Hearts at Stake: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra HarveyBeing a teenager is hard enough, but Solange Drake has a whole other set of problems. With her sixteenth birthday fast approaching, Solange and her family have way more on their mind than her Sweet Sixteen–like planning for her transformation into a vampire. All of the Drake sons survived the transformation in one piece, but being the first female-born vampire in 800 years (and the future vampire queen according to a mysterious prophecy) no one is really sure how Solange will fair. Of course, that might be irrelevant if the vampire hunting Helios-Ra or the followers of the current queen kill Solange for the bounty on her head first in Hearts at Stake (2009) by Alyxandra Harvey.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but just because a person likes Buffy it does not mean that she will like every snarky, girl power-esque vampire story that comes along. Such is the case with Hearts at Stake. Even before coming to that painful realization about myself, I knew I might be in for trouble with this book when I read that the author was sometimes belly dancer who owns a hawk. Say what you will, but I had a bad feeling.

There are two fundamental problems with the story. The first is that everything feels a bit contrived– even given the fact that it is part of a necessarily contrived genre what with vampires not existing. Solange is at the center of this huge prophecy, the figure who might end a massive civil war among the different vampire tribes, and she belongs to one of the oldest vampire families in the world. None of which is set up for the reader. Instead Solange tells readers as much in a passing paragraph or two which interrupts the story at hand and does little to explain any of these events.

The second problem is that Hearts at Stake seems to be a book at war with itself. The book’s narration is split between Solange and her human best friend Lucy. The story also eventually splits into a dual romance. This symmetry seems forced leading to a rather heavy-handed treatment in some of the romantic matters. The tone of the story is understandably erratic as a result. The story alternates in rapid succession between steamy kisses, deadly fights, and conversations filled with girl power bravado and snark.

Even though both girls were at pains to remind readers and other characters that they were strong and could take care of themselves, it felt unconvincing because there is a difference between saying you can take care of yourself and actually doing so. Hearts at Stake will appeal to many readers for a quick vampire romance fix, but readers looking for a book with more substance would do well to look elsewhere.

The Luxe: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Luxe by Anna GodbersenThe day Elizabeth Adora Holland died was a sad day for New York City. A shining beacon of the city’s high society, tales of Elizabeth’s life brightened the days of those who read about her in the local papers. That she should be buried on the very day of her wedding to Henry Schoonmaker, the city’s most eligible bachelor, only makes the young socialite’s sudden death that much more tragic.

Life for the New York elite was easy in 1899 when servants still catered to a family’s every whim and a family’s name almost meant more than its fortune. Almost . . . .

But the weeks before Elizabeth’s death were anything but easy in The Luxe (2007) by Anna Godbersen.

Godbersen peels back the veneer of some of New York’s wealthiest (fictional) families to reveal a world of intrigue, betrayal, and even danger in the first novel in the Luxe series. It should also be noted that reviews citing The Luxe as a thinly disguised historical Gossip Girl are not far off.

While Godbersen creates a compelling plot that will have readers anxious for the next installments in the series, her characters are distinctly feeble by comparison. The story revolves around the events leading to Elizabeth’s untimely demise, but the story follows many points of view including Elizabeth’s younger sister, her dashing fiance, her embittered maid, and her ruthless-social-climber best friend. None of whom are particularly convincing or likable.

Godbersen struggles to portray Elizabeth as a beach of moral fortitude in a world rife with corruption and selfishness. But even the author cannot maintain the lofty pedestal she created for Elizabeth ultimately making her appear at best to be an irresolute hypocrite and at best as a spoiled (largely oblivious) brat. Everything that seemed meant to endear Elizabeth to readers served instead as further annoyance.

Her sister Diana is equally frustrating. Diana comes off as a slightly dim, intensely annoying, poor little rich girl for the majority of the story as she fantasizes about a life bereft of her family’s ostentatious wealth. Her general air of recklessness and thoughts turning constantly to handsome young men do little to improve her character.

Even with the lackluster, inaccurate, and generally unconvincing characters The Luxe does manage to provide readers with a strong story with several twists along the way. This page-turner will be a book readers will love to hate–or hate to love.

Possible Pairings: The Shadows by Megan Chance, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Vixen by Killian Larkin, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor

The Rockette Problem

At my previous place of employ, “Tori” and I started talking about the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and how awesome the Rockettes are. This led to some sound relationship advice that we tried to share with a less-than-grateful “Bear.” This post has been a long time coming and, hopefully, some readers (assuming I have any male readers–do I?) will feel our findings were more helpful than Bear did.

To state it simply: Every girl wants to be a Rockette. But not every girl can be a Rockette since the Rockettes are highly trained athletic dancers who are between 5′ 6″ and 5′ 10′ in height (the tallest Rockettes are at the center of any kick line and other height discrepancies are made up for in the height of shoe heels and hats). No matter how unrealistic the dream, it is a hard thing to realize that even if you become a highly trained athletic dancer you cannot be a Rockette because you are too short (I imagine there are some people out there who are too tall, but I do not know any of them). Therein lies The Rockette Problem.

I am aware there are some people who simply do not like the Rockettes and will freely tell you as much. These people are lying to you and themselves. When I first told my “Kiki Couture” about The Rockette Problem her first response was a declaration of Rockette hatred. Further discussion revealed that Kiki’s hatred came not from animosity, but from envy. Because she could not be a Rockette. But one real life example of The Rockette Problem at work.

But what does The Rockette Problem have to do with relationships? I will tell you.

One day, Tori was trying to offer Bear some advice–because she is has a lot of wise advice and because offering advice is what librarians do. She posited that men would fair better with women if they just understood one universal truth. And I looked at her and said three words that you should know well by now: The Rockette Problem.

This was the advice she had for Bear and it is the advice* I now share with you, readers. Use it well:

When a guy meets a woman he might like, the surefire way to win her over is to take her to see the Rockettes. I know what you’re thinking. What if the guy is Jewish, does not celebrate Christmas, or simply does not enjoy a well-choreographed holiday dance routine? My initial response: Suck it up.

My expanded response: Use this advice hypothetically if you are for some reason averse to the Rockettes, but consider this first. If you fall into a demographic that would not generally enjoy a well-choreographed holiday dance routine but take your girl to see it anyway, think how many brownie points you could earn. (Hint: you would probably need to go on a diet.)

Also, almost everyone celebrates Thanksgiving. And the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade isn’t a parade until the Rockettes perform, so watch them with your special lady friend then. Tell her you like their costumes**. Admire their athleticsism. Tell her you understand The Rockette Problem and she will understand how much you care.

If, for some reason, that doesn’t work. Write a letter. Not a coy letter. Just write a letter and say “Hey, let’s go see the Rockettes.” It will be enough.

Should that still not work, you might be beyond this blog’s help, but in a last ditch effort you can consider telling her you like the way she looks in blue at five minute intervals. If it worked for Edward Cullen it might work for you, although utilizing The Rockette Problem to your advantage is really much more likely to work.

So, remember, you must not hate The Rockettes–just admire. And maybe The Rockette Problem can be your own relationship solution.

*This advice does not apply to women hoping to improve their relationship prospects with other women for the simple reason that women already inherently understand The Rockette Problem and therefore cannot utilize it further.

**Being one to try and get the last word, Bear later told me the costumes were NEVER the first thing a man noticed about the the Rockettes. My initial response to that was, I think, fairly obvious: Suck it up. And don’t tell your special lady friend that!

Goth Girl Rising: A Review

Goth Girl Rising by Barry LygaTime is a funny thing in the hospital. Especially in the mental ward. You lose track of it easily. When Kyra, otherwise known as Goth Girl, is finally released from the Maryland Mental Health Unit after six long months, she is ready to pick up right where she left off.

She’s ready to make up with Fanboy and continue helping him with his graphic novel. He might have been a jerk and it might have been his fault that she got committed again. But Fanboy might be the only person who really understands her just as she is, and that’s worth something.

Except a lot can change in six months. Especially outside of the mental ward. When Kyra returns to Brookdale she expects everything to be the same. But nothing is.

Her goth friends Simone and Jecca don’t seem quite so interesting. Roger isn’t the standoffish father he once was. And Fanboy, well, he isn’t Fanboy anymore.

Suddenly popular and self-assured, Fanboy has become someone Goth Girl doesn’t recognize. Someone who doesn’t even need her. Someone who forgot her.

All of Kyra’s plans for a grudging reconciliation with Fanboy are soon replaced by frustration, and only one acceptable course of action–to destroy him and all of her other enemies in Goth Girl Rising (2009) by Barry Lyga.

Find it on Bookshop.

Goth Girl is a complex character whose story was largely up in the air at the end of this book’s prequel The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl. In addition to explaining what happened to Kyra between books, Lyga provides a window into Kyra’s world by narrating Goth Girl Rising in her voice.

Unfortunately,  the peripheral characters in this story are not as well-developed. Simone and Jecca especially are not as complex, appearing, by the end of the story, to be more like annoying nuisances than Kyra’s best friends.The homoerotic subplot between Jecca and Kyra is also problematic not so much because it’s in the book as because it is so scattered and does little to add to the plot or even the character development.

Fanboy and Goth Girl are both, in their own ways, comic book geeks. This book is rife with references to Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series but instead of adding to the story these references feel more like a crutch device filling the pages of this story with explanations of different aspect of Gaiman’s work.

Lyga does still manage to tackle some heavy themes effectively here. Kyra’s narrative voice rings true as talks through her depression and suicidal thoughts. By the end of Goth Girl Rising readers will understand what Kyra has been through even if they can’t quite grasp her rage.

Really, the main problem with this book is that there was not enough Fanboy. Having read about and loved that charming comic geek before, it was disappointing to find him in a relatively small part of Goth Girl Rising as seeing Goth Girl and Fanboy reunited was one of the best parts of this novel.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Sandman Series by Neil Gaiman, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga

Jungle Crossing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Jungle Crossing by Sydney SalterThirteen-year-old Kat has dozens of reasons to skip her family’s summer vacation to hot, boring Mexico. She’ll miss mini-camp and lose her spot as part of Fiona’s Five (reason number 1) thereby completing ruining her chance at popularity and eighth grade in general (reason 33). Her family will drive her crazy (reasons 29 through 31).  And don’t think that’s just whining because Kat has tons of other, totally logical, reasons on her list including falling prey to bandits, the risk of flash flooding, heat stroke, dangerous strangers, and lung damaging jet fuel (reasons 8, 20, 24, 35 and 36) in Jungle Crossing (2009) by Sydney Salter.

Despite Kat’s helpful list, her parents and nine year old sister Barb couldn’t be happier with their Mexican adventure. Barb adjusts effortlessly to their new surroundings making friends with everyone she meets.

But no one seems to like Kat–not even Nando, the Mayan tour guide. Meanwhile, between scary eels, mean tour guides (reasons 39 and 40), and all of her other reasons, Kat is miserable. Even listening to Nando’s exciting legend about Muluc, an ancient Mayan girl facing danger, betrayal and untold sacrifice, can barely hold Kat’s interest.

Except, being a captive audience on the tour bus with Barb, Kat finds herself paying closer attention to Muluc’s story. Muluc didn’t have to worry about missing mini-camp or clinging to her tenuous spot in Fiona’s Five. The more Kat learns about Mexico and the ancient Mayans, the more she begins to wonder about her own life and what really matters. Could it be that, instead of being the worst vacation ever, going to Mexico will turn into one of Kat’s greatest adventures?

Jungle Crossing is a lot of fun. Kat is a younger narrator than a lot of the usual suspects in young adult novels, which makes for a slightly different (but equally enjoyable) perspective. Salter’s descriptions of Mexico were also amazing lending a travelogue feel to the book and transporting readers to Kat’s wonderful destinations. To her credit, Salter also tries to point out the inequities between the Mexico found by rich tourists and the harsher reality for locals like Nando.

Interspersed throughout Kat’s story readers will find Muluc’s story as “told” by Nando. Muluc’s story provides a slice of life from Ancient Maya and, eventually, becomes a benchmark for Kat as she tries to work out her own priorities in modern day Mexico.

Salter blends the two narratives together seamlessly so that, by the end of Jungle Crossing, moving between the two girl’s stories feels completely natural. Her writing of Kat’s narration is also pitch perfect moving from the voice of a whiny (possible) brat to that of a braver, happier, and fairly more enlightened girl by the end of the story.

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix (a review)

Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers, illustrated by Kelly MurphyOn September 5, 1928 ten-year-old Nathaniel Fludd’s parents are declared lost at sea. Alone in the world with no other close relatives and a governess eager to abscond with her Tidy Sum from the Fludd estate, Nathaniel is sent to live with Phil A. Fludd–a mysterious cousin Nate has never met, let alone heard of in Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers with illustrations by Kelly Murphy.

Find it on Bookshop.

It turns out an eccentric cousin is the first of many things his parents never told him about. The Fludds come from a long line of Beastologists: explorers who travel the world documenting and protecting rare beasts the world has long forgotten, including one rather unique bird that resides with Nate’s eccentric cousin.

When Nate is whisked off with his Beastologist kin, he finds himself in a world of adventure traveling to Arabia to ensure the safe hatching of the world’s only Phoenix.

But no one said being a Beastologist was easy. When trouble strikes Nate is once again all alone faced with the daunting tasks of protecting the Phoenix egg (and his secret pet Gremlin) while hatching a clever plot to rescue his guardian from the Bedouin.

The book comes equipped with a glossary of real (and imagined) terms to help readers better make sense of the Steampunk world of Beastologists and the era of 1928 which create a unique

Flight of the Phoenix is a brilliant story. LaFevers’ writing is charming. She evokes Nathaniel’s world with wit and humor that is complemented well by Murphy’s endearing illustrations. Together the two provide a strong opening to what I hope will be a long series of books.

The time has (almost) come to talk of many things

My life has been a whirlwind since September and since something had to give, I’m afraid it’s been the blog. Just a quick post to let my regular readers know I am working on it and will be up and running at my usual clip very soon. Thanks for bearing with me!

Beautiful Creatures: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret StohlOnly two kinds of people live in Gatlin, South Carolina: the stupid and the stuck. The others move on to better places. The Wates live there because they always have. They live there even though recent years have brought the family more bad memories than good.

Ethan Wate isn’t stupid and he has no intention of being stuck. Gatlin isn’t a complicated place. The neighbors keep watch from their porches in the unbearable heat, but nothing ever changes because there are no surprises in Gatlin County–the epicenter of the middle of nowhere.

At least, that’s how it seems to Ethan the night before starting his sophomore year at Stonewall Jackson High.

Turns out he couldn’t have been more wrong.

There was a curse. There was a girl. And in the end, there was a grave.

Ethan never saw it coming in Beautiful Creatures (2009) by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Change is in the air when Lena Duchannes arrives in town. Ethan is inexplicably drawn to the beautiful outcast, but nothing with Lena is straightforward. As Ethan gets to know the mysterious new girl they begin to unearth ages old secrets that could change everything for them and Gatlin County.

I’m not a big fan of Twilight (long story) and Swoon left me cold. But I finally get how the hardcore fans of those books feel because I feel the same way about Beautiful Creatures. Part gothic novel, part modern fantasy this book has everything a reader could hope for.

Garcia and Stohl have created an intricate and compelling story. Even at over 500 pages (hardcover),  this book is a page-turner. Ethan’s narration is honest and captures both the charm and horror of life in a rural Southern town.

Beautiful Creatures is also an utterly original and unforgettable book filled with haunting characters, excitement, and even some romance. The worst thing about finishing it is knowing there will be a wait for the sequel.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Sea Change by Aimee Friedman, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Lirael by Garth Nix, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl: A Review

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry LygaFanboy wants three things more than anything in the world–he’ll even tell you two of them. But there are also things that Fanboy needs, especially now that his sophomore year is morphing into his own personal hell.

Senior Goddess Dina Jurgens doesn’t know he exists and his part-time-best-friend/full-time-jock, Cal, is distant. Nothing new there.

But at home his pregnant mother and stepfather (that would the Step-Fascist to anyone paying attention) are anxiously awaiting the birth of his half-brother or half-sister. As if that could make them into a real family. School isn’t much better once the bullies and the Jock Jerks decide to make Fanboy their own personal target Every. Single. Day.

But that’s okay because Fanboy knows exactly what he wants and he has a plan: a secret scheme that will get him out of his lame little town and prove his worth to everyone once and for all.

When the mysterious and angry Goth Girl bursts into his life, he might even have an accomplice in The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl (2007) by Barry Lyga.

The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl is the first of Lyga’s intertwining books set in Brookdale. It’s also a total powerhouse of a novel. Lyga brings an impressive amount of depth to Fanboy’s narration about both his stifling discontent and his hope for something more.

What had the potential to be a devastating story turns into a tale of optimism as Fanboy realizes that some of the fundamental truths of his life might be based on falsehoods, like the ones he tells so easily throughout the novel.

Fanboy is a really great narrator with charm that comes through even when he is as his lowest as seen in “The Great Ecuadorian Tortoise Blight of 1928”–one of my most favorite passages.

And Goth Girl, well, she’s Goth Girl. Part catalyst, part friend, all angry, Goth Girl might just be the girl Fanboy never knew he always wanted. Or she might be a train wreck waiting to happen. Readers who feel the ending of her story is underdeveloped in this novel should also read this book’s recent sequel Goth Girl Rising (2009).

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going, Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

The Year My Sister Got Lucky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Year My Siser Got Lucky by Aimee FriedmanFourteen-year-old Katie Wilder has her whole world figured out. She and her older sister Michaela are best friends and ballerinas at a prestigious dance school in New York City. Their futures are mapped out as minutely as the New York City Subway system. They are City Girls, born and bred, and neither Wilder sister would have it any other way in The Year My Sister Got Lucky (2008) by Aimee Friedman.

That was August.

September finds the Wilder family moving upstate to the rural Adirondack town of Fir Lake.

Nothing is the way it was in the City. Everyone knows Katie’s name (even if they can’t actually pronounce “Katya”) and her background. Neighbors say hello and the entire town is excited about a mysterious event referred to only as “Homecoming.” In a town where everyone knows everyone, Katie feels like a stranger.

To make matters worse, Michaela has no such problems. Overnight it seems like Michaela has made a place for herself in Fir Lake finding popular friends, joining Yearbook, and even dating the gorgeous quarterback.

The harder Katie clings to her memories of City life, the more Michaela adapts to life in Fir Lake, leaving Katie to wonder what happens when your home doesn’t feel like a home and your best friend starts to look like someone you don’t know.

As a City Girl myself, it was great to read Friedman’s evocative scenes early in The Year My Sister Got Lucky that so wonderfully capture the city I (gratefully) call home. While Friedman’s descriptions of New York City are pitch perfect, right down to the ballerinas the flock there for summer dance programs, she also captures what I imagine is an authentic picture of rural life. Even as Katie aches to be back in New York, Friedman shows the unique beauty that can be found in a dark sky lit by stars instead of skyscrapers.

More than that, this story is about growing up. While her sister blossoms in their bucolic town, Katie struggles to understand what being a teenaged girl really means.

The Year My Sister Got Lucky is also a fully developed look at a year in the life of the Wilder family. Friedman brings together a lot of different elements to create a story that is funny and insightful and strikingly genuine from every angle.

Possible Pairings: Tumbling by Caela Carter, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, The Inside of Out by Jenn Marie Thorne