Bone Gap: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bone Gap by Laura RubyNo one in Bone Gap is surprised when Roza disappears. People have been leaving the O’Sullivan brothers for years and it only makes sense that the girl who appeared out of nowhere should leave just as suddenly.

Finn O’Sullivan knows that Roza didn’t just leave. And he knows that he didn’t do anything to save her.

Months later most everyone in Bone Gap has given up pretending to believe Finn’s story about the man who took Roza. Even Finn’s brother, Sean, is tired of hearing about the man with the unique stillness and the face Finn can never quite describe.

Finn refuses to stop looking. His search will take him deep into the secrets of Bone Gap to places he couldn’t imagine. In trying to find Roza, Finn will learn that sometimes you have to stop looking before you can truly see in Bone Gap (2015) by Laura Ruby.

Bone Gap is a rich and atmospheric novel. The town of Bone Gap is a strange place filled with secrets and magic that most people have forgotten. In a town populated with strange and vivid characters even Bone Gap itself becomes an indelible part of this novel that is firmly grounded with a strong sense of place.

Some would call Bone Gap magic realism but references to fairy tales and magic bring a purer form of fantasy to mind in this story where beauty can be a curse and being blind is sometimes the best way to see.

Bone Gap masterfully blends myth and magic in a contemporary setting to create a thoughtful story filled with unlikely heroes, surprising twists and a plot that expertly subverts traditional fairytale tropes. Bone Gap is a lovely, unexpected novel that is incredibly smart. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Walk on Earth a Stranger: A Review

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae CarsonLeah Westfall has a secret the she and her parents have kept hidden from everyone they know in Georgia. Lee can sense gold whether it’s a piece of jewelry, a stray nugget, or veins of gold deep in the earth. Lee’s parents have always feared Lee’s magic could lead to trouble for her and their family.

They were right.

In January 1849 Lee’s life changes forever and, for the first time, she is completely alone in the world. Even her best friend, Jefferson, has left her behind to chase the promise of gold and a fresh start in California

With nothing left to keep her in Georgia and every reason to leave, Lee disguises herself as a boy and sets out to make her own way west and hopefully find her best friend along the way.

The road to California won’t be easy. With so many people hoping to find gold and security, Lee is sure her witchy ways will give her an edge. If she can make it that far. After losing so much, and with so long to go, Lee will have to decide who she can trust and who she wants to be in Walk on Earth a Stranger (2015) by Rae Carson.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is the first book in Carson’s Gold Seer Trilogy. Because this book focuses heavily on Lee’s journey to California it does offer a contained story and can easily be read on its own.

While Walk on Earth a Stranger is very much in the same vein as traditional westerns, it does not offer a sanitized or romanticized version of the west as characters grapple with racism, sexism, and the physical dangers on the trail while also beginning to grasp the enormous change this great movement of people will bring to the western territories of the United States.

Although Lee has a magical ability to find gold, Walk on Earth a Stranger is a historical novel at its core, and extremely well-done at that. Carson has surpassed herself in this well-researched and nuanced novel that covers so many details and perspectives of the 1849 gold rush. Lee falls in with a ragtag cast of characters on her travels west. This varied and diverse group add a lot of dimension to what is already a very rich story.

Lee’s first person narration brings the landscape and the era to life as she makes her long trek from Georgia to California. Against the vivid backdrop of her travels, Lee’s story is often quite introspective as she ponders her own place in the world and her future out west.

Lee’s journey to find herself while also finding her way to a new life is riveting and empowering. Walk on Earth a Stranger perfectly captures the freedom and possibility that can come with following gold west at a time when picking a new identity was as easy as adopting a new name. Walk on Earth a Stranger also returns, again and again, to the idea of choice as Lee is left to choose who she wants to be, and also who she wants beside her, on the long road ahead. A stunning start to a series that is sure to be gold for many readers.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Lady Thief: A Review

*Lady Thief is the second book in Gaughen’s Scarlet trilogy and picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book Scarlet. As such, this review has major spoilers for the first book.*

Lady Thief by A. C. GaughenScarlet thought she escaped her past when she joined Robin Hood and his band to protect the people of Nottingham. That was before the thief taker Gisbourne arrived to capture Robin and his band. Before Scarlet was forced to marry Gisbourne in a gambit to save everyone she cares about.

Now, Scarlet is irrevocably tied to Gisbourne even as she sits in hiding with Robin, John and Much. Rob’s time in the Nottingham dungeon has left him scarred and broken. The entire band seems on the verge of collapse when Gisbourne returns with a shocking offer for Scarlet that has the potential to change everything.

When Prince John and the royal court arrive in Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, Scarlet is drawn into a game of politics and secrets where losing could be deadly in Lady Thief (2014) by A. C. Gaughen.

Lady Thief is the second book in Gaughen’s Scarlet trilogy and picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book Scarlet.

While Scarlet is an excellent introduction to Nottingham and Gaughen’s version of Robin Hood, Lady Thief moves the series in new directions as the story prepares for the conclusion of the trilogy. Lady Thief brings Scarlet back to the courtly life she abhors and offers quite a few surprises and promises of more to come before the trilogy concludes with Lion Heart.

Lady Thief also introduces an especially frightening villain in Prince John. I won’t get into details here because it’s a spoiler, but some of what Prince John inflicts on Scarlet is so horrifying that I almost didn’t finish this book. (A year ago, I would NOT have finished this book, if we’re being honest.)

It’s fascinating to see more of court life and, horrible person that I am, I am quite fond of Gisbourne so I enjoyed seeing a slightly different side to him here. Lady Thief still has a lot of action as Rob and the band scramble to keep Prince John from appointing another horrible sheriff. Now that Rob and Scarlet have made their feelings about each other clear, readers also get a bit more romance along with the expected action and suspense.

This book focuses more firmly on Scarlet and her character. Instead of just doing what she has to in order to survive, Scarlet is now forced to consider not just what she is willing to sacrifice but also what she is willing to become in order to protect Nottingham and those she loves.

Lady Thief is a thrilling, fast-paced novel with a gut-wrenching ending that will leave readers anxious to get book three in their hands. Recommended for fans of Robin Hood and historical fiction with a twist. Not recommended for squeamish readers who prefer to avoid violence and gore.

Initially, I was going to end my review here. That was when I still had plans to read Lion Heart. Since then, I’ve taken a hard look at things and decided it was best for me to part ways with this series. My reasons are personal and spoilery but here they are: Basically Lady Thief came really close to giving me a breakdown. I did not handle it well when Scarlet’s fingers are cut off. It is never a favorite thing for me to read but it felt particularly visceral here to the point that for hours after reading about it, I had to talk through everything with Kayla. It brought back every bad memory I have of relatives who were sick and relatives who died and, honestly, I felt physically ill while I forced myself to finish the book. Will other people feel that way or have such a violent reaction? Probably not. But the more I thought about Lady Thief the more I felt like the book had betrayed me and the more I realized I could not continue with the series.

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

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, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, 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, 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, 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