Remember Me: A Review

Remember Me by Estelle LaureSomething is not right on Blue Owens’ seventeenth birthday. Her art teacher seems mad at her. Her grandmother and best friends are oddly gentle, timid. Her backpack is filled with orange juice which everyone keeps reminding her to drink.

Then there’s the note to meet someone on a little shuttle bus outside of her small ski town Owl Nook, New Mexico.

When a stranger named Adam gets on the bus, Blue starts to put the pieces together. The boyfriend–Adam Mendoza–she doesn’t remember, the painful loss she’s desperate to forget.

Following the clues brings Blue to a doctor to who can help her get back the memories she asked to have removed. But Blue will have to move through the memories herself–process the joys and the sorrows that have been erased–if she wants to get back to herself in Remember Me (2022) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blue and her family are white. Adam’s family is Latinx and one of Blue’s best friends, Jack, is nonbinary. The linear story includes a larger story within the story as Blue rediscovers her lost memories making for an interesting structure and unique reading experience.

Laure’s prose is imbued with a deep and abiding love for Blue’s New Mexico landscape and its natural wonders. The speculative fiction framework is used well to tell Blue’s story although the greater ramifications of memory erasures are not fully explored in the story outside of Blue’s immediate circle.

Blue moves inexorably toward the memories she’s tried to forget as she and readers put together the pieces of Blue’s past. Moments of sweetness with Adam and her friends contrast against the sharper loss–and grief–as Blue understands everything that has been lost.

Set in 2031 Remember Me is an eerie and powerful story about moving through grief and making it to the other side.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, No One Here is Lonely by Sarah Everett, Loud Awake and Lost by Adele Griffin, Edited by Barry Lyga, The Program by Suzanne Young, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Mayhem: A Review

Mayhem by Estelle LaureCalifornia, 1987: Mayhem Brayburn and her mother have never been like everyone else. May can see it in her mother Roxy’s constant pain, her pull to the water, the gaping hole of her father’s absence in the wake of his suicide years ago.

When her step-father goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem make their way back to the beach town–and the family history–that Roxy left behind when May was a baby. Santa Maria is everything May always hoped it would be. She meets her aunt’s foster kids, finds the family she always wanted and, amazingly, discovers her own connection to the Brayburn family’s long line of magic.

But not everything is magical in Santa Maria. Girls are going missing. Soon, Mayhem’s own efforts to find the culprit draw her into a strange world of vigilante justice and revenge as she learns more about the town–and her family’s–darker secrets in Mayhem (2020) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

If this standalone fantasy sounds a lot like the 1987 film The Lost Boys, that’s because it is. While Laure imbues Mayhem with its own magic and world building, the story stays close to the original plot of the classic vampire film complete with brief appearances by the iconic Frog brothers. Laure also brings more diversity to the cast in her update–the Brayburns are white but May’s farther was Brazilian and Jason and Kidd are biracial (Black and white).

Questions of why this story had to be set in 1987 instead of modernized are also inevitable and not well answered by any authorial choices.

How you feel about this book might depend on your familiarity with the film and your feelings about it. Mayhem includes a lot of nods to the original film but shifts in surprising ways to make space for the Brayburn’s family history as seen in a mysterious diary Mayhem finds upon exploring her new home. Unfortunately these two storylines don’t always mesh well feeling more like two separate stories than one, cohesive plot.

Mayhem is ideal for readers who like their witches fierce and their vampire references vintage.

Possible Pairings: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Lost Boys

City of Villains: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

City of Villains by Estelle LaureMary Elizabeth Heart remembers when magic left Monarch City with the sudden and complete disappearance of the Scar’s newest skyscraper two years ago. It couldn’t compare to the murder of her parents and sister, but this loss is much bigger for Monarch City.

Now Mary is a high school intern with the police. Tensions are always high between the Scar’s Legacy residents with magic and the wealthy Narrows encroaching on the land for cheap real estate and not caring about the area’s magical legacy. But now a killer is taunting the police sending gift boxes of body parts.

When Mally Saint, the daughter of one of the city’s richest residents, goes missing Mary Elizabeth is as surprised as anyone to be put on the case with rookie officer Bella Loyola. As the unlikely duo delves deeper into the case, Mary Elizabeth will have to decide what to do when she discovers uncomfortable truths about the culprit, her home, and her friends in City of Villains (2021) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

City of Villains is the first book in a trilogy that re-imagines the origins of some of Disney’s most iconic villains in a fantasy noir setting. Think Veronica Mars meets CW’s Nancy Drew but make it Disney.

Laure brings a lot of dimension to familiar territory as she ages down familiar characters like The Queen of Hearts (Mary Elizabeth), Captain Hook (Mary Elizabeth’s boyfriend), Ursula (Mary Elizabeth’s best friend) and more from all areas of the Disney morality spectrum. Disney fans will enjoy hunting down all of the Easter egg references to iconic characters. Those less familiar with the Disney-verse might wonder at the one-dimensionality of some characters who feel more like caricatures when distilled down to their key traits for brief appearances in the novel.

Monarch City as a setting owes a lot to Batman’s Gotham City with its sinister shadows and political unrest. Unfortunately, Gotham City does not translate well to prose. Part of why it works in Batman is because that series is presented as comics or films—mediums with very different world building requirements than novels.

While the premise of a teen investigating a high profile case pushes the limit for plausibility, Mary Elizabeth’s persistence and grit more than make up for this shortcoming. City of Villains is a lot of potential that isn’t always allowed to fully blossom because of the marks it has to hit as a Disney property. A must-read for Disney fans and worth a look for readers who enjoy fantasy noir.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

But Then I Came Back: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Time served on planet earth is yours to use as you see fit. It keeps spinning, and just because someone’s life ends or pauses doesn’t mean we have to do the same.”

“We do have to rescue ourselves in the end, no matter how much we learn to lean on other people.”

Eden Jones fell in the river and hit her head. She was in a coma for a month. But then she woke up.

That’s when the real recovery begins as Eden has to teach her body how to walk, talk, and even eat again. All easy compared to trying to fit herself back into a life that moved on without her. Eden struggles to reconnect with her twin brother who used to know her better than anyone, her best friend who saved her, and her parents. But maybe she isn’t the person they remember anymore. Maybe she isn’t the person she remembers either.

Eden still feels a pull to wherever she was while she was in a coma–to the In Between place filled with flowers and a girl trying to tell her something that she can’t hear. The flowers follow Eden back into the real world where they start appearing everywhere. It turns out the girl followed Eden back too.

Jaz is in the hospital room next to Eden, comatose and unresponsive except that Eden still feels a pull toward her. As she tries to understand their connection, Eden also forms a surprising friendship with Joe–the boy who is desperate for Jaz to wake up. Eden might be the only person who can get Jaz to come back. Helping Jaz could mean losing a piece of herself. Or it could help Eden find something she’s been missing all along in But Then I Came Back (2017) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

But Then I Came Back is a companion to Laure’s debut novel This Raging Light. It begins a few weeks after the end of This Raging Light and tells Eden’s story.

Although she is facing a lot of external change most of Eden’s journey and development is internal as she tries to make sense of her interpersonal relationships–both new and old–and figure out who she is now and who she wants to become. For most of her life, Eden has defined herself as a ballet dancer with big plans. That future is thrown into doubt at the start of But Then I Came Back and Eden’s return to dance is a compelling addition to this story and as satisfying as her blooming relationship with Joe.

Laure channels Eden’s frenetic, energetic personality in a first person narration filled with staccato observations as she wakes up in the hospital and begins the arduous process of returning to her old life.The glaring contrast between Eden’s current reality and the pieces of her time In Between that begin to bleed into the waking world lend an eerie quality and a sense of urgency to this otherwise quiet story.

Eden’s voice and her experiences are completely different from Lucille’s in This Raging Light but themes of connection and perseverance tie these two characters and their stories together. But Then I Came Back is about loss, recovery, self-discovery, and choice. A powerful story about a girl who has to lose a lot before she can find herself again. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Fracture by Megan Miranda, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, You Are the Everything by Karen Rivers, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Instructions For Dancing by Nicola Yoon, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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

Be sure to check out my interview with the author about this book!

Author Interview #2: Estelle Laure on But Then I Came Back

Estelle Laure author photoEstelle Laure’s debut novel blew me away last year. I’ve been waiting for the release of her followup novel But Then I Came Back ever since. But Then I Came Back is set shortly after This Raging Light but follows Eden, Lucille’s best friend. But Then I Came Back is a story about love and friendship, moving on, and letting go. It’s also what Estelle is here to talk with me about today.

Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for But Then I Came Back?

Estelle Laure (EL): While I was writing my second book one of my best friends my whole life committed suicide. I was trying to write a different book and it wouldn’t come together because I was preoccupied thinking about questions of life and death and making an argument for choosing to live even though life is so hard sometimes. I finally gave into the fact that this was the story that was really needing to be written by me just then, and that’s when it really took on life.

MP: But Then I Came Back is set in the same world as your debut novel but focuses on Eden’s recovery after she wakes up from her coma. Did you always know you would write a companion to your debut novel? How did writing about a place and characters you’ve encountered before influence your writing process?

EL: It takes me a long time to find out about characters and their backgrounds and motivations. I’m talking years. I’m always envious of people who can come up with them so quickly. Then, once I have them I get pretty invested and it’s hard for me to let them go. As This Raging Light was coming out, I got a lot of positive feedback about Eden. People wanted to know more about her. Having had the accident in This Raging Light it provided a natural place for a story to begin. It was really fun for me to explore the way we view other people and then when we’re really in their skin there’s a whole other thing going on, meaning even if life looks easy for them, they have their own challenges and insecurities to deal with. No one gets off easy. As far as writing process, I suppose it saved me some time having to discover characters, although there were so many new ones here I still had a lot to do!

MP: In your debut, This Raging Light, Lucille has some magical moments but they are all based in reality complete with natural explanations. Eden, by contrast, experiences something like an afterlife during her coma and begins seeing magical flowers everywhere after she wakes up. Not to mention her connection to Jaz–another comatose girl in the hospital. What was it like incorporating these fantastical elements into your otherwise contemporary/realistic novel?

EL: I LOVE magical realism for its freedom of expression. I would say there have been some things I couldn’t explain in my own life. Let’s say I think of reality as being on a spectrum, Life can be totally magical and connected and filled with signs if you’re open to it. I’m not insane I promise, and I have never hallucinated anything, but I found it quite natural to incorporate more magic into an otherwise realistic setting. I just considered it on the far side of reality, rather than the recognizable grit of Lucille’s life.

MP: After she wakes up, Eden starts a long road to recovery with physical therapy, talking to a therapist, and getting back into routine things like school or ballet. She also starts reading about near death experiences and some anecdotes about it are included in the book. What kind of research went into writing all of these things? What books did you read? Who did you talk to?

EL: I put out a general call on social media for anyone who had experienced an NDE. I was shocked at how many people responded. I had email exchanges, met for coffees, had a few phone calls, and got a lot of interesting answers. I got a little obsessed actually and read books and a bunch of articles, plus talked to a couple of doctors who had worked with coma patients. The book that I found most fascinating was Proof of Heaven. It’s a controversial one, but I liked it for putting some kind of structure to Jaz’s experience in the hospital. I didn’t want to be held responsible for making claims about the afterlife, but people consistently felt there was something, and I felt comfortable enough to put that out there.

MP: Eden is a tough talker and uses bravado to hide a lot of her vulnerability. She is also passionate about ballet and an avid reader who collects quotes. In our previous interview you said you’d like to think of yourself as similar to Eden. Do you have any of these things in common with her?

EL: I am NOT a ballet dancer (I wish you could see the blooper dancing reel in my head right now). I think I liked having a graceful character because that’s so not me. But I do read a ton and collect quotes. I like my wisdom distilled in ways I could never say it. And I think I used to use bravado that way until I talked to a therapist who told me being defended was weak, not strong, and that vulnerability and honesty were the strongest stance. I never forgot that and it changed my way of being. So maybe I was more Eden as a teenager than I am now.

MP: What was your favorite scene to write in this novel? Which seen or character are you most excited for readers to encounter?

EL: My favorite scene and the one that still gives me goosebumps every time I read it is when Eden jumps out of the plane. It’s so short, but it gets me every time. It’s when she is the most free and for me, who is deathly afraid of heights, even reading it gives me that falling, out-of-control feeling. I think I’m partial to Gigi as a character, actually. Though she isn’t in the book that much, she is based on my grandmother’s best friend, a woman from Martinique named George, who read cards and talked to ghosts. She completely fascinated me when I was little, and this is my way of letting some of her eccentric magic stay here on this earth even though she’s gone.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Will we be seeing more of the characters here?

EL: I think I’m done with Cherryville, actually. I feel complete there. I’m working on another magical book now and I’m afraid I can’t share much except that it’s still YA and is the book I’m writing for all the badass ladies in my life. I am totally letting loose in this one and it feels so good.

Thanks again to Estelle for this awesome interview.

You can see more about Estelle and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of But Then I Came Back.

This Raging Light: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Get through it. Just get through this day. Worry about the other ones later.”

“I am a hell-breathing fire monster and I will not totter.”

This Raging Light by Estelle LaureAfter her dad’s breakdown and her mother’s decision to leave town indefinitely to regroup, seventeen-year-old Lucille finds herself alone with bills mounting, food dwindling, and her little sister Wren who she is desperate to shield from everything that is quickly going to hell.

But with so many things missing from her life, Lucille isn’t sure what to do when other things start appearing–like inconvenient feelings for her best friend Eden’s twin brother, magical deliveries of food, and her changing dynamic with Eden.

Lucille is used to being responsible and she knows that if she takes everything one step at a time she can handle everything. She can find a job, she can take care of Wren, she can make sure no one notices that their mother is conspicuously absent. But Lucille isn’t sure if she can do all of that while holding onto her best friend and maybe falling in love in This Raging Light (2015) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

This Raging Light is Laure’s stunning debut novel.

I saw a lot of myself and my experiences mirrored in Lucille’s story. Talking about this book has become inseparable from talking about my own life. This Raging Light wasn’t something I even knew I needed until I had finished it.

In my mid-twenties I was underemployed and took on a lot of debt. It was incredibly hard to watch that debt pile up and to realize there was no one to fall back on. During that same time my mother was hospitalized twice and for a while it was touch and go. Worse, I had almost no support system the first time and no one I felt comfortable talking to about what was happening.

Those years were some of the hardest in my life and, even now, are some of the hardest to talk about. I came home many nights and cried until I ran out of tears. I was exhausted and certain that I couldn’t handle anything else. But I got up each day and I did it all again. I kept going. It was hard and it was awful but I know now that I can handle anything–everything–because of that time in my life.

This Raging Light is that kind of story and Lucille is that kind of character. She is an unintentional hero and an ordinary girl. She is scared and brave and strong. I am so glad that readers get to meet a girl like Lucille who pushes through every obstacle and just keeps going because that’s the only option.

There’s no easy way to say it: This Raging Light is a real gut punch to read–especially the final third. But here’s the thing: real life is like that too. Laure expertly captures the way in which everything is heightened and seems to happen all at once in any high anxiety situation.

Lucille’s story is somber and introspective. There is romance but there are also themes of family and survival as Lucille works to build a support system for herself from scratch. The way Lucille handles her life is extremely realistic and well-handled throughout the novel. The way every awful thing stacks up and the way Lucille often doesn’t get a chance to breathe is authentic and conveyed incredibly well with her unique narrative voice.

This Raging Light is a page-turner about first love and inner-strength. It’s an empowering novel about never giving up and survival. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to see what Laure does next.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, The Alison Rules by Catherine Clark, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, No One Here is Lonely by Sarah Everett, Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson, Golden by Jessi Kirby, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, This Ordinary Life by Jennifer Walkup, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2015*

You can also check out my interview with Estelle about this book!

Author Interview: Estelle Laure on This Raging Light

Estelle Laure author photoI didn’t know when I started Estelle Laure’s debut novel, This Raging Light, that it would be a book that mirrored some of the hardest years in my own life. I didn’t know it would be a book that I would be thinking about days, weeks, and even months after reading it. When all of  that turned out to be true, I knew I had to contact Estelle about a possible interview–especially during Poetically Speaking given how a poem is so key to this novel. So today I am very please to have Estelle here to talk about her first novel.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Estelle Laure (EL): With a lot of luck and a lot of preparation. Sometimes I look back and think the world has to be full of magic. Like, how did I wind up at a playdate with Laura Ruby when I was starting out? How did I find VCFA, where I wound up going to graduate school, working with some of the best of the best? How did I decide to apply for an internship that led me to my agent and to my job? How did I write a book someone bought? One turn in any direction other than the one I went in would have led me somewhere so different. At this point, I’m of the opinion that following your very wise inner voice is the key to everything, the one that says, “I know it’s raining and your daughter is in a weird mood, but go to a completely new friend’s house (so uncharacteristic). She says her sister is there and she writes too!” Little will you know, sister is going to win the Printz within the decade, help you tons, be your first reader, and blurb your book.

MP: What was the inspiration for This Raging Light?

EL: Desire, a feeling of helplessness, of longing, a pivotal moment in my own ethical quandaries. Basically my life fell apart and I made it into fiction. So the story isn’t my story, but it’s the story I needed to get through what I was facing.

MP: When you started writing this book did you know that it would be YA?

EL: Absolutely. I have an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. I have never had a grown-up idea, and though I love to read it, I’m not interested in writing it at the moment. I find, and have always found, that children’s literature, books for young adults are the juiciest, the most fantastical, the ones that give me wings, and I love to fly.

MP: One of the things that really impressed me with This Raging Light is how realistically it portrays a character dealing with a very traumatic period in her life. How did you go about finding Lucille’s voice and process for dealing with everything that gets thrown her way?

EL: I did a ton of free writing. I wrote scenes from everyone’s perspectives (when I did Wren’s, the Contessa letter came out), I made art in a workshop, I wrote bad poetry, and then when I sat down to write, this voice came out. But I think it had a lot to do with the sidework.

MP: The title of this book refers to a villanelle by Dylan Thomas called “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” Did you always know that this poem would be connected to the title and factor into the narrative? Did you know it would be so important to Lucille right away?

EL: I did. That scene between Lucille and Eden was the first I wrote, actually. That was because a few years earlier in the midst of great stress, that particular poem was the mantra I whispered to myself when I thought I couldn’t go on. It didn’t become the title until much later, but had meant a great deal to me for some time.

MP: Lucille does a lot throughout the book to care for and protect her little sister Wren. Was their bond inspired by a real friend or sibling? If you had to pick, which sister are you most like?

EL: Their bond was inspired both by my love of my daughter, Lilu, and my brother, Chris. When we were little, I fancied beating up anyone who bothered him. I have seen that impulse double and triple as we’ve gotten older. I’m inspired by my daughter’s sense of humor and her wisdom, so I wrote that in there. I would say I’m more like Lucille than Wren, though I like to think I’m more like Eden than either of them (I’m not. I’m a total softie. Don’t tell my ego.)

MP: Although Lucille is very strong on her own, another great part of This Raging Light is seeing all of the characters Lucille meets along the way and the support system she creates for herself throughout the novel. Where did you find inspiration for the small kindnesses and good deeds Lucille and Wren encounter throughout the novel?

EL: I have been lucky enough to have a best friend who is incredibly generous, and at one point some teachers of mine left groceries on my door. I know such things are possible. One thing I learned along the way is that it’s not strong to defend yourself, it’s strong to show yourself. I wanted Lucille to learn that, too. One of the ways she does that is by accepting help, so for me it was an important part of her development.

MP: Without getting into spoilers, This Raging Light ends on an optimistic note while also leaving many things up in the air for Lucille and her friends. Was this always the ending of the story? Have you thought about what might come next for these characters?

EL: I wrote the end of the story after taking a couple week long breaks. I didn’t want to be cheesy or cynical or predictable or jaded. I was in a corner. I did my best. Finally, I gave in to optimism and I’m so glad of it now. And I know what comes next for all of them but I’m not telling . . . yet!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

EL: It’s a companion to This Raging Light called These Mighty Forces. It isn’t a sequel but it picks up another character’s point of view in the same world. That’s all I’m saying about it, except that it’s about love, again. :)

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

EL: I do. Work hard. Play hurt. Trust yourself. Read everything, everything, everything. Don’t give in to desperation or entitlement or fear. Don’t think because you aren’t educated about publishing or even writing itself that you can’t get there. Inform yourself on trends and then forget them. Be honest. Take feedback without defense. Write an excellent query letter. Never send out work prematurely and don’t be a perfectionist either. Write every day unless there’s blood. (Martine Leavitt said that. Words of the wise.)  Okay, end rant.

Thanks again to Estelle for this awesome interview.

You can see more about Estelle and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of This Raging Light.