Something Like Fate: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lani knows that fate is the real deal. She and best friend Erin are spending their junior year of high school learning about all different tools of fate from astrology to numerology. All of these things that other people dismiss or call silly bring order to Lani’s world and help explain who she is and why.

Erin couldn’t be more different from Lani, but she feels the same way. Bound together after a dramatic childhood event, Lani can’t imagine her life without Erin. And Erin feels the same way. What could possibly come between them?

Lani is sure the answer is nothing.

Until Erin starts dating Jason.

The more Lani and Jason start talking, the more they connect. But how can Lani be connecting with her best friend’s boyfriend? How can something feel so fated when it is so the wrong thing in Something Like Fate (2010) by Susane Colasanti?

I’m a big fan of Colasanti’s books. Although her novels always focus on soulmates, Colasanti always brings something new and original to the table. Unfortunately in the case of Something Like Fate that original spin is something that already came up in The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott.

Both books have their strengths–what Something Like Fate does well is examine changing friendships and high school dynamics. The story is a satisfying, if sometimes familiar, romance with the added touch of a narrator who is as passionate about astrology as she is about the environment.

The main problem with Something Like Fate is actually that Colasanti wrote her peripheral characters too well. Instead of rooting for Lani and Jason, I found myself wishing Connor played a more prominent role.

Possible Pairings: How to Love by Katie Cotugno, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Boy Book by E. Lockhart, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

Anna and the French Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Anna Oliphant expected to spend her senior year in Atlanta with her friends. Her mom and her little brother are in Atlanta. Her car is in Atlanta. Her job and the coworker she’s been crushing on for months are in Atlanta.

But thanks to her father’s delusions of grandeur Anna is no longer in Atlanta.

Instead her wannabe-sophisticated-noveau-riche dad has exiled Anna to boarding school. In Paris.

And yes, it’s the City of Lights and of course that’s exciting. Except for being in a completely foreign city, not speaking French, and having no friends.

Anna still can’t speak French but soon she finds some friends and Paris starts to reveal its secrets–including the funny, charming, gorgeous Etienne St. Clair. Etienne is the perfect friend as Anna adjusts to Paris life. He’s probably the perfect guy period. Except for having a serious girlfriend and being completely off limits.

As Paris begins to feel more like home, Anna and Etienne have a lot of near-misses and close calls that brings their friendship to the verge of being something more. Even while Etienne is very much still taken. But anything seems possible in the City of Lights. Maybe Anna and Etienne really are meant to be, maybe Anna will even learn some French in Anna and the French Kiss (2010) by Stephanie Perkins.

Anna and the French Kiss is Perkins’ first novel.*

First things first, it has to be said: This book has a silly title. Go ahead, get the giggles out of the way.

Despite its deceptively saccharine title, Anna and the French Kiss is a book of quality. Anna is a first rate narrator with her own unique slant on Paris and boarding school. She is likable, funny and ultimately just plain old authentic. While not every has a father who is a quasi-Nicholas-Sparks writer to send them to a Parisian boarding school, everyone will find something essentially real and true about Anna and her numerous adventures (and, yes, misadventures) in Paris.

Etienne is a fine foil for Anna throughout the novel with his charm and humor. Though some of the other peripheral characters are less developed, the tension and chemistry between Anna and Etienne more than makes up for it. In addition to being a love story, Perkins packs in a variety of other themes and topics including the interesting idea that the place (or person) someone calls home can change over time.

At 372 pages (hardcover) the only real problem with this book is that the last quarter of the novel drags with nail-bitingly frustrating suspense as readers wait for Anna and Etienne to finally realize they are meant to be together. (They both have perfect hair so obviously they are meant to be together.**)

With beautiful descriptions of Parisian sights and landscapes, crackling romantic tension, and tons of humor, Anna and the French Read offers a refreshing combination of depth and effervescence all in one delightful story.

*Perkins recently published her second novel, Lola and the Boy Next Door, which is a companion to this book. A final companion book, Isla and the Happily Ever After is due out in 2012–I’m really, really excited about that one for reasons that cannot be revealed in this review because they are spoilers.

**I say that with complete seriousness. It was one of my favorite motifs in the book. No joke.

Possible Pairings: North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Girl at Sea by Maureen Johnson, Snowfall by K. M. Peyton, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney

Raised by Wolves: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn BarnesWhen Brynn was four-years-old her life changed forever when a rogue werewolf killed her parents. Rescued by the Stone River Pack and Marked by the pack’s alpha, Callum, Brynn’s safety is a matter of pack law.

The only problem is Brynn is human. Even as a member of the pack, living with a bunch of werewolves is dangerous. Weres can smell fear. They are faster. They are stronger. Most of them are older and more experienced. One lapse in control could leave a human very dead.

Even if that human is a fifteen-year-old girl named Brynn who knows almost everything worth knowing about dealing with (and defending herself against) Weres. Even with the danger, Brynn feels more at home in this world dictated by dominance struggles, territorial rights, and pack justice than the human world she left behind.

When a newly-turned were appears in Callum’s territory Brynn’s insular life within the pack is thrown into chaos. Brynn is inexplicably drawn to the new Were. Even though she has never seen Chase before, she recognizes something in him, she knows him.

As Brynn and Chase are drawn to each other she realizes everything she thought she knew about the pack, and about Callum, might be wrong. Everything Brynn thought she knew about her past, and her life in the pack, might be wrong in Raised by Wolves (2010) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes.

Raised by Wolves is a completely original take on werewolf lore. Barnes has created a well-realized back story for Brynn and the North American packs. All of the weres and their wolf behaviors are fully realized and add a clever, primal, spin to werewolves with a strong focus on life within the pack and the animal nature of the Weres.

Brynn is a heroine readers will want to root for as well as an excellent guide through the dangerous but tantalizing world of Weres. Although Chase is not as fully realized compared to Brynn he is a good addition to the story, especially combined with the other characters (minor and not) who are quirky, funny and extremely well-developed.

Barnes expertly navigates the murky waters of pack life for Brynn and the grey areas of working towards a greater good in this story. She also packs in enough action, excitement and humor to make Raised By Wolves an edge-of-your-seat adventure that will leave readers guessing until the last page.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Divergent by Veronica Roth, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Brightly Woven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The day the rains finally come to Cliffton, Sydelle Mirabil doesn’t know her life is about to change. She has no idea foreign soldiers are preparing to invade her small village. She doesn’t know that her country is on the precipice of war. She certainly don’t know anything about wizards.

All of that changes with the rain.

Wayland North does know all of those things. When the town offers the young wizard a reward for bringing the much-needed rains he also knows exactly what he needs: the young weaver named Sydelle.

Sydelle has no choice but to accompany the wizard on his long journey to the capital. Much as she detests being tied to him she knows they have to get to the capital if the war is to be avoided. Plagued by foul weather, Sydelle’s temper and North’s black mood, the trip is not easy. Wayward wizards and dangerous secrets threaten to derail their journey long before they reach the capital.

As the pair make their way across the country Sydelle begins to understand there may be more to North than his vague statements and mercurial temperment. There might even be more to Sydelle herself. Like any good weaving, it is going to take Sydelle many layers to see the full picture in Brightly Woven (2010) by Alexandra Bracken.

Brightly Woven is Bracken’s first novel.

While the story could have used slightly more resolution in some areas, Bracken has created an appealing fantasy here. Sydelle’s narration is lyrical and Wayland North is one charming mess of a wizard. In a story where the two main characters are mostly crossing varied terrain, Bracken’s ability to build drama and maintain tension is impressive.

Without giving away too much, the weaving aspect of the story added a nice dimension to the story. The combination of textiles and magic makes the premise of the story unique. Sydelle’s focus on weaving also fleshed out her character and only helped to enhance the narrative.

Brightly Woven has everything readers hope to find in a traditional fantasy. Beautifully written, this novel evokes not only the physical landscape of Sydelle’s world but the culture as well. Sydelle and North are wonderfully rendered characters that are dimensional, funny and completely captivating. In other words Brightly Woven is absolutely a must read for fantasy lovers and Bracken herself is definitely an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, Warped by Maurissa Guibord, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

*This book was acquired at BEA 2011

Exclusive Bonus Content: Aside from being my favorite publisher at BEA, Egmont also has some really amazing covers, like this one here. I’m completely in love with it. I also am thrilled at how well it captures Sydelle and how many elements of the story are represented here.

Extraordinary: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Four years ago Phoebe Rothschild knew she wanted Mallory Tolliver as a friend–as her best friend. She was not sure why but she knew that Mallory with her tawdry, unsuitable clothes and her strange behavior would be a good friend to have, much better certainly than the friends Phoebe had previously found.

And Phoebe was right. For those four years at least.

Mallory always knew she needed to befriend the Rothschild girl. She knew what was required and expected of her by the Faerie Queen and the rest of her people. But still, for just a little while, she wanted what Phoebe had; she wanted the chance to be a normal teenaged girl.

Which is exactly what Mallory got. For those four years at least.

But time is running out: A debt must be repaid by an ordinary girl, a dangerously magnetic man will draw Phoebe to a perilous choice, and a friendship will be tested in Extraordinary (2010) by Nancy Werlin.

Extraordinary is quite impressive. Well-written, clever, and compelling this story will leave readers enchanted. Werlin’s looping prose and melodic tone are masterful and work wonderfully with this fairy tale styled story. The book combines a delightful plot with very arresting characters and, as the title might suggest, also offers an interesting commentary on what it really means to be ordinary (or extraordinary).

Phoebe is a really unique narrator. She has asthma and comes from a prominent Jewish family–both of which are important elements of the story. But the great thing is neither of those things are the main event in the story, they are just facets of Phoebe’s complex character. Phoebe also spends a lot of the story being beguiled or out and out tricked by other characters. The interesting thing about Werlin’s writing is that she conveys that while simultaneously evoking Phoebe’s own (often confusing) emotions.

This story is also unique in that, at its center, readers will find two friends instead of the romantic threads that are becoming so prevalent in fantasy books (and of course also spawned their own genre called “paranormal romance”).

There is definitely nothing ordinary about this book. In short, Extraordinary is a remarkable story about the transformative power of friendship.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Exclusive Bonus Content: I quite like the cover of this book and the jacket design by Natalie C. Sousa. While not exactly a scene from a book it picks up on a lot of details about Phoebe’s appearance and captures the essence of the book while being quite interesting. Well done!

The Boneshaker: A Review

Strange things can happen at a crossroads. If a town is near that crossroads, well, strange things can happen there too.

Arcane, Missouri is filled with odd stories about the town and the crossroads. Just ask Natalie Minks. She might only be thirteen, but she already knows all about the eerie goings on at the crossroads thanks to her excellent storyteller (and terrible cook) mother.

As much as Natalie loves a good story, she loves machines and gears more. Her father is an expert bicycle mechanic and Natalie is learning too–it’s 1913 after all and machines are popping up everywhere.

Even, it turns out, in traveling bands of snake oil salesmen.

Doctor Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show promises entertainment, information, and a cure for any and all ailments. Natalie is enchanted by all of the bicycles and automata the show brings along with its tents and patent medicines. But she can’t shake the nagging feeling that something is wrong, horribly wrong, with the medicine show and its four Paragons of Science.

To figure out how wrong the medicine show is Natalie will have to get to the bottom of an age-old bargain, tame the fastest bicycle in the world, cash in a dangerous favor, and ask a lot of costly questions–all before the medicine show can take Arcane for everything it’s worth in The Boneshaker (2010) by Kate Milford with illustrations by Andrea Offermann.*

The Boneshaker is Milford’s first novel.

The Boneshaker tackles a lot of narrative ground with unexplained visions, mysterious automatons, strange bargains, and a whole town’s secrets. The ending of the story leaves a lot up in the air with Natalie’s future and even her place in the town. The narrative also takes a lot of time to tie things together and explain details of the lore surrounding Arcane as well as to explain certain things Natalie begins to learn in the story. The premise is interesting and Natalie is a great protagonist but the whole package was not quite as well-realized (or resolved) as it could have been.

That said, Milford writes like a natural storyteller. The opening pages of this story draw readers in with prose that sounds like a traditional folk tale and a setting that immediately evokes the era and feel of a midwestern town at the turn of the last century. Everything about The Boneshaker is charming from Natalie and her cantankerous bicycle to the vivid illustrations by Offermann that bring Natalie’s world to life.

This story is well-written and will find many fans in readers of fantasies and historical novels alike.

*The Boneshaker is not to be confused by a similarly titled but completely different book by Cherie Priest called Boneshaker.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale, Holes by Louis Sachar, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Exclusive Bonus Content: This is probably just me, but The Boneshaker reminded me a lot of Plain Kate–the book that I had the most issues with from 2010. Like Plain Kate this book starts with the whimsical feel of a light(ish)-hearted middle grade novel. Then by the end it veers into dark (very dark in the case of Plain Kate) territory that grounds the story more firmly in the young adult audience area. There is nothing wrong with that, of course, but it felt like a big leap here that did not work effectively for me (though as I said, I might be particularly touchy about this since I’ve noticed it in several books already).

Rise of the Darklings: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

On the day she found out about the the fey and the hidden war being waged in Victorian London, twelve-year-old Emily woke up praying for snow. Snow would mean that she could stay home with her brother William instead of running through alleys and side streets to get to Mrs. Hobbs to buy a bunch of watercress to sell for the day.

But there is no snow and Emily does have to venture out. Unfortunately instead of a day spent peddling watercress in the cold, Emily stumbles upon a faerie battle right in a London alley.

Emily would love to forget about what she saw and go back to her normal life even if life as an orphan is hard. But the faeries won’t let her forget them–not until she gets them something they desperately want. Even if Emily could do that, there’s The Invisible Order to contend with. A secret society meant to protect humans from the fey, the Invisible Order wants Emily to work with them instead.

Everything Emily knows is soon turned upside down and she has no idea who to trust besides her friend Jack. But can two children possibly rescue Emily’s brother and save London before it’s too late? Emily doesn’t know that answer yet, but she knows she has to try in Rise of the Darklings (2010) by Paul Crilley.

Rise of the Darklings is the first book in The Invisible Order trilogy.

Crilley combines traditional elements from fairy tales (gnomes, giants, piskies, and even a famous wizard) with a well-realized, completely evocative London setting. The plot is well-written with enough twists to keep readers (and Emily) guessing along with humor and action in spades.

Rise of the Darklings truly has it all: action, adventure and faeries all in the beautifully realized setting of Victorian London. Throw in a determined and clever heroine, fast talking characters like Jack and Corrigan,  well-dressed gnomes and you have all the makings of a spirited start to a wonderful trilogy.

Possible Pairings: Gideon the Cutpurse (AKA The Time Travelers) by Linda Buckley-Arhcer, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede