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 nominee 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: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, 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, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Life by Committee: A Review

lifebycommitteeIt isn’t Tabitha’s fault that her breasts are bigger now. It isn’t her fault that she likes wearing makeup as much as she likes reading margin notes in used books. It isn’t her fault that Joe seems to like talking to her more than he likes talking to his crazy-eccentric-special-snowflake girlfriend Sasha Cotton.

But it might be Tabitha’s fault when she kisses Joe. And when she does it again.

Normally, Tabitha would so not be that girl. But with the help of a website called Life by Committee, Tabitha starts doing a lot of things she wouldn’t normally do in the spirit of being more. At first sharing secrets and completing assignments to keep those secrets safe is easy. The assignments are empowering and push her limits.

When Tabby becomes more involved in the site, and the stakes get much higher, she has to decide how far she is willing to go, and who she is willing to hurt, to be more in Life by Committee (2014) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Life by Committee is Haydu’s sophomore novel.

Tabitha is a great heroine. She struggles with a lot of things throughout Life by Committee. Obviously, there is the morality issue with cheating. But Tabitha is also trying to understand her place in a world where the rules are constantly changing not because of anything she has done but simply because of how she looks. (And sometimes not even that in the case of her changing home life.) The way Tabby, through Haydu’s prose, grapples with feminism and slut shaming and loneliness–problems she can’t always articulate, or even give a proper name–is shattering.

Tabitha is incredibly lonely at the start of the novel. She tries to reshape her life without the friends she had assumed were a given but it’s hard. Then Tabitha stumbles upon Life by Committee. LBC is an anonymous online community where users share secrets and complete assignments (more like dares) in the name of being more and leading their best lives. The wisdom in joining such a site is, of course, debatable. But Haydu does such an excellent job of bringing Tabitha and her hurt to life that it makes sense. Readers begin to understand how Tabitha might become this person who is completely consumed by people she has never met.

The great thing about Tabitha is that she knows exactly who she is and who she would like to be. When Tabitha gets involved with LBC, she starts to question a lot of the ideas she has about herself. Sometimes that leads to empowering moments. Unfortunately it also leads to some heart wrenching decisions that are so obviously Bad Ideas they become painful to read.

Those choices, the power and allure of LBC, are hard to understand at times. Unless you remember being that lonely high school (or college) student trying to find your way. Unless you remember the thrill that can come with telling everything that matters to someone who will never meet you, never be able to really judge you. Life by Committee captures that heady mix of connection and anonymity found on the Internet so very well.

Life by Committee also subtly highlights the pitfalls that can come from such a scenario. It’s wonderful to have friends online saying “yes!” to every risk you want to take. But without the context that comes from knowing a person in real life, it’s also difficult to ever adequately understand the consequences and the aftermath of those risks.

At the end of Life by Committee it’s safe to say that Tabitha comes out a little wiser and a lot stronger. Because this book is on the short side (304 pages hardcover) readers don’t get to see all of the payoff after Tabitha realizes she can find her own way, all by herself, but the development is there. The growth and the hint at something more–LBC-inspired or not–is there in the final pages.

Although she has her stumbling blocks, Tabitha remains a smart and capable heroine throughout. While she doesn’t always make the best decisions, she always learns. And that, really, is all anyone can hope for. Life by Committee is a shrewd, clever read that raises all of the right questions for its characters and readers. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel QuinteroThe Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

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

The Darkest Part of the Forest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“But in all the stories, you have a single chance; and if you miss it, then it’s gone. The door isn’t there when you go back to look. There is no second invitation to the ball”

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly BlackHazel has always known that life in Fairfold is different from the glass coffin that houses a sleeping prince to the strange things that are known to happen to tourists. She has always known the the fairies that live around Fairfold can be as lethal as they are charming; that they will just as soon kill a human as they will bargain with one.

Even then, knowing the dangers, Hazel finds herself drawn to the dark things that lurk outside of Fairfold. With a sword and her brother Ben by her side, Hazel hoped once to become a knight and hunt the monsters that lurked in the Fairfold woods. But Ben put a stop to that.

Seven years ago Hazel made a bargain to try and fix things. To get back the life she thought she wanted. But that fell apart as well.

Now Hazel kisses boys with wild abandon and has fun, hoping to shore up enough in reserve for the day it all might be lost to her. But the payment for Hazel’s bargain is coming due and time is running out for regrets or preparation.

That is until the coffin in the woods is broken and the prince, who has been there for as long as anyone can remember, disappears. Until Hazel wakes up in her bed surrounded by dirt and pieces of broken glass with no idea how to fix anything in The Darkest Part of the Forest (2015) by Holly Black.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a fresh-faced fairy story where the fairies are as as entrancing as they are dangerous. Black once again delivers a thoughtful, intricate story of magic and identity in this smartly modern tale.

The Darkest Part of the Forest takes traditional fairy tale tropes (not to mention gender roles) and turns them on their heads as this story infuses familiar lore with new twists and turns. Hazel, in particular, is a stunningly authentic and multi-faceted heroine. She is flawed and impulsive. She is genuine and kind. This story expertly negotiates exactly what agency and identity really mean not just for a girl in a small town but also for a girl with a self-proclaimed charge of saving that town.

There are other relationships in this story that are equally well done. Hazel and Ben come to understand each other as equals and family for perhaps the first time while both also come to terms with a less-than-idyllic upbringing. There is romance for both Hazel and Ben in unlikely places.

This novel also wonderfully examines the nature of family and the ramifications that come when people decide to choose their own–even if it is just for a time. Throughout the quests, the adventures, and the reconciliations, Hazel remains firmly grounded at the center of this plot. Her growth, particularly in the second half of the novel, is phenomenal as the narrative explores what it means to truly know oneself and trust oneself after years of doubt.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a wonderful fantasy but where it really shines is as the sensational story of a girl who not only finds her place in the world but also finds herself when she chooses to face the darkness in herself as well as in the forest.

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

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Lament by Maggie Stiefvater, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty: A Review

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine HeppermanEveryone knows the fairy tale stories. Girls who are princesses who are rescued by princes who get married and live happily ever after until the end.

But life isn’t really like a fairy tale, not for most modern girls in Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty (2014) by Christine Hepperman.

In this collection Hepperman presents 50 poems that bring fairy tale themes and ideas together with the lives of modern girls in clever ways. Eerie photographs accompany the poems to lend a haunting quality to this deceptively slim volume.

Hepperman’s poems range from titillating to empowering as she explores themes of beauty, freedom and sexuality among others in a variety of free-verse poems. While many of the themes–particularly those dealing with physical beauty or eating disorders–are familiar ones, Hepperman’s commentary remains timely and electric.

A range of retellings and original material make these poems approachable for every reader while the black and white photography throughout the book is guaranteed to draw readers in.

Poisoned Apples is a smart, utterly feminist collection of poems that encourages girls to take charge of their lives whether that means finding their own way to a happy ending or taking a different path into new territory.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Princess of Thorns: A Review

 “Once upon a time there lived a prince and princess with no happy ever after . . . “

Princess of Thorns by Stacey JayIn the kingdom of Norvere, two briar-born children are forced into hiding when their father is murdered and their mother–the Sleeping Beauty–is imprisoned by the ogre queen. Eventually Aurora and Jor escape. Thanks to her mother, Aurora is blessed with enhanced strength, a brave spirit, a merciful mind, and a heart no man she loves will dare defy. It will take Aurora nearly ten years to understand the full weight of that; to understand that fairy blessings can be gifts as easily as they can be curses.

The immortal king of Kanvasola cursed his eleven sons so that no heir might live to challenge his claim to the throne. But the immortal king found a gentle witch who doomed the sons to change into swans on their eighteenth birthday instead of death. As the years passed, ten sons were transformed. The eleventh, Niklaas, hopes to break the spell and change his fate by journeying to Norvere to find and marry the princess Aurora.

When her brother is captured by the ogre queen, Aurora disguises herself as a boy to try to raise an army and reclaim her kingdom before it’s too late. Niklaas agrees to help, thinking it will bring him closer to Aurora and the end of his own curse.

It will take trust and sacrifice from both prince and princess if they hope to save Norvere and rescue Aurora’s brother before all is lost. With so much at stake, Aurora and Niklaas will have to try to survive before they can even consider their happy ending in Princess of Thorns (2014) by Stacey Jay.

Dual narration from Aurora and Niklaas offer a balanced story in this action-packed high fantasy fairy tale that references the stories of “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Swan Princess.” Jay takes both stories in unexpected directions as Aurora and Niklaas embark on a cross-country journey to try and save Aurora’s brother Jor.

In addition to action and humor, Princess of Thorns is a fantasy with feminist elements as Aurora struggles to reconcile who she is (capable, single-minded, strong) with what is typically expected of a princess. Niklaas faces similar moments of doubt and confusion in his narration. While both characters begin the story flawed–Niklaas’ views are often primitive or reductive while Aurora is painfully reckless–their growth is obvious over the course of the narrative. Even knowing more than both narrators, readers will find a few satisfying surprises here–particularly in the final act.

Brief scenes from the ogre queen Ekeeta’s perspective add another layer to this story and make Ekeeta a complex character of her own rather than merely a stock villain. Although there is often a fundamental lack of communication between the two protagonists, it is a plot device that is used well throughout the story in combination with the alternating narration to create a story that is an absolute page-turner.

Working within the confines of both Aurora and Niklaas’s curses, Jay offers a thoughtful story with as much external plot as there is internal character development. With magic, adventure and romance Princess of Thorns is a story that is as enchanting as any fairy tale.

Possible Pairings: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Hero by Alethea Kontis, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Whisper the Dead: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra HarveyCousins Gretchen, Penelope and Emma are still learning to control their new-found powers and understand what it means to be members of one of the oldest witching families, the Lovegroves, in 1814 London.

Penelope struggles with a familiar that frightens her and unwieldy powers that allow her to read the past in objects. Emma, on the other hand, now has antlers to conceal while trying to find a way to rescue her father from the underworld and convince her mother to assume her human form instead of  that of a deer.

Reluctant debutante Gretchen, meanwhile, is still not entirely sure of the full scope of her powers. Or what embroidery has to do with magic. Gretchen will have to harness her powers as a Whisperer who can hear the spells of dead witches if she wants to help stop the dark witches the Greymalkins from wreaking all manner of havoc in London and beyond.

She will also have to contend with the frustratingly proper Tobias Lawless and other Keepers tasked with keeping the cousins under surveillance. The only positive is that with so much danger and problems ranging from angry ghosts to werewolves, Gretchen will definitely be able to avoid any balls for the foreseeable future in Whisper the Dead (2014) by Alyxandra Harvey.

Whisper the Dead is the second book in the Lovegrove Legacy. It is preceded by A Breath of Frost.

Recaps and multiple viewpoints help summarize key events from the first book in this trilogy. The narrative focus also shifts from Emma to Gretchen in this volume. (Presumably the trilogy will conclude with a book focused on Penelope.) These facts make this volume approachable and only slightly confusing to new readers.

Rollicking action and mystery come together with humor and charm to make this a fast-paced and engrossing story. A well-developed romance and a cliffhanger ending help guarantee that Whisper the Dead will have high appeal and leave readers eager for the final installment.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the August 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*