Wither: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wither by Lauren DeStefanoIn four years Rhine Ellery will be dead. She is sixteen years old.

Thanks to failed genetic modifications the human race is dying off. Men have until 25; women succumb to the virus at 20. There is no cure. There is little hope.

Rhine was content to spend her remaining time at their house with her twin brother. It isn’t much of a life, but it is Rhine’s. Until it is taken from her.

Kidnapped and sold as a bride, Rhine wants for nothing in a new world of luxury and abundance. The only problem is that no level of finery can hide the truth: Rhine’s new home is a prison for her and her sister wives.

With time ticking away, Rhine is desperate to escape even as she wonders if it might make more sense to spend her final years in comfort instead of just scraping by in Wither (2011) by Lauren DeStefano.

Wither is the first book in DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy. It was also her first novel.

DeStefano’s writing is on point as Rhine describes a broken and ruined world. With so much to fear, so much bleakness, Wither still expertly highlights the small moments of hope and beauty that Rhine encounters in her new life.

The world building here is handled well with just enough explanation of new technology and back story to make the story plausible without bogging the story down in excess information.

Unfortunately a story that starts strong with tension and suspense begins to drag inexorably in the middle of the story as the focus shifts from the outside world Rhine’s suffocating new home with her abductor-husband.

While everything is here to make the book sensational, Wither started to feel anti-climactic as Rhine struggles again and again against her new life only to be thwarted in all of her escape attempts. Although some of the story is left up in the air, this book functions fairly well on its own for readers who may not follow the rest of the series.

No matter if Wither wins you over, this book proves that DeStefano is an author to watch and with a second series starting with Perfect Ruin, now might be the perfect time to give her books a try!

Possible Pairings: Crewel by Gennifer Albin, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Legend by Marie Lu, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Divergent by Veronica Roth

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Darker Still: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Darker Still by Leanna Renee HieberOddities have always clung to Natalie Stewart. Some are tame like the art objects her father collects for the new Metropolitan Museum. Some are stranger like the Whisper that sometimes tugs at the edge of her hearing.

Some are so terrifying that they took Natalie’s voice, leaving her Mute from a young age.

Then there are the things that defy all description like the portrait of Lord Denbury–a painting that seems to call to her, changing as if Lord Denbury himself were beckoning Natalie.

Stranger still, when Natalie answers the call of the portrait she finds much more than a painting. Soon she is drawn into the uneasy world of magic and possession where paintings can act as traps and a body can be stolen with the right words.

In this dangerous word Natalie may love and even her voice. But other, darker things, may find her as well in Darker Still (2011) by Leanna Renee Hieber.

Darker Still is the first in Hieber’s Darker Still trilogy, followed by The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart and The Double Life of Incorporate Things which is currently being presented in serialized form on Hieber’s blog (and will culminate with the publication of the complete novel).

For obvious reasons, Darker Still is an epistolary novel–written as Natalie’s diary. The format makes sense and provides opportunities for interesting passages of time and an interplay between “present” moments and Natalie’s narrative asides. However during high action sequences the journal entry form does stretch the limits of believability as Natalie rushes to jot down key scenes.

Hieber’s writing is delightful with Natalie’s breezy, sometimes even impertinent, tone. Natalie is refreshingly brash and independent as she does a lot of the wrong things throughout the plot (for all of the right reasons). Being Mute, Natalie’s narration also offers a unique perspective on life in general and specifically 1880 New York.

While Natalie shines as a heroine, the format and pacing of Darker Still did not leave much room to build up the setting as a backdrop for the story. The journal also created limitations in pacing as Natalie “rushes” to write everything down.

While Denbury is an admirable male lead in terms of looks and personality, his immediate connection with Natalie felt almost too immediate. It works because the entire novel is a bit of a whirlwind but if you think too much about their connection it starts to fall apart.

Darker Still is a fun, generally satisfying, riff on themes found in many a gothic classic with obvious nods to The Picture of Dorian Gray. A great read for anyone eager to try reading historical fantasy, gothic tales of suspense and even steampunk.

Possible Pairings: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, Dracula by Bram Stoker, Starry Nights by Daisy Whitney

Planesrunner: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Planesrunner by Ian McDonaldPlanesrunner by Ian McDonald (2011)

I liked a lot of things about the basic premise of this story. It seemed to have a lot of potential–a book about many worlds and a device to navigate them? Cool! A thoughtful main character who likes to cook and play video games? Rad. De facto diversity? Awesome! Even with some fairly obvious hints to Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and the TV shows Sliders and Stargate, Planesrunner sounded like a good time.

Unfortunately this one never quite hit the mark. MacDonald seemed to have an idea of what a teen narrator should do and think and seemed to be checking marks off as Everett does all of these strange things in the narrative with random sound effects and a really annoying habit of providing a nickname for literally every character Everett meets.

I tend to be wary of adult authors trying to transition into YA writing because more often than not something gets lost on the way as if the author is so used to writing older characters that they are unsure how to transition. I really felt that here. Everett’s behaviors and decisions were very erratic–either too mature or too immature for his given age.

Uneven pacing and odd writing choices made for an uneasy read. The plot picked up significantly in the second half but problems remained as the story continued to feel like two books slapped together. What I mean is there is a very clear direction in the first half of the story and then priorities and focus shift very suddenly in the second half. (Speaking of the second half, McDonald also includes Pallari in the latter part of the novel which is really interesting but requires a lot of glancing at the dictionary in the back.)

I can see this book appealing to fans of pure science fiction as the plot here hits all the marks. Fans of A Confusion of Princes may also see some appeal here. That said, Planesrunner isn’t the smoothest read and it isn’t always easy to connect with Everett though I’m sure readers who finish the story will be rewarded and likely look forward to continuing with the series.

Forsythia & Me: A Picture Book (Chick Lit Wednesday!) Review

Forsythia does things that amaze Chester. She has prize-winning purple roses that she can make bloom in winter. She performs in the circus and at the ballet. She has even tamed the animals at the zoo so that they never arrive late for tea. One day when Forsythia wakes up with a cold, Chester discovers he can be amazing too in Forsythia & Me (2011) by Vincent X. Kirsch.

Forsythia  & Me is one of my favorite stories to read aloud at story time. With a great example of positive roles for boys and girls, humor, and fun text and drawings this one is a definite winner.

Kirsch’s illustrations combine delicately detailed line drawings with looser touches of water color paint. The combination creates bold page spreads with characters that stand out in bright, cheerful colors.

Kirsch’s story has the feel of a tall tale as Chester details Forsythia’s many exploits. At least until Forsythia gets sick. Then Chester (and readers) comes full circle, realizing that any number of things can be amazing when it comes to cheering up a friend.

Forsythia & Me brings together a charming story and intricate illustrations to create a delightful book about two equally amazing friends.

Possible Pairings: Boy + Boy by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino, Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship by Edward Hemingway, Ladybug Girl by David Soman and Jacky Davis, Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator by Mo Willems

You can also read my exclusive interview with Vincent X. Kirsch starting October 18, 2012!

Junonia: A (younger) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Junonia by Kevin HenkesAlice Rice knows everything about her family’s trip to Florida this year will be different. She is going to be ten–double digits–and that is a very important change. Maybe she’ll even find a rare Junonia seashell during their trip. After all, when you turn ten, anything is possible.

But as old friends fail to arrive and new visitors run the risk of ruining everything, Alice starts to wonder if her tenth birthday will be memorable for all of the wrong reasons in Junonia (2011) by Kevin Henkes.

With end papers and chapter caps illustrated by Henkes, the book brings Alice’s trip and her story to life. With his meditative, deliberate writing Henkes has created a story that perfectly captures the excitement and, yes, sometimes the sadness that comes with being a young child.

Junonia is a subtle, understated book. Focusing more on vignettes of Alice’s trip than on a singular plot, the book might not appeal to children looking for action or page-turning excitement. Readers who do stick with the story will be rewarded with a charmingly contemplative and at times effervescent book.

Possible Pairings: Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall, Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary, Fashion Kitty by Charise Mericle Harper

 

Don’t Expect Magic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Delaney Collins knows that happily ever after is a joke. Things don’t end happily and she certainly isn’t living in a fairy tale. Not when her mom is dead and she is being forcibly moved across the country to live with her life coach father “Dr. Hank” in California.

Some happy ending.

Life in California is not what Delaney expected.  Everything is bright and shiny. Keeping a low profile at school is impossible when everyone from head cheerleader Cadie to yearbook geek Flynn wants to be her friend. (Until she disabuses them of such notions at least.) And Dr. Hank is keeping a secret about what he really does to help his “clients” in need of life coaching.

A really big secret.

Turns out Dr. Hank is really a fairy godmother–granter of wishes, inhabitant of fairy tales everywhere. And the fairy godmother condition is hereditary. Meaning Delaney Collins, the girl with the fierce attitude and boots to match is a fairy godmother with wishes of her own to grant. If she can ever get the hang of her powers, that is.

As Delaney struggles to help her first client she realizes that sometimes even a fairy godmother needs a wish of her own in Don’t Expect Magic (2011) by Kathy McCullough.

Don’t Expect Magic is McCullough’s first novel.

This story is really sweet hold the saccharin. Delaney is a no nonsense narrator with great taste in footwear even if it does take her a while to develop her taste for good friends. McCullough’s writing is spot-on capturing Delaney’s initial surly mood as well as her transformation throughout the story.

Though I would have loved more background about fairy godmother-ness, Don’t Expect Magic remains a clever reinterpretation of one of the most ubiquitous fairy tale characters of all time. In addition to having a fun setting and premise, this book shines as a story about adapting and moving on–even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

Part modern fairy tale, part journey Don’t Expect Magic is a delightful book for anyone waiting for their happy ending. (And even anyone who already has their happy ending too.)

Possible Pairings: Waiting For You by Susane Colasanti, Donorboy by Brendan Halpin, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding

Every Other Day: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (2011)

Every Other Day by Jennifer Lynn BarnesAfter reading and loving Barnes’ Trial by Fire I decided to pick up Barnes’ latest (standalone) book even though the mechanics of Kali’s day-to-day change gave me pause. My expectations were probably too high and too reliant on comparisons to Barnes Raised by Wolves series.

Kali’s shift every other day between human and more than human was a great premise and made for an interesting premise. No one writes tough, action-ready heroines better than Barnes. That said, having Kali transform every other day into a super hunter made it really hard to connect with her character even as I wanted to sympathize with her feelings of being torn in two by the constant changing.

The pieces just didn’t come together as well as I wanted them to between slow pacing in the beginning and an ending that felt unsatisfying. While the alternate history Barnes created is genius, the characters and story did not stand up to the Raised by Wolves standard. This book does still have all of the pieces for a great action-filled, girl power-ed story. It will appeal strongly to fans of Buffy, adventure, and Barnes’ signature mix of sharp-tongued heroines and action.