Jane, Unlimited: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” -Arthur C. Clarke

—–

“There are many lives in every life.”

Jane’s life has always been ordinary and she has never minded that. When her Aunt Magnolia dies under strange circumstances, Jane is suddenly adrift and alone. She doesn’t know exactly how Aunt Magnolia died. She doesn’t know if she wants to go back to college. All she really knows is that if she is ever invited to Tu Reviens, she has to go. It was the last thing Aunt Magnolia asked her to do.

When Kiran Thrash, an old acquaintance who is as wealthy as she is mercurial, breezes back into Jane’s life with an invitation to the Thrash family gala at none other than Tu Reviens Jane immediately accepts.

The island mansion is not at all what Jane expects. Strange figures lurk in the shadows. Art goes missing and reappears at will. An ex-wife hides in the attic, while a current wife is missing entirely. Then there’s Jasper, the lovable Bassett Hound who has an uncanny attachment both to Jane and to a painting with a lone umbrella.

In a house filled with questions, Jane knows that all she has to do is follow the right person to get answers. But first she has to choose in Jane, Unlimited (2017) by Kristin Cashore.

Find it on Bookshop.

Jane, Unlimited is Cashore’s latest standalone novel. Inspired by Choose Your Own Adventure stories among other things this novel reads as five interconnected stories spanning genres.

After enjoying but not quite loving Cashore’s Graceling trilogy, I was fully prepared for Jane, Unlimited to be the Cashore book that I would love unequivocally. I’m happy to say this genre-bending delight did not disappoint.

The novel opens with “The Missing Masterpiece” (my favorite story) where Jane tries to find a missing Vermeer and make sense of myriad clues in a mystery reminiscent of The Westing Game. This section also does all of the heavy lifting introducing Jane, her deceased Aunt Magnolia, Kiran Thrash, and her rakish and charismatic twin brother Ravi. This novel also introduces Jane’s umbrella making–a motif that helps tie all of the novel’s pieces together.

In “Lies Without Borders” Jane explores the mystery of the missing painting from a different angle in a sleek spy story that will appeal to fans of Ally Carter. The madcap action and continuously surprisingly and charming characters make this section another favorite.

Cashore turns her eye to horror in “In Which Someone Loses a Soul and Charlotte Finds One.” After finishing this creepy tale you won’t be able to look at your library or your favorite books in quite the same way. When you re-read this book on a structural level (and trust me, you’ll want to) this section is also key for highlighting the structure of the novel.

“Jane, Unlimited” is the section that ties the book together so I won’t tell you too much that could spoil the story. There are zany clothes, mayhem, frogs, and a lot of Ravi which makes this story a delight. Sure to be a favorite for fans of Douglas Adams and Dr. Who.

This novel wraps up in “The Strayhound, the Girl, and the Painting” in which some mysteries are solved and some bigger questions are raised as Jane figures out why, exactly, Jasper the Bassett Hound is so very fond of her. This whimsical segment concludes the story on an optimistic note as Jane (and readers) realize that when one door closes another opens–literally.

Jane, Unlimited is a thoughtfully layered and intricately plotted novel. Depending on how you want to read it this book could contain five separate but overlapping stories, it could be one arc where all these outcomes eventually come to pass. There’s really no wrong way to interpret this story which is part of the charm. Whatever appeals to you about Jane and her adventures I guarantee you will find it in at least one part of this novel.

I first hear about Jane, Unlimited during a job interview at Penguin for a job I didn’t even come close to getting. Back then the book was just some new contemporary novel that Cashore was working on and I didn’t think much of it at the time. When it finally came time to read the book, I found that I could think of little else. Around the time of that interview I found out that one of my aunts had suffered a stroke that would prove fatal–something I didn’t know when I kept calling and calling to tell her about scheduling that job interview and asking her advice on what to wear and to practice questions. I don’t remember the last conversation I had with my aunt but I remember those messages I left her vividly. And I so wish I could have told her how this all came together in such a strange full circle way as Jane’s aunt Magnolia was such a big part of Jane’s story as she tries to figure out which path to choose.

In case it wasn’t already clear: I loved this book. It’s perfect and everything I want. Cashore populates the story with a cast of characters that is thoughtfully inclusive and painfully charming and expertly blends genres and plays them against each other throughout this clever novel.

Jane, Unlimited is a must read for anyone who has ever felt a bit lost, readers who like their books to resemble puzzles, and, of course, for anyone looking for an excellent story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art by Mathew Hart, Museum of the Missing: A History of Art Theft by Simon Houpt, Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Ocean Soul by Brian Skerry, Oceanic Wilderness by Roger Steene, Parallel Universes by Max Tegmark (as seen in Scientific American, May 2003), The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

If you are interested in some of the art that inspired (or features) in this novel:

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

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, 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

Boot and Shoe: A Picture Book Review

Boot and Shoe are brothers. They live in the same house where they eat out of the same bowl, pee on the same tree and sleep in the same bed. But that’s where the similarities end because, you see, Boot is a back porch kind of dog while Shoe is a front porch kind of dog.

And that’s fine.

Until a pesky squirrel comes and turns everything upside down in Boot and Shoe (2012) by Marla Frazee.

When a squirrel turns around these two doggy friends, it makes for a long night as Boot and Shoe each stand vigil (on opposite sides of the house) waiting for the other to return. It makes for a long day and a longer night until one shared tree restores order.

Illustrated in Frazee’s signature style, the breezy artwork compliments the quick pace of the story. The small color palette makes the illustrations stand out. With large spreads and smaller scenes throughout the layout remains interesting.

Just a little bit serious and quite silly Boot and Shoe is an endearing read about loyal friends. Although the story is broken into smaller pieces on each page there is still a lot of humor to found, making this book ideal to read aloud and certain to stand up to repeat readings.

Possible Pairings: Boy + Boy by Ame Dyckman and Dan Yaccarino, Bad Apple: A Tale of Friendship by Edward Hemingway, Forsythia & Me by Vincent X. Kirsch, The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell, Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator by Mo Willems

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

Once I Ate a Pie: A (poetic) Picture Book Review

I am not thin, but I am beautiful

When

no

one

is

looking, I steal tubs of butter off the table.

I take them to the basement to eat in private.

Once I ate a PIE.

Once I Ate a Pie by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest, illustrated Katy SchneiderOnce I Ate a Pie (2006) is a collection of poems written by Patricia MacLachlan and Emily MacLachlan Charest with illustrations by Katy Schneider.

In this delightful collection thirteen dogs tell all about everything from being small, barking, to “borrowing” bread from the table. The poems fill the page in large, easy to read print that bends and dips in interesting directions to draw reads in.

Schneider’s illustrations, especially Mr. Beefy (who once ate a pie) shown on the cover, bring these many and varied dogs to life.

Once I Ate a Pie is a great poetry collection for readers young and old. The poems are endearing and funny but also subtle for older readers. The writing is clear and easy to follow with straightforward wording. Every time I pick up this collection, I find something else to love.

Presenting Tallulah: A (young) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Presenting Tallulah by Tori Spelling, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley NewtonTallulah is not supposed to get dirty. Or talk loudly. Or make a mess. She isn’t that kind of girl. Tallulah can’t wear jeans or sneakers to school or keep her hair down or do any of the other things that the other kids do every day.

According to her parents, Tallulah is special and that makes her different. But Tallulah doesn’t want to be different. It’s hard to have fun or make friends when everyone is busy telling you the things you can do because you’re different.

When Max, the new boy in school, stands up for Tallulah (and assists with a risky pug puppy rescue) Tallulah starts to see that sometimes being different can be okay. And most of the time the best of friends like you just the way you are in Presenting . . . Tallulah (2010) by Tori Spelling* and Vanessa Brantley Newton.

There are a lot of books about being different learning that it’s okay to be yourself even if that might mean being a little silly, or weird, or not mosterly. Some of them are quite bad using cliches and heavy handed writing to convey their message while ultimately creating major issues in the story.

Presenting Tallulah has none of those problems. This was a delightful story about a little girl many kids can relate to. Maybe not everyone goes to school in a limo, but who hasn’t been told to be quiet and not get dirty?  This story captures that (and Tallulah’s rather . . . opulent . . . . lifestyle) without making it a big thing. Tallulah is who she is and, as she learns, that’s okay. I liked that instead of beating readers over the head with this message, it’s just at the core of the text.

Newton’s illustrations are also fantastic. The style is reminiscent of illustrations by Lauren Child (of Charlie and Lola fame) which probably means a similar medium (that I am unequipped to identify) is being used here. It’s no secret that Tallulah is based on Tori Spelling. And Newton captures that while combining broad strokes and line work to create intricate illustrations that bring Tallulah’s world to life.

Presenting Tallulah is sure to be a fun addition to any story time with simple, short sentences and a well-paced plot. Hopefully this charmer won’t be the last to feature Tallulah, Max and Mimi.

*With contributions by Hilary Liftin who is apparently a ghostwriter. I could get into who actually “wrote” the book or the recent number of celebrities putting pen to paper. But I’m not going to because this book deserves better and is more than able to stand on its own with or without is celebrity author.

Possible Pairings: Bark, George by Jules Feffer, Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer and Scott Magoon, For Pete’s Sake by Ellen Stoll Walsh

My Sister Gracie: A picture book review

 

My Sister Gracie by Gillian JohnsonMy Sister Gracie is a picture book written and illustrated by Gillian Johnson (originally published in 2005). The book is ostensibly about a lonely dog but, as is the case with any good book (picture or otherwise) it’s also about a lot more.

The story starts with Fabio. Fabio has a pretty good life for a dog. Loving family, friends, and lots of toys. But Fabio wants more. To be precise, he wants a brother to play with and share his fun with. As Fabio languishes in the house, his family agrees that Fabio needs a companion. But things don’t go quite as planned.

Instead of the mini-Fabio he was hoping for, Fabio’s family brings home Gracie–Fabio’s new sister! Gracie came from the pound. She’s old, tired, shy (and a little weird looking). Nothing like the sprightly companion Fabio had in mind. Certainly not an appropriate addition to his family. Too bad Fabio is the only one who thinks so.

Things only get worse when Fabio and Gracie travel the neighborhood and meet some of Fabio’s friends. At least until Fabio realizes that not being able to pick your family doesn’t make them any less important.

More perceptive readers than me may have already picked up on the fact that this book would be good for young children expecting a new sibling in the near future. (I only realized that after reading the blurb.) Johnson uses Gracie’s arrival to show that new pets (and babies) aren’t very exciting playmates and that they need a lot of tender loving care. The book also shows that adopting dogs from a pound or shelter is a commitment. I haven’t fully worked out how yet, but I think this book could also work for children who want to get a new pet–but that might be for slightly older children since it’s a pretty abstract concept in relation to the crux of the book.

I love the illustrations for this book. I cannot, unfortunately, say what medium Johnson works in as I cannot find that information anywhere online but they look like pencil and ink to me. These drawings are cartoons in the best sense of the word. Fabio is a miniature poodle with what can only be described as a mohawk. And Gracie, well, Gracie is awesome (as is immediately apparent from the picture of her on the cover). Johnson’s illustrations, while simple, are rich with motion. You can almost see Gracie waddling along down the street beside Fabio’s staccato steps.

As if all of that isn’t cool enough, this book is also written in verse–rhyming verse. I’ve heard lots of different opinions on rhyming in poetry and picture books. Personally, I say if it works, it works. The rhyming works in My Sister Gracie adding a lot of rhythm and snap to this cute picture book.

Amazon.com recommends this book for children ages three to five. I think the age might even extend slightly higher if a grown up wanted to talk about the “sibling angle” or the rhyme scheme found in the writing.