In the Age of Love and Chocolate: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

In the Age of Love and Chocolate by Gabrielle ZevinAnya Balanchine knows about hardships and sacrifice. She also knows, better than most, that sometimes difficult choices have to be made.

Now eighteen and working closely with one of her former enemies, Anya is on the verge of opening a nightclub specializing in medicinal cacao–the first attempt to circumvent the laws that have made chocolate illegal in the United States for years. With that victory so close, Anya is also forced to accept the things she has lost in her efforts to legitimize the family business–namely the boy she loved, Win Delacroix.

Just as Anya begins to taste professional success, her personal life begins to fall apart. In order to make her way through, Anya will have to seek out old friends and enemies as she makes her way in this dangerous world where  chocolate is illegal and family means everything in In the Age of Love and Chocolate (2013) by Gabrielle Zevin.

In the Age of Love and Chocolate is the final book in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series which started with All These Things I’ve Done and Because It Is My Blood. The book itself is also broken into two parts: The Age of Chocolate and The Age of Love which, as you might have guessed, illustrate the shifting focuses of the story as well as Anya’s shifting priorities.

It’s hard to talk about the conclusion of a series without giving away too much about the story (or about the books  that came before). What I can tell you is that while this ending wasn’t always the one I expected or wanted for Anya, it is the only conclusion that makes sense for her as a character. It is the only one that could be truly satisfying after moving through the series.

Anya remains the smart, steady heroine she always was in In the Age of Love and Chocolate but her growth here is even more apparent as Anya negotiates the murky waters of adulthood and the chocolate business. Anya stumbles, she makes mistakes, but she always learns and she always tries again. She is a refreshingly strong, self-sufficient heroine and one that I am sad to leave behind as this wonderful series comes to an end.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

Check back tomorrow for my interview with the author!

Because It Is My Blood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

**As the second in a series, this book (and the review) may contain spoilers for All These Things I’ve Done. You have been warned.**

Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle ZevinAnya Balanchine knows firsthand that being the presumptive heir to an illegal chocolate empire comes with its fair share of complications. After a turbulent year filled with futile attempts to move beyond her criminal reputation and date a truly ill-advised boy–all while caring for her brother and sister–Anya is hoping that the start of autumn and her release from Liberty Children’s Facility will bring with it calmer times.

Unfortunately, nothing about Anya’s life after Liberty is calm. Her criminal record makes attending (not to mention finishing) high school nearly impossible.

Her little sister Natty has grown up during Anya’s time away. Scarlet, her best friend, seems closer than ever to her odious boyfriend Gable. And Win? The boy who made Anya want to give up almost everything her family stood for seems to have a new love.

Anya isn’t sure where she fits into this world where everything and everyone has moved on without her except that she hopes it has nothing to do with her extended family. Or chocolate.

Unfortunately, as ever, Anya’s wants are overlooked as she is drawn back into the Balanchine’s world of crime, chocolate and intrigue. Taken away from the city and the people that she loves, Anya will have to decide what price she is willing to pay for safety and who she truly wants to be in Because It Is My Blood (2012) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Because It Is My Blood is the second book in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series which started with All These Things I’ve Done.

As exciting as Because It Is My Blood can be, this novel’s strength is in its focus on Anya. She is still impetuous and often acts rashly. But she is also circumspect and calculating–as is fitting of a mafiya princess, even a reluctant one.

While Anya struggles with familiar questions about her family and her identity, Zevin keeps the story original with her surprising turns and Anya’s wry, eloquent narration. Readers will also notice Anya’s continued growth as she moves out from her dead father’s shadow (and advice) to begin making her own decisions.

Zevin also continues to delicately build Anya’s world in Because It Is My Blood with some tantalizing hints of what readers can expect in the latter half of this series. As our heroine moves beyond the island of Manhattan, Zevin develops the politics of 2083 that surround a country where chocolate is illegal and many other items are in short supply.

Because It Is My Blood proves that Anya still has more to learn and even more tricks up her sleeve making this book another absorbing installment in an already gripping series.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

Thanks to Esther Bochner at Macmillan Audio I also have a clip to share from the audiobook of Because It Is My Blood: You can listen to the clip on my website.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Gabrielle Zevin!

Also be sure to check out the cool trailer.

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012

All These Things I’ve Done: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle ZevinAnya Balanchine lives in a world where chocolate is illegal, water is scarce and New York City is a ghost of what it once was. Central Park is no longer a park. The Metropolitan Museum is a night club.

Anya’s life has been touched by tragedy, if not hardship, as the daughter of an infamous (and dead) crime boss. With her parents gone, it falls to Anya to take care of her siblings and protect them from the family business.

But when the family business is illegal chocolate, it’s hard to stay on the sidelines–especially when the new boy at school that you might like happens to be the son of the new assistant district attorney. Suddenly all of the decisions Anya has been avoiding need to be made and this time it might not be possible to keep everyone safe.

In a world where so much has changed and family means everything, falling in love could be deadly in All These Things I’ve Done (2011) by Gabrielle Zevin.

All These Things I’ve Done is the dynamic start to Zevin’s Birthright series–happily so since this book leaves readers who are looking for dystopians, noir stories, and even heist stories like White Cat or Heist Society wanting a lot more.

Although the story is  little gory and gritty at times (and maybe even a little bleak thinking about a world where the Met is a nightclub and paper is a thing of the past) Zevin still manages to imbue Anya’s narrative with hope. Throughout all of her travails, Anya manages to persevere. Even at her most ruthless and pragmatic Anya remains a completely sympathetic heroine. Zevin also cleverly reverses typical tropes casting Anya as the hero while her boyfriend stands in as the “damsel in distress” of this story.

The writing here is beautiful and frank, immediately evoking the strange new world Anya calls home complete with details specific to New York and a remarkably well-realized landscape. All These Things I’ve Done presents a taut story filled with tension and suspense that starts off what promises to be a remarkable series.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

You can also read my exclusive interview with Gabrielle Zevin!

*A copy of this book was acquired for review from the publisher*

Dessert First: A Chick Lit Wednesday review

Dessert First by Hallie Durand, illustrated by Christine DavenierDessert Schneider doesn’t know what to think on the first day of third grade when her teacher introduces herself as Mrs. Howdy Doody and starts marching around in fluffy white slippers. But then Mrs. Howdy Doody tells the class that they should all find their own personal style and march to their very own drummers. And Dessert kind of likes that idea because it means she might have a chance to eat dessert first (before dinner) once in a while–if she marches just right.

Dessert comes from a family of foodies. Her younger sister Charlie and brothers Wolfie and Mushy all love food. And her parents own Fondue Paris, a very cool restaurant specializing in all things fondue. Coming from this background, it is no surpise that Dessert signs her name with a Maraschino cherry anymore than she believes that cherry is all you need in life, along with something to put the cherry on of course.

The problem with belonging to a food family, though, is that sometimes food–especially sweet chocolately foods–can be really distracting. When Dessert discovers an off limit box of special Double-Decker Bars at home, she knows she has to try just one. At least, it was supposed to be just one. Sometimes, without Dessert meaning to, things get out of hand because she spends too much time getting into trouble and not enough time thinking about how to avoid it.

Dessert First by Hallie Durand (with illustrations by Christine Davenier) is the first book about Dessert Schneider and her family. While not as good as the first Clementine book (possibly because it’s just plain shorter), I saw a lot of similarities between the two books. Dessert is a really likable eight-year-old with a fascinating family.

The illustrations add a lot to the story as well. Sometimes I find myself dissappointed, after seeing the colorful cover, to discover that a book has black-and-white illustrations but Davenier’s are done with thick lines and bold geometric patterns (mostly on Dessert’s dresses) that really make them work.

That said, some aspects of the plot did bother me. I was never a eat-dessert-first kind of kid so I found Dessert’s singular interest in the matter to be . . . interersting. An eight-year-old sneaking not one but twelve brownies without anyone noticing was also interesting. It set up a chance to learn an important lesson, but it was also just strange because Dessert didn’t seem to have any self control. I get it in terms of the story but I wonder if it could happen in the real world. Finally, I had issues with the Doody Drive at the end of the story where all of the elementary school is asked to give up something they love for two weeks to pledge money to build a tree house. It just seemed bizarre and not entirely appropriate for a grade school to me. Maybe that’s just me. . . .

Weird bits aside, I see big things in Dessert’s future and hope that Dessert First leads to bigger and better installments about the Schneider family.

Sorcery and Cecelia: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline StevermerPatricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer first published Sorcery and Cecelia under that title in 1988. In recent years, thanks to reprints with shiny new cover art by Scott M. Fischer in the case of the edition I read as well as two new sequels, this book has regained popularity and visibility. Aside from that, one of the most important things to know about this book is its alternate title: The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country.

Wrede and Stevermer wrote this book as a writing exercise of sorts called the Letter Game. Patricia C. Wrede wrote as Cecelia while Caroline Stevermer responded with Kate’s letters. They did not plan the plot before they began writing.

Almost every review I have found online describes Sorcery and Cecelia as a cross between the books of Jane Austen and those of J. K. Rowling. The comparison does make sense, but I might venture to say I liked this book better than any of the Harry Potter series.

The year is 1817 in an England where magic is as much a part of life as letter writing. The latter is of particular importance to Kate and Cecelia as the cousins spend the novel in separate parts of England. While Kate and her more glamorous sister Georgina are in London enjoying a proper Season, Cecelia, much to her consternation, is left to languish in the country with her brother Oliver for company (at least until he’s turned into a tree).

Problems begin for both cousins when Kate accidentally intercepts a rather nasty pot of chocolate in a London garden that was, apparently, meant for the eccentric Marquis of Schofield. If only he would explain exactly why.

Meanwhile, in the country, Cecelia finds herself following a shady figure spying on Cecy’s new (and surprisingly popular!) friend Dorothea. When Cecelia repeatedly catches him in the act of spying, James Tarleton repeatedly refuses to offer any information.

As the girls learn more about these mysterious men, and the mysterious events, it becomes clear that something big is happening–big enough that evidence of the plan can be seen in both London and the country. The only question is what, exactly, is going on and if Kate and Cecelia can stop it in time.

Being an homage to Jane Austen, this novel has not one but two romances. Which couple is better has been a hot topic since the book came out. The librarian who recommended the book to me feels very strongly that the Mysterious Marquis and Kate are a more enjoyable match to observe. For my part, I preferred Cecelia and James.

This novel avoids all of the traps that can make an epistolary novel awful. There is no repetition, there is dialogue, the narrative reads like a, for lack of a better word, normal book in that the narrative flows in a fairly traditional way. There is neither too much information nor too little. And, most importantly, the novel is filled with suspense, action, humor and romance that shines through both Cecelia’s and Kate’s letters.

But then from two talented and well-known fantasy writers, what else can a reader expect but perfection?

Sorcery and Cecelia is the first in a series of books featuring Kate and Cecelia. Their stories continue in The Grand Tour (2004) and The Mislaid Magician of Ten Years After (2006).

Possible Pairings: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, A Room With a View by E. M. Forster, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White