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.**

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Boys Don’t Knit: A Review

Boys Don't Knit by T. S. EastonBen Fletcher knows his friends are good for nothing but trouble. After an unfortunate incident involving a crossing guard and a bottle of Martini & Rossi, Ben is especially sure that he needs new people–particularly when the judge decides to make an example of Ben.

As part of his probation Ben has to Make Things Right with said crossing guard. No easy feat when she seems determined to kill him with household objects hurtled from windows. Worse. He has to take a class to improve himself. Desperate to avoid his father’s mechanic class, Ben decides to try knitting where he can at least ogle the hot teacher. Except, of course, she isn’t actually the teacher.

No one is more surprised than Ben when he starts to show an actual talent for knitting. Even more shocking is the realization that knitting helps keep Ben calm and eases his (many) anxieties. Except, of course, for the ones related to panicking about his friends and family finding out that Ben Fletcher–accidental criminal and intentional liar–is a knitting prodigy in Boys Don’t Knit (2015) by T. S. Easton.

Boys Don’t Knit was originally published in the United Kingdom where it also has a sequel (An English Boy in New York) which will hopefully make its way across the pond soon.

Boys Don’t Knit is an unexpected, funny novel. Written as Ben’s probation-mandated diary, the novel chronicles Ben’s brief flirtation with shoplifting (and the unfortunate crossing guard incident) before moving into his knitting misadventures.

The humor here is decidedly English and as charmingly quirky as you’d expect. Ben is neurotic, precocious, and looking for ways to make sense of his increasingly confusing teen years. Something he finds, unlikely as it may be, in knitting.

Boys Don’t Knit is often sensationalized and exaggerated with big moments for humor tempered by Ben’s introspection about his family or his friends (a friend writing a rip-off of Fifty Shades of Grey with the original name of Fifty Shades of Graham adds another layer of absurdity and a lot more fun). A hint of romance between Ben and his long-time crush also helps to move the plot along.

Easton keeps the narrative very focused on the world through the lens of a teenage boy while also populating this story with strong women including Ben’s crush and several authority figures including his mother and teachers.* Ben is honest and authentic throughout the story both with his knitting and the rest of his life. Boys Don’t Knit is a perfect read for anyone looking for a bubbly bit of cheer and some good fun.

Possible Pairings: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

*SPOILERS: There’s some coarse language in here, as can be expected from teenagers. It didn’t bother me and it works in the story but since this book is otherwise middle grade appropriate it seemed worth mentioning. There is also a scene where Ben and his friends spend their afternoon ogling a woman with a broken leg struggling to put groceries in her car (causing her skirt to ride up repeatedly). Ben points out how their behavior is problematic and a bit gross in the narrative itself but again it does move the target age a bit higher for the story.

Never Never: A Review

Never Never by Brianna R. ShrumJames Hook is a boy who is desperate to grow up.

It is only in his sleep, and the brief moments when he forgets himself, that James indulges his childish dreams of captaining the fierce pirate ship The Spanish Main.The rest of the time, James eagerly looks forward to the day he will be a man and all of the new responsibilities it will involve.

When he meets a strange boy named Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, James wonders if perhaps he should spend more time as a child. So strong is Peter’s pull that James agrees to go with Peter to Neverland–at least until the end of his holiday when he will return to London and his future at Eton.

Neverland is not what James imagined, filled with all manner of strange and horrible things from the dreams of other Lost Boys. Worse, Peter refuses to bring James home.

Disillusioned and alone, James Hook soon grows up. He knows who he might have been in London, but when that path is lost to him, he chooses to make himself into the feared pirate captain of his dreams–the pirate who might be able to exact revenge against the Pan in Never Never (2015) by Brianna Shrum.

Never Never is Shrum’s first novel. It is also a standalone retelling of Peter Pan that begins with Hook’s arrival in Neverland as a Lost Boy.

The thing to remember about Peter Pan, in any form, is that the story is incredibly problematic when viewed through a modern lens. Peter is as vicious as he is careless. Tiger Lily and her tribe make no sense in the context of Neverland being used to meet the whims of both Peter and Barrie. The Indians in Neverland are also portrayed badly with tired and often inaccurate stereotypes about Indians. The issues surrounding Wendy are numerous as well although less relevant in the context of this novel.

The most interesting part of Never Never is, unsurprisingly, Hook himself. The interplay between who Hook is for most of the story (a good young man dealt a very bad hand) and who he chooses to present to Neverland (a villainous pirate) is an interesting one. This duality also leads to some thoughtful meditations on what it means when childhood fantasies are too gruesome–or too grim–to survive into adulthood. The idea of Hook getting older in Neverland without any of the inherent growth and development is also an interesting one. Although James Hook becomes a man called Captain Hook by the end of the novel, he is still very much an angry boy looking for his own version of justice.

Never Never is very character driven with most of the novel being very introspective as James makes sense of various catastrophes and slights. This focus works well set against the dreamlike and often sinister Neverland that Shrum has created. It also makes the pacing of the novel quite slow.

Tiger Lily is always a troublesome part of Peter Pan. That is especially true in Never Never where she is the girl who has James Hook’s heart despite belonging to Peter Pan. The awkward love triangle is made worse by the fact that Tiger Lily remains little more than an exotic temptress. She is further diminished by her complete lack of agency throughout the novel as she is constantly reacting to either James or Peter. (Even Tiger Lily’s choice to grow up is predicated on making herself closer to James’ age.)

While Never Never is a promising debut, it fails to add anything new to the world of Peter Pan instead sticking very close to the source material despite being written from Hook’s perspective. Being a story about a villain, it’s easy to guess how Never Never will end. Given the amount of time readers spend with Captain James Hook it is also easy to guess that this ending will be largely unsatisfying for many readers.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Wendy Darling: Stars by Colleen Oakes, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Everland by Wendy Spinale

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between: A Review

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. SmithAfter two years together, Clare and Aidan only have one night left to figure out what comes next. With both of them leaving for college and heading to opposite coasts, Clare is certain that breaking up makes the most sense. Aidan isn’t so sure. They’ve already stayed together for two years–can a few extra miles really tear them apart?

As Clare and Aidan retrace the steps of their relationship across their small town they will revisit fond memories and reveal some closely guarded secrets. While saying goodbye to their homes, their friends and their families, Clare and Aidan will have to figure out if it’s time to say goodbye to each other as well in Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between (2015) by Jennifer E. Smith.

Jennifer E. Smith is a master when it comes to contemporary novels with a lot of heart and sweet romance. She is a phenomenal talent and I went into this book with high expectations after loving her recent novel The Geography of You and Me.

Which is why it’s so hard to say that this novel didn’t work for me. I think I’m atypical here and I think a lot of readers who dealt with (or will deal with) similar big changes to Aidan’s and Clare’s will totally identify with this novel.

I’m not one of those people. I put myself through college with scholarships, financial aid, and a part-time job. I commuted because my mom needed me at home, it was cheaper and because I didn’t want to go away. I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I missed out on a fundamental college experience. And I don’t know, maybe that’s true. But it was my choice and even then I knew it was the right choice for me.

No one in this entire book makes a similar choice. I suppose it’s because Clare and Aidan are from an affluent community but even the students who are going to college nearby are planning on leaving and moving into dorms. The one character who is truly staying behind and living at home is going to community college. Because he didn’t get accepted anywhere else. It was a little strange (and maybe even off-putting) to see that aspect of the college experience completely erased from this community.

I think that’s a big part of my disconnect with Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between. I never made the choices Clare and Aidan make and so for most of the book I had a really hard time understanding their choices. Although it made sense that the stakes are high for both characters, they never felt particularly pressing for me. Retracing the steps of a relationship that is now on the brink of collapse just felt depressing and often pointless.

The final decision for these characters seems obvious and inevitable from the beginning. Although Smith throws in a few twists and surprises, they come far too late in the story to make for any worthwhile changes.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between ends on an up note with a sweet note of optimism. Sadly, it also comes to late to make up for the rest of the novel. I’m not sure how it would have worked, but I wish the story readers got in this novel began where this book finished.

Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between is an unlikely romance about leaving everything you know behind and striking out for the unknown. Although the romance is ultimately quite cute, a lot of the novel does read more like the postmortem of a relationship than the start or continuation of one. Recommended for anyone who had to move away for college or anyone who will. Readers looking to try Jennifer E. Smith for the first time might be better served with an earlier novel like, perhaps, my personal favorite The Geography of You and Me!

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley,  Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BEA 2015 for review consideration*

Never, Always, Sometimes: A Review

Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi AlsaidThe summer before freshman year, Dave and Julia made a promise: They would never fall into the trap of a cliche high school experience. No hair dyed a color found in the rainbow. No hooking up with a teacher. No crazy parties.

With senior year about to end, Dave realizes he’s broken rule eight: Never pine silently after someone for the entirety of high school. Meanwhile rule number ten–never date your best friend–seems impossible to break.

Dave has loved Julia from afar for years. When she suggests they complete all of the items on the list of Nevers, Dave readily agrees. But as Dave and Julia work their way down the list, they realize they have been a lot by skipping the high school cliches even as they begin to understand that some rules shouldn’t be broken in Never, Always, Sometimes (2015) by Adi Alsaid.

Never, Always, Sometimes is Alsaid’s second novel.

Never, Always, Sometimes is a sweet blend of nostalgia for the quintessential high school experience (something Dave and Julia soon realize they have unfairly scorned for the past four years), fun hijinks and an unexpected romance.

While the premise is brimming with potential, the execution in Never, Always, Sometimes is often disappointing. Dave and Julia are, perhaps intentionally, unbearably pretentious at the start of the novel. While both protagonists do learn over the course of the story, it often comes too little to late in terms of making them sympathetic characters.

The novel is broken into three parts and alternates tight third-person focus between Dave and Julia. Some reviewers have mentioned having issues with Julia’s voice. I’d posit instead that the bigger issue is that Dave and Julia’s “voices” are often indistinguishable despite Alsaid often sharing the character’s inner thoughts throughout the narrative.

Alsaid does excel at creating a realistically diverse cast of characters while also letting them be characters (instead of talking points or part of a diverse checklist for the novel). Julia has two dads, Dave’s mother died when he was a child and his family is hispanic. Their high school class is as varied and diverse as readers would expect from a large California high school.

Never, Always, Sometimes is sure to appeal to readers looking for a new story about characters getting ready to start college. Readers looking for wacky hijinks and shenanigans will appreciate the list aspect of this story as Dave and Julia check items off their Never list with varying results.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Althea & Oliver by Cristina Moracho, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Even in Paradise: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They were all royalty. They were all gods. They were all broken.”

Even in Paradise by Chelsey PhilpotCharlotte Ryder is pretty certain about the course of her life. She has her group of friends at St. Anne’s. She has her roommate at the boarding school. Charlotte has her memory box, her studio time, and her plans to become an artist.

Charlotte never expects that she will meet the infamous Julia Buchanan when she abruptly transfers to the school at the start of their junior year. Charlotte never expects that she will become Julia’s friend.

It’s hard to ignore Julia Buchanan’s pull. Charlotte is easily absorbed into Julia’s magical world of luxury and decadence; she even finds herself drawn into the great Buchanan family with all of their spectacle and charisma.

As she becomes closer to Julia and the rest of the Buchanans, Charlotte realizes that Julia’s effervescent personality and easy smiles are part of a facade. Julia’s life–like those of her family–has been shaped by a tragedy that still haunts her. In trying to uncover Julia’s secrets, Charlotte hopes to help her friend. Instead, the truth might tear them apart in Even in Paradise (2014) by Chelsey Philpot.

Even in Paradise is Philpot’s first novel. It is a loose retelling of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh with strong undertones reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as well. Although Philpot credits both of these classics among her inspirations, Even in Paradise is also very much its own story.

Charlotte is a heroine who starts the novel on the periphery of her own life. So much of who Charlotte is, not to mention what she does, is defined by her friendship with Julia or who she is in Julia’s presence. It’s impossible to ignore the pull of Julia’s dizzying world. But it is only in gaining distance from that world that Charlotte really begins to come into her own with character development that is both fascinating and empowering.

Although this story has some adorably romantic moments (and even the hint at something more) Even in Paradise remains very firmly a story about friendship with a plot ranging from the initial moments that can tie people together right through to the moments with potential to tear them apart.

Despite any perceived pain or loss, Charlotte has no regrets when it comes to her friendship with Julia  and the other events during Even in Paradise. It’s refreshing, and even a bit shocking, to see that kind of conviction in a narrator. It is powerful to see Charlotte’s introspection and acknowledgement at the end of the novel of the many people and moments that have shaped her present self.

Even in Paradise is a subtle, contemplative novel about growing up and growing apart. A story about finding yourself in the midst of feeling lost. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Great by Sara Benincasa, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BEA 2014 for review consideration*

You can also check out my interview with Chelsey!

Don’t Ever Change: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“So now when they look at me, they don’t see an old friend who’s trying hard to improve and grow; they see someone who started to leave them a long time ago, has pretty much already left, and maybe didn’t care about being there in the first place.”

Don't Ever Change by M. Beth BloomEva is seventeen and in her last week of high school when a conversation with her English teacher leaves Eva wondering if she might have missed something with her sharp focus on producing literary stories and delivering hard-hitting critiques of her classmates’ work throughout high school.

After years of thinking she knew everything, Eva realizes she is running out of time to learn all of the basic high school things she previously scorned. Eva is determined to live this summer. And to write it all down.

With unlikely friendships, painful realizations, and a few rare moments of clarity, Eva will learn that she has to get to know herself before she can write what she knows in Don’t Ever Change (2015) by M. Beth Bloom.

Don’t Ever Change is Bloom’s second novel.

Eva thinks she has everything figured out at the start of this novel. She has avoided typical high school cliches and eschewed most everything else that can’t lend her an air of profundity. It is only upon finishing high school that she realizes the veneer of intellectuality that she has created is painfully thin.

Hoping to make up for years of missed opportunities, Eva dates a musician she never would have talked to before. She becomes a camp counselor despite a decided lack of experience and zero interest in interacting with children. She even begins to wonder if her rival in high school might have actually been a friend all along.

Although Eva is not always the nicest narrator, or the easiest character to read about, she is always real and she is always learning–even if it might take her longer than it should. Eva is self-aware enough to know that she isn’t always likeable. She knows she doesn’t make great choices and that she might have even made some really bad ones in trying to convey that she is a Serious Writer. Over the course of a seemingly mundane summer she also realizes that she may not know as much as she thought.

Opportunities surround Eva for new experiences and friendships, but for the most part, those realizations come too late to mean anything. No matter how much she missed in high school, no matter how many friends she pushed away, at the end of the summer Eva will be across the country starting college in Boston.

Instead of being a book about seizing missed opportunities, Don’t Ever Change is a thoughtful and often witty admission that important moments can be lost or squandered. But there are always new ones to find.

Don’t Ever Change is as self-aware as the main character and often as mystifying. The story is strange, messy and not always neat but sometimes perfect. Just like real life. Recommended for readers who like their contemporary novels to have a little bite and fans of Alice, I Think who still wish they could see Ms. MacLeod heading off to college.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

*A copy this book was acquired from the author/publisher for review consideration*