Nice Try, Jane Sinner: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The past doesn’t exist. It’s just a story we tell ourselves. And stories change each time you tell them.”

“If you don’t like what you’ve written, write something else.”

cover art for Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne OelkeJane Sinner is tired of pity and talking about what happened. She isn’t surprised at her expulsion from high school or her lack of plans for the future. She’s just surprised that anyone else is shocked.

In an effort to appease her parents and possibly get something right Jane agrees to attend a high school completion program at Elbow River Community College. She only has one condition: she gets to move out. Affordable housing appears in the form of a student-run reality show along the lines of Big Brother. Jane jumps at the chance to join the cast of House of Orange, live within her limited means, and compete to win a car (used, but whatever it’s still a car).

Stepping away from her conservative, religious parents and forgetting about what happened is exactly what Jane needs to start over. On campus she can reinvent herself as Sinner–the cynical and ultra-competitive version of herself that comes through in House of Orange edits–even if the HOOcaps (House of Orange production team) might be watching Jane’s every move and real life is becoming uncomfortable hard to separate from the game.

When House of Orange goes from low-rent web series to a local community tv sensation, Jane is forced to consider how far she’s willing to go to win. And how much she has to prove to herself and the world (or viewers of substandard reality tv anyway) in Nice Try, Jane Sinner (2018) by Lianne Oelke.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is Oelke’s debut novel. The book is written as Jane’s journal complete with dialog popped out as if it were a screenplay. This format allows Jane’s snappy comebacks and other banter between characters to really stand out.

Jane’s misadventures, like her narration, are sardonic and ridiculous in the best ways as she balances competing on the show and using everything she learns in Intro to Psychology to destroy her opponents with her high school completion work and maybe, just maybe, making some new friends. Jane has no allusions about herself or the nature of the show–it’s the worst and she might not be much better as she chases the win.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is simultaneously contemplative and literally laugh-out-loud funny. A must-read for readers looking for a laugh and fans of reality shows (or anyone who likes to complain about those unsatisfying reality show outcomes).

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, American Panda by Gloria Chao, Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandyha Menon, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

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


The Fashion Committee: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Find something that makes your heart sing and your brain expand, and let it carry you past all the ugliness and low spots.”

“Measuring someone is borderline invasive. You have to touch them and record their physical presence in the world. It’s a pretty specific way to understand someone.”

Charlie Dean lives and breathes fashion and she strives for style in all things. John Thomas-Smith is a metal sculptor and he could not care less about clothes. They have one thing in common: they desperately want the chance to attend the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design on full scholarship.

When Green Pastures announces that this year’s scholarship will be awarded to a fashion design student, Charlie thinks the stars have finally aligned to make her dreams come true. John, meanwhile, is disappointed that the scholarship isn’t for metalwork but he also knows that fashion is a joke. How hard can faking his way into the competition really be?

Charlie and John have nothing in common except for art and ambition. They are both determined to win and they won’t let anything stand in their way. Not a soul-killing job at Salad Stop or an unsympathetic girlfriend. Not a dad’s girlfriend’s drug-addicted ex-boyfriend. And definitely not a very minor case of kidnapping.

Two very different artists. One life changing competition. And only one winner in The Fashion Committee (2017) by Susan Juby.

Although set in the same world as The Truth Commission, Juby’s latest novel is a standalone contemporary with an entirely new cast of characters (and illustrations by Soleil Ignacio).

This epistolary novel features alternating chapters from Charlie and John’s fashion journals written over the course of the competition. Charlie’s sections each start with one of her signature bright ideas (“Dress for the life you want!”) while John’s sections finish with quotes from the fashion industry and his own scathing indictments. Although Charlie and John often share physical space, their narratives have little overlap as the plot focuses on their own paths through the competition from developing their concepts and designing their garments to the final fashion show.

Juby introduces two very different characters in The Fashion Committee. Charlie Dean has been curating and shaping her own persona from a very young age. She values fashion above most else and she believes in deliberate sartorial choices to create a facade to present to the world. Charlie uses that facade to offset some of the things she’d prefer to forget like her father’s struggle with drug addiction. John, meanwhile, considers himself a straight shooter with a hard knock upbringing. He is very aware of the privileges of those around him (especially those attending Green Pastures) but turns a blind eye to his own good fortune being raised by two loving and conscientious grandparents. Despite their differing opinions of fashion (and almost everything else), Charlie and John’s journeys mirror each other well with a variety of ups, downs, and even a littler romance for both protagonists.

Charlie and John both have to deal with some stereotypes and preconceptions about themselves and, through meeting the unique group of students competing in the fashion show, they also learn to acknowledge their own biases. Does everything go perfectly in The Fashion Committee? No. Not even with Charlie’s efforts to impose beauty and positivity on the world through sheer force of will or John’s deliberate choice to always expect the worst.

The Fashion Committee is a thoughtful novel about fashion, privilege, and perspective where Charlie and John learn to appreciate what they have and also strive to get what they deserve. A must-read for fashionistas of all levels of expertise and anyone who seeking a book that will leave them laughing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall by Seph Lawless, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Flannery by Lisa Moore, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1 by Hope Nicholson (editor), Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, D. V. by Diana Vreeland, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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

Be sure to check out my interview with Susan about this book too!

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.


The Carbon Diaries 2015: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci LloydIn 2015 the UK becomes the pilot country for a program to ration carbon in an attempt to stave of the catastrophic climate change that has already lead to super storms and other natural disasters.

Laura Brown uses her diary to make sense of the chaos and keep herself sane in this strange new landscape with minimal heat, carbon ration cards, blackouts and worse.

With everything changes so quickly, will Laura and her family make it through their first year of rationing? Will the coutnry? Only time will tell in The Carbon Diaries 2015 (2008) by Saci Lloyd.

The Carbon Diaries 2015 is Lloyd’s first book about Laura Brown’s experiences with carbon rationing. The story continues in The Carbon Diaries 2017.

Originally published in 2008, The Carbon Diaries 2015 has only become more timely and plausible in 2015. That said, there is something very on the nose in reading a “futuristic” book during the year in which it is set (or after).

Because The Carbon Diaries 2015 is written as Laura’s diary it is sometimes hard to get a sense of her character. Generally, Laura reads very young although that works in the book’s favor as it has fairly broad age appeal.

Lloyd does an excellent job of bringing Laura’s eerie world to life with all of the madness and troubles that come with carbon rationing. It is this evocative prose that save the novel from being relegated to nothing more than a message-driven allegory for readers used to living in a world of chronic over-consumption.

Although The Carbon Diaries 2015 is a slight read beyond the obvious ecological messages, it’s still an entertaining read. Recommended readers looking for something new after reading all the bigger name post-apocalyptic novels.

Possible Pairings: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow,  The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, Empty by Suzanne Weyn


Black Dove, White Raven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They can make you stay, but they can’t make me go.”

Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth WeinEmilia and Teo have been in the soup together since their mothers first put them in an airplane as children.

After years of performing together as the Black Dove and White Raven, Rhoda finds herself alone when Delia is killed during a freak accident. Shattered by the loss of her best friend–her better half, her soul mate really–Rhoda clings to the dream Delia proposed just before her death: moving to Ethiopia where they could live together exactly as they liked without Delia’s son Teo ever being discriminated against because he is black.

When they finally get to Ethiopia, Em and Teo think maybe they can be at home there watching their mother, dreaming of flight and writing The Adventures of Black Dove and White Raven together. As long as Em and Teo have each other, they know they’ll be fine.

But Teo’s connection to Ethiopia runs deeper than anyone can guess. As war with Italy threatens to break out in the peaceful country, Em and Teo are forced to confront undesirable truths about their own lives and the legacies of their parents.

Em and Teo know they can depend on each other for anything, just like White Raven and Black Dove, but with so much changing neither of them knows if it will be enough to save themselves and the people they love in Black Dove, White Raven (2015) by Elizabeth Wein.

Black Dove, White Raven is an engaging and fascinating story about a largely unknown setting and an often forgotten moment in history. Detailed historical references and vibrant descriptions bring the landscape of 1930s Ethiopia and the politics of the Second Italo-Ethiopian War to life set against the larger backdrop of a world on the brink of war.

Like Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, this novel is an epistolary one comprised of letters, essays and notebook entries written by both Emilia and Teo. Interludes between their story come in the form of Adventures that Em and Teo wrote for their alter egos White Raven and Black Dove.

Within the story of Emilia and Teo dealing with the coming war and all of its trappings, Wein also provides flashbacks to Em and Teo’s childhood both in Pennsylvania and Ethiopia. These contrasts help to highlight the idyllic life that the family finds in Ethiopia. At the same time Wein also plays with the idea that equality doesn’t always mean perfectly equal by examining the different ways Em and Teo are treated in Ethiopia and the varied obstacles they face throughout the narrative.

Black Dove, White Raven delves into the grey areas in life as Emilia and Teo try to find their proper place in Ethiopia and also come to realize that Delia’s dream for them all was a flawed one even as their mother Rhoda continues to cling to it.

Throughout the novel, both Em and Teo also often refer to their stories about Black Dove and White Raven as they try to decide what course of action to take. Wein explores the ways in which both characters, particularly Em, can manipulate different identities to get what they need.

Both Em and Teo have distinct voices in their narrations. While Emilia is often rash and flamboyant, Teo is introspective and thoughtful. Their dynamic together underscores how best friends–and here the best family–help each other to be more and achieve more together than they would accomplish apart.

Black Dove, White Raven is a powerful, beautiful story of friendship, family and learning how to soar.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Nothing But Sky by Amy Trueblood, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr


The Ghosts of Heaven: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It was all the same thing; the same sign, and now she knew what it meant.”

The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus SedgwickIn a time before modern history, a girl tries to use a charred stick and ochre to make magic with disastrous results. Staring at the spiral shapes found everywhere in nature, she begins to grasp the enormity–the power–that can be found in written marks.

Centuries later, Anna hopes to care for her brother after her mother’s death only to have the entire town turn against her. As she fights rumors and increasingly vocal accusations that she is a witch, Anna too begins to see hidden meaning in the spiral found in their traditional spiral dance that begins to appear everywhere.

In the twentieth century an American poet watches the ocean from within the walls of an inhospitable asylum. He can see the shapes there too. Spirals. Helixes. Shapes that have become emblematic of the horrors he can scarcely fathom.

Keir Bowman knows, in the distant future, that he will become an astronaut on a desperate mission to colonize a new planet. He knows he will keep looking forward. What Bowman can’t guess is that in hurtling himself through space, he will also move toward his destiny and an understanding of these spirals that march through history in The Ghosts of Heaven (2015) by Marcus Sedgwick.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a standalone novel in the same style as Sedgwick’s Printz Award winner Midwinterblood.

After an introduction from the author, The Ghosts of Heaven includes four short stories titled “Whispers in the Dark,” “The Witch in the Water,” “The Easiest Room in Hell,” and “The Song of Destiny.” As the introduction explains, these stories can be read in any order. (I read them in the order given in the book which is also the order listed above.)

The Ghosts of Heaven is an incredibly smart and ambitious novel. The stories here span a variety of genres and forms as they work together to convey a larger meaning.

“Whispers in the Dark” is told in sparse verse as a girl begins to make sense of written words and forms.

“The Witch in the Water” returns to more traditional prose as the story watches the hysteria and fear that fed the fires of witch accusations and  trials in the seventeenth century. This segment also demonstrates how much of the novel deals with unequal power dynamics–in this case as Anna tries to work around much unwanted attention.

“The Easiest Room in Hell” brings readers to an asylum on Long Island where supposedly revolutionary treatments highlight the arcane and unfeeling nature of much mental health care in the early twentieth century. This story also underscores the fine line that can exist between creativity and madness.

Finally in “The Song of Destiny” Sedgwick brings the golden ratio (and the Fibonacci sequence) to the forefront in this solitary and meditative story as all of the vignettes come together in a conclusion with surprising revelations about the spirals and their ultimate meaning.

Sedgwick weaves subtle references between each quarter to make sure that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts as readers–along with the characters–move toward a larger understanding over the course of the entire novel.

The Ghosts of Heaven is a startling, clever and life-affirming novel that pushes the written word to its limit as Sedgwick expertly demonstrates the many ways in which a story can be told.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Folly by Marthe Jocelyn, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, In the Shadow of Blackbirds of Cat Winters

You can also read my interview with Marcus Sedgwick about the book.

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


Struck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal: A Rapid Fire Review

Struck by Lightning by Chris ColferStruck by Lightning: The Carson Phillips Journal by Chris Colfer (2012)

**This post has a lot of spoilers**

Chris Colfer is an actor on the TV show Glee. You might have heard of him. He is also a talented author with a bestselling middle grade series to his name as well as credits for this novel and the screenplay by the same name.

I like Chris Colfer. I do. I will never, ever question his talents.

But I still have so many questions about this book.

The initial story was interesting. Carson is driven and motivated and talented. He’s also a little neurotic and a lot callous to his other classmates (as evidenced by, you know, blackmailing everyone to submit to the magazine). Fine. Everyone gets to be self-centered and obnoxious now and then.

Then things get weird.

In one of the most contrived plot points I’ve recently read, Carson is poised to get everything he wants. Only to be foiled by his mother throwing out his acceptance letter. This made no sense. There are emails and phones and a thousand ways to contact college admissions offices not to mention attempts to woo applicants. I call shenanigans on Carson not catching this until it’s too late.

But fine. I can let that slide too. Reality can be harsh and absurd. Fine. Not everyone gets into their first choice college. That’s reality. Carson has obviously grown as a result and is much more positive and hopeful and experienced now. This is a guy who is going to be okay.

Then, as the title might suggest, he gets struck by lightning and dies.

Obviously, given the title, I should have expected this. But at the same time I was so angry when I read final page. In fact, I was so angry I considered tearing the last page out and pretending it didn’t exist.

What is the point of reading about Carson’s growth as a character and following him for an entire year only to have him killed by a freak accident? One page managed to invalidate any positive feelings I had for the book. I’m sure there was a reason for the ending, but it just felt like a hopeless waste and utterly ridiculous.

The writing was fine and the characters are fine but that hardly matters when the ending was a slap in the face.