The Careful Undressing of Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I’ve been waiting for one thing, but love can be anything.”

“When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.”

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann HayduEveryone knows that Devonairre Street in Brooklyn is cursed. Being loved by a Devonairre Street girl ends in tragedy. Just look at the number of war widows on the street or the concentration of Affected families left without husbands and fathers after the Times Square Bombing in 2001.

Lorna Ryder and her mother have never put much stock in the curse even though they pretend to play along. Lorna celebrates a shared birthday along with Cruz, his sister Isla, Charlotte, and Delilah. She keeps her hair long and wears a key around her neck. She does everything she is supposed to just the way Angelika has advised since Lorna was a child.

But none of it seems to be enough when Delilah’s boyfriend Jack is killed in the wake of the grief and confusion surrounding another terrorist attack across the country. Lorna and her friends are shocked by Jack’s sudden death. Grieving and shaken, Lorna has to decide what this new loss means about the veracity of the curse and her own future as a part of Devonairre Street and away from it in The Careful Undressing of Love (2017) by Corey Ann Haydu.

The Careful Undressing of Love is Haydu’s latest standalone YA novel. Lorna narrates this novel with a breezy nonchalance that soon turns to fear and doubt as everything she previously believed about love and the curse on Devonairre Street is thrown into question. The style and tone work well with Haydu’s world building to create an alternate history that is simultaneously timeless and strikingly immediate.

Haydu’s characters are realistically inclusive and diverse. An argument could be made that it’s problematic that Delilah and Isla (the Devonairre Street girls who are not white) are the ones who suffer more over the course of this novel filled with loss and snap judgements by an insensitive public. But the same argument could be made that privilege makes this outcome sadly inevitable–a contradiction that Lorna notes herself when she begins to unpack her own privileges of being white contrasted with the burdens she has under the weight of the supposed curse and living as one of the Affected.

This story is complicated and filled with philosophical questions about grief and fear as well as love and feminism. While there is room for a bit more closure, the fate of Devonairre Street and its residents ultimately becomes irrelevant compared with Lorna’s need to break away to protect herself and her own future.

A quiet, wrenching story about the bonds of love and friendship and the ways in which they can break; a commentary on the stresses and pressures of being a girl in the modern world; and a story about self-preservation first. The Careful Undressing of Love is smart and strange, frank and raw, and devastating. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

You can also read my interview with the author about this book!

Labyrinth Lost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaAlex is the most powerful bruja her family has seen in generations. Her mother and sisters are thrilled when Alex’s powers manifest so powerfully. But Alex knows that magic always has a cost and she’s unwilling to risk her family after already losing her father to wayward magic years ago.

Determined to rid herself of her magic before anyone else gets hurt, Alex turns to the family Book of Cantos for a spell to use on her Death Day–before she accepts the blessings of her family’s dead spirits and truly comes into her powers.

When Alex’s spell to get rid of her magic backfires and her family disappears from their Brooklyn home, she’ll have to travel to the world of Los Lagos to get them back with help from her best friend Rishi and a strange brujo boy with his own agenda in Labyrinth Lost (2016) by Zoraida Córdova.

Labyrinth Lost is the start to Córdova’s new Brooklyn Brujas series.

Córdova borrows from elements of santeria and latinx culture to create her own well-realized magic system in this highly enjoyable urban fantasy. Alex is a kickass heroine whose love for her family leads to near-catastrophe as her magic backfires and sends her relatives (living and dead) to Los Lagos.

Alex remains proactive and wastes no time wallowing as she bargains with a more knowledgeable (though less powerful) brujo named Nova to bring her across to the magical world of Los Lagos where she has to navigate treacherous lands and travel to the Labyrinth to rescue her family from the Devourer. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, comes along offering moral support, strength, and strategy even though she is uninitiated in bruja ways thanks to Alex’s reluctance to talk about her family to outsiders.

In a world where many things are uncertain, the love and support of Alex’s friends and family remain unconditional and rock solid throughout this novel where family plays a huge role. Alex is a fantastic protagonist who is empowered both as a bruja and a girl as she learns to embrace all aspects of her identity.

Córdova’s evocative writing brings Los Lagos and its otherworldly inhabitants vividly to life. Moments or peril contrast well with Alex’s witty first person narration and a sometimes tense romance as Alex tries to make sense of her growing feelings for Rishi while fighting for her life.

Labyrinth Lost is a fast-paced and atmospheric story filled with action and adventure. A must-read for urban fantasy fans and readers looking for a new coven of witches to join. (Just be ready with your best Resting Witch Face.)

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Vassa in the Night: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterSixteen-year-old Vassa Lisa Lowenstein isn’t sure where she fits in her family or if it even qualifies as a family. Her mother is dead. Vassa’s father stayed only long enough to settle Vassa with his new wife. So now she has a stepmother and two stepsisters. Chelsea is nice enough but Stephanie might actually hate Vassa–which is fine since it’s mostly mutual. It’s an odd living arrangement to Vassa but no more peculiar than a lot of things in her working-class Brooklyn neighborhood.

The nights have been acting especially strange as they become longer and longer. When her stepsister (Stephanie, naturally) sends Vassa out in the middle of the night for light bulbs the only store that’s still open is the local BY’s. Everyone knows about BY’s, and its owner Babs Yagg, but people do tend to remember a store that dances around on chicken legs and has a habit of decapitating shoplifters.

Vassa is sure getting out of the store quickly will be easy. Even her enchanted wooden doll, Erg, is willing to behave and keep her sticky fingers to herself this once. When things don’t go as planned in BY’s it will take all of Vassa’s wits and Erg’s cunning to escape the store alive and maybe even break whatever curse has been placed on Brooklyn’s nights in Vassa in the Night (2016) by Sarah Porter.

This standalone urban fantasy is inspired by the Russian folktake “Vassilisa the Beautiful.” Although Vassa is described as incredibly pale, the rest of the book is populated with characters who are realistically diverse. Complicated dynamics within Vassa’s blended family add another dimension to the story. Evocative settings and imagery help bring this bizarre corner of Brooklyn to life including strong allusions to the Studio Ghibli film “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

Vassa is a cynical, no-nonsense character who is quick to make jokes and take risks with the delightfully sharp-tongued Erg at her side. Vassa’s frank narration is sure to remind fans of Veronica Mars as will her resigned acceptance of her role as hero in this story.

Elements of traditional horror blend well with high-concept fantasy in this surprising and engaging tale. A deliberate lack of romantic tension makes Vassa in the Night a refreshing read focused on themes of self-reliance, friendship, and family.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Reader by Traci Chee, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the August 2016 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Little Elliot, Big Fun: A Picture Book Review

Little Elliot, Big Fun by Mike CuratoLittle Elliot and Mouse are back for another fun adventure. This time around, the two friends decide to go to Coney Island. Mouse is excited to try all of the rides but Elliot isn’t so sure. With so many rides that are too high, too crowded, and plain old too scary, will Elliot find a way to have fun with his friend in Little Elliot, Big Fun (2016) by Mike Curato.

Little Elliot, Big Fun is Curato’s third picture book featuring my favorite polka dot elephant. (Other books in the series: Little Elliot, Big City and Little Elliot, Big Family.)

Curato once again brings old time New York to life–this time turning his eye to Coney Island. The illustrations in this book really draw readers into the amusement park. Curato’s signature eye for detail (and careful research) also make sure every ride is accurate to the book’s era (somewhere around the 1940s). A fold out spread from the Coney Island Ferris Wheel is especially stunning.

Readers have previously seen Elliot make his way in a big world (when he is quite small), and find an adopted family when he comes to Mouse’s family reunion. In some ways, Elliot’s problems are smaller in this one but just as universal. Coney Island is fun and exciting but Elliot struggles with the crowds, the noise, and many of the rides.

Little Elliot, Big Fun is a sweet story that shows young readers it’s okay to be scared but that it’s also important to keep trying to find things (say, amusement park rides) that work for you. And sometimes even scary things are manageable when you tackle them with a friend. Like the other picture books in this series, Little Elliot, Big Fun is highly recommended and sure to be a crowd pleaser.

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Shadowshaper: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Shadowshaper by Daniel José OlderSierra Santiago’s plans for the summer are quickly derailed when old-timers from around the neighborhood start to disappear. As soon as a strange zombie guy shows up at the first party of the summer, Sierra knows something is up even if her mother and grandfather refuse to admit that anything is remotely wrong.

When one graffiti mural starts crying and others begin to fade, it’s clear that something sinister is at play. Everyone in the neighborhood agrees it’s vitally important for Sierra to finish the mural she started, but no one will say why.

It’s only when she starts hanging out with Robbie that she learns about Shadowshapers and their ability to connect to magic through art. They used to be very powerful. But that was before the Shadowshapers had a falling out years ago. And before they started dying. With only scant clues, limited experience with her newly-discovered Shadowshaping powers, and not nearly enough time, Sierra and her friends will have to think fast to save their neighborhood–and maybe the world–in Shadowshaper (2015) by Daniel José Older.

Shadowshaper is Older’s first novel written for the YA market and a standalone.

Older uses concrete details and real locations to bring Sierra’s Brooklyn to life in Shadowshaper. The story effortlessly evokes New York wandering and handles issues surrounding gentrification and the changing landscape of the city extremely well. Sierra’s voice, and those of her friends, are authentically teen which only adds to the ambiance of this novel. Additionally, a diverse cast including Sierra’s friends, neighborhood regulars, and Sierra’s family create a great story in a sub-genre that is often frustratingly (not to mention unrealistically) white.

While Shadowshaper excels with characters and setting, it unfortunately falls flat as a fantasy. The mythology surrounding Shadowshaping is slight at best with rules and mechanics that are poorly explained when they are explained at all. There is a lot of potential here that might have been better served with a longer novel or even a sequel.

Breakneck action and numerous chase sequences also diminish the story and leave little room for characterization. While Sierra is very well-realized her friends often come across as stock characters with limited personality or purpose within the narrative. While it is incredibly empowering to have a book where the only white person is the villain, it was disappointing to see that villain become little quite one-dimensional by the end of the novel.

Shadowshaper is a fast read. Unfortunately, many parts of the novel feel rushed. The hardcover has some obvious continuity errors with blocking (characters standing on one page and then standing again three pages later without ever having sat down for instance) and many opportunities to complicate the narrative and characters are ignored.

Shadowshaper is a great choice for readers looking for authentic characters and a fun read. Recommended as an introduction to urban fantasy for readers willing to suspend their disbelief with only limited justification. Ideal for reluctant readers and anyone who likes the novels fast-paced and full of action.

Possible Pairings: Tithe by Holly Black, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine, Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

BEA Part of It: NYC Libraries to See and Things to Do

Thank you again to Estelle from Rather Be Reading for inviting me to participate this year in the awesome BEA Part of It series!

BEA Part of It Updated Banner 2015

Since I’m a librarian I decided to organize my suggested sites around three libraries that I have frequented regularly along with some things to do in the area (thanks to BFF/fellow librarian and blogger Nicole for helping me hash out the idea and some of the places!):

Jefferson Market Library – New York Public Library

Jefferson Market Library, New York Public Library

425 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY, 10011: Jefferson Market Library was originally a courthouse (where Mae West was tried for obscenity charges in 1927 and the infamous Stanford White murder trial  took place in 1906–partly inspiring the 1955 film The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing). A women’s house of detention previously stood on the grounds of the neighboring community garden. Inside the library boasts a welcoming children’s space, specialized New York reference materials and impressive stained glass windows. Be sure to stick around to hear the clock tower mark the hour.

Nearby spots to consider:

  • Peanut Butter & Co. (240 Sullivan St, New York, NY 10012): Peanut Butter & Co. is your one stop shop for all things peanut butter. This cozy restaurant has kitschy charm and simple fare. You can build your own sandwich (complete with potato chips and carrot sticks on the side) or choose from custom menu selections that include options ranging from The Elvis (grilled peanut butter sandwich with bananas and honey–bacon optional) to Dark Chocolate Dreams (dark chocolate peanut butter and cherry jam, stuffed with coconut). The menu also includes some non-peanut butter options (tuna or chicken salad or grilled cheese for instance). Be sure to save room for dessert!

    Peanut Butter & Co.

  • McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince St, New York, NY 10012): This two-floor bookstore is a must-see for bibliophiles in New York. The indie bookstore boasts a great cafe (complete with books hanging from the ceiling), Print on Demand services, a respectable children’s and teen collection in the basement, not to mention a full events calendar.

    McNally Jackson

  • Union Square (14th-17th Street, (Broadway and Park), New York City, NY 10001): Union Square is one of Downtown Manhattan’s iconic parks not to mention a transit hub and a great shopping destination. You can explore the park and take in views and also explore the surrounding area (particularly Fourteenth Street) to find a variety of shops, restaurants and street vendors. While you’re in the area be sure to check out the enormous Barnes and Noble, Forbidden Plant, Sephora and keep your eyes peeled for the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck.

    Union Square Park

  • The Strand (828 Broadway, New York, NY 10003): As one of New York’s most famous bookstores, The Strand of course gets its own mention. With used books galore, The Strand is definitely an obvious stop for any bookish tourists. Be sure to buy a signature tote as a functional souvenir!

    The Strand

Central Library – Brooklyn Public Library

Central Library, Brooklyn Public Library

10 Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, NY 11238: Want to see a library that’s on the National Register of Historic Places, has more than one million cataloged items (including 120,000 items for kids and teens in the Youth Wing), and boasts a beautiful Art Deco exterior? Look no further. This library is also centrally located near several places worth checking out during your trip. You can fuel up at the Four & Twenty Blackbirds Cafe in the library lobby before heading out for more adventures (I recommend the Chocolate Chess pie if it’s in stock!).

Nearby spots to consider:

  • Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket (Prospect Park West & Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn): Every Saturday Grand Army Plaza (across the street from the library) hosts a greenmarket with local vendors, musicians and a variety of programs including story times and cooking demonstrations. After perusing the market you can admire the majestic fountain and arch found in Grand Army Plaza proper.

    The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch at Grand Army Plaza

  • Brooklyn Botanic Garden (150 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11215): Next to the Central library you’ll find Mount Prospect Park and just beyond that the entrance to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden which has a variety of seasonal exhibits.

    Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Eastern Parkway entrance.

  • Brooklyn Museum (200 Eastern Pkwy, Brooklyn, NY 11238): Because Brooklyn has so much more space, this museum is enormous with tons to see including rotating exhibits, sculpture gardens, Egyptian artifacts and more.

    The Brooklyn Museum.

Muhlenberg Library – New York Public Library

Muhlenberg Library, New York Public Library

209 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011: The Muhlenberg Library is one of the original Carnegie libraries and opened to the public in 1906. Although small in size, the branch is mighty in services offered including a children’s floor and a bustling media collection.

Nearby spots to consider:

  • Doughnut Plant (220 W 23rd St, New York, NY 10011): Doughnut Plant is known for their all natural doughnuts (including cake donuts and square filled donuts!!) and their seasonal specials. Doughnut Plant also has a ton of locations around New York City. I recommend their Chelsea locale because you can also check out the historic Hotel Chelsea at the same time.

    Doughnut Plant, Chelsea Hotel

  • Books of Wonder (18 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011): Books of Wonder is an indie bookstore dedicated to children’s and teen books (along with a gallery of artwork by famous illustrators and a collection of rare books). As one of the places for YA and children’s events, the store always has a nice selection of signed books and fun literary window displays.
  • Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave, New York, NY 10011): Chelsea Market is a shopping center in Chelsea (right near the Meatpacking District) the converted warehouse features shops, eateries, and more (including an indoor pipe waterfall). Be sure to check out Fat Witch Bakery or Eleni’s Cookies for something sweet and Chelsea Market Baskets for some containers to hold all of your new purchases. Local news station NY 1 and Food Network has space on the upper floors so if you time your trip right, you might even spot a local celebrity.

    Chelsea Market

  • The High Line (New York, NY 10011): The High Line is an elevated park along a defunct rail line called the West Side Line. The park runs from Gansevoort in the Village up to 34th Street along the west side of Manhattan with a variety of access points. The park has great views, restaurants, art installations and viewing outlooks. Although it can get crowded in nice weather, the High Line is a great spot to end your NYC wanderings by admiring scenic views of the surrounding area.

    View from the High Line

  • The Whitney (99 Gansevoort Street, New York, NY 10014): The Whitney Museum of American Art recently moved to a new (larger) building downtown near the High Line. If you plan on exploring downtown Manhattan this May you can also be among the first people to see the museum’s new digs.

    The New Whitney

Now you know three of my favorite libraries in New York City and some of my favorite places near each of them. I hope you have time to check some of them out during your next New York City adventure!