The Summer of Chasing Mermaids: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah OcklerElyse d’Abreau always knew her future would be bright. Everyone in Tobago knew that Elyse and her twin sister were destined for music stardom–something that seemed within reach before a boating accident changed everything.

Now Elyse can’t sing anymore. She can’t even speak.

Haunted by reminders of everything she has lost, Elyse leaves her boisterous family and home in Tobago. She hopes to find solitude and some kind of peace in Atargatis Cove in Oregon.

Instead Elyse is drawn into the cove’s annual Pirate Regatta when she volunteers to serve as first mate to known playboy Christian Kane. Preparing for the high-stakes race Elyse begins to see new sides to Christian and even the cove itself. She also realizes that hiding from her past won’t solve any of her problems.

But before Elyse can map out a new future, she will have to rediscover her voice in The Summer of Chasing Mermaids (2015) by Sarah Ockler.

As the title suggests, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is a loose retelling of The Little Mermaid. Ockler includes just enough elements to bring the original source material to mind while also straying far enough from her inspiration to ensure that this novel is entirely original.

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is narrated by Elyse and imbued with her voice even though she cannot speak. Ockler juxtaposes Elyse’s actions with her inner thoughts to convey how Elyse struggles to understand who she is–who she can ever be–when her voice is gone.

The story centers on Elyse’s own development and her transformation as she understands that speaking up doesn’t always have to mean speaking out loud. This central focus creates a courageous story of empowerment for Elyse as well as the other characters in the novel, most notably Christian’s little brother Sebastian who is fascinated by mermaids. At the same time, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids offers discussions of feminism and equality. And, of course, there are mermaids and romance.

The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is a thoughtful story about all of the ways people can lose their voices whether they are stolen, broken or silenced and how to get them back. It’s a story about creating a new future when your obvious path is lost to you. It’s a story about finding love and partnership and how those should be the same things. Most of all, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids is about forging ahead even when the unknown is scary and what comes next is uncertain. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Moonglass by Jessi Kirby, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Scarlet: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

ScarletUS.inddHiding from a past she’d prefer to forget, Scarlet disguises herself as a boy named Will Scarlet to avoid unwanted attention. The only thing anyone really needs to know about Scarlet is that she is a skilled thief. She is also better than most when it comes to throwing a knife and fiercely dedicated to Robin Hood’s band–although she would never admit it to Rob, Much or John.

Scarlet’s efforts to keep herself apart and flee from her past threaten to unravel when a thief taker is summoned to Nottingham. Gisbourne is calculating and ruthless in his hunt for Robin Hood and his band. The consequences if he finds Rob could be dire. For Scarlet, being found by Gisbourne might be fatal.

Torn between her loyalty to the people of Nottingham–including the band–and her need for self-preservation, Scarlet will have to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to protect the people she loves in Scarlet (2012) by A. C. Gaughen.

Scarlet is Gaughen’s first novel and the start of a trilogy that continues with Lady Thief and Lion Heart. Although this is the first book in a trilogy, the story in Scarlet is largely self-contained and focuses on what the author refers to as Robin’s early years. The novel is also accompanied by suggested titles for further reading.

Scarlet is an inventive and entertaining Robin Hood retelling in the tradition of The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. Gaughen adds new dimensions to this familiar story by casting Will Scarlet as a girl with quite a few secrets and writing the story in Scarlet’s unique dialect.

Filled with adventure and banter, Scarlet remains a surprisingly introspective title as readers learn more about Scarlet’s past and what it costs her to stay in Nottingham and work with Rob. Gaughen keeps the novel carefully focused on Scarlet, Rob, John and Much further emphasizing their strong bonds and exploring the strength of their friendships throughout the novel. There is also a decidedly slow burn of a romance complete with searching looks and misunderstandings.

Although the story will be immediately familiar to Robin Hood fans, unexpected twists keep the story fresh and engaging. Scarlet is an excellent, capable heroine who asks hard questions and saves herself–and her friends–more often than not. She accompanied throughout the story by some of the most honorable and downright likable outlaws readers will ever meet.

Scarlet is a solid historical fiction adventure with humor, romance and non-stop excitement. A must-read for Robin Hood fans of all ages.

Possible Pairings: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

I’ll Give You the Sun: A Review

i'llgiveyouthesunAt thirteen, twins Noah and Jude are close. Their family is whole. Everything seems perfect. From a distance. Close up it’s easy to see that Jude is making bad choices that are pushing her toward a serious fall while Noah is struggling just to keep himself together under the pressure of fitting in with the painfully normal world. Art has always been enough to get Noah through. When he falls hard for the beautiful boy next door, he isn’t sure anything–not even painting–will be enough to make things right again.

At sixteen the twins are barely speaking and nothing is perfect anymore. Noah hides his hurt behind a facade of normalcy that seems to fool everyone but Jude. Jude, meanwhile, is not-so-quietly falling apart trapped on a path she never expected and is not sure she wants.

Both Noah and Jude are haunted by old ghosts and past mistakes. With the help of a curmudgeonly artist and a spectacularly messed-up boy, Jude thinks she can put the pieces of her family back together. Except she only has half of the pieces. It will take both Jude and Noah, together, to make things right in I’ll Give You the Sun (2014) by Jandy Nelson.

I’ll Give You the Sun is Nelson’s second novel. It is the winner of the 2015 Printz Award and the 2015 Stonewall Award.

Nelson delivers one hell of a story in her sophomore novel. I’ll Give You the Sun presents two stories simultaneously in alternating sections (no chapter breaks). Noah begins the novel with his story “The Invisible Museum” when the twins are 13 and on the cusp of some major changes for themselves and their family. Jude handles the latter of of the novel’s plot in “The History of Luck” when the twins are 16 and deeply troubled.

I’ll Give You the Sun has mystery, romance and elements of magic realism. The prose is imbued with an ode to the power of art and creation as well as some deeply powerful ideas about feminism.

The novel moves along with clever intersections between Jude and Noah’s stories. Both Noah and Jude have voices that are breezy and approachable in a way that draws readers immediately into their stories and their lives. Although the two characters often sound very similar in their narrations, there is a fair argument that the similarities are intentional since they are twins. It’s more difficult to explain Noah’s often literary and lyrical voice when he is only thirteen for much of the narrative–something that is balanced out with behavior (from both twins at that age) that is often painfully thoughtless or selfish.

This book isn’t always easy to read. The end of Noah’s story leaves both twins damaged and reeling from a variety of catastrophes. In Jude’s section, they are both hurting and struggling to survive without much hope for anything more until Jude decides to take a chance. I’ll Give You the Sun is at its strongest when these two characters realize they have to take action if they want to thrive.

Nelson’s writing is spectacular making I’ll Give You the Sun a vibrant story about family, recovery, art and love. Not to be missed.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, Damaged by Amy Reed, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

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, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, 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, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

The Devil You Know: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Devil You Know by Trish DollerArcadia “Cadie” Wells is sick to death of her life in her tiny Florida town with her broken-down father and her four-year-old brother. Cadie is tired of being the de facto caretaker for her family. She is tired of putting what she wants last. Now that high school is over, all she can see ahead of her is an endless stretch of stifling sameness with work and family obligations pulling her down.

Cadie wants something more.

She wants adventure.

She wants a little act of rebellion.

It starts with a campfire party and a cute dress. It turns into a sudden road trip with two unbearably attractive cousins and the exact kind of escape Cadie’s been yearning for. It will end with dangers Cadie never imagined and a dead body in The Devil You Know (2015) by Trish Doller.

The Devil You Know is a sexy and exciting thriller. Doller’s writing is taut with tension as Cadie tries to step outside of her everyday routine with risks that are sometimes shocking even to herself. While this story follows many familiar conventions as Cadie questions who she can trust and the wisdom in falling hard for a handsome stranger, The Devil You Know is not your average thriller.

In this slim novel (256 pages, hardcover), Cadie struggles to reconcile her own wanderlust with the obligations weighing her down. Coming from a small town and a family that is struggling to get by, Cadie is very aware of the limitations on her life. She is also confident in her own ability to achieve more than life in her small town has to offer and also in how much she deserves it.

Cadie is a strong heroine with absolutely the best feminist ideals that are presented as a seamless part of her character. Throughout The Devil You Know Cadie takes ownership of her life and her sexuality in moments that are refreshingly empowering. The chemistry between Cadie and her love interest is palpable with dialog and descriptions that absolutely sizzle.

Although parts of the story veer toward predictable or even contrived, this book is decidedly clever and often entertaining. The Devil You Know is a smart thriller that uses this familiar form to subvert as many conventions as it follows.

Possible Pairings: The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Damaged by Amy Reed,  Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

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

17 and Gone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The snow came down and the bristly trees shuddered in the wind, sharing secrets, and no one stopped to listen. Until I did.”

17 and Gone by Nova Ren SumaWhen seventeen-year-old Lauren first sees the Missing flyer for Abigail Sinclair, she knows it was left for her. Against all odds, Lauren is certain that she was meant to find this poster, to find out Abigail’s story, maybe even to find her.

As Lauren digs into Abigail’s disappearance she finds out that the missing girl preferred to be called Abby. She hated the summer camp where she was working. And she definitely didn’t just run away.

The problem is no one else seems to care. The more Lauren investigates, the more missing girls she finds. All of them seventeen. All of them gone without a trace. Abby went missing in the summer. But it’s winter now. Any girl could be next. Maybe even Lauren herself.

While trying to find Abby, Lauren will have to face secrets from her past and confront several uncomfortable truths in 17 & Gone (2014) by Nova Ren Suma.

17 & Gone is a chilling blend of suspense and what may or may not be ghosts. As Lauren grapples with the missing girls that are haunting her she also comes to realize that her mind may not be as reliable as she thought. Suma deftly unravels the stories of the missing girls and also examines Lauren’s mental state from a variety of angles.

Eloquent prose and a gripping story come together here in a story that is as literary as it is unexpected. Recommended for readers who like their mysteries to be open-ended and their heroines to be clever and determined.

Possible Pairings: Find Me by Romily Bernard, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, Damaged by Amy Reed, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart

Love and Other Perishable Items: A Review

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura BuzoAmelia is fifteen and chafing under her stunning lack of control over her own life. She is also painfully and completely in love with Chris who works checkout with her at the local supermarket.

Chris is twenty-one.

Amelia is a smart girl and she knows that Chris is a smart guy. She knows that Chris talking to her about literature doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that no one else working at the Land of Dreams actually reads. She knows that being his confidant about his studies at university or even his partner for witty banter does not magically mean she’ll ever be his girlfriend.

But somehow when Amelia is with Chris, anything seems possible. Especially when, as time passes, it starts to feel like maybe Amelia isn’t the only one feeling the effects of this crush.

In a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of new things for both Amelia and Chris, this improbable pair will learn that friendships–and sometimes even more confusing feelings–can blossom anywhere in Love and Other Perishable Items (2012) by Laura Buzo.

Love and Other Perishable Items is Buzo’s first novel (published in 2010 in Australia before making its way to the US in 2012). It was a finalist for the Morris Award for YA Debut Fiction in 2013.

Love and Other Perishable Items is an incredibly smart book with not one but two introspective narrators who are as approachable as they are authentic.

Amelia is sharp and clever as well as utterly endearing. The first part of the novel, called “Spheres of No Influence,” aptly highlights the breadth of her world as well as its limitations in a way that makes sense within the context of the plot as well as for an actual teenaged girl.

Spending so much of this novel seeing Chris through Amelia’s rose-colored glasses, it’s hard to view him as anything but perfect. In the frame of Amelia’s adoring descriptions, who wouldn’t fall in love with Chris just a little? Buzo brings Chris into sharper focus by presenting parts of the story through his journal entries. Chris is broken. He is lonely. He hurts. He is, like many young adults, lost and trying to find his way to adulthood in whatever form that may take.

The incredible thing here is how well Amelia and Chris’s stories come together. Their frustrations and hopes, on many levels, mirror each other as both characters struggle to figure out who they want to be and how to get to that version of themselves.

Love and Other Perishable Items is a melancholy, buoyant novel about looking for love and finding oneself with equal parts letting go and holding on. Nothing in this book is especially neat or clearly defined, but neither is real life. In many ways this story is only the beginning, for both Amelia and Chris, as readers are left to imagine what other marvelous things life has to offer these two well-realized protagonists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki