Review: The Perfect Escape by Suzanne Park

The Perfect Escape book cover

Suzanne spoke at a meeting of one of my writing groups a few months ago, and she was really entertaining but also had some good info for writers. So I decided to check out her work, and I started with her debut YA, The Perfect Escape. 

This is a romance featuring Kate, a white girl who loves theater but has an unsupportive father, and Nate, a Korean-American academic overachiever. They meet at a zombie-themed escape room in Seattle, where they both work, and they become friends after he gives her a ride home and accidentally leaves her wig in his car.  


Kate’s father runs a cutting-edge robotics and home automation company that is constantly pushing out products prematurely. Their pilot and current products are all over Kate’s house, much to her chagrin. These various devices monitor her while her fathers travels, and malfunction all the time. Her father is unwilling to support her in theater pursuits, instead trying to force her in “practical” directions. She knows the only way to escape his plans for her is to do things herself, because she’s more or less a prisoner in her own home. So she gets the job at the escape room as a starting point and plans to move to New York on her own.

Nate is a scholarship kid a fancy and expensive boarding school full of super-entitled jerks, including one who thinks he can pressure Nate into helping some of them get better GPAs through fraudulent means. Nate doesn’t want to do it, but he is considering it because his family really needs the money because his dad’s just lost his job and his mom makes very little money.

A New Option

But then something new comes up with Kate: a zombie-themed survivalist competition with a big monetary prize. This is Kate’s main escape plan, but she needs a partner, so Nate it is. This is a much better plan for Nate than helping out the entitled rich white boys. As Kate and Nate get to know each other better, they find they like each other more than either expected. They really gel. Nate’s long-term crush throws a wrench in the works, but Kate and Nate still decide to join in the competition. 

Once they start the competition, they discover it’s serious business, not all sunshine and roses. There are robot zombies moving around trying to “get” all the participants. It’s a lot of fun seeing Nate and Kate work together and figure out how to deal when things go completely haywire. Because things do go completely haywire, and it ends not at all to plan. You kind of wonder how they could possibly work things out, so seeing it happen is very satisfying. 

Review: The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

The Summer I Became a Nerd book coverMaddie has several things she’s passionate about, but none of them are the things she’s “supposed” to care about. She’s a cheerleader dating one of the school’s finest catches—the quarterback—and everyone has forgotten a disastrous incident in junior high, where she outed herself as a nerdy and very enthusiastic comic book fan and was laughed off the costume contest stage. The only thing she could think to do was pretend it never happened, and never, ever mention comics in front of anybody ever again.

This is fine except for the fact that she still loves comics, especially one she’s been following for years. After her safe, at-home acquisition of the final issue of her favorite one falls through, she’s desperate enough to head out to the local comic shop—in disguise, of course. But even this doesn’t work, as the shop is sold out of the last issue. Somehow she talks the high school kid—Logan—working the register to loan her his copy of it. She’s hoping he doesn’t recognize her. 

Turns out, Logan knew exactly who she was. And much to Maddie’s surprise, the two become friends, bonding over comics, and she feels the pull of the life—and the pop culture—that she genuinely loves. It distracts her from the friends and pop star she’s supposed to love. She doesn’t really know how to handle it all, afraid her world will come crashing down if she’s not careful. But treating your new friend like a dirty secret doesn’t go well, so she’s got some thinking to do. 

The book celebrates nerd culture and while the resolution didn’t read entirely believable to me (I’m just not convinced cheerleaders and LARPers can actually mix), it was still an entertaining light romance.

Review: Hanging Around for You by Stacia Leigh

Hanging Around for You book coverHanging Around for You is a YA romance set in Leigh’s biker world in the mountains of (I think) Oregon. The first two books were clearly tied together, but this third one’s connection is much looser, though it’s there. Pinecone, the heroine, made an appearance in Leigh’s second book (Burnout, previously reviewed here). 

Fifteen-year-old Pinecone has a terrible, narcissistic mom named Twyla who abandons her in the first chapter, leaving Pinecone with Twyla’s biker boyfriend, Ham. Both of them are upset by the abandonment, but what’s worse is what Twyla does after stealing Ham’s truck, which brings the police sniffing around, making both of them very nervous. Still, they make do, with Pinecone going to school while working at the Powerhouse Inn, which Ham owns, and avoiding her best friend, Dawn, because of the awkward situation of her missing, criminal mom. One day, Smiley walks into the inn’s lobby, and Pinecone is struck by his looks, but very much turned off by his interest in joining Ham’s biker club, the Pulver Skulls. 

But Smiley’s on a mission. He’s not just a hang around; he’s looking for info. But it’s important that no one figures that out. Still, he thinks Pinecone might be a way into some crucial intel. Soon, he finds that he genuinely likes her, despite the fact that Ham doesn’t want him around.

At a pivotal Halloween party, Dawn finds out that Pinecone lied about where her mom was and she and Smiley make out. The fallout is dramatic: Dawn pulls completely away from her and Smiley friend-zones her at school soon after. It takes a while for those things to turn around, but fortunately they do. Just in time for quite the confrontation in Ham’s basement. 

This romance may deal with the biker world, but it’s not gritty like you might expect, even though Smiley is really dealing in danger. Pinecone and Smiley make a great couple you’re rooting for, even though Smiley’s shady dealings are a little problematic. I suspect we’ll need a sequel to find out where things really truly land. But this book still makes for a nice story that fans of light YA romance will enjoy. 

Review: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi book coverThis is a light romance with two second-generation Indian-Americans dealing with being part of two cultures.

Dimple Shah considers herself a feminist and basically hates everything girly. This is a problem because her mom wants her be girly, so they’re often at odds. Dimple hates all the stupid rules that society (both American and Indian societies, really) expects women to follow. She’s a little judgmental about other people who do follow the rules. She convinces her parents to let her attend Insomnia Con, a six-week program where recent high school graduates (I think) develop an app and compete for money and the chance to get it supported by a well-known female tech giant who Dimple idolizes. What Dimple doesn’t know is that her mom has an ulterior motive in letting her go.

Rishi Patel is really kind of a dork. Maybe a romantic would be a nicer word, but I think dork fits. In the beginning, he completely buys into his parents wishes for and expectations of him, going along with everything—and with enthusiasm. He loves the idea of getting to meet Dimple at Insomnia Con and believes they are probably soul mates since their parents set them up. Of course, he also thinks that she knows the score, too, which she does not.

The first time Rishi sees Dimple, he makes a joke about her being his future wife. She has no idea who he is and throws her iced coffee in his face. Given the situation, it was a tiny overreaction, but not over-the-top. Then it turns out they’re going to be partners for the entire six weeks, so they’re going to have to get used to each other. While they do that, they get to know each other and become friends. Dimple learns that even though Rishi is on his way to MIT in the fall to study computer science, his real passion (and talent) is comics. Rishi has to work on convincing her that just because their parents set them up doesn’t mean they shouldn’t date. They don’t have to get married right away, after all.

There are admittedly some things about the book that are unrealistic and which kind of bugged me. One is that programs like Insomnia Con would fill up right after opening for enrollment, and there’s no way Dimple and Rishi would get in so late. And the thing is called Insomnia Con for a reason—because people have to spend all their time—including that which they should be spending sleeping—in order to be competitive. Dimple would know this and would not spend so much time lallygagging around and socializing. I know this wouldn’t be interesting to readers (well, maybe to me), but I wanted to at least hear about the sixteen+ hours she was putting into it every day.

But technicalities aside, this is a cute story that a lot of people should appreciate. It’s an easy read—chapters and scenes are very short and switch back and forth between Dimple’s and Rishi’s points of view. It paints a realistic picture of second-generation Indian-American teenagers and how they have to deal with living in multiple worlds, which I always find interesting to read about, and many others should, too.

Review: Geekerella (Once Upon a Con #1) by Ashley Poston

GeekerellaThe idea of this book is really fun, if you’re into any kind of geeky fandom. And it’s all wrapped up as a retelling of Cinderella, which is cool.

Elle, short for Danielle, lives with her stepmom and two stepsisters, all of whom are mean to her, as you’d expect. She works at a vegan food truck called The Magic Pumpkin. And she’s a huge fan of a show called Starfield (something she shared with her dad before he died), which was first filmed some time in the past and is going to be remade now. Elle is very serious about the show and even runs a blog about it. She’s working on going to the next con in Atlanta, the one her father started. She wants to enter the cosplay contest in her dad’s old Carmindor costume. Elle’s horrified when pretty-boy Darien is cast in the reboot’s lead role, Prince Carmindor. No way can he do the role justice, because he can’t possibly know enough about the show. She rants about it—and Darien—on her blog.

Unbeknownst to Elle, Darien is a fan of the show, even though he has to pretend like he isn’t because it doesn’t fit his image. His father—and manager—is constantly breathing down his neck to keep the perfect image.

The two of them start texting, each having no idea who the other is, when Darien finds Elle’s dad’s old number—which Elle picks up because she inherited her dad’s phone—and tries to get out of doing a signing at the con. They find they have a lot in common regarding Starfield, and ultimately get as close as two people can over texts.

These are all good things, and enjoyable enough, but I did have a little trouble with the book. I felt like too many things relied on coincidences, unlikely behavior, or on situations that were easily fixable. Even the black moment, when it looks like their possible relationship is over, comes about because of something kind of unlikely—but more importantly, it was easily fixable with one more text, which for some reason was never sent.

So although I did enjoy reading the book, I didn’t find the story entirely credible. Still, if you are into any sort of fandom, this may well resonate with you, as it has for a lot of people (it has 4 stars on Goodreads with almost 40,000 reviews and 4.5 stars on Amazon with a few hundred reviews).

Review: Burnout by Stacia Leigh

Burnout book coverThis book’s been sitting on my shelf a while (in very good company) and I decided I wanted a quick read that was not for my MFA, so I picked it up. It turned out to be perfect. Even though I’m in a bit of a reading slump, I read it in two days because it’s pretty fast-paced. It’s billed as a contemporary YA romance, but I’d argue it’s romantic suspense, although the suspense doesn’t get started right away.

Will Sullivan, who we met as J.J.’s drunk friend in Dealing with Blue, is having a rough time. His mom was killed by a drunk driver a year earlier and he’s never dealt with it. Instead, he drinks the beer left behind by his dad’s and brother’s biker friends. After wrecking his own bike, drunk, he’s in a world of pain. But he’s part of the Hides of Hell family even though he doesn’t want to join, and when they decide to ride to a rally and at the same time spread his mom’s ashes, he’s got to go with them. But he doesn’t have a bike anymore, so…

Miki Holtz is the daughter of the new president of the club and she’d love to get his attention at least every once in a while. She’s also Will’s ride to the rally. They have some history—they’ve played together since they were little kids, but now Miki likes him more than as friends. But she messed it all up a year earlier, and he’s not forgiven her. So it’s going to be an awkward ride.

This may not sound all that suspenseful, but that comes in once they’ve been on the road a bit. They end up spending the first night in a cheapo motel because Will made the mistake of taking one too many pain pills, and he can barely stay on the bike. The motel clerk acts kind of fishy and seems to recognize Will’s name. The next night, they flee the campsite and backtrack to the motel because they think the motel clerk knows something. That next morning all hell breaks loose.

Will and Miki are both cool characters. Miki a bit more so—she’s quite plucky, while Will’s a bit broody and depressed, but not overly so. He’s still quite interesting and it’s rewarding to see him finally deal with his mom’s death. Miki also has her own things to deal with, mostly her relationship with her dad and how she sees herself.

If you’re looking for a gritty (but not too gritty) romance with a couple you definitely root for, this one is for you.

Review: Meet Cute

Meet Cute book coverMeet Cute is a collection of “meet cute” (the first meeting of a couple who will be starring in a romance) stories by some big names in YA contemporary and romance right now. By their very nature, some of these feel a little incomplete—because these are the stories of the meet only, not the rest of the romance. There are fourteen of them and definitely some are better than others, in my view.

The first is “Siege Etiquette” by Katie Cotugno. This one’s told in second person (“you”), which is something that I don’t like. I mean, I don’t hate it, but it just feels forced and manipulative and a little pretentious. The story itself didn’t really speak to me, either. It’s about a girl who ends up in a bathroom with a boy she doesn’t know well at a party when the police are trying to get in and everyone else is hiding in the basement. The main character, Hailey, just isn’t too likable and I didn’t care that much about her. I liked the guy—Wolf—better and wondered why he seemed interested in her.

The second story, “Print Shop” by Nina LaCour, is actually my favorite. It’s about Evie, a girl who takes a job at an old-fashioned print shop because she values the non-digital approach. But then her first assignment is to get the shop an online presence, which I thought was pretty funny. Not that the story is very funny (it’s not), but I felt Evie’s pain, which is what you want. So then there’s a PR fiasco on the Twitter account she creates, all because of a “typo” made on a banner for a high school girl. After searching the girl’s profile, Evie jumps through hoops to help make sure she gets her remade banner in time, and when they finally meet, it is cute.

I enjoyed the third one, “Hourglass” by Ibi Zoboi, reasonably well even if it didn’t move me too much. It’s about Cherish, the only black teenager in her small town. She’s dress shopping with her white friend Stacy, who’s got the perfect body, unlike Cherish (who is giant—6’5” (wow)). And really, Cherish isn’t dress shopping herself—she’s with Stacy because the shop doesn’t have anything that will fit Cherish. For that reason, Cherish isn’t planning to go to the prom. But after she has a falling out with Stacy, she visits a new African tailor in town. That’s where she meets the tailor’s son, who looks like a superhero and is studying at the local community college. He’s nice.

The next story is “Click” by Katharine McGee. This one is about a an online dating date that goes horribly wrong—but in all the right ways. The online dating site is Web-data-driven, in that it scrapes the Web for all bits of info about anyone who signs up and does some clever matching on multiple points. She goes on her first date and manages to leave her phone in the taxi. This isn’t just normal bad because her phone contains a data chip with a very important program on it that she’s been working on. (Okay, let’s not talk about the fact that she wouldn’t have not had a backup somewhere, but okay, for the purposes of the story…) She and her date spend the evening chasing down the phone/chip.

“The Intern” by Sara Shephard is about Clara, an intern at a record company who gets a weird assignment with one of the company’s artists—take him to a psychic. I had a little trouble with this one because some of the events just didn’t feel entirely plausible.

The sixth story is “Somewhere That’s Green” by Meredith Russo. This one is about a trans girl whose community is up in arms since the school started letting her use the girls’ bathroom. I didn’t really love this one, either. The meet cute is between her and one of the spokespeople for the bathroom-use opponents, who despite having really religious parents likes girls. I just didn’t totally buy it all.

The next one is “The Way We Love Here” by Dhonielle Clayton, which features a brown girl and an Asian boy on a fictional island with magical undertones because everyone is born with several red strings around their ring fingers. The strings disappear over time until they’re all gone when you meet your true love. Vio isn’t particularly interested in meeting hers and when she rescues Sebastien from nearly drowning, they begin a time-traveling adventure of sorts. It’s kind of an odd story and I didn’t get really into it, but it wasn’t bad.

The eighth story is “Oomph” by Emery Lord. I liked this one quite a bit, too. It’s about two girls who meet at the airport and is full of clever and cute dialogue. I did feel like it took a little to get going, but once it did I really liked it.

The next story is “The Dictionary of You and Me” by Jennifer L. Armentrout. I’m sort of ambivalent about this one. I definitely liked the premise—a girl working at the library gets to know a boy while chasing down an overdue dictionary. It was just that the dialogue was a tad disappointing—decent though not as funny as it was trying to be. I also felt like the coincidence meter was sounding because of who the boy turns out to be.

“The Unlikely Likelihood of Falling in Love” by Jocelyn Davies is an interesting story. It’s definitely got a cute premise, even one aspect of it did bug me a little. It’s about a girl who’s the only girl in her AP stats class (and plans to win a Nobel Prize in math, as soon as they start offering one). She spots a boy on a train going the opposite direction in NYC and is instantly smitten. Then she proceeds to make calculating the likelihood of seeing him again her end-of-semester project for stats. This is what bugged me a little—I didn’t think that the only girl in a technical class would do such a “girly” topic. But then, maybe she would. We don’t get to know her too well in such a short story. Also, the way it’s written made it sound like the end result—whether or not she meets him again—matters to the class project. It doesn’t. The likelihood of something happening stays the same whether or not it actually comes to pass. But still, it was a pretty fun story.

I didn’t really care for “293 Million Miles” by Kass Morgan because I found it not very plausible, particularly the big reveal at the end. It’s about a guy and a girl trying out for a Mars mission. They end up in an isolated room together, ostensibly being tested for behavior under stress. I thought that her behavior would have totally ruled her out and the way they treated him at the end just didn’t work for me.

I’m not a fan of reality TV, so at first I thought I wouldn’t like “Something Real” by Julie Murphy. It’s set on the set of a reality TV show—one that pits two girls against each other in a competition to get a date with a famous young musician. So at first it’s not clear who the meet cute is between, but once we meet the musician himself, we can guess. It’s cute and there are several funny scenes.

“Say Everything” by Huntley Fitzpatrick is another second person story, which still bugs me, by the way. I didn’t love this one, either. A girl whose family used to be rich is waiting tables for some cash. A boy asks her out and it turns out that he’s not just any boy—he’s related to the reason her family isn’t rich anymore. He does her a weird favor that takes her back to when she was younger and makes her rethink her current situation.

The last story, “The Department of Dead Love” by Nicola Yoon, is really unique and creative. I liked it even if I didn’t love it. Thomas had what he thought was a perfect relationship that ended several months earlier and he’s gone through the various areas of the DoDL before finally landing in Autopsy (i.e. relationship autopsy). If he’s lucky, he’ll qualify for a Do Over. Things go unexpectedly and he doesn’t get what he wants out of his visit there, but ultimately gets something else.

Anyway, this was a long review. If you’re a fan of YA romance you might like this one.

Review: The Accidentals by Sarina Bowen

The Accidentals book coverI’m a huge fan of Bowen’s adult romances, especially the True North series set in Vermont. So of course I had to check out her first YA book.

Rachel is about to turn 18 and start her senior year in high school at an elite boarding school in New Hampshire. This would all be great, except for the fact that her mom just died from cancer a week earlier. And she has a complicated relationship with a long-term friend named Haze who was great during her mom’s illness. She really leaned on him, but he wants more than friendship from her and she’s not on the same page.

Add to this the fact that her father—who she’s never met—is a famous rock star named Freddy Ricks. She’s never met him because he’s basically a jerk, according to her mom, even though he regularly sent along his child support check each month. And now he suddenly wants to be in her life. He’s trying to get custody of her so she doesn’t have to stay in the group home she’s in. She knows he’s probably not trustworthy, but she’s curious and parental affection-starved enough that she goes with him back to California for the rest of the summer. She wants to know what happened between him and her mom, even though she’s too scared to ask.

Their relationship progresses a little, although there’s quite the hiccup when his mother finds out Rachel exists and immediately comes out to meet her. It’s pretty clear that Ricks is just a very successful man-child. Rachel still doesn’t really trust him and reveals very little about herself. He doesn’t really ask, though to be fair he has no idea how to be a parent.

Ricks relocates to New Hampshire to be near her once her school starts and they continue trying to get to know each other. But at that point, other aspects of Rachel’s life become possibly more important (at least they’re more immediate). That would be Jake, a boy she befriended by email and phone over the summer, her new roommate and friend Aurora, and joining the a cappella group on campus. Her relationship with Jake is especially important, because he’s someone she does want to be more than a friend, and he feels the same, even if it’s not clear that they’ll really get together.

It’s fun and satisfying to watch these two important relationships develop over the course of the book. Because although her father is never fully redeemed in my eyes, she comes to terms with the way things went before and are now. They will be okay. Jake is a nice guy, too, and I was glad to see where that went. Overall, this is a good book that will appeal to fans of YA romance, especially if you’re also into music, which features heavily.

Review: Dealing with Blue by Stacia Leigh

Dealing with Blue book cover

Dealing with Blue is a sweet YA romance featuring an unlikely partnership between Suzy Blue, a nice girl who might be a tiny bit uptight, and J.J. Radborne, a good guy who’s just been dumped by his long-time girlfriend. They’re really likable and credible characters who both grow (and grow up) through the book. I quite enjoyed the chance to get to know them. I should mention that Stacia is my critique partner so I had the opportunity to see not only the characters grow, but also the book itself. The end result is charming.

Suzy and J.J. have known each other since they were little kids, because they lived next door to each other for years. But when Suzy’s parents split a while back, she moved out to live with her dad. But now he’s been shipped off to a war zone and she’s forced to move back in with her troubled mom. I say “troubled” because she’s a hoarder, and this means things are difficult for Suzy. Personally, I really enjoyed this setup and watching how it all unfolds through the rest of the book. It’s a fairly honest (but not unsympathetic) look at hoarding and the way it touches the lives of people living with it.

J.J.’s life isn’t nearly so difficult, but it’s not all unicorns and rainbows, either. Getting dumped by his girlfriend really sucks. They were together forever and he thinks he really loves her. But he has a plan for this—make her jealous and she’ll want him back. Who better to help with this then his old pal, Suzy? All he has to do is teach her to drive so she can escape. It doesn’t occur to him to wonder why she needs to get away so bad, but it doesn’t matter since theirs will be a mutually beneficial deal.

Watching Suzy and J.J.’s relationship unfold is a lot of fun. It’s sweet and cute but wholly believable. Suzy is terrified of J.J. finding out about her mom’s hoarding, and the whole time I was wondering how J.J. he would react when he finds out (because of course, he has to). The resolution is interesting and satisfying.

Another way that the book provides an unusual perspective is that it feels more like J.J.’s story to me. Usually a romance focuses on the girl’s perspective, so if you like seeing more of the guy’s perspective, you’ll especially like this.

You can buy Dealing with Blue on Amazon US