Book Reviews

Lucky Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lucky Girl by Jamie PactonFortuna Jane Belleweather has always been good with numbers. As the only winner of the most recent lottery jackpot, Jane know there are 58,642,129 to claim the ticket. And every one of them includes a dollar sign.

Unfortunately, Jane can also see four big problems that stand between her and the big prize:

  1. Jane is still seventeen for two weeks. This isn’t terrible since she has 180 days to claim the ticket. Except if anyone finds out she bought the ticket as a minor it’s a criminal offense. So aside from being in big trouble, she wouldn’t be able to claim the winnings.
  2. The most obvious solution is to give her mom the ticket to cash. But after her father’s death, Jane’s mother has started hoarding other peoples’ possessions (and their memories, whatever that means) so Jane isn’t sure she can trust her mother with that much cash. Or really any cash.
  3. Jane’s best friend Brandon Kim is determined to reveal the big winner on his website, Bran’s Lakesboro Daily, to better prove his chops as an aspiring journalist and land a coveted internship at CNN.
  4. Then there’s the biggest problem: Jane’s ex-boyfriend Holden is back on the scene with a lot of ideas about spending Jane’s winnings. And trying to claim them for himself.

Winning the lottery should be the luckiest thing to ever happen to Jane, but as she struggles with keeping her big secret and figuring out how to claim her winning’s she wonders if this is a case where a strike of luck is more bad than good in Lucky Girl (2021) by Jamie Pacton.

Find it on Bookshop.

Jane narrates this standalone contemporary. Jane, like most of the small Wisconsin town residents, is white. Her best friend Brandon is Korean. Jane is bisexual.

Pacton packs a lot into a short novel as Jane comes to terms with her life-changing win and figures out how to claim her winnings (or if she even should). While this decision understandably drives most of the plot, Jane and her mother are also still grieving the death of Jane’s father and dealing with the aftermath (isolation for both of them and hoarding for Jane’s mom).

While some of the plot–particularly everything to do with Holden–can feel heavy-handed, Pacton delivers a very sweet slice-of-life story focused very squarely on Jane and her support system. Jane’s friendship with Brandon (and Brandon’s long-distance girlfriend who is in Australia) nicely centers this story and, once Jane comes clean, proves that she has more people in her corner than she realizes.

Lucky Girl is a fun bit of escapism that also thoughtfully tackles heavier themes of grief and loss. Recommended for readers seeking a change of pace in their next read.

Possible Pairings: Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Jackpot by Nic Stone, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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

Book Reviews

Past Perfect Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Past Perfect Life by Elizabeth EulbergAlly Smith loves her life in small-town Wisconsin. After moving around with her father for most of her childhood, Ally is thrilled that they landed in a place where she can feel at home surrounded by friends who are more like family.

She knows that things are going to change soon since she’s a senior in high school but that still feels far away–especially when figuring out if she and her friend Neil are still just friends or becoming something more seems much more urgent.

Ally isn’t sure what to do when she finds out that everything she thought she knew about her perfectly ordinary life has been a lie. Ally’s past isn’t what she’s been told. Her family isn’t what she thought. In fact, her name isn’t even Allison–it’s Amanda.

With her old life blown apart, Ally has to figure out how she can fit herself into this strange new life. And if she even wants to try in Past Perfect Life (2019) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Find it on Bookshop.

Eulberg’s latest standalone novel veers into mystery and suspense territory with a plot reminiscent of Caroline B. Cooney’s classic The Face on the Milk Carton.

While Past Perfect Life could have become sinister, the story manages to stay upbeat thanks to the vast support system that Ally has around her while her world begins to fall apart. With everything changing, she finds comfort in old friends and new family both in Wisconsin and her new home in Tampa, Florida.

Ally’s first person narration complements the tension of the plot as she learns the truth about her life although the novel’s slow pacing diminishes some of the impact as readers begin to understand the truth about Ally’s family and her past. Well-drawn characters shift the story from black and white to morally ambiguous grey as Ally and readers try to understand what happened and who should be blamed (or forgiven).

Past Perfect Life is a surprisingly gentle story about found family, embracing the messy parts of your past, and learning who you are. Recommended for readers who want a thriller with less nail biting and more friendship and romance.

Possible Pairings: The Opposite of Here by Tara Altebrando, The Last Forever by Deb Caletti, The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney, Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan, Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

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

Book Reviews

The Vanishing Season: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is my work. This is the one thing I have to do.

“I am looking for the things that are buried.”

The Vanishing SeasonMaggie Larsen doesn’t know what to expect when she and her parents move from Chicago to Door County. But then, it’s not like there is another choice with her mother having been laid off and money being tight.

Although Maggie is sorry to leave Chicago behind, it is surprisingly easy to find a new place for herself in the small town of Gill Creek. As the days turn into weeks their ramshackle house on Water Street starts to look like a home. As the weeks turn into months, Maggie realizes she has found friends here in carefree, beautiful Pauline and Liam who is as kind as he is introspective.

While Maggie lives her new life, girls in Gill Creek are disappearing. No one knows who the killer is. No one knows who might be next. No one knows if it will stop.

All the while, a ghost is tethered to the house on Water Street. She can see the danger circling. She can even see some of the pieces of the story–a scorched key, a love letter, a bracelet with a cherry charm. But even the ghost isn’t sure why she is still here watching the season unfold to its final, disastrous conclusion in The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

The Vanishing Season is a quiet, aching read that builds slowly to a conclusion that is both shocking and inevitable. Anderson expertly weaves together Maggie’s story with the first-person narration of the ghost to create a haunting puzzle of a story. Even readers who think they have predicted every plot point may well be surprised by the way everything fits together by the end.

This story has romance and suspense. There is a foolish girl who breaks things sometimes by accident and sometimes because she can. Vignettes of small town life are interspersed with thoughtful commentary on privilege and ownership.

Anderson’s pacing is spot-on as the story builds to the denouement which is handled both eloquently and cleverly. The Vanishing Season is a beautifully written and subtle story about friendship and love and even heartbreak as well as a meditation on what living a life, and living it well, really means. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Frost by Marianna Baer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Book Reviews

Better Off Friends: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Better Off Friends by Elizabeth EulbergMacallan and Levi are great as friends. In fact, they’re best friends. Family. Which is great for both of them.

Most of the time.

The problem is not everyone understands how a boy and a girl can be such good friends. It gets weird when Levi starts dating one of Macallan’s other friends but still keeps joking with her. It gets worse when Macallan gets a boyfriend.

Both Macallan and Levi are pretty sure they’re better as friends than anything else. Except they can’t help wondering if the complications that come with being more than friends might just be worth it in Better Off Friends (2014) by Elizabeth Eulberg.

Find it on Bookshop.

Better Off Friends is another cheerful confection from Eulberg complete with a beautifully designed book package. Written with chapters that alternate between Macallan and Levi’s narration, Eulberg’s story here spans years from the day our protagonists meet through the highs and lows of their friendship.

While Levi’s interest veers toward sports, Macallan discovers a fondness for culinary arts. United by a common love for a British comedy, Macallan and Levi are both approachable characters who are extremely easy to like.

Eulberg brings the Wisconsin setting to life with a brief, beautiful told jaunt to Ireland thrown in as well. Every word counts here and is used to good effect, from the first chapters to the dialogues Macallan and Levi share between chapters. Better Off Friends is an effervescent read that is sure to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, To All the Boys I’ve Love Before by Jenny Han, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, The Book of Love by Lynn Weingarten, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Book Reviews

The Teashop Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Teashop Girls by Laura SchaeferIs it possible to fall in love with a book? If it is, The Teashop Girls (2008 ) by Laura Schaefer, with illustrations by Sujean Rim, now holds my heart. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, especially since I am not actually much of a tea drinker, but as soon as I  saw the cover and the illustration of The Steeping Leaf I knew this book would have my undying devotion. I know I keep banging readers over the head with what I’m trying to point out with my Chick Lit Wednesday Reviews, but really this book embodies what a CLW book should be.

But that doesn’t tell you what it’s actually about.

Annie Green and her best friends Genna and Zoe have been drinking tea at the Steeping Leaf since grade school when they founded an exclusive group called The Teashop Girls. More than a fondness of tea is required in order to be a proper Teashop Girl, there are rules:

1) Teashop Girls are best friends forever.

2) Tea is held every week, no matter what.

3) All tea and scones must be split equally at all times.

Unfortunately, somewhere between elementary school and the end of eighth grade, the girls lost track of their weekly ritual. Genna is busy trying to start her acting career and Zoe is always practicing for tennis, leaving Annie feeling very alone.

For Annie, the logical solution is to convince her grandmother Louisa to hire Annie as a barista. Just because the Teashop Girls don’t have tea every week anymore, it doesn’t mean Annie can’t spend her spare time there, right?

With a new job, and a new crush on her Barista Boy coworker, Annie finally feels as focused as her friends. It isn’t the same, but Annie is enjoying her time at the Leaf. Until the lights go out. Working with her grandmother, Annie realizes the Leaf’s future is tenuous–an eviction notice could spell the end of the beloved tea shop for good.

Luckily, another Teashop Girl rule is that “A Teashop Girl will always help other Teashop Girls in need.” So, with Zoe and Genna’s help, Annie sets out to save their beloved Steeping Leaf with varying ideas ranging from sheer genius to, well, less than successful.

Aside from saving the Steeping Leaf, this book’s main story is about friendship. Specifically, The Teashop Girls is about how Annie and her friends reconnect and realize that, no matter what else changes in their lives, being a Teashop Girl is forever.n (Just recently I was wishing for a book where romance was not central to the plot, and/or where I did not want it to be, and it wasn’t a big deal. This is that book.)

This is what I would call a middle grade book (the jacket sleeve recommends the book for ages 8 to 14 which seems spot on), which would be comfortably defined as either a children’s or young adult book. It also seemed really authentic. Annie narrates this novel as if she is talking to the reader, an affectation that often fails writers. Here, however, it worked perfectly because Schaefer’s characters were so vibrant and just real.

Another great feature was the book design. The cover was great because, as readers will learn, it totally shows Annie. I also loved the inclusion of Annie’s “handwritten” lists and notes as well as Genna’s illustrations and excerpts from the girls’ tea handbook. It was a feature that made the book feel as unique and charming as The Steeping Leaf sounds. Schaefer also includes some recipes from the girls and tea related quotes/ads that are sure to amuse tea enthusiasts while informing tea novices like myself.

I don’t think I’ve ever called a book both heartwarming and cheerful, but this one was. The Teashop Girls put me in a good mood as soon as I got and kept me in good spirits right to the end. One of the best books for girls that I have read recently.