Roses and Rot: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Roses and Rot by Kat HowardImogen has spent her life reading fairy tales and wishing she could live in one herself. Surely even an evil stepmother would be better than her actual mother. Surely a chance at adventure–even a dangerous one–would be better than waiting, constantly and always, to see what new ways her mother would find to hurt her, to try and turn her and her younger sister Marin against each other.

By the time she’s sixteen, Imogen has found a way out. She has to leave Marin behind. But their mother never hurts Marin the same way she hurts Imogen. And sometimes there is no happily ever after. Sometimes there’s just survival.

Now Imogen and Marin are adults, trying to mend their years-long estrangement and about to live together for the first time since their adolescence at an elite artists’ colony–Imogen for her creative writing and Marin as a dancer. Everything about the program, from its list of accomplished mentors to the patina of success that seems to cling to every alumni, seems too good to be true.

It’s also impossible to pass up.

Once they arrive the program seems to be everything the brochures promised and more. But the pressure is real too. Marin knows taking a year off from performing as a dancer is risky and she isn’t sure it will pay off–even with the attentions of her famous mentor. Imogen, meanwhile, knows the colony is the perfect place to begin piecing together her novel.

But not everything is as it seems. As Imogen and Marin learn more about the program and its background, the sisters realize that success can mean very different things–and have a much higher cost–than either of them ever imagined in Roses and Rot (2016) by Kat Howard.

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Roses and Rot is Howard’s debut novel. Most major characters, with the exception of Ariel who is described as dark skinned, are white. The novel is narrated by Imogen with excerpts from the fairy tales she is working on during her fellowship.

Howard’s writing is beautiful as she brings the secluded artist’s colony to life with atmospheric descriptions of the changing seasons and the woods looming nearby. References to Imogen’s abusive mother in narrative asides and small flashbacks lend menace to the story as readers learn more about the events leading up to Imogen and Marin’s estrangement.

While all of the pieces are there, the ultimate reveal in Roses and Rot feels abrupt with a payoff that is disproportionate to the buildup as fantasy elements are added to the narrative. Imogen makes sense as the center of the story however her arc is ultimately one of the least interesting as she works to save her sister from her own success. Added elements of competition between the sisters also crop up with almost no explanation beyond the existence of their previous estrangment.

Roses and Rot is a strongly evocative debut that explores the power of both success and creativity as well as the deeper motivations that drive artists to strive for their best. Themes of sacrifice and belonging are explored to better effect in Howard’s stronger sophomore novel An Unkindness of Magicians, an urban fantasy and obvious progression from this debut.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Bunny by Mona Awad, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

The Weight of Feathers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemoreLace Paloma is the youngest mermaid in her family’s show. Her dreams of swimming in their underwater performances are cut short when disaster strikes and she falls victim to what seems to Corbeau black magic. After all, every Paloma knows that the lightest touch of a Corbeau feather is poison.

Cluck Corbeau has always been an outsider. Especially in his own family. While the other Corbeaus take to the highest trees for their winged feats in each show, Cluck remains on the ground and in the background. An afterthought. He doesn’t believe the stories that Paloma scales are poison but he is certain that Paloma malice ruined his grandfather’s life.

When Cluck saves a girl in the woods, he doesn’t know he’s saving a Paloma or bringing her into his family’s inner circle. Lace and Cluck have every reason to hate each other, every reason to be afraid. But they also understand each other and what it means to be cast out by the people who should hold you the closest.

Twenty years ago something terrible happened in Almendro when the Palomas and the Corbeaus came to town. The sour memories and bitter rivalries still linger when they return each year. As Lace and Cluck learn more about their families, and themselves, they might learn enough to end the feud between their families once and for all in The Weight of Feathers (2016) by Anne-Marie McLemore.

The Weight of Feathers is McLemore’s first novel. Her debut was also a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

This novel is written in close third person narration which alternates between Lace and Cluck. It is also very grounded in the cultural identity of each family–Spanish for the Palomas and French (particularly Romani) for the Corbeaus–with proverbs and sayings at the start of each chapter section (Spanish for Lace and French for Cluck). Words and phrases in both Spanish and French are peppered throughout the dialogue and narrative as well (thought it is worth noting that a style decision was made to italicize these words).

The real strength of The Weight of Feathers is in McLemore’s strong characterization and the emotional tension at the heart of this story. While readers do not get a lot of explanation for how the Palomas have scales for birthmarks or what the Corbeaus grow feathers in their hair, it largely doesn’t matter. Lace and Cluck are real enough and authentic enough that the details of their backgrounds pale against the scope of their current story and possible romance.

The Weight of Feathers combines a heady blend of magic realism and romance in this story of mysterious performers, a small town, and a forbidden love reminiscent of Romeo and Juliette. Recommended for fans of magic realism and introspective novels with strong, subtle characters.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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, A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, 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

Damaged: A Review

Damaged by Amy ReedKinsey Cole knows people can only bear to hear so much bad fortune. That’s why everyone in the small town of Wellspring, Michigan knows that Kinsey’s best friend Camille died in a car accident when Kinsey was driving. It’s easier for people to see the straight A student with a full athletic scholarship.

Kinsey is struggling to stick to her own plan for the future now that Camille is dead. She is going to go to college and get away from her small town and her mentally unstable mother once and for all. She is going to succeed the way everyone always expected she would.

The only problem is that Kinsey is quietly falling apart.

When Camille’s boyfriend, Hunter, invites Kinsey on a road trip to San Francisco, Kinsey jumps at the chance to get away from all the memories and start her real life. But with Hunter’s heavy drinking and Kinsey’s own demons, it will take more than a fresh start for either of them to accept everything that has been lost in Damaged (2014) by Amy Reed.

Find it on Bookshop.

Kinsey and Hunter travel across a largely barren landscape on their way to California in this haunting and well-done novel. An unflinching focus on Kinsey and Hunter makes this character driven road trip story even stronger.

Nightmares that may or may not be her dead best friend plague Kinsey throughout the novel adding a surreal quality to the plot. Reed offers a well-plotted and excellently written meditation on grief, loss and the power of new beginnings in this striking novel about two wretched characters trying to make themselves whole.

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Fracture by Megan Miranda, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the September 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*

The Secret Side of Empty: A Review

The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. AndreuM. T. should be living a fairy tale story of a life. To everyone else it probably seems like she is with her good grades that can make her Valedictorian, the trip she is organizing for the National Honor Society, and her picture perfect best friend with her good looks and fancy house.

M. T. even looks the part with her blonde hair and light complexion.

The only problem is that the story is a lie.

M. T. is an undocumented immigrant–the same as her mother and father. It was easy to blend in before. But now the future is uncertain. M. T. isn’t sure what happens next except that it probably won’t include college or anything resembling a happy family.

With everything starting to unravel M. T. is lost and unsure how to find her way back in The Secret Side of Empty (2014) by Maria E. Andreu.

The Secret Side of Empty is Andreu’s first novel. It draws on her own experiences growing up as an undocumented immigrant in America.

This debut is an important novel that shines a light on an aspect of American life that few people rarely see. M. T. is in a desperate position caught between the country where she legally belongs and the country that has been home for most of her life.

Andreu expertly captures the push and pull M. T. feels between thinking of herself as an American and the underlying reason she knows she is nothing like her American friends. This already multi-layered story is further complicated with M. T.’s troubled home life and her own drastic plan for coping.

The Secret Side of Empty is a compelling and timely read as well as a much needed addition to the larger conversation about the immigrant experience.

Possible Pairings: Drown by Junot Diaz, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, Dream Things True by Marie Marquardt, A Step From Heaven by An Na, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher*

Living Dead Girl: A (sort of) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth ScottOnce upon a time Alice was a little girl who disappeared. Once upon a time her name was not Alice. Once upon a time Alice was just like you. But that was a long time ago. Before Alice knew how lucky she was before she became a living dead girl in Elizabeth Scott’s Living Dead Girl (2009).

Find it on Bookshop.

Five years ago Alice was taken by a man named Ray. Five years ago Alice was not Alice. She was ten years old and could still be the little girl Ray wanted in his home. In his bed. But now Alice is fifteen. She knows Ray is ready to release her, the same way he released the first Alice, and she longs for that moment when everything will end. But first Alice has to find her replacement, something Alice readily agrees to if it means Ray will finally let her go.

Despite how cold and calculating as Alice has had to become, the search is not easy. Could it be that Alice isn’t willing to be Alice anymore?

This is a haunting, grim, miserable little story. At 170 pages it is a fast read which is good because if readers stop too long to think about what is really happening to Alice it becomes too devastating to bear. That said, the actual writing of the story is much less traumatic than I would have expected.

Living Dead Girl has received a lot of accolades as a great book for teen readers (reluctant or otherwise). I don’t really get it myself and find it a hard one to pitch simply because it’s such a depressing book. Alice has been so irreparably broken by the time we meet that it is nearly impossible to harbor any hopes for her; her situation is hopeless.

Nonetheless, Scott’s writing is compelling and Living Dead Girl offers a uniquely accurate insight into what it really means to be a victim too afraid to speak out.

Possible Pairings: Sleepless by Cyn Balog, Pointe by Brandy Colbert, Pretty Girl-13 by Liz Coley, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, Cut Me Free by J. R. Johansson, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers