hundred years, she is stronger than any other witch alive. With her magic tied to every season, she should be positioned to help with out-of-season storms and other unpredictable weather phenomenon.

The problem no one is willing to acknowledge is that Clara’s magic is as dangerous as it is strong.

In Autumn, Clara is ready to do anything to deny her power. Her magic has already cost Clara her parents and her best friend. She isn’t prepared to lose anyone else.

In Winter, it’s harder to ignore how dangerous things are becoming for witches and shaders alike. Even Clara has to accept that she needs to help–no matter the risks.

In Spring, Clara falls for Sang, the spring witch helping her learn to control her powers. As Clara becomes more comfortable with her magic, falling for Sang feels inevitable even if it means making him a target for her magic. Clara already severed ties with her ex-girlfriend to protect her. She isn’t sure she can do that to Sang.

In Summer, Clare will have to decide once and for all if she can balance her happiness and her magic–and how much she’s willing to give up for either in The Nature of Witches (2021) by Rachel Griffin.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Nature of Witches is Griffin’s debut novel. Clara is white, Sang is Korean American, and there is diversity among the supporting cast.

This novel is strongly tied to the seasons which are on full display at the Eastern School of Solar Magic in Pennsylvania where most of the story takes place. The novel is set over the course of one year with parts broken up by the seasons which trace both the changing weather and subtle changes in Clara’s personality and moods as different seasons gain dominance.

Clara’s efforts to find control and ground her magic read as an extended (and for many readers, much needed) metaphor for mindfulness and acceptance. While some narrative threads–including Clara’s reluctant status as a rare Everwitch–will feel familiar to genre readers, Clara’s path to internal acceptance will be affirming and welcome for readers living in a world that often feels as out of control as Clara’s own. The weighty beginning as Clara moves through grief for her parents and other casualties from her magic also lightens throughout the narrative as Clara fully processes her losses. The slow burn between Clara and Sang as well as Clara’s complicated history with her ex-girlfriend add another dimension to this story and cue Clara as canonically bisexual.

Griffin’s lush writing is evocative and well-informed. Griffin became a certified weather spotter for the National Weather Service while writing this novel. A magic system that is cleverly integrated into our modern world underscores the current climate crisis and need for change while offering readers a decidedly escapist story. The Nature of Witches is the perfect choice for readers looking for a magic-infused story with high stakes, characters with chemistry, and lush writing. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Sweet and Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, Twister

It All Comes Back to You: A Review

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz RishiKiran Noorani has life after high school all mapped out. She’ll stay close to home in Philadelphia for college so she can be near her dad. Being a premed freshman at UPenn will be challenging, of course, but Kiran she and her sister Amira will be able to make up for lost time when they move into an apartment together near campus. It won’t be perfect because Kiran’s mother will still be dead. But it will be close.

Except Amira has been dating someone for months without telling Kiran. Someone she might want to move all the way to California with even though she barely knows him. Kiran wants the best for her sister and she’s already certain this mystery man is not it.

Deen Malik couldn’t be happier when he hears that his older brother, Faisal, has a great girlfriend. It’s no less than Faisal deserves–especially after everything he’s given up for Deen.

Deen is less enthusiastic when he realizes that Amira’s sister is Deen’s secret ex. No one knew when Deen and Kiran dated three years ago. Which is fine. It’s long over between them. But Deen is determined to make sure Faisal’s own romance doesn’t meet the same fate.

While Kiran does everything she can to sabotage this relationship, Deen is just as determined to keep the romance on course. With the two of them so busy obsessing over their siblings’ relationship, will they miss their own chance at closure and maybe something more in It All Comes Back to You (2021) by Farah Naz Rishi.

Find it on Bookshop.

It All Comes Back to You alternates between Kiran and Deen’s first person narrations in the weeks leading up to Amira and Faisal’s wedding. Chats from the MMORPG that Kiran and Deen both play and text messages help flesh out the backstory that broke up their secret relationship three years ago. Kiran and Deen (and their relatives) are Pakistani American and Muslim.

Rishi packs a lot into this story that centers around the whirlwind wedding preparations. Kiran is still grieving her mother’s death the year before while trying to reconcile her premed plans with her love for dance Deen, meanwhile, is struggling to care about his freshman coursework and determined to self-destruct before anyone can expect better of him.

Although the two couldn’t be farther apart in real life, anonymous chats in their MMORPG game Cambria are a touchstone for both protagonists as they pursue their singular goals. Kiran and Deen both mean well and want the best for their siblings. They also both make some really terrible decisions to accomplish what they think is best. Kiran, in particular, is hard to cheer on while she works so hard to sabotage the wedding, expose secrets that aren’t hers to tell, and otherwise make sure Amira stays on the path that Kiran wants her to follow.

It All Comes Back to You is a fast-paced contemporary romance that is as focused on family as it is on second chances. Recommended for readers looking for a new hate-to-love romance and two main characters who have a lot of room to grow throughout the story.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Don’t Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey

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

Instructions for Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola YoonEvie Thomas is done with love.

After watching her parents’ marriage fall apart, she knows firsthand that love is a scam. Real life doesn’t have happy endings. The romance novels she used to adore are all lies.

While her mother tries to move on and her younger sister falls headfirst into every relationship she can, Evie is still angry at her father. And she’s furious that she wasted so much time believing in something that never lasts.

Giving up on love seems like the easiest course of action until Evie’s plan to donate her romance novel collection to a little free library goes horribly wrong. After accepting a mysterious book from a stranger, Evie can suddenly see people fall in love when they kiss. Her new visions trace each relationship from its tender beginning to the inevitable conclusion. It’s more than anyone can take but especially someone who is done with love.

Evie’s hunt for a way to stop whatever is happening leads her to La Brea Dance Studio and the owners’ charming, very cute nephew X. Where Evie is cautious, X is impulsive. If Evie is reserved, X is open–he always says yes. In other words, they are complete opposites and, through a series of events Evie barely understands, they are also suddenly partners in an amateur dance competition.

All Evie wants to do is stop her weird visions. If that means hanging out with X, fine. Falling for him is definitely not part of the plan, no matter how cute X might be. But the more time Evie spends with X, the more obvious it is that falling for him is as inevitable as standing close during the tango.

After witnessing so many heartbreaks firsthand, Evie knows that love always ends. As she gets closer to X, she’ll have to decide if having love at all is enough to risk the inevitable heartbreak in Instructions for Dancing (2021) by Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

In many ways Instructions for Dancing feels like a natural next step (pun intended) to follow up Yoon’s blockbuster sophomore novel The Sun is Also a Star. Through Evie’s visions this story spins out from main character Evie’s first person narration to show a world that is much larger, and more beautiful, that cynical Evie is at first willing to acknowledge. Elements of fabulism (think magic realism but not by latinx authors) add unexpected magic and whimsy to this subtle story. Evie and X are Black and backed up by an inclusive cast with strong friendships and memorable adults notably including X’s grandparents.

Evie’s reluctant immersion in the world of competitive dance adds a lot of humor to a story that tackles weighty topics like love and loss with nuance and care. Evie’s friend group also plays an important role in the novel as all of them prepare for the end of high school and what that will mean for each of them and their friend web.

Instructions for Dancing is the definition of bittersweet with an ending that is sure to garner a few tears from even the coldest of hearts. With a story that carefully balances hope and pragmatism, Instructions for Dancing is affirming and, ultimately, an ode to love in all of its forms.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

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

Light From Uncommon Stars: A Review

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiShizuka Satomi has spent years building up her reputation as the Queen of Hell. It’s a name fitting for someone with her reputation of building up violin prodigies–more fitting than most people realize.

Shizuka made a deal with the devil forty-nine years ago. Now, if she wants to keep her own soul–and her own prodigious success–she has to deliver seven souls. With six delivered and one soul left, Shizuka should feel secure. But she doesn’t. She wants her last soul to belong to someone special. Someone she’s been struggling to find for years already.

Katrina Nguyen is a transgender runaway with no one to turn to. She has her hormones, her laptop, and her violin and she knows no matter how bad things get she can survive if she has those things. When Shizuka offers to help life Katrina lift her up, it seems too good to be true. As Katrina comes closer to Shizuka’s secrets she realizes how true her initial doubts really are.

From a donut shop on a highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Lan Tran is slowly drawn into this Faustian drama. A retired starship captain with four children to support and protect, Lan has her own priorities. She wants to keep a low profile at Starrgate Donuts for herself and her family. Which is why her blossoming crush on Shizuka is so inconvenient–especially when Lan realizes it might be mutual.

As Shizuka, Katrina, and Lan are drawn into each others’ lives, the three women begin to realize that in order to overcome their separate challenges they might just need each other in Light From Uncommon Stars (2021) by Ryka Aoki.

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Light From Uncommon Stars is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements in a contemporary California setting. The close third person narration shifts between Shizuka, Katrina, Lan, and other pivotal characters.

Aoki expertly blends these seemingly disparate elements into a seamless story filled with heart and hope even as Katrina, particularly, deals with rejection, hate, and sexual assault. Katrina also spends part of the novel as a sex worker while she tries to survive on the streets–an element that is handled thoughtfully but is still, understandably, heavy.

This evocative novel is imbued with a strong love of music and filled with delicious food descriptions. Light From Uncommon Stars is a sprawling story of redemption and connection. Recommended for readers looking for a novel that defies both expectations and genre classifications.

Possible Pairings: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu, Gideon the Ninth by Tamysn Muir, Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

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