10 Blind Dates: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

10 Blind Dates by Ashley ElstonWhen her parents decide to spend Christmas with Sophie’s very pregnant older sister, Sophie plans to stay behind for some quality time with her long-term boyfriend Griffin.

Unfortunately, Griffin isn’t as excited about this plan as Sophie had hoped. Heartbroken, she retreats to her grandparents’ house where her nonna proposes a radical plan to help Sophie get over the sudden breakup: For the next ten days Sophie’s entire extended family can sign up to set her up on blind dates.

Sophie doesn’t know what to expect from the dates, especially with her boisterous relatives involved, but it soon becomes obvious that Nonna’s crazy plan might be the perfect way to avoid wallowing for her entire vacation.

With dates including an elite underground party, a living nativity, and a drive through that does not bear further mention, Sophie’s in for a whirlwind of excitement and maybe even some fun with her estranged cousins.

But with Griffin suddenly keen to win Sophie back, a boy who is probably not available, plus the suspense of waiting for her baby niece to arrive, Sophie will need more than her family’s support to figure out what really matters this holiday season in 10 Blind Dates (2019) by Ashley Elston.

Find it on Bookshop.

10 Blind Dates is a standalone contemporary set over the course of Sophie’s hectic winter break with chapters for each day (and date). Sophie is an approachable, authentic narrator who handles (almost) everything her family throws with a lot of humor and grace.

While she’s slow to realize her breakup might not be the end of the world, Sophie’s growth throughout the novel is obvious as she begins to understand her own role in the awkward space that has grown between herself and her cousins and their childhood friend. Even better, Sophie starts to realize her priorities need to shift and puts in the work to make some necessary changes.

10 Blind Dates is as funny as it is festive. A delightfully entertaining novel filled with memorable, lively characters and lots of seasonal shenanigans. Recommended for anyone in search of a sweet holiday romance that will leave them smiling.

Possible Pairings: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway; 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, Kasie West; I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks; Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno; Save the Date by Morgan Matson; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

Pumpkinheads: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel) Review

Every autumn Deja and Josiah know they’ll be working at the best pumpkin patch in the world, right in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. They know they’ll be making succotash at the Succotash Hut (it’s all about the stirring). And most importantly, they know that their friendship will pick up right where they left off at the end of last year’s pumpkin patch season.

Except this year is different because they’re seniors. While Deja knows they’ll always be able to come back, Josiah isn’t so sure that anything can stay the same once they leave for college.

After a stellar season (and another Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person star for Josiah), Josiah is fully prepared to spend their final shift ever moping. But Deja has bigger plans to help both of them say goodbye to the patch with a proper sendoff while also giving Josiah one last chance to talk to the Fudge Girl he’s spent three years pining after.

With snacks to eat, exes to run into, and hopefully at least one date to make Deja and Josie’s final shift is sure to be an adventure in Pumpkinheads (2019) by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

Find it on Bookshop.

This story is completely self-contained and as satisfying as the first pumpkin sighting of the season. Hicks’ full color illustrations bring the pumpkin patch to life in all of its zany glory with dynamic artwork filled with fun details and the motion inherent to a frenetic crowd.

Rowell’s dialog contrasts well with Deja and Josiah’s body language and things left unsaid as both friends try to figure out how to say goodbye to the patch and to each other–or if they even have to.

Pumpkinheads is a charming ode to fall filled with puns, pumpkins, and a really sweet romance. Recommended for readers looking for a bubbly, seasonal read and anyone hoping to try a graphic novel for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, and Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon; Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Snow in Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Snow in Love by Melissa de la Crus, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, Kasie WestSnow in Love (2018) collects four holiday stories for the first time. Find it on Bookshop.

“Snow and Mistletoe” by Kasie West: Stranded at the airport without a car, Amalie finds unlikely help from a former classmate, Sawyer, who offers Amalie a ride when she needs it most. Can one detour filled road trip, numerous pit stops, a secret crush, and special gifts lead from a snowy mess to new beginnings? You’ll have to read more to find out but I’ll tell you that this story was a banter filled delight.

“Working in a Winter Wonderland” by Aimee Friedman: If Maxine can save up for the perfect party dress, she knows that everything else will fall into place–including finally catching the eye of her crush. There’s only one problem: The only job Maxine can find on short notice is working as an elf in a department store’s holiday department. This story was a lot of fun. Maxine is Jewish and completely overwhelmed by the way Christmas everything seems to take over once December rolls around. After years of being a wallflower, Maxine is ready to make some changes and I love that while she gets everything she wants, none of it is quite what she expects.

“The Magi’s Gifts” by Melissa de la Cruz: Kelsey and Brenden are still figuring out what it means to be in a relationship over the holidays. As both of them try to find the perfect holiday gift they realize that showing someone how much you love them sometimes means sacrificing what you love most. This retelling of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is one of the shortest stories in the collection. It’s an interesting spin on a familiar tale but some of the details never quite come together.

“Grounded” by Nic Stone: Leigh is more than ready to spend the holidays on a beach with her family. The problem? She’s stranded at the airport during a snowstorm. And so is her childhood friend Harper. Leigh fell hard for Harper when she was fourteen but not knowing if Harper would reciprocate (or if Harper even liked girls), Leigh tried to shut that down. Now as she leads Harper on a scavenger hunt through the airport before they reconnect, Leigh has to decide if now is the time to take a leap or play it safe. Nic Stone is one of the best contemporary voices around right now. This story is snappy, sweet, and a really smart examination of intersectionality (Leigh and Harper are both black and Leigh is also Jewish) and being true to yourself. And did I mention it was also a sweet romance?

Snow in Love is a effervescent collection of stories sure to leave you smiling–a perfect choice to get you in the holiday spirit at any time of year.

Possible Pairings: Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love edited by Elsie Chapman; Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

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

Summer Days and Summer Nights: A Review

Summer Days, Summer Nights edited by Stephanie PerkinsAfter My True Love Gave to Me was greeted with critical praise and success, it’s no surprise that Stephanie Perkins is back editing another anthology featuring popular YA authors. This time around the stories all center around summer romances in Summer Days and Summer Nights.

Find it on Bookshop.

With the exception of Perkins herself, every author is a new contributor. There is more diversity among the authors and a better split between men and women which makes this a more balanced collection in that respect. With several noted fantasy authors, Summer Days and Summer Nights also boasts some excellent speculative fiction.

Summer Days, Summer Nights is a lot of fun, but it is also more of a mixed bag for me (but I am a winter person and Christmas is my favorite holiday so I suspect I was always more inclined to favor My True Love Gave to Me just a bit more). Because of that I’m including thoughts on each story below instead of a more cohesive/generalized review.

Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail by Leigh Bardugo: This is an intense story–something I’m realizing is Bardugo’s signature–and an interesting choice to start the anthology. The writing is very atmospheric and almost reads like magic realism (I say almost because at the end of the day it is just straight fantasy). An eerie story that is a bit creepy and a bit romantic which seems fitting when it’s centered around a mysterious lake monster.

The End of Love by Nina Lacour: My first encounter with Lacour’s writing. This is a sweet story with two girls as the romantic leads. There is not much here to give Flora presence as a main character or narrator (perhaps intentionally because so much of what she goes through in this story revolves around how she relates to others?). BUT the story does have great atmosphere and really strongly depicted emotions.

Last Stand at the Cinegore by Libba Bray: Libba’s story is one of my top three favorites in the entire collection. Reading it made me really want to read Beauty Queens which has been languishing on my shelves forever. This story follows Kevin at the end of his high school career on his last night working at the Cinegore theater. It’s his last chance to ask his dream girl, Dani, out. Which is great and totally doable. Except, you know, everything goes wrong when they start showing the last copy of a cult classic horror movie in the theater. This story also includes two of my favorite quotes from the entire book: “Dress codes are basically fascism.” and “Maybe sometimes the best thing you can do is to burn it all down and start over.”

Sick Pleasure by Francesca Lia Block: Block is not an author I would pick up for myself. Her style sometimes gets a bit too high-concept for my tastes. Such was the case here were all of the characters names are simply initials. Although this is not a fantasy it is still a bit . . . weird for reasons that are hard to explain in a paragraph. I will say that I really liked that that the main love here was self love in this story.

In Ninety Miles, Turn North by Stephanie Perkins: This story features Marigold and North (the characters from Stephanie’s Christmas story) and picks up the summer after they first meet. Of course this story was a lot of fun and super cute and I loved it. Why wouldn’t I when I already know and love Marigold and North? That said, I am not totally sure this story is as readable without knowing the background from their Christmas story.

Souvenirs by Tim Federle: I think it might just be Federle’s writing style (this is the first time I’ve read him) but this story is very frenetic. The prose took some getting used to before winning me over. This story follows Matty and Kieth who always knew their summer romance had an expiration day. Which is great. Except that on their self-selected breakup day, Matty is feeling decidedly ambivalent about the whole thing. Favorite quote: “But the thing about scars is that, as much as they knot you up, they make you stronger, too. Collect enough scars and you get a whole extra layer of skin, for free.”

Inertia by Veronica Roth: Full disclosure time: I’m not sure I’m really a fan of Roth’s writing style and I’m not sure it works for me. This story is okay but not a favorite and it is super melancholy (a recurring theme in the collection). Claire and Matthew were best friends until they grew apart months ago–largely due to Claire’s refusal to get help for her depression–so it’s strange and confusing when he chooses Claire as one of his last visits–a futuristic procedure that allows them to communicate in share memories before Matthew’s (highly probable) death. It’s a small nitpicky thing but the fact that a doctor in the story wears nail polish while getting ready for surgery and being a doctor really pulled me out of the story.

Love is the Last Resort by Jon Skovron: It has been a long time since I’ve read anything by Skovron and I’m sad to say this story did not bump him any higher on my mental to read list. This story is part romance and part comedy of errors as two jaded teens (who definitely, absolutely do not at all believe in love) work to bring two star-crossed couples together–and maybe change their own opinions on love in the process. While the narrator’s identity was a surprise, I don’t think I’ve ever rolled my eyes so much reading a short story. Obviously the style here is intentional but why????

Good Luck and Farewell by Brandy Colbert: Another new to me author. Rashida’s cousin Audrey has been like a mother to her. So when Audrey announces she is moving across the country with her girlfriend, Rashida is understandably upset. She works through her conflicted feelings about the upcoming move with an unlikely confidante: The very cute younger brother of Audrey’s girlfriend. Although sad, this story is really well-written and engaging. Colbert also offers a thoughtful discussion about coping with depression (and why treatment is okay and not an admission of defeat) which is impressive for the relatively short length of the story. The story ends on a really nice, hopeful note and highlights a variety of relationships including inter-generational ones within a family.

Brand New Attraction by Cassandra Clare: Lulu Darke’s father has run the family’s Dark Carnival for years. When her father goes missing, Lulu is left to takeover and get to the bottom of her uncle’s seemingly spontaneous arrival and his insistence that the carnival needs a new–way more evil and scary–demon at its core.This story has nothing to do with Shadow Hunters which was actually a really nice surprise. Unlike a lot of the other stories, this one reads young (ironically since Lulu is one of the older heroines). While thin on character development and a bit messy, this story is atmospheric and quite fun–in a dark way what with the demons and all.

A Thousand Ways This Could Go Wrong by Jennifer E. Smith: Annie is happy to work with the younger kids at her summer camp job but she isn’t sure what to do to help the new boy, Noah, have a good time. He’s on the autism spectrum and everything she tries seems to end badly. When she gets to hang out with Griffin, her longtime crush, she is thrilled with his insights for helping Noah although she isn’t sure what to make of the varying levels of success on their dates. There are a thousand ways things could go wrong here. But, it turns out, sometimes that just means there are also a thousand ways for things to go right. This story is in my top three favorites of the entire collection (no surprise since I’m a longtime Jen E. Smith fan)! Now this is a summer story and more like what I wanted and expected from the rest of the collection.

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things by Lev Grossman: When Mark realizes he’s been living through the exact same summer day for . . . quite a while . . . he starts to explore the limits of what he can do within a day. While there’s a lot of fun to be had, he’s incredibly relieved to find Margaret who is also aware of what’s happening. Although they don’t know how to fix the problem and get to a new day, at least not at first, they do embark on a project to find every tiny perfect moment that the day has to offer. This story is easily the best and my favorite of this collection. Perfect pacing. Perfect plot. Fantastic character development. I loved everything about this one and am hoping to read some of Grossman’s novels later this year.

As you can see, Summer Days and Summer Nights has some ups and downs for me in terms of quality and enjoyment (though again I think a lot of that is because I’m not a summer person per se). It’s funny seeing how much broader summer is in terms of genre and setting compared to the holiday stories collection which felt a bit more cohesive. Surprisingly (or maybe not?) a lot of these stories also revolved around breakups and had a generally melancholy tone.

Upon finishing Summer Day and Summer Nights I wanted to tear up my copy so that I could take each story and give it to the just-right reader for it. Recommended for readers who enjoy summer and short stories. A great introduction to some notable young adult authors and a fun way to explore a variety of genres for readers hoping to try something new.

You can also check out my Q & A with Stephanie Perkins to hear a little bit more about her experiences editing this anthology.

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

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: A (Poetically Speaking) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

april 27

today

under a magnolia tree

i ran into a dachsund named paul

he was very much a sausage

with paws

and a nose

poor paul

if only he would look up

for a second

and notice the magnolias

with their pink

and their white

and their gentle flutters

he would soon realize

that it’s not so bad

to be a dog

tied to a tree

in the shade

when it’s springtime

and fluttering

When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano and Julie MorstadIn When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons (2016) Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad, presents meditative poems set over the course of one year starting on March 20 when spring arrives. From there the poems follow winter’s retreat, the blooming of springtime flowers, beachy summer adventures, the crisp start of new days and falling leaves every autumn, all the way through winter’s pristine quiet. The collection concludes by circling back to March 20 with the initial poem appearing again the same way spring returns each year.

Each of Fogliano’s poem is titled with the date so that the book reads as a series of fun calendar entries. The poems are free verse and don’t rhyme. The variety of lengths, structures, and forms played with in When Green Becomes Tomatoes offer excellent examples of everything that poetry can do when used by a talented writer. The poems’ lack of punctuation and capital letters also bring the poetry of ee cummings to mind.

Fogliano’s poems are accompanied by illustrations from Julie Morstad bring the wonders to be found in each season to life. Morstad’s illustrations are populated with a variety of animals including paul the dachshund and the first bird of spring. The artwork in When Green Becomes Tomatoes also includes a diverse group of children enjoying what the each new season has to offer. A variety of pull page spreads, double page spreads, and smaller vignettes add variety to Morstad’s colorful illustrations and bring movement to each page.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes is a stellar addition to any poetry collection. Introspective poetry and finely detailed illustrations make this a book to savor. Readers are sure to find more to enjoy each time they sit down with this charming title. Highly recommended.

My True Love Gave to Me: A (Festive!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories edited by Stephanie PerkinsOnly in a short story anthology can organization, elves, the holiday season, and some other things besides come together to create a delightfully seasonal assortment of stories. My True Love Gave to Me (2014), edited by Stephanie Perkins, brings together YA authors at the top of their game in this festive collection of romantic stories set during the best time of year.

Find it on Bookshop.

If you enjoy Christmas, especially the decorating and the food look no further than Stephanie Perkins’ “It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” for a story that combines the wonders of home organization with a first encounter that might lead to something more. “Welcome to Christmas, CA” by Kiersten White is a sentimental story about finding home with some delectable food thrown in to taste.

Not a fan of Christmas? That’s okay too. “Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell is a heartfelt New Years’ story while “Krampuslauf” by Holly Black and “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor are fantasies set in December without being Christmas specific. Although Kelly Link centers her story around annual Christmas parties, “The Lady and the Fox” is more a Tam Lin style story than a specifically holiday story.

Don’t celebrate Christmas? Gayle Forman’s “What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” and David Levithan’s “Your Temporary Santa” both offer a look at the season from a Jewish perspective.

Humor is also prevalent in many of these stories, none more so than “Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire.

Themes of family are just as prevalent in this collection as romance which can be seen in “Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Pena and Ally Carter’s “Star of Bethlehem” both of which offer very different (but true) takes on what it means to find or just think about the importance of family over the holiday season.

The story I have thought about most since finishing this story is by Jenny Han. “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me” offers a tantalizing look at what life might be like on the North Pole for Santa’s daughter in a story that I can only hope will one day become a full-length novel.

Considering the range of authors and writing styles in this anthology, My True Love Gave to Me is a stunningly solid collection with a high quality of writing that spans every genre and story presented. This is a delightfully festive (and often secular) assortment of stories with something that will appeal to everyone. Perkins has done an admirable job of editing and organizing this anthology where whole exceeds the sum of its parts and is sure to leave every reader with a smile on their face.

(Careful readers may also want to examine the cover to find their favorite couple on the ice rink. The ARC I read also promises interior illustrations which I can’t wait to see.)

Possible Pairings: Ex-Mas by Kate Brian, Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love edited by Elsie Chapman; Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones; Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle; Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford