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: 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, 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!

Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

Continue reading

Resurrecting Sunshine: A Review

Resurrecting Sunshine by Lisa A. KoosisAdam Rhodes, Sunshine’s boyfriend and backup guitarist, wishes he could process his grief in private for both rockstar Sunshine and the girl she used to be when she was still called Marybeth and they were growing up in foster care. Instead Adam settles for dulling his senses–and the pain–with alcohol.

When Dr. Elloran shows up at Adam’s door he expects her to be looking for a last piece of Sunshine. Instead, she offers Adam the impossible: Elloran plans to use cloning and Memory Archiving Port (MAP) technology to bring Sunshine back to prove to the world (and her investors) that Project Orpheus can resurrect the dead.

The project will go forward with or without Adam, but if he plays along–helping this new Sunshine remember the final days of her life and restoring other degraded memories–he’ll have the chance to see Marybeth again. And maybe this time he can keep Marybeth alive and well.

As Adam remembers the tragedy that led to his and Sunshine’s fame, he is forced to confront painful memories of her death and begins to question if bringing Marybeth along the same path is right for anyone in Resurrecting Sunshine (2016) by Lisa A. Koosis.

Simplistic and utilitarian world building ground this science fiction novel in the near-future of 2026. While Koosis is careful to name all of the relevant technology (most notably MAP technology) but never explains it enough to provide the proper backdrop or urgency for the story.

A slow start and weak execution detract from this potentially intriguing premise. Short chapters will appeal to reluctant readers willing to play along with the often tedious plot. Koosis raises some interesting questions about cloning, depression, and suicide but her prose falls short of insightful answers. Appealing for fans of this specific sub-genre of science fiction.

Possible Pairings: Where She Went by Gayle Forman, Loss by Jackie Morse Kessler, The Cost of All Things by Maggie Lehrman, More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online.*

The Sky is Everywhere: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can tell your story any way you damn well please. It’s your solo.”

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy NelsonLennie Walker plays second clarinet, reads avidly, and always acted as a sounding board and companion for her dynamic older sister, Bailey. Lennie had always known that Bailey was the star of their family. She never minded.

When Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie feels like the world has tilted off its axis. Her grandmother and Uncle Big are both hurting too. But none of them seem to know how to talk to each other anymore let alone articulate the full scope of their grief.

Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend, offers Lennie an unlikely source of comfort. Toby is just as wrecked as her and might be the only person who can fully understand the enormity of Bailey’s absence. Lennie knows her sister wouldn’t approve of the physical turn their relationship has taken. But Lennie also doesn’t know how to stop.

Joe, a new boy in town, seems determined to befriend Lennie and lift her out of her sorrow, Lennie finds herself swept along with his exuberant enthusiasm for life. Joe makes Lennie happy and reminds her of the girl she used to be before Bailey died–and maybe even shows her an improved version she can be now. After. But Lennie doesn’t know how she can ever let Joe make her feel so happy and so alive when Bailey is gone.

Lennie knows that Toby and Joe can’t exist in the same world, that they can’t both be part of her life forever. But she also doesn’t know how to choose in The Sky is Everywhere (2010) by Jandy Nelson.

The Sky is Everywhere is frenetic, serendipitous, and sometimes painful–things readers will recognize in Nelson’s subsequent Printz/Stonewall Award winning I’ll Give You the Sun.

This story has the same sense of wonder, the same vibrancy found in I’ll Give You the Sun. Even Lennie’s narrative voice is familiar compared to that of Noah and Jude. Unfortunately, The Sky is Everywhere lacks the tight plotting and pacing. While utterly sympathetic, Lennie’s story often feels meandering and contrived.

This novel is peppered with memorable characters, especially in Lennie’s grandmother and local Lothario Uncle Big. Moments of share grief are contrasted sharply against these quirky and strong personalities.

Lennie’s hurt and grief are palpable as she tries to reconcile the fact that she is still alive and growing up with the reality that Bailey never will. Nelson expertly communicates the suffocating nature of that sadness in Lennie’s first person narration. Each chapter also begins with a poem Lennie has written and left somewhere around town.

Although Lennie spends the novel torn between two boys, The Sky is Everywhere is largely introspective and firmly focused on Lennie. In some ways both Toby and Joe often feel under-developed by comparison as they help Lennie’s development. Romantic elements aside, this book is very much about a character learning to find her voice and articulate her wants and feelings.

The Sky is Everywhere remains a solid debut and a thoughtful meditation on grief, loss, and moving on. Nelson includes a compelling romance with a bit of a love triangle and, of course, an empowering character who only grows stronger and more confident as the novel progresses. Recommended for fans of Nelson’s and readers looking for a story in this vein. (Just don’t expect it to measure up if you read I’ll Give You the Sun first.)

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Today I finished The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. I picked this up on a whim at Barnes & Noble because I like the cover on this edition and enjoyed Nelson's sophomore novel I'll Give You the Sun. This is a strange, quirky debut about Lennie who has been leveled by her sister's completely unexpected death. After spending years casting herself as an extra in her sister's center-stage life, Lennie isn't sure who she is without Bailey and she isn't sure how to find out. Although her Gram and Uncle Big both try to reach out, Lennie feels lost and alone in her misery. During her grief she finds herself drawn to Bailey's boyfriend, Toby, and to Joe Fontaine–the new boy at school who seems to have as much joy as Lennie has sorrow. This is a meditative and smart romance as well as a provocative exploration of grief and abandonment. #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #owlcrateoctrep

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Break Me Like a Promise: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Break Me Like a Promise is the second book in Schmidt’s Once Upon a Crime Family series which begins with Hold Me Like a Breath. This review features spoilers for book one*

Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany SchmidtMagnolia Vickers has spent years convincing her father and the other Family men that she is much more than a decorative young woman destined to spend her life on the periphery of their Business in illegal organ trafficking.

After a staggering loss, the future Maggie has been planning as her father’s successor is precarious at best. Worse, Maggie’s recent behavior has ruined her carefully constructed reputation with almost everyone in the Family–not to mention her parents.

Maggie is forced to set her grief and loneliness aside when a computer virus brings trouble to the Family. When Alex, the computer expert hired to fix the virus, brings his demands for a new kidney to the Family he quickly becomes Maggie’s problem.

As she learns more about Alex and the changing legislation, Maggie realizes that Alex can be more to her than a source of constant frustration–a lot more. But first Maggie will have to use everything she’s learned about the Family Business to help them move forward in a world with legalized organs and make sure Alex survives long enough to get his new kidney in Break Me Like a Promise (2016) by Tiffany Schmidt.

Break Me Like a Promise is the second book in Schmidt’s Once Upon a Crime Family series which begins with Hold Me Like a Breath. This novel features a different narrator and is set months after the events of book one. Although it contains spoilers for the first book in the series, it largely functions as a contained story. In this unconventional retelling, Schmidt incorporates elements from “The Frog Prince” into her unique world where organ transplants are illegal.

Given the premise (fairy tale retellings with organized crime!), I always knew this series was going to become one of my favorites. I wasn’t surprised when I enjoyed reading about Penny in Hold Me Like a Breath and I wasn’t surprised when I realized Break Me Like a Promise was easily one of my most highly anticipated 2016 titles.

Some reading experiences are more personal than others and such was the case here. Schmidt completely surpassed my expectations with her careful plotting and thoughtful writing. Every single piece of Break Me Like a Promise matters and every piece works to make the whole even more powerful.

The thing that really shines in this novel are the characters–especially Maggie. I identified a lot with Maggie and was deeply affected by her journey in this novel. That (along with the stellar plot and writing) is what made Break Me Like a Promise a standout novel for me.

I’ve talked before about hitting a rough patch a couple of years ago. I wrote a guest post about that overwhelming feeling of being in over my head and feeling lost. I even talked about seeing some of that struggle mirrored in a different book. I’ve started thinking of that time as triage because I was just going day-to-day and trying to get through because it was too hard and too scary to try and think further ahead.

Things are better now. Things are actually good. But while I was reading Break Me Like a Promise and watching Maggie work through the initial shock and grief of Carter’s death, I realized that I had been holding onto a lot of my stress and anxiety and mindsets from those bad years. I’m often too hard on myself and don’t treat myself very well as a result. I keep asking myself, “What else can go wrong? What if something happens?” It’s easy to think that once a traumatic event is over, that’s the end. It’s time to move on. But recovery–even for the person who was physically fine throughout, like me–doesn’t work that way. I have realized that I don’t remember who I was before my rough patch. I don’t know who I could be moving forward. I lost track of that somewhere.
My situation isn’t at all like Maggie’s but I identified so much with her throughout Break Me Like a Promise. It’s incredibly moving and powerful to watch Maggie’s growth during her story arc and to see her make sense of herself without Carter and as she makes her way in the world.
I recommend this series to fans of fairy tale retellings as well as sleek mysteries like White Cat or Heist Society.
Break Me Like a Promise is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and it’s also one I needed badly. I don’t think words can ever truly convey how much this book means to me but I hope the words in this review might convince you to check out Break Me Like a Promise for yourself. This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt broken and wondered how to be anything else; for the people who have moved on and for the people who are still trying to find their way. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Be sure to check out my interview with Tiffany about the book starting tomorrow!

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

In Some Other World, Maybe: A Review

In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari GoldhagenIn December 1992 four teenagers head to the movies to see the blockbuster film version of the Eons & Empires comics.

Adam is counting the days until he graduates. When his long-time crush invites him to the movies, he figures it’s his last chance to get the one thing he’s ever wanted in the town he can’t wait to leave.

In Cincinnati, Sharon can barely explain how much Eons & Empires means to her. She can’t imagine the horror of watching the movie with people who don’t understand her passion. Sharon’s decision to skip school to watch the movie on her own leads to potentially devastating consequences.

Technically, Phoebe kisses Oliver first in the cafeteria of their suburban Chicago high school. But it’s Ollie who asks Phoebe on a date and suggests they go see the big new release. Neither of them knows much about the comics but the movie should be a nice setting for their first date (and maybe more kissing). Or it would be if Phoebe’s kid brother would stop following them around and they could avoid everyone they know.

Seeing the movie on opening night will shape all of their lives in unpredictable ways over the next twenty years as their paths cross around the world and across the country. Their lives will entwine as they become friends and lovers, leaving indelible marks on each other. One small decision will have countless ramifications for each of them in In Some Other World, Maybe (2015) by Shari Goldhagen.

In Some Other World, Maybe alternates point of view between Adam, Phoebe, Sharon, and Oliver. Except for Oliver all of the narratives are written in third person. Oliver’s, by contrast, is a second person narration which lends a strange sense of foreboding to his passages.

These characters lives play out and intersect over twenty years against a backdrop of world events ranging from 9/11 to Sully Sullenberger landing his plane in the Hudson. The scope and reach of this story belies the relatively short length of the book.

Goldhagen explores the significant and seemingly meaningless ways people can pass through each others’ lives in this deceptively straightforward novel. Hypotheticals and alternate possibilities loom large for each character–a motif that contrasts well with the idea of parallel worlds which are key to the premise of Eons & Empires.

None of the characters are perfect here. Mistakes are made, lives are messy, and sometimes there is no way to fix that. Just like in real life. Adam, Phoebe, Sharon and Oliver aren’t always likable. They are not always at their best. But who is? In this complicated and confusing world, sometimes all you can do is keep waking up and keep trying. Which these characters do as best they can.

This story offers thoughtful commentary on the ways in which compromising and striving can start to look a lot alike. An introspective meditation on growing up and growing apart filled with characters who are shockingly memorable and utterly authentic, In Some Other World, Maybe is a novel guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Invincible Summer by Alice Adams, The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan, The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock, Infinite In Between by Carolyn Mackler, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, All the Feels by Danika Stone, Pivot Point by Kasie West

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

The Devil and Winnie Flynn: A Review

The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David OstowSeventeen-year-old Winnie Flynn doesn’t know why her mother killed herself. All she knows is that her dad said yes when Winnie’s estranged aunt Maggie proposed that Winnie spend the summer with her. Now Winnie is working as a production assistant on Fantastic Fearsome, the reality TV show Maggie produces and hosts.

This season the show has fresh, young talent (including one Devil Hunter named Seth who is as earnest as he is cute) and big plans to track down the famous Jersey Devil.

As much as she loves horror movies, Winnie doesn’t believe in ghosts–or the Devil. But as she gets to know the Hunters and learns more about the Devil’s strange history, Winnie begins to wonder if there might be some fact to the fantastic here.

Soon, Winnie realizes her family may have a stronger connection to the Devil than she could have imagined. But even Winnie’s firm skepticism and calm might not be enough to keep her safe in The Devil and Winnie Flynn (2015) by Micol Ostow with illustration by David Ostow.

The Devil and Winnie Flynn is the second collaboration from the Ostow siblings.

Written as a scrapbook-style letter for Winnie’s friend Lucia, The Devil and Winnie Flynn is a mixed media adventure filled with illustrations, shooting scripts, and other ephemera beyond the traditional narrative including appropriately eerie depictions of choice Jersey locations.

Winnie’s dry humor and skepticism throughout the narrative keeps this novel firmly grounded even as the story moves into decidedly “fantastic” territory complete with magical powers, mysterious guardians and other psychic phenomena.

A quick finish and unanswered questions about Winnie’s mother will leave readers hoping that The Devil and Winnie Flynn is the start to a series. The Devil and Winnie Flynn is a fun and campy horror novel filled with real details about the Devil and evocative New Jersey locations sure to have high appeal for horror fans.

Possible Pairings: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Ghost Huntress by Marley Gibson, Bad Kitty by Michele Jaffe, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan, Veronica Mars

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