A Creature of Moonlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca HahnThe villagers have been talking of the woods all summer. More than usual. Farther from the woods than usual.

It’s one thing, now and then, for a stray bit of the woods to encroach. A well lost here, a path obstructed. Such things are to be expected.

This summer is different. The entirety of the woods seems to be moving in leaps and bounds, creeping closer than they have in years.

Marni knows the woods are dangerous place–a place of magic and wonder that often draws girls to it only to swallow them whole. Still, time and again, she finds herself sneaking there–away from Gramps, away from the prying eyes of the villagers who buy their flowers, away from the life that was snatched from her the day her mother was killed.

Marni has always walked a narrow path between the life the was stolen and the life she has with her Gramps. But now, with the woods moving closer and promises being made, Marni will have to decide where she will stand in A Creature of Moonlight (2014) by Rebecca Hahn.

A Creature of Moonlight is Hahn’s first novel.

Hahn masterfully weaves a world here where magic is as beautiful as it is dangerous–a world populated with calculating lords and kings as well as dragons and Phoenixes. Marni is a fascinating narrator, one who views both the humans and the woods with a healthy sense of skepticism. She is a strong heroine with a strong sense of self and an even stronger desire to secure her freedom.

She also has a very strange twang to her entire narration that is more reminiscent of a novel set in the Depression Era west (or just the West) than it is to this bit of higher fantasy. Marni reckons about many things and is none too afraid to say so neither. Her voice is often extremely jarring as readers are drawn repeatedly out of the story to ponder the choice of words on the page.

The story is typical coming of age fare as Marni learns more about both sides of her “family” such as they are and, over the course of the novel, comes into her own in various ways.

A Creature of Moonlight is decidedly short on peripheral characters, making the time spent in Marni’s head often claustrophobic as so much of the story centers on her inner conflicts. While her observations of the woods and at court are often entertaining and razor sharp, Marni’s motivations are never as clear as they should be.

While it is refreshing and modern to see Marni repeatedly turn down marriage proposals, the logic behind her deep conviction to not marry is murky at best–particularly given the specific set of obligations that will come with a life at court (which Marni adopts at one point in the plot).

Though often unsatisfying, A Creature of Moonlight remains a solid debut from an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Blind: A Review

Bline by Rachel DeWoskinWhat starts as an ordinary fourth of July watching the fireworks becomes something much worse in an instant when Emma Sasha Silver is blinded by a stray firework at the age of fourteen.

A year after the accident, Emma is still learning how to negotiate her large family, school, and everyday tasks without her vision when one of her classmates in the suburban town of Sauberg is found dead. As she struggles to make sense of this sudden death and her own drastically changed life, Emma wonders if losing her sight means she has also lost her chance at a bright future in Blind (2014) by Rachel DeWoskin.

DeWoskin offers a well-researched and much needed story. Emma is a capable heroine who negotiates her disability with the expected dejection as well as sudden moments of grace. The narrative is well-informed with Emma learning how to organize her life as well as travel with a cane as she begins to accomodate for her lost vision.

While this is a valuable story, DeWoskin’s efforts to describe Emma’s world in the form of sounds and textures can feel excessive. Similarly, side plots involving tested friendships, a large family, several crushes and musings about the death in town make this contemporary story convoluted and detract from Emma’s growth in the final quarter of an otherwise lengthy novel.

Although Emma is fourteen going on fifteen, she often feels and sounds younger giving Blind crossover potential (aside from some kissing and bad language) as a middle grade as well.

Emma remains strong and resilient during the story and gives a face to an often under-represented group in YA stories. Blind is also a positive portrayal of blindess without any negative tropes (such as being “cured” or somehow being “punished” in relation to a disability.)

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

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone: A Review

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat RosenfieldBecca is just getting ready to leave her small town behind for good when the dead girl is found. Suddenly Becca’s plan to go to college and never look back seems trivial at best. It seems like the peak of hubris to think Becca can get away when the dead girl could not.

Paralyzed by the shock of this sudden violence, Becca isn’t sure what to believe when her future–even the future in general–seems impossible to fathom in Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone (2012)by Kat Rosenfield.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is Rosenfield’s first novel.

Becca’s first-person narrative is intercut with short chapters outlining the moments that lead to the unidentified dead girl’s–Amelia Anne’s–murder.

Rosenfield’s writing is lush and highly literary with vivid, often unsettling, descriptions of Becca’s surroundings and the scenes that lead to Amelia Anne’s murder.

The mystery aspect is handled well here. Although it was possible to guess the ending early on, the pieces of the puzzle still twisted in a direction that was difficult to anticipate. Although the plot meanders with Becca’s doubts and fears, the story is generally solid.

The chapters about Amelia are particularly well-done as they illustrate Amelia’s growth as she comes into her own before her life is cut tragically short. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is a frank and unflinching story. Both Becca and Amelia do not shy away from talking about sex or other topics in their narratives. That said, it would have been nice to have a little more context when Amelia talks to her boyfriend about rougher behavior (Specifically she says to him: “Haven’t you ever thought about grabbing me from behind and throwing me against the wall? Just taking what you wanted?”). After the topic is initially raised there is not, unfortunately, any talk of consent and instead the chapter ends abruptly with no further discussion.

Unfortunately there isn’t much sense of character here. The only person readers really know is Amelia while Becca feels more like a convenient frame for a mystery that wouldn’t flesh out into a full novel. Becca rarely comes across as truly real and Amelia’s chapters stretch the limits of an omniscient narrator when combined with the first person structure of the rest of the novel. The secondary characters are painted with sharp vignettes that remain closer to caricature than actual characterization.

The narrative voice never quite works with many different tones competing in one slim book. In addition to Becca’s first-person musings there are also third-person chapters about Amelia. In addition, Becca’s narrative often goes off on tangents about the hive mind of small towns and the “we” mentality that often develops as a result. These  “we” passages feel lofty.

While this was an interesting story about cause and effect and the lingering impact of consequences it still feels more like a literary exercise than a mystery novel. Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is, however, undoubtedly well-written and demonstrates that Rosenfield is an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: Find Me by Romily Bernand, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Acceleration by Graham McNamee, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

Criminal: A Review

Criminal by Terra Elan McVoyNikki knows her life isn’t a dream come true. Even the thought of seeing her mother makes Nikki’s skin crawl. Her step-father is in jail. Nikki is a high school drop out.

But she has her friend Bird and her job at the hair salon.

More importantly, Nikki has Dee. Everyone tells her that Dee is no good but Nikki doesn’t believe that. Not really. How can Dee be anything but perfect when he looks so good and makes Nikki feel like this? He even has her initial tattooed on his chest.

When Dee does the unthinkable, Nikki is drawn into a crime that will shatter everything Nikki had taken for granted in her less-than-perfect life. After spending so much time wrapped up in Dee’s world, Nikki isn’t sure what it will take to stand on her own in Criminal (2013) by Terra Elan McVoy.

Criminal is a finalist for the 2014 Edgar Awards for Young Adult Mystery.

In a departure from her lighter fare, McVoy presents a gritty, evocative story of life in the wake of a shocking crime. The novel bends notions of right and wrong while also artfully exploring the idea of complicity as Nikki comes to terms with her own role in Dee’s crime.

Nikki is a flawed, often naive, heroine who has tried to make the best of the blessed little life has given her. She turns a blind eye to Dee’s many faults. She makes mistakes. She is impulsive and quite foolish.

Despite these shortcomings, Nikki’s growth throughout the novel is impressive. While she does not always make the smartest decisions, Nikki is a survivor. Although Criminal is touted as a mystery the main story here is really one about a girl trying to find her way. Even with all of the obstacles she has to face, readers will close this book with a sense that Nikki will make it through.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Blank Confession by Pete Hautman, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, How to Lead a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller

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.

Since You’ve Been Gone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan MatsonEmily had planned to have the Best Summer Ever with her best friend Sloane. Ever since she met Sloane two years ago, it felt like everything was better. Emily could be braver and more interesting just by virtue of being around Sloane.

But then Sloane disappears. No emails. No calls. No texts. Suddenly, the perfect summer Emily had imagined with her best friend is a lost cause. With her little brother busy trying to climb everything in sight and her parents starting a new play, Emily is expecting some quality wallowing time in her near future.

Then the list arrives after Sloane has been gone for two weeks.

This isn’t the first time Sloane has sent Emily a list of random, sometimes scary, things to do. But now, with Sloane gone, Emily hopes that completing the list might also help her figure out where exactly Sloane has gone.

With the help of some unlikely friends, Sloane works starts working her way through the list. Apple picking at night should be easy. Dancing until dawn might actually be fun. Kissing a stranger might take a little more work. Skinny dipping? Stealing something? Those might take a little more work in Since You’ve Been Gone (2014) by Morgan Matson.

Since You’ve Been Gone is Matson’s third novel. (It includes a surprise behind the dust jacket so be sure to check that out!)

From the cover and book design to the plotting and story, Since You’ve Been Gone is a perfect package. Every piece makes sense. Every aspect of the story clicks. Matson delivers a strong and immediately accessible story here.

Most of the story occurs during the course of Emily’s summer. Matson also includes key flashbacks to Emily and Sloane’s relationship to highlight the arc of their friendship. The flashbacks also add just the right amount of tension to the story as readers wonder what might have changed between these two girls.

Emily is a deceptive narrator, initially seeming passive and very meek. During the course of Since You’ve Been Gone readers can see Emily’s obvious growth as a character. Matson also delivers spot-on secondary characters ranging from Emily’s quirky brother and playwright parents to the friends she never expected to find in Frank, Collins and Dawn.

While Emily loses Sloane before the novel even starts, this book is very much about finding things–including a very authentic and charming romance. In her efforts to complete the list, Emily finds inner courage and maybe even a little bit of herself. Sloane’s tasks also add a nice structure to the story as each chapter focuses on one task and how its completion unfolds–often in unexpected ways. Since You’ve Been Gone is an effervescent, delightful read that is sure to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Reunited by Lauren Weisman Graham, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

All Our Yesterdays: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You have to kill him.”

All Our Yesterdays by Cristin TerrillLocked up in a government facility, Em marks time by staring at the drain in her center of her cell or talking to her fellow prisoner through the wall between their cells. Then, of course, there are the interrogation sessions with the Doctor. But Em tries not to think about those. Or the Doctor.

The only thing keeping her going is the list of instructions written in Em’s own handwriting. Em has tried everything she can think of to prevent the completion of a time machine that will break the world. The list proves that well enough.

But none of her attempts have worked and now Em is left with one last, terrible option.

Marina has loved her neighbor James since forever. More, even, than she loves herself sometimes. Quiet, focused James finally might be seeing Marina as more than a friend when one disastrous night changes everything. Everything Marina previously knew will be thrown into question as she struggles to protect James at any cost.

Em and Marina stand on opposite sides in a race to protect time. Only one of them can come out alive in All Our Yesterdays (2013) by Cristin Terrill.

All Our Yesterdays is Terrill’s first novel.

Alternating between Em and Marina’s narratives, Terrill has created a story that intertwines and connects in clever, unexpected ways. The time travel elements here are wonderfully plausible and key to the plot and all of its surprise reveals.

In addition to an action-packed adventure, All Our Yesterdays is a well-paced, meditative story about the strengths (and limits) of friendship. At the same time Terrill offers a thoughtful, subtle development as Marina come into her own and starts to learn to love herself.

With light science fiction (time travel) elements All Our Yesterdays is a great starting point for readers looking to give sci-fi a try as well as veteran readers. The other arcs regarding friendship and causality promise that this book has a lot to offer every reader. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

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

Rose Under Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth WeinRose Justice is a poet and a pilot. Even though she has hours and hours more flight time compared to many male pilots, Rose finds herself working as an ATA pilot transporting planes that other (men) fighter pilots will eventually use.

Rose is an American with high ideals who wants to help. The war is terrifying, much worse than she ever could have imagined back home in Pennsylvania, but doesn’t that make it even more important that Rose help however she can?

Her course changes abruptly when a routine transport goes horrible wrong and Rose is captured by Nazis and sent to Ravensbrück–a notorious women’s concentration camp.

In the camp Rose finds unimaginable horrors and obstacles but also small moments of hope through the kinship and bravery of her fellow prisoners. Even as friendships are forged amidst small moments of resistance, Rose and her friends are unsure who among them will make it out of Ravensbrück alive in Rose Under Fire (2013) by Elizabeth Wein.

Rose Under Fire is a companion to Wein’s novel Code Name Verity and set about one and a half years later. Rose Under Fire is completely self-contained but readers of both will recognize familiar characters.

Like its companion, Rose Under Fire is an epistolary novel told primarily from Rose’s journal. Snippets of famous poems (notably from Edna St. Vincent Millay) are included as well as poems Rose writes throughout her time in England and Ravensbrück.

Although this novel doesn’t have the same level of suspense as Code Name Verity it remains extremely well-plotted and poignant. And that is really all that can be said about the plot without revealing too much.

Wein once again delivers a powerhouse novel about World War II in this case shining a light onto the atrocities of the Ravensbrück concentration camp while highlighting the strength and persistence of the women who were imprisoned there.

As you might have guessed, Rose Under Fire is an incredibly hard read. The novel looks unflinchingly at the heinous “experiments” Nazi doctors committed against the Polish political prisoners known as “rabbits” from their time in Ravensbrück to the war trials in Nuremburg. While the story is important and powerful, it is not to be taken lightly and readers should be mindful of that before they pick it up.

Readers who are up to the task of a difficult read with darker subject matter will find a powerful story in Rose Under Fire with an incredibly strong and inspiring heroine at the center of its story.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie,  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Tamar by Mal Peet, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

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

This Song Will Save Your Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You think it’s so easy to change yourself.

“You think it’s so easy, but it’s not.”

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila SalesElise Dembowski has tried countless times to make herself better. Less different. Less precocious. Every time it’s been a horrible failure.

It turns out trading in her unicorn boots for normal sneakers, researching pop culture online, and wearing a new headband on the first day of school isn’t enough. Nothing is ever enough.

Elise is ready to give up. She can’t go on like this–the punchline of every joke, the obvious target for every bully. With friends it might be bearable. But making friends, it turns out, is just as hard as becoming cool.

Then one magical night something finally does change when Elise wanders into a warehouse dance party. At the party Elise also finds people who accept her; not some mainstreamed version of herself, not the invisible version or the fake one. Just her. In the midst of the party and the magic Elise also finds something almost as important: DJing.

With a chance at real friends and something that makes her truly happy, Elise might be able to change herself after all in This Song Will Save Your Life (2013) by Leila Sales.

There is so much to love in this story. This Song Will Save Your Life is an obvious read for music fans. (Sales includes a partial playlist at the end of the novel.) Even at her lowest, Elise remains a proactive, sympathetic heroine. She is capable and, above all, Elise is very much herself.

While Elise is the powerhouse center of this novel, This Song Will Save Your Life is also peppered with fully realized secondary characters including Elise’s very modern, very blended family and the absolutely delightful Vicky.

Sales’ writing has a verve and spark here that makes Elise’s story infinitely compelling. Throughout the story Elise’s narrative remains sharp and very well-focused. Although she is troubled, Elise remains extremely self-aware and always questions outcomes throughout the story in a way that is both effective and refreshing. This Song Will Save Your Life is a smart, witty story filled with as much enthusiasm and energy as any dance party.

Possible Pairings: Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going, Looking for Alaska by John Green, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah: A (Rapid Fire) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman (2013)

My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. FreedmanThis is one of those books that can skew as either middle grade or a younger YA. Either works and either is appropriate. Tara, our narrator, is a lot of fun with a breezy voice that sounds authentic and true without being bogged down in vernacular or otherwise “talking down” to the reader. I also loved that Tara had supportive, understanding, present parents as well as friends.

Although the story deals with Tara understanding the two sides of her heritage she is largely comfortable in her own skin. Which is huge. There is just so much to like here from the light, fun story to the cover model who looks just like you’d expect Tara to look. This is a story about acceptance and identity but also about more than that. Recommended.

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