The Wide Starlight (2021)

by Nicole Lesperance
ASN/ISBN: 9780593116227
Publication: February 16, 2021

Ten years ago, Eli lost her mother. One day, the Northern Lights appeared and took her mother with them when they vanished. A 6-year-old Eli was found alone on the ice and later determined to be in perfect health. People say her mother abandoned her, but Eli knows the truth even if no one believes her. In present day Cape Cod, where she and her father moved to restart their lives, she receives a mysterious letter urging her to call for her mother before it’s too late. She’s understandably confused until she learns the Northern Lights will soon be visible in Cape Cod.

Even though time has passed, Eli has never forgotten her mother. Her endless yearning for her mother and the warmth of her mother’s love is heartrending as Eli races against time to find her. The chapters alternate between the present day and past memories that read more like fairy tales. Lesperance’s writing is enchanting, capturing the beauty of the landscape and the mystery surrounding Eli’s mother. The story is magical, at times wondrous and other times sinister.

Lesperance weaves a tale of grief and heartache that will have you calling your mom to tell her how much she means to you. I bawled as I headed towards the ending, clinging to the hope that everything would be okay, because Eli deserved a happy ending. A long time ago my mom told me that no matter what age you are, you will always long for your mom. No where does this ring more true than in The Wide Starlight. I won’t be forgetting the book any time soon; it’s already continued to linger long after the last page.

Just Like in the Movies (2021)

by Heidi Rice
ASN/ISBN: 9780008372576
Publication: March 12, 2021

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Ruby becomes part-owner of The Royale movie theatre when her boss and best friend Matty suddenly dies. While she’s intent on making sure The Royale continues running, her new co-owner Luke, Matty’s nephew, would rather rid his hands of the crumbling theatre. Ruby will need Luke’s help to save the theatre, but he’s not exactly the easiest person to get along with.

Just Like in the Movies was a treat to read. We can only hope to have friends and a supportive community such as Matty’s, especially someone like Ruby. Ruby’s earnestness to save the Royale Theatre and to celebrate her best friend Matty’s life was endearing. 

Sharing a similar love of rom-coms, I liked Ruby almost immediately, nearly just as fast as I found Luke unlikeable. Ruby is kind and likeable but has never ventured too far from home until Matty’s death thrusts her into a new role. She’ll fight for what she believes in, but she doesn’t feel the same about herself; she doesn’t exactly believe in herself.

It’s easy to dislike Luke, especially with his attitude and suspiciousness over Matty’s intentions in leaving him part ownership of the theatre. Of course, I’d be suspicious as well should something like that happen to me (as if it would ever be likely, except, you know, like in the movies and books…lol), but his quick assessment of Ruby irritated me. His automatic assumption, as expected, is that Ruby was Matty’s mistress. He’s a grumpy character with what seems like a heart of gold, and eventually, it becomes a bit difficult to dislike him, even though I tried. I really did.

The story is fairly straight-forward with Ruby trying to keep The Royale open and Luke finding himself more or less roped into helping out. There are several funny scenes throughout the book, and I liked the chemistry between Ruby and Luke as they learn more about one another.

Ultimately the ending was a satisfying one, but I couldn’t help but wish that Ruby’s lesson in all this had been a more prominent theme throughout the book. It seemed to have just dawned on her at what felt like the last minute. I would recommend this book to those who like movies in their romance novels with characters who grow from hate to love. Those who enjoyed Waiting for Tom Hanks may enjoy this novel as well.

The Comeback (2021)

by E.L. Shen
ASN/ISBN: 9780374313791
Publication: January 19, 2021

**I received a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Maxine is a 12-year-old figure skater with dreams to one day be an Olympian, so she’s working hard on the ice to perfect her routine while trying to finish homework and attend ballet classes. When a bully at school starts to pick on her because of her Chinese heritage, it negatively affects Maxine. Rather than be able to find solace on the ice, Maxine has to face a talented new competitor who may affect her chances of making it through to the next competition.

Racism is difficult to deal with no matter how what age someone is. Shen’s depiction of racism feels true to life, showcasing how Maxine internalizes it and ultimately tries to deal with it on her own. While the latter may seem like a solution, sometimes love and support from the people who care about us are the best remedies.

I wasn’t great at sports, and I didn’t watch it very much either, but I always made an exception to pay attention to figure skating. It was one of the few sports where Asian faces were televised. Like Maxine, Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan were two Asian American figure skaters I admired. Both are just two of the many Asian figure skaters Shen name drops throughout the novel, helping to capture how these specific individuals served as Maxine’s role models. It highlights the importance of representation and the positive effects of seeing faces like your own reflected in things you enjoy. Is descriptive representation important? Yes!

It also doesn’t matter how old you are when you see representation in books you enjoy, especially when you never saw it growing up. I was excited to see a reference to Tiger Balm! Can you believe it?! It does solve everything! I see that now as an adult, although I would have been self-conscious about using it as a kid. What a throwback to a classic also! Although I’m not Chinese, Teresa Teng’s “The Moon Represents My Heart” was a song I grew up with. (Enjoy it with the English translation below. It’s so beautiful and relaxing). I was so excited to see both of these referenced here.

Overall, The Comeback is a thoughtful novel about a young Chinese American figure skater’s experience with racism at school and how internalizing those racist acts affects her mentally and spills over into her life at home and on the skating rink. I found the story well-written and appreciated the Asian American representation. Maxine has the potential to serve as a character that other Asian American girls can identify with, serving as a role model just as Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan served as her role models.

**A big thank you to the publisher for also providing a finished copy of the book. I purchased a copy for my niece, so I hope she’ll like it as much as I did, although she probably won’t be as familiar with tiger balm or Teresa Teng–I must remedy this. HA…

The Secret Recipe for Moving On (2021)

by Karen Bischer
ASN/ISBN: 9781250242303
Publication: March 23, 2021

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Senior year is off to a heartbreaking start after Ellie’s boyfriend unexpectedly breaks up with her. Forced to continue taking home ec(onomics) with her ex and his new girlfriend, Ellie sets her eyes on beating the other teams by working with her group to ensure they get the most points in the class. Initially, she doesn’t have high hopes for her group of misfits–horse racing obsessed Isaiah, tough guy A.J., and biker Luke–but she begins to change her mind once she gets to know them. They even start feeling like a family.

Change is hard but maybe it’s the motivation needed to force us to do things we normally wouldn’t do. The breakup forces Ellie to get out of her comfort zone and pursue activities she would never have thought about before or things her ex wouldn’t have approved of. As readers come to this realization alongside Ellie, they’ll cheer her on just like I did. Her growth from the beginning of the novel to the end was a mostly pleasant experience. Why only mostly? Despite knowing the break up is inevitable–it’s right there in the blurb–it’s still a pretty uncomfortable experience to read through. It can only mean that Bischer did a great job setting it up.

The best part of the novel is the camaraderie that eventually develops between Ellie and her home ec group. While the other groups in the class are cohesive from the start because most are already friends, Ellie, Isaiah, A.J., and Luke are a makeshift group. They’re individuals who don’t hang out together and probably wouldn’t have spoken to each other outside the classroom. Being forced to work as a group (I know, I know we all generally hate group work) facilitated meaningful interaction between the members in the classroom, eventually spilling over into life outside of class and even school. If we only stick to what we know and the people we know, we might be missing out on so many other wonderful things!

I enjoyed it overall. It’s a high school slice-of-life novel about growing up and trying to find your bearings after a breakup. It’s a cute, light read–something that can be quickly read in an afternoon.

Amelia Unabridged (2021)

by Amy Schumacher
ASIN/ISBN: 9781250253026
Publication: February 16, 2021

**I was provided a copy of the book through NetGalley. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

The summer before they go to college, best friends Jenna and Amelia attend a book festival so they can meet author N.E. Endsley, whose books have significantly impacted Amelia’s life. Unfortunately, Jenna gets to meet him while Amelia doesn’t, leading to a fight, and Amelia is reluctant to forgive her despite Jenna heading off to Ireland shortly after. Before Amelia gets a chance to mend their friendship, Jenna is killed. Now, she needs to figure out how to move forward without the person who has always been by her side.

First drawn in by the beautiful cover, I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to read Amelia Unabridged after reading the description. I didn’t want another book leaving a melancholic imprint but I couldn’t help myself. Amelia Unabridged is so many wonderful things. It’s at once beautiful, tragic, and magical. It didn’t leave the sense of longing I expected it to, so it hit me a bit differently but still in a good way.

It’s a story about dealing with grief but where I thought it would be about looking for closure, as in life, closure was just one small piece. The book instead focuses on trying to figure out what’s next. Jenna has always been the one to pave the way for them. The way, ever since becoming best friends, has always been together. Jenna’s death pushes Amelia to contemplate moving forward, alone. Even after her death, Jenna remains a catalyst when the unexpected book arrives, and Amelia finds herself in Michigan. Amelia’s courage to stand on her own is tested throughout the book.

The book is also very much a YA romance novel. This is likely what helped to soften the blow of Jenna’s death for me. As Amelia is grappling with her grief, she makes connections to someone else trying to do the same; only it’s been more difficult for him. Together they try to find the answer to the question of whether moving on also means losing connection to those who have passed on.

Generally, I liked the flowery language. It’s what made the book and Michigan feel so magical. However, there were times I could get lost or distracted trying to connect all the different pieces of a single scene. Amelia would be looking at or doing something but in her head, she would also be seeing her whales. While I might not fully understand Amelia’s whales, I have a loose theory about them. I liked her whales and sometimes they were the most vivid images. I swear I could see them floating, shimmering through the town when Amelia saw them as well.

The book moves at a contemplative pace. I never felt rushed, nor was I constantly trying to guess or think ahead about what was coming next. It was one of those rare books where I was present in the moment. Everything held so much meaning. I was pushed to read every word and feel the emotions running through Amelia as she grappled with Jenna’s death and tried to find the courage to define her future.

It’s a book for book lovers. Readers will appreciate the many references to other stories scattered throughout the novel. The bookstore in Michigan Amelia finds and gets to stay at is out of a book lover’s dream. It had me on Google searching for future travel destinations that would have similar accommodations.

Overall, Amelia was a satisfying read. While I shed tears in a few places, it didn’t leave quite the impact I thought it would, but I was still left in awe. Again, it’s a beautifully written book.  I’m buying it for my shelf.

Really Quickly on Amelia’s Whales:
In case this is more SPOILERY than I think, you might want to pass on this. I apologize.

Amelia’s constant mention of whales brings this magical, dream-like state to the book. Whales are the largest creatures, yet limited in population in such a vast place. They’re generally social creatures but not all are. When Amelia says the whales used to be orcas but have changed to become blue whales, it’s a significant indication of her current state. Orcas are social, and normally travel in groups but blue whales are quite solitary. Losing Jenna, the one person who was truly her “family,” leads Amelia to be the lone person left. But maybe Amelia isn’t the only blue whale, maybe her love interest is a blue whale too, and like calls to like. Whales have different frequencies and the calls of whales can be heard across distances so, naturally, they can hear one another. More importantly, they can help each other overcome their grief.

P.S. I Like You (2017)

by Kasie West
ISBN: 9780545850971
Publication: July 26, 2016

This is a recommendation that originally came from the Trope-ical Readathon to fulfill the secret messaging trope.  Obviously, it’s too late for the readathon but I had to wait a few weeks for it to become available through the library.  I am glad I followed through with the library loan (Libby is awesome) because I ended up enjoying the book. 

The book isn’t overly complicated.  It’s about a girl who finds a connection with a fellow student through anonymous letters in chemistry class (chemistry in chemistry…what a perfect set up right??). Initially, the connection is enough but it is inevitable that Lily starts to wonder who it is she has been sharing so much of herself with. Who is it that seems to understand her so well? I’m a bit of a romantic so I started to look forward to the letters as much as Lily did.  I also shared her anxiety at the realization that weekends and vacations meant no letters to read or to write back. (Where are my letters??)

The book gives us the upside of communicating anonymously, tapping into the romantic ideal of falling for someone for who they are rather than what they look like. The letters aren’t terribly deep or introspective but they’re intimate. Within the letters are things neither writer would probably tell anyone else, even to best friends for that matter. That’s the beauty of being anonymous. You can be vulnerable in a way that you’d be afraid to be in real life; you don’t have to be self-conscious.        

Of course, when dealing with a trope about communicating anonymously, it cannot be helped that the author tries to have readers do a bit of guessing —whoever could this person be??? Thankfully, West does not drag it out too long and if she had, I might have stopped reading it or skipped pages. As much as I liked the anonymity, I think I like what happens after a bit more. It calls for certain discussions that I can’t exactly talk about without giving things away. (But if you’ve already read it and want to discuss it, we should definitely do that.)  

Having read so many stories with absent parents or bad familial relationships, it was nice to have a main character with a loving family despite life being somewhat chaotic–Thanksgiving with her family was fun.  I generally liked Lily even though she could be flaky at times. Because she has to fulfill family obligations, she constantly has to reschedule hanging out with her best friend, who seems to just have to take it in strides. Of course, I sympathized with Lily just a bit more than her best friend because of my own experiences with trying to balance family expectations with anything outside of the family.

A few events leading up to the ending weren’t necessary. But, that’s just my opinion. The book would have been fine without the additional hurdle. Also, the book ends rather abruptly. I had to swipe to back and forth to make sure I hadn’t skipped over anything, to make sure there were no more pages.  (This is it? It’s really over?) Despite this, I think it ends on a note that will leave readers somewhat satisfied. I mean, I eventually came to terms with it but would not have minded a few more pages to close it off a bit more neatly. Overall, it was a good book.