Conjured: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Conjured by Sarah Beth DurstEve doesn’t know anything about her past. No family. No home. Even her face has been changed with a series of surgeries.

All Eve knows for sure is that a madman is on the loose–a killer who uses magic to murder his targets. And she might be the key to solving the case. If she ever remembers.

Everyone is keeping secrets from her–maybe even her own mind. Recurring dreams of a carnival with tinny music and a sinister magician haunt her. Sometimes a storyteller is there spinning tales as she tries to sew buttons into Eve’s skin. Eve can change the color of her eyes and make the birds printed on her wallpaper fly around her new room.

Protected by two witness protection agents and befriended by a boy who never lies, Eve will have to make sense of her past if she ever hopes to have a future of her own.

Conjured is a tense novel of suspense with bits of magic and character study thrown in. It is nowhere near as coherent as the jacket summary suggests. Readers expecting a linear story here will be disappointed.

Eve remembers nothing of her past and loses time to blackouts several times throughout the story. Her lack of memory is manipulated and exploited. These gaps and Eve’s own confusion are crucial to the plot but they also create a significant distance between readers and Eve’s characters. This gap narrows as the story progresses (and as Durst changes writing tense and person to reflect the changes) but it still makes for a very disorienting–and sometimes slow–beginning.

As her name suggests, Eve is an almost completely blank slate at the beginning of the story. Consequently her character often feels lacking in personality (since Eve doesn’t even know her own personality really). That said Durst does an excellent job creating memorable secondary characters as both friends and foils to Eve. The setting and the premise are also fascinating.

This isn’t a book for everyone but readers who enjoy clever writing and unique plot structures will be rewarded by a completely surprising and original novel as Conjured builds slowly to a shocking revelation and a conclusion that will have readers holding their breath until the dramatic finish.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah starting tomorrow! 

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*

Unbreak My Heart: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Unbreak My HeartClementine made a big mistake her sophomore year. It started with a series of little mistakes and foolish decisions but by the end Clemetine had broken one of the most important rules of friendship.

That was two weeks ago.

Now, heartbroken and friendless, Clementine is about to embark on a three month sailing trip with her parents and her little sister, Olive, on The Possibility. Last year the trip sounded like a horrible, faraway idea. Now that it’s here, Clem is surprised to realize it might be exactly what she needs.

Three months is a long time to be on a boat with nowhere to go and nothing to do. It’s a long time to have no one around except your family and the other boaters on your route. It’s an even longer time to be miserable. Not that Clem deserves to be anything else after what she did.

But as The Possibility sails farther from home and Clem really thinks about what happened, she begins to realize that being miserable won’t actually fix anything–if she wants to move forward, Clem has to do that herself in Unbreak My Heart (2012) by Melissa C. Walker.

Unbreak My Heart is a fizzy, adorable story about a girl who made a really bad choice and what she is doing to move beyond it. Alternating between scenes of Clem’s summer trip and memories of what happened during the school year, Walker tempers Clem’s past with a strong dose of retrospection so that she is always a sympathetic and approachable protagonist.

The reveal of what ultimately went wrong is also well-handled providing a good balance between teasing asides and actual facts. The pacing is excellent and Walker does an excellent job of unfolding Clem’s complicated motivations and choices throughout the story.

Although the core of the story comes from a complicated issue, the plot is charmingly simple as Clem comes back to herself on the sailing trip and meets other boaters (including a cute boy) who help her put her own mistake in perspective as she starts to heal.

I also loved that Clem’s family played such a huge role in the story with a sister that I would definitely hang out with and parents who are refreshingly present and helpful and supportive throughout the story. I know it’s hard sometimes to have excitement and growth in the same story as parents but I wish more books could find that balance as easily as Unbreak My Heart.

Another dimension is added to the story by Clem’s repeated attempts to write a letter to her best friend as she tries to explain herself. (Not to mention a totally realistic, unobtrusive integration of social networks.) I tend to be extremely skeptical of reconciliation plots because they seem simplified and idealistic but it works in this one. Unbreak My Heart features one of the only reconciliation plots that felt not only legitimate but necessary. I’m absolutely rooting for Clem and her best friend.

As the title might suggest, there is some romance and a whole lot of flirting but what I most enjoyed about this story is the romantic parts are very secondary to Clem’s own understanding of what she has done and what she wants to happen next. Filled with idyllic sailing scenes, lots of humor, and some very wise ruminations on what friendship really means, Unbreak My Heart is a surprising, enchanting story about fresh starts and healing.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Something Like Fate by Susane Colasanti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Just One Day by Gayle Forman,  The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

Exclusive Bonus Content: It just occurred to me you never see books like this where two guy friends get into similar problems over one girl. Like “Jessee’s Girl” but a YA book. A nice, simple, relationship dilemma from a guy’s point of view. I want to see that book.

Also be sure to check back tomorrow for my interview with Melissa C. Walker!

Throne of Glass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Throne of Glass by Sarah J. MaasAfter a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier, assassin Celaena Sardothien knows better than to expect glad tidings when she is summoned at sword-point.

Much to her surprise, the Crown Prince Dorian has come to offer a deal: her freedom in exchange for acting as Dorian’s champion in a competition to find a new assassin for his father, the king.

Celaena has no love for the king and no desire to work for him. But freedom is a tantalizing thing after a year in Endovier and one competition is a small thing to come between Celaena and her freedom.

While her rivals in the competition are as unimpressive as she expected, court life is duller than she could have imagined. The boring castle particularly chafes when she is kept under lock and key by the Captain of the Guard, Chaol Westfall, who acts as her trainer when he is not watching her like a hawk. (As if he could stop her escape if she really set her mind to it!)

Then again, Celaena could still be working in the salt mines.

Just as the assassin is beginning to appreciate how easy her new life can become, one of the other contestants turns up dead. And then another. Are the murders to do with the competition? Or is something darker at work somehow tied to the disappearance of magic from the kingdom? If Celaena wants to make it to the end of the competition with her freedom and her life she’ll have to do more than win–she’ll have to find a murderer in Throne of Glass (2012) by Sarah J. Maas.

Throne of Glass is Maas’ first book. It is accompanied by a slew of e-book prequel/companions and was work-shopped years before publication online at the FictionPress community.

I came to Throne of Glass after a few disappointing reads that had left me wondering if I’d ever see a believable strong heroine again. While this book has other flaws, lack of a strong female character is definitely not one of them. Even when she is being obnoxious and brash Celaena is a capable, entertaining heroine (albeit one with a somewhat unlikely skill set at the tender age of eighteen).

Overall Throne of Glass is a decent if unexceptional read. Maas creates an interesting world that mostly makes sense. Time will tell if holes in the landscape come from lack of world building or lack of proper explanation in favor of plot suspense.

The story is on similarly uneasy footing: the story begins presenting Celaena, the competition, and her training with some back story mysteries from Celaena’s past thrown in to taste. About a third of the way in, we get the strange addition of a murder mystery, a magical secret, and an unsatisfying love triangle.

I am never partial to books that change the story direction midway through, but it was a minor point since Celaena was so very likable. I could even overlook the painfully forced romantic scenes with Dorian and Celaena because it was so very obvious that Chaol was the superior male lead.

Then the mystery got thrown in.

Aside from being heavy handed right from the beginning, the mystery angle of the story was poorly handled. Celaena missed obvious clues. She jumped to conclusions. Worse, Celaena doubted not only the only character who had ever been unconditionally kind to her but also the singular minority* character in the story. Thus, in order to move the plot forward readers were presented with this clumsy change in Celaena’s personality.

Throne of Glass sits somewhere between high fantasy and more action driven stories. The premise is clever and Maas’ writing is lively. Readers who can look past everything to do with the sloppy mystery sub-plot will be rewarded with an enjoyable heroine in a somewhat disjointed but generally exciting narrative.

*Minority is a funny thing in a fantasy. Here what I mean is that Celaena and the kingdom where the story is set are predominantly white from what readers see. The “minority” character I mention is from a foreign kingdom and is described as having brown skin.

Possible Pairings: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*

Fracture: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“A lot can happen in eleven minutes. Decker can run two miles easily in eleven minutes. I once wrote an English essay in ten. No lie. And God knows Carson Levine can talk a girl out of her clothes in half that time.

“Eleven minutes might as well be eternity under water. It only takes three minutes without air for loss of consciousness. Permanent brain damage begins at four minutes. And then, when the oxygen runs out, full cardiac arrest occurs. Death is possible at five minutes. Probable at seven. Definite at ten.

“Decker pulled me out at eleven.”

Fracture by Megan MirandaDelaney Maxwell should have died the day she fell through the ice on Falcon Lake. At the very least she should be severely brain damaged.

But when she wakes up six days later, Delaney seems fine for reasons  no one quite understands.

As she tries to return to her normal life it becomes apparent that some things are not the same–especially Delaney. What draws her to the strange boy who met her after the accident? What makes her hands itch near certain people? Why does her best friend Decker keep telling Delaney how important she is only to hurt her?

It all started with a fracture in the ice. But that one crack led to many more in Delaney’s life and friendships. As her physical injuries heal, maybe the other less-obvious injuries can also be mended in Fracture (2012) by Megan Miranda.

Fracture is Miranda’s first novel.

Fracture is a haunting blend of paranormal, suspense and excellent writing. Miranda expertly navigates Delaney’s life after the accident as well as her more conventional problems relating with her friends and finding her own place in her small Maine town.

Immediately evocative, Fracture opens with a dramatic start that will keep readers on the edge of their seat until the very end. Delaney’s wry narration and her well-developed friends make Fracture a frank, refreshing book with a whole lot of appeal.

Miranda is definitely an author readers should keep their eyes on in 2012.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Where She Went by Gayle Forman,  The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

*This book was acquired from the publisher for review at BEA 2011

Don’t forget to check out my interview with the author.

After Obsession: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

As soon as Alan arrives in town, he knows something isn’t right even if he can’t quite place what. He knows from his dreams with his spirit animal that it involves a dark force. And a girl with bright red hair.

Aimee’s friends call her Red because of her hair. She notices Alan right away, even with her boyfriend, it’s hard not to when he’s so tall and good looking. And he’s also the guy she’s been seeing in her creepy vision-dreams for the past few weeks.

Their connection is immediate, but Alan and Aimee have a lot to do before they can think about anything as simple as a relationship. Courtney–Alan’s cousin and Aimee’s best friend–has been acting strangely. Like, something else is controlling her strange.

There are four stages to any possession: Invitation. Infestation. Obsession. You can probably guess what comes after. Aimee and Alan have to save Courtney before that, and together they might just manage it. They kind of have to, because after obsession there is no turning back. For anyone in After Obsession (2011) by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel.

After Obsession was written in collaboration with alternation chapters where Jones wrote Aimee’s narration while Wedel wrote Alan’s.

Aside from a catchy title, After Obsession has a clever premise that is straightforward and wastes no time getting to the crux of the story. Aimee and Alan are clever narrators with their chemistry and unique abilities.

Jones and Wedel play fast and loose with supernatural elements here generally to good effect. Aimee has visions and can heal people (which no one at all seems to find odd). Alan is half Navajo and has a spirit guide and is a spirit warrior (and also apparently completely embraces a culture he knows little about outside of Internet research because his father was Navajo even though he never met his father and doesn’t even know his father’s name for certain).

If you can get past those issues, After Obsession is a fun, breezy read with suspense, excitement and romance.

After Obsession is currently a standalone novel, which is fine except for the end of the book when things start happening really fast and a lot of plot threads are not fully explained or resolved. With so much left up in the air After Obsession felt more like a first installment than a complete novel albeit an entertaining read either way.

Possible Pairings: Swoon by Nina Malkin, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, The Game of Triumphs by Laura Powell, Misfit by Jon Skovron, Between by Jessica Warman

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2011

Between: A Review

Elizabeth Valchar has the perfect life. Pretty, popular and privileged–the world is hers for the taking. Even her eighteenth birthday party is ideal: a night on her father’s boat spent with her friends, her boyfriend, alcohol and maybe just a little pot.

Unfortunately when Liz wakes up the day after her party it’s obvious that her perfect life is over in every sense of the word.

Liz is dead. Left staring over the side of the boat at her own dead body and watching the horrible fallout as news of her death spreads to her family and friends, Liz has no clear memory of how she died. She doesn’t even remember much of her own life.

As Liz struggles to make sense of the person she used to be and what led to her drowning on her birthday, Liz realizes there are some things that are best left forgotten in Between (2011) by Jessica Warman.

Between is an uneasy blend of mystery and paranormal with the smallest dose of suspense thrown in. While the bones of the story are promising as Liz tries to decipher the events leading to her own murder, the execution was inelegant at best.

First and foremost, Liz is not a likable heroine. While she is at pains to tell readers she is a “good kid” Liz’s actions often speak louder. Even her transformation over the course of the book does little to make her an approachable narrator. Her sidekick throughout the  story remains similarly one dimensional.

While Between has some interesting aspects the writing felt repetitive as Liz explains things repeatedly at different intervals of the story in the exact same way. Other aspects of the story (particularly “Famous Richie” and why he is so famous) felt like gimmicks that added very little to the story. Combined with Liz’s often prickly narration these elements made it very hard to get into this book.

The mystery aspect was well handled but too drawn out. Warman also paints a painfully authentic picture of the havoc eating disorders can wreak but again this thread takes so long to develop that much of its potency is lost. The book was also littered with shockingly inadequate adults, adding another layer of frustration.

Fans of books about life after death, particularly The Lovely Bones, will likely find a new favorite read in Between. On the other hand, readers hoping for an eerie mystery would be better served with a different title.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, More Than This by Patrick Ness, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin