Everywhere You Want to Be: A Review

cover art Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina JuneMatilda “Tilly” Castillo is used to doing what’s expected of her. But after almost losing her chance to be a professional dancer forever after an injury, Tilly knows she has to take her chance now or lose her dreams forever.

She has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to join a dance troupe in New York City for the summer which could be her best chance to make things happen. Her mother also thinks it will be Tilly’s last hurrah as a dancer before she starts at Georgetown in the fall. But her mother doesn’t need to know that Tilly deferred her admission for a year. At least not until finishes the summer and proves she can make a living as a dancer.

Armed with her vintage red sunglasses and a promise to visit her abuela often in New Jersey, Tilly is ready to take New York by storm. What she doesn’t count on is the fierce rivalry she’ll encounter with another dancer or Paolo–a handsome drummer from her past–surprisingly spending the summer in New York himself.

Over the course of a summer filled with new experiences, loves, and adventure Tilly will have to decide if she wants to follow the path her mother has laid out for her or venture in a new direction to follow her dreams in Everywhere You Want to Be (2018) by Christina June.

Everywhere You Want to Be is June’s sophomore novel and a contemporary riff on Little Red Riding Hood. It is a companion to her debut It Started With Goodbye (a contemporary retelling of Cinderella).

Tilly’s first person narration is thoughtful and quirky as she takes in all of the sights and sounds that New York has to offer. She is a pragmatic heroine who is willing to dream big and work hard to get to where she wants as a professional dancer. Her new friendships and budding romance offer the perfect counterpoint to her escalating rivalry with another dancer.

Everywhere You Want to Be is a perfect summer read. An ode to the big city, big dreams, and growing up.

Possible Pairings: American Panda by Gloria Chao, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano

The Walls Around Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We were alive. I remember it that way. We were still alive, and we couldn’t make heads or tails of the darkness, so we couldn’t see how close we were to the end.”

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren SumaAmber is an inmate at the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center. She might have been innocent once but that’s a hard quality to hold onto on the inside. Like most of the girls at Aurora Hills, Amber is obsessed with the regrets inherent in choosing one path over the other; with the moment everything goes wrong.

Violet, on the other hand, is at the start of a promising ballet career on the outside. Violet has never had much use for co-dependence when her own success and future are at stake. She has a singular focus on the future, on what comes next, on endings.

Then there’s Orianna. Her story is inextricably linked to both Amber’s and Violet’s, but it’s only in the gaps and overlaps in both of their stories that anyone can begin to understand Ori’s.

These three girls had lives and dreams and futures on the outside. They have secrets they keep close inside the walls of Aurora Hills and in their own hearts. At some point three girls arrive at Aurora Hills. But only time will tell if all of them get to walk away in The Walls Around Us (2015) by Nova Ren Suma.

Every aspect of The Walls Around Us comes together to deliver a story about contrasts in one form or another, something that often comes across in terms of themes like guilt vs. innocence and perception vs. reality. Even the title of the book and the vines on the cover hint at the dichotomy between what is “inside” and “outside” for these characters whose lives are all defined in some way by arriving at the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center as well as by the secrets that they hold close.

Subtle characterization and Suma’s deliberate writing serve to bring the two narrators, Amber and Violet, to life.

Amber’s narration is filled with short sentences and staccato declarations. She has spent so long defining herself as part of the whole at Aurora Hills that for much of her narration she describes herself as part of a collective “we”; part of a group comprised of her fellow inmates even when she is usually on the periphery as an observer. Everything about Amber’s narration focuses on beginnings and the past. Her chapter titles are always taken from the first words of her chapters. She has an intense and pathological fear of choosing the unknown and having to start again–a motif that is brought to disastrous fruition by the end of the novel.

Violent, despite being on the outside, is a harder character with sharper edges. Her narrative is filled with racing thoughts and run-on sentences. Her chapters are all titled for the final words in her chapters. Throughout the novel she returns, again and again, to what her future will hold. Until the end of the novel when her ever-forward momentum is cut abruptly and permanently short.

Although she is not a narrator and is most often seen in flashbacks or memories, Orianna is the third pivotal character in the novel. Everything Violet and Amber do within the arc of the book is informed by their relationships to Orianna. If Amber is meant to signify the past in The Walls Around Us and Violet is meant to exemplify the future, it’s safe to argue that Orianna is firmly grounded in the present with all of the opportunity and promise that position implies.

Suma’s lush writing moves readers between the past and the present as the story shifts fluidly between Amber and Violet’s memories of what brought them to Aurora Hills and what comes after in this novel that explores the cost of freedom and the power of hope.

The Walls Around Us received 5 starred reviews and much critical acclaim. It is a masterful blend of literary writing, magic realism and a decidedly eerie ghost story. With a layered and thoughtful plot, vivid prose, and skillfully explore themes and characters, The Walls Around Us is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tumbling by Caela Carter, Tiny Pretty Things by Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Graces by Laure Eve, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Princess of the Midnight Ball: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day GeorgeGalen is a soldier returning from war. At only nineteen he has been on the battleground most of his life. He is world-weary and eager to return to Westfalin and try his hand at civilian life now that the war is over.

Rose is one of the twelve princesses of Westfalin cursed to dance each night for the King Under Stone where they wear out their dancing slippers every evening. Unable to speak out about their nightly activities or defy the King Under Stone, Rose and her sisters suffer in silence.

Many princes try to discover where the princesses go each night. All of them fail.

As the stakes grow higher, Rose and Galen will have to work together to break the curse and save Westfalin from threats found both underground and above in Princess of the Midnight Ball (2009) by Jessica Day George.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is the first book in George’s trilogy of companion novels following the princesses of Westfalin. It is also a retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” fairytale.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is written in the third person and alternates between Galen and Rose’s points of view to create two protagonists who are very authentic instead of relying on character archetypes. George also flips several standard fairytale tropes upside down with her refreshing and well-rounded characters. Galen is levelheaded and cautious while still having enough charm to rival any prince. He also knits his own socks. Rose is clever, sharp and decidedly proactive as she works independently of Galen to try and save her sisters.

Together Galen and Rose are unstoppable as they face faeries, curses and other ills besides in their efforts to break the curse and save Westfalin. Despite having numerous secondary characters–just with all of Rose’s sisters!–George manages to present concise snapshot descriptions for each character without bogging down the narrative. This story can also appeal to a broad age range as it’s thin on gore or violence with a lighter tone overall.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a delightful retelling that stays true to the source material while also adding original touches and memorable characters. A thrilling plot, sweet romance and genuinely scary villains make for a winning combination in this reinvented fairytale.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Toads & Diamonds by Heather Tomlinson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Ten Cents a Dance: A Review

Ten Cents a Dance by Christine FletcherChicago, 1941: When her mother becomes too sick to work, Ruby Jacinski knows it’s her responsibility to look after the family and make sure money is coming in. Ruby doesn’t mind dropping out of school. But working in the factory just about kills her. Leave it to Ruby and her fiery temper to lose a sweet spot slicing bacon and end up working in Pig’s Feet.

When a local legend and all-around tough guy suggests that Ruby could use her talents as a dance teacher to earn some real dough, Ruby jumps at the offer. But teaching dancing is the last thing on the clients’ minds when Ruby begins working as a taxi dancer.

With no other choices, Ruby immerses herself into the world of taxi dancing and learns the fine art of drawing extra gifts in the form of meals, clothes and even cash from her clients. Soon, Ruby is making more money than she could have imagined. Soon Ruby realizes that the unsavory aspects of her work are starting to stick to her as much as the stink of pickled pig’s feet used to. With no one else to help, Ruby knows that it’s her choice to make another change for herself in Ten Cents a Dance (2009) by Christine Fletcher.

Ten Cents a Dance was partly inspired by one of the authors relatives as detailed in the author’s note at the end of the novel.

Fletcher offers a well-researched novel that brings the world of the Chicago Yards neighborhood to life. Ruby is a tough as nails heroine who isn’t afraid to make hard choices to get what’s coming to her. If Ruby is coarse or gritty during the story it is because she has to be to survive.

While Ruby’s decisions are often fueled by impulsive judgments of painfully naive notions, she is a very authentic heroine and one that readers will understand. Although Ruby makes mistakes again and again (and again) during the narrative she always owns up to the them. She always acknowledges what she did and works to make it right.

Ten Cents a Dance is a vivid story of the darker side of pre-war Chicago. Sure to appeal to readers looking for a noirish read they can sink their teeth into.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor

The Silver Linings Playbook: A (book and movie) Review

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew QuickPat believes in happy endings. Even in the slightly messed up movie of his own life. When he can finally leave the bad place, Pat is sure that Apart Time with his beautiful wife is about to end. The movie has gone on long enough. It’s time for his happy ending.

To prove that Pat deserves his happy ending, he is doing all of the right things. He is trying to be kind instead of right. He is working out to get in better shape. He is reading literature so he and his wife will have things to talk about. He is even taking his meds (mostly).

But while Pat is desperate for Apart Time to end, distractions keep getting in the way. First he meets Tiffany–who is crazy. Crazier that Pat by a lot. Who insists on being his friend. Then he somehow becomes a part of his family’s complex game day rituals to cheer on the Eagles every Sunday.

Then things get really weird. Kenny G–the man Pat fears above all others–keeps turning up at inopportune moments. He is somehow part of a dance recital. And the Eagles might not make it to the playoffs at all.

Pat believes in happy endings. He knows he deserves his happy ending. What Pat doesn’t know is what to do when the happy ending he hoped for is the exact opposite of the one he might get in The Silver Linings Playbook (2008) by Matthew Quick.

If Matthew Quick is a rockstar writer, this book is his gold record complete with a cover (in the form of a movie adaptation).

I saw the movie for my birthday earlier this year and I really loved it. After seeing One Day in theaters and watching a character get hit by a bus, I had been weary of “grown up” movies (and books for that matter) but after some research I determined there weren’t any freak accidents in this story so I was good to go. Already being a fan of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, I was ready to be impressed by the movie. And I was. Everything worked and everything came together to make a charming and engaging story.

Much later (because of the huge library hold queue) I was able to pick up a copy of the book that inspired the movie.

There are quite a few differences. The plot was tightened up and stretched for the movie to make it more cinematic (and plot-driven since we can’t just listen to Pat talk for two hours on-screen). The changes made sense and, above all, they worked for the new medium. The result was a book that was still gripping and incredibly well-written but a movie that was a bit more whimsical.

While the film touches the surface of Pat and Tiffany’s problems, the book shows that these characters are really broken. There are missing pieces, and parts that don’t fit, and they’re just trying to hold it all together one day at a time. That messiness isn’t as prevalent in the movie.

The main reason I enjoyed this book is its optimism. Pat’s a mess. Tiffany is a disaster. But they’re trying. They might even be learning. Along the way Pat has several pitfalls but he also makes friends and finally makes it to his own happy ending in a way that feels natural while still leaving room for the sense of wonder that Pat manages to find in even the smallest of silver linings.

Entwined: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Entwined by Heather DixonIn a tiny kingdom there were twelve princesses. On the night of the smallest princess’ birth, their hearts were broken and their mother taken too soon. After years of dancing and laughter, their castle is thrust into mourning–the once happy home darkened by black clothes and their father’s grief.

One day the princesses found a magical land of silver and music. A mysterious and dashing stranger known only as Keeper presides over this strange landscape where the girls can dance every night until the slippers on their feet wear thin.

But nothing lasts forever and, when magic is involved, nothing is as it seems in Entwined (2011) by Heather Dixon.

Entwined is essentially a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” which was originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812.* In this version the princesses are more proactive. The actual discovery of where the princesses dance also takes a slightly less prominent role to make way for the more sinister plot involving Keeper and his own agenda.

This is a fun book ideal for anyone who enjoys reading about princesses and castles. Azalea, the eldest, is an endearing heroine as are her sisters. While Bramble’s blunt nature and rash temper can wear thin the girls are all, really, very charming characters. Each princess is named after a flower (alphabetical order no less) which actually works quite well with the story and makes for a cute touch. With so many characters some do get lost in the shuffle or boil down to broad characterizations but again with so many characters at the center of a story that might be inevitable.

The story is original but by the end a lot of things are happening to Azalea instead of her being proactive. The lack of communication between the sisters toward the end of the story also felt unconvincing when they all appeared in every scene. (And some aspects of the love story angle felt thin.)

Dixon’s world building is solid. The castle with its dingy appearance and lackluster furnishings comes to life with her descriptions. The history behind the castle and the monarchy is well-presented and even the country’s relationship with other nations is mentioned although not in great detail. As with the characters I had this nagging feeling that while I loved what was on the page, I also wanted more.

One of the things I really liked about this story was the focus on family. As much as the dancing is a part of the story this is really a book about a father reconnecting with his daughters and a family moving on after a terrible loss. Being able to get that kind of book wrapped up in a fantasy makes this book something special. Entwined is an entertaining fantasy that will draw readers in with a familiar premise only to deliver a story that is ultimately surprising and appealing.

*WARNING: These might constitute SPOILERS but read on if you want to know what elements Dixon keeps from the original story. Entwined features 12 princesses, a magic land of silver, and the girls do dance until their shoes wear out. They are not locked in each night. The men who try to solve the riddle are not beheaded. While the hero who solves the riddle is a soldier, he is not old (no one in this story is very old) but he does have an invisibility cloak of sorts. Except  for the boats and princes to escort the girls across a lake (a trope found in Wildwood Dancing) this is a very faithful retelling.
loved everything but the story flagged toward the end–would have liked az to be stronger/more proactive. lack of communication also not convincing between the sisters

Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

Exclusive Bonus Content: I have a rule that I read anything and everything related to “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” but I was also drawn to this book because of its cover which I think is really interesting. (The vines also appear at the beginning of each chapter in the book.) My mom, on the other hand, thought the girl looked like she crawled out of a swamp–fair enough. While reading this book I was reminded a lot of Wildwood Dancing (another book with a great cover)–I’d definitely recommend reading both if you consider reading one as  they provide nice counter-points to each other with different versions of the same fairy tale.

Wildwood Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wildwood Dancing by Juliet MarillierIn the wilds of Transylvania, set on a high spur of rock next to the Wildwood, rests a castle named Piscul Dracului. The castle itself is unexceptional, old and crumbling as it is. Looking at it, you would never know it hides a portal to the Other Kingdom.

Each full moon five sisters travel through the portal into a magical glade where they dance with creatures rarely seen outside of fairy tales–fairies, dwarves, trolls and other creatures only whispered about back home.

For nine years of full moons, the sisters have gone dancing in the Other Kingdom.

Until now, the secret of the portal has been safe in Wildwood Dancing (2007) by Juliet Marillier.

Part retelling of the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses; part reinterpretation of classic vampire lore, Wildwood Dancing is an eerie, atmospheric story of forbidden love, precious gifts, and otherworldly creatures.

Marillier’s writing is rich and vivid, immediately transporting readers to the world of Jena (the narrator) and her sisters. Although dense with foreign terms (defined in a glossary at the end of the book) and unusual names (explained in a pronunciation guide at the end of the book), this story is sure to quickly enchant readers looking for a classic fantasy story with an original twist.

All of the sisters are distinct and well-developed characters who bring their own charms to the story. Although the eldest, Tati, grew tiresome as a lovesick heroine, she provided a good counterpoint to sensible Jena who prefers the company of her enchanted frog Gogu to the prospect of marriage.

Wildwood Dancing is largely a story about characters rather than events. Marillier takes her time getting to the crux of the story, using the beginning of the book to establish the setting and the characters, only to ultimately create a powerhouse, page turning, ending with unlikely twists and unexpected consequences for all of the sisters.

The story of Jena’s younger sister Paula continues in Cybele’s Secret, a companion to Wildwood Dancing.

Possible Pairings: The War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Exclusive Bonus Content: The cover illustration is my Kinuko Y. Craft–one of my favorite illustrators of all time. I loved the cover immediately but when I first started the book I wondered if it was really in keeping with the often dark tone of the book and the sparse, atmospheric prose. I have since decided it works perfectly. If you look really closely you can find a plethora of important elements and motifs to the story. And while the illustration might not be in keeping with Jena’s image of herself, I think it might be exactly how other people see her.

Unrelated: This review was really, really hard to write. I feel like it doesn’t do the book justice or go very far to explain how great it was. But it was really good and a must read.