A Beginning At the End: A Review

A Beginning at the End by Mike ChenA global pandemic has changed the societal landscape and devastated the population. In the wake of the End of the World, while many people are waiting for life to return to normal, four people are trying to move forward as best they can.

Moira, a former pop star, used the initial outbreak as a chance to break away from her controlling father and start a new life. Six years later, Moira is living as normal a life as anyone can now. At least until her father begins a public campaign to try and find her.

While everyone else hides inside or behind surgical masks offering flimsy protection, Krista throws herself into the world planning events for people unwilling to risk the physical interactions themselves. But not many people are planning parties with the threat of a new outbreak looming and Krista is one cancelled event away from losing everything.

Rob survived. His wife didn’t. All Rob wants is to bring up his daughter, Sunny, as best he can. The only problem is new government regulations threaten to take Sunny away to place her in a more stable family environment.

In a world waiting to return to a normal that might never come Moira, Krista, Rob, and Sunny will need each other more than anything if they want to survive in A Beginning At the End (2020) by Mike Chen.

Find it on Bookshop.

Chen’s sophomore novel explores themes of connection and survival against a post-apocalyptic San Francisco setting with chapters alternating between Moira, Krista, and Rob’s perspectives.

Evocative descriptions and thorough world building make this story of a global pandemic eerily timely although a slow start fails to build the momentum needed for later plot points and twists.

A Beginning at the End is a character driven, post-apocalyptic novel that offers hope for the current situation we are in with the Covid-19 global pandemic. In short come for the post-apocalyptic landscape, stay for the feels.

Possible Pairings: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders; Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton; The Salt Line by Sally Goddard-Jones; In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen; The Fireman by Joe Hill; The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin; Severance by Ling Ma; Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel; The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

29 Dates: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for 29 Dates by Melissa de la CruzJi-Su is an average student in her prestigious school in Seoul filled with overachievers. Hoping to help her stand out in college applications both in South Korea and abroad, Ji-Su’s parents decide to send her overseas to San Francisco.

There isn’t even enough time to say goodbye to her two best friends before Ji-Su is on a plane to California. Being so far from home doesn’t that mean Ji-Su is completely free to focus on her photography and having fun though. Instead Ji-Su is expected to focus on her schoolwork (which she would do anyway) and continue going on the seons (blind dates) that her parents have set up for her through a matchmaker.

Usually adults go on seons when they’re ready to settle down. But as far as Ji-Su’s mother is concerned it’s never to early to find your perfect match. Ji-Su doesn’t put much stock in the seons but it seems like an easy way to keep her parents happy and maybe even make some friends.

Just when Ji-Su starts to think she is getting the hang of being at a new school in a new city (and maybe even seons) she realizes that all of that is easy compared to falling in love for the first time in 29 Dates (2018) by Melissa de la Cruz.

De la Cruz’s latest contemporary has a unique perspective in Ji-Su’s first person narration. Each of Ji-Su’s twenty-nine seons are detailed between chapters. These are fun exchanges though their structure as dialogue only is jarring compared to the traditional prose in the rest of the novel.

The blend of romance and humor is tempered well with Ji-Su’s focus on school as she works on college applications and has to decide what to do as she ends up waitlisted at some of her schools.

29 Dates is a super cute romantic comedy perfect for fans of the genre. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, American Royals by Katharine McGee, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Compass South: A Graphic Novel Review

Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca MockNew York City, 1860: When Alexander and Cleopatra’s father disappears, the twins are soon forced into service for the Black Hook Gang to try and survive. Facing jail time after a heist goes awry, Alex and Cleo inform on the gang in exchange for tickets out of the city.

The twins hatch a plan to head to San Francisco impersonating the long-lost sons of a millionaire. But like most cons, nothing goes quite right.

When they meet Silas and Edwin, another set of twins with the same con in mind, tempers flare and trouble forms leaving Alex and Edwin shanghaied on a ship heading to San Francisco.

While Alex and Edwin try to find their way on the ship, Cleo and Silas reluctantly join forces to reunite with their brothers in Compass South (2016) by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca Mock.

Compass South is the start of a projected graphic novel series.

Cleo and Alex are orphans being raised by their uncle (known to them as their father) with only two mysterious treasures–a watch and a knife–as their family legacy. The larger mystery of the knife and the watch begins to unfold as Alex and Cleo’s madcap trip to San Francisco begins.

Silas and Edwin serve as a nice contrast to Alex and Cleo with different priorities and outlooks during the course of their journeys. Larson’s nappy dialogue (in easy to read speech bubbles) works well with Mock’s carefully detailed full-color illustrations.

This story, filled with a variety of moving parts, subplots, and characters, comes together nicely in a fun introduction to the indomitable Alex and Cleo. As might be expected in a story with two different sets of twins, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge who is being shown in frame however visual clues and dialogue help to quickly clear up any confusion.

Compass South is a fast-paced graphic novel filled with action and adventure. Sure to appeal to readers of all ages looking for an exciting piece of historical fiction, and of course to comics fans. Readers will be clamoring to see what comes next for all of the characters and eager for future installments.

In the Age of Love and Chocolate: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

In the Age of Love and Chocolate by Gabrielle ZevinAnya Balanchine knows about hardships and sacrifice. She also knows, better than most, that sometimes difficult choices have to be made.

Now eighteen and working closely with one of her former enemies, Anya is on the verge of opening a nightclub specializing in medicinal cacao–the first attempt to circumvent the laws that have made chocolate illegal in the United States for years. With that victory so close, Anya is also forced to accept the things she has lost in her efforts to legitimize the family business–namely the boy she loved, Win Delacroix.

Just as Anya begins to taste professional success, her personal life begins to fall apart. In order to make her way through, Anya will have to seek out old friends and enemies as she makes her way in this dangerous world where  chocolate is illegal and family means everything in In the Age of Love and Chocolate (2013) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Find it on Bookshop.

In the Age of Love and Chocolate is the final book in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series which started with All These Things I’ve Done and Because It Is My Blood. The book itself is also broken into two parts: The Age of Chocolate and The Age of Love which, as you might have guessed, illustrate the shifting focuses of the story as well as Anya’s shifting priorities.

It’s hard to talk about the conclusion of a series without giving away too much about the story (or about the books  that came before). What I can tell you is that while this ending wasn’t always the one I expected or wanted for Anya, it is the only conclusion that makes sense for her as a character. It is the only one that could be truly satisfying after moving through the series.

Anya remains the smart, steady heroine she always was in In the Age of Love and Chocolate but her growth here is even more apparent as Anya negotiates the murky waters of adulthood and the chocolate business. Anya stumbles, she makes mistakes, but she always learns and she always tries again. She is a refreshingly strong, self-sufficient heroine and one that I am sad to leave behind as this wonderful series comes to an end.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

Check back tomorrow for my interview with the author!

We Are the Goldens: A Review

We Are the Goldens Nell has always thought she and her sister Layla’s lives were intertwined. As a baby, Nell used to refer to herself as Nellayla, as if there was no possibility of one sister without the other.

But as Nell prepares to start her  freshman year of high school–the year that should ostensibly be the best year of her life–everything starts to change.

Layla is suddenly distant. She starts lying to their parents and keeping secrets. When Nell finds out Layla’s secret she tries to be an understanding sister. She tries to be what Layla wants her to be.

The problem is Layla’s secret isn’t one that can be kept without consequences. The problem is that if Nell does what she knows is right by telling the truth, Layla might not forgive her in We Are the Goldens (2014) by Dana Reinhardt.

We Are the Goldens is written in the second person as Nell talks to her sister Layla and recounts what is largely a disastrous freshman year for Nell. While Reinhardt offers a well-written and convincing portrait of a family (divorced parents who are still a united front) there is little else in this novel.

While the second person tense makes sense here and is a clever idea, it creates a lot of distance in the story. Readers never get much of a sense of who Nell is partly because her story is so intertwined with Layla’s and partly because she is often narrating a story that is not her own. Layla is similarly problematic as readers see her through Nell’s eyes but not fully as Layla withdraws early on into her own world as it were.

The writing is well-done with Nell often having some very smart, quotable insights. The debate around the central issue (Layla’s secret) is balanced although also often drawn out given the fact that what Layla is doing is so obviously wrong for her and by societal standards.

Nell is a sweet narrator and her friendship with Felix is both enjoyable and satisfying to read. Unfortunately the plot, such as it is, drags quite a bit given the brevity of the novel. The ending of the story also cuts off abruptly with little hint at what the aftermath of Nell’s decision will involve.

Taken more as a character study than anything else, We Are the Goldens is a fascinating book about sisters that will find its audience with readers looking for a quiet read.

Possible Pairings: The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

Roomies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara AltebrandoElizabeth is counting the days until her freshman year of college starts. She is more than ready to leave her small life in New Jersey behind and start fresh and new in California even if her friends don’t quite understand her need for distance. After years and years as an only child with a single mother, Elizabeth is thrilled at the prospect of meeting–or more accurately emailing–her new roommate Lauren.

San Francisco native Lauren is much less excited to be sharing yet another room after years and years of sharing a room and a too-small house with her too many siblings. She wanted a single and she is counting days for a very different reason as she tries to imagine life when she is no longer a daily fixture in her own family.

What starts as an innocuous email about whether to buy a microwave or a mini-fridge turns into a series of emails that might lead to friendship and a few other insights during a summer filled with possibility in Roomies (2013) by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando.

Find it on Bookshop.

Altebrando and Zarr wrote this novel together, emailing each other chapters without any discussion of an overarching plot. Altebrando wrote Elizabeth’s chapters while Zarr wrote Lauren’s.

I commuted through college and I’ve never had a roommate. This book was very low on my radar despite the high profile authors. I hate to admit but I wouldn’t have even read it except Nicole needed a wingman for a signing. Then it become our second Synchronized Read. And I kind of loved it.

Roomies is a very alien world me–a story of people with siblings and plans to move away and lots of other things I did not do as a high school senior looking toward college. That said, it’s still totally evocative with a perfect balance of fun and depth.

Lauren and Elizabeth are two very different girls with different priorities yet their friendship that evolves through a series of emails is organic and ultimately completely believable. Although much of the novel involves emails it is also worth noting that this is not an epistolary novel. Each girl narrates a chapter where they happen to write an email (and read an email at some point).

The plot here isn’t action-packed or overly shocking. Roomies is very much grounded in the themes you would expect: moving forward, end-of-something-nostalgia, family. Happily instead of moving into the territory of melodrama or superficiality, Roomies remains a very down to earth read and a story with heart.

What really sets Roomies apart is the writing. Altebrando and Zarr’s styles mesh perfectly to create a seamless narrative with two unique but complementary stories. Both Elizabeth and Lauren are refreshingly frank and honest with themselves as much as with each other. While Lauren and Elizabeth aren’t always certain they want to be friends (or even roommates), they are definitely two heroines that readers are sure to love.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Time Between Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“What I just did could change everything, or it could change nothing. But I have to try. I’ve got nothing to lose. If my plan doesn’t work, my life will remain the same: Safe. Comfortable. Perfectly average.

“But that wasn’t the life I originally chose.”

Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland StoneAnna Greene and Bennett Cooper never should have met. In fact, it should have been impossible for them to meet since Anna lives a comfortable-yet-too-small life in suburban Chicago–in 1995–and Bennett is a music loving teen living in San Francisco. In 2012.

Bennett is a time traveler who has come to 1995 Chicago for reasons of his own.

He doesn’t plan to meet Anna, let alone get close to her. Not when he could be pulled back to his own time at any moment.

With time literally against them, Anna and Bennett may have to rewrite history itself to stay together in Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone.

Time Between Us is Stone’s first novel. Time After Time, a companion novel continuing Anna and Bennett’s story (this time told in Bennett’s voice) is due out in October 2013.

If this premise sounds like The Time Traveler’s Wife, that’s because it is very similar. Except 400 pages shorter and without all the angst and random violence.

Despite the obvious similarities Time Between Us is a tighter, more light-hearted read. Anna and Bennett have problems, they even face danger, but the tone throughout is one of optimism and defiance instead of inevitability or defeat.

The opening–jumping between several time periods to get to the start of the story–is strong full of promise and just enough foreshadowing to draw readers in.

Unfortunately despite the potential and my own excitement about this title, I just did not connect with it. Readers looking for a sweeping romance and references to 1990s culture and technology will find a lot to enjoy here. Anna and Bennett are adorable together and their story is a good one. Romance-wise it doesn’t get more gripping than two lovers separated not by distance but by time itself.

That said, it takes a very long time for Stone to get to the crux of the story with Bennett revealing his secret to Anna. Instead readers spend a lot of time watching the protagonists circle each other and hint at things. While this technique did create tension in the narrative, it was frustrating to have to wait so long for what is promised right from the jacket copy and the first pages.

If, like me, you want more fantasy/science fiction and less romance, Time Between Us may not be the best fit.* I also could not shake the feeling that, given the opening of the novel, Anna was a passive heroine.**

Time Between Us is the book I wanted to read when I tried The Time Traveler’s Wife. Time Between Us is, in fact, the perfect book for readers who like the idea of time travel but don’t worry too much about the actual mechanics of it.***

*For a more fantasy/science fiction-y time travel romance I’d recommend Hourglass by Myra McEntire which has a faster pace and much more explanation as to the time travel. It also gets bonus points for having the female lead do most of the traveling through time. Even while I was reading Time Between Us and enjoying it well enough, I couldn’t help but wonder if the difference between liking it and loving it would have been making Anna the time traveler instead of Bennett.

**Like, fine she needs to try and get her great love to work out and get back the life she really did choose. But how bad was this safe life she had as of 2011? She’s okay with just waiting to see what happens and potentially obliterating the life she has had until that point?

***Bennett’s rules to deal with causality and the implications of his travel seemed very malleable to me. And I also like more explanations as to the why and how when time travel comes into play.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, The Statistical Probability of True Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith,Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Lola and the Boy Next Door: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie PerkinsLola Nolan’s New Year’s resolution was to never wear the same outfit twice.

She wants to attend the winter formal dressed like Marie Antoinette, but not quite. She wants a wig so big a bird could live in it. She wants a dress so wide that she’ll need to enter through a set of double doors. She also wants everyone to see that she’s punk-rock tough under the frills when they notice her platform combat boots.

She wants her parents to approve of her boyfriend, Max. Sure, Max is twenty-two and Lola is seventeen. But so what? Her father Nathan was significantly younger than her other dad, Andy, when they started dating. Isn’t that further proof that Max is the one? Not so much according to Nathan and Andy.

Lola also never ever ever wants to see the Bell twins ever again. Ever.

When a moving truck rolls up next door, Lola realizes she isn’t going to get what she wants. Not where the Bell twins are concerned anyway.

After steamrolling through Lola’s life two years ago, Cricket Bell–aspiring inventor and snappy dresser–is back along with his talented, figure-skating twin sister Calliope. While Calliope chases an elusive spot at the Olympics, Cricket is starting college and seems to be chasing . . . Lola.

But Lola doesn’t care about Cricket anymore. She wants different things now. Things like her boyfriend Max and her Marie Antoinette dress. And that’s enough.

Except it really isn’t. After years spent wanting to never see the boy next door ever again, Lola is starting to wonder if she’s been wanting all of the wrong things in Lola and the Boy Next Door (2011) by Stephanie Perkins.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lola and the Boy Next Door is a companion to Perkins’ debut novel Anna and the French Kiss.* (Readers of both books might recognize some characters from the first book in this one but it’s most definitely a standalone if you want it to read this one first.)

As much as I enjoyed Anna and her story, I loved Lola so much more. With her vibrant outfits and quirky personality Lola is all win. With their witty banter (not to mention having style in spades), Lola and Cricket shine as a couple you’ll want to root for–even when Lola’s own feelings are mixed at best. Perkins vividly recreates San Francisco in the pages of Lola and the Boy Next Door with well-realized settings that complement her dimensional characters.

Without revealing too much, Perkins takes what could have been a conventional romantic story in a different direction with the pacing and structure of the story as well as some clever diversions with other characters. Combined with Lola’s obvious transformation throughout the story all of that makes Lola and the Boy Next Door a book well worth checking out.

*The final companion Isla and the Happily Ever After is due out in 2013 and if it goes the way I think it’s going to go–it is going to be soooooooo awesome!

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando