A Curse As Dark as Gold: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. BunceWhen their father dies suddenly, Charlotte Miller and her younger sister Rose are left in charge of the family mill. With it comes the large responsibility of seeing to the mill’s numerous employees as well.

The Millers are not known for their good fortune. Some even claim that the family has been cursed though Charlotte is loathe to put any stock in such silly superstitions. Still, the mill’s usual problems seem to multiply dangerously after Charlotte takes charge. Mending broken equipment and painting faded walls can only go so far, however, when Charlotte learns that her father also left behind a shocking debt.

Desperate to save the mill and protect those who work there, Charlotte enters into a dangerous bargain with a man known merely as Jack Spinner. But every bargain comes with a price. As the stakes grow higher, Charlotte begins to realize that saving her mill may jeopardize everyone she holds dear in A Curse as Dark as Gold (2008) by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a loose retelling of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. It is Bunce’s first novel and winner of the 2009 William C. Morris Debut Award.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a lush and well-researched historical novel with just a hint of fantasy to better accommodate the fairytale retelling aspect. Bunce’s prose is immediately evocative and brings Charlotte’s village and the mill to life.

Fairy tales in general, but especially Rumpelstiltskin, are often very black and white, making it easy to tell exactly who the villain is. A Curse as Dark as Gold complicates things with rich, thoughtful characters who raise interesting questions throughout the narrative. While there are some decidedly bad choices and terrible acts, no one is ever completely bad anymore than they are entirely good.

Despite the vibrant settings and compelling characters, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a slow read. While the pacing allows readers to really know Charlotte and her world, the novel doesn’t get to the actual plot (not to mention the retelling aspect) until the second half of the novel.

It is also impossible to ignore the fact that a significant number of problems for the characters could have been avoided with good communication. At several points throughout the novel, if Charlotte had chosen to talk to anyone about even half of what she had done or suspected, the entire plot could have easily been resolved. Instead Charlotte clings stubbornly to her pride and a foolish belief that, as head of the mill, she is meant to deal with all of the Miller’s problems entirely on her own.

Plot aside, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a beautifully written and very solid historical novel, making it easy to understand why it garnered the Morris win in 2009. Despite its interesting take on Rumpelstiltskin and a charmingly romantic plot thread, this novel remains a slow and often dense read. Recommended for readers who enjoy strong writing and well-rounded characters. A Curse as Dark as Gold will hold particular appeal for readers who can ignore weak plot points in favor of dazzling prose.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Beauty by Robin McKinley, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

A Long, Long Sleep: A Review

alonglongsleepRosalinda Fitzroy is used to sleeping in suspended animation. She never spends too long in stass. Not long enough to cause any real problem.

When Rose wakes up this time, everything is different.This time she isn’t woken by her parents. Instead a strange boy seems to be kissing her.

She is still sixteen-years-old, or at least her body is, but she has been asleep for sixty-two years. Everyone she knew is gone. Everything from Rose’s old life is a distant memory, forever erased by the Dark Times that came while she remained in her forgotten stasis tube. With no friends left and no one to depend on, Rose looks to the boy who woke her for support as she tries to move forward.

When a deadly threat targets Rose, she realizes that her past isn’t as distant as she thought. If she wants any hope of a future, Rose will have to confront her past in A Long, Long Sleep (2011) by Anna Sheehan.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Long, Long Sleep is Sheehan’s first novel. It also has a companion sequel called No Life But This.

Sheehan delivers an interesting spin on the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale in this science fiction retelling. Instead of focusing on the prince or waking the princess, this novel examines what comes next. Including some things that are not easy to read.

Rose’s body is ravaged by her time in stasis. Her recovery is slow and often frustrating or even painful. It is a long, realistic process and one that is not even finished by the end of the novel.

The story of Rose’s present and her past unfold simultaneously with interspersed memories and flashbacks to her life before being in stasis for sixty-two years.The world building for this futuristic society is not always solid. Sheehan includes jarring, and often useless, bits of slang along with huge chunks of information (while still having gaps in other areas). However, because of the narrative’s tight focus on Rose these problems do make sense in the larger context of the novel.

Early in the story it becomes clear that Rose isn’t remembering everything and is not, therefore, passing everything on to readers. This unreliability and suspense lends an eerie quality to the narrative as readers, and Rose herself, wonder what really happened to keep her in stasis for so long.

Although Rose spends much of the narrative understandably adrift, she is a strong heroine. This novel comes to a powerful conclusion as Rose confronts her past and finally is able to make her own choices about her future. A Long, Long Sleep is a unique and sharp retelling as well as a harrowing tale of survival.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Sleepless by Cyn Balog, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, Cut Me Free by J. R. Johansson, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis, The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd, The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, A Wicked Thing by Rhiannon Thomas, Lotus and  Thorn by Sarah Wilson Etienne, The Program by Suzanne Young, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Blackfin Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can’t be remarkable without being remarked upon.”

blackfinskyThree months ago, on the night of her sixteenth birthday, Skylar Rousseau fell from the pier and drowned in Blackfin.

But she also didn’t.

Three months later, Sky mysteriously returns to Blackfin with no memory of having died. Someone was pulled from the water. Someone was buried. No one, least of all Sky, is sure how that someone is not her.

No one knows exactly what happened to Sky and no one except Sean, her friend and long-time crush, wants to help her find answers. When impossibly real dreams begin to draw Sky to a strange circus in the woods, Sky knows the truth must be lurking there too.

Secrets are buried and waiting to be uncovered in the strange town of Blackin including truths about Sky and her past that could change everything in Blackfin Sky (2014) by Kat Ellis.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blackfin Sky is Ellis’ first novel.

Blackfin is a strange town where the weather vane follows people instead of the breeze and church bells chime every hour even though the town has no church. Strange things are always happening in Blackfin. But a girl has never died and returned. Even in Blackfin.

Blackfin Sky begins with this impossible premise and strings it along into a well-realized fantasy filled with marvelously quirky things and not a fair bit of wonder. Sky’s understanding of her place in Blackfin begins to expand and change after her death when she finally realizes she might be more than a fascinating outsider to Blackfin’s locals.

Ellis populates this novel with a myriad cast of well-realized characters including supportive parents for Sky and an admirable sidekick in Sean. Excellent pacing and an action-packed plot move this story from one revelation to the next as Sky begins to uncover long-hidden secrets and learn more about her mysterious death.

Blackfin Sky offers the perfect blend of mystery and the supernatural (with just a bit of humor and romance) to create a story that is as satisfying as it is entertaining. Readers can only hope that Ellis will return to Sky and Blackfin in future novels.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Eventide by Sarah Goodman, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my interview with Kat Ellis about this book starting March 12.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds: A Review

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat WintersIt is 1918 and it feels like the entire world is falling apart. Boys are dying overseas fighting in World War I while the Spanish Influenza is cuts a swath across America leaving countless dead, and still more ruined, in its wake.

When sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is forced from her home in Portland, Oregon, she travels south to live with her aunt in San Diego. The flu is just as bad in California, if not worse. A quarantine is in effect. Face masks are mandatory at all times in public.

In the midst of this chaos and fear, Mary Shelley watches with dismay and skepticism as mourners seek comfort in seances and spirit photographs.

When a dear friend appears in a photograph of her and begins to ask her for help, Mary Shelley will have to put aside her doubts to solve a mystery that will bring her to the brink in In the Shadow of Blackbirds (2013) by Cat Winters.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is Winters’ first novel. It was also a finalist for the Morris Award in 2014.

Winters delivers a well-researched and atmospheric story of desperation and loss in this historical mystery with supernatural elements. Period photographs and carefully chosen true-to-life details bring this story and the horrors Americans faced in 1918 to life.

While ghosts feature heavily in the story, In the Shadow of Blackbirds remains firmly grounded in reality as Mary Shelley works to out a spirit photographer as a fraud while trying to unravel the final days of her dear friend after his death.

Mary Shelley is an exceptional heroine with a strong interest in science and technology as well as a complete lack of fear when it comes to saying (or doing) what is right. Although this story includes romantic elements in its back story and denouement, Mary Shelley remains the capable center of this novel as she works largely on her own to unearth the truth.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is an impressive historical novel. It is also a sensational mystery with enough twists to keep even the most seasoned mystery reader guessing. Recommended for fans of both genres.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

The Dolls: A Review

The Dolls by Kiki SullivanEveny Cheval hasn’t set foot in Carrefour, Louisiana in fourteen years–not since she moved away with her aunt Bea after her mother’s suicide. After years spent in Brooklyn, New York, Bea and her aunt are moving back to Carrefour just before Eveny’s seventeenth birthday.

Upon her return, Eveny is stunned by the stately old houses and the pristine gardens. Even her new classmates are flawlessly beautiful–so much so that most people call them the Dolls. Drawn in by Peregrine Marceau and Chloe St. Pierre, Eveny is soon at the center of the decadence that is the Dolls’ world.

But beneath the wealth and charm, Carrefour is hiding a secret, one that leads to murder and dark truths about Eveny and her past in The Dolls (2014) by Kiki Sullivan.

Atmospheric writing and genuine chills enhance this story that is populated with familiar mean girls, gorgeous boys and a generally clever narrator (however readers like me may wonder why a girl who left town at the age of three has quite so many memories of the town she left behind).

Sullivan capitalizes on the southern setting here to spine-tingling effect as the story moves in a surprising direction involving voodoo magic and sinister forces at work around Carrefour. Spooky moments and incidents of near-peril are tempered with campy fun and a hint of romance with one of the numerous beautiful boys to be found in this narrative. Although Eveny fits in seemlessly with the Dolls she remains equally sharp-witted and sharp-tongued throughout the story, making her easy to cheer for throughout the story.

Sure to be popular with fans of similar books as well as Veronica Mars.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the June 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online including an SLJ Spotlight*

The Vanishing Season: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is my work. This is the one thing I have to do.

“I am looking for the things that are buried.”

The Vanishing SeasonMaggie Larsen doesn’t know what to expect when she and her parents move from Chicago to Door County. But then, it’s not like there is another choice with her mother having been laid off and money being tight.

Although Maggie is sorry to leave Chicago behind, it is surprisingly easy to find a new place for herself in the small town of Gill Creek. As the days turn into weeks their ramshackle house on Water Street starts to look like a home. As the weeks turn into months, Maggie realizes she has found friends here in carefree, beautiful Pauline and Liam who is as kind as he is introspective.

While Maggie lives her new life, girls in Gill Creek are disappearing. No one knows who the killer is. No one knows who might be next. No one knows if it will stop.

All the while, a ghost is tethered to the house on Water Street. She can see the danger circling. She can even see some of the pieces of the story–a scorched key, a love letter, a bracelet with a cherry charm. But even the ghost isn’t sure why she is still here watching the season unfold to its final, disastrous conclusion in The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

The Vanishing Season is a quiet, aching read that builds slowly to a conclusion that is both shocking and inevitable. Anderson expertly weaves together Maggie’s story with the first-person narration of the ghost to create a haunting puzzle of a story. Even readers who think they have predicted every plot point may well be surprised by the way everything fits together by the end.

This story has romance and suspense. There is a foolish girl who breaks things sometimes by accident and sometimes because she can. Vignettes of small town life are interspersed with thoughtful commentary on privilege and ownership.

Anderson’s pacing is spot-on as the story builds to the denouement which is handled both eloquently and cleverly. The Vanishing Season is a beautifully written and subtle story about friendship and love and even heartbreak as well as a meditation on what living a life, and living it well, really means. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Frost by Marianna Baer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty: A Review

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine HeppermanEveryone knows the fairy tale stories. Girls who are princesses who are rescued by princes who get married and live happily ever after until the end.

But life isn’t really like a fairy tale, not for most modern girls in Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty (2014) by Christine Hepperman.

In this collection Hepperman presents 50 poems that bring fairy tale themes and ideas together with the lives of modern girls in clever ways. Eerie photographs accompany the poems to lend a haunting quality to this deceptively slim volume.

Hepperman’s poems range from titillating to empowering as she explores themes of beauty, freedom and sexuality among others in a variety of free-verse poems. While many of the themes–particularly those dealing with physical beauty or eating disorders–are familiar ones, Hepperman’s commentary remains timely and electric.

A range of retellings and original material make these poems approachable for every reader while the black and white photography throughout the book is guaranteed to draw readers in.

Poisoned Apples is a smart, utterly feminist collection of poems that encourages girls to take charge of their lives whether that means finding their own way to a happy ending or taking a different path into new territory.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

A Creature of Moonlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca HahnThe villagers have been talking of the woods all summer. More than usual. Farther from the woods than usual.

It’s one thing, now and then, for a stray bit of the woods to encroach. A well lost here, a path obstructed. Such things are to be expected.

This summer is different. The entirety of the woods seems to be moving in leaps and bounds, creeping closer than they have in years.

Marni knows the woods are dangerous place–a place of magic and wonder that often draws girls to it only to swallow them whole. Still, time and again, she finds herself sneaking there–away from Gramps, away from the prying eyes of the villagers who buy their flowers, away from the life that was snatched from her the day her mother was killed.

Marni has always walked a narrow path between the life the was stolen and the life she has with her Gramps. But now, with the woods moving closer and promises being made, Marni will have to decide where she will stand in A Creature of Moonlight (2014) by Rebecca Hahn.

A Creature of Moonlight is Hahn’s first novel.

Hahn masterfully weaves a world here where magic is as beautiful as it is dangerous–a world populated with calculating lords and kings as well as dragons and Phoenixes. Marni is a fascinating narrator, one who views both the humans and the woods with a healthy sense of skepticism. She is a strong heroine with a strong sense of self and an even stronger desire to secure her freedom.

She also has a very strange twang to her entire narration that is more reminiscent of a novel set in the Depression Era west (or just the West) than it is to this bit of higher fantasy. Marni reckons about many things and is none too afraid to say so neither. Her voice is often extremely jarring as readers are drawn repeatedly out of the story to ponder the choice of words on the page.

The story is typical coming of age fare as Marni learns more about both sides of her “family” such as they are and, over the course of the novel, comes into her own in various ways.

A Creature of Moonlight is decidedly short on peripheral characters, making the time spent in Marni’s head often claustrophobic as so much of the story centers on her inner conflicts. While her observations of the woods and at court are often entertaining and razor sharp, Marni’s motivations are never as clear as they should be.

While it is refreshing and modern to see Marni repeatedly turn down marriage proposals, the logic behind her deep conviction to not marry is murky at best–particularly given the specific set of obligations that will come with a life at court (which Marni adopts at one point in the plot).

Though often unsatisfying, A Creature of Moonlight remains a solid debut from an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackWhen Tana wakes up after the Sundown Party it takes her a few moments to realize everything has gone horribly wrong.

Then she sees the blood.

Then she starts passing the dead bodies.

Then she hears the vampires waiting in the dark.

The only other survivors of the massacre are Tana’s ex-boyfriend–infected and on the verge of becoming a vampire himself–and a strange boy who seems to know much more than he says.

Possibly infected and with no other options, Tana starts heading to the Coldtown in Springfield. This walled city is supposed to keep the monsters from running loose in the rest of the world. It’s supposed to contain the vampires and leave them to rule a decadent city filled with fresh blood and ruin.

Entering Coldtown is a terrible risk. But it’s also the only option Tana can think of that might actually save all three of them. With time running out and no good choices, Tana will have to embrace the monsters in Coldtown if she wants to avoid becoming one in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) by Holly Black.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is an unflinching story of vampires and a meditation of what it really means to fear the monsters in the shadows–especially when you might become one of those same monsters.

A slow beginning (in the first hundred pages) is easily forgiven as the story gains momentum within the walls of Coldtown. Flashbacks and vignettes from other characters help to evoke a well-realized world for both the human and vampire characters. Epigraphs at the start of each chapter from famous writers’ musings on death add a suitably eerie tone to the book.

Tana is a pragmatic, sympathetic heroine who tries to make the right choices even when she is forced to admit that sometimes there are no good choices. Her progression throughout the story is completely logical and marks her as an appealing and utterly real character complete with flaws and poorly made plans.

Black’s vampires are a terrifying blend of charm and sharp teeth in a story that understands the unique blend of terror and fascination commonly associated with vampires (or any monsters really). This story is gory, violent, and sometimes even disgusting. Yet, like the vampires themselves, it is still so delightfully compelling.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*