Princess of the Midnight Ball: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day GeorgeGalen is a soldier returning from war. At only nineteen he has been on the battleground most of his life. He is world-weary and eager to return to Westfalin and try his hand at civilian life now that the war is over.

Rose is one of the twelve princesses of Westfalin cursed to dance each night for the King Under Stone where they wear out their dancing slippers every evening. Unable to speak out about their nightly activities or defy the King Under Stone, Rose and her sisters suffer in silence.

Many princes try to discover where the princesses go each night. All of them fail.

As the stakes grow higher, Rose and Galen will have to work together to break the curse and save Westfalin from threats found both underground and above in Princess of the Midnight Ball (2009) by Jessica Day George.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is the first book in George’s trilogy of companion novels following the princesses of Westfalin. It is also a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” fairytale.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is written in the third person and alternates between Galen and Rose’s points of view to create two protagonists who are very authentic instead of relying on character archetypes. George also flips several standard fairytale tropes upside down with her refreshing and well-rounded characters. Galen is levelheaded and cautious while still having enough charm to rival any prince. He also knits his own socks. Rose is clever, sharp and decidedly proactive as she works independently of Galen to try and save her sisters.

Together Galen and Rose are unstoppable as they face faeries, curses and other ills besides in their efforts to break the curse and save Westfalin. Despite having numerous secondary characters–just with all of Rose’s sisters!–George manages to present concise snapshot descriptions for each character without bogging down the narrative. This story can also appeal to a broad age range as it’s thin on gore or violence with a lighter tone overall.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a delightful retelling that stays true to the source material while also adding original touches and memorable characters. A thrilling plot, sweet romance and genuinely scary villains make for a winning combination in this reinvented fairytale.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Toads & Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

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Ice: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ice by Sarah Beth DurstAs a girl, Cassie believed the story her grandmother told her. She believed that her mother was the daughter of the North Wind and a failed bargain with the Polar Bear King whisked her to the ends of the earth. For years, Cassie thought that one day she might be able to rescue her mother from the troll castle.

Cassie knows better now. Yes, her mother is gone. But Cassie has her father and their work at the Arctic research station where they live. Focused on her research of the local polar bear population and her ambitions to become a scientist, Cassie doesn’t have time for anything else–especially not fairy tales.

Everything Cassie has learned about the world and her own life is irrevocably changed when a polar bear speaks to her. He tells her that the stories about her mother really is alive and trapped at the end of the world. He tells Cassie that he will rescue her mother if Cassie agrees to marry him.

When Cassie accepts the polar bear’s bargain she will embark on her own journey through unbelievable wonders and countless dangers that will bring her east of the sun and west of the moon as she chases her truest desires for her future in Ice (2009) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Ice is a retelling of the Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” (Which itself is reminiscent of the myth of Cupid and Pysche.)

Durst blends pieces from the original fairy tale and blends them with elements from Inuit culture. Ice also expands the source material to add context for the presence of a Polar Bear King with an original mythology where the polar bear (called Bear) is a shape-shifting being called a munaqsri who harvests dying souls and distributes souls to newborns. Durst masterfully brings these varied elements together to create a story that is faithful to the source material while also being utterly unique.

Cassie is a headstrong and decidedly modern heroine. Even when she is thrust into an unfamiliar world where magic is real, Cassie learns to adapt and manipulate situations to her advantage. While her initial decision to marry Bear is a calculated one meant to bring her mother home, Cassie’s feelings evolve as she begins to imagine a previously impossible future for herself beside her new husband.

Ice thoughtfully explores issues of choice as Cassie is forced repeatedly to place a value on her own free will. When she is separated from Bear she faces numerous obstacles while constantly running up against the question of how much she is willing to sacrifice in her efforts to find and rescue him. In addition Ice includes a nuanced treatment of what it means to be part of a family as well as what it means to grow up–two things that are central to Cassie’s character development.

Ice is a clever and evocative fantasy retelling. Sure to appeal to fans of the original fairy tale as well as fantasy fans in general.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Fire by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, East by Edith Pattou, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce,  The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

Ten Cents a Dance: A Review

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine FletcherChicago, 1941: When her mother becomes too sick to work, Ruby Jacinski knows it’s her responsibility to look after the family and make sure money is coming in. Ruby doesn’t mind dropping out of school. But working in the factory just about kills her. Leave it to Ruby and her fiery temper to lose a sweet spot slicing bacon and end up working in Pig’s Feet.

When a local legend and all-around tough guy suggests that Ruby could use her talents as a dance teacher to earn some real dough, Ruby jumps at the offer. But teaching dancing is the last thing on the clients’ minds when Ruby begins working as a taxi dancer.

With no other choices, Ruby immerses herself into the world of taxi dancing and learns the fine art of drawing extra gifts in the form of meals, clothes and even cash from her clients. Soon, Ruby is making more money than she could have imagined. Soon Ruby realizes that the unsavory aspects of her work are starting to stick to her as much as the stink of pickled pig’s feet used to. With no one else to help, Ruby knows that it’s her choice to make another change for herself in Ten Cents a Dance (2009) by Christine Fletcher.

Ten Cents a Dance was partly inspired by one of the authors relatives as detailed in the author’s note at the end of the novel.

Fletcher offers a well-researched novel that brings the world of the Chicago Yards neighborhood to life. Ruby is a tough as nails heroine who isn’t afraid to make hard choices to get what’s coming to her. If Ruby is coarse or gritty during the story it is because she has to be to survive.

While Ruby’s decisions are often fueled by impulsive judgments of painfully naive notions, she is a very authentic heroine and one that readers will understand. Although Ruby makes mistakes again and again (and again) during the narrative she always owns up to the them. She always acknowledges what she did and works to make it right.

Ten Cents a Dance is a vivid story of the darker side of pre-war Chicago. Sure to appeal to readers looking for a noirish read they can sink their teeth into.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor

Wherever Nina Lies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn WeingartenEllie’s sister Nina disappeared two years ago.

Ellie isn’t sure who she is or what her life is supposed to be now that she doesn’t have her sister. Beautiful, artistic and a little wild, Nina is everything Ellie could want in an older sister. Ellie can only imagine what it must be like to be that kind of person.

Until Nina is gone. Then Ellie just wants her back. Even if two years later that is seeming less and less likely.

When Ellie finds a drawing that can only have been done by her sister, Ellie knows it’s a sign. Nina is out there somewhere and this is Ellie’s chance to make everything right. If she can follow the clues surely she can find Nina wherever she is and bring her home.

With the help of her mysterious crush, Ellie sets off on a road trip following Nina’s trail. Along the way she’ll meet some unlikely misfits and realize that she might be more like her sister than she thought in Wherever Nina Lies (2009) by Lynn Weingarten.

Wherever Nina Lies is Weingarten’s first novel.

Wherever Nina Lies is a fast-paced mystery that takes readers across the country and on an emotional roller coaster as Ellie unravels the truth about Nina’s disappearance. Weingarten weaves a masterful mystery filled with so many twists and unexpected turns that even when I skimmed ahead I was completely floored by the shocking finish.

In addition to a thrilling, satisfying mystery Wherever Nina Lies is filled with clever characters and exotic locations that bring Ellie’s journey to life. Flashbacks interspersed throughout Ellie’s search add a second dimension to the story as readers get a glimpse of the relationship Ellie and Nina shared as well as Ellie’s regrets when it comes to her sister.

With a unique voice and a tight plot, Wherever Nina Lies is a must read for readers who like a bit of suspense with their road trip adventures.

Possible Pairings: Frost by Marianna Baer, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Waiting For You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Waiting For You by Susane ColasantiMarisa is ready for her sophomore year to be different. After waiting for so long for the perfect person to come along and for the rest of her life to start, Marisa is tired of waiting. This is going to be her year. It has to be.

When cute, popular Derek asks Marisa out, it seems like her waiting really is over.

But it turns out, waiting or not, things don’t always go smoothly. Instead of living a dream, Marisa’s perfect family starts to shatter and dating Derek isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The only bright spot in what is turning out to be a way less than perfect year is DJ–the anonymous podcaster that the whole school listens to. Even when everything is a mess, DJ seems to understand exactly what Marisa and the rest of the school need to hear.

Even dealing with her lab partner/neighbor Cash is way harder than she thought filled with missed signals, confusion and a general pervading awkwardness. This is definitely not what Marisa has been waiting for in Waiting For You (2009) by Susane Colasanti.

Waiting For You is Colasanti’s third book. Like her others, it is also YA. Despite that, and the age of her narrator, this book felt much younger to me. If not for the focus on dating and relationships, I would have pegged this as a Middle Grade title rather than a Young Adult one.

While the story resonates with teens who share Marisa’s frustrations about waiting for something and seemingly never finding it, this was not my favorite Colasanti read. Although the story was interesting–Colasanti always manages to pack in a lot of fun extras besides the core story–I never connected with Marisa as a narrator.

Consequently, I’m sorry to say the story did not resonate with me. Marisa is immature and rash, jumping to random conclusions with seemingly no confirmation and missing other, larger, things completely. Other principal characters like Cash felt much more developed compared to Marisa, not to mention being more entertaining, despite Marisa being the one narrating the story.

Waiting For You has its fans, and it will appeal to some readers. For others, like me, it won’t. But that’s okay because Colasanti has a lot of other books that are sure to do the trick.

Possible Pairings: The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Blue Plate Special: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney1977. Elmira, New York: All Madeline wants to do is forget her life. She’d give anything to be like the popular cheerleaders at her high school. But she isn’t. She’s fat and homely. Her mother is a drunk. Music is the only thing that keeps her sane and food is the only thing that helps her forget how how empty she feels and how starved she is for just a little bit of affection. Living on Welfare, Madeline tries to keep her head down, hide her savings and look toward graduating and getting the hell away from her mother. At least until a counter boy at McDonald’s looks at her, really looks at her, the way no one, not even her own mother, ever has.

1993. Johnson City, New York: Desiree doesn’t really have plans for her future. She’ll probably graduate high school and then maybe she’ll move in with her boyfriend Jeremy. They can live next door to Carol Ann and Eric and everything will be chill. Beyond that the future is hazy. Except for one thing: Desiree knows she’ll be the best mom ever. She won’t be an asshole like her own mother. She won’t have a boyfriend like her mom’s  who keeps leering at her and trying to get her alone. Des won’t let anything happen to her little girl. Not like what happened to her.

2009. Poughkeepsie, New York: Ariel is pretty ordinary. Good grades, lots of AP classes and getting ready for the college crunch in her senior year. Sure her dad is in prison for murder and her mom works really hard. But those aren’t things she talks about. Still, none of that matters because Shane didn’t notice any of the other, prettier, girls at school. He noticed her. And yes it’s a lot of work remembering to wear clothes he’ll like and make time for him and keep him happy. But he’s worth it, isn’t he? At least, Ariel thinks he is. When her mother announces a sudden trip to see the sick grandmother Ariel has never met things suddenly start to seem a lot different not just with Shane but with her whole family in Blue Plate Special (2009) by Michelle D. Kwasney.

Blue Plate Special alternates each chapter between the three narrators (Madeline, Desiree and Ariel). Each heroine has her own unique voice and the characters all really stand out as individual people. Madeline and Ariel have their own distinct style of narration while Desiree’s sections are written in verse. All of the girls’ stories are compelling and poignant. The entire book is very well-written and Kwasney is clearly a very talented writer with a bright future.

That said, Blue Plate Special was a very hard book to read. It was extremely depressing partly because these are characters with hard, painful lives but also because a lot of their tragedies cannot be undone and, by the time the story is being told, redemption might be too far off to grab. The air of desperation that hangs around all of the characters was also a little hard to take. Parts of the story felt heavy handed, especially in Ariel’s sections, but the whole book was hard to take because it was so sad which may have played a part there as well.

Blue Plate Special is a good, literary book. It’s well-written and has a strong plot with context, subtext, emotion and a lot of substance. It’s the kind of young adult book one might easily recommend to a person who looks down their nose at young adult literature for being somehow less than when compared to “adult” literature.

Possible Pairings: Sleepless by Cyn Balog, How to (un)Cage a Girl by Francesca Lia Block, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford, Ariel by Sylvia Plath, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

Exclusive Bonus Content: Although it totally belies the crazy depressing story in some ways, I really like the cover design for this book because it speaks well to the upheaval and chaos so many of the characters experience. Amy E. Achaibou designed the jacket and it’s really quite clever. While the dust jacket shows a broken plate, the front of the actual book beneath the dust jacket (and the back flap beneath the author bio) show the plate intact. I could explain the elaborate metaphor this might be . . . but I won’t because catching that is part of the fun of reading this one.

Brain Jack: A (rapid fire) review

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner (2009)

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner This book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

I can see how Brain Jack would have some appeal and could be great for teens who are into computers or are reluctant readers. That said, I personally wasn’t very impressed with the book.

I thought it was too technical. I know nothing about computers but a lot of the stuff sounded downright made up in places and in other places sounded  like gibberish. It felt strange having people typing on a computer be high action and also Falkner at times made it seem like the characters were inside the computer which is jarring.

I personally was irritated when New York’s Avenue of the Americas was mentioned in the story, by a native New Yorker, when everyone who has been living here would only call it Sixth Avenue. Other elements also just felt out of place to me, like story threads that didn’t feel vital to the plot. (Examples: Vegas, Fargas, Vienna, Dodge’s dodgy tattoo ON HIS FOREHEAD.) Many of the characters also fell flat.

The prologue was poorly done and off putting. I got my copy from a friend who I’m sure also didn’t buy it. It was so strange having the prologue talk in depth about getting information from people who bought the book when I didn’t (and I’m sure a lot of people didn’t). Aside from completely disregarding libraries and borrowing books it brought me right out of the narrative since it was so not true for my experience. In tandem with the prologue I felt like the epilogue was too preachy and weirdly so. Neuro headsets don’t actually exist and the book is fiction, but then he is telling us he’ll be watching (much like Santa Claus)?

It just didn’t work for me.