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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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 Unexpected Everything: A Review

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan MatsonAndie and her father haven’t been close since the death of her mother five years ago. Spending a summer in the same house as her father while he is not working is unthinkable.

Unfortunately, when Andie’s internship opportunity disappears thanks to her father’s political scandal, a summer with her father is also a harsh reality.

Andie has her best friends Bri, Toby, and Palmer (and even Palmer’s long-time boyfriend) to keep her company during the summer. Which is great. But finding a way to her internship would be better.

Instead, through a series of mishaps and surprises, Andie becomes a reluctant dogwalker and starts scoping out a cute boy named Clark as her potential summer romance.

But with her first unplanned summer in a long time, Andie soon learns that you can’t plan for the best things in life in The Unexpected Everything (2016) by Morgan Matson.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Unexpected Everything is Matson’s standalone follow-up to Since You’ve Been Gone. (Set in the same Connecticut town, readers of Matson’s earlier novel will also recognize a few character cameos.)

Matson once again evokes the lazy and timeless feel of a summer adventure in her latest novel. Andie is a driven heroine with a singular focus on her future. Raised in her father’s world of politics, it’s hard for Andie to connect or foster genuine interactions–something that she has learned first-hand is quite simple to fake with the right cues. Over the course of this meandering novel, Matson explores Andie’s character and her growth as she begins to understand that there is more to life than having a master plan.

Andie is a very different character in a lot of ways. She’s savvy and jaded. She’s unapologetic about chasing superficial romances that seem easy and safe. Andie spends a lot of The Unexpected Everything keeping people (and readers) at a remove while she tries to protect herself from loss or heartbreak. While it’s understandable when the loss of her mother is a physical presence for much of the story, it also makes it difficult to connect with Andie. It makes it even harder to be invested in her story as the book nears five hundred pages.

A thin plot makes the novel feel even longer as do heavily broadcasted plot twists. Fans of Matson will be happy to return to her familiar and evocative writing. A sweet romance and solid female friendships make The Unexpected Everything a lengthy but mostly enjoyable read filled with summer fun and thoughtful characters.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, The Best Night of Your Pathetic Life by Tara Altebrando, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, 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

Now and Forever: A Review

Now and Forever by Susane ColasantiEven before he started to blow up, Sterling could not believe that Ethan picked her to ask out. Even before he hit a million followers, before his single started airing on the radio, before the concerts and the sold out tour destinations, Sterling knew she was so incredibly lucky to have Ethan Cross as her boyfriend.

Ethan and Sterling click in a way Sterling didn’t think possible. As much as she loves performing culinary experiments and correcting egregious grammatical errors in signs, Sterling loves spending time with Ethan more. As great as hanging out with her friends is, hanging out with Ethan is better.

Then Ethan’s music starts getting noticed and suddenly Ethan is a hot commodity thrown head-first in the world of fame and celebrity. Sterling, much to her initial dismay, is thrown in right beside him.

Ethan is getting compared to Michael Jackson and getting more famous by the second. Meanwhile Sterling finds herself appearing next to Ethan in countless tabloid photos, traveling around the country to catch his sold out shows, and even garnering a small following of her own.

Between her hot boyfriend, the sudden fame, and the free couture, Sterling should be living the dream. The only problem is Sterling is no longer sure whose dream it is in Now and Forever (2014) by Susane Colasanti.

Find it on Bookshop.

Now and Forever is a bit like an exclusive trip behind the velvet rope; a look at exactly what being famous might mean. Unfortunately, unlike other titles in a similar ilk, this book fails to offer a nuanced picture instead focusing on the glitz and glamor. While Ethan does change as he gains fame throughout the story, the implications of that change or what caused it (privilege, growing up, celebrity in general) are never discussed anymore than Sterling’s own relationship with her fame by association.

While this is a sweet romance, a lot of the story is spent on a bad relationship. Although this focus on the bad makes the second romance that much sweeter, it simultaneously raises questions about why the novel’s plot focuses where it does for so long.

Like all of Colasanti’s heroines, Sterling is adorably romantic. While her absorption in Ethan’s world and identity are troubling, it is an issue that’s addressed before the story ends.

Now and Forever is a must read for any readers who are super into the latest boy band or music in general. Bonus points for anyone who is a celebrity news junkie.

Possible Pairings: Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Say You’ll Remember Me by Katie McGarry, Being Friends With Boys by Terra Elan McVoy, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle

Since You’ve Been Gone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan MatsonEmily had planned to have the Best Summer Ever with her best friend Sloane. Ever since she met Sloane two years ago, it felt like everything was better. Emily could be braver and more interesting just by virtue of being around Sloane.

But then Sloane disappears. No emails. No calls. No texts. Suddenly, the perfect summer Emily had imagined with her best friend is a lost cause. With her little brother busy trying to climb everything in sight and her parents starting a new play, Emily is expecting some quality wallowing time in her near future.

Then the list arrives after Sloane has been gone for two weeks.

This isn’t the first time Sloane has sent Emily a list of random, sometimes scary, things to do. But now, with Sloane gone, Emily hopes that completing the list might also help her figure out where exactly Sloane has gone.

With the help of some unlikely friends, Sloane starts working her way through the list. Apple picking at night should be easy. Dancing until dawn might actually be fun. Kissing a stranger could go either way. Skinny dipping? Stealing something? Those might take a little more work in Since You’ve Been Gone (2014) by Morgan Matson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Since You’ve Been Gone is Matson’s third novel. (It includes a surprise behind the dust jacket so be sure to check that out!)

From the cover and book design to the plotting and story, Since You’ve Been Gone is a perfect package. Every piece makes sense. Every aspect of the story clicks. Matson delivers a strong and immediately accessible story here.

Most of the story occurs during the course of Emily’s summer. Matson also includes key flashbacks to Emily and Sloane’s relationship to highlight the arc of their friendship. The flashbacks also add just the right amount of tension to the story as readers wonder what might have changed between these two girls.

Emily is a deceptive narrator, initially seeming passive and very meek. During the course of Since You’ve Been Gone readers can see Emily’s obvious growth as a character. Matson also delivers spot-on secondary characters ranging from Emily’s quirky brother and playwright parents to the friends she never expected to find in Frank, Collins and Dawn.

While Emily loses Sloane before the novel even starts, this book is very much about finding things–including a very authentic and charming romance. In her efforts to complete the list, Emily finds inner courage and maybe even a little bit of herself. Sloane’s tasks also add a nice structure to the story as each chapter focuses on one task and how its completion unfolds–often in unexpected ways. Since You’ve Been Gone is an effervescent, delightful read that is sure to leave readers smiling.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, City Love by Susane Colasanti, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Reunited by Lauren Weisman Graham, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Flannery by Lisa Moore, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Even in Paradise by Chelsea Philpot, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott

Passing Strange: A (disappointed) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Passing Strange by Daniel WatersKaren DeSonne is good at fooling people. She’s passed as the normal girl, the responsible daughter, and even the happy girl. That was before she killed herself.

That was before she came back.

Now, Karen is making the most of her second chance at life–or whatever it is when the dead start walking around.

Things go horribly wrong when her dead friends’ planned social protest turns into a shootout after the zombies are accused of murder. Karen makes it away, but many other zombies in Oakvale are forced into hiding when it becomes illegal to be dead and walking around.

Karen knows that zombies had nothing to do with this crime. And she knows where to go to clear their names. In order to get the proof and help her people, Karen is going to have to wear the ultimate disguise. She’ll have to pretend to like Pete Martinsburg–a known zombie killer. But Karen’s pretended to like people before. The hard part, the part that could land her in a whole world of trouble, will be pretending she’s alive. Karen’s fooled everyone close to her at least once, but will she be able to pull off the charade of a lifetime (or un-lifetime) in Passing Strange (2010) by Daniel Waters.

Passing Strange is the third installment in Daniel Water’s quirky series about the walking dead in Oakvale (preceeded by the first book Generation Dead and Kiss of Life). This book is a departure from the first two in the series and would be a good place to start the series without missing a lot . . . except that this one is so much less than the first (and even the second) book.

Waters has abandoned his usual alternating perspectives and instead spends most of the book narrating in Karen’s voice. Unfortunately that voice is vacuous and sadly under-developed, particularly when compared to the writing from the other books (or even the third person parts in Passing Strange). Karen has had a complete personality shift from earlier in the series with seemingly no reason except to titillate readers. A girl who had previously seemed strong and grounded, comes across as flighty and insipid.

The entire book was erratic and a shocking departure from its two tightly written and well-put-together predecessors. Sometimes Karen is talking in present tense, sometimes the past tense. Sometimes she addresses a mysterious “you” to no effect. To make matters worse story threads that were raised in the earlier books are largely abandoned and sloppily set aside.

This book is a must read for anyone who has been following the series and wants to know what’s happening with their favorite zombies and their traditionally biotic friends (unless that includes Tommy or Phoebe who are barely in this one) but it is also a vast disappointment after Waters’ clever, sharp debut.

Possible Pairings: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

Exclusive Bonus Content: I received a copy of the UK edition to review from PriceMinister which is why I’m showing the usual zombie (US) cover (that’s Karen on the cover again by the way) and what I consider the inferior flower (UK) cover. I made a big deal of the wraparound covers from the first two books. Even that aspect fell short here with the cover only utilizing the front of the book this time. Everything about this book makes me wonder what the hell happened to the series I started reading and what the hell Waters is doing. We can only hope for a dramatic improvement in the next book.

Kiss of Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Life is always about choices. It’s about Phoebe Kendall befriending Karen DeSonne, the “differently biotic” girl next door and choosing to go to homecoming with Tommy Williams, the “differently biotic” boy next door. It’s about Tommy standing immobile when Pete Martinsburg pointed a gun at Phoebe’s head. It’s about Adam taking a bullet to save Phoebe. And, even though his “traditionally biotic” life might be over, it’s about Adam coming back–maybe for himself but probably for Phoebe, the girl he loves.

Adam isn’t alone.

All over the country, dead teenagers are waking up and rejoining the living with varying degrees of success. No one knows why some teenagers come back and some don’t. The only certainty is that everything changed the moment these zombies began trying to reconnect with the world of the living.

Adam’s death and return have rocked the city of Oakvale, Connecticut to its core. What really happened that night? Is it murder if the the victim can get up and walk away? Does a dead person deserve the same rights as a living person? Wouldn’t things be simpler if all of the zombies would just go away?

Vandalism and social protest abound as some of the zombies try to remind Oakvale that they aren’t going anywhere. But instead of raising awareness, the Sons of Romero might just be putting a bigger target on their differently biotic backs.

While Phoebe struggles to bring Adam back as much as she can, Tommy and Karen try to act as voices of reason among the zombie community. But the time for reason might be over in Kiss of Life (2009) by Daniel Waters.

Find it on Bookshop.

This sequel picks up shortly after the disastragic conclusion of Generation Dead leaving all of the characters to deal with the fallout, and the grief, in their own ways.

Don’t let the blurb or excerpt fool you. Both try to play up the Dramatic Love Triangle angle to lethal effect* but Kiss of Life is smarter than that. Waters continues to use the dichotomy between traditionally and differently biotic people to examine matters of tolerance and equality in a clever, original way.

In fact, even though this book is necessarily about Adam and his return, the book’s main event is really the polarizing nature of the newly dead arriving in Oakvale (and the rest of the country) and their own attempts to raise awareness and get some rights. Social protest is a big part of the story but so is, for lack of a better term, the meaning of life as all of the differently biotic characters try to make sense of what their returns really mean for them and, in a greater context, for the world at large.

I always said that Generation Dead was a really smart book. If possible, Kiss of Life is even more on point. It’s exciting, it gets under your skin, and it’s socially aware. Waters’ characters are charming and terrifying as he shows events not only from the heroes’ viewpoints but also from that of a villain. Nothing is black and white here. Add to that a dramatic finish and one of the most heart-wrenching love stories ever and you have something really exceptional.

Possible Pairings: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld

*I was so excited about this sequel, but when I saw the blurb and excerpt I was so angry because this was one of those moments where there was absolutely no contest (Adam all the way, always and no matter what) but it really seemed like there was. I put off reading this book for almost a year because I DID NOT need to watch Phoebe spend a whole book mulling over which zombie boy she really loved. But the book is not about that AT ALL as the story really continues in the same vein as the first book. And I wish I knew that a year ago.

Exclusive Bonus Content: Like its predecessor, this book also has a fantastic wraparound cover that makes use of the full jacket. I get a little teary when I look at it, thinking “Oh, Adam.” every time. But aside from that it’s awesome. I don’t know who is finding these models but they are spot-on in capturing all of the characters and the whole “zombie” look. I love everything about this cover. (Click on the picture if you want to see it in its enormous full-sized image glory.)

Zombies Search for Acceptance and Tolerance Instead of Brains in Generation Dead

Generation Dead cover (note the use of the entire dust jacket)In its Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that separate schools for black and white students were unconstitutional. The schools for whites were often superior to their counterparts for black students and consequently the separate schools offered very different educational opportunities. This ruling was key to the civil rights movement and efforts to end segregation.

On September 3, 1957, nine black students were barred from entry into Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. By September 23, after another court decision ruled that Arkansas’ governor could not keep them out, the Little Rock Nine were able to begin their school year in the white high school. President Eisenhower also sent the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock to help protect the black students from harassment that ranged from insults to acid being thrown into one student’s face.

Eight of the Little Rock Nine finished the school year at the Central High. In May of 1958 Ernest Green graduated from the school, the only minority in his graduating class of 602 students.

Fifty years later, Daniel Waters’ debut novel Generation Dead (2008) offers a new take on integration and the fight for civil rights. Find it on Bookshop.

In Oakvale, Connecticut parents and students alike are worried about the new students transferring to Oakvale High to benefit from the school’s program of integration. Some of the new students are minorities, some of them are not. The reason all of the new students prove worrisome to some locals is more fundamental: The new students are dead.

All over the country, dead teenagers are waking up and rejoining the living—more or less. Called “living impaired” or “differently biotic” by a politically correct society, many of the undead kids prefer the term “zombie.” No one knows why some teenagers come back and some don’t. The only certainty is that everything changed the moment these zombies began trying to reconnect with the world of the living.

Unfortunately, some (living) people would prefer to have the zombies stay dead. Permanently. Everyone child knows that names can never hurt them, but for undead teens that don’t heal sticks and stones suddenly seem much more dangerous, especially when the government has no laws to protect differently biotic citizens. After all, citizenship is supposed to expire when the citizen does, isn’t it?

In Generation Dead integration doesn’t start with a court decision detailing undead rights. Instead it starts with Tommy Williams trying out for the football team. Dead for about a year, no one expects Tommy to survive tryouts, let alone make the team. Except that he does.

Suddenly, the zombies don’t seem quite so different. Phoebe Kendall, a traditionally biotic (albeit pale) student, realizes that better than anyone as she begins to observe Tommy and the other living impaired students at her school including Tommy and Karen (the girl featured on the novel’s cover and possibly this reviewer’s favorite character). The more Phoebe sees of zombies like Tommy and Karen, the more they seem like any normal teenager, well mostly.

No one questions Phoebe’s motivations for befriending Tommy until it begins to look like the two of them are more than friends. Margi, Phoebe’s best friend and fellow Goth, can’t understand what Phoebe could see in a dead boy. Every time her neighbor Adam sees Phoebe with Tommy, he can’t help but wonder why she doesn’t feel the same way about him when he’s actually alive.

Eventually Margi and Adam come around, forming their own tentative bonds with the zombies in their midst. Meanwhile, other students at Oakvale remain hostile. Determined to make sure that the dead students invading their school stay dead for good this time, they set a vicious plan into motion that will irrevocably change everything for Phoebe and her friends—dead and alive.

Written in the third person, Waters alternates viewpoints throughout the novel. Each of the main characters mentioned here, specifically Phoebe and Adam, have sections of the novel related from their perspective. The novel even features narration from one of the students strongly opposed to the zombie presence in Oakvale. This technique, aside from demonstrating Waters’ masterful writing skills, offers a fully informed perspective on the events of the novel with its variety of viewpoints.

Upon first glance, this book looks like a quirky but not necessarily serious book. A cover with a dead cheerleader wearing biker books can have that effect on readers. And yet, even though the story is about zombies, it isn’t just another fun book. Filled with smart writing and an utterly original story, Generation Dead also adds to the ongoing conversation about tolerance and equality suggesting that people often have more in common than not. Even with zombies.

(You can get even more of that zombie perspective at Tommy’s blog My So-Called Undeath.

Possible Pairings: 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Demon’s Covenant by Sarah Rees Brennan, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Peeps by Scott Westerfeld