Bad Girls With Perfect Faces: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I didn’t know then what I know now: Be careful when your feelings are too strong, when you love someone too much. A heart too full is like a bomb. One day it will explode.”

cover art for Bad Girls With Perfect Faces by Lynn WeingartenSasha always looks out for her best friend Xavier. She’s the one who helped him put the pieces back together after his girlfriend Ivy cheated. She’s the one who dyes his hair. She’s the one who watches documentaries about the ocean and sea life with him.

Sasha is the one who would be perfect for Xavier. She loves him and she would never hurt him the way Ivy did. She’d never lie to him. And she’s just about ready to tell him all of that when Ivy shows up again.

Xavier and Ivy are a toxic combination–something that Xavier fails to remember when they get back together. All Sasha wants to do is protect him and prove once and for all that Ivy is a liar and a cheat.

So she poses as a guy online to attract Ivy.

What starts as a simple scheme to prove Ivy will cheat on Xavier again escalates quickly until the lies and the secrets start to spiral out of control. As Sasha’s plan to pretend to be someone else starts to go terribly wrong, she begins to worry about who she’s becoming in Bad Girls With Perfect Faces (2017) by Lynn Weingarten.

Bad Girls With Perfect Faces is a fascinating thriller that imagines what might happen when a seemingly minor case of catfishing goes horribly wrong. The novel is written in alternating chapters with the majority of the story falling to Sasha’s world-weary narration as she relates the events that blew her world apart. Text messages and other conversations between Sasha’s fake profile guy and Ivy are also interspersed throughout.

I can’t tell you much more about this story without giving something important away except that this is a perfect read-a-like for fans of Gone Girl. Bad Girls With Perfect Faces is a tense, sexy, thriller that promises to take readers on a wild ride from its ominous start to a twisted finish.

Possible Pairings: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre, Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda, This is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell

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

Warcross: A Review

“Everything’s science fiction until someone makes it science fact.”

by Marie Lucover art for Warcross by Marie LuEmika Chen’s life is a constant struggle. Since her father’s death she’s been drowning in deby as she tries to pay off the medical expenses and gambling debts he left behind. Emika is a stellar hacker but thanks to the arrest on her record she can’t get any jobs near a computer. Instead she works as a bounty hunter tracking down petty criminals who do stupid things like gamble on Warcross and hustling to stay ahead of the competition.

Warcross is the one place where Emika can relax. The virtual reality game is a diversion, a competition, and place where Emika can remember what she loves: coding. With an eviction notice hanging over her head it’s also a place where she can take a big risk and hack into the opening game of the Warcross Championship to try and steal an item and erase her debt.

When the hack goes spectacularly wrong Emika thinks she’s heading for a swift arrest and jail. But instead she is whisked to Tokyo where she meets Warcross’s creator–eccentric young millionaire Hideo Tanaka–and is hired to work as a spy and bounty hunter tracking down a hacker who is threatening the Warcross world.

To cover for her real mission Emika is placed in the Wardraft and becomes part of the Championship. Winning the Championship and finding the hacker could change Emika’s life forever. Getting too close to the truth could change the world of Warcross and beyond forever in Warcross (2017) by Marie Lu.

Warcross is the first book in Lu’s Warcross duology.

Lu has once again created a well-realized and fascinating world where virtual reality and augmented reality are plausibly integrated into everyday life. This plot-driven story is fast-paced and full of action as Emika’s investigation brings her into Tokyo as well as the virtual worlds of Warcross and the Dark World typically inhabited by criminals and hackers.

The coding and gameplay aspects of Warcross can feel convenient while more than one twist will leave readers wondering if a few frank conversations between characters could have avoided many of the novel’s main conflicts. The tension of the championship and the urgency of Emika’s investigation to track down the Warcross hacker, known only as Zero, raise the stakes enough to detract from these holes in the plot.

Warcross is filled with distinct characters from a variety of backgrounds ranging from poor Hammie, a champion Thief in Warcross who uses her winnings to support her family to DJ Ren–a champion Warcross player/French DJ sensation–and Phoenix Rider team captain Asher who is American and flies through Warcross games in virtual reality while navigating the real world in a high tech wheelchair. While Emika is immediately drawn into the camaraderie and competition surrounding Warcross (not to mention drawn to enticing and mysterious Hideo) she knows she can’t let her guard down if she wants to identify Zero and beat the other bounty hunters to the prize.

The high stakes of the Warcross championship blend well with the larger mystery of finding Zero.The excitement and twists, particularly in the second half of the novel, work well to draw readers in and help them ignore the fact that a few frank conversations could solve most if not all of Emika and Hideo’s problems.

This duology starter is filled with inventive world building, top notch characters, and provocative questions about who (if anyone) deserves a redemption arc. Warcross draws readers in with action and gaming, but where it really shines is with the thoughtful meditation on what separates heroes from villains in a world that is anything but black and white. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, For the Win by Cory Doctorow, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, Partials by Dan Wells

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

Say You’ll Remember Me: A Review

cover art for Say You'll Remember Me by Katie McGarryDrix is finally out of juvenile detention after serving out a year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Now as part of his plea deal Drix is serving as the face of the governor’s new Second Chance Program meant to help delinquent teens get off the streets and break the school-to-prison pipeline once and for all. Drix hates being at the beck and call of the governor and his entire team but he also knows this is his last chance to get his life back on track–even if it means he might have to give up his beloved drums for fear of letting them lead him down the wrong path again.

Elle knows life as the governor’s daughter is filled with privilege. But she also knows that it’s filled with pressure to be perfect all the time and display a certain face to the public–even if it might not be the face that feels like it’s really her. All Elle really wants to do is pursue coding and win a prestigious internship–something her parents seem to think is impossible while Elle continues to help her father’s campaign.

Drix and Elle have nothing in common but their connection is immediate. Which makes it that much harder when Drix realizes that Elle is the last girl he should be thinking about, forget talking to. Together Drix and Elle might be able to find the truth behind Drix’s conviction and give Elle a chance to gain some independence but only if they’re willing to stick together in Say You’ll Remember Me (2017) by Katie McGarry.

McGarry’s latest is a fun standalone romance written in alternating first person chapters between Drix and Elle. McGarry’s writing is fast-paced and filled with snappy dialog, particularly between Drix and Elle whose chemistry is immediate both to themselves and to readers.

Although both characters are seventeen at the start of the novel they often start to sound like adults (particularly Drix as he delivers smooth remarks including the observation that Elle has lips that are “made for sin”) which sometimes makes the prose a bit clunky.

The problem of Drix and Elle’s extremely star-crossed relationship takes a backseat for much of the story to the more immediate issue of figuring out who committed the robbery for which Drix was arrested. Elle’s strained and often painful relationship with her parents also adds dimension to her character.

Say You’ll Remember Me is an exciting romance that explores teen incarceration, non-traditional families, and life in poverty with nuance and authenticity. Recommended for readers looking for a realistic bit of escapism guaranteed to end well (as all romances should and do).

 

Possible Pairings: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Now and Forever by Susane Colasanti, Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Dear Yvette by Ni-Ni Simone, The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

When Dimple Met Rishi: A Review

cover art for When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya MenonWhat happens if you meet the exact right person for you at the exactly wrong time?

Dimple Shah wants to go to Stanford, focus on coding, and start her career. She would like to go to Insomnia Con this summer before she starts college to participate in the coding competition and possibly meet her idol Jenny Lindt.

Dimple isn’t interested in clothes, contacts, or makeup. She definitely doesn’t want a relationship or an “Ideal Indian Husband”–not right now and possibly not ever. When her parents agree to pay for Dimple to attend Insomnia Con, it feels like maybe they’re both finally understanding who Dimple is and embracing her dreams and ambitions.

Then again, maybe not.

Rishi Patel knows that it’s up to him to follow tradition and respect his parents’ wishes. It’s possible that Rishi isn’t passionate about engineering or MIT but he knows he should stick to the responsible and safe choice.

Rishi is a romantic but he also wants a solid partnership in the future. He trusts his parents when they try to set up an arranged marriage with the daughter of family friends. It should be simple. Rishi can even meet her at Insomnia Con and woo her. It will be perfect.

Or will it?

Dimple and Rishi figure each other out pretty quickly. They have nothing in common. They want different things. But they also make each other laugh and might be able to help each other be their best selves–if they can just give each other a chance–in When Dimple Met Rishi (2017) by Sandhya Menon.

When Dimple Met Rishi is Menon’s debut novel.

Menon’s writing is filled with evocative descriptions of San Francisco over the course of the three weeks Dimple and Rishi spend there for Insomnia Con. Dimple and Rishi’s relationship plays out against this backdrop of coding and competition along with a few side plots involving Dimple’s roommate Cecelia and Rishi’s younger brother Ashish.

When Dimple Met Rishi is a sweet romantic comedy with a lighthearted premise but it doesn’t stop there. Dimple and Rishi are both first generation Indian-Americans (their parents immigrated from India) and they are dealing with it in different ways. Dimple rails against traditions and values that seem determined to relegate women to successful marriages and not much else; she wants to make her own way in the world and she isn’t sure it matters if that goes against her parents’ expectations. Rishi revels in being part of such an old and amazing culture; he places so much value on traditions that he’s willing to sacrifice his own dreams because of them.

Although Dimple and Rishi are both eighteen they read young and feel like authentic teens facing big changes as summer ends and college approaches. Slow pacing toward the middle and some contrivances near the end of the book do little to diminish this enjoyable story. When Dimple Met Rishi is a thoughtful, clever read. A satisfying story about two teens who manage to find a lot to appreciate (including themselves) once they find each other. Highly recommended and guaranteed to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Say You’ll Remember Me by Katie McGarry, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

I Am Princess X: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I am Princess X by Cherie PriestMay and Libby created Princess X on the day they met in fifth grade. Libby drew Princess X while May created the stories. Together they made sure that Princess X became an indelible part of their childhood.

That was before Libby and her mother died in a car crash.

Now May is sixteen and looking at another long, lonely summer in Seattle with only her dad for company. That changes when she spots a Princess X sticker on the corner of a store window. Suddenly she starts seeing Princess X everywhere.

When the stickers lead to IAmPrincessX.com, May finds a webcomic with a wholly new but not unfamiliar Princess X. In the comic, the princess’ story is eerily similar to Libby’s. And filled with clues only May recognizes.

Which means that the only person who could have created the comic is May’s best friend–Libby–who is still alive and needs May’s help in I Am Princess X (2015) by Cherie Priest with illustrations by Kali Ciesemier.

I Am Princess X is Priest’s first novel written for a young adult audience. Accompanying illustrations by Kali Ciesemier bring the story found in the Princess X webcomic to life and integrate beautifully with May’s search for Libby in this utterly satisfying read.

May is a spunky, capable heroine who finds help from likable and well-realized characters along the way including Patrick, a likable hacker with a possibly biased sense of his own computer skills.

Priest offers a tantalizing, page-turner of a mystery that seamlessly spans real locations in Seattle and dark pockets of the internet. Even when the action moves online, Priest keeps the story exciting and approachable without ever resorting to technical jargon. I Am Princess X is filled with references to technology and pop culture but manages to still feel timeless in a way that guarantees this one will appeal to readers for years to come.

This book strikes the perfect balance between believable and sensational as May follows the comic’s clues to find out the truth about her best friend. It’s also worth noting that I Am Princess X is a story firmly grounded in friendship as readers learn more about May and Libby. There is no extraneous romance subplot to be found here. Furthermore Priest’s characters are naturally (and realistically) diverse throughout the novel.

I Am Princess X is an excellent book with loads of cross-genre and cross-format appeal. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Dial Em for Murder by Marni Bates, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Shadowshaper by  Daniel José Older, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the April 2015 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online as a Starred Review*

Brain Jack: A (rapid fire) review

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner (2009)

Brain Jack by Brian Falkner This book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

I can see how Brain Jack would have some appeal and could be great for teens who are into computers or are reluctant readers. That said, I personally wasn’t very impressed with the book.

I thought it was too technical. I know nothing about computers but a lot of the stuff sounded downright made up in places and in other places sounded  like gibberish. It felt strange having people typing on a computer be high action and also Falkner at times made it seem like the characters were inside the computer which is jarring.

I personally was irritated when New York’s Avenue of the Americas was mentioned in the story, by a native New Yorker, when everyone who has been living here would only call it Sixth Avenue. Other elements also just felt out of place to me, like story threads that didn’t feel vital to the plot. (Examples: Vegas, Fargas, Vienna, Dodge’s dodgy tattoo ON HIS FOREHEAD.) Many of the characters also fell flat.

The prologue was poorly done and off putting. I got my copy from a friend who I’m sure also didn’t buy it. It was so strange having the prologue talk in depth about getting information from people who bought the book when I didn’t (and I’m sure a lot of people didn’t). Aside from completely disregarding libraries and borrowing books it brought me right out of the narrative since it was so not true for my experience. In tandem with the prologue I felt like the epilogue was too preachy and weirdly so. Neuro headsets don’t actually exist and the book is fiction, but then he is telling us he’ll be watching (much like Santa Claus)?

It just didn’t work for me.

Say hello to Computer Engineer Barbie

Regular readers will recognize that I spend a fair amount of time on this blog talking about things from a feminist slant. I also talk about dolls every now and then. (And warblers but that is totally unrelated to this post.) I also have no problem with Barbie. I think when viewed in the right way she can be a great doll/role model for girls (once you get past the body image thing).

So, I was really excited today when I found out that Mattel had announced Barbie’s next career last week.

Earlier this winter, Barbie held a popular vote for Barbie’s next career. I found out about it through their clever street-side advertisements which showed Barbie’s past careers (astronaut, GI, cop, presidential candidate, teacher . . .) and invited people to vote for her next one. They also apparently conducted a “global career survey” of girls in October of last year. The results have me pleased as punch.

Get ready to say hello to News Anchor and Computer Engineer Barbie!

News Anchor was the top choice among the girls who voted in the “global career survey” and Computer Engineer was the popular online vote choice. (I voted for computer engineer and/or architect. Environmentalist was another option.)

I would have loved to see Barbie in a lab coat or with a draftsman desk, but I’m really excited about both choices. News Anchor Barbie looks cute in a pink suit and high heels sure, but she also has her microphone ready. My favorite accessory is her file folder which she has handy for all of her research notes and interview questions. She reminds me of Elle Woods but with a mic.

Then we have Computer Engineer Barbie who I might actually have to buy because I’m so happy to see her out in the world. I love that Barbie finally has glasses and is shown with flat feet and practical shoes. I like that she is, basically, a computer geek but she gets to have a cute outfit and still look girly while working with computers.

There are a lot of posts out there criticizing the doll and saying it’s not enough to break the stereotype of the male computer engineer. They wonder why Barbie has to have glasses, and how realistic her clothing choices really are. Her pink laptop and the design choices for her news anchor counterpart are also up for discussion.

On the other hand, real computer engineers did have input.

Either way, I think this is a really big step in the right direction. I don’t know how many little girls dream of being a computer engineer, but I bet a lot more might think about it when they see Barbie doing it. Accuracy aside, I think having a hugely popular doll as a computer engineer is also a great way to demystify that profession and, as I said before, make it more approachable to girls.

Finally, as I say whenever Barbie gets some criticism (or kudos), it’s important to remember that first and foremost she is a doll. Barbie might not be the most realistic computer engineer but she does get the field some visibility. And sure most computer engineers won’t wear sparkly leggings and a jacket with a circuit board on it, but Barbie’s a doll. Her clothes are a lot of fun when you think of them not as a typical outfit but as novelty items. As a library professional who happily owns and wears t-shirts from a library comic strip as well as a banned books bracelet, all I can say is maybe Barbie is a computer engineer who’s willing to have a little fun with her wardrobe choices–a quality I value in all of my dolls.