Don’t Expect Magic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Delaney Collins knows that happily ever after is a joke. Things don’t end happily and she certainly isn’t living in a fairy tale. Not when her mom is dead and she is being forcibly moved across the country to live with her life coach father “Dr. Hank” in California.

Some happy ending.

Life in California is not what Delaney expected.  Everything is bright and shiny. Keeping a low profile at school is impossible when everyone from head cheerleader Cadie to yearbook geek Flynn wants to be her friend. (Until she disabuses them of such notions at least.) And Dr. Hank is keeping a secret about what he really does to help his “clients” in need of life coaching.

A really big secret.

Turns out Dr. Hank is really a fairy godmother–granter of wishes, inhabitant of fairy tales everywhere. And the fairy godmother condition is hereditary. Meaning Delaney Collins, the girl with the fierce attitude and boots to match is a fairy godmother with wishes of her own to grant. If she can ever get the hang of her powers, that is.

As Delaney struggles to help her first client she realizes that sometimes even a fairy godmother needs a wish of her own in Don’t Expect Magic (2011) by Kathy McCullough.

Don’t Expect Magic is McCullough’s first novel.

This story is really sweet hold the saccharin. Delaney is a no nonsense narrator with great taste in footwear even if it does take her a while to develop her taste for good friends. McCullough’s writing is spot-on capturing Delaney’s initial surly mood as well as her transformation throughout the story.

Though I would have loved more background about fairy godmother-ness, Don’t Expect Magic remains a clever reinterpretation of one of the most ubiquitous fairy tale characters of all time. In addition to having a fun setting and premise, this book shines as a story about adapting and moving on–even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

Part modern fairy tale, part journey Don’t Expect Magic is a delightful book for anyone waiting for their happy ending. (And even anyone who already has their happy ending too.)

Possible Pairings: Waiting For You by Susane Colasanti, Donorboy by Brendan Halpin, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding

Every Other Day: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (2011)

After reading and loving Barnes’ Trial by Fire I decided to pick up Barnes’ latest (standalone) book even though the mechanics of Kali’s day-to-day change gave me pause. My expectations were probably too high and too reliant on comparisons to Barnes Raised by Wolves series.

Kali’s shift every other day between human and more than human was a great premise and made for an interesting premise. No one writes tough, action-ready heroines better than Barnes. That said, having Kali transform every other day into a super hunter made it really hard to connect with her character even as I wanted to sympathize with her feelings of being torn in two by the constant changing.

The pieces just didn’t come together as well as I wanted them to between slow pacing in the beginning and an ending that felt unsatisfying. While the alternate history Barnes created is genius, the characters and story did not stand up to the Raised by Wolves standard. This book does still have all of the pieces for a great action-filled, girl power-ed story. It will appeal strongly to fans of Buffy, adventure, and Barnes’ signature mix of sharp-tongued heroines and action.

Hunger Games: Characters I Wanted to See More Of

With the movie fast approaching, I’ve been thinking a lot about The Hunger Games (and, yes, the fact that I won’t be seeing the movie adaptation during the opening week).

The Hunger Games is a story of survival filled with action and the promise of excitement and intrigue. Already a wildly popular book, readers will tell you that what truly sets this series apart are the unique characters.

While Katniss is a huge part of what makes The Hunger Games so strong and so very compelling, the book is also filled with secondary characters that bring the story and the world of Panem to life. Without them, Katniss would have been very lonely (though perhaps slightly safer). But this series is still ultimately Katniss’ story more than anything else, which is why it only makes sense that some characters got less attention than readers would have liked.

Here are some of the characters I would have loved to see more of:

Gale: Much as it pains me to mention Gale and not Peeta, it was really unavoidable here. Peeta might be with Katniss during the Games, but Gale plays a much larger role in Katniss’s daily life in District 12. Despite his importance to Katniss, we learn very little about Gale as the focus of the story shifts from District 12 to the Capitol. We would have liked to see a bit of Gale’s reactions to Katniss’s Game strategies, not to mention learning a bit more about his own family.

Effie Trinket: Preferring the comforts and sparkle of the Capitol to the isolation and grime of District 12, Effie is the reluctant escort of District 12 Tributes on their journey to the arena each year. In all of her previous years, her obligations ended very soon after the Games began. No one knows what Effie did to garner such an unenviable post, or what she does between Games, but we certainly wish we did.

Cinna: In charge of Katniss’ team of stylists, Cinna and his counterpart Portia help make Katniss and Peeta the Tributes to watch before either of them set foot in the arena. Equal parts mentor, ally, and clothes designer, Cinna clearly has hidden depths beyond what the book reveals, not to mention he knows how to rock that gold eyeliner.

Caesar Flickerman: There isn’t much more to say about the Capitol’s favorite television host or his signature interviews with the Tributes each year. But, really, who doesn’t want to know more about a character being played by Stanley Tucci?

Rue: The smallest and youngest Tribute, no one expects Rue to last long in the arena. Despite her small size and youth, Rue proves to be a formidable ally for Katniss during the Games as well as a friend. While we know what happens to Rue in the arena, her life in District 11 before becoming a Tribute largely remains a mystery.

Thresh: As Rue’s counterpart from District 11, Thresh is her complete opposite—a large, formidable figure among the Tributes. Like Rue, Thresh’s past remains unknown. His own motives during his final encounter with Katniss in the arena are equally mysterious.

Foxface: Possibly the smartest Tribute in the 74th Hunger Games, Foxface is so enigmatic we do not even know her real name. Relying on stealth and cunning, Foxface survives in the arena by staying in the background. It would have been interesting to see how growing up in District 5 informed her strategy or if her mentor had something to do with that.

The Career Tributes: With names like Glimmer, Cato, Clove and Marvel it’s hard to forget the Tributes who have spent all of their lives training to take part in the Hunger Games. Coming from lives of wealth and privilege in Districts that are favored by the Capitol, their situation could not be more different from that of Katniss and Peeta. We would have loved to better understand why volunteering to participate in a fight to the death made sense to them.

 Madge: Daughter of District 12’s mayor, Madge’s life is removed from the poverty of Katniss’s daily life and the dangers of the Quell that selects Tributes each year. Still, Madge gives Katniss a Mockingjay brooch as a token to bring into the arena. We never learn why Madge gave her the pin or what happens to her later in the story (I honestly always thought she was severely under-developed/under-utilized in the later books). She also won’t be appearing in the movies at all. Some characters just don’t get a break.

Bonus Characters from Catching Fire and/or Mockingjay:

Catching Fire is my favorite book in the trilogy by a wide margin. I could happily have read many more books about the events in Catching Fire as well as the mechanics of the Games and the Districts–the world Collins created is that fascinating. That said, it makes complete sense that some characters left me wanting more later in the series.

Finnick: Simultaneously annoying and awesome, Finnick might be my favorite secondary character from the series. While we get a lot of details about Finnick’s life as the story progresses, I still would have liked more just because he’s such a fun character. (I may or may not be mildly crazed as I wait to see who will be playing Finnick in the second Hunger Games film.)

Johanna Mason: Brash and more than willing to put Katniss in her place, Johanna is another character who comes to life on the page even without her backstory being fully developed. During the casting for the first movie, I heard that Kristen Bell was lobbying heavily to play Mason. Since then, I’ve come to fully support this idea and honestly might be inconsolable should the part go to someone else.

Nuts and Volts: It’s hard to think of these two separately. While certainly not the savviest, these two are easily the most intelligent tributes Collins introduced to readers. It would have been interesting to see what brought this wacky pair together as friends.

Now you know the characters that I wish got more attention in The Hunger Games. Let me know what characters you would have liked to see more of in the comments.

A shorter version of this entry was originally posted at 20SomethingReads.

Virtuosity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Carmen Bianchi should have one thing and only one thing on her mind right now: winning the Guarneri competition. Technically, the Guarneri violin competition has already been on Carmen’s mind for years. She has fame, she has a Grammy. But victory at the Guarneri has always been the final target–the last step to confirm her ascent from talented prodigy to a true virtuoso, a real talent.

Except Carmen is losing focus.

Carmen’s mother channels all of her own career aspirations into managing Carmen’s professional life while micro-managing her personal life. That used to be fine. But now Carmen isn’t so sure why she is playing. Struck with painfully acute stage fright isn’t even sure she’s good enough.

Not after she hears Jeremy King play.

With the Guarneri finals fast approaching, both Carmen and Jeremy know the real competition is between two violinists: them. Carmen has every reason to hate Jeremy, every reason to stay away from him. She knows that. She also knows she can’t stay away when Jeremy is the one person who might really understand her.

As what should be her finest hour approaches, Carmen has to decide if a win playing the violin is worth more than finding her own voice in Virtuosity (2011) by Jessica Martinez.

Virtuosity is Martinez’s first novel. Martinez began playing the violin herself at the age of three. She has worked both as a symphony violinist and as a violin teacher.

With a book so grounded in the main character’s passion there is always the risk of getting lost in technical jargon or simply atmosphere, particularly when the author is already an expert in the field. One of the biggest strengths of Virtuosity is that the story remains centered around Carmen as a character instead of Carmen as a violinist.

With snappy prose and competitive passion, Virtuosity is an interesting story about the difference between fostering a talent and quashing it. There are no easy answers for Carmen and the choices she faces throughout the novel which is part of what makes this book such a gripping read. Martinez’s characters are well-drawn and authentic from their talents and wants right down to their flaws. Virtuosity is as complex as it is engrossing.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, Virtuosity by Hilary T. Smith, Rx by Tracy Lynn

You can also read my exclusive interview with Jessica Martinez starting April 2, 2012!

Lola and the Boy Next Door: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lola Nolan’s New Year’s resolution was to never wear the same outfit twice.

She wants to attend the winter formal dressed like Marie Antoinette, but not quite. She wants a wig so big a bird could live in it. She wants a dress so wide that she’ll need to enter through a set of double doors. She also wants everyone to see that she’s punk-rock tough under the frills when they notice her platform combat boots.

She wants her parents to approve of her boyfriend, Max. Sure, Max is twenty-two and Lola is seventeen. But so what? Her father Nathan was significantly younger than her other dad, Andy, when they started dating. Isn’t that further proof that Max is the one? Not so much according to Nathan and Andy.

Lola also never ever ever wants to see the Bell twins ever again. Ever.

When a moving truck rolls up next door, Lola realizes she isn’t going to get what she wants. Not where the Bell twins are concerned anyway.

After steamrolling through Lola’s life two years ago, Cricket Bell–aspiring inventor and snappy dresser–is back along with his talented, figure-skating twin sister Calliope. While Calliope chases an elusive spot at the Olympics, Cricket is starting college and seems to be chasing . . . Lola.

But Lola doesn’t care about Cricket anymore. She wants different things now. Things like her boyfriend Max and her Marie Antoinette dress. And that’s enough.

Except it really isn’t. After years spent wanting to never see the boy next door ever again, Lola is starting to wonder if she’s been wanting all of the wrong things in Lola and the Boy Next Door (2011) by Stephanie Perkins.

Lola and the Boy Next Door is a companion to Perkins’ debut novel Anna and the French Kiss.* (Readers of both books might recognize some characters from the first book in this one but it’s most definitely a standalone if you want it to read this one first.)

As much as I enjoyed Anna and her story, I loved Lola so much more. With her vibrant outfits and quirky personality Lola is all win. With their witty banter (not to mention having style in spades), Lola and Cricket shine as a couple you’ll want to root for–even when Lola’s own feelings are mixed at best. Perkins vividly recreates San Francisco in the pages of Lola and the Boy Next Door with well-realized settings that complement her dimensional characters.

Without revealing too much, Perkins takes what could have been a conventional romantic story in a different direction with the pacing and structure of the story as well as some clever diversions with other characters. Combined with Lola’s obvious transformation throughout the story all of that makes Lola and the Boy Next Door a book well worth checking out.

*The final companion Isla and the Happily Ever After is due out in 2013 and if it goes the way I think it’s going to go–it is going to be soooooooo awesome!

Possible Pairings: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Don’t Expect Magic by Kathy McCullough, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando

Author Interview: Victoria Schwab on The Near Witch

Victoria Schwab‘s debut novel The Near Witch came out last year. Though I read it last November, I find myself returning to it often remembering the beautiful writing and dramatic story. Ms. Schwab is here today to answer some questions and talk about her atmospheric story of witches and strangers.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Victoria Schwab (VS): I grew up writing poetry, and then about a year into university, decided to try my hand at short fiction. A year after that, I wrote my first novel, which was sent out to agents, and promptly rejected (and very rightly so). I sat with the book for a year, figuring out what was broken, then revised, and sent it out again, and signed with my first agent a week later.

That book broke my heart, because it went on sub and got to acquisitions three or four times over the course of eight months, but never sold. Finally, for my own sanity more than anything, I sat down to write a new book. I was a second-semester senior with a killer course load, and I could only spare two hours in the evening at a coffee shop. But I did. I went every night, and that’s how The Near Witch was born. It sold the summer after I graduated university, to one of my dream houses, and I’ve been writing since.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Near Witch?

VS: I’ve always loved fairy tales, but at university, I became fascinated by their structure and their archetypes. As I expanded my studies into folklore and the nature of narrative, the way stories are told, the way culture spreads, I wanted to write my own.

Something that had always fascinated me was fairy tale’s lack of setting. The fact that place was so sparsely sketched helped keep the stories timeless, but I wanted to build a new fairy tale in which the setting was a character, in which it was vital to the narrative. I loved the challenge of it, and the challenge of building not only a story, but a world, a village of people with their own myths and legends and fears.

And I wanted it to be about witches, because of all the supernatural types out there, witches are not only the most flexible in the forms they take, but they have an inherent tie to nature, and I knew if I was going to make the natural world a part of the story, then witches would be the world’s living counterpart.

So it was really a tangle of things that led to The Near Witch. But I’ve discovered that’s how I work. A dozen threads that interest me, and somewhere in their midst, a knot.

MP: In your biography on your website you mention your love of fairy tale and folklore. Do you have any favorite stories? Did any stories influence The Near Witch?

VS: No specific story influenced The Near Witch, actually. I was driven on by the nature of fairy tale itself, its structure more than any actual tale.

MP: The Near Witch has a very strong atmosphere in the town of Near. Did any real locations help you conjure the landscape Lexi calls home?

VS: Near is based largely on the moors of northern England. If anything, I took that classic green and gray setting, and distorted it to fit the fairy tale, compressed the hills and stretched the woods, and made it mine.

MP: One of the interesting aspects of this book is that is has a story within the story. The book begins with Lexi reading the story of the Near Witch to her younger sister Wren. This structure begs the question, which story came first during your writing: Lexi’s story or the tale of the Near Witch?

VS: The story of the Near Witch herself actually came first. In keeping with the tangled nature of this story’s evolution, NEAR as a town is actually the part that came first. I sat down to build the world. And then I wrote the stories that filled that world, and then I wrote the people who told those stories. It was a bit backwards, I know, but it helped me figure out why the inhabitants of Near were the way they were.

MP: A big part of this novel is the mystery surrounding the actual Near Witch and the disappearances in town. Readers discover clues and put pieces together along with Lexi throughout the novel. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

VS: IT IS HARD. It’s hard because I KNOW all the secrets, so it’s hard for me to tell when the reader should know them. This is why, in every round of revision, I pick a beta reader who’s never read a draft before. Fresh eyes become KEY. But I will also say that over the course of writing and revising the book I learned more and more the FEEL of the reveal. So much of it is feel, not formula. And when I sat down to write THE ARCHIVED, which also has an element of mystery, I had a better notion of what to do. Fresh eyes are still invaluable, though. I’m lucky because my editor has the gift of voluntary short term memory, so she can look at every draft with much, much fresher eyes than I do.

MP: Since your book features witches, I’m obligated to ask your opinion on the age-old debate: Witches vs. Vampires.

VS: BOTH. Seriously though, that’s a mean question, because witches and vampires are my two favorite paranormal entities. The reason I chose to WRITE the former, however, was their flexibility. Vampires have a pretty set mythology, but witches can take so many shapes, and in the case of The Near Witch, I was able to really build my own variety of witch from scratch. So I will have to go with WITCHES.

MP: Your next book The Archived is set to come out from Disney Hyperion in 2013. Can you tell us anything about it?

VS: Ahhhhh I cannot wait until I’m able to talk more about this book! It has lived in me for so long now, and just the thought that soon people will be able to read it is absolutely thrilling. It comes out in January, so every time we reach a new month, I do a little dance because we’re getting closer. I think the only thing I can really say about it right now is that it’s got a little Buffy, and a little The Shining. In a library.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

VS: The best advice I can possibly give is to be brave. The road to publication is scary and filled with rejection, but at every step your want has to outweigh your fear. Not indignation, mind you, or entitlement, but WANT. If it doesn’t, you’re not ready yet. Be very honest with yourself. And be brave.

Thanks again to Victoria Schwab for taking the time to answer my questions!

If you want to read more about The Near Witch check out my review!

Cinder: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cinder is the best mechanic in New Beijing but even that distinction can’t buy her freedom. Cinder doesn’t have any of that–not when she is a Cyborg.

Legally tied to a stepmother who despises her, Cinder spends her days fixing machines at her stall and dreaming of escape. Those lofty plans are dashed when her stepsister falls suddenly and hopelessly ill. Cinder is the first person her guardian blames and the only one to be punished. Instead of the death sentence she expected, Cinder finds an unlikely source of knowledge about her murky past not to mention the improbable attentions of New Beijing’s handsome prince.

Soon Cinder finds herself in the middle of an intergalactic power struggle that could have dire consequences–especially for Cinder. The more she learns about her past, the less she understands. If Cinder can confront the truth, she might be able to do something. She just isn’t sure if it will already be too late in Cinder (2012) by Marissa Meyer.

Cinder is Meyer’s first novel. It is also the first book in the four-book Lunar Chronicles.

There are a lot of retellings of Cinderella in the world. Meyer brings a fresh eye to this popular fairy tale adding an utterly original spin to a familiar story. Filled with nods to the original story (most notably Cinder’s mechanical foot), Meyer also excellently evokes the hectic, crowded city of New Beijing.

With its futuristic, sci-fi slant, this story could have easily gotten carried away explaining the world or simply laying on too many nuances to be believed. Meyer avoids these pitfalls both creating a well-realized setting and presenting it without overwhelming readers.

Despite its obviously futuristic execution, Cinder is firmly grounded in fairy tale lore. As a result the predictability of the narrative might have been unavoidable. As it is, several things are very obvious within the first few chapters of the story. However, it is not until the last chapter than any early predictions are confirmed (or nullified as the case may be). While the story is clever and immensely entertaining, I would have loved to see Cinder come into her own earlier in the novel instead of having to wait to see much of that transformation in book two.

Cinder is ultimately a unique interpretation of a story that has already been told many times. Filled with twists and new details all its own, Cinder takes a familiar story and makes it refreshingly exciting and gripping. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Possible Pairings: Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Ash by Malinda Lo, Legend by Marie Lu, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor