Starfish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanAll of Kiko Himura’s hopes are pinned on getting accepted to Prism–her dream art school. At Prism Kiko knows that it won’t matter that she’s half-Japanese and knows barely anything about her own culture. She won’t need to regret her failed relationships with her brothers. She’ll be able to get away from her mother who is alternately suffocating and neglectful. Best of all, Kiko knows that at Prism she’ll finally be understood the way she always used to be by her childhood best friend, Jamie.

After Prism rejects her, Kiko is forced to consider other options–especially when her abusive uncle moves into the house and makes life even more unbearable. When Kiko and Jamie meet up at a party, Kiko jumps at the improbable chance to tour art schools with him on the west coast. Along the way Kiko will learn how to be brave and and let herself be heard while understand that sometimes second choices can lead to second chances in Starfish (2017) by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Starfish is Bowman’s debut novel and a finalist for YALSA’s 2018 Morris Award.

This is a quiet and deliberate novel. Kiko knows better than most that words have weight thanks to what happened when she spoke out about her uncle’s abuse and also from the methodical way Kiko’s mother uses them to break her down. Kiko’s visions of vivid sketches and lavish paintings are interspersed throughout Starfish helping Kiko give voice to her emotions when she doesn’t feel strong enough to share them herself.

While Kiko’s strained relationship with her mother and her uncle’s abuse are key factors in Starfish, the main story here is Kiko’s growth and resilience as she begins to realize she has more options than she ever imagined.

Starfish is both heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful as Kiko comes into her own and discovers her own strength. Evocative settings and an obvious love for art are imbued in this story along with a subtle romance. Kiko is an empowering heroine readers will immediately want to cheer on. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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Jane, Unlimited: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -Arthur C. Clarke

—–

“There are many lives in every life.”

Jane’s life has always been ordinary and she has never minded that. When her Aunt Magnolia dies under strange circumstances, Jane is suddenly adrift and alone. She doesn’t know exactly how Aunt Magnolia died. She doesn’t know if she wants to go back to college. All she really knows is that if she is ever invited to Tu Reviens, she has to go. It was the last thing Aunt Magnolia asked her to do.

When Kiran Thrash, an old acquaintance who is as wealthy as she is mercurial, breezes back into Jane’s life with an invitation to the Thrash family gala at none other than Tu Reviens Jane immediately accepts.

The island mansion is not at all what Jane expects. Strange figures lurk in the shadows. Art goes missing and reappears at will. An ex-wife hides in the attic, while a current wife is missing entirely. Then there’s Jasper, the lovable Bassett Hound who has an uncanny attachment both to Jane and to a painting with a lone umbrella.

In a house filled with questions, Jane knows that all she has to do is follow the right person to get answers. But first she has to choose in Jane, Unlimited (2017) by Kristin Cashore.

Jane, Unlimited is Cashore’s latest standalone novel. Inspired by Choose Your Own Adventure stories among other things this novel reads as five interconnected stories spanning genres.

After enjoying but not quite loving Cashore’s Graceling trilogy, I was fully prepared for Jane, Unlimited to be the Cashore book that I would love unequivocally. I’m happy to say this genre-bending delight did not disappoint.

The novel opens with “The Missing Masterpiece” (my favorite story) where Jane tries to find a missing Vermeer and make sense of myriad clues in a mystery reminiscent of The Westing Game. This section also does all of the heavy lifting introducing Jane, her deceased Aunt Magnolia, Kiran Thrash, and her rakish and charismatic twin brother Ravi. This novel also introduces Jane’s umbrella making–a motif that helps tie all of the novel’s pieces together.

In “Lies Without Borders” Jane explores the mystery of the missing painting from a different angle in a sleek spy story that will appeal to fans of Ally Carter. The madcap action and continuously surprisingly and charming characters make this section another favorite.

Cashore turns her eye to horror in “In Which Someone Loses a Soul and Charlotte Finds One.” After finishing this creepy tale you won’t be able to look at your library or your favorite books in quite the same way. When you re-read this book on a structural level (and trust me, you’ll want to) this section is also key for highlighting the structure of the novel.

“Jane, Unlimited” is the section that ties the book together so I won’t tell you too much that could spoil the story. There are zany clothes, mayhem, frogs, and a lot of Ravi which makes this story a delight. Sure to be a favorite for fans of Douglas Adams and Dr. Who.

This novel wraps up in “The Strayhound, the Girl, and the Painting” in which some mysteries are solved and some bigger questions are raised as Jane figures out why, exactly, Jasper the Bassett Hound is so very fond of her. This whimsical segment concludes the story on an optimistic note as Jane (and readers) realize that when one door closes another opens–literally.

Jane, Unlimited is a thoughtfully layered and intricately plotted novel. Depending on how you want to read it this book could contain five separate but overlapping stories, it could be one arc where all these outcomes eventually come to pass. There’s really no wrong way to interpret this story which is part of the charm. Whatever appeals to you about Jane and her adventures I guarantee you will find it in at least one part of this novel.

I first hear about Jane, Unlimited during a job interview at Penguin for a job I didn’t even come close to getting. Back then the book was just some new contemporary novel that Cashore was working on and I didn’t think much of it at the time. When it finally came time to read the book, I found that I could think of little else. Around the time of that interview I found out that one of my aunts had suffered a stroke that would prove fatal–something I didn’t know when I kept calling and calling to tell her about scheduling that job interview and asking her advice on what to wear and to practice questions. I don’t remember the last conversation I had with my aunt but I remember those messages I left her vividly. And I so wish I could have told her how this all came together in such a strange full circle way as Jane’s aunt Magnolia was such a big part of Jane’s story as she tries to figure out which path to choose.

In case it wasn’t already clear: I loved this book. It’s perfect and everything I want. Cashore populates the story with a cast of characters that is thoughtfully inclusive and painfully charming and expertly blends genres and plays them against each other throughout this clever novel.

Jane, Unlimited is a must read for anyone who has ever felt a bit lost, readers who like their books to resemble puzzles, and, of course, for anyone looking for an excellent story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen,The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art by Mathew Hart, Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt, Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Ocean Soul by Brian Skerry, Oceanic Wilderness by Roger Steene, Parallel Universes by Max Tegmark (as seen in Scientific American, May 2003), The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

If you are interested in some of the art that inspired (or features) in this novel:

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*

The Witch of Blackbird Pond: A (Classic) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Kit Tyler leaves her home in Barbados to travel alone across the ocean to colonial Connecticut in 1687. She has no reason to stay in Barbados with her grandfather dead and buried. With nowhere else to go she undertakes the long boat trip on her own assured that she will be welcome with open arms by her aunt’s family.

Her arrival doesn’t go as expected. Kit’s uninhibited childhood in Barbados has left the sixteen-year-old wildly unprepared for life among her Puritan relatives. Her cousins covet her beautiful clothes even while her uncle looks at the bright colors and luxurious fabrics of her dresses with scorn. Kit barely recognizes her aunt, struggling to see any hint of her own mother in her aunt’s weather worn face.

When she discovers a beautiful meadow near a pond, Kit finds some much needed solitude and a break in the monotonous drudgery of life with her relatives. Kit also finds an unexpected friend in Hannah Tupper, an old woman who is shunned reviled by the community for her Quaker beliefs and rumors that claim Hannah is a witch.

As she learns more about Hannah and her life by the pond Kit will have to decide what, if anything, she is willing to give up for a chance to belong in The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958) by Elizabeth George Speare.

Have you ever had a visceral reaction to a book. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is that kind of title for me.

This Newbery award winner came to my attention after my aunt gifted me a copy from her days working at Houghton Mifflin when I was in grade school. Like a lot of books back then I motored through it, eventually donated my copy to my school library, and didn’t think about it again for years. But because I became a librarian and worked briefly at a bookseller, I encountered this classic title again as an adult.

Every time I saw it on a shelf I would feel that jolt of recognition. Yes, this book was one that meant so much to me as a child. It also, if you pay attention to book editions, has had some hideous covers over the years. My most recent rediscovery of The Witch of Blackbird Pond happened when The Book Smugglers featured the book in their Decoding the Newbery series. I enjoyed reading Catherine King’s thoughts (and share many of them) but what really jolted me was the cover. Because finally it was the cover I had first read so many years ago!

Finding and purchasing that edition prompted me to re-read The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I discovered a lot of the things I remembered loving when I read the story the first time: Kit’s determination and perseverance not to mention her friendship with Hannah Tupper. I also love the push and pull Kit has both with her cousins and her suitors. This story is more purely historical than I remembered and Speare’s writing is starkly evocative of Puritan New England.

For readers of a certain age, The Witch of Blackbird Pond needs no introduction or recommendation. Younger readers will also find a smart, character driven story. Perfect for fans of historical fictions and readers hoping to discover (or rediscover) a charming classic.

Possible Pairings: All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Chime by Franny Billingsley, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Conversion by Katherine Howe, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Witch Child by Celia Rees, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

The Keeper of the Mist: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“There was something appalling about the steady progression of time, or at least about dividing time into sharp little seconds and counting them off, like a knife flicking through the day, tick tick tick, and nothing anyone could do to turn back the hands of time.”

Keri’s main focus since her mother’s death has been running the family bakery on her own. She doesn’t have much time to think about her father, the Lord of Nimmira, who has never wasted a thought on Keri. Nor is she inclined to entertain predictions about which of her half-brothers will take up the title of Lord upon their father’s death.

When Nimmira’s ancient and inscrutable magic chooses Keri as the unlikely heir her focus shifts abruptly from baking to all manner of details implicit to overseeing her small country as its new Lady. Caught between larger countries eager to conquer each other and absorb its resources, Nimmira has relied on its border mists and a strict policy of isolation for generations. Keri should be able to control and maintain the mists as the new Lady. Except they continue to fail after her ascension and no one knows why.

Keri’s Timekeeper is counting the seconds, minutes, and hours to something important. But he can’t–or perhaps won’t–explain what exactly that is or how Keri can prepare for it. Keri’s best friend Tassel acclimates quickly to her role as Bookkeeper but even her magic can’t help unravel some of Nimmira’s deepest secrets. Then there’s Cort, Keri’s unlikely Doorkeeper. Cort is steadfast in his commitment to protecting and maintaining Nimmira’s borders. But will he and Keri finally be able to see eye to eye as they try to restore the mist?

Change is coming to Nimmira. Only time will tell if Keri and her friends will be ready to face it in The Keeper of the Mist (2016) by Rachel Neumeier.

The Keeper of the Mist is a charming standalone fantasy novel with a beautiful cover. It is also, as a hardcover edition, very poorly edited with typos and repeated phrases. While that doesn’t detract from the story, it did often make for a frustrating reading experience.

Keri’s story is a novel of manners with the feel of a regency romance (though don’t tell that to Keri or Cort) with a healthy dose of fantasy. Keri is scattered and sometimes lacking in confidence but she is also a woman of action who, once she commits, is prepared to do the right thing and follow through.Tassel and Court serve as excellent counterpoints to Keri and the relationships between these three characters are an excellent underpinning for the rest of the novel.

Everything about The Keeper of the Mist comes back to time. Keri’s ascension to Lady has to happen on a very specific schedule. The expiration date for the mist is clearly in sight if the magic border isn’t fixed. Foreign intrusion is imminent as Nimmira becomes more visible to its neighbors. All of this urgency lends itself to a fast-paced story. Unfortunately that same urgency underscores the fact that this story is very slow and much more focused on characters than plot.

The Keeper of the Mist is a contemplative coming-of-age fantasy about friendship, embracing change, and facing challenges head on. Recommended for readers who enjoy well-realized regency fantasies in the tradition of Patricia McKillip or Diana Wynne Jones.

Possible Pairings: Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

The Apple Throne: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It is by touching gods and godlings, elves and trolls and men and women, by starting a new story for ourselves and our names, that we reach into the future.

“That is how we thrive.”

The Apple Throne by Tessa GrattonAstrid Glynn traded her life as a talented prophet and seethkona to save the person she loves. Soren Bearstar struck a bargain in turn so that he would remember Astrid even as the rest of the world forgot her.

It has been two years since Astrid gave up her name, her prophetic dreams, and her life to become Idun the Young–the not-quite goddess who guards and distributes the apples of immortality. In those two years Soren’s bargain has allowed him to visit her every three months. Until he doesn’t come.

Certain that something terrible is keeping Soren away, Astrid goes against the gods to escape her hidden orchard and search for him. With unexpected help from one of Thor’s bastard sons, Astrid travels across New Asgard to find Soren and save him.

Astrid is no longer the seer she once was nor is she exactly a goddess. She will have to bridge the gap between her old life and new if she wants to save the people she loves and protect the world as they know it in The Apple Throne (2015) by Tessa Gratton.

The Apple Throne is the conclusion to Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard (United States of Asgard) series. It is preceded by The Lost Sun and The Strange Maid. All of the books function very well as stand-alone titles however, because of timeline and character overlap, The Apple Throne does include spoilers for the earlier books. These titles have all been reissued by the author through CreateSpace as paperbacks and eBooks.

The Apple Throne is a fantastic conclusion to one of my favorite fantasy series. This story starts soon after the conclusion of Soren’s story and references the events of Signy’s ascension to her title as Valkryie. Although Astrid’s story is removed from that of the other protagonists in this series, her arc culminates in a finish that neatly ties all three books together.

Astrid accepts her current role as Idun, a quasi-goddess, gladly. But the loss of her identity as young prophet Astrid Glynn and her separation from Soren still sting. More importantly, Astrid isn’t sure who she is without a place in the world and her dream visions to guide her. Throughout the story Astrid has to reconcile who she used to be with who she has become as she tries to correct past mistakes and protect the people she holds dear.

A feminist story literally about a young woman carving a place for herself in the world, The Apple Throne is another thoughtful fantasy filled with the intricate world building that Gratton’s fans will expect. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers, Freya by Matthew Laurence, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Clariel by Garth Nix, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Be sure to watch for my interview with Tessa about this book tomorrow!

You can also enter my giveaway to win ebooks of this trilogy!

Book of a Thousand Days: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon HaleDashti, a “mucker” alone in the world, promises her lady that she won’t abandon her on the day they meet. Used to a nomadic life on the steppes, Dashti doesn’t know what she is agreeing to when she and Lady Saren are sealed in a tower for seven years after the lady refuses to marry a man who terrifies her.

Alone with seven years’ worth of supplies and their thoughts, Dashti begins to write of their time in the tower. She expects the darkness and the loneliness and even her lady’s erratic behavior. She does not expect to have to talk to two suitors on her lady’s behalf. Nor can she imagine the havoc both will wreak on both Dashti’s and Lady Saren’s lives.

When supplies begin to run low and Dashti wonders how much longer they can survive, this supposedly common girl will have to summon uncommon strength and ingenuity to save herself and Saren in Book of a Thousand Days (2007) by Shannon Hale.

Book of a Thousand Days is a retelling of the fairy tale “Maid Maleen” originally told by the Brothers Grimm. It is also reminiscent of Hale’s earlier novel Princess Academy in the best possible way.

The novel is written as Dashti’s book of thoughts with diary-like entries for various days. Book of a Thousand Days is also delightfully illustrated throughout. Dashti’s narration is frank and filled with thoughtful observations as she contemplates her captivity as well as her lowly station compared to Lady Saren who is gentry descended from the Ancestors.

Hale’s novel is set in a fictional world comprising the Eight Realms (as seen in a map at the beginning) which are loosely inspired by medieval Mongolia. Although much of the novel takes place in a tower, Hale still brings the landscape and culture of Dashti’s world to life as she create a unique culture filled with magic, mystery and music.

Dashti is a fantastic heroine who is as pragmatic as she is optimistic. Her resilience throughout the novel and her confidence–even when facing moments of doubt and great obstacles–are inspiring. Hale expertly showcases her growth throughout the novel and, by extension, Saren’s own attempts to become more than an idle Gentry lady.

Book of a Thousand Days is a sweet story filled with adventure and romance that will appeal to readers of all ages. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, The Reader by Traci Chee, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Soundless by Richelle Mead, The Kiss of Deception by Marie E. Pearson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The Game of Love and Death: A Review

“Everybody dies. Everybody. That is the only ending for every true story.”

The Game of Love and Death by Martha BrockenbroughOver lifetimes Love and Death have carefully chosen their players, rolled the dice, and waited for any opportunity that might present itself for them to influence the Game in their favor. You probably already know some of the players: Antony and Cleopatra, Helen of Troy and Paris, even Romeo and Juliet.

Death has always won. Always.

But Love has a faith that Death can’t imagine–particularly when it comes to his latest player Henry Bishop.

A white boy adopted by a wealthy family, Henry’s life is easy even in the midst of the Depression that still grips the United States in 1937. His bright future is assured thanks to his adoptive family. All he has to do is claim it.

Even without the stakes of the Game and her role as Death’s player, Flora Saudade is an unlikely match for Henry. An African-American girl born just a few blocks from Henry, Flora supports herself as singer in Seattle’s nightclubs while she dreams of following in the footsteps of pilots like Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman.

With the players chosen and the dice rolled, Love and Death are prepared to watch this latest Game unfold. The odds, and the Game itself, are stacked against Henry and Flora. But with true love and free will at play maybe, just this once, anything is possible in The Game of Love and Death (2015) by Martha Brockenbrough.

The Game of Love and Death works on many levels, both as a work of fantasy and one of historical fiction, to create a story that is as nuanced and introspective as its vibrant cast of diverse characters.

While the main focus remains on Flora and Henry’s fledgling relationship, Brockenbrough sets this story against a backdrop peppered with real historical events and an evocative atmosphere. This novel touches upon the question of choice and taking risks as much as the matters of love and mortality readers might expect from the title.

The less likely aspect of this story is the compelling relationship between Love and Death. These two are, perhaps, the most unexpected characters in the novel. Love with his constant optimism and devil-may-care attitude is also surprisingly ruthless as his desperation to win the Game grows. Death, meanwhile, is much more than a villain as she struggles with the burden of her role in this story.

These very different stories–of Flora and Henry but also of Love and Death themselves–weave together in unexpected ways as The Game of Love and Death build to its remarkable conclusion.

The Game of Love and Death is a heady blend of fantasy and historical fiction that plays out on a grand scale. Sure to appeal to readers of all ages. Not to be missed.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Irong Cast by Destiny Soria, Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood,  Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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