Chime: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I know you believe you’re giving me a chance–or, rather, it’s the Chime Child giving me the chance. She’s desperate, of course, not to hang an innocent girl again, but please believe me: Nothing in my story will absolve me of guilt. It will only prove what I’ve already told you, which is that I’m wicked.”

Chime by Franny BillingsleyBriony knows in her heart that every bad thing that has happened to her family is decidedly her fault. She looks sweet and innocent, the way her identical twin sister Rose looks when she isn’t screaming. But Briony knows that she is a blight on her family and probably on Swampsea as a whole–her stepmother made sure she knew.

Now Briony’s stepmother is dead and Briony is waiting to be hanged for her misdeeds. There are several places her story could start but it seems fitting, in its own way, to start with Eldric’s arrival because doesn’t every story truly begin when a good looking young man appears? Didn’t Briony’s fragile grasp on her life begin to crumble the moment she first saw his sunshine smile and his lion hair? in Chime (2011) by Franny Billingsley.

Chime was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Chime is a circuitous and layered novel written in Briony’s complicated first person narration. Long, winding sentences filled with tangents and asides lend this book the feel of a stream of consciousness and creates a strong textuality to the book.

Briony is a complex character. The loops and whorls of her consciousness are dense and exhausting to read. Just keeping up with Briony’s narration is a feat let alone penetrating it enough to get at what she is sharing and, often more importantly, what she is not sharing as she relates her story.

Chime takes place in an alternate historical England. Magic and magical creatures still flourish but industrialization is beginning to take hold in the form of electric lights and other technical wonders like metal paperclips. The contrasts between the fantastical and the technological are further emphasized in the dichotomy between Briony and Eldric as they try to make sense of each other.

Because of the peculiarities of the narrative and Briony’s initially cutting personality, Chime isn’t a book for everyone. Although it is a fantasy first and foremost, it is also a thoughtful romance and a bit of a mystery as readers unravel what brought Briony to the point of requesting she be hanged posthaste. Readers who can engage with the text and adjust to the writing style will enjoy the world building, the stories within stories, and the twists to be found.

Briony’s story is all about self-care and self love. Along the way, thanks to the vagaries of life and the calculated moves of certain characters, Briony loses sight of who she used to be and who she can become. Chime is about Briony’s journey to rediscover that lost girl of her youth and also to redeem herself–not in the eyes of others but simply for herself.

Best suited to readers who appreciate acerbic wit, rich fantasies, and multifaceted tales.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, I, Coriander by Sally Gardner, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Hunter’s Moon by O. R. Melling, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

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Blood Red Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Lugh got born first. On Midwinter Day when the sun hangs low in the sky. Then me. Two hours later.

“That pretty much says it all.

“Lugh goes first, always first, an I follow on behind.

“An that’s fine.

“That’s right.

“That’s how it’s meant to be.”

Blood Red Road by Moira YoungAll Saba ever needs is to know that her twin brother Lugh is by her side. With him near, Saba can handle the annoyances of her younger sister Emmi; the loss of her mother, who died birthing Emmi; and even the madness that is slowing pulling their father under.

When Lugh is abducted by four horsemen, he tells Saba to keep Emmi safe. But they both know she won’t. Not when Saba promises to follow him–to find him–no matter what.

She’ll follow Lugh into the lawless, wild world beyond her family homestead. In hunting for Lugh she will begin to understand some hard  truths about herself and her sister. She’ll find a gang of warriors and a daredevil who makes her heart flutter. In searching for her twin brother, Saba might even find a way to change her world forever in Blood Red Road (2011) by Moira Young.

Blood Red Road is Young’s debut novel and the start of her Dust Lands trilogy which continues with Rebel Heart and Raging Star.

Blood Red Road is an interesting novel set at the end of the world. Saba’s first person narration clearly brings her stark world to life with hints like ruined skyscrapers and useless books that suggest the world that might have come before.

Books are obsolete in this novel and, perhaps as a direct result, the spoken word and Saba’s narration have a very distinct cadence to them. The entire novel is written in Saba’s dialect as if she were telling the story directly to the reader. Words often have phonetic spelling and Saba’s speech sounds like nothing so much as a character in a twang-filled western. The prose is sparse and often reads like a verse novel with dialogue interspersed throughout without quotation marks or other punctuation to pull them out of the text. While this formatting is jarring at first, it eventually becomes a seamless part of the story and makes Blood Red Road a very fast read.

Saba is an interesting heroine in that she is resilient and inspiring while also being ruthless and often deeply flawed. For a lot of the novel, Saba wants nothing to do with her sister Emmi (to the point of putting the younger girl in very real danger) as she keeps a singular focus on her efforts to rescue Lugh. Young handles Saba’s growth as she learns more about the world (and herself, and her family) throughout the novel expertly to create a character transformation that is authentic and inspiring.

While some aspects of the world building remain murky–particularly in relation to the overarching villain that Saba will be dealing with for the rest of the novel–Blood Red Road is a solid dystopian and a very unique addition to the genre. Recommended for readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic tales with a survivalist slant.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy, Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

A Long, Long Sleep: A Review

alonglongsleepRosalinda Fitzroy is used to sleeping in suspended animation. She never spends too long in stass. Not long enough to cause any real problem.

When Rose wakes up this time, everything is different.This time she isn’t woken by her parents. Instead a strange boy seems to be kissing her.

She is still sixteen-years-old, or at least her body is, but she has been asleep for sixty-two years. Everyone she knew is gone. Everything from Rose’s old life is a distant memory, forever erased by the Dark Times that came while she remained in her forgotten stasis tube. With no friends left and no one to depend on, Rose looks to the boy who woke her for support as she tries to move forward.

When a deadly threat targets Rose, she realizes that her past isn’t as distant as she thought. If she wants any hope of a future, Rose will have to confront her past in A Long, Long Sleep (2011) by Anna Sheehan.

A Long, Long Sleep is Sheehan’s first novel. It also has a companion sequel called No Life But This.

Sheehan delivers an interesting spin on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale in this science fiction retelling. Instead of focusing on the prince or waking the princess, this novel examines what comes next. Including some things that are not easy to read.

Rose’s body is ravaged by her time in stasis. Her recovery is slow and often frustrating or even painful. It is a long, realistic process and one that is not even finished by the end of the novel.

The story of Rose’s present and her past unfold simultaneously with interspersed memories and flashbacks to her life before being in stasis for sixty-two years.The world building for this futuristic society is not always solid. Sheehan includes jarring, and often useless, bits of slang along with huge chunks of information (while still having gaps in other areas). However, because of the narrative’s tight focus on Rose these problems do make sense in the larger context of the novel.

Early in the story it becomes clear that Rose isn’t remembering everything and is not, therefore, passing everything on to readers. This unreliability and suspense lends an eerie quality to the narrative as readers, and Rose herself, wonder what really happened to keep her in stasis for so long.

Although Rose spends much of the narrative understandably adrift, she is a strong heroine. This novel comes to a powerful conclusion as Rose confronts her past and finally is able to make her own choices about her future. A Long, Long Sleep is a unique and sharp retelling as well as a harrowing tale of survival.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Sleepless by Cyn Balog, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Cut Me Free by J. R. Johansson, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas, Lotus and  Thorn by Sarah Wilson Etienne, The Program by Suzanne Young, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

The Time-Traveling Fashionista On Board the Titanic: A Review

timetravelfashionistatitanicTwelve-year-old Louise Lambert loves all things vintage. Her mother and her best friend Brooke don’t see the appeal of wearing someone’s old, used clothes but Louise adores the charm and glamor that comes from putting together the just-right vintage ensemble.

When Louise receives a strange invitation to a vintage fashion sale, she knows it will be the perfect place to find a dress for the upcoming school dance. While the traveling vintage isn’t exactly as sleek or well-organized as Louise thought, she does find the perfect dress.

After trying on a beautiful pink dress Louise finds herself magically transported through time to a luxurious cruise ship. Louise is more than willing to leave her boring, everyday life behind for a little while as a first class passenger with a promising acting career. The only problem is that Louise isn’t on just any ship–her magical dress has landed Louise on the Titanic in The Time-Traveling Fashionista On Board the Titanic (2011) by Bianca Turetsky with illustrations by Sandra Suy.

The Time-Traveling Fashionista On Board the Titanic is Turetsky’s first novel as well as the start to her Time-Traveling Fashionista series.

This book is a delightful blend of historical details with a time travel fantasy. Turetsky brings the world of the Titanic to life as readers experience the luxuries of first class travel on the cruise ship through Louise’s eyes.

Suy’s lush illustrations and the gorgeous book design add another special touch to this reading experience.

With adventure, fashion and a couple of crushes this is a fresh story that is ideal for both teen and tween readers.

Although many questions about the traveling vintage sale are left unanswered The Time-Traveling Fashionista On Board the Titanic is still a great standalone which even wraps up some of the story lines that were started on the Titanic in addition to Louise’s more immediate concerns with the school dance. This book promises many exciting things to come in future installments.

Possible Pairings: Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Check back starting tomorrow for my interview with the author!

Midwinterblood: A Review

“The sun does not go down.

“This is the first thing Eric Seven notices about Blessed Island. There will be many other strange things that he will notice, before the forgetting takes hold of him, but that will come later.”

Midwinterblood by Marcus SedgwickIn June 2073, Eric Seven arrives at Blessed Island chasing a story. It isn’t the first time his work as a journalist has brought him to the far reaches of society. Nor is it the first time he has encountered strange locals.

But as Eric investigates the strange island and a rare flower rumored to be found there, Eric also begins to feel a strange familiarity toward the island–especially toward a local woman named Merle.

As Eric and Merle come closer to the truth it becomes apparent that their journey, if it is a journey, is only just beginning. Or perhaps just nearing its conclusion in Midwinterblood (2011) by Marcus Sedgwick.

Midwinterblood was the winner of the Printz Award in 2014.

Midwinterblood presents seven intersecting stories of love, loss and rebirth in this deceptively slim volume. Although the stories vary in scope, all are grounded firmly in the landscape of Blessed Island where the more things change, the more some constants remain the same.

These stories span time and theme ranging from the unique problems faced by an archaeologist hoping to unearth a find to make a career to a story of two children in a viking colony plagued by an impossible monster. The loves presented here come in all forms with varying results for those involved.

Sedgwick presents a carefully plotted and delicate story over the course of this novel. It is very rare for a book to work as well when read forwards as it does read backwards, but Midwinterblood does just that. With plot points that transcend individual stories this is a rich, meditative story that begs to be read and read again.

Possible Pairings: The Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Mortal Fire by Elizabeth Knox, The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Imaginary Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It sounded impossible, something no one would believe if anyone other than Ruby were the one to tell it. But Ruby was right: The body found that night wouldn’t be, couldn’t be mine.”

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren SumaChloe’s older sister, Ruby, has said a lot of things over the years. She’s said that Chloe would never drown. She said she was there when Chloe first opened her eyes. Sometimes she would say that Chloe was her baby when Ruby herself was only five years old.

Everyone always believes Ruby. Believing her is easy.

Loving her is easy.

Anything Ruby wants, she can get. Until one night a party by the local reservoir goes horribly wrong and a dead girl is found floating in the water. The body of London Hayes does the unthinkable driving Ruby and Chloe apart when Chloe leaves.

Returning two years after that horrible night, Chloe finds that nothing is how it used to be in town anymore. Nothing, in fact, is quite right. Soon secrets, and even some lies, stack up between Chloe and Ruby that threaten to tear them apart. But bonds like theirs–like sisters who love each other better than anyone else–are not easily broken in Imaginary Girls (2011) by Nova Ren Suma.

Imaginary Girls is an eerie blend of suspense and magic realism. Suma’s prose is taut and filled with tension as narrator Chloe works to unravel the lies and secrets surrounding her larger than life big sister. Suma also weaves elements of a local legend into the story as Ruby (and by extension Chloe) become fascinated by the town of Olive–a town supposedly buried underwater when the area was flooded to create a new reservoir.

Filled with subtle writing that is equal parts vivid and razor sharp, Imaginary Girls is a surprising mystery that will keep readers guessing. There is a constant struggle here as Chloe works to determine what is real and what is something else. By creating a character like Ruby with so much power and charm throughout the novel, Suma offers a powerful commentary on the limits of both belief and persuasion in this story.

Imaginary Girls is a sophisticated book, a slow burn of a read that will linger. It’s impossible to say what, exactly, happens over the course of the novel. The entire plot lends itself to multiple interpretations and discussions. What is certain is that Imaginary Girls is filled with wit, humor and love. As much as this story can be a mystery or a thriller, what remains at the end of the novel is an ode to the enduring strength of sisterly love.

Possible Pairings: The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, Golden by Jessi Kirby, Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also read my exclusive interview with Nova about this book.

Where Things Come Back: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Where Things Come Back by John Corey WhaleyWhere Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (2011)

Lily, Arkansas is a hopeless place full of sad people who tried to leave but failed. Cullen Witter, like a lot of people, wants desperately to get out of this stifling small town. The summer before his senior year in high school Cullen sees his first corpse. Then he sees the body of his cousin who overdosed on drugs. Later, after the corpses and the end of school, the entire town becomes obsessed with a woodpecker–long thought extinct–who may or may not be hiding in the woods around Lily. Stranger still, Cullen’s brilliant brother, Gabriel, disappears.

Chapters from Cullen’s first person narration are interspersed with third-person narratives from two unlikely missionaries. Other reviews will talk about these stories entwining in strange and surprising ways. They might also call this novel a mystery. I disagree with both statements.

Whaley’s debut novel was the winner of both the 2012 Printz Award and the 2012 Morris Award. While the prose is extremely literary, I contend there is very little mystery in this story. The narratives are not particularly shocking in the ways in which they overlap or the general story. Given the plot structure, the big reveal was ultimately predictable.

Where Things Come Back is about nothing so much as it is about waiting. The town is waiting for a woodpecker to return and change its fate. Cullen is waiting for his chance to get away and also for a simpler but much harder thing: the return of his missing brother. There are interesting ideas to be unpacked in this world of waiting–ideas that Whaley does examine in interesting ways.

Unfortunately that is never quite enough to make the story into a page-turner or anything more than a thoughtful, brief, meditation on the randomness of life.

Writerly prose can be found throughout the story which works in some instances to help Cullen develop a very unique voice. At the same time, it always feels like this novel is trying very hard to be thoughtful and contemplative in a way that feels forced.

Cullen’s mind wanders throughout the narrative as he goes off on tangents. While these flights of fancy are amusing (as Cullen imagines his town overrun by zombies and the like) they distract from the plot immensely. The structure reminded me so much of the “If you give a mouse a cookie” books that it became the only thing I could imagine as I read these imaginings. Worse, these elements added nothing to the story except to create a titillating ending that leaves a tiny bit of room for discussion.

By the end of the story, Where Things Come Back became a strange and arbitrary novel with a mildly interesting (and very open) ending.