Fire and Hemlock: A (ReRead) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Polly Whittacker is nineteen and preparing to return to college after visiting her grandmother over break. She has a flatmate, a boyfriend, and all of the other things she would expect as a college student. It’s ordinary but it feels like enough.

That is until Polly stares at the picture that’s hung above her bed for as long as she can remember. Here, now, of course, Polly knows that “Fire and Hemlock” is just a photograph of some hay bails burning with a hemlock plant in the foreground. But when she was younger didn’t the picture used to have figures dancing and racing around the fire?

The more Polly remembers about the painting, the more she realizes that her memories of the past ten years aren’t quite right either. She has the ordinary set, the ones she always thought were true. But if she thinks back far enough and hard enough, Polly starts to remember another set of memories from a very different, very not ordinary life.

It all started nine years ago when Polly accidentally crashed a funeral and met an odd cellist named Thomas Lynn. Her friendship with Mr. Lynn took the form of fantastical letters, exchanged books, and one very odd visit to his flat in London. Those memories are easy to hold onto once they start to come back.

But something else happened the last time they met. Something worse. And now, here, Polly knows that she and Tom are inextricably tied together–maybe as friends and maybe as more. But Polly won’t have the chance to figure any of that out unless she can gather her memories and figure out not just how to get back to Tom but how to save him in Fire and Hemlock (1985) by Diana Wynne Jones.

I originally reviewed Fire and Hemlock in 2007 just a few months after I started blogging when I first read the novel. Even a decade later I still think about Polly and Tom all the time and almost since the moment I finished it, this book has held a place as one of my most favorite books of all time.

I read this book again in 2017 and was thrilled to see that it absolutely stands up to closer readings. If you can, get your hands on the edition I like to above–it has one of the best covers this book has ever gotten, includes an introduction from Garth Nix, and features an essay Jones wrote about writing this novel–something she rarely talked about in interviews.

Fire and Hemlock is a retelling of Tam Lin, a meditation on what it means to be a hero, a sweeping romance, and one of the best fantasies you’ll ever read. I still haven’t read all of Jones’ novels, the thought of running out is a bit too depressing so I try to keep a few in my figurative back pocket. But if you have to pick just one to read, consider starting here.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Entwined by Heather Dixon, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, , The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

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The One That Got Away: A Review

Ruby has the perfect life in New York City. She is great at her job, she lives alone in a chic Manhattan studio apartment. She is making it.

But as she prepares to head to England for her sister’s wedding, even Ruby has to admit that she might not be thriving. Her life is divided between work and her weekly gym sessions. There isn’t time for anything else with such a demanding job. But Ruby isn’t sure that matters in the face of having her NYC dreams become reality.

Heading to England couldn’t come at a worse time. But then again there’s never a good time to watch your sister marry the best friend of your ex-boyfriend. Ruby and Ethan were a perfect pair until they weren’t. Now, ten years later, the sting of that painful breakup lingers.

Seeing Ethan again brings back a lot of old memories. Enough that Ruby starts to wonder if walking away all those years ago was ever the right choice in The One That Got Away (2017) by Melissa Pimentel.

This standalone contemporary romance is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion complete with the English setting. The story has a rocky start with a New York City backdrop that is largely divorced from reality particular for a professional thirty-something.The story picks up as Ruby heads to England but the characters never quite manage to fit the plot they are given.

This disconnect deepens as the story progresses. Both Ruby and Ethan are haunted by regrets and fear of wasted opportunities. Making up for lost time, more than anything, is the theme of this light romance. Despite the characters being close to the age of Austen’s own heroine and hero, Ruby and Ethan’s concerns make more sense for characters who are older. While Ethan is a tech wunderkind with tons of talent and money but the idea that Ruby is already not just situated in her career but stagnating feels false. This might be a personal thing as a thirty-something myself who is far from stable but Ruby’s life and her problems felt like the property of a character at least a decade older.

The One That Got Away is a snappy romance complimented by Ruby’s first person narration in a storyline that explores her past with Ethan as well as her present. Recommended for readers looking for a new romance from a fresh voice.

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

My Lady Jane: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi MeadowsEdward (King of England, teenage boy, lover of blackberries, and dogs) is dying. Before he has a chance to kiss a girl or do much of anything with his tragically short life. Edward would like to wallow about his pending demise thanks to “the Affliction” but instead he’s facing a lot of pressure to secure his line of succession. Unsure if he can trust his sister Bess with the crown, and positive he can’t trust his blood-thirsty sister Mary, Edward’s only option seems to be his cousin. Jane.

Lady Jane Grey has little interest in marriage or the crown. But faced with a royal decree arranging her marriage, she has little choice but to comply. When she ends up married to Lord Gifford Dudley–an aspiring poet by night and a horse by day thanks to his uncontrolled Eðian (eth-y-un) magic–she is resigned to a quiet life with a husband who may or may not be horrible.

Then Jane’s dear cousin Edward dies (or does he?) setting off a hectic nine days with Jane in the throne and, eventually, on the run with her new husband in My Lady Jane (2016) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows.

My Lady Jane is a delightful historical fantasy co-written by three authors (who will be writing at least two more “Jane” books about other famous Janes in history). The novel alternates first-person narration between Edward, Jane, and G.

The authors start the book with a preface explaining that this book offers an alternate (and true, according to them) history of England and Lady Jane Grey. The authors don’t expand upon what they changed but interested readers can easily research the key players online. The addition of shape-shifter magic works surprisingly well within the context of English politics at the time.

My Lady Jane is a page-turner filled with adventure, action, sweet romance, and even some magic. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, The Romantics by Leah Konen, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

When I got My Lady Jane in my June Royalty #owlcrate I wasn't sure what to expect beyond a possibly silly read. I'm happy to report that this historical fantasy far exceeded my expectations. Lady Jane Grey has little interest in marriage or the crown. When she end up married to Lord Gifford Dudley–an aspiring poet by night and a horse by day–she is resigned to a quiet life with a husband who may or may not be horrible. Then Jane's dear cousin dies (or does he?) setting off a hectic nine days with Jane in the throne and, eventually, on the run. This delightful romp through London's little known alternate (and true according to the authors) history is a page-turner filled with adventure, action, sweet romance, and even some magic. I loved this book to bits and plan on finding some non-fiction about the English monarchy soon (though how can it possibly compare to this book?). #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram

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The Gilded Cage: A Review

The Gilded Cage by Lucinda GrayOrphaned at a young age, Katherine Randolph and her brother suddenly find out about a grandfather they never met and an inheritance they can hardly imagine. Moving from their Virginia home to Walthingham Hall in England catapults them both to the highest echelons of society.

Katherine is unprepared for the wealth and luxuries suddenly at her disposal. She is uncertain how she will fit into this new world that seems to accept her brother so much more easily.

When her brother drowns unexpectedly, Katherine refuses to believe that it was an accident. Everyone at Walthingham is keen to see Katherine observe proper mourning customs and move on. But how can she when she suspects foul play in her brother’s death? With no one to trust and far too many likely suspects, Katherine will have to sift through Walthingham’s many secrets and sinister lies if she hopes to unearth the truth before it’s too late in The Gilded Cage (2016) by Lucinda Gray.

Katherine is an interesting heroine and narrator. Throughout the novel her American, working class sensibilities come up against the strict standards of British high society showcasing the contrasts between both. Although set slightly before its start in the 1870s, this book’s depiction of 1820s England hearkens back to the gilded age of the US as well.

While Katherine is persistent and headstrong, it is unfortunately often the male characters in this story that discover vital clues to unraveling the mysteries surrounding Walthingham.

The Gilded Cage is a solid gothic mystery. While the story is atmospheric and spooky (complete with a truly chilling asylum), details beyond that about the time period are sparse in this thin novel. Readers familiar with mystery tropes will also likely realize what’s happening at Walthingham long before Katherine. Short chapters and a few genuinely jaw dropping moments make The Gilded Cage a fast-paced story ideal for readers seeking a quick diversion.

Possible Pairings: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis

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

The Glass Magician: A Review

The Glass Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergThree months ago Ceony Twill returned Magician Emery Thane’s heart to his body and returned to her studies to become a Folder with renewed enthusiasm. After traveling through Emery’s heart, Ceony knows beyond certainty that she loves him. She even suspects he will one day feel the same after a fortuity box promised as much when she read the paper magician’s fortune.

Such relations are strongly discouraged between teacher and apprentice. Despite their growing bond, Ceony has begun to doubt the accuracy of the fortuity box she saw those months ago.

When a magician from Emery’s past surfaces, all of Ceony’s tentative hopes are threatened. The magician thinks Ceony has knowledge that will help further his quest for revenge. And he’s willing to go any lengths necessary to get that knowledge.

Desperate to protect those she cares most about, Ceony will have to take an offensive stance if she hopes to stay alive while keeping her dangerous discovery from ending up in the wrong hands in The Glass Magician (2014) by Charlie N. Holmberg.

The Glass Magician is the second book in Holmberg’s Paper Magician trilogy which began with The Paper Magician.

Holmberg once again brings readers into her unique version of London where all types of magic center on the manipulation of specific materials. Set three months after book one, this story offers an adequate recap of previous events while moving the story forward.

Although The Glass Magician remains interesting and enjoyable, it’s much harder to ignore the lack of world building (why, exactly, does magic work the way it does?) and other flaws. Ceony’s rash behavior is especially glaring throughout.

The story here, largely a remix of the events of the first book, will still have appeal for readers looking for subtle fantasy and a quiet romance. The Glass Magician remains an optimistic and quick diversion. Readers who make it through this installment will likely be eager to read the series to its conclusion in The Master Magician.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Other Teddy Roosevelts by Mike Resnick, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

The Square Root of Summer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is what it means to love someone. This is what it means to grieve someone. It’s a little bit like a black hole. It’s a little bit like infinity.”

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter HapgoodGottie’s grandfather, Grey, died nearly a year ago but the grief is still fresh enough to choke her. She’s spent the past year trying to hide, trying to forget, trying to disappear.

Her father, in his usual absent-minded way, is breezing past the gaping hole in their family without really seeing the damage. Her brother is home from school for the summer and keen to resurrect Grey’s eccentric traditions and remember him. All of which makes Gottie’s guilt and sadness hurt even more.

It’s been hard enough focusing on the day-to-day and the things she’s lost. It gets worse when seemingly impossible wormholes start springing up around Gottie’s small seaside town pulling her to times and memories she’d rather forget. Like the day of Grey’s funeral when her first love, Jason, wouldn’t even hold her hand. Or the day her best friend Thomas moved away leaving Gottie with a scar on her hand and no memory of their parting.

When Jason and Thomas reappear in Gottie’s life, she realizes that some things can’t be forgotten and some memories–even the painful ones–are worth revisiting. The wormholes and the lost time are building to something. Gottie has the rest of the summer to decide if she wants to run toward whatever comes next or keep running away in The Square Root of Summer (2016) by Harriet Reuter Hapgood.

The Square Root of Summer is Reuter Hapgood’s debut novel.

Gottie is an incredibly smart heroine with an affinity for math and science–especially physics. Once she realizes that she is losing time, she begins to work out the science of such an impossibility and try to make sense of it with mathematical equations and the laws of physics.

Reuter Hapgood seamlessly integrates complex science and math concepts into the story as Gottie comes closer to the impossible truth behind the events of her summer. These concepts combined with Gottie’s singular voice make for a dense beginning. As the story unfolds and readers get to know Gottie they are rewarded with a satisfyingly intricate novel that begs to be read closely and repeatedly. The addition of unique text designs, illustrations of certain concepts, and notes from Gottie’s research make for an even more unique reading experience.

While time travel is a pivotal aspect of this story, The Square Root of Summer is a novel about family at its core. Gottie’s family is a adrift in the wake of Grey’s death–lost without their boisterous and unlikely anchor. It is only in revisiting memories of him and his death that Gottie begins to realize that sometimes moving forward is the best way to grieve someone.

The Square Root of Summer is populated with distinctive personalities ranging from Gottie and her family to her eccentric physics professor. While the blackholes lend a sense of urgency to the story, this is a character driven novel with fascinating dynamics–particularly between Gottie and her long-absent friend Thomas.

The Square Root of Summer delivers the best aspects of any time travel story combined with the memorable characters and pathos so often found in great contemporary novels. This genre-defying novel is clever and unique–a breath of fresh air on a warm summer day. Gottie and her story are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

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

Into the Dim: A Review

Into the Dim by Janet B. TaylorHope Walton is certain that her mother isn’t really dead. But no one else saw the flash of news coverage and no one can find any evidence to corroborate what Hope knows to be true thanks to her eidetic memory.

Expectations for a summer visiting her aunt in Scotland are low (even without the smack of rejection knowing her father will be on a cruise with his new girlfriend). Between her crippling claustrophobia and headaches brought on when her photographic memory gets away from her, even time at home–alone–can be overwhelming.

Soon after arriving in Scotland, Hope learns that her aunt and mother belong to a secret society of time travelers dedicated to preserving the timeline–a mission that has left Hope’s mother trapped in twelfth-century England.

Hope might be the only one who can save her mother. But she’ll have to learn how to conquer her own fears first in Into the Dim (2016) by Janet B. Taylor.

Into the Dim is Taylor’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Written in the first person, Into the Dim is narrated by sixteen-year-old Hope. Hope is incredibly book smart thanks to her memory but she is also naive and reads as much younger than her sixteen years would suggest. Taylor also chooses to write characters’ speech in dialect to convey accents which often feels stilted if not clumsy to follow.

The novel’s plot is based on some problematic elements. The role of her father is especially troubling. Readers learn early on that Hope was adopted by her mother who married when Hope was five. Her mother and father are the only parent’s Hope has ever known and she considers both her parents without qualification and, as far as the story suggests, Hope’s father feels the same way about her. Despite that Hope’s father allows his own mother to treat Hope as an outsider and inferior to the “real” members of the family. (This is behavior that leaves Hope’s mother seething but seems to get a pass from her father.) Aside from being a damaging trope to perpetuate it feels like a heavy-handed attempt to build in sympathy for Hope and better explain her decision to go along with a visit to Scotland at all.

Other problematic familial aspects of Into the Dim include the fact that Hope’s father has a new girlfriend a mere eight months after his wife’s sudden death and chooses to go on a cruise with her while leaving Hope to fend for herself with an aunt she has never met in a foreign country. Furthermore the idea that Hope’s aunt has never bothered to speak to her–ever–despite speaking to Hope’s mother weekly seems highly unlikely.

Hope’s photographic memory and phobias often feel contrived. That isn’t to say that her fears are invalid or badly portrayed. Rather they feel like elements added into the story solely to move the plot in a very specific direction. The addition of extreme headaches brought on by Hope’s eidetic memory seems superfluous and lacks any basis (as far as my research shows) in reality.

Into the Dim veers more to the light end of the speculative fiction spectrum. Explanations for the mechanics of time travel are thin when they are presented at all. The novel is also poorly paced with obvious twists (time travel!) that are hinted at in the plot summary not appearing until well into the story. For a novel that travels to a variety of locations and time periods, Into the Dim often lacks a strong sense of place feeling as it if could be set anywhere without much change to the action. The historical parts of the novel are well-researched but come too late to enhance the text.

Into the Dim begins with a promising premise that hints at action, time travel, and even some romance. Unfortunately in a year rich with titles that explore similar themes, this one often falls short by comparison.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Winterspell by Claire LeGrand, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone