Book Reviews

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne ParkSunny Song has big plans for the summer before her senior year in high school. She’s ready to maximize time with her best friend Maya and maybe finally get out of the friend zone with her forever crush Rafael Kim. Sunny also has big plans for her social media platform with new ideas and content that will get her to 100k followers.

Summer has barely started when all of Sunny’s plans go out the window. First, she’s called into the principal’s office on the last of school because of concerns about the amount she posts during the day (it’s called pre-scheduling) and the lack of anonymity when she mentions other students (is it really her fault that a vanity plate like “on fiyah” is so unique?).

Arguing with her parents about her social media platforms is nothing new. But even Sunny is surprised when her latest live cooking video accidentally turns PG-13 and goes viral as #BrownieGate and, worse, #BrowniePorn. Which is the last straw for her parents who immediately derail Sunny’s summer with a one month digital detox at the Sunshine Heritage Farms camp in Iowa.

Coming from California, Sunny is unprepared for the humidity, the farm animals, the absence of fast food, and the utter lack of WiFi or access to her devices. If Sunny wants to keep up the #BrownieGate momentum, she knows she has to find a way back online this summer even as she tries to disconnect. As Sunny discover new friendships, a boy named Theo who is as annoyingly fond of farm puns as he is cute, and some other new connections, she’ll learn that sometimes you have to go offline to really grow in Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (2021) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

Park’s latest YA contemporary is a laugh-out-loud funny story grounded in real tips and tricks for digital detox from experts like Cal Newport and Catherine Price. Although the Sunny’s camp experience pulls advice from real resources, Sunny doesn’t get the benefit of those texts adding to the humor and drama as she works through the process with help from camp counselors.

Sunny is Korean-American. Maya, her best friend in California, and Sunny’s new camp friend Delina are both Black. While the focus of the story is squarely on Sunny’s digital detox and ensuing shenanigans, Park also includes some smart moments throughout the story as Sunny deals with micro-aggressions at camp and a conversation with Delina (who grew up in Korea and filmed mukbang videos where she would eat local cuisine) highlights the kinds of harassment some content creators, especially people of color, can experience.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous is a book about social media and content creation that actually understands both while still focusing on timeless themes as Sunny tries to figure out who she wants to be (aside from a famous content creator). Park presents a realistically handled detox journey for Sunny throughout the story. At the same time, she also points out the excitement and connection that can be found through technology offering a refreshingly nuanced perspective. Come for the humor, the friendship, and the romance. Stay for the commentary on social media.

Flawless pacing combined with Sunny’s brutally honest and witty narration make Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous a must read. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my interview with Suzanne here on the blog.

Possible Pairings: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, You Have a Match by Emma Lord, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport, How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales, Follow Your Arrow by Jess Verdi, The Social Dilemma (Netflix documentary)

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

Book Reviews

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town: A Review

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie Sue HitchcockIn a small town, you are forever defined by the worst thing that ever happened to you. Maybe your mother died and you’re so angry you see red every time you miss her. Maybe your best friend went missing, her body found two years later. Maybe you almost lost your little sister when a stranger approached her in the woods. Maybe your mother and father refused to listen when you tried to tell them what happened to you at church every Sunday in the confessional.

And maybe what happens to define you in your small town has an echo. A ripple when your best friend reinvents herself as the girl every boy wants. An attempt at justice that leaves you lighter and sparks a fire in your wake. A missed connection as you cross paths with a volunteer firefighter in the evacuation center.

Maybe this is all there is. All anyone in your small town will ever know about you. But maybe you’ll still die famous because doesn’t everyone die famous in a small town?

Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town (2021) by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock is a collection of loosely inter-connected short stories.

Find it on Bookshop.

Starting in Alaska the stories follow teen characters across the Pacific Northwest and Alaska as their lives cross paths in the aftermath of a devastating abduction, a sexual abuse scandal at a small town church, and a forest fire that changes everything.

Shifting viewpoints and locations slowly come into focus as readers find the core of the book where each story is a spoke around one (or all) of these events.

Standouts in the collection include “Alaska was Wasted on Us” and “The Stranger in the Woods” which serve as interesting mirrors with the two possible outcomes in the face of a near tragedy (Fiona realizing how wrong she is about Finn and Jenny realizing how close her family came to losing sister Jade forever).

Fans of Hitchcock’s previous Morris Award nominated short story collection will enjoy the similar structure found in Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town. Recommended for short story fans and readers of suspense.

Possible Pairings: Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America edited by Nora Shalaway Carpenter, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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

Book Reviews

The Vanishing Season: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is my work. This is the one thing I have to do.

“I am looking for the things that are buried.”

The Vanishing SeasonMaggie Larsen doesn’t know what to expect when she and her parents move from Chicago to Door County. But then, it’s not like there is another choice with her mother having been laid off and money being tight.

Although Maggie is sorry to leave Chicago behind, it is surprisingly easy to find a new place for herself in the small town of Gill Creek. As the days turn into weeks their ramshackle house on Water Street starts to look like a home. As the weeks turn into months, Maggie realizes she has found friends here in carefree, beautiful Pauline and Liam who is as kind as he is introspective.

While Maggie lives her new life, girls in Gill Creek are disappearing. No one knows who the killer is. No one knows who might be next. No one knows if it will stop.

All the while, a ghost is tethered to the house on Water Street. She can see the danger circling. She can even see some of the pieces of the story–a scorched key, a love letter, a bracelet with a cherry charm. But even the ghost isn’t sure why she is still here watching the season unfold to its final, disastrous conclusion in The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

The Vanishing Season is a quiet, aching read that builds slowly to a conclusion that is both shocking and inevitable. Anderson expertly weaves together Maggie’s story with the first-person narration of the ghost to create a haunting puzzle of a story. Even readers who think they have predicted every plot point may well be surprised by the way everything fits together by the end.

This story has romance and suspense. There is a foolish girl who breaks things sometimes by accident and sometimes because she can. Vignettes of small town life are interspersed with thoughtful commentary on privilege and ownership.

Anderson’s pacing is spot-on as the story builds to the denouement which is handled both eloquently and cleverly. The Vanishing Season is a beautifully written and subtle story about friendship and love and even heartbreak as well as a meditation on what living a life, and living it well, really means. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Frost by Marianna Baer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Book Reviews

The Midnight Dress: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

themidnightdressRose Lovell doesn’t expect much from the small seaside town of Leonora. Then again, the town doesn’t expect much from her either. Rose has seen towns like this before. She’ll likely see even more when her father’s wanderlust kicks in and they drive off in their caravan again.

In all the towns, in all the schools, Rose has never seen anyone quite like Pearl Kelly. Pearl who thinks everyone is nice. Pearl who writes in highlighter and dreams of Russia. Vivacious, popular Pearl who organizes the high school float for the annual Harvest Festival Parade.

Rose never could have guessed in those first moments that she and Pearl would become friends. She couldn’t have known that Pearl would convince Rose–a lonely hailstorm next to Pearl’s sunshine–to make a dress for the Harvest Parade.

Edie Baker, the supposed town witch, is known for her dressmaking as much as her strange, ramshackle house. Together she and Rose piece together a dress of midnight blue and magic as Edie reveals pieces of her own past to Rose while they bend over the stitches together.

By the time the parade draws near they will have created an unforgettable dress. A dress of mystery and beauty, but also one that will become woven into the fabric of a tragedy that will forever mark the town of Leonora and leave both girls changed in The Midnight Dress (2013) by Karen Foxlee.

The Midnight Dress is a haunting blend of mystery and beauty as the events leading to the Harvest Festival and the aftermath of that night unfold simultaneously. Foxlee expertly knits the two stories together in chapters titled for different stitches.

Lyrical dialogue and poetic descriptions lend a timeless air to this story of an unforgettable friendship between two girls who are lonely and yearning for very different things in a small Australian town in 1987.* Moments from the near and distant past blend seamlessly as Edie’s own story is revealed over the sewing of the dress.

There is something half-wild about the characters in The Midnight Dress. That same sense of dangerous allure and an underlying dignity comes through in Foxlee’s writing as she describes the sometimes brutal town politics and the wonders found in the rain forest bordering the town.

The Midnight Dress is a beautiful story of the many forms love can take and the enduring power of positive thoughts. But at the same time it examines unspeakable loss and the fact that tragedies never leave people unmarred–actions, however small or well-meant, have consequences. It’s hard to call this book a happy one, or even an optimistic one. Many of the characters here are broken; many of them will remain that way for a very long while. At the same time, however, this story offers moments of beauty with deceptively ornate and electric writing.

Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year and highly recommended. Just make sure you have a happy book lined up for right after.

*The time period doesn’t matter ostensibly because this book is largely timeless. I just felt very clever for figuring out the year and wanted to share it.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tamar by Mal Peet, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Book Reviews

The 5th Wave: A Review

The 5th Wave by Rick YanceyWhat if every alien invasion scenario in every movie and book was wrong? What if there is no rallying point? What if the People in Charge never figure it out?

What if you’re left alone with no one to trust?

No one expected the aliens to win–even with their advanced technology, even with the 1st wave bringing darkness. After the 2nd wave, when only the lucky survived, people started to know the score. After the 3rd wave the only ones left are the unlucky ones.

After the 4th wave there’s only one thing left to do: Trust no one.

And now the 5th wave might be starting and humanity is so royally screwed this whole invasion is starting to feel like a terrible joke.

Cassie might be the only human left alive. She is definitely the only person she can trust.

But Cassie has a promise to keep and a long way to go before she can lay down and let the aliens win. Cassie might be alone, she might be all that’s left of humanity. But if that’s true, it also means Cassie has to face what’s coming because she is the battlefield in humanity’s last war in The 5th Wave (2013) by Rick Yancey.

The 5th Wave is the first book in Yancey’s 5th Wave trilogy. There is definitely still tons more to tell but The 5th Wave is still a nicely contained story with a perfect balance of suspense and closure (even if I absolutely had to stay up until 4am to finish reading it).

Yancey takes a familiar scenario from science fiction and turns it completely upside down: not only are the aliens smarter, they’re winning. Not only are they winning, they’re probably going to keep winning.

And yet in a world essentially without hope we get characters made of steel with an inherent resilience and courage.

It’s hard to talk about more here without ruining the surprises of Yancey’s expert plotting and masterful writing. Truly, The 5th Wave is a masterpiece with brilliant plotting as everything readers think they know is thrown into question again and again as the story continues. Yancey expertly uses multiple viewpoints to tell an intricate story with carefully time reveals and more than a few twists.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Legend by Marie Lu, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix,  Divergent by Veronica Roth, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Pod by Stephen Wallenfels, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein