The Carbon Diaries 2015: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci LloydIn 2015 the UK becomes the pilot country for a program to ration carbon in an attempt to stave of the catastrophic climate change that has already lead to super storms and other natural disasters.

Laura Brown uses her diary to make sense of the chaos and keep herself sane in this strange new landscape with minimal heat, carbon ration cards, blackouts and worse.

With everything changes so quickly, will Laura and her family make it through their first year of rationing? Will the coutnry? Only time will tell in The Carbon Diaries 2015 (2008) by Saci Lloyd.

The Carbon Diaries 2015 is Lloyd’s first book about Laura Brown’s experiences with carbon rationing. The story continues in The Carbon Diaries 2017.

Originally published in 2008, The Carbon Diaries 2015 has only become more timely and plausible in 2015. That said, there is something very on the nose in reading a “futuristic” book during the year in which it is set (or after).

Because The Carbon Diaries 2015 is written as Laura’s diary it is sometimes hard to get a sense of her character. Generally, Laura reads very young although that works in the book’s favor as it has fairly broad age appeal.

Lloyd does an excellent job of bringing Laura’s eerie world to life with all of the madness and troubles that come with carbon rationing. It is this evocative prose that save the novel from being relegated to nothing more than a message-driven allegory for readers used to living in a world of chronic over-consumption.

Although The Carbon Diaries 2015 is a slight read beyond the obvious ecological messages, it’s still an entertaining read. Recommended readers looking for something new after reading all the bigger name post-apocalyptic novels.

Possible Pairings: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow,  The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, Empty by Suzanne Weyn

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A Curse As Dark as Gold: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. BunceWhen their father dies suddenly, Charlotte Miller and her younger sister Rose are left in charge of the family mill. With it comes the large responsibility of seeing to the mill’s numerous employees as well.

The Millers are not known for their good fortune. Some even claim that the family has been cursed though Charlotte is loathe to put any stock in such silly superstitions. Still, the mill’s usual problems seem to multiply dangerously after Charlotte takes charge. Mending broken equipment and painting faded walls can only go so far, however, when Charlotte learns that her father also left behind a shocking debt.

Desperate to save the mill and protect those who work there, Charlotte enters into a dangerous bargain with a man known merely as Jack Spinner. But every bargain comes with a price. As the stakes grow higher, Charlotte begins to realize that saving her mill may jeopardize everyone she holds dear in A Curse as Dark as Gold (2008) by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a loose retelling of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. It is Bunce’s first novel and winner of the 2009 William C. Morris Debut Award.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a lush and well-researched historical novel with just a hint of fantasy to better accommodate the fairytale retelling aspect. Bunce’s prose is immediately evocative and brings Charlotte’s village and the mill to life.

Fairy tales in general, but especially Rumpelstiltskin, are often very black and white, making it easy to tell exactly who the villain is. A Curse as Dark as Gold complicates things with rich, thoughtful characters who raise interesting questions throughout the narrative. While there are some decidedly bad choices and terrible acts, no one is ever completely bad anymore than they are entirely good.

Despite the vibrant settings and compelling characters, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a slow read. While the pacing allows readers to really know Charlotte and her world, the novel doesn’t get to the actual plot (not to mention the retelling aspect) until the second half of the novel.

It is also impossible to ignore the fact that a significant number of problems for the characters could have been avoided with good communication. At several points throughout the novel, if Charlotte had chosen to talk to anyone about even half of what she had done or suspected, the entire plot could have easily been resolved. Instead Charlotte clings stubbornly to her pride and a foolish belief that, as head of the mill, she is meant to deal with all of the Miller’s problems entirely on her own.

Plot aside, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a beautifully written and very solid historical novel, making it easy to understand why it garnered the Morris win in 2009. Despite its interesting take on Rumpelstiltskin and a charmingly romantic plot thread, this novel remains a slow and often dense read. Recommended for readers who enjoy strong writing and well-rounded characters. A Curse as Dark as Gold will hold particular appeal for readers who can ignore weak plot points in favor of dazzling prose.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Beauty by Robin McKinley, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Shift: A Review

Shift by Jennifer BradburyChris didn’t know what to expect when he and his best friend Win began their cross-country bike ride the summer after high school graduation. Chris had made all of the needed preparations from packing food to making sure his bicycle was balanced. He made sure Win did the same.

And most of the trip was everything Chris hoped it would be. More, even, than he could imagine when they started the trip in West Virginia.

Until everything started to go wrong.

Fast forward to the weeks after the trip:

After they part ways, Chris finishes the ride in Seattle and hops a bus back home with a week to spare before starting college.

Chris assumes that Win does the same thing.

Chris is wrong.

Now Chris is being hounded by Win’s influential and severely upset father, federal agents and who knows who else. Everyone wants to find Win and bring him home. Chris, in particular, wants answers. He is owed answers. But before Chris can even try to find Win he’ll have to rethink everything about their fateful trip in Shift (2008) by Jennifer Bradbury.

Shift is Bradbury’s first novel.

Shift is a deceptively simple mystery. With chapters alternating between Chris’ current situation getting settled at college and flashbacks to his disastrous road trip with Win, Bradbury presents a surprisingly faceted image of both boys. Expertly handled exposition highlights the changes in both Win and Chris over the course of the trip.

Although the story very much focuses on Chris, and to a lesser extent Win, Bradbury still manages to add some diversity to the cast and also present effective, well-realized female characters in secondary roles.

The clues Chris follows as he tries to figure out the truth behind Win’s disappearance often feel obvious. However they all still build to a satisfying conclusion as Chris works toward the truth. This character-driven story is as much a tense mystery as it is a coming of age story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, Racing California by Janet Nichols Lynch, I am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The Spectacular Now: A Review

“Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of my own spectacular now.”

The Spectacular Now by Tim TharpSutter Keeley is  great in his own mind. Larger than life, always the life of the party. Sutter is, surely, as irresistible as he is wise.

The reality, unsurprisingly, is a little different. What Sutter defines as a life as “god’s own drunk” is a boilerplate drinking problem. The rest of Sutter’s charms are debatable at best and vary wildly depending on if you’re asking one of his beautifully amicable ex-girlfriends, his family who is legitimately worried, or his friends.

Sutter is content to live the moment, whether it involves trying to win back his gorgeous, fat ex-girlfriend Cassidy or befriending the mousy, painfully nerdy Aimee, or getting a drink. The problem with living in the moment is that eventually everyone else starts to pass you by in The Spectacular Now (2008) by Tim Tharp.

Your reaction to this book is going to depend a lot on how you feel about Sutter. Tharp provides another fine addition to the already well-populated world of lovable alcoholics in fiction. The problem–not just here but in general–is that this general affability belies the fact that alcoholics are train wrecks and only very rarely lovable.

There are no consequences for Sutter in his own mind or in real life. Drunk driving never leads to an arrest or even a ticket. Drinking only impairs his judgement so far as it needs to go for the plot. While no story needs to have a message or a moral, it felt strangely one-sided to read this story and watch Sutter skate through life on his charms, his flask, and very little else.

Following the story thread with Aimee and Sutter, it’s possible to argue that Sutter is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy meant to flit through life, fall in love and leave his love interest the better for their acquaintance. Except Sutter is a really terrible MPDB and profoundly bad at making anyone’s life better.

The other reading, the one I favor, is that Sutter is a sociopath. Everything in the narrative is sinister. Sutter is sinister. Ideas and themes are touched upon but never fleshed out enough to really matter or leave an impact. Sutter’s unreliable narration raises more questions than the story ultimately answers.

While Tharp’s writing is excellent and completely on-point The Spectacular Now is lacking in character development and, on a smaller level, heart. With a narrative that reads more as a mid-life crisis than teenage unrest, this book is interesting but ultimately frustrating.

Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Slumming by Kristen D. Randle, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Wild Awake by Hillary T. Smith, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

The Silver Linings Playbook: A (book and movie) Review

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew QuickPat believes in happy endings. Even in the slightly messed up movie of his own life. When he can finally leave the bad place, Pat is sure that Apart Time with his beautiful wife is about to end. The movie has gone on long enough. It’s time for his happy ending.

To prove that Pat deserves his happy ending, he is doing all of the right things. He is trying to be kind instead of right. He is working out to get in better shape. He is reading literature so he and his wife will have things to talk about. He is even taking his meds (mostly).

But while Pat is desperate for Apart Time to end, distractions keep getting in the way. First he meets Tiffany–who is crazy. Crazier that Pat by a lot. Who insists on being his friend. Then he somehow becomes a part of his family’s complex game day rituals to cheer on the Eagles every Sunday.

Then things get really weird. Kenny G–the man Pat fears above all others–keeps turning up at inopportune moments. He is somehow part of a dance recital. And the Eagles might not make it to the playoffs at all.

Pat believes in happy endings. He knows he deserves his happy ending. What Pat doesn’t know is what to do when the happy ending he hoped for is the exact opposite of the one he might get in The Silver Linings Playbook (2008) by Matthew Quick.

If Matthew Quick is a rockstar writer, this book is his gold record complete with a cover (in the form of a movie adaptation).

I saw the movie for my birthday earlier this year and I really loved it. After seeing One Day in theaters and watching a character get hit by a bus, I had been weary of “grown up” movies (and books for that matter) but after some research I determined there weren’t any freak accidents in this story so I was good to go. Already being a fan of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, I was ready to be impressed by the movie. And I was. Everything worked and everything came together to make a charming and engaging story.

Much later (because of the huge library hold queue) I was able to pick up a copy of the book that inspired the movie.

There are quite a few differences. The plot was tightened up and stretched for the movie to make it more cinematic (and plot-driven since we can’t just listen to Pat talk for two hours on-screen). The changes made sense and, above all, they worked for the new medium. The result was a book that was still gripping and incredibly well-written but a movie that was a bit more whimsical.

While the film touches the surface of Pat and Tiffany’s problems, the book shows that these characters are really broken. There are missing pieces, and parts that don’t fit, and they’re just trying to hold it all together one day at a time. That messiness isn’t as prevalent in the movie.

The main reason I enjoyed this book is its optimism. Pat’s a mess. Tiffany is a disaster. But they’re trying. They might even be learning. Along the way Pat has several pitfalls but he also makes friends and finally makes it to his own happy ending in a way that feels natural while still leaving room for the sense of wonder that Pat manages to find in even the smallest of silver linings.

Take Me There: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Take Me There by Susane ColasantiRhiannon is crushed after the breakup with her boyfriend. Even worse than being dumped is the fact that she still had no idea why it’s over. (And that she still wants him back.) Her best friend James doesn’t understand why Ree wasted her time with such a loser to begin with. Nicole doesn’t either, but when Ree comes up with a risky scheme to get her ex back, how can Nicole say no?

Nicole knows all about boyfriends and breakups. Luckily she’s still friends with her ex Danny even if he is crazy into politics. Not that it matters, Nicole only has eyes for her new crush even if it does have to be a huge secret. Even if the crush might be a way to avoid confronting her past.

All James really wants is to have enough money to buy a huge apartment where everyone will just leave him alone. But for now, he’s working on earning a college scholarship and getting on with his life. Even if he does have to do that without his girlfriend after she freaks out about his friendship with Rhiannon (again). So what if they have tons in common and always hang out? It’s not like he wants to date Ree, isn’t it?

As if things aren’t complicated enough, the school’s resident mean girl (and skank) takes it upon herself to ruin Ree’s life. Which is absolutely not going to happen if her friends have anything to do with it. What starts as a plan to get some karmic retribution might also get Rhiannon, Nicole and James exactly what they need in Take Me There (2008) by Susane Colasanti.

Take Me There is broken into two parts. Each part is broken into three sections–one narrated by Rhiannon, Nicole or James who each tell sections of the story from their own points of view. In one sense this gives readers three stories in one but it also creates a larger, more detailed story as readers work through the entire book.*

What I liked particularly about Take Me There is that it isn’t just a romance. Colasanti tackles a lot of different plot points to create a rich, complex story. The interconnected narratives also makes for a multi-faceted plot with lots of details for close readers to notice.

All three characters are a lot of fun, each with their own unique voice and different takes on events of the book. (James in particular was a blast–I wish I’d thought of Mr. Inappropriate Alert Guy myself. Dude!) By the end Colasanti weaves together all of the plot threads to create a gratifying story about karmic retribution of epic (and hilarious) proportions and also not one but two charming love stories in Take Me There.

*The book design is also great with subtle differences for each character. Totally impressive.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Heist Society by Ally Carter, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, The Lonely Hearts Club by Elizabeth Eulberg, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga**, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith

**Really it’s any books by Barry Lyga or all of them. He does similar stuff with dual narratives and interconnected stories.

Exclusive Bonus Content: One of my all-time favorite songs also plays a kind of major role in the plot! (And reminded me I need to get it on my ipod stat.) You can check out Colasanti’s website for the playlist she made for the book–including the majorly important song whose name I am not going to share so you’ll have to read the book.

How to Ditch Your Fairy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Ditch Your Fairy by Justine LarbalestierWelcome to New Avalon, the best city in the world–just ask any of its residents. New Avalon has the most important celebrities, the tallest buildings, and the best slang. It also has the best sports school in the country, but you probably already knew that since it has a reputation for training future famous athletes by the truckload.

As far as fourteen-year-old Charlie is concerned life in New Avalon is just about perfect, especially now that she’s getting to know here totally pulchy and crush-worthy new neighbor Stefan. The only real problem is Charlie’s parking fairy.

It’s not that fairies are uncommon, far from it. Many New Avaloners have fairies that help with everything from finding loose change to finding the perfect clothes. Some fairies make people charming and famous, some keep them from ever getting cold or losing their grip. Charlie’s fairy helps her find a perfect parking space anywhere, any time.

Charlie can’t drive. Charlie hates cars. Charlie is tired of always smelling vaguely of  gasoline. And Charlie is sick of being passed around to her all of her neighbors going to the doctor or some other important appointment where they need to find good parking.

Charlie is desperate to get rid of her fairy through any means necessary. And sometimes desperate people do stupid things like refusing to help one of the most important people in school and teaming up with their archenemy (and even a few other, more dangerous, things). Only time will tell if it will all be enough to solve Charlie’s parking problem in How to Ditch Your Fairy (2008) by Justine Larbalestier.

Larbalestier splits her time between Australia and the United States (specifically New York City) and has written books set in both countries. How to Ditch Your Fairy is set in neither. Instead, Larbalestier has created an imaginary country; an amalgam of the two. The effect is rather like being thrown into the deep end of the pool to learn to swim. The setting, the slang, and the culture are utterly alien and initially quite confusing. (The book includes a character as clueless as some readers will feel about the ways of New Avalon as well as several helpful glossaries at the end of the book.)

While the total immersion is a little daunting at first, it helps get right to the action of the story. Larbalestier introduces a fascinating and foreign city readers will love learning about throughout the story. Even though New Avalon doesn’t exist outside of this story, it feels like it does thanks to Larbalestier’s expert depiction.

Charlie is also a refreshing addition to the already rich cadre of young adult heroines. She eats, drinks and breathes sports (like most of her fellow students). Charlie’s passion for sports is embedded in every part of How to Ditch Your Fairy but there is more to the story, and the heroine, than sports. Some readers will fully identify with Charlie and her enthusiasm for all things sports. Others will appreciate her eagerness because it so clearly reflects the fierce commitment needed to follow a dream.

How to Ditch Your Fairy starts with a familiar girl, a character you could have met anywhere, but by the end of the story it will be clear that this book is completely original and completely entertaining.

Possible Pairings: Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Jungle Crossing by Sydney Salter

Exclusive Bonus Content: I had the very, very, very good fortune of talking to Justine Larbalestier at a signing event at Books of Wonder a few weeks ago (right before making a fool of myself in front of Scott Westerfeld, but that’s a different story) and mentioned to her my appreciation of her frank discussion of the problems surrounding the cover for her latest book, Liar. (Sound unfamiliar? I talk about it my review of the book and here as well.) Anyway, we got to talking and Larbalestier said she favored the Australian version of the cover.

Before talking to her I’d had my own dilemma deciding whether to get a hardcover or paperback version of How to Ditch Your Fairy. I tend to prefer hardcovers in my personal collection and I ultimately bought that one because I decided I preferred that cover art (the top photo here). I still do, but after reading the book I’m torn because I think the paperback version (bottom photo) is more true the story even though both capture the “spirit” or the book in some sense. I also like that both version keep the same attractive color scheme. I’m happy with my choice (and that Ms. Larbalestier applauded the power of blogs in my copy!) but I decided I’d present you with both covers here to get a fuller sense of the overall package.