Beach Read by Emily Henry

Beach Read by Emily Henry is held up again a matching pair of shorts. Soleil de Zwart

★★★★★

January Andrews shows up at her father’s old lake house ready to sit down and right her next great romance novel. But after the year she’s had, the last thing she is in the mood to do is write about love. Little does she know that he ex college rival, Augustus Everett owns the lake house right next to her, that is until she runs into his book display in the local bookstore. Augustus has been having writers block of his own, but in an entirely different genre, one more dark and gloomy than anything January has ever written.

The two strike up a truce and make a deal, the first to complete and sell their novel gets an endorsement from the other, but there’s a catch. They have to write in each other’s genre. January will take her stab at a dark gloomy piece of literature and Augustus will attempt a romance novel.


Beach Read by Emily Henry is an enemies to lovers story with every bit of intrigue and slice of romance you will need. The characters are both vibrant and dynamic, each with their own set of baggage and problems. As you read, you learn more about both characters and how they are actually a lot more similar than they thought and how they’ve dealt with similar losses. While this is a fun contemporary romance, it deals with a lot of deeper themes of loss, separation, and death, and ties it all together with fun plot points.

At some point the characters end up interviewing former cult members but also traveling to an outdoor theater and eating the most extravagant sounding ice cream.

I read this book in a day, finishing it in the deep end of the night. There were moments when my heart was racing and I definitely cried. This book was everything I wanted it to be and more. I felt very connected to the characters in their discussions of writing and their feelings of isolation.

If you’re in the mood for a fun contemporary romance but with a darker twist, this is one to check out!

The State of US by Shaun David Hutchinson

The State of Us by Shaun David Hutchinson is held up in front of an outdoor scene of palm fronds and wild grass. Soleil de Zwart

★★★★★

The State of US by Shaun David Hutchinson is about Dean Arnault and Dre Rosario and about their parents, who are both candidates running for President of the United States of America. But, one a Democrat, and the other is a Republican. At first Dean and Dre hate each other, coming from different political families in a partisan world they think the worst of each other. But as the story develops the two boys begin to fall for each other, hard, and they begin organizing ways to meet up and see each other. A third party candidate starts to stir up some trouble for both Dean and Dre’s parents, and the two of the get caught up in the mix.

The State of US contains: queer, asexual, demisexual, gay, and lesbian representation. 


As a Political Science student I was so excited to read another political romance, especially between the sons of Republican and Democrat candidates for President. At first I was cautious. I was afraid the story wouldn’t be an accurate representation of either political side, or that it would end up as a happy-go-luck story that brought everyone to the same side and wasn’t realistic. I was also afraid that my hopes were too high and the book wouldn’t live up to my expectations. 

But this story lived up and exceeded my expectations. I’m so happy and honored I received an ARC for review from Harper Collins Teen. This story meant a lot to me.

The story was an accurate representation of the political identities it presented and mirrored the current political landscape. There were many instances that called back to events that occurred throughout the last four years, between 2016 and 2020. While I do believe the story was told in more of a rose-colored lens than reality may present, I’m quite that the intention was to create a more hopeful picture for the future.

This love story was beautiful told and I devoured it within a day. I highlighted the entire book with moments I laughed and cried. Shaun David Hutchinson brought up a lot of meaningful conversations and I believe this story needs to be read. 

The State of US by Shaun David Hutchinson comes out on June 6. If you enjoy political romances or queer love stories, this is absolutely the book for you.

An Interview with Jamie Pacton, “The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly”

“The Life and Medieval Times of Kit Sweetly sits on a table, set to an iced matcha green tea latte, a cake pop, and a book sleeve. Soleil de Zwart

Summary:

Jamie Pacton is the author of The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly, coming out May 5, 2020. The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly is about Kit Sweetly, who works as a “wench” or waitress at a medieval themed restaurant. It’s Kit’s dream to become a knight, just like her brother, but the corporate managers don’t think anyone but a man should be a knight. One night Kit has to take her brother’s place and reveals herself to be a knight during the tournament, and soon after she goes viral as “the girl knight.” Kit decides to bring her friends on her own quest for gender equality and ensure everyone, no matter gender, can become a knight. Non-binary and trans characters are included!

I loved the representation that Jamie Pacton brought to the page, it felt so real and natural. I am also lucky enough to be on her street team for the book. When I reached out for an interview, Jamie Pacton was quick to respond and answer my questions!

You can order The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly by Jamie Pacton any place books are sold.

Interview:

1. Who or what are some of your literary influences? What writers (or other humans) do you look up to?

I studied English literature in college and grad school, so I think I’m always drawing heavily from that background, even if not on a conscious level. So, on some level, the poems of Eliot, Yeats, Keats, and many others echo in my head, while I’m also always thinking about things like some of the first female novelists writing in English. In terms of literary influences specific to the YA I write (both fantasy and contemporary), I love Naomi Novak’s fantasy; Jasper Fforde’s humor; Lizzy Mason’s heart-felt, gritty YA, and MK England’s voice-driven YA SFF. 

In terms of other writers I look up to: I’m in awe of how VE Schwab manages so many projects; I would love to produce books with as deep of world building as SA Chakraborty’s CITY OF BRASS trilogy; and, of course, I’m a huge fan of Rick Riorden’s many, many books for kids. 

2. Where do you draw your inspiration from? Do you draw inspiration from any artforms or the world around you?

Inspiration is waiting all over the world I think, and when I’m not working on a specific project, I often move through my days with the mindset that I’m looking for a story. And, most of the time I find one. 🙂 

3. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid— back then it was usually in the form of plays that I made my siblings perform. But, I’ve known since college I wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t really know how to do it back then since the internet wasn’t the easy access to publishing pro’s that it is now. What I would’ve given for pitch contests and twitter contents back in 2002. 

4. What first sparked the idea for The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly?

I wrote a whole twitter thread on this question here: https://twitter.com/JamiePacton/status/1187538755843956736

5. Are any experiences in The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly inspired by your own life or experiences?

Absolutely. Although I’ve never worked at a medieval themed restaurant, I waited tables for a long, long time during college and beyond. One of those jobs was at a 50’s-themed restaurant where we danced on tables, were rude to guests, and had to be funny as part of the job. So, you’ll see lots of those experiences in KIT. I also wrote a lot of my own memories of growing up on the edge of economic security— I’m the oldest of ten kids and my dad lost his job when I was a teenager— so I remember things like stockpiles of food with questionable expiration dates and trips to food pantries. 

6. What keeps you motivated when writing? Have you experienced writers block?

Before I had book deals and deadlines, I was motivated by both the desire to achieve this dream (I’m nothing if not stubborn) and by the next story I wanted to tell. I don’t usually get writer’s block because I have a backlog of stories to tell, but I do sometimes have fallow periods where I’m not writing every day. Sometimes this is due to busy-ness in life, bouts of depression, uncertainty about where the story is going, etc. When this happens, I try to just refill my well by reading lots, going to museums, and/or working on a different project. 

7. What’s your favorite writing snack and/or beverage?

Coffee. Always and forever. And I never eat while writing. Before I had kids, I used to smoke a lot while writing, but that’s a thing of the past. 

8. Could you speak on your editing process? What was your process going from first draft to the stage you’re in now?

It’s been very different to work with an editor on KIT than with the 9 other books I wrote before this one sold. For KIT, we did a round of developmental edits, then some more revisions, then it went to a copy editor, and then we’ve had a bit more back-and-forth as questions have come up. 

With my other books, I tend to fast-draft, then spend a few months revising and cleaning up, then I send to a few trusted CPs, and then I’ll send it to my agent, who will read and determine if we’re ready to take it out on submission. 

9. Is there a TV show, book, or movie that you turn to when you need a pick-me-up?

I love funny shows, so I’ll watch things like Parks and Recreation (which I’ve seen all the seasons of at least 7 times), Rick and Morty, or movies like Bridget Jones’ Diary. I also love to read adult rom-coms when I need a pick-me-up, and some of my favorite this last year have been RED, WHITE, AND ROYAL BLUE, WELL-MET, THE KISS QUOTIENT, and THE HATING GAME. 

10. What are the final steps in the last months before the book’s publication?

I’m still figuring this out myself, but the book is done and right we’re figuring out fun stuff like promo, travel, launch, and things like that. I’ll get author copies in April and probably be in the middle of book 2 edits at that point. 

11. Are there other stories or short works you wrote before The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly? Is there anything in the works right now?

I wrote so many books before KIT! Some of those will never see the light of day, but I learned a lot from them. Others I’m still hopeful will get sold. Currently, I have a YA fantasy a MG historical adventure-fantasy still on submission. I’ll turn in a draft of my second YA contemporary to my Page Street editor later this month, and then I’ll get to work on the option book for them. That’s all I can talk about at this point, but I will say that I have a lot of BIG plans for 2020’s writing. 🙂 

 12. If you could give one piece of advice to a younger unpublished version of yourself, what would you say?

Know this will be a long process, but keep going. Keep writing. Keep dreaming stories. Also, be careful who you sign with (I had a terrible first agent experience), and remember that you’re in this for the long haul career, not the huge splashy deal. 

13. Do you have any advice for writers looking to get their novel published? Any tips on networking in the publishing world?

There are now so many amazing resources online, like Twitter pitch contests (which helped me get my second agent), Pitch Wars, and hashtags like #WritingCommunity. It’s easier than ever to access agents, publishers, and other writers, and that’s a lovely thing. So, I’d advise writers to network in those ways as they can. 

Definitely as a writer hoping to be published be sure to follow all agency submission guidelines, don’t bug agents too much (or do things like DM them on Twitter), and generally be as uplifting and encouraging to other writers as possible. Remember that someone else’s success doesn’t diminish yours, and the best look you can have is to be genuinely supportive and excited for others. 

14. What has been your favorite part of the publishing process?

Without a doubt the friends I’ve made through writing conferences, Pitch Wars, and other avenues. I have a solid community of amazing folks to share ups and downs with, and I’ve made lifelong friendships. 

Also, getting that “you’ve-got-a-deal” email is an amazing feeling!

15. How did you go about finding an agent? What was that process like?

I’m going to refer you to the FAQs on my website about this one: https://www.jamiepacton.com/extras/faq

Bonus! (if you’re familiar with Harry Potter): 

HA! If I’m familiar with HP! LOL!

In what Hogwarts houses would you sort the main characters of The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly?

Kit is 100% a Gryffindor. 

Jett is a Hufflepuff. 

Chris is also a Gryffindor. 

Layla is a Ravenclaw. 

Reflection:

I decided to reach out to Jamie Pacton because I’m a member of her street team for her debut young adult novel The Life and (Medieval) Times of Kit Sweetly. I very much admire her story and her book so I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to get more information about all of it. She was very lovely in her responses and sent me her answers promptly. 

I loved her genuine answers and how funny she was (even over email)! I’m really glad I made the leap and decided to ask an author who I admire and love the work of. And she was honest, especially about writing 9 previous books and them all being rejected. And how looking back on it she sees the value of that experience. Overall, I look forward to reaching out to more authors for similar interviews. 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

★★★★★

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is an interview-based story focusing on the reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo. When Monique Grant, a relatively unknown magazine reporter, is requested to author the “tell all” exclusive on the life of Hollywood’s icon, no one is more shocked than Monique. Monique and Evelyn meet at Evelyn’s illustrious mansion and begin to unravel the many years of shocking tales and the scandalous seven marriages. The narrative slips into the past, in the point of view of Evelyn, growing up in a low-income house with an abusive father and how she escaped, made her way to Hollywood, and became a sensation.

Taylor Jenkins Reid discusses love and loss, weaving in stories of hard-won ambition and surprising friendships. As the narrative continues, the reader and Monique begin to understand why Evelyn chose Monique for her biography.

Reid’s plot allows the reader to slip seamlessly into Evelyn’s past, then come back to the present, learning simultaneously about Monique and Evelyn’s lives. Within the text, Reid is able to craft complex characters, convincing you that this faux-biography is about a real Hollywood sensation, and you just never knew about her. Reid’s characters are complicated and filled with life, her protagonists are built with morally-grey hearts, questionable motives, but their depth make them more human than most fictional constructions. Reid explains this herself within the voice of Evelyn Hugo, “It’s always been fascinating to me how things can be simultaneously true and false, how people can be good and bad all in one, how someone can love you in a way that is beautifully selfless while serving themselves ruthlessly.” While Evelyn says this of others, it can also be seen as her speaking of herself, her drive and motivations to get to where she wants to go. 

As the story unfolds, the formatting of the book gives light to news and magazine excerpts within the biography of Evelyn Hugo that rests inside The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, these contain headlines and dates of publication, with scandalous tidbits imagined by gossip columns or celebrity magazines. Many of these titles also contain information between sections of the text, how a situation was perceived by the other world versus how Evelyn Hugo tells her tale, or heartbreaking news you hadn’t expected before turning the page. Another interesting observation is looking at the evolution of magazines and news corporations covering Evelyn Hugo as her story unfolds, they begin with small town newspapers and evolve into the worldwide trending Now This.

The interview-style format of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo lends itself well to its audiobook format, with three voice actors working in tandem to bring the voices of Evelyn, Monique, and the other characters to life. 

Evelyn Hugo is a powerful woman, who knew what she wanted and went out and got it. Her story tells us that fame, money, and success won’t bring you everything you desire, Evelyn’s successes and failures bring with them their own unique struggles. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo may sound like it’s about the rich and famous, complaining about their lives and in pursuit of more accolades, but in reality, it’s the story of a girl from Hell’s Kitchen, New York who did everything she could to escape her life and get what she wanted, while dealing with the harsh realities of stardom and the people it brings into your life. 

I give The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, five stars. 

Reid’s most recent novel, Daisy Jones & The Six, came out in 2019 and is currently being adapted into a web-based miniseries, produced by Reese Witherspoon. Sam Claflin has recently been announced to play the main male-lead Billy Dunne. 

ONWARD 2020 Movie Review

(This review contains mild spoilers for the Disney Pixar movie Onward, 2020.)

I have seen this beautiful movie twice now, and I’ll probably go back to see it more before April. I went into Onward with as little knowledge as I could because I wanted to be surprised. And I was, in the most wonderfully pleasant way.

First, the mixture of old magic and modern technology is so well done. The sprites drive motorcycles because they grew used to the ease of modern technology and no longer use their wings. And there are skyscrapers, but if you look closely, many of them have castle turrets on top, a fantastic touch. There were also rabid unicorns.

Another aspect I really appreciated was the way that the writers pulled in ongoing threads throughout the story. The tail light looked like a phoenix gem, which came in handy. There were several instances where Ian or Barley got a splinter from the magic staff, which becomes a useful tidbit towards the end. And the car air conditioning was a plot point!

During my viewing I managed to catch some neat little tidbits. In the grocery store there is “Cloak & Cola” as one of the soda options, as well as some jerky sticks that are labeled “wild boar sticks.” Here we also see Dewdrop, one of the sprites, eating a pixie stick, which I found strangely ironic. There are also fun store names throughout, the most memorable being “Sir Snips A Lot,” for the barbershop.

Other details that need to be mentioned and should be appreciated is the precision that the animators and artists brought to the scenes:

  • the messy pen ink
  • the peeling paint on an old wooden bench
  • dust particles in the air
  • tiny visible face hairs
  • wet hair during a misty afternoon
  • face oil and sweat when stressed
  • slightly uneven and realistically imperfect teeth
  • sweater fuzz

The coloring and lighting was so beautiful and well done! Overall the movie had a general blue tint, which transitioned to necessary green or red lighting to accommodate for stop lights and glowing soda machines. I felt the passion that the team had for this movie, all the details came together so well.

The amount of brotherly and familia love in this movie! I definitely cried twice during my first viewing, and got teary-eyed in my second viewing. Barley has had the role of big brother and father figure all his life, and Ian didn’t notice, not until much later. Barley does the stereotypical “embarrassing dad” things. He picks Ian up from school in his beat-up van, embarrasses Ian, tries to clean him up — with his own spit — , protects him, and teaches him.

“You’ll never be ready, MERGE!” Barley shouts at Ian while Ian is learning to drive in the midst of a crowded freeway.

“You can do this!” Barley tells Ian during multiple tough situations.

“I never had a dad, but I always had you.” Ian says towards the end of the movie.

Onward is for the nerds. Barley is a history buff, who play role playing games and Ian is a math whizz and science geek. Their dynamic shines throughout the story and their own individual quirks come into play in sweet and inventive ways.

Where this movie really shines, is the power of the MOM. The mom is so fantastic, along with her new friend The Manticore as they travel after the boys, trying to keep them from trouble. With the mom and The Manticore there is a recurring theme of female strength.

The mom repeats, “I’m a mighty warrior,” a few times throughout the movie. The first time during a fitness workout, and the last time in an epic battle.

Something that really made this movie spectacular was the variety of body shapes, voices, and people throughout. There was also a character with a disability and a gay character. While Disney Pixar still has quite a way to go in the field of diversity and inclusivity, this was a start and I look forward to watching as they go down that road.

There is a scene towards the beginning of the film, where Ian is listening to a tape from his dad. He interacts with it as if it were a phone call and not a prerecorded tape. I loved the way they did this, it felt so raw and personal. I immediately started tearing up, even though it was just the beginning of the movie.

Onward was one of my favorite movies of 2020, I can’t wait to go see it again and to own it once it comes out on DVD.

VaLITines Blog Challenge

I’m hosting the sixth blog challenge for VaLITines!!! VaLITines is a bookweb event throughout the month of February, for more information check out the official ReadVaLITines twitter page.

While we may be in the last few days of February and the event is coming to a close, it’s not too late to check out the fantastic prompts brought to you by the hosts!

The hosts for VaLITines include:

Onto the blog prompt!

Imagine yourself on a date (platonic or romantic), in what book world would you go, where in that world, what bookish character would you take with you, what would you be doing, and what’s a snack you’d be sharing?

I feel like my answer would change daily but currently I would want to take Cal from The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper on a platonic friend date, so we could discuss journalism and listening to music on old cassettes. Our date would be in the Pumpkin Patch of Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, shares one of those chocolate covered pumpkin pies on a stick from the book. The whole date would basically just be spent going from one food stand to another, maybe trying to go through the corn maze together. Sounds like a pretty fantastic time to me!

Would would you do for your fictional character date?

August Wrapup

The Merciful Crow ★★★

The Tea Dragon Society ★★★★

Fence Vol. 1 ★★★★

The Avant-Guards Vol. 1 ★★★★★

Fence Vol. 2 ★★★★★

The Unexpected Everything ★★★★★

Heartstopper Vol. 1 ★★★★★

Lumberjanes Vol. 1 ★★★

The Umbrella Academy Vol. 1 ★★★

Fence Vol. 3 ★★★★★

A Lesson in Thorns ★★★★

Shortest Way Home ★★★★

Well Met ★★★★★

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord

★★★★★

Tweet Cute is about Pepper, who moved with her mom to New York after her mom separated (amicably) from her dad. She’s been trying to blend in at the elite high school for the past 3 years, but she’s regarded as more of a study robot by her classmates. Pepper’s family own a fast-food burger chain and being the Gen Z-er that she is she often has to help them with their social media campaigns, primarily by posting memes on their official Twitter. But Pepper is more interested in baking and running her baking blog with her sister. Jack’s family run a small deli in New York, they’re known for their Kitchen Sink Macarons and grilled cheeses. Pepper and Jack end up in a twitter war between their parent’s business twitter accounts, and their story becomes viral.

I went into this book thinking it sounded cute and like a light rom-com. I was both right and wrong, in the best ways. It was cute and a rom-com but it also dealt with things such as parental pressures, familial problems, and loss. I was surprised in so many ways and read this book in a 24 hour period. I forced myself to sleep at 2am, so I would be able to continue enjoying it in the morning.

It was a little bit of a slow start, I wasn’t sure what was going on in the first few pages, but then it all started clicking into place. I understood there was a distance between the mother and Pepper’s sisters, there was something there that was waiting to be uncovered. Then we switched to Jack’s POV and I felt a little thrown off, but it was coming together, he also dealt with family expectations but in a different way. And slowly the larger plot came together.

The twitter war wasn’t what I had expected, it was better. And the moment that the ship name “Pepperjack” appeared made me cackle with joy.
I am so grateful I was able to read this book in advance, it has given me strength to tackle the new school year. And now I have a few months to rave about it to my friends before I make them read it in January 2020.

The Avant-Guards by Usdin, Hayes, & Nalty

★★★★★

I LOVED this graphic novel! I ate it up sometime in the middle of the night, in one sitting. I love the diversity presented in this story in the ethnicities of the characters as well as the characters’ personalities.

Charlie is a transfer student to Georgia O’Keefe College of Arts and Subtle Dramatics, she’s a former basketball star who has stepped away from the sport. Liv, a drama student with basketball aspirations coaxes Charlie to join her newly formed ragtag team as the school’s first basketball team.

The representation in this story is so important and is just one story among many more that is diversifying the shelves of readers and reviewers. It felt real. I have read other graphic novels in which the characters feel more like characters in a story rather than real people dealing with real things.

I love the connections that grow throughout the story arc. Although I would’ve loved for it to be longer, I think the length plays very well with where the story left off. It left off with the suspense and want for more issues in the future. And as always I appreciate the cover images in the back of the novel, beautiful work!

The beginnings of romance in this story make me giddy and excited. I’m so ready to read volume two. I have only positive feed back for this lovely story and I look forward to reading more work from author Carly Usdin and artist Noah Hayes in the future.

Again, But Better by Christine Riccio

★★★★★

Two copies of Again, but Better lie against a blue pillow // Soleil de Zwart

One of my favorite books of the year, and in my top five contemporaries of all time. 

I started reading Again, but Better on March 26th and finished it on March 29th at 2am in the morning. 

And that was after I had been in a real reading slump, barely being able to pick up a book, much less binge reading more than 200 pages into the early hours of the morning. 

I’m wrote this review so late because I was afraid of not being able to convey how much I loved this book. But I’m going to try anyway, because the release is tomorrow and I’m going to Christine Riccio’s book signing on Wednesday. 

I read a fair amount of contemporaries and have connected with many of them, but never like this one (besides for Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, review below). The character of Shane feels so close to me, I feel enveloped in her thoughts and choices. This book feels so close and personal because it’s my worst fears and hopes and dreams and possibilities all wrapped into one story. 

I never saw “Part 2” coming. I didn’t even guess where the story was going until I got to that page and screamed in my bed, at approximately 10pm. I didn’t stop reading after that. I had to know. This was also the first time in a long time when I read a book and did not guess the twist or the ending. I enjoy guessing what happens next and being right. But also, sometimes I get annoyed that some books or movies feel so predictable to me, I wish they would surprise me more. This book did surprise me. In the best way possible. 

As I said I’m going to the signing on Wednesday, I pre-ordered the Barnes and Noble exclusive signed edition. But it won’t get here until this weekend, which means I’ll buy a second copy at the signing on Wednesday. Which I should be more annoyed about… but also I’ll be re-reading the finished copy and I’ll want to mark up my own copy. I’m so excited. 

This book is my perfect cup of lavender earl gray tea. It’s the contemporary I’ve been waiting for. Thank you Christine for writing it. I’ve been watching Christine’s booktube videos on her channel: polandbananasBOOKS for years now. And I’ve watched every one of her “Writing Vlog” videos. They’ve inspired me that one day I can also get my stories out there, her persistence has inspired me on many levels. I’m so grateful that’s she’s also very open about her struggle with anxiety. Did I mention how excited I am for the signing on Wednesday?

Check out my vlog seeing Christine at her book signing in Portland: Booktubers in Portland feat. Jaded Reader