Don’t Date Rosa Santos: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Demand more of your possibilities.”

Don't Date Rosa Santos by Nina MorenoEveryone knows that the Santos women don’t go near the water. Not anymore. Rosa Santos knows that better than anyone. After her grandfather died to make sure Rosa’s pregnant grandmother made it to Florida, and after her own father died at sea when her mother was eighteen and pregnant, Rosa knows that the Santos women and boys on boats don’t mix.

Despite her grandmother’s bad memories, Rosa is desperate to visit Cuba herself. Something she thought she had finally figured out with a dual enrollment program at her local community college and a study abroad program at a four year university.

Just when Rosa can start to imagine herself walking along the maricon in Havana, the study abroad program is cancelled leaving all of Rosa’s plans up in the air. Which is how Rosa, the girl who has never set foot near Port Coral’s beach finds herself organizing the annual spring festival to try and save the local marina.

Rosa’s reluctant helper is Alex Aquino whose family owns the marina. Back in town for the first time since graduation, Alex is not the gawky boy Rosa remembers. This Alex has tattoos, a beard, and a smile that just might be lethal. He also has baking skills and, worst of all, his own boat.

As Rosa and Alex grow closer, Rosa has to decide if a family curse is a good enough reason to give up on all of the things she wants most in Don’t Date Rosa Santos (2019) by Nina Moreno.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is Moreno’s debut novel. Through Rosa’s narration readers are introduced to the charming town of Port Coral, Florida and its quirky residents.

While the main plot focuses on Rosa’s efforts to save the Port Coral marina, this is a story about grief and family history. Rosa has grown up with her grandmother, Mimi, learning Mimi’s tricks when it comes to brujeria and making a home for herself in Port Coral. Meanwhile, Rosa’s mother is a wandering artist who hasn’t felt at home in Port Coral since her teens when Rosa’s father died. All three generations of women have been touched by tragedy–a linking thread that drives the family further apart instead of drawing them together.

These ruminations on grief are tempered with the madcap preparations for the festival and Rosa’s tentative romance with Alex–one of the best male leads you’ll find in a YA rom com–and Rosa’s efforts to try and understand her own family’s history both in Port Coral and in Cuba.

Don’t Date Rosa Santos is a perfect blend of the setting from Gilmore Girls, the magic in Practical Magic, and just a hint of the strong family ties in Charmed. The perfect choice for readers looking for a sweet romance with humor and intrigue in equal measure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire On High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, A Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, By the Book by Amanda Sellet, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar

The Light at the Bottom of the World: A Review

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London ShahThousands of feet underwater, humanity tries to find a way forward on a planet that changed forever sixty-five years ago when the water levels started to rise and never stopped. Strange as it may be, it’s the only world Leyla McQueen has ever known.

When her father is accused of the worst possible crime and arrested with no chance to defend himself, Leyla knows she has to get him out. Even if her best chance to do that is trying to win the ultra competitive, ultra dangerous London Submersible Marathon.

When the race doesn’t go to plan, Leyla realizes her father’s arrest is tied to much bigger secrets in London. With no other options and no help in sight, Leyla has to leave the only home she has ever known and confront dangerous truths to save her father before it’s too late in The Light at the Bottom of the World (2019) by London Shah.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Light at the Bottom of the World is Shah’s debut novel and the start of her Light the Abyss duology.

Leyla is a great narrator who has obvious affection for her small corner of this underwater world while acknowledging the devastation that led humanity to it. Despite a strong premise and evocative setting, the stakes of Leyla’s mission never translates to an actual sense of urgency even as she is caught in a race against time to save her father before she is detained by the authorities herself.

The story and its slang remains very grounded in modern cultural references and terminology even though the story is set decades in the future. The varied cast of secondary characters are unfortunately under-utilized for a lot of this plot-driven novel.

The Light at the Bottom of the World is a classic dystopian featuring a kickass Muslim girl, lots of submarines, lots of water, and lots of action. Recommended for readers seeking any or all of the above in their science fiction.

Possible Pairings: The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron, The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau, A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen, Matched by Ally Condie, Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Warcross by Marie Lu, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, The Program by Suzanne Young

Aquicorn Cove: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Aquicorn Cove by Katie O'NeillLana isn’t sure what to expect when she and her father return to their seaside hometown. It can’t be the same–not when Lana’s mother is gone–but maybe helping her aunt and  the other locals clean up after the latest big storm can make it close to the way it was.

The last thing Lana expects to find while picking up debris on the beach is a magical seahorse. It turns out that the aquicorns have always lived near the village in the coral reef. But as the local fishermen take in larger and larger catches, the aquicorns aren’t sure how much longer they can stay.

The village is only a small one and Lana is only one small girl in it. But as she learns more about her family and the aquicorns she starts to realize that sometimes even small actions can turn into big changes in Aquicorn Cove (2018) by Katie O’Neill.

This standalone graphic novel blends fantasy elements with a strong message about environmental conservation and one girls efforts to move on after an unthinkable loss.

Aquicorn Cove is filled with cute characters and adorable creatures in equal measure. This story also has a very clearly defined arc giving the narrative a strong focus and a satisfying level of closure. Finished copies of Aquicorn Cove will also include back matter about ocean conservation.

O’Neill’s artwork is vibrant and whimsical. Bright colors and bold lines bring Lana’s village and the underwater home of the aquicorns to life. Rounded edges and a consistent palette also help to imbue the artwork with a soft and calm quality as well.

Aquicorn Cove is a sweet and gorgeously illustrated story. A unique premise, thoughtful fantasy elements, and a winning case of characters makes this one a winner. Recommended!

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

Between: A Review

Between by Jessica WarmanElizabeth Valchar has the perfect life. Pretty, popular and privileged–the world is hers for the taking. Even her eighteenth birthday party is ideal: a night on her father’s boat spent with her friends, her boyfriend, alcohol and maybe just a little pot.

Unfortunately when Liz wakes up the day after her party it’s obvious that her perfect life is over in every sense of the word.

Liz is dead. Left staring over the side of the boat at her own dead body and watching the horrible fallout as news of her death spreads to her family and friends, Liz has no clear memory of how she died. She doesn’t even remember much of her own life.

As Liz struggles to make sense of the person she used to be and what led to her drowning on her birthday, Liz realizes there are some things that are best left forgotten in Between (2011) by Jessica Warman.

Between is an uneasy blend of mystery and paranormal with the smallest dose of suspense thrown in. While the bones of the story are promising as Liz tries to decipher the events leading to her own murder, the execution was inelegant at best.

First and foremost, Liz is not a likable heroine. While she is at pains to tell readers she is a “good kid” Liz’s actions often speak louder. Even her transformation over the course of the book does little to make her an approachable narrator. Her sidekick throughout the  story remains similarly one dimensional.

While Between has some interesting aspects the writing felt repetitive as Liz explains things repeatedly at different intervals of the story in the exact same way. Other aspects of the story (particularly “Famous Richie” and why he is so famous) felt like gimmicks that added very little to the story. Combined with Liz’s often prickly narration these elements made it very hard to get into this book.

The mystery aspect was well handled but too drawn out. Warman also paints a painfully authentic picture of the havoc eating disorders can wreak but again this thread takes so long to develop that much of its potency is lost. The book was also littered with shockingly inadequate adults, adding another layer of frustration.

Fans of books about life after death, particularly The Lovely Bones, will likely find a new favorite read in Between. On the other hand, readers hoping for an eerie mystery would be better served with a different title.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, More Than This by Patrick Ness, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Moonglass: A Review

“I read once that water is a symbol for emotions. And for a while now I’ve thought maybe my mother drowned in both.”

Moonglass by Jessi KirbyTen years ago Anna watched her mother walk into the ocean without a second thought about anything–even her own daughter.

Now instead of starting her Junior year at home surrounded by familiar faces and memories, Anna is moving with her father to a new town and a new beach. Except, the beach cottage isn’t as fresh a start as Anna thought.

Sure, Anna does get a fresh start here with the cute lifeguards her father has declared off limits, runs along the beach, and even some new friends. But she is also surrounded by old ghosts and the weight of blame from her mother’s suicide still looms large between Anna and her father.

In a new town, with new people, Anna still hunts for sea glass on the beach–just like she did with her mother. The only differences is this time Anna might find a way to move on mixed in with those colorful pieces of sea-tumbled glass in Moonglass (2011) by Jessi Kirby.

Moonglass is Kirby’s first novel.

Anna is an excellent narrator. She loves the beach, she is athletic and above all she is ultimately real. Parts of the story felt almost too surreal but by the end of the story it all tied together in a way that worked for the characters and the plot. Kirby does an admirable job looking at loss and the often uncomfortable topic of guilt. All of the characters have a certain dignity about them and, by the end, they also have a bit of closure.

At 224 pages (hardcover), Moonglass is quite short compared to some books. The brevity allows Kirby to create a tight story that holds a reader’s attention even in a book that is much more about characters than plot in a lot of ways. Unfortunately it also does not leave time to expand certain areas including an almost abrupt (and definitely wide open) ending and backgrounds for some secondary characters.

Kirby’s writing is reminiscent of the evocative, subtle voice Sarah Dessen and Deb Caletti use to such great effect. Her atmospheric writing brings the beach to life. Moonglass is a great, summery read with a lot of substance besides. Kirby is definitely an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Exclusive Bonus Content: This is more of a buyer beware. I got a copy of this book for review through Amazon and was enjoying it when, much to my dismay, I reached the halfway point and found half a page torn out. So, you know, don’t forget to make sure all of a the book is actually in the book before you start reading it!