Who Needs Magic?: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Who Needs Magic? by Kathy McCulloughDelaney Collins is ready to embrace her inner fairy godmother (f. g.) and grant some big wishes. But three months after granting her first big wish, Delaney is no closer to finding her next client.

Aside from the f. g. confusion, Delaney has high hopes for her summer. She’ll get to spend more quality (read: alone) time with her boyfriend, Flynn. She’s working at a fantastic vintage store with tons of boots she can re-make and re-style. She’s even getting along better with her father despite his tendency to shift into self-help speak and his total lack of help in sharing his f. g. magic-wish-granting ways.

Unfortunately, while Delaney knows that wishes do come true, her dreams of a great summer do not. Flynn is distant, her father is distracted, and Delaney’s powers remain frustratingly mysterious.

When Delaney meets Ariella–an f. g. with a lot more experience (and power)–Delaney starts to feel even more uncertain about her own magic abilities. Delaney will have to work hard to harness her powers and make sense of her life if she wants to get her summer back on track in Who Needs Magic? (2013) by Kathy McCullough.

Who Needs Magic? is the sequel to McCullough’s debut novel Don’t Expect Magic.

Delaney is a tough-talking, no-nonsense girl. She is sarcastic and she wears all black. This contrast between Delaney’s exterior and her fairy-godmother background continues to provide a lot of humor (and some snark) in this second installment.

Delaney’s mother has been dead for longer in this novel, but her grief is sometimes still fresh. McCullough handles Delaney’s mixed feelings about her new life thoughtfully and honestly to create an authentic portrayal of a girl who is still trying to find her way.

Who Needs Magic? is introspective as Delaney tries to balance her personal life with her wish-granting. Moments where she tries to figure out what comes next now that she and Flynn are actually dating add another dimension to this story.

While Who Needs Magic? is a lot of fun, it’s sadly not quite as endearing as Don’t Expect Magic. Delaney loses some of her focus and forward momentum in the face of self-doubt and insecurity forcing her to relearn some important lessons about trusting herself.

Who Needs Magic? is a fun addition to a previously self-contained story. Recommended for fans of the first book. Check out this series if you are fan of fractured and remixed fairy tale tropes.

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

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This is What Happy Looks Like: A Review

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. SmithIt all started with a typo in an email address.

Graham Larkin thought he was emailing his pet pig’s walker, instead his email shoots across the country to Ellie O’Neill. Their conversations are always personal but they never reveal personal details. Ellie has no idea that Graham is a major celebrity. Graham knows very little about Ellie until she slips and reveals the name of her small town in Maine.

That’s all it takes for Graham to mark the town of Henley as the perfect location for his next film. And, of course, the perfect location to meet Ellie in real life.

But as Graham and Ellie get to know each other they are both hampered by “what ifs?” What if their relationship really is at its best in email form? What if a famous actor like Graham isn’t cut out for a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? What if Ellie is drawn into Graham’s spotlight has to reveal some closely guarded secrets of her own. Graham and Ellie have talked at length about happiness, but they still have to figure out if they can be happy together in This is What Happy Looks Like (2013) by Jennifer E. Smith.

This story has a slow start as both Graham and readers are introduce to Ellie’s idyllic small town home. A charming cast of secondary characters and picturesque locations vividly situate each scene in this novel. Ellie and Graham’s correspondence is simultaneously authentic and endearing as emails and face-to-face interactions work together to give readers the full story of Graham and Ellie’s courtship. Snappy dialogue also helps to make this story shine.

Smith delves into the familiar territory of missed connections (The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight) and long-distance pining (The Geography of You and Me). While This is What Happy Looks Like has some of the same charm as Smith’s other novels, its characters never feel quite as well-realized or compelling.

This is What Happy Looks Like is a sweet and summery romance filled with small-town charm and memorable moments.

Possible Pairings: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, In Real Life by Jessica Love, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Quintana of Charyn: A Review

“We could look at the side of wonder.”

Quintana of Charyn by Melina MarcherraFroi was left for dead on the mountaintops of Charyn, taken to his uncle–a gifted physician. He has lost Quintana. He has lost Gargarin and Lirah.

Quintana of Charyn is alone and in hiding. She might be the curse breaker, but first she will have to survive long enough to give birth to the new heir.

In Lumatere, the Charyn threat is growing. Lucian of the Monts is uncertain of how to deal with his unwanted neighbors across the valley. Isaboe wants to erase the royal line responsible for the days of the unspeakable and the murders of her family. Finnikin wants to find Froi before it’s too late. But in their months apart, both young men have changed.

Two countries torn apart by grief and rage will have to find common ground if either of them hopes to heal in Quintana of Charyn (2013) by Melina Marchetta.

Quintana of Charyn is the final book in Melina Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finninkin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles.

Quintana of Charyn picks up soon after the brutal events of Froi of the Exiles. Everything is still a mess. The characters are all separated. The outlook is bleak.

It’s difficult to talk about too much of the plot but suffice to say that Quintana of Charyn gives these characters the space and the ending that they deserve. Through careful writing and artful plotting, Marchetta subtly shifts her characters and tone. After the harrowing experiences of book two, this conclusion to her epic fantasy trilogy reads like a soothing balm.

It’s a testament to the strength of the writing and the intricacy of this series that absolutely everything comes together here. Marchetta uses the fantasy setting to explore larger issues of forgiveness and love as well as grieving and rebirth in this powerful novel.

Quintana of Charyn is a must read for fans of the first two books in the series. Readers looking for their next sweeping fantasy series should definitely start this series at the beginning. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Untold: A Review

*Untold is the second book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

“Let’s not front. We all know magic is real.”

Untold by Sarah Rees BrennanKami Glass thought she knew everything there was to know about her small English town Sorry-in-the-Vale; she was certain she had her town’s story figured out.

Then the Lynburns came back, bringing magic with them as well as Jared Lynburn–the boy Kami has known for her entire life as a voice inside her head.

Now everything is changing in Sorry-in-the-Vale. Even the boy Kami thought she knew better than anyone. With their link broken, Jared feels farther away than ever and Kami isn’t sure how they can ever bridge the new and foreign distance between them.

Rob Lynburn is gathering his sorcerers and preparing to make Sorry-in-the-Vale a battleground as he tries to bring the old ways ways back to town when sorcerers ruled and everyone else cowered.

Kami has never been much for cowering.

Everyone tells Kami that without magic she is helpless and of no use when sorcerers choose to fight. Kami refuses to believe that. Trouble is coming to Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami intends to do her part in the thick of it in Untold (2013) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Untold is the second book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy which begins with Unspoken.

Untold picks up shortly after the shocking conclusion of Unspoken. Kami and Jared are barely speaking. Sorcerers are choosing sides. Life in Sorry-in-the-Vale has never been messier. Or more dangerous.

Rees Brennan once again delivers a refreshing blend of witty humor and chilling moments in this decidedly modern take on Gothic mysteries. Untold expands the world of Sorry-in-the-Vale as Kami uses her journalist know-how to research more about the town’s history and the role of the Lynburns therein.

Kami’s ensemble of friends (and potential love interests) returns in this installment. Everyone is as dimensional and well-written as they were in book one. Third person narration and shifting viewpoints also help to give secondary characters larger storylines and more opportunities for witty banter.

Untold is very much building to the conclusion of this series in Unmade and has quite cliffhanger ending as a result. At the same time, Untold also has a contained and generally complete arc for the characters. This books offers a thoughtful exploration of what it means to be dependent on a person versus what it means to have a person on whom you can depend. Rees Brennan artfully explores character relationships, particularly between Kami and Jared, as our intrepid heroes are forced to test their mettle both together and apart throughout the novel.

Untold is a story all about choosing who you want at your side and holding on tight. Another excellent installment in a favorite series. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Veronica Mars

All the Truth That’s in Me: A Review

allthetruthinmeFour years ago Judith disappeared from the small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago she came back with no explanation, no longer able to speak.

Shamed by her loss of speech and shunned by everyone from her former friends to her own family, Judith subsists on small glimpses of Lucas, the boy she has always loved, and the one-sided conversation she has with him in her head.

When homelanders threaten to attack Roswell Station, Judith is forced into action as she tries to save the town that has all but forsaken her. Her efforts to stop the invaders prove successful but also raise questions about Judith’s return to town and what she might have suffered during her time away.

Judith has survived these past two years well enough. In order to flourish, she will have to find her voice in All the Truth That’s in Me (2013) by Julie Berry.

All the Truth That’s in Me is Berry’s first novel written for young adults.

Written in the second person as Judith talks directly to Lucas, this novel is part mystery and part coming of age story. Sparse, short chapters and a stark narrative style make this novel ideal for fans of verse novels.

Berry situates the story in a quasi-historical, quasi-Puritanical society. While this environment works well for the plot (and indeed creates one of the only scenarios where Judith’s shunning would make sense) it is also a distraction that feels more like a shortcut in world building and research. While the society does raise questions about freedom and feminism especially, those questions become difficult to answer or even fully discuss with a lack of concrete setting.

Questions about setting aside, this novel does offer a taut and atmospheric story. Readers are thrown directly into Judith’s claustrophobic and often heartbreaking life as she struggles with cruel treatment and bitter memories.

Although this novel was a finalist for the Edgar Award, it is surprisingly thin on mystery. Answers are sought when Judith tries to unravel the secrets surrounding the disappearance of her friend (a girl who went missing near when Judith herself was taken) but the need to investigate is not especially pressing until the final act. A certain urgency is implied early in the story as the homelanders approach only to taper off in a similar fashion in the wake of the attack.

While there is mystery, All the Truth That’s in Me is really a meandering story about a girl trying to find herself (and her voice) after years of being lost–a story, it is worth mentioning, that is told quite well.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, Madapple by Christina Meldrum, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, All the Truth That’s in Me by Anna Sheehan, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2013*

The After Girls: A Review

The After Girls by Leah KonenElla, Astrid and Sydney thought they would have the perfect summer between high school and college. Until Astrid kills herself in the isolated cabin they’ve used as a hideaway for years.

In the wake of Astrid’s suicide, Ella and Sydney are left with grief, confusion and questions. How could Astrid do this to herself? How could she leave them behind? How could Ella and Sydney have missed the warning signs?

While Ella is desperate to find answers, some kind of suicide note or explanation, Sydney does everything she can to try to numb herself. Together, Ella and Sydney will follow the pieces of Astrid’s life–and even a chilling message from Astrid herself–to find out the truth about Astrid’s suicide and whether she might be trying to reach them from the afterlife in The After Girls (2013) by Leah Konen.

The After Girls is Konen’s first novel.

The After Girls is a smart, thoughtful novel with an unflinching focus on grieving. Konen’s treatment of both characters is balanced and honest as Ella and Sydney work through their grief in different ways.

With elements of mystery, suspense and even romance for Ella, The After Girls is a subtle story with evocative landscapes and compelling characters. With books like I Was Here and All the Bright Places getting so much buzz, this back list title is well worth reading

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca A. Serle

*A review copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2013*

In the Shadow of Blackbirds: A Review

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat WintersIt is 1918 and it feels like the entire world is falling apart. Boys are dying overseas fighting in World War I while the Spanish Influenza is cuts a swath across America leaving countless dead, and still more ruined, in its wake.

When sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is forced from her home in Portland, Oregon, she travels south to live with her aunt in San Diego. The flu is just as bad in California, if not worse. A quarantine is in effect. Face masks are mandatory at all times in public.

In the midst of this chaos and fear, Mary Shelley watches with dismay and skepticism as mourners seek comfort in seances and spirit photographs.

When a dear friend appears in a photograph of her and begins to ask her for help, Mary Shelley will have to put aside her doubts to solve a mystery that will bring her to the brink in In the Shadow of Blackbirds (2013) by Cat Winters.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is Winters’ first novel. It was also a finalist for the Morris Award in 2014.

Winters delivers a well-researched and atmospheric story of desperation and loss in this historical mystery with supernatural elements. Period photographs and carefully chosen true-to-life details bring this story and the horrors Americans faced in 1918 to life.

While ghosts feature heavily in the story, In the Shadow of Blackbirds remains firmly grounded in reality as Mary Shelley works to out a spirit photographer as a fraud while trying to unravel the final days of her dear friend after his death.

Mary Shelley is an exceptional heroine with a strong interest in science and technology as well as a complete lack of fear when it comes to saying (or doing) what is right. Although this story includes romantic elements in its back story and denouement, Mary Shelley remains the capable center of this novel as she works largely on her own to unearth the truth.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is an impressive historical novel. It is also a sensational mystery with enough twists to keep even the most seasoned mystery reader guessing. Recommended for fans of both genres.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff