Noteworthy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Noteworthy by Riley RedgateJordan Sun is a scholarship student at the prestigious Kensington-Blaine Boarding School for the Performing Arts. Jordan is a junior now and she has never been cast in a school play. Something her mother is quick to remember whenever she wonders if Jordan would be more valuable to the family closer to home where she can work while going to school.

The problem isn’t Jordan’s skill or talent. The problem is that Jordan’s height and deeper voice don’t fit the narrow mold of most female roles.

Jordan can’t change either of those things. But in a moment of desperation she realizes that she can use them by auditioning for The Sharpshooters–one of the school’s a cappella groups. The only problem is she’ll have to audition as a boy because the Sharpshooters are an all-male group.

Being found out could be devastating leaving Jordan shunned for the rest of her time at Kensington-Blaine and known forever as the girl who infiltrated an a cappella group. Basically the least impressive spy of all time. But the rewards are worth the risk with all of the school’s a cappella groups competing for a chance to accompany Aural Fixation on the European leg of their tour as show openers.

All Jordan wants is to prove to her school and her parents (and maybe herself) that she can thrive in a leading role. She’ll stay with the Sharps long enough to win the competition, nail the tour, and move on. Keeping the guys at arm’s length for that long should be simple. But as her friendships with the Sharps (and competition with a rival group) grow, the lies start to mount and Jordan realizes that sometimes you have to get close to people. Even if it means you might get hurt in Noteworthy (2017) by Riley Redgate.

Jordan is a first generation American and a low income student at her historically white and affluent at Kensington-Blaine. She struggles with the dissonance between her life at boarding school and her family’s struggles to make ends meet through part-time and retail jobs. Adding to that pressure are mounting hospital bills from her father’s recent hospital stay when his pre-existing health issues (he is a paraplegic) make a light cough so much worse. Still stinging from her breakup, Jordan also starts to acknowledge her bisexuality for the first time.

Despite being in a predominantly white school, Jordan’s circle of friends and acquaintances is thoughtfully diverse with characters coming to terms with parental expectations, school pressures, and their sexuality among other things. In the Sharps, Jordan quickly bonds with dry witted Nihal who is Sikh and one of my absolute favorite characters.

I so appreciate the way that Jordan acknowledges both her limitations as a poor scholarship student and also her privilege in being able to cross dress essentially on a lark–a decision she struggles with long before her secret is revealed (because of course it is revealed). While the middle is bogged down in numerous issues of varying important to the story, Noteworthy still ends suddenly and leaves readers wanting to see more of the Sharps (and maybe some payback for their rivals the Minuets).

Noteworthy is a thoughtful commentary on gender, agency, and ambition. By inhabiting the role of Julian, Jordan starts to realize how many limitations have been placed on her life–both through outside expectations from family, friends, and teachers as well as by herself. It’s only by hiding in plain sight as a boy that Jordan really gets the chance to shine and embrace her own dreams. Recommended for readers looking for a light contemporary with some meat on its bones and, of course, a cappella fans everywhere.

Possible Pairings: Not Now, Not Ever by Lily Anderson, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, The Victoria in My Head by Janelle Milanes, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle

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Dear Martin: A Review

Justyce McAllister is a scholarship student at the top of his class at his prestigious boarding school and heading to an Ivy League college next year. He’s miles away from the rough neighborhood where he grew up and has big plans for his future.

None of those accomplishments or plans matter when a police officer puts Justyce in handcuffs. Shaken by the severity of the encounter–and how much worse it could have been–Justyce isn’t sure where he belongs. Not with the other boys from his neighborhood many of whom are now in gangs and scorn Justyce for moving away. Not with his mostly white classmates who seem intent on making Jus feel small.

Justyce hopes to find some answers in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who advocated non-violence in the pursuit of civil rights. But as Jus tries to follow his teachings and writes to Dr. King to try and make sense of his life, Justyce starts to wonder if those teachings have any place in the modern world where boys like Justyce are still dying in Dear Martin (2017) by Nic Stone.

Dear Martin is Stone’s powerful debut novel and a finalist for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. This standalone contemporary is deceptively short with a page count that belies the weighty questions Justyce and his story raise.

Written in Justyce’s first-person narration along with his letters to Dr. King, this novel read partly like a diary with a conversational tone as Jus makes sense of the painful circumstances of his being handcuffed while trying to help his ex-girlfriend, grapples with casual racism with his classmates, and negotiates his complicated feelings for his debate partner SJ–a white girl Jus knows his mother would never want him to date.

Dear Martin is a compelling and timely story. Stone’s fast-paced prose and careful plotting make this novel an engrossing page-turner. An excellent choice for readers looking for a contemporary novel they can sink their teeth into. Ideal for anyone who has ever wanted to make their corner of the world a little better. Recommended.

 

Possible Pairings: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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

Dial Em for Murder: A Review

Dial Em for Murder by Marni BatesSixteen-year-old Emmy Danvers dreams of becoming a published author. Her latest attempt at a romance novel is proving troublesome when an old man latches onto her at Starbucks. The man seems to know Emmy and refuses to leave her alone. He also slips a tablet device into her pocket as he tackles her.

Then he dies. Still sprawled on top of Emmy.

Turns out the whole thing is more than an extremely unlucky moment in an otherwise ordinary day. The tablet, locked with a password Emmy can’t figure out, contains dangerous secrets. Information someone might even kill to get.

Emmy will have to find the father she’s never met, deal with a bad boy who may or may not be an ally, negotiate complicated feelings for her long-time best friend, and avoid the killers who are still hunting her down. At least Emmy will have lots of material for her next novel in Dial Em for Murder (2016) by Marni Bates.

While Emmy comes across as a bit brassier than her sixteen years would suggest, she is a fun heroine who is easily swept along in the myriad conspiracies and spy games that seem to surround her as she tries to make sense of recent events and unlock the mysterious tablet.

Dial Em for Murder is a fast-paced mystery filled with action and adventure. Although it is currently a standalone, the ending (and its lack of closure on several fronts) suggests that readers can expect further installments. Sure to appeal to fans of Ally Carter and other spy-centric adventures.

Possible Pairings: All Fall Down by Ally Carter, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Pretending to Be Erica by  Michelle Painchaud, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

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

Breaker: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Breaker by Kat EllisNaomi doesn’t want to board at Killdeer Academy but she can’t stay with her grandparents now that her grandmother has so much to do taking care of Naomi’s grandfather as his Alzheimer’s progresses.

Kyle hopes to be able to remake himself at Killdeer Academy with a new last name and a determination to forget all about his serial killer father. His mother’s decision that Kyle should board is a surprise. But he’s dealt with worse.

Kyle expects to have a completely blank slate at the Academy. The only problem is that he recognizes Naomi immediately. She was the daughter of his father’s last victim. Kyle wants to stay away from Naomi but he isn’t sure how to ignore when she seems to actually want to be his friend–and maybe even more. When people start dying on campus both Naomi and Kyle will have to confront their pasts to stop the murders in Breaker (2016) by Kat Ellis.

The book alternates first person narration between Kyle and Naomi which makes both protagonists well-rounded. While other characters factor into the story in crucial ways, they remain decidedly secondary to Kyle and Naomi and are consequently somewhat less developed. Excerpts from ephemera related to Kyle’s father further complicate the story.

In a departure from her debut mystery fantasy, Blackfin Sky, Ellis delivers a much darker story here. Kyle is haunted by his father’s legacy as a serial killer, terrified that the stigma will cling to him forever and the thought that he could have turned out like his father. Naomi saw her mother’s murder and has spent the intervening years doing her best to not think about her mother at all to avoid the pain of that traumatic loss.

Kyle and Naomi are a completely unlikely pair but their chemistry in Breaker, not to mention their draw to each other is undeniable in this fast-paced thriller that is sure to appeal to fans of the genre. Breaker is a creepy and atmospheric story filled with choice details that bring Killdeer Academy to life in all of its eerie and dilapidated glory.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

You can also read my interview with Kat about Breaker!

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

A Study in Charlotte: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I’d prefer to think,” Holmes said, cutting me off, “that we aren’t all so mercilessly bound to our pasts.”

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany CavallaroJames Watson dislikes rugby almost as much as he dislikes being sent to the Sherringford boarding school in Connecticut (a mere hour from his estranged father) on a rugby scholarship. The prospect of finally being able to meet Charlotte Holmes is the one bright spot in is trans-Atlantic exile.

After years of imagining what meeting Charlotte might be like and how they might become friends, James finds himself face-to-face with the unlikely and insufferable girl. He also finds himself beside her at the top of the list of suspects for the murder of a fellow Sherringford student.

Armed with little but deductive reasoning on Charlotte’s part and a sharp temper on James’, the two follow in the steps of their great-great-great grandfathers’ working together to solve the case. Even with solving mysteries in their blood, Charlotte and James will have to learn how to work together and trust each other before they can close their first case in A Study in Charlotte (2016) by Brittany Cavallaro.

A Study in Charlotte is the start of a new series and Cavallaro’s first YA novel.

A Study in Charlotte starts with an interesting premise: What if Holmes and Watson were real people? Instead of writing the stories himself, Arthur Conan Doyle was Watson’s literary agent. All of the familiar pieces are still there with the additional baggage of family legacies and descendants.

While Cavallaro does some interesting things to update her source material the novel remains, despite Charlotte’s hopes to the contrary, bound irrevocably to the past. A Study in Charlotte reads as more of a light retelling than any kind of new spin on this familiar duo.

A Study in Charlotte is a charming introduction to the world and wonders of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson but readers more familiar with the original stories (and numerous film adaptations) may well be left wanting more from this tale that stays in familiar territory more often than not.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Body in the Woods by April Henry, Every Breath by Ellie Marney, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

Vampire Academy: A Review

Vampire Academy by Richelle MeadRose Hathaway and her best friend Lissa Dragomir have been on the run for two years. After so long away from St. Vladimir’s Academy, the girls thought they were finally free. They were wrong.

Dragged back the Academy, Lissa is once again drawn into plots and machinations as Moroi vampire princess. Rose’s return is less welcome and comes with several firm conditions including extra lessons from an equally attractive and infuriating instructor. Worse, no matter how much Rose uses her dhampir strength and her bond with Lissa, it might not be enough to keep the other girl safe.

With danger circling from every side, Rose and Lissa can only trust each other in Vampire Academy (2007) by Richelle Mead.

Vampire Academy is the first book in Mead’s Vampire Academy series.

Vampire Academy is a breath of fresh air in the world of paranormal (romance). Mead has created clever, capable heroines in both Rose and Lissa. The premise here is also interesting with different castes/types of vampires as well as loads of intrigue and action.

Although Mead throws lots of world-specific vocabulary at readers early on, the story moves as fast clip without falling into the usual paranormal fantasy tropes. The story here is interesting and will definitely have appeal for readers looking for a campy paranormal–romance or otherwise as this does include some romance elements in addition to other plots.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger,  Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

Etiquette & Espionage: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail CarrigerFourteen-year-old Sophronia is used to her mother’s disapproval and punishments. Even the idle threats of being sent to live with vampires hold little sway when Sophronia is faced with a situation in which she can attempt something daring instead of being painfully, boringly proper.

What Sophronia could not have guessed is that Mumsy would take matters further by sending Sophronia to a finishing school. Nor could she have anticipated exactly what that will mean when the initial pronouncement is handed down.

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is unlike any finishing school Sophronia could have fathomed. While she can’t be completely sure, Sophronia is fairly certain Mumsy didn’t have this kind of finishing in mind when she sent Sophronia away.

But then who is Sophronia to argue when there are friends to be made with fledgling evil geniuses, inventors with whom to collaborate and all manners of conspiracies to investigate. Manners and dress will certainly be in the curriculum. But so will diversion and deceit in Etiquette & Espionage (2013) by Gail Carriger.

Etiquette & Espionage is the first in Carriger’s YA Finishing School series. It is set in the same world as her bestselling Parasol Protectorate series for adults.*

Carriger has already mastered the skills required to write a supernatural, steampunk, historical fantasy. Her alternate history with elements of steampunk and fantasy tropes blend together exceptionally well with the Austen-like tone of her narration.

The world is well-realized and fascinating although often under explained. It’s impossible to say for sure but it seems likely some shorthand was used in world building (or at least world explaining) since so much groundwork has been laid in the earlier Parasol Protectorate books.

With virtually zero romantic entanglements and numerous high-action sequences Etiquette & Espionage is ideal for readers of any age. The story handles several topics (race and class divisions, friendship, wealth and status) very well adding a nice dimension to the plot. At the same time, unfortunately, the pacing often feels off with an immense amount of  setup in the first half of the novel only to lead to a plot resolution that feels rushed in the final pages.

Etiquette & Espionage is a fine start to a series with a cast of characters that are appealing in every sense even if their world might take a bit too long to come fully into focus.

*Etiquette & Espionage functions as a standalone but readers of both series will likely recognize characters in common.

Possible Pairings: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman,  My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer