Isla and the Happily Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie PerkinsIsla Martin has had a hopeless, all-consuming crush on Josh Wassertein since their first year at the School of America in Paris. After years of pining, Isla has grown used to watching Josh from afar.

Then one magical, painkiller-fueled, chance encounter in New York the summer before their senior year changes everything.

After years of bad timing and missed connections, Josh and Isla are finally together. But with false-starts and near-misses aplenty, neither of them is sure this relationship is meant to last. Isla doesn’t understand how someone like Josh can ever feel as deeply for her as she does for him. Neither is sure how to deal with the growing pains and doubts that stem from their new, intense relationship.

With uncertain plans for college and the future looming,  Josh and Isla will have to learn to be apart before they have any chance of staying together in Isla and the Happily Ever After (2014) by Stephanie Perkins.

Isla and the Happily Ever After is the highly anticipated conclusion to Perkins’ loose trilogy that began with Anna and the French Kiss and continued with Lola and the Boy Next Door. These books function as perfect companions to each other but Isla’s story is very much her own and functions as a standalone. Readers who have followed these books from the start, however, will be pleased with cameos from all the obvious suspects toward the end of the novel.

While much of the story focuses on Isla and Josh’s fledgling relationship, Perkins also artfully explores changing friendships as well as the complexities relationships with sisters. Kurt, Isla’s best friend, is an especially wonderful addition to the story. Isla’s panic at facing her future both in terms of college and life beyond is authentic and well-handled throughout the story.

Although Josh and Isla are perfect together, Isla’s growth is happily a solo endeavor as she is forced to acknowledge her flaws as well as her strengths and wants. Isla (and Josh) are often foolish and make mistakes but they also both learn and begin to thrive because of them.

Perkins is a master when it comes to writing clever, swoony romances. Josh and Isla are perfect counterpoints to each other in this story about first love and growing up. Isla and the Happily Ever After is an apt conclusion for these characters and a perfect romance for anyone looking for a smile.

Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marhcetta, Damaged by Amy Reed, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You stop fearing the Devil when you’re holding his hand.”

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve TucholkeViolet’s grandmother, Freddie, told her to be careful of the Devil countless times. But with Freddie dead and her parents indefinitely traveling through Europe, it’s hard enough just to survive without thinking about the Devil. There are bills to pay, a twin brother to fight with and a neighbor to try and avoid.

In need of money, Violet takes a gamble and tries to rent out her family’s guesthouse. She doesn’t expect anyone to come. No one in the small town of Echo thinks much of Violet and her formerly-rich family.

Then River West drives into town all sly smiles and lazy grace to rent the guesthouse and turn the whole town upside down.

The closer Violet gets to River the more she finds herself drawn to him. But as she learns more about River and her own family’s past the more obvious it becomes that Freddie was right all along. It’s easy to lose sight of the Devil when he’s the one giving you a crooked smile like no one else in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (2013) by April Genevieve Tucholke.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is Tucholke’s first novel. It is also the first of a duet. (The second volume Between the Spark and the Burn will be published in 2014.)

Violet is a great narrator with a cadence reminiscent of lazy days telling stories in a summer haze. Low level swear words (there are a lot of things that Violet has damn strong feelings about) and references to classic movies and books (like Casablanca and Hawthorne’s short stories) are woven seamlessly into the story to give the whole novel an otherworldly air.

This story is also strangely devoid of theology or other non-secular discussions for a book that focuses so heavily on Devil mythology and the idea of evil. In some ways that is a good thing as it makes the book approachable for a wider audience. On the other hand, even for someone who is not religious, it felt strange to see so much concern for the Devil but no mention of God except to say that there must be some kind of god if there is, in fact, some kind of devil.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is an enjoyable book for readers who don’t mind skipping over small details that don’t quite make sense. Because it is often the little things that make this story frustrating. Where, exactly, is the town of Echo located? Why does Violet not question her strange and instant attraction to the stranger in her guest house? How many times can two teenagers realistically sleep in the same bed (naked) with nothing happening?

And, of course, the biggest question: How many chances for forgiveness does a sociopath really deserve?

Which leads to the biggest problem in Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. Almost none of the characters are likable. While Violet is a sympathetic (if naive) narrator, none of the secondary characters are likable. Violet’s twin brother is a brute, her neighbor friend is vapid to the point of meanness. River, the supposed male lead, is a villain in every sense of the word: he kills people, hurts people and creates mayhem everywhere he goes not because he has no choice but because he can. Because he enjoys it.

While there is always room for anti-heroes in literature–especially ones that readers will want to root for–it is impossible to find any redeeming qualities in River. He is a sociopath. The only times he is angry or shows regret about his actions is when he is caught in the act. Otherwise it’s all in good fun. River is meant to be sympathetic but in the face of so many wrongs, that sympathy was never warranted. More to the point, River being so awful also drags down the other characters. Instead of seeing Violet and others who try to help River as steadfast or strong they only come off as enablers who are painfully, dangerously ignorant of the devil who has just come to town.

This blend of gothic horror and devilish anti-heroes will appeal to fans of Hush, Hush and Beautiful Creatures. Readers looking for a book with characters who are actually likable instead of just characters who say they are likable will be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick, Beautiful Creature by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Swoon by Nina Malkin, Texas Gothic by Rosemary Clement-Moore, The Beautiful and the Cursed by Page Morgan, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

The Lost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Lost by Sarah Beth DurstTwenty-seven-year-old Lauren Chase has lost a lot of things over the years: one turquoise earring, several friends and their respective contact information, her favorite stuffed animal Mr. Rabbit. More recently Lauren has lost her way.

It wasn’t supposed to be a permanent thing.

All Lauren did was go straight, avoiding the left turn that would have taken her down the road to work and a whole world of bad news.

Instead of a short drive away from her troubles, Lauren drives into Lost. All lost things end up in the town of Lost. Luggage. Pennies. Socks. People.

Theoretically, Lauren can leave. All she has to do is find what she lost. In reality, no one in town wants to help her except for a mysterious, gorgeous man called the Finder and a six-year-old with a knife and a princess dress. Together the three of them might be able to survive Lost. But Lauren still has a mother to get back to, a life to reclaim while she decided if being lost can really lead to finding something more important in The Lost (2014) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Lost is the first book in Durst’s first trilogy written for an adult audience. The story will continue in The Missing and The Found.

Durst once again delivers an amazingly evocative world in this fantasy story. Lost is a horrible, desert town filled with junk and danger. Readers will feel Lauren’s growing claustrophobic panic as she tries repeatedly to get back to her real life.

The story unfolds nicely, with only a few slow spots, as Lauren comes into her own in Lost and makes a tentative place for herself with a couple of fellow misfits. The bulk of the book focuses on Lauren but secondary characters like the girl with the knife and the Finder are welcome additions to this motley cast. Although readers do not need to be told quite so many times that the Finder is very attractive, his other charms do come through.

The Lost happily also includes a thread with Lauren’s mother. Although not always the happiest sub-plot, it was nice to see a parental relationship feature in this book when, so often, protagonists exist in a strange familial vacuum.

Plot twists and surprises abound in the final hundred pages as The Lost builds to a surprising finish. Readers may be surprised by the non-ending at the conclusion of this book, but it will only make them all the more eager for the next installment in this clever trilogy.

Possible Pairings: The Blue Girl by Charles De Lint, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also check out my review with Sarah about The Lost.

The Summer Prince: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn JohnsonPalmares Três is s shimmering city, a pyramid in the sea that is beautiful and brutal. June has never known a life outside Palmares Três and only know small details of places that came before her pyramid city with names like Brazil.

But even the lovely greenery of Palmares Três can’t hide the savagery behind the legacy of the Summer Kings. Summer Kings are elected by the people. At the end of their year they choose the next queen–the existing queen, but still it is a choice. Then the queen kills them. And it all starts again.

June is used to this ritual. Everyone is. But things change when Enki is becomes the new Summer King. The first changes are small ones–impulsively choosing June’s best friend Gil as a consort, a calculated act of rebellion during an election performance. Small things that hint at something far greater.

For reasons she can’t always grasp, June is drawn to Enki. Partly because every waka with a beating heart is drawn to Enki because he is just like them: another city-dweller marginalized because he is under thirty. But June also thinks she might be able to use Enki to take her art to a new level–to create on a bigger scale.

As this unlikely but ultimately right pair sets out on a campaign of confusion and protest in the name of art, June can hardly imagine that together they’ll change the course of Palmares Três forever in The Summer Prince (2013) by Alaya Dawn Johnson.

The Summer Prince is Johnson’s YA debut.

There is a lot going on in The Summer Prince. The text is dense and rich with detail as readers are thrown head first into the unfamiliar, futuristic city of Palmares Três. The world building here is, without question, top notch. Johnson does an excellent job with it. The story structure, while messy in some respects, works and tightens the plot in clever ways as both Enki’s and June’s paths unfold over the course of four seasons. June is a brisk narrator who explains very little but that often enhances the epic scope of the story.

That said this story felt very high concept and very distant. June is a motivated heroine with a singular focus until the very end of the story. Consequently her narrative is narrow at times forcing the story in strange directions.

Really, all of the characters were often one-dimensional in their motivations and despite the short page length, it felt like the story dragged and dragged with several plot reveals coming too late to hold any real significance. June is an artist first and foremost and her shift from art-for-exposure to art-as-protest and then back to a simpler art-as-beauty is one of the most interesting aspects of this novel. Johnson starts a great discussion about art here–high concept, performance and transgressive–but with the stopping point of the story she also leaves much of that discussion unfinished.

Unfortunately, all of this thoughtfulness in the plot and the setting made other aspects of the story glaringly incongruous. One of the biggest difficulties in the story is the age structure of Palmares Três.

June is a teenager but that doesn’t mean the same thing in her world as it does here and many of her choices are not the decisions of a teenager but a grown up. But that also doesn’t work given the constructs of the world of Palmares Três. The story posits that people can live for centuries and everyone under 30 (wakas) are seen as little more than children. Given the prolonged life span it’s fair to argue that they really are children (30 even seems a low cutoff to mark adulthood when talking about people who are 150 or older).

Why then are all of these children–young people even by modern standards–treated like adults?

June is diminished and dismissed for her youth throughout the story but is also doing everything adults do from a very young age (younger even than the 17ish years she is during the novel). This disconnect became distracting and brought into question every other societal choice in Palmares Três–why is June’s school structure largely the same as our own is just one big question that comes up and threatens to shatter the entire premise.

It is great seeing this post-heterosexual, pan-sexual society where love isn’t always a black-and-white binary structure. But again it creates problems in the book. The dynamic between Gil and Enki and June feels off somehow. June says throughout the story that Gil and Enki are deeply in love–something both characters affirm repeatedly–yet in the end, when a decision has to be made, it isn’t Gil who Enki tries to run away with. It’s June. Gil gives June a pass for that, saying she tries to save Enki at least, saying if Enki has to be with someone else at least it is June. But the decision still felt strange and ill-fitted with everything else that happened between these three characters.

The Summer Prince is technically fantastic and will demand consideration long after it’s finished. The skill of Johnson’s writing is obvious and so much of this story just begs to be discussed either in a book club or a classroom or just among a group of readers. However small choices in the plot with the social structure and the age of the characters kept detracting from the story. At first the problems are minor, but then they keep building up.

This book is marketed as YA and features teen characters however much of the story would have made so much more sense if it had been marketed to an adult audience as a story about twenty-somethings. Recommended for teen readers who enjoy books with a literary streak or twenty-somethings (or older) who want a book about sticking it to the Man (or Woman as the case may be in this matriarchal society).

Possible Pairings: The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, Proxy by Alex London, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Extras by Scott Westerfeld, A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

The Winner’s Curse: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Winner's Curse by Marie RutkoskiChoices for Valorian women are limited. Kestrel can join the military, as her father the general has planned for Kestrel since her childhood, or she can marry. No one would ever guess the path Kestrel truly wants to take. No one could imagine another choice in an empire that glorifies war and enslaves all it conquers.

Kestrel shouldn’t have been tempted at the slave auction. Certainly not by a defiant slave whose every move broadcast contempt and disdain for his surroundings. Even knowing she will pay too much–knowing it will set off a series of disasters even Kestrel can’t  fully predict–she buys the slave.

At first Kestrel is too busy hiding her own activities to think much of the new slave. But Arin has his secrets too. As Arin and Kestrel circle each other they will embark on a journey together that will change both them and their countries forever in The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Curse is the first book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy.

Rutkoski has created a vibrant world with a heroine who is shrewd and pragmatic even as she makes terrible decisions. Kestrel is a brilliant strategist–a skill that shows throughout the novel as she negotiates various obstacles throughout the story.

Secrets and lies are key to both Kestrel and Arin’s characters, creating a story that is as much about what is said as it is about subtext. This novel is brimming with non-verbal communication and other subtle cues that Rutkoski expertly manipulates as a story of love and other–somewhat darker–matters slowly unfolds.

With a fully-realized world and vibrant, flawed characters there is a lot to absorb in The Winner’s Curse. Readers will be rewarded with several surprising revelations and a story that manages to succeed both as a standalone story and as the launching point for a stunning trilogy.

Grounded in the Ancient Roman Empire’s practice of enslaving conquered peoples and all of the ramifications therein, The Winner’s Curse is a rich, meditative story on what freedom truly means and the efforts some will take to procure it. Highly recommended for everyone but especially fans of historical fiction and/or Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series.

Possible Pairings: The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

You can also read my interview as part of the official blog tour with Marie Rutkoski about the book here: http://wp.me/p6kfM-3d8

There is also a related short story about Arin up at Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/01/bridge-of-snow-marie-rutkoski

(My schedule is weird this week because of my super awesome interview with Marie Rutkoski which is why this Chick Lit Wednesday review is posting on a Thursday!)

You can also enter my giveaway for the book. Details here: http://wp.me/p6kfM-3dU

Starry Nights: A Review

Starry Nights by Daisy WhitneyJulien Garnier is a skilled draftsman even if his own works always lack that creative spark found in great art. But that’s usually okay. Working as a tour guide in the museum his mother runs means that Julien is never far away from the inspiration and beauty found in the works of Van Gogh, Monet and other old talents–especially other Impressionists.

When a peach falls out of a painting and Olympia’s cat wanders the museum, Julien thinks he must be dreaming. Then Degas’ dancers jete across the museum floor and Julien realizes that, impossible as it seems, what he is seeing is very, very real.

When a lost Renoir arrives at the museum, Julien can’t help but fall in love with the girl it depicts. He falls even harder when she walks out of the painting and introduces herself.

But Clio isn’t like the other art. Instead of a mere depiction, Clio is a real girl trapped inside the painting by a strange and powerful curse.

As Julien learns more about Clio and how he might be able to free her, other strange things begin affecting are throughout the museum. As the paintings twist and change, Julien and Clio must race to find a way to break the curse–even if it might tear them apart in Starry Nights (2013) by Daisy Whitney.

With its beautiful cover and intriguing premise, who wouldn’t be excited about Starry Nights? The book itself is physically beautiful with full color endpapers featuring some of the paintings mentioned in the story. The initial summary is also extremely appealing to any art enthusiast.

Although this book is adorably romantic with a decidedly French feeling conveyed in the setting, it never quite realizes its potential. Instead of becoming a resonant or memorable story, Starry Nights falls short in key moments where the characters and the events themselves could have gone further. Part of the problem here is definitely too much happening in too short a book.

Starry Nights is only 288 pages (hardcover) and Whitney packs a lot into those pages. The realms of believability (even in a story where art comes to life) are tested and stretched repeatedly as new dimensions are added to the story and the premise reshapes itself around this new information.

While the settings and the initial premise were delightful the story became mired in less enjoyable details including, sadly, a romantic pairing that was never quite as convincing as it needed to be for such a patently romantic book. Starry Nights will be a joy for art fans and readers looking for a superficially satisfying romance with some offbeat twists. Readers looking for a richer story or characters with more depth may have to look elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: Heist Society by Ally Carter, Graffitti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, Temping Fate by Esther Friesner, Darker Still by Leanna Renne Hieber, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

The Glass Swallow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Glass Swallow by Julia GoldingRain’s father is one of the most sought-after glass makers in the kingdom of Tigral. Torrent’s mastery of stained glass is unrivaled with even the king and queen ordering windows from the Torrent forge for their palace.

The only problem is Torrent is not the visionary behind his stained glass designs. Rain, his daughter, is the designer–a secret that could get them both thrown out of the male-only glassmaker guild.

When an opportunity arises for Rain to visit a distant land and ply her wares, it seems like a fine opportunity. She will be able to promote her father’s forget and her craft all while keeping her secret and seeing the wonders of the kingdom of Magharna.

Unfortunately, within a day of her arrival everything goes very wrong.

Alone in a strange place, Rain must find her own way as she navigates the foreign language and strange customs of Magharna and tries to find her way home. As Rain learns more of her temporary home, she realizes something is very wrong in the state. With a flagging economy and a society on the brink of riot, Rain will have to get very creative to find her place and a way home in The Glass Swallow (2010) by Julia Golding.

The Glass Swallow is a companion Golding’s earlier novel Dragonfly. (The current king and queen of Tigral are the protagonists of Dragonfly while it’s fun to see the characters overlap you do not need to read one book to enjoy the other.)

The Glass Swallow is a cute if sometimes improbable story focused on Rain and a young Magharan falconer named Peri–a man deemed “untouchable” by the higher echelons of Magharan society. The story is written in third person with focus shifting between Rain and Peri (often highlighting deeply frustrating missed connections between the two characters).

Although Rain has a very rough start in Magharna things begin to go surprisingly well for her by the latter third of the novel as pieces of state politics and revolution fall into place as if part of Rain’s personal stained glass design. While groundwork is laid for the romantic aspect of the story, the romance too felt a bit contrived as it moved with surprising speed from flirtation to actual love.

The Glass Swallow is an entertaining fantasy. Given the characters’ ages I went into this book expecting something along the lines of YA fantasy. Instead the characters and plot read much younger marking this more as a middle grade level read. That said, The Glass Swallow is still very fun with the nice touches of both stained glass and bird handling as areas of interest in the story. While the story, particularly the latter half, felt cursory as if the characters were rushing to a resolution the story was often heartwarming. It’s very nice to read a well-thought-out fantasy with an unabashedly happy ending.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley*, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

*Strictly speaking this isn’t a real read-alike for this book. BUT it does have art and glass working and birds so why not?