It’s Not Summer Without You: A Review

cover art for It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny HanBeing with Conrad was supposed to make everything better, but instead it’s one more thing that’s fallen apart in the aftermath of Susannah getting sick again.

Belly doesn’t know who she is without summers at Cousins Beach. She doesn’t know what to make of Conrad’s apathy or the distance that’s grown between them since last summer.

In a year where so many things have changed, Belly isn’t sure if she can keep pining for Conrad. All she really knows is that when Jeremiah calls to tell her that Conrad has disappeared, she has to help find him in It’s Not Summer Without You (2010) by Jenny Han.

Find it on Bookshop.

It’s Not Summer Without You is the second book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Belly narrates most of this book with a few chapters interspersed from Jeremiah’s point of view. Belly spends so much of this series focused on Conrad that it was interesting to see more of Jeremiah’s perspective.

With the addition of Jeremiah’s chapters and the story shifting away from Cousins, all of the characters are more developed here. The tension between Belly and both Fisher boys is palpable as all three try to reconcile themselves to the loss of the summer cocoon that used to bind them together.

It’s Not Summer Without You is a melancholy installment but the series is stronger because of it as another layer of depth is added to the story. Han takes the familiar elements from The Summer I Turned Pretty and inverts them to make this an entirely new reading experience.

It’s Not Summer Without You is, of course, a must-read for fans of the series and as much of a page-turner as you’re likely to find in a breezy contemporary–let’s just say I gasped more than once as I made my way to the end of this book!

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

The Summer I Turned Pretty: A Review

cover art for The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny HanBelly’s life has always been measured in summers. Of course she and her brother have school the rest of the year, she has friends, she has an entire life. But summer has always been the important thing because summer means it’s time to return to Cousins Beach and the house her family shares with the Fishers.

Belly’s mom and Susannah Fisher have been friends for decades and Belly can’t think of anything more natural than spending every summer in Cousins with Susannah and her sons, Conrad and Jeremiah.

As the youngest, Belly is used to being left out or made fun of by the boys. But that’s never made her love her summers, or Conrad, any less. Almost as soon as they arrive, Belly knows that this summer is going to be different. She can feel it in the air, see it in way Conrad and Jeremiah look at her like she’s someone totally new. But every summer, even what promises to be a perfect one, has to end in The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009) by Jenny Han.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is the first book in Han’s Summer trilogy which continues with It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have Summer.

Han’s prose is as gentle and comforting as a warm summer breeze as Belly narrates this story and shares flashbacks from some of her favorite summer memories.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is an emotional roller coaster as readers join Belly on all of the ups and downs in what becomes a pivotal summer. This book does double duty laying the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy while also offering a contained story as Belly tries to make sense of growing up, her ever-present (painfully obvious) feelings for Conrad, and the fact that summers may not stay the same for her family or the Fishers for much longer.

The Summer I Turned Pretty should be required reading for anyone who is a fan of contemporary fiction, romance, and summertime. If, like me, you first discovered Jenny because of her Lara Jean books (which begin with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), be sure to loop back to this series because it is just as sweet, just as romantic, and maybe even more epic with one of my favorite love triangles of all time. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

Save the Date: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“These memories, I was now realizing, had never been mine. They’d never been real, just ink and paper that I’d somehow folded into my real life, a revisionist history that I’d bought without a second thought.”

cover art for Save the Date by Morgan MatsonCharlie has always been proud to be a Grant. Not everyone gets to say their family inspired a beloved comic strip like her mother’s, Grant Central Station.

Charlie has been looking forward to the weekend of her big sister’s wedding for months. Finally, she’ll get to hang out with her siblings all at once without any distractions before the wedding and before her parents sell the family home.

But even before the big day, things start to go wrong. The wedding planner is on the run. The house alarm won’t stop going off. A shelter dropped off a dog for when Good Morning America talks with Charlie’s mom about ending her comic strip after twenty-five years. Then Mike, who has been estranged from the family for the last eighteen months, suddenly decides he does want to come home for the wedding. And that’s all before the guests start to arrive and the groom’s suit goes missing. Not to mention the wedding cake disaster.

Charlie is already having a hard time processing the sale of the house and starting college in the fall. She isn’t sure how to cope with all of these other problems. Pining after her longtime crush and helping Bill, the new wedding planner’s cute nephew, problem solve are both good distractions. But after she gets through the wedding, Charlie still has to decide how she’s going to get through the rest of her life when it feels like nothing stays the same in Save the Date (2018) by Morgan Matson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Matson’s latest standalone contemporary is an absolute delight. The novel starts with a cast of characters and also features fun chapter titles and key comic strips from Grant Central Station. Despite its length the madcap shenanigans and pacing of this story–set over one short weekend–make Save the Date a quick and utterly entertaining read. (It might also be my favorite Matson novel to date!)

Save the Date features a true ensemble cast filled with characters who are as memorable as they are lovable. I would happily read a book any and all of the other Grant siblings (or long suffering paper girl Sarah Stephens). Matson makes this large cast shine in scenes filled with snappy dialog and witty banter while making sure every character is worthy of their own story.

Charlie’s family home, the site of numerous wedding mishaps and much drama, also feels like another character as evocative descriptions help readers understand Charlie’s grief over losing this key part of her youth.

While Save the Date is ostensibly a story about a wedding where everything that can go wrong does, Charlie’s character arc is about a lot more as she comes to terms with growing up and realizes that her longtime crush and even her family memories have realities that don’t quite match up with her idealized memories and hopes.

Save the Date is a fast-paced, hilarious novel filled with big personalities and memorable moments. A solid story about accepting change, embracing imperfections, and making peace with life’s complexities. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Once and For All by Sarah Dessen, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

The Wicked Deep: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Wicked Deep by Shea EarnshawTwo hundred years ago in the town of Sparrow three sisters were drowned as witches. Every year since then the Swan sisters have returned to Sparrow, claiming the bodies of unwitting local girls and using them to wreak their vengeance on the town by drowning boys foolish enough to fall under their sway.

Every Swan Season is the same, ending only when each sister has claimed a new victim.

Penny can see what others can’t including long buried secrets about the sisters and the Swan Season. But she knows that secret can only go so far against a curse. She is used to watching the Swan Season unfold with wary detachment, certain that this one will be  like all the others ending with death, suspicion, and grief.

Except this year there is a new outsider in town—a boy named Bo who refuses to believe the Swan sisters can pose any real danger to anyone, especially him. A boy that Penny is determined to protect. As the Swan Season unfolds Penny and Bo will work together to unravel the truth of the curse and the sisters. But as the Swan Season nears its end Penny realizes that the only way to save Bo might be by sacrificing herself in The Wicked Deep (2018) by Shea Earnshaw.

The Wicked Deep is Earnshaw’s debut novel.

The Wicked Deep is a tense bit of fantasy woven through with suspense as the novel builds toward the disastrous conclusion of the Swan Season. Penny’s first person narration is frank and often cynical with lyrical prose as she slowly searches for a way to break the curse and save Bo.

This story is filled with twists and surprises about both Penny and Bo. Unfortunately the story also flags in the second act as Penny and Bo repeatedly discuss what ending the curse might entail and how far they are willing to go if it means freeing the island from the sisters’ menace forever.

The Wicked Deep is an atmospheric story filled with witches, secrets, and a scorching romance with far-reaching consequences. Recommended for readers looking for a spooky book to read curled up by a fire and fans of Practical Magic especially.

Possible Pairings: The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton

Unclaimed Baggage: A (Blog Tour) Review

“Sometimes you had to give something up to get what you really wanted in the first place.”

cover art for Unclaimed Baggage by Jen DollNell, Grant, and Doris have nothing in common.

Nell is a Chicago transplant unsure what to do with herself in small town Alabama–especially when her amazing boyfriend is still back home.

Grant used to be the the star quarterback. His family and coach are keen to help him keep that persona by covering up his recent DUI. But he’s starting to think he might just be a has been.

Then there’s Doris. She knows she’s an outsider. How can she be anything else as an outspoken liberal feminist in her conservative small town? She doesn’t mind because at least she has free reign of Unclaimed Baggage where she works sorting through and selling lost luggage.

As the three become reluctant coworkers for the summer Nell, Grant, and Doris will have to work together if they want to manage all of their own excess baggage in Unclaimed Baggage (2018) by Jen Doll.

Unclaimed Baggage is Doll’s debut novel. The story alternates between Nell, Grant, and Doris’ first person narrations with smaller vignettes throughout detailing the many journeys that brought key pieces of lost luggage to the store.

Over the course of one summer these three unlikely characters become friends as their lives entwine in unlikely ways. Doris is still grieving her aunt’s sudden death last year, Nell is shaken up by the culture shock of her move, and Grant is trying (and often failing) to come to terms with his drinking problem.

Each character has a distinct narrative voice while the surprisingly compelling luggage vignettes have a more omniscient tone. Doll brings small town Alabama to life with its charms (notably seen at a balloon festival) and its small-mindedness as Doris struggles with the stigma she hasn’t been able to shake since a boy in her church group groped her and she refused to stay quiet (or return to church) and, later in the novel, another character is targeted in a racially motivated attack.

Unlikely friends, hints of romance, and a mystery surrounding an empty suitcase flesh out this character driven plot. Unclaimed Baggage is a charming slice-of-life novel about one formative summer and the small moments that can lead to big changes. Recommended.

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Jen about Unclaimed Baggage too!

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen, The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason, Moxie by Jen Mathieu, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Down and Across: A Review

cover art for Down and Across by Arvin AhmadiScott Ferdowski is a great quitter. For as long as he can remember he has had a trail of abandoned hobbies and projects. While his best friends are driven and certain of their futures Scott just feels like he’s floundering. How can he find his passion when he can’t even commit to breakfast?

Scott’s parents want him to succeed and get serious about a secure career path like engineering or medicine. Scott isn’t sure what he wants but he knows it isn’t that.

When he hears about a professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success, Scott thinks she might be able to help him figure out how to change. All he has to do is quit his internship and run away to Washington, DC. It won’t even be that hard with his parents away visiting Scott’s grandfather in Iran.

Scott doesn’t expect to find an adventure when he runs away. It doesn’t feel momentous as he steps onto bus or even when he first meets Fiora and Trent.

Fiora is passionate about crossword puzzles and wants nothing more than to write them. Trent is trying to land his dream job in politics. But, like Scott, they’ve each hit their own road blocks. Can three misfits really help each other to find their passions over the course of one unexpected summer? Scott isn’t sure. But he’s about to find out in Down and Across (2018) by Arvin Ahmadi.

Down and Across is Ahmadi’s debut novel and it is fantastic.

Like a lot of teenagers, Scott isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. Add to that growing pressure from his parents (especially his father) to commit to something (anything) and Scott is feeling completely overwhelmed. Scott’s efforts to balance his Iranian heritage with his life as an American teen is equally difficult–it’s why he has been going by Scott since kindergarten instead of his real name “Saaket.

Scott’s first person narration is thoughtful and endearing. Although he doesn’t start the novel with much self-awareness he does reach a new understanding of grit as it relates to his surprisingly eventful summer and beyond. While there is a heavy focus on the mechanics of writing a crossword puzzle it serves to enhance the story and Scott’s learning process mirrors the ways in which Scott’s view of his world (and himself) changes over the summer.

Down and Across is a smart, subtle novel about growing up and embracing who you are–even if you might not have it all figured out just yet. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Gap Life by John Coy, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, Paper Towns by John Green, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Odd One Out by Nic Stone, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

All Summer Long: A (Graphic Novel) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bina thought her summer was all planned out. Sure, she’s thirteen now but does that mean summer has to change?

According to her best friend Austin it does. He says says they’re too old to do the Summer Fun Index. Worse he’s going to soccer camp for an entire month.

Without Austin around Bina has a lot of free time. More than she can fill with streaming TV, her guitar, or music.

Bina finds an unlikely companion in Austin’s older sister. But in a summer where everything is changing Bina isn’t sure if she’ll be able to hold onto either of them or if it’s time to let them go in All Summer Long (2018) by Hope Larson.

Find it on Bookshop.

All Summer Long is Larson’s latest standalone comic. It’s a perfect summery read down to the vibrant orange and yellow palette throughout the interior pages.

Larson manages to create a dynamic and fast-paced story even while focusing on Bina’s own introspection as she tries to figure out who she wants to be friends with and maybe even who she wants to be.

Bina’s summer soul searching is interspersed with a tentative new friendship, babysitting adventures, music, and her family’s growing excitement as her older brother and his husband prepare to adopt their first child.

All Summer Long is a frothy, fun graphic novel. Perfect for music lovers, musicians, and anyone who is still trying to figure everything out.

Possible Pairings: Pashmina by Nidhi Chainani, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly, Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler, The Victoria in My Head by Janelle Milanes, Noteworthy by Riley Redgate

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

Royals (aka Prince Charming): A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Royals by Rachel HawkinsDaisy doesn’t want to be a princess, or even in the limelight really, but it turns out that’s hard when her older sister is practically engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland.

After one too many near-misses with the paparazzi Daisy is whisked off to Scotland with her sister to lay low. It’s not at all how Daisy wants to spend her summer but she doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Especially when Ellie announces her engagement.

In Scotland Daisy is supposed learn how to be regal while keeping a low profile. She even has help from the royal fixer and Miles, a close friend of the royal family. But it turns out keeping a low profile is hard when the prince’s younger brother, Sebastian, is an actual human dumpster fire–he and his friends (including Miles) are literally called the Royal Wreckers–and seems hellbent on dragging Daisy into as much trouble as he possibly can.

Daisy knows she doesn’t quite fit the royal rule book with her mermaid red hair, geeky interests, and no nonsense attitude. But no one ever said she couldn’t rewrite the rules herself in Royals (2018) by Rachel Hawkins.

Find it on Bookshop.

Royals can be read as a standalone contemporary but it is also the start of a series–each following a different heroine. (Note: This book was retitled as Prince Charming for the paperback edition.)

Daisy is a delightful narrator. She is smart, witty, and she calls things as she sees them in this fast-paced story. Daisy struggles to mold herself in the image of her poised and elegant sister who seems to have been born to be a princess with hilarious results. But even royals have obligations and Daisy soon realizes that she isn’t the only one feeling pressure after her sister and the prince announce their engagement.

Daisy’s story is pure, escapist fun complete with an unexpected love interest, friend shenanigans, and many zany mishaps as Daisy learns the hard way that expectations can be misleading–especially when it comes to love.

Royals is an effervescent and cheery contemporary. I cannot wait to see what happens in book two.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, American Royals by Katharine McGee, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Now a Major Motion Picture: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthyIris Thorne is dreading the movie adaptation of her grandmother’s Elementia books. Hailed as a feminist response to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings the Elementia books are seen as classic fantasy and have the diehard fans to prove it. The fandom even has a name: Thornians.

The movie adaptation is only going to make that worse. Iris and her family already had to deal with a crazy fan trying to abduct her younger brother, Ryder. She can’t imagine what will happen with a bigger fan base. Nothing good, that much is obvious.

Iris hopes that spending the summer in Ireland observing the production with Ryder will give her the perfect chance to sabotage the production. After all, if the movie never gets made no one will be able to watch it.

When Iris’s sabotage schemes are thwarted by dreamy leading actor Eamon and the crew’s infectious enthusiasm she starts to wonder if the one thing she has been dreading might also be the one thing she desperately needs in Now a Major Motion Picture (2018) by Cori McCarthy.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cori McCarthy’s latest standalone novel is a charming contemporary romance. Iris’s narration is razor sharp as she tries very hard to remain an outsider on the set even while the cast and crew do their best to befriend her.

Iris remembers the trauma her family has suffered because of the Elementia books and she is weary to let herself embrace that legacy even as she starts to learn more about its feminist themes and the director’s efforts to stay true to that in the adaptation. Iris is very much a fish out of water among the cast and crew and this is a charming story about how she starts to find her place there–and maybe even in her own family.

Now a Major Motion Picture has humor, a snarky narrator, and a swoony romance all set in a picturesque locale–in other words, all the makings of a perfect summer read.

Possible Pairings: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Eric Hicks, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Be Prepared: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Be Prepared by Vera BrosgolVera has been trying hard to fit in with her friends in the suburbs. After carefully studying all of the ingredients, Vera knows exactly what she needs to have the perfect birthday party. Except the end result doesn’t turn out quite right. The Russian pizza place doesn’t stuff their crust with cheese. The Russian bakery doesn’t have ice cream cake. And Vera’s single mother can’t afford a big house like the other girls so the sleepover is more cramped than fun.

As summer approaches and all of her friends talk about going to camp Vera is reminded that her family can’t afford camp and she’ll be spending another summer at home with her siblings. Until Vera finds out about something amazing at church: Russian summer camp!

Vera is certain that Russian summer camp is her chance to finally fit in and make friends. And even if things go wrong, it’s only two weeks, right?

Unfortunately things go wrong almost immediately.

Vera winds up at a camp filled with Russian history lessons, older girl drama, no candy, and worst of all outhouses instead of indoor plumbing! When her two weeks turn into a full month Vera will have to see if she can use her love of art and (some) animals to try and turn things around in Be Prepared (2018) by Vera Brosgol.

Brosgol’s latest book is an excellent addition to the increasingly popular graphic novel memoir arena. The story is inspired by Brosgol’s own childhood and includes an author’s note at the end explaining how she adapted her real life experiences into a compelling graphic novel.

Be Prepared has a palette of green, black, and white lending a natural feel to the artwork even before Vera (and her younger brother who is forced to tag along) show up at camp. Brosgol’s artwork has bold lines that help to convey expressive characters and detailed backdrops. Young Vera’s drawings are also integrated well into the comic with a less polished pencil-like drawing style.

Be Prepared is an utterly sympathetic story of plans gone wrong, scary bathrooms, nature, and learning to adapt. Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeie or Shannon Hale.

Possible Pairings: El Deafo by Cece Bell, Making Friends by Kristen Gudsnuk, Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Smile by Raina Telgemeier

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