Thanks to PartnerS NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the digital ARC of Rachel Lynn Solomon’s See You Yesterday in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
I love a time loop story. Groundhog Day. Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. Russian Doll. And now? Rachel Lynn Solomon’s See You Yesterday takes its place among my favorites.
I’m regrettably late to Solomon’s work, but I’m so excited to read more—she excels at both YA and adult romance. In See You Yesterday, Solomon uses the time loop premise to explore exactly what a fresh start can mean.
Barrett Bloom has been convinced that college will be the best time in her life, a new beginning after the wretchedness of her high school experience. She’s entering college a loner whose best friend is her mother, but she’s determined that she’ll pursue a career in journalism, bond with her roommate, and generally just get her life together
Then, she finds out that her high school nemesis is her roommate, she blows her interview for the school newspaper, and she has a horrible experience in physics, a class she doesn’t even want to take. Add in a tragic ending to a sorority party, and Barrett has had a worse day than she could have imagined. She goes to bed, ready for a second chance.
And she wakes up in the same day.
Solomon makes great use of the pop culture references we all know as Barrett tries to figure out how to escape her loop. Eventually, she discovers that she’s not alone, that an uptight guy named Miles is looping with her. So they—grudgingly—join forces to figure out how to escape September 21.
I could not have loved this book more. Barrett is such a phenomenal character: she’s smart and somehow both optimistic AND cynical. She wants to believe that people are good, even though they’ve shown her, again and again, that they aren’t. As she and Miles try different ways of conquering the time loop (conducting research, doing good deeds, seeking vengeance, conducting more research), she starts to view both her past and her future through a new lens.
This is a brilliant novel that makes me even more eager to read absolutely everything Rachel Lynn Solomon has written. Do yourself a favor and pick up See You Yesterday right away!
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Berkley Romance for the digital ARC of Amy Lea’s Set on You in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
Amy Lea’s debut novel, Set on You, begins at the gym. Crystal Chen is a fitness influencer whose body positivity has earned her a huge instagram following, sponsorships, and a career as a physical trainer. She has good friends and loves her family, despite their concerns that her career isn’t stable.
Scott Ritchie enters her life with an act of theft. Yes, he steals her preferred squat rack at the gym. What begins with loathing slowly begins to change as Crystal admits first her attraction to Scott and then his other positive qualities. Since she’s coming out of a relationship with a man who betrayed her trust, however, she’s hesitant to start something new . . . particularly since Scott also just broke up with his girlfriend.
What I liked most about this one was the consideration of Crystal’s dedication to body positivity and her shifting understanding of what that phrase means to her and to her followers. She wants to be someone who is constantly confident and proud of her body, despite the dismissive and nasty comments she regularly receives. But is that constant confidence realistic? What is the best way to handle comments that tear her down?
Set on You will appeal to a variety of readers and is perfect for fans of enemies-to-lovers romances. It’s a fun, sweet, thought-provoking romance.
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Knopf Doubleday, and Pantheon Books for the digital ARC of Julia Glass’s Vigil Harbor in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
I’d read only one of Julia Glass’s prior novels—her debut Three Junes, winner of the National Book Award—when I requested an advance copy of Vigil Harbor. I was drawn in by the synopsis, focused on an isolated community in the midst of the consequences of climate change. Honestly, I didn’t give thought to much else, to plot or writing or even characters, but all of those facets of this novel exceeded my expectations.
Vigil Harbor moves through a large cast of characters, shifting from one perspective to the next, as they consider the elements of their past that have led them to their current identities as individuals and as a community.
Each character is precisely drawn as a unique individual inextricably woven into the lives of the others. Brecht, who dropped out of college after witnessing a horrific explosion in New York, lives with his best friend Noam in the home of Brecht’s mother and stepfather, Austin. Austin, an architect, works both to comfort his family and to wrestle with a tragic loss from his past. Mike is reeling from the end of his marriage. The list of characters spools out from there, all woven together by their mutual past and by a desire to escape something outside of Vigil Harbor.
Tragedy pervades their stories, but so does hope, and there’s a whimsy, a touch of myth and story, that pushes this book out of the realm of the typical. This near-future book is rooted in the way that climate change plagues society through disasters both natural and man-made, and watching the way those disasters alternately push people apart and together again is a captivating process. I absolutely could not stop reading this book, which blends beautiful writing, compelling characters, and a propulsive plot. It’s a masterful work of fiction.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Atria Books for the digital ARC of Rebecca Serle’s One Italian Summer in exchange for an honest review. The book is out on March 2!
Rebecca Serle has a beautiful touch with magical realism. Whether it’s dining with special people—alive and dead—in The Dinner List or a five-year journey forward in time in In Five Years, Serle uses these magic premises to wring truth from reality.
She performs that same magic in One Italian Summer. The premise here is (relatively) simple to explain: Katy is grieving the death of her mother and decides to take the trip that they had planned together. She tells her husband that she’s not sure she can be with him anymore, boards a plane, and takes the solo vacation she and her mom, Carol, have been dreaming about for years.
Carol had spent time in the small town of Positano and yearned to show Katy everything she loved about it, so Katy vows to follow the itinerary her mother had set up. Soon, she begins to enjoy small moments in a way she hasn’t been able to since her mother fell ill.
Then, one day, Katy sees her mother. Yes, she’s much younger, but it’s her. And suddenly, Katy feels as if she has a second chance to get to know her mother in a way she never had, to forge a friendship with the woman she loved so much.
Serle explores Katy’s grief, her hope, and her joy so vividly here. There’s laughter, some romance, vivid descriptions of food, and an amazing sense of the Italian landscape. One Italian Summer is a gorgeous, moving book. I absolutely could not put it down.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Ashley Schumacher’s Full Flight in exchange for an honest review. The book is out on February 22!
I absolutely loved Schumacher’s debut, Amelia Unabridged, sobbing my way through that gorgeous YA romance, so I was eager to read her second book, Full Flight. This one did not disappoint! This tale of young love and marching band set in small-town Texas made my heart happy.
Weston Ryan is an outcast in Enfield, set apart by his divorced parents, his leather jacket, and his disdain for everything but music. He’s also so, so lonely.
Anna James seems to be his opposite: she has a lot of friends, a close-knit family and protective parents, and an unrelentingly sunny personality represented by the Christmas socks she wears year-round. But really, she’s lonely too.
When Anna and Weston are assigned to play a duet in the marching band’s competition show, Anna is way outmatched. So, she asks Weston to help her learn the music, a simple question that ends up drawing them together and bridging their loneliness.
Schumacher has such a brilliant touch with characters: I could feel Weston’s reluctance to take a chance at trusting someone new, afraid that he might be left behind once again. And for Anna, keeping on that cheerful, overachieving mask has covered up years of never feeling as if she’s quite good enough. Their emotions are so real and so authentic—about each other, about the role of marching band in teenagers’ lives, about the power of music—that I just loved watching both characters work through their vulnerability to come to trust the other.
I actually hope that you haven’t read the synopsis of Full Flight yet because I think it gives away too much. I’ll just say that this is another book by Ashley Schumacher that I didn’t want to stop reading.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Sophie Sullivan’s How to Love Your Neighbor in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
Sophie Sullivan’s How to Love Your Neighbor is the sequel to Ten Rules for Faking It (check out my review here). That book was the story of Chris and Everly, and this new one focuses on Chris’s brother Noah Jansen who is trying to make a clean break from the toxicity of his father and his company. As part of his fresh start, Noah has bought a house that he loves . . . though it’s missing a pool. His plan? To buy the property next door, raze the house, and put in the pool. The only problem is that his neighbor doesn’t want to sell.
That neighbor is Grace Travis. She’s trying for a new beginning, too. Grace is almost done with design school, she’s almost made a break from her neglectful and manipulative mother, and she’s got a brand-new home that she inherited from the grandparents she never knew. This home, of course, is the one that Noah wants to buy.
This is a fun, sweet romance. It begins as enemies to lovers, though the “enemies” part doesn’t last long. Instead, Noah and Grace pretty quickly realize that they should be friends. Noah brings on Grace to help design his house, and as they start to know each other, they realize how much they have in common and the type of support they can offer each other.
While this one didn’t quite have the depth of Ten Rules for Faking It, I absolutely enjoyed watching Noah and Grace’s relationship develop, and I recommend How to Love Your Neighbor—and whatever Sullivan writes next—to romance fans.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Wednesday Books for the digital ARC of Emma Lord's When You Get the Chance in exchange for an honest review. The book is out Tuesday, January 4!
When You Get the Chance is my second book by Emma Lord. (I loved You Have a Match and have Tweet Cute on my shelf to read ASAP.) Yes, she’s now an auto-read author for me.
This one focuses on Millie Cooper, a super-extroverted, self-described way-too-much actress who has big dreams of Broadway and has put in the work to make that a real possibility. After she learns that she’s gotten into an amazing pre-college program for her senior year, she’s ecstatic . . . until she shares the news with her dad and he’s decidedly NOT as ecstatic.
What ensues is Millie’s desperate attempt to actualize her dream into existence. First, she gets the help of her best friend and next door neighbor Teddy, an expert at geocaching and (as he says) human caching. Teddy does some research and, after the two delve into Millie’s dad’s LiveJournal from college (hello, the 90s!), begins unraveling the central secret of Millie’s life: her mother’s identity. When her dad was 20, Millie’s mother dropped her off with her dad, and that was the end of her mother’s involvement in her life. But Millie hopes that if she can find her birth mother, she’ll be on Team Millie and help convince her dad that moving across the country to this pre-college program is the right move.
The search for Millie’s mom leads to three likely candidates and the second part of Millie’s plan. She happens upon an internship with a Broadway management company where one potential mom candidate works. The only problem? Millie is vying for the internship with her nemesis: Oliver. Oliver is the manager of their fine arts school’s musical theater department, and he and Millie are *always* at odds with completely different visions for what the program should look like. So, when Georgie, the woman in charge of the internship, gives Millie and Oliver two weeks to compete and prove themselves before choosing a winner, it means that the mortal enemies have two weeks of forced collaboration, as well.
The setup is worthy of any Broadway musical, and references to shows—and especially Mamma Mia!—abound. For anyone who’s a fan of musicals, there are plenty of allusions here to feed your Broadway-loving soul. Sometimes, I have to work to get past premises like the “meeting-three-candidates-who-might-be-my-mom” kind of story, but when cast in the light of Broadway, I suspended my disbelief and just gave into the ride. Because Emma Lord has such a fabulous sense of character and because, in Millie, she created such an empathetic, realistic character, that ride is a great one. Though the plot here is so much fun, it’s watching Millie go through some pretty rough self-reflection that is the real strength of this book. Yes, there are beautiful friendships (seriously: this author REALLY understands friendship), some fun romance, and compellingly complex family dynamics (Millie’s relationships with her dad and her aunt Heather are strong anchors for the plot), but it’s Millie’s coming of age story that made me love this book so much.
Now, on to Tweet Cute.
Thanks to partners NetGalley and Clarion Books for the digital ARC of Akshaya Raman's The Ivory Key in exchange for an honest review. The book will be published on Tuesday, January 4!
Akshaya Raman’s The Ivory Key is part family drama, part fantasy, part adventure. It centers on four siblings in the kingdom of Ashoka who have been driven apart by the pressures of ruling their country. Riya fled her family’s control after a horrible fight with her mother and now lives with a group of thieves called the Ravens who try to move magic, the true wealth within Ashoka, from the hands of those with privilege to those in need. Riya’s twin Ronak has vowed to gain freedom for himself and for his brother Kaleb, to leave Ashoka by any means necessary, even if it means betraying his family. Vira became the maharani after their mother’s murder and bears the great burden of that responsibility. One of her actions was to allow Kaleb, their half-brother, to be accused of conspiring in their mother’s death; he’s been imprisoned ever since.
Raman alternates between each sibling’s point of view, and she does some excellent character- and world-building early in the book, so readers have a rich sense of each sibling’s motivation and of the intricacies of their realm. In Ashoka, magic is mined from the ground, and there are legends that drive the way magic is venerated. Magic was first found by the family’s ancestor, and she gave it away to neighboring countries as a way to build connections and protect their society. That action forestalled any need from other kingdoms to invade or to try to grab the magic for themselves. As magic has dwindled, however, threats from within and outside of the kingdom have weakened every part of Ashoka, including the royal family.
Though it seems their conflicts can’t be overcome, the four siblings are drawn together by their dead father’s search for the Ivory Key, which their family legend says could unlock other mines, thus resurrecting their access to magic, their protection from invaders, and their ability to keep peace for the kingdom both inside and out.
I loved the sense of a team here, one in which each member has different skills, and I appreciated what those skills reveal about each sibling’s relationship with their parents. Their father created challenges for them constantly, which nurtured each ability (one wields magic, one is most adept physically, and so on). There’s also a vivid look at what the power of their position can do to teenagers: Riya fled; Vira denies her own personality and emulates their mother to her own detriment; Ronak considers betrayal; and Kaleb gives in completely to the unfairness of the ruler’s—his sister’s—decisions, surrendering all hope.
The Ivory Key is quite complex and is the first in a duology, so it lays out their situation patiently and spends time on details of the world. I love the backstory and the way that we see how close the siblings were before power drove them apart. I’ve seen it compared to The Gilded Wolves, which makes sense to me, though there’s less of a focus on heists through the early parts of the novel, and I also thought more than once of the siblings in Succession who are both beneficiaries and victims of power and greed. This is a confident, compelling debut. Now I just have to settle in to wait for book two!
Thanks to partners NetGalley, Wednesday Books, and St. Martin's Press for the digital ARC of Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich's If This Gets Out in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!!
I’m a big fan of author collaborations—I almost always really like them. (I’m not sure why, but maybe, just as in my life, collaborating pushes authors to be better?) Since I was already a fan of both Sophie Gonzales, author of Perfect on Paper, and Cale Dietrich, author of The Love Interest, requesting If This Gets Out seemed like a good choice. I was so, so right.
At the center of If This Gets Out is a boy band, Saturday, made up of four kids who met at a summer camp, threw together a fun performance for the end-of-camp concert, and have never looked back. The four teenagers—Ruben, a classically trained singer who grew up on Broadway; Zach, a fan of punk and emo who is painfully shy; Angel, an outgoing, fun-loving partier; and Jon, a Type A, conservative heart throb whose dad manages the group—have remained close friends and have enjoyed their meteoric success, even as they strain against the roles in which they’ve been cast. Their carefully curated image presents all of them as straight (Ruben is not) and each of them somehow playing against type. Angel’s role, for example, is the sweet, conservative, shy boy, which he is *definitely* not.
The story centers on Ruben and Zach and is told in their alternating points of view. Though all four are friends, Ruben and Zach are best friends, so Ruben has kept his attraction to Zach a secret. And then something happens that makes Ruben think Zach may return his feelings. Their relationship changes, at first bringing tension to the group and highlighting the tight control their management wields over their lives, and then causing each of them to understand new things about themselves.
I loved so much about this book. First, it is propulsive: I had a hard time putting it down. The romance at its heart is lovely, and I appreciated the way Gonzales and Dietrich worked through its complications, both early on—when Zach is exploring his understanding of his sexuality—and later, when Ruben and Zach are contending with what they each need from the other. Dietrich and Gonzales create fully realized characters here who are dealing with fame but also with their relationships with their parents and friendships and all the drama that happens with teenagers.
I also enjoyed the consideration of the boy band phenomenon. While I’m no student of the music industry, and boy bands aren’t really a part of my current listening, I was a HUGE fan of New Kids on the Block back in the day. So much of the novel here rang true, from the desperate need to have one type of boy for each fan to the denial that fans can handle the truths that all four band members want to share with their public. (I will say that the way the book employs social media certainly adds an angle that would not have been possible in the early NKOTB days!)
If This Gets Out will work for so many readers, and I would definitely be in for further collaborations between Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich (though I do plan to explore the rest of their individual backlists regardless!). This fabulous YA novel is emotional and thought provoking and sweet. I absolutely loved it.
"Martin is very fast, Quietus nearly as so, but Pat lags behind at a very slow and human pace. So, Martin wheels and scoops them up in his arms. Pat squawks and slings a death grip around Martin's neck—but luckily Martin's already dead. . . . It's an anxiety [Martin] hasn't felt in years, that heady thrum in his chest, creeping up his throat, and he begins to fret, frantic and tearing, of things undone. Of Quietus, there for him and at his heels. Of Pat, a friendship begun and doomed in the same second. . . . Of how he really, really, really wanted to do this PodCon panel" (141).
E. G. Reger's Grave Mistakes: The Story of a Podcast by the Undead, for the Living, is one of those books that completely captivates. It starts innocuously enough: Martin, a vampire, and Quietus, a supernatural being whose exact species is uncertain, have a podcast called (of course!) Grave Mistakes. The podcast is modestly successful, but they hope for more, so when they're invited to present at PodCon, they're thrilled.
What begins then is a bit of a picaresque as the two friends take off an an epic—and rushed (Quietus found the email buried in Martin's email inbox, just before the conference begins)—adventure. They're attacked by a jelly monster, confront a pair of hunters, and save a person named Pat who becomes their companion. And that's all before the hellmouth opens. (Okay, I did think of Buffy the Vampire Slayer more than once.)
I absolutely loved the tenderness of the friendship between Martin and Quietus, the way that they are so accepting of each other and of those they adopt into their friendship circle. The book is funny and sweet and often suspenseful, and I was eager to discover just what force was behind the evil that seems to chase the podcasters. There are layers upon layers here: Martin and Quietus pretend to be pretending to be supernatural creatures, which adds some fun moments to the story.
After each chapter that advances the plot, there's an excerpt from one of their podcast episodes, and those moments never failed to make my heart happy. (While I'd say that humor prevails through most of the book, I did tear up more than once—there are some really sweet moments, too.) For me, that focus on friendship, on the essential kindness of Martin and Quietus that survives all of their adventures, is the heart of the novel.
This is Reger's debut (it's available on Amazon in both print and Kindle formats), and she's already working on her next. (Check out her Twitter account @egregerwrites—she's a great follow, and I love the updates about her work.) I'll definitely be following her career!
I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.