One of Us is Lying: A Review

Here’s what we know:

Bronwyn always follows the rules. She’s heading to Yale next year and she would never risk that or disappointing her immigrant father.

Cooper is an all-star baseball player. His pitching abilities are sure to lead the Bayview team to victory and pave Cooper’s way to the majors–just like his father wants. But Cooper wants other things that he’s afraid to talk about out loud.

Addy is homecoming princess and not much else. She isn’t ambitious or independent but she isn’t sure why she has to be when she already has the perfect life with her boyfriend.

Nate really belongs in detention. He’s always doing something wrong and has been for years. What do you expect from a guy who’s already on probation for drug dealing.

Simon is the outcast of Bayview but he’s also one of the most powerful students there thanks to the gossip app he created that dishes all of Bayview High’s worst secrets.

All of them were caught using cell phones during school hours. All of them claim they were framed. On Monday afternoon the five of them walk into detention at Bayview High. Only four of them walk out alive. Every one else has a motive for killing Simon. But no one has any proof. Yet. As the investigation heats up Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper all have to decide how far they’ll go to keep their secrets in One of Us is Lying (2017) by Karen M. McManus.

One of Us is Lying is McManus’ debut novel. This standalone thriller was partially inspired by the 1980s movie The Breakfast Club. The novel is written in alternating first person chapters between Bronwyn, Nate, Addy, and Cooper as they try to make sense of what happened to Simon.

Despite the numerous narrators each character manages to sound distinct and stand out in their own sections. Anyone who is familiar with teen movies or YA novels will recognize some of the plot points (such as staight-laced Bronwyn pursuing a relationship with the resident bad boy) but they manage to feel fresh and interesting within this story. McManus keeps a tight rein on the plot as the story’s twists which are revealed at a satisfying pace throughout the novel. Unlikely friendships, surprising romances, and quite a few surprises make One of Us is Lying a winning mystery for even the most jaded fans of the genre.

While I was a big fan of most of this novel, there are two things I need to talk about. Avert your eyes if you want to avoid spoilers.

——START SPOILERS——

Every character in the book has a big secret. We eventually learn that Cooper’s secret isn’t steroid use as everyone suspects. Instead, Cooper is gay. And he is outed during the course of the investigation. Cooper being outed by reporters during the investigation is rightly treated as egregious behavior but it also felt tiresome and a little sad to still have it be a plot device. Maybe it’s realistic but I wish we were beyond that point already.

Then there’s the big reveal about Simon’s killer. It turns out that Simon was depressed from constantly trying and failing to be one of the popular kids. Refusing to discuss other courses of action Simon kills himself and use his suicide to frame a classmate for his death.

While the suicide-as-murder-frame-up is a familiar trope in mystery novels, it’s a troubling one in a young adult novel. It’s problematic to still have mental illness be treated as a plot device and especially to not have it be addressed in any way beyond being part of Simon’s brilliant plan.f

——END SPOILERS——

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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In Some Other Life: A Review

Three years ago Kennedy Rhodes made a choice. She turned down admission to elite Windsor Academy to stay in public school near her crush.

Three years later it seems like Kennedy made the right choice. She and Austin are still dating, she has good grades, and she has completely revamped the school newspaper making it an award winning student paper (and chasing a record breaking fourth year win). Windsor Academy students have a much higher probability of getting into Columbia, but Kennedy knows that the student paper will set her over the top. It has to.

When she finds out that her boyfriend has been seeing her best friend in secret, Kennedy wishes she made a different choice. And, thanks to a knock on the head, Kennedy wakes up in that other life where she chose to attend Windsor Academy after all. But as Kennedy explores her shiny new life she starts to realize there might not be one right choice, especially when nothing is quite what she expects, in In Some Other Life (2017) by Jessica Brody.

Brody’s latest standalone novel offers a fun blend of contemporary and light fantasy as Kennedy tries to answer that ineffable question: “What if?”

Structured like an if/then equation (half of the books chapters are titled with “if” scenarios, the other half with “then” outcomes) this story explores both paths Kennedy could have taken complete with her delightfully precocious younger brother explaining the ins and outs of the parallel universe theory.

Kennedy’s first person narration can be grating thanks to the obvious chip on her shoulder thanks to her singular focus on all of her disadvantages and obstacles on the path to Columbia instead of her assets and successes. In Some Other Life uses an innovative structure to good effect and offers a well-rounded story that proves the tried and true adage about grass being greener. Recommended for readers who enjoy plot driven stories as well as alternate history or parallel universe tales in general.

Possible Pairings: In a World Just Right by Jen Brooks, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols, Pivot Point by Kasie West

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

Wildlife: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The only person you should be is yourself. You can’t control perception. All you can control is how you treat someone else.”

Just before her term at her school’s outdoor education campus, Sibylla unexpectedly winds up on a billboard advertisement near her school. She also kisses her super popular and super cute longtime crush Ben Capaldi.

Lou is the unexpected new girl at school when the new term begins. She isn’t at the school to make friends or to fit in. Mostly she just wants to be left alone and get by without having to think about her old friends, her old school, or the fact that her boyfriend Fred is dead.

Sib thought going through a term of outdoor education at her school would be upheaval enough. But adding the billboard, the kiss, and her often rocky and now definitely changing relationship with her best friend Holly makes everything even more complicated. Lou thought a term in the wilderness would give her a chance to hide and grieve. Instead, she slowly finds herself drawn into the dramas of the girls around her like Sib and finds that she doesn’t want to stay quiet as she sees a betrayal unfolding in Wildlife (2014) by Fiona Wood.

Widlife is Wood’s second novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Cloudwish although it does function as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles. (For the most impact I do recommend reading these in order though.)

Wildlife‘s narration alternates between Sib and Lou. Sib relates her story to readers in conversational prose while Lou’s story is written in journal form–a coping mechanism suggested by her therapist as she transitions to a new school and out of therapy.

While Sib spends a lot of the novel trying to make sense of her confusing relationship with Ben and Lou is mourning Fred, the crux of Wildlife is really the growing friendship between these two girls. Sib and Lou are unlikely friends and both are reluctant to take a chance on adding a new person to their lives. But in the wilderness where most of their coursework is about building strength and stepping outside of their comfort zones, both Sib and Lou realize it might be worth the risk to trust someone new.

Wildlife is a thoughtful story about friendship, first love, and all of the complicated moments in between. Recommended for readers of contemporary novels, fans of humorous narratives with a lot of heart, and anyone who loves the great outdoors.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

The Fashion Committee: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Find something that makes your heart sing and your brain expand, and let it carry you past all the ugliness and low spots.”

“Measuring someone is borderline invasive. You have to touch them and record their physical presence in the world. It’s a pretty specific way to understand someone.”

Charlie Dean lives and breathes fashion and she strives for style in all things. John Thomas-Smith is a metal sculptor and he could not care less about clothes. They have one thing in common: they desperately want the chance to attend the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design on full scholarship.

When Green Pastures announces that this year’s scholarship will be awarded to a fashion design student, Charlie thinks the stars have finally aligned to make her dreams come true. John, meanwhile, is disappointed that the scholarship isn’t for metalwork but he also knows that fashion is a joke. How hard can faking his way into the competition really be?

Charlie and John have nothing in common except for art and ambition. They are both determined to win and they won’t let anything stand in their way. Not a soul-killing job at Salad Stop or an unsympathetic girlfriend. Not a dad’s girlfriend’s drug-addicted ex-boyfriend. And definitely not a very minor case of kidnapping.

Two very different artists. One life changing competition. And only one winner in The Fashion Committee (2017) by Susan Juby.

Although set in the same world as The Truth Commission, Juby’s latest novel is a standalone contemporary with an entirely new cast of characters (and illustrations by Soleil Ignacio).

This epistolary novel features alternating chapters from Charlie and John’s fashion journals written over the course of the competition. Charlie’s sections each start with one of her signature bright ideas (“Dress for the life you want!”) while John’s sections finish with quotes from the fashion industry and his own scathing indictments. Although Charlie and John often share physical space, their narratives have little overlap as the plot focuses on their own paths through the competition from developing their concepts and designing their garments to the final fashion show.

Juby introduces two very different characters in The Fashion Committee. Charlie Dean has been curating and shaping her own persona from a very young age. She values fashion above most else and she believes in deliberate sartorial choices to create a facade to present to the world. Charlie uses that facade to offset some of the things she’d prefer to forget like her father’s struggle with drug addiction. John, meanwhile, considers himself a straight shooter with a hard knock upbringing. He is very aware of the privileges of those around him (especially those attending Green Pastures) but turns a blind eye to his own good fortune being raised by two loving and conscientious grandparents. Despite their differing opinions of fashion (and almost everything else), Charlie and John’s journeys mirror each other well with a variety of ups, downs, and even a littler romance for both protagonists.

Charlie and John both have to deal with some stereotypes and preconceptions about themselves and, through meeting the unique group of students competing in the fashion show, they also learn to acknowledge their own biases. Does everything go perfectly in The Fashion Committee? No. Not even with Charlie’s efforts to impose beauty and positivity on the world through sheer force of will or John’s deliberate choice to always expect the worst.

The Fashion Committee is a thoughtful novel about fashion, privilege, and perspective where Charlie and John learn to appreciate what they have and also strive to get what they deserve. A must-read for fashionistas of all levels of expertise and anyone who seeking a book that will leave them laughing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall by Seph Lawless, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Flannery by Lisa Moore, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1 by Hope Nicholson (editor), Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, D. V. by Diana Vreeland, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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

Be sure to check out my interview with Susan about this book too!

The Romantics: A Review

The Romantics by Leah KonenGael Brennan is a textbook Romantic; he believes in love and he loves the idea of being in love. Unfortunately, life seems intent on squashing his Romantic tendencies first with his parents’ painful separation and a painful breakup with his first girlfriend.

Love has big plans for Gael and can see big things in his future. But only if Gael’s youthful relationships go a certain way–and do not include a dreaded Rebound. When Romantic Gael meets a Serial Monogamist, it seems like Love’s plans for Gael are doomed to failure.

Fortunately, Love has more than a few tricks ready to use to set Gael straight. In trying to redirect Gael’s path to the right romance, Love (and Gael) will realize that sometimes even the best relationships aren’t meant to last forever in The Romantics (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Romantics is narrated by Love who is an omniscient presence throughout the novel. Although Love does not interact with any characters directly, Love does play a hand in near-misses, coincidences, and other interventions to try and move things in the right direction with Gael.

Gael is a fun protagonist and his journey both with romantic love and his other relationships is authentic and entertaining. Gael has a lot of knocks between a painful breakup and his parents’ separation which is painful both in its reality and because it comes as such a shock to Gael and his younger sister.He is realistically angry and frustrated but also remains optimistic as he tries to move forward.

Although the story understandably spends a lot of time on Gael’s romantic travails, The Romantics also underscores that love comes in all forms–both romantic and not–including a really lovely friendship arc between Gael and his best friend Mason. (Though it is worth noting that the novel is generally hetero-normative as the main relationships remain male-female.)

Because Love spends time with all of the major characters, The Romantics also has a thoroughly developed cast and a plot that develops from multiple angles with some surprising results. The Romantics is a breezy and fun story and a sweet romance filled with witty asides from Love along with footnotes and illustrations. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows; Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Flannery by Lisa Moore, My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also check out my interview with Leah Konen about this book.

Suffer Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Suffer Love by Ashley Herring BlakeHadley St. Clair’s family fell apart last year when she came home to a door covered in papers that revealed, again and again, that her father cheated on her mother. Everyone is telling Hadley that it’s time to move on. Her best  friend doesn’t recognize the girl Hadley has become. Her father is constantly hurt by Hadley’s anger. Her mother says she is trying to save their marriage but she can barely stand to be around Hadley or her father.

Sam Bennett hopes he can start over when he moves to a new town with his mother and younger sister after his parents’ bitter divorce. Sam is tired of drama and wary of relationships. All he wants to do is survive senior year and move on to college where he can be far away from his parents and their tacit disapproval.

Hadley and Sam are both hurting. They’re both feeling abandoned and maybe even betrayed by their parents’ choices. Neither of them expects to find comfort or connection with the other–especially Sam who knows exactly how ludicrous their mutual attraction really is–but then they find exactly that. And maybe more in Suffer Love (2016) by Ashley Herring Blake.

The story alternates first-person narration between Hadley and Sam whose distinct personalities come across clearly. The hurt and anger both characters feel comes across strongly throughout the novel making parts of this story a bit brutal.

Hadley and Sam’s connection, hinted at as mysterious in the jacket copy, is revealed early on as Sam realizes he knows exactly who Hadley is and her connection to his family. While this element adds tension to the plot, the real crux of the story is how Hadley and Sam connect to each other and their families.

Both Hadley and Sam are authentic characters and realistically flawed. Neither of them have made the best decisions in the last year and they are both suffering the aftermath of their families being laid to waste with one marriage ending in divorce and the other barely holding it together.

Sam and Hadley are both nuanced and well-developed characters, often making their friends and parents seem one-dimensional in comparison. This character-driven novel interestingly works Shakespeare (whose plays Sam and Hadley are studying in class) into the plot which does add an extra something to the story.

Suffer Love is a visceral and emotive contemporary novel. Recommended for readers looking for a quick and romantic read.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Results May Vary: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review from Estelle

Today I’m excited to share a CLW guest post from Estelle:

“But the thing about what-ifs is that you can drive yourself crazy, spinning your thoughts around and around until you’re dizzy; and for all that, you only ever end up in the same place you’re standing. All you can work with is what happened.”

Results May Vary by Bethany ChaseAt first sight, Results May Vary (2016) by Bethany Chase probably seems a story solely about a broken marriage. Caroline finds out that her husband has had an affair — after 10 years of marriage and utter devotion others find sickening — and she must decide what to do next? Does she forgive Adam like her friends and family think she will do or will she retreat into a new direction and embrace the unknown narrative ahead of her?

The funny truth is no matter the path she chooses, the narrative changes. The dynamics with her husband, the person she thought knew her best and she thought she knew best, will forever be changed even if she decided to stay. Just like where she lives, who she hangs out with, and the next person she sleeps with will alter the routine she’s gladly accepted for herself since high school.

Nothing, nothing will ever be as it was.

Results May Vary could easily have turned into a will-they-or-won’t-they kind of novel, but that’s not Bethany Chase’s style. And her style is exactly why I felt like this book would be a perfect fit for Emma’s Chick Lit feature. Caroline isn’t just someone’s wife. She’s an independent woman who is well-respected at her job at a museum. It’s a job she fought to take even if this meant moving a less-than-thrilled Adam out of New York City. She has a solid support system including a best friend from college, a younger sister, and a feisty artist friend who knows the value of a yummy ice cream topping. Caroline’s not afraid to curse out her husband when he can’t explain why he had an affair, she’s not against keeping him at a distance even though he wants to a swift reconciliation, and, because she’s human and not robotic, she’s not afraid to collapse in the arms of others and give into her sadness when she needs to.

I’m messing up the Pinocchio quote for obvious reasons but she’s a real girl!

So much of this book is about Caroline settling into herself — whether that means forgiveness or not, you’ll have to find out — and allowing other parts in her life to rise when the once solid ones start to crack. The girl power explodes when her little sister, Ruby, moves into the house and the two rekindle a sisterhood they hadn’t had since they were super young. Their relationship is one of the most memorable of this entire book because, while both are in their own versions of transition, they both prove to be there for one another: whether it’s about scary face masks or sharing a glass of wine.

Of course, this relationship isn’t without its complexities either. (Sisters.)

And that’s just what I mean. When I started getting into young adult books about five years ago, I was exhausted by new fiction that reflected nothing new at all. There was absolutely nothing for me to relate to, and I found the emotions I was searching for — raw and so real — in YA. It’s a pleasure to be welcomed back into the big kid world with books by authors like Chase who get it. Women are more than one thing. We can be strong as anything, but we can break down just as easily. We can be happy even when we are grieving. We can make one decision and then change our minds. We are constantly works in progress – no matter how settled we might be in one area over another.

When I finished reading Results May Vary, I felt empowered. I don’t think there’s much more you can ask for from a book.

Possible pairings: The First Husband by Laura Dave, After I Do and One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid; Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer, Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

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By day, Estelle is a book publicist for (mostly) kid books. She is also the co-creator of Rather Be Reading Blog, where she blogged for almost 5 years with her best friend. Always writing and always brainstorming, you can find her on Twitter @thatsostelle.