Sunkissed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sunkissed by Kasie WestAvery’s expectations for her summer vacation are low. Her college professor parents always make summer vacations an event but now, the summer before her senior year, Avery’s parents are more determined than ever to have a summer full of family bonding. Unfortunately that means a summer at a hokey family camp. Without WiFi.

While Avery mourns her now inaccessible playlists, she relishes the chance to completely unplug and avoid her best friend–the one who betrayed her right before they left. Watching her younger, extroverted sister struggle without access to all of her social media accounts is an added bonus.

The summer starts to look up when Avery meets Brooks–the aloof frontman for the camp’s band. Who tells Avery that all of the camp’s guests are hopeless snobs before he realizes she is, in fact, one of those guests.

Despite a disastrous first meeting, circumstances keep bringing Avery and Brooks together while giving Avery a chance to step out of her comfort zone. After years of curating the perfect playlist for every occasion, this summer could be Avery’s chance to write her own song–and sing it center stage in Sunkissed (2021) by Kasie West.

Find it on Bookshop.

If the plot of West’s latest standalone contemporary sounds a lot like the film Dirty Dancing, that’s because it is. Sunkissed offers an aged down, somewhat sanitized version of the film where the main characters connect while preparing for a battle of the bands contest instead of a dancing showcase. The family camp here feels a bit less plausible and is, notably, not a destination for Jewish families as was the case in the film.

Avery’s first person narration is breezy and immediately draws readers into her story. She is also an extremely introverted and conflict averse character, making it painfully clear to readers early on that her problems could largely be resolved with some honest conversations–all of which Avery avoids for most of the book.

West brings her ususal skill to writing swoony banter and characters with chemistry even if, at times, the story seems to be shoehorned into the Dirty Dancing style plot. Where this story really shines is in watching Avery and Brooks connect as they ultimately push each other to strive for their goals–things neither was willing to fight for until their fateful meeting.

Sunkissed is a summery romance filled with characters who love music and are learning to dream big.

Possible Pairings: Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park, Love Songs and Lies by Jessica Pennington, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker, Dirty Dancing

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

The Girl From the Sea: A Graphic Novel Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Girl From the Sea by Molly Knox OstertagFifteen-year-old Morgan Kwon is counting down the days until she finishes high school. Once she graduates Morgan will be able to start her real life at college where she won’t have to worry about her divorced mom or her moody younger brother, Aiden.

Best of all, Morgan won’t have to keep any more secrets–like the fact that she’s gay. Even with a supportive family and a great group of friends, Morgan isn’t sure how anyone will take that news. She isn’t sure she wants to find out.

Everything changes one night when Morgan falls into the water. Saved by a mysterious girl named Keltie, Morgan starts to wonder if she doesn’t have to wait for her real life to start after all.

Kelie is pretty and funny. She helps Morgan see Wilneff Island in a new light. She’s also a little strange. But by the time Morgan learns the truth about Keltie, she knows she’ll do whatever it takes to help Keltie. Even if it means revealing some of her own secrets in The Girl From the Sea (2021) by Molly Knox Ostertag.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Girl From the Sea is a summery standalone graphic novel illustrated in full color.

The story closely follows Morgan as she balances summer fun with her friends (including clever pages of texts between the group of girls interspersed throughout the book) alongside getting to know Keltie. This sweet story of first love and embracing yourself is rounded out with hints of environmentalism and selkie folkore that Morgan and Keltie unpack together as Keltie reveals her secrets.

Tight plotting, carefully detailed illustrations, and fully realized characters make The Girl From the Sea a graphic novel that readers will want to revisit again and again.

Possible Pairings: The Lucky List by Rachael Lippincott, Bloom by Kevin Panetta, You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

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

The Cousins: A Review

The Cousins by Karen M. McManusThe Story family always lived by one simple rule: family first, always.

That was before the family matriarch mysteriously disinherited and banished all of her children from the family estate on Gull Cove Island with nothing but a letter saying, “You know what you did.” Now cousins Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah barely know each other. They’ve never met their infamous grandmother.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t familiar with the Story family reputation: glamorous, mysterious, and just a little bit tragic. It doesn’t mean they aren’t just a little bit curious when their grandmother reaches out inviting the cousins to work at a local resort for the summer and reconnect. They soon realize the letters they received are a far cry from the real grandmother they find when they arrive on the island.

Everyone in the Story family has secrets but there’s something seductive about family secrets and the way they can become a part of you until exposing them feels just like losing part of yourself. After a lifetime of secrets surrounding their family history, Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah will have to uncover the truth to help their entire family move on in The Cousins (2020) by Karen M. McManus.

Find in on Bookshop.

The Cousins is a standalone mystery. Chapters alternate between Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah’s first person narrations. Third person chapters interspersed throughout the story from Milly’s mother, Allison, in 1996 show the events leading up to the disinheritance. With the exception of Milly who is half-Japanese, the Story family is white. A few secondary characters are BIPOC and play small but key roles in the story.

McManus packs a lot into this slim, fast-paced novel as the cousins begin to collaborate to start putting together the pieces of their family’s troubled past. Aubrey, a guileless narrator eager to connect with her estranged family, is a fun contrast to calculating Jonah and shrewd Milly who have more complicated reasons for coming to the island.

The Cousins balances its multiple timelines and plot threads shifting viewpoints so the right character is able to present the right information to readers for maximum impact. Tightly controlled narratives and excellent plot management leave just enough breadcrumbs for readers to try to make sense of the Story family’s secrets along with the protagonists.

The Cousins is an utterly engrossing mystery filled with suspense, complex family dynamics, and three narrators that are as multifaceted as the mystery they’re trying to solve.

Possible Pairings: The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Jane Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao, Knives Out

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, Sunkissed by Kasie West, The Social Dilemma (Netflix documentary)

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

Felix Ever After: A Review

Felix Ever After by Kacen CallenderFelix Love has never been in love–an irony that weighs heavily on him as he starts the summer before his senior year in high school. Felix is mostly happy with his life and loves who he is but he also wonders as a Black, queer, transgender teen if he’s ever going to find his happy ending.

Felix knows he’s lucky to be fully accepted by his best friend Ezra and his classmates. He knows not all fathers would pay for their son’s top surgery or support his choice to be his true self. Felix reminds himself of that every time his father stumbles a little when he tries to call Felix by his name.

But there’s no excuse when someone in Felix’s summer art program puts up an exhibit with photos of Felix as a kid before he transitioned along with his deadname. When he starts receiving transphobic messages on Instagram, Felix decides it’s time to fight back.

Creating a secret profile to try and out his harasser should be simple since Felix is so sure it’s his longtime nemesis, Declan. But when Felix and Declan start talking, Felix realizes nothing is exactly as it seems–especially Felix’s own feelings for Declan and for Ezra in Felix Ever After (2020) by Kacen Callender.

Find it on Bookshop.

Felix has to deal with some heavy topics throughout the book including the anonymous transphobic harassment and offhand comments from classmates as well as his father’s mixed efforts to support Felix. Callender presents all of this thoughtfully and, thanks to Felix’s first person narration, keeps the focus on Felix’s own experiences without giving extra page time to his traumas. (One example: Although we see Felix being deadnamed–with his childhood photos and captions using the name Felix was given by his parents before he transitioned–in the rogue art exhibit, we do not ever see the actual name used in the book.)

Despite being his story, Felix is not always an easy character to cheer on as he embarks on his own catfishing scheme for revenge. That said, Felix learns a lot and grows a lot as the story progresses and he begins to stand up for himself and more fully understand his own gender identity.

With a flashy, feel-good finale at the New York City Pride parade, Felix Ever After is a summery, romantic story that will leave you with a smile on your face.

Possible Pairings: Simon Vs. the Homo-Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver, Some Girls Bind by Rory James, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, Birthday by Meredith Russo, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi

No One Here is Lonely: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Change almost always starts with something tiny, far from the surface. With movement too small to notice or gauge, that travels up and changes something else, until there’s a long chain of altered things and then everything is different.”

No One Here is Lonely by Sarah EverettEden has always cared about two people a little more than anything else: her best friend Lacey and her longtime crush Will, even if he doesn’t know it.

When Will is killed in a car crash, Eden is haunted by the chances she didn’t take, the what ifs that she’ll never be able to answer. Worse, she realizes that she’s losing Lacey too as they begin to grow apart and the last summer before college that Eden envisioned for them goes up in smoke.

Alone with her grief, alone as she discovers that her parents’ perfect marriage might not be so perfect, Eden isn’t sure who to confide in when it feels like everything is changing. Then she finds out Will set up an account with In Good Company–a service that uses a person’s voice, emails, and other online records to create a digital companion.

The Will Eden talks to on the phone isn’t real. She knows that. But he also feels like the only person who has time for her now. As Lacey tries to figure out who she is without Lacey, she starts a new job and makes new friends. All with Will cheering her on.

As Eden is drawn to Oliver–Lacey’s twin brother–Eden will have to decide if choosing to focus on the future is worth letting go of the last pieces of her past in No One Here is Lonely (2019) by Sarah Everett.

Find it on Bookshop.

Everett’s sophomore novel blends light sci-fi elements with contemporary themes in this story of grief and growth. Eden and Will are Black (as is one of Eden’s new coworkers) while the other characters are assumed white.

Eden is completely adrift at the start of this novel. Will and the future with him that Eden imagined was one bold move away are gone. Lacey, a constant in Eden’s life for years, acts like their previous inside jokes are immature and wants to spend time with other newer friends. Then, at the worst possible time, Eden ends up in the middle of her parents’ marriage when she discovers signs of infidelity.

Despite knowing that In Good Company only offers a digital facsimile of a person, Eden clings to it–and to Will–as she tries to figure out who she is without all of the previous constants in her life. While there are hints of romance as Eden is drawn to Oliver, a friend she was never allowed to consider as more than an acquaintance out of loyalty to Lacey, this is really a story about a girl coming into her own and learning howto be her own best support.

No One Here is Lonely is a thoughtful story about grief, friendships, and learning to love yourself best.

Possible Pairings: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

You Have a Match: A Review

You Have a Match by Emma LordWhen Abby signs up for a DNA service with her best friends Leo and Colleen, she doesn’t expect any surprises. Abby knows she isn’t adopted and she knows her family. Things have been so awkward with Leo since the BEI (Big Embarrassing Incident) that Abby is willing to do almost anything to try and get back to normal–especially support him while he tries to find out more about his own biological parents.

Instead of finding out everything she already knew, Abby’s results share something shocking: she has an older sister.

Savannah Tully is a bonafide Instagram influencer complete with the athleisure wardrobe, type A personality, and life mantras. Savvy is a year and a half older than Abby but Abby can’t imagine anyone farther away from her interest in photography (and her reluctance to share her photos with anyone), her chaotic home life, and her less-than-stellar grades in school.

Both girls want to know more and find out why Savvy was put up for adoption, so when the opportunity comes up for them to attend the same summer camp it seems like the ideal chance to get answers.

Savvy and the camp are not what Abby expects–especially when she finds out Leo will also be there. Facing a whole summer with a sister she’s never met and the best friend she can barely look in the eye, Abby’s summer is poised for some big changes. Or to completely self-destruct in You Have a Match (2021) by Emma Lord.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lord’s sophomore novel tackles themes of belonging and family with her signature humor and a wholly evocative summer setting. Abby, Savvy and their families are white. Leo is Filipino and adopted by white parents although he has the chance to connect more with his Filipino heritage through his cooking at camp.

Although Leo is central to the story as a love interest, his own feelings as a person of color adopted by white parents receive only a surface treatment here. Savvy’s rocky relationship with her girlfriend and potential crush on her own friend are also secondary to the main story although a nice touch.

Abby is a chaotic protagonist. She takes risks and often actually leaps without considering the consequences. The most satisfying part of this story is watching Abby and Savvy rub off on each other as they learn the value of goals/structure and the importance of loosening up respectively.

You Have a Match is summery and often funny while aptly negotiating heavier themes in a story of (literal) found family and romance.

Possible Pairings: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi

A Fierce and Subtle Poison: A Review

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha MabryLucas spends every summer with his hotel-developer father in Puerto Rico. The resort there, an old convent, sometimes feels more like home to Lucas than the mainland ever does.

The stories he hears there about the cursed girl with the green skin and the poison in her veins sometimes feel more real than any of the girls Lucas spends the summer romancing as a diversion. Lucas has always wanted to help her; imagined himself breaking Isabel’s curse once and for all.

This summer, when his latest girlfriend disappears and Lucas starts receiving letters from Isabel herself, his life becomes inextricably entwined with the island, the curse, and a desperate search to save another lost girl before it’s too late in A Fierce and Subtle Poison (2016) by Samantha Mabry.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison is Mabry’s debut novel. It’s easy, while reading, to see how the seeds of this story led to her subsequent novels All the Wind in the World and Tigers, Not Daughters.

Narrated by Lucas, this novel explores colonization and gentrification. Lucas witnesses firsthand the entitlement of white tourists and the damage his own father’s resorts cause to the island’s often fragile history.

Mabry expertly blends suspense and magic realism in this story of poison and disappeared girls although by the second half of the book it begins to feel like too many things are thrown into the plot as Lucas learns more about Isabel and her past.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison is a subtle story of longing and growing up. Recommended for readers who want to follow along with characters searching for their own compass–moral or otherwise.

Possible Pairings: Girl Serpent Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Sadie by Courtney Summers

Pandora’s Legacy: A Graphic Novel Review

The Panagakos family are descendants of Pandora. For generations the family has worked to protect Pandora’s box and guard against the dangerous monsters it contains.

Except no one ever told younger siblings Charlie, Janet, or Trevor about that. When the three of them find (and break) a mysterious jar in the wood near their grandparents’ house, they have no idea what they’ve unleashed.

Lacking their older siblings’ training, not to mention their weapons, Charlie, Janet, and Trevor will have to band together and think fast if they want save their family and stop the freed monsters from destroying everything in their path in Pandora’s Legacy (2018) by Kara Leopard, illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews.

Pandora’s Legacy is a high action graphic novel. Although the story focuses on twins Janet and Trevor, their older sister Charlie also plays a large role as the three of them become unwitting heroes and the last defense against the monsters found within Pandora’s box.

The high action of Leopard’s fast-paced plot contrasts well with the Matthews’ finely detailed illustrations that seamlessly blend evocative backdrops and horrifying monsters.

Pandora’s Legacy is an adventurous ode to siblings and underdogs everywhere. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge, Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G., Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

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

Alex, Approximately: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bailey “Mink” Rydell loves few things as much as she loves classic movies. It’s the basis for her entire relationship with Alex, a boy she met in a classic movie fan forum. Alex seems like the perfect guy for Bailey–the only problem is that she doesn’t know anything about him except for his profile name.

When Bailey moves cross country to live with her dad, it should be her opportunity to finally meet Alex in person. Except then she panics and starts to wonder if it wouldn’t be smarter to try and scope Alex out in real life before she makes any grand gesture. After all, what if he’s a total creep? Or a poser?

Her efforts to uncover Alex’s true identity are hampered by making sense of her new home, a new job at the local museum that is as kitschy as it is eccentric, and discovering a new nemesis. Porter Roth is cocky and quick to put her in her place in the most embarrassing ways. He’s also painfully good looking and impossible to ignore.

With two guys vying for her attentions Bailey has the rest of the summer to figure out if she’s willing to risk her heart on a messy reality instead of pining for a fantasy that may not exist offline in Alex, Approximately (2017) by Jenn Bennett.

Find it on Bookshop.

Alex, Approximately is a gentle standalone contemporary romance. Bennett introduces readers to Bailey’s new hometown with evocative landscapes, quirky shops, and all of Bailey’s awe. Epigraphs of quotes from classic films can be found at the start of each chapter.

Snarky banter, madcap shenanigans, and genuine moments of vulnerability help to develop Bailey and Porter’s relationship in this story about first impressions and connection. A varied and well-rounded cast of secondary characters add another layer to an already richly imagined novel.

Alex, Approximately is a sweet, summery book ideal for fans of stories with mistaken identities, hate to love romance, and fantastic vintage vespas.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail