Whisper the Dead: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra HarveyCousins Gretchen, Penelope and Emma are still learning to control their new-found powers and understand what it means to be members of one of the oldest witching families, the Lovegroves, in 1814 London.

Penelope struggles with a familiar that frightens her and unwieldy powers that allow her to read the past in objects. Emma, on the other hand, now has antlers to conceal while trying to find a way to rescue her father from the underworld and convince her mother to assume her human form instead of  that of a deer.

Reluctant debutante Gretchen, meanwhile, is still not entirely sure of the full scope of her powers. Or what embroidery has to do with magic. Gretchen will have to harness her powers as a Whisperer who can hear the spells of dead witches if she wants to help stop the dark witches the Greymalkins from wreaking all manner of havoc in London and beyond.

She will also have to contend with the frustratingly proper Tobias Lawless and other Keepers tasked with keeping the cousins under surveillance. The only positive is that with so much danger and problems ranging from angry ghosts to werewolves, Gretchen will definitely be able to avoid any balls for the foreseeable future in Whisper the Dead (2014) by Alyxandra Harvey.

Whisper the Dead is the second book in the Lovegrove Legacy. It is preceded by A Breath of Frost.

Recaps and multiple viewpoints help summarize key events from the first book in this trilogy. The narrative focus also shifts from Emma to Gretchen in this volume. (Presumably the trilogy will conclude with a book focused on Penelope.) These facts make this volume approachable and only slightly confusing to new readers.

Rollicking action and mystery come together with humor and charm to make this a fast-paced and engrossing story. A well-developed romance and a cliffhanger ending help guarantee that Whisper the Dead will have high appeal and leave readers eager for the final installment.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carringer, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the August 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*

A Breath of Frost: A Review

A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra HarveyLondon, 1814: Emma, Gretchen and Penelope–three cousins and reluctant debutantes–discover their families have been hiding a host of secrets one snowy night at a dull party. It starts with a broken bottle and a fire. It ends with the cousins discovering they have magical powers and a girl found dead, her body covered in strange bruises and, stranger still, a coating of snow.

With their powers unbound, the gates of the underworld open to allow all manner of nasty creatures from the underworld including the feared ghosts of the Greymalkin warlocks–three dark witch sisters–to wreak further havoc across London. Worse, more debutantes are turning up dead.

While all three cousins try to understand and control their new powers, Emma has an added problem. Somehow she is connected to the murders; she keeps finding the bodies. With the authorities targeting her as a suspect, Emma will have to work with Cormac–an unlikely (and entirely too attractive) ally–in order to clear her name and find the real culprit before it’s too late in A Breath of Frost (2014) by Alyxandra Harvey.

A Breath of Frost is the first book in Harvey’s Lovegrove Legacy–a trilogy which will presumably allot one book to each cousin. The second book, Whisper the Dead, will be published in October 2014.

In this alternate historical London, magic runs rampant for the people who know where to look including the Order of the Iron Nail, Madcaps and various sundry characters and groups readers will have to sift through in the early pages of the novel. Patient readers will be rewarded with explanations of all of these names and a motley group of characters magical and otherwise.

Although the cousins often read more like sisters, Harvey still creates a romantic, adventurous novel with a strong familial bond at its core. The cousins are stronger together–something that is not often featured enough in literature. Magic and mystery come together here to create a suspenseful, if not always perfectly paced, adventure. Filled with wit, adventure, and just the right amount of romance, A Breath of Frost is a delightful start to what promises to be a superb trilogy.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carringer, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Chasing Power: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Chasing Power by Sarah Beth DurstKayla had planned to spend her summer lazing about the beach in Santa Barbara with her best friend Selena and occasionally stealing things here and there to keep her mind sharp. After all, a sharp mind is very important when you can use it to move things.

Her plans for the summer are effectively derailed when a boy named Daniel appears out of nowhere. Literally. Because Daniel has a power of his own–the ability to teleport anywhere instantly. Threatened with blackmail, Kayla agrees to help Daniel steal a set of three ancient artifacts to help Daniel rescue his kidnapped mother.

As Daniel and Kayla travel around the world to collect the artifacts, Kayla soon realizes that the secrets she has been keeping, the kidnapping, and the artifacts may all connect back to each other–and to her own family–in a shocking act of betrayal that could change everything in Chasing Power (2014) by Sarah Beth Durst.

While Kayla is a willful and often impulsive character, she is also an honest one who is willing to own up to her mistakes. Kayla’s own rash behavior is balanced well by best friend Selena who offers a down-to-earth foil to Kayla’s magical powers. Kayla’s mother is another a great addition to this story with her own charms–both magical and otherwise.

Chasing Power is a streamlined blend of magic, romance and page-turning action. This story is part urban fantasy and part treasure hunt in a satisfying blend of adventure and suspense.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2014*

Open Road Summer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Open Road Summer by Emery LordReagan knows she is better than her past behavior would indicate. She knows she deserves more than her bad-news ex-boyfriend and more than her bad girl reputation. What Reagon doesn’t know is how to get beyond all of those things once and for all.

Reagan’s best friend, Lilah Montgomery is having problems of her own including nursing a broken heart and headlining her first major tour. With her star on the rise, Lilah will have to navigate the world of country music stardom and the murky waters of celebrity news and minor scandal.

Even with so much baggage, Reagan is thrilled to be joining the tour for a girls only summer of bonding and healing.

The only problem is Matt Finch–himself a former teen star–is also part of the tour as an opener. With his clean-cut good looks and enough snark to match Reagan barb for barb, Reagan knows her promise to stay drama-(and boy)-free all summer is in for trouble.

It takes a cross-country tour but over the course of one unforgettable summer Reagan will learn that mistakes aren’t forever,  even if friends are, and home doesn’t always have to be somewhere to leave in Open Road Summer (2014) by Emery Lord.

Open Road Summer is Lord’s first novel.

Believe the hype about this book. Lord has crafted a novel that is equal parts escapism and realism. While readers are treated to the luxe world of celebrity musicians, Open Road Summer also highlights the tough realities of living (and growing up) in the public eye.

Reagan is a prickly, multifaceted narrator with a lot of heart and a lot of personality. The fact that she is a self-proclaimed bad girl who wants a change is utterly refreshing. This story constantly challenges the usual tropes and binary structures found in similar stories to create a plot and a cast of characters that are unique and completely engaging.

Tour stops across the country add a vivid backdrop to this delectable story of a girl trying to find her way.

Possible Pairings: Now and Forever by Susane Colasanti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Being Friends With Boys by Terra Elan McVoy, Swoon at Your Own Risk by Sydney Salter, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle

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!