Freya: A Review

In her heyday, Sara Vanadi was Freya, the Norse goddess of love, beauty, war, and death. But it turns out gods get their power from belief and in the twenty-first century there aren’t a lot of true believers left.

Sara Vanadi has spent the last twenty-seven fairly comfortable years living in a mental hospital. Sure the clothing options are limited, and maybe it’s not the most happening place. But it turns out it’s a great option for a former goddess who needs to keep a low profile.

Sara’s twilight years are ruined when a representative from the shady Finemdi corporation tracks her down to make an offer: join the corporation and receive new believers or die. Sara chooses option three and goes on the run with her unwitting accomplice (and first worshiper in decades) Nathan in Freya (2017) by Matthew Laurence.

Freya is Laurence’s debut novel and the first book in a series.

This book is narrated by Sara/Freya who thanks to her unique position as a god offers an interesting perspective on the modern world. She is also unapolgetically curvy and comfortable negotiating traditional feminine roles (she loves fashion and food) while also taking on the role of hero as she fights bad guys. These flipped gender roles are expanded further with Nathan who is comfortable taking on domestic roles and acting as sidekick while he and Freya try to take on the megalithic Finemdi corporation.

Laurence begins this novel with a clever premise that is expanded thoughtfully as the book progresses. Freya explains her own origins and the internal logic of gods from her pantheon and beyond surviving into modern times (this includes fellow Norse gods, Hawaiian goddesses, some figures from Egyptian and Hindu mythology, and Jesus among others).

Despite the presence of larger-than-life gods and the high action beginning, Freya starts slow with Sara and Nathan going on the run and then literally standing still as Sara explains her position as Freya (something she chooses to withhold from both readers and Nathan for the first chapters of the novel despite the title eliminating any chances of a big reveal) and gathering the pieces they will need to go into hiding with new identities. Freya uses her some of her remaining powers as a god to gather the resources she and Nathan will need but even for a goddess things come together a bit too easily.

Freya is a novel that is fun and filled with action. Although the execution is interesting, the story is poorly paced with little time spent on characterization for anyone except the titular narrator. This novel will have the most appeal for readers (especially reluctant ones) who enjoy mythology and action. An obvious stepping stone for fans of Rick Riordan’s novels looking for something new.

Possible Pairings: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake, Temping Fate by Esther Friesner, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Wildefire by Karsten Knight, Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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

It Wasn’t Always Like This: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

It Wasn't Always Like This by Joy PrebleThanks to a mysterious tea, Emma O’Neill and her family stopped aging. Charlie Ryan and his parents suffered the same fate. By 1916, Emma has been seventeen for two whole years.

When an organization called the Church of Light notices, both families are targeted. Emma and Charlie survive the massacre but they aren’t sure they can ever really be safe. Separated during their escape, they are still bound together by their love for each other even as circumstances conspire to keep them from finding each other.

Over the last hundred years Emma’s gotten good at hiding and at noticing patterns. It takes someone with her uniquely long perspective to realize a decades long series of murders have something in common: every victim bears a striking resemblance to Emma.

The murders are coming closer together now–closer than they have in a very long time. Which can only mean Emma’s enemies are getting closer too. As Emma hunts the murderer she begins to hope, for the first time in a long while, that solving this case might also help her find Charlie again in It Wasn’t Always Like This (2016) by Joy Preble.

It Wasn’t Always Like This has been likened to Tuck Everlasting meets Veronica Mars. It turns out that this comparison is wonderfully accurate.

Preble uses sparse prose for Emma’s no-nonsense narration. Third person narratives from other characters are interspersed throughout for necessary exposition.

It Wasn’t Always Like This offers a fascinating perspective with its immortal teenager heroine. Emma is as jaded as the best hard-boiled detectives and possibly even more world-weary. But she is also still seventeen. She is still rash and impetuous. Sometimes she’s still dangerously optimistic in spite of everything she has seen. Throughout the novel Emma keeps wondering if she can ever really learn from her mistakes and grow when it is physically impossible for her to grow up or mature.

A high stakes mystery and lots of action make this a page-turner even while the characters hearken to a more thoughtful tome. It Wasn’t Always Like This is a refreshingly original mystery with a little something for everyone. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Veronica Mars (TV show)

The Leaving: A Review

The Leaving by Tara AltebrandoEleven years ago six kindergartners were taken from their school and disappeared without a trace. There have been movies and conspiracy theories but nothing close to the truth; no kind of resolution for the parents and siblings left behind.

Until now.

When five of the missing children come back they’re sixteen-years-old and healthy. They have no memory of what happened or where they’ve been held. They barely remember the lives they’re returning to. None of them remember the sixth victim, Max.

Scarlett returns to a mother she hardly knows and a life that doesn’t quite fit while Lucas finds a family that has moved on without him and threatens to shatter with his return. Avery remembers both Scarlett and Lucas as well as she remembers the day Max never came home. Now, eleven years later, she waits again for a brother who doesn’t return.

Everyone wants to know what happened. Scarlett, Lucas, and the others are desperate to fill in the gaps in their memories while Avery is grasping for some trace of her still-missing brother. All five of the returned children begin to find strange clues that seem to be leading them somewhere. But only Lucas and Scarlett–with Avery’s prodding–are willing to follow the clues wherever they may lead in The Leaving (2016) by Tara Altebrando.

Altebrando juggles three narrators and numerous plot lines over the course of this novel. The story alternates first person narrated chapters between Scarlett (whose narration includes unconventional formatting and patterned text), Lucas (whose barely-there memories surface as blocky black text), and Avery (who has the most conventional narration). All three of the narrators are white but from a variety of economic backgrounds which adds another dimension to their connected stories.

There is something inherently cruel about this premise which Altebrando explores with frightening detail. The prose here is sparse leaving details to the imagination that make the experiences of the kidnapped children all the more horrifying to imagine. There are no easy answers here and no clean resolution–something that gives The Leaving a lasting impact.

The Leaving is, ostensibly, a thriller. The novel is packed with suspense and razor-sharp tension in short chapters that build to a chilling conclusion. At the same time, this story is also a thoughtful character study. Who are we without our memories? Who can we become? Is a blank slate of a childhood that different from the gradual forgetting that comes as we grow older? Are the monsters we fear any less frightening if we don’t remember them?

The Leaving is an ambitious work of suspense that is atmospheric, eerie, and incredibly successful. A must read.

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, False Memory by Dan Krokos,  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

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

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 Leaving by Tara Altebrando, With Malice by Eileen Cook, Breaker by Kat Ellis, 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*

Wither: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wither by Lauren DeStefanoIn four years Rhine Ellery will be dead. She is sixteen years old.

Thanks to failed genetic modifications the human race is dying off. Men have until 25; women succumb to the virus at 20. There is no cure. There is little hope.

Rhine was content to spend her remaining time at their house with her twin brother. It isn’t much of a life, but it is Rhine’s. Until it is taken from her.

Kidnapped and sold as a bride, Rhine wants for nothing in a new world of luxury and abundance. The only problem is that no level of finery can hide the truth: Rhine’s new home is a prison for her and her sister wives.

With time ticking away, Rhine is desperate to escape even as she wonders if it might make more sense to spend her final years in comfort instead of just scraping by in Wither (2011) by Lauren DeStefano.

Wither is the first book in DeStefano’s Chemical Garden trilogy. It was also her first novel.

DeStefano’s writing is on point as Rhine describes a broken and ruined world. With so much to fear, so much bleakness, Wither still expertly highlights the small moments of hope and beauty that Rhine encounters in her new life.

The world building here is handled well with just enough explanation of new technology and back story to make the story plausible without bogging the story down in excess information.

Unfortunately a story that starts strong with tension and suspense begins to drag inexorably in the middle of the story as the focus shifts from the outside world Rhine’s suffocating new home with her abductor-husband.

While everything is here to make the book sensational, Wither started to feel anti-climactic as Rhine struggles again and again against her new life only to be thwarted in all of her escape attempts. Although some of the story is left up in the air, this book functions fairly well on its own for readers who may not follow the rest of the series.

No matter if Wither wins you over, this book proves that DeStefano is an author to watch and with a second series starting with Perfect Ruin, now might be the perfect time to give her books a try!

Possible Pairings: Crewel by Gennifer Albin, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Legend by Marie Lu, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Divergent by Veronica Roth

How to Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

howtoloveBefore everything went to hell, Reena Montero had loved Sawyer LeGrande for as long as she could remember. Watching Sawyer and wanting him from afar in their small Florida town came as natural as breathing. Sawyer always seemed so distant, so unattainable until one day he suddenly isn’t. After circling each other for years, Reena and Sawyer are finally together for a torrid, messy moment before it all falls apart. Sawyer blows out of town without a word and Reena is left behind. Pregnant.

Almost three years later and Reena has finally made sense of what a life without Sawyer should look like. Her dreams of college are long behind her but most days her daughter Hannah more than makes up for that. Then, quick as he left, Sawyer is back and supposedly a changed man. Reena has her doubts. As these two circle once again all of the ugly parts of their past are brought to light but in the midst of all the painful memories there are some beautiful ones too.

It’s taken Reena years to get over Sawyer LeGrande and make a new life for herself. With so many other changes is it possible to leave all of that past behind for a new future with Sawyer in it in How to Love (2013) by Katie Cotugno?

How to Love is Cotugno’s first novel. Chapters alternate between Reena’s “before” as she and Sawyer first get together (told in past tense) and her “after” with Sawyer coming back into town and finding Reena and daughter Hannah. Although the book ostensibly contains two stories (one YA and one more Emerging Adult  since Reena is a mother now) Cotugno expertly blends the two plots together to create one larger narrative that spans years.

This book is extremely well-written. Cotugno is a prize-winning writer and her skill here shines through every page. Reena is a dimensional, realistic narrator. Even with her flaws and extremely poor decisions, Reena is mostly a heroine readers will want to like and want to succeed. Cotugno’s descriptions of Reena’s Florida landscape are evocative and vibrant.

Outside of the lovely writing, How to Love is a book riddled with barely developed secondary characters, a poorly paced plot and a tragically unsympathetic love interest.

Cotugno does a good job conveying the difficulties and stigma Reena faces as a teen mother and also shows the complexities of Reena’s family life. However, many aspects of Reena’s story are presented in a one-sided way. It is never quite explained how this responsible girl winds up pregnant except for her to say that she had thought she and Sawyer were “careful.” The possibility of abortion is explained away with Reena’s religious family but the idea of adoption is never once discussed even in passing.

There is also a strange correlation throughout the story between Reena standing up for herself only to have to face dire consequences (in one instance her father, who has a bad heart, has a heart attack after Reena yells at him). By the end of the story, Reena gains a bit of agency and is able to move past her role as a teen mother to try and make a better life for herself and her daughter. The problem is that all of this agency comes from finding out that Sawyer came looking for Reena before he left town years ago. Reena’s relationship with her best friend is also handled strangely. Allie shifts from an obstacle, coming between Sawyer and Reena’s flirty budding relationship, to a plot device as she becomes part of an inciting incident that brings Reena and Sawyer together.

A lot of how you feel about this book will depend on how you feel about Reena and Sawyer and their supposed epic love that looks a lot like standard lust. Basically Sawyer is a train wreck. He brings out the absolute worst in Reena at every turn before the pregnancy and leaves an impressive wreckage of mistakes in his wake. He is a user in every sense of the word and even Reena knows at the peak of her infatuation that it is only a matter of time before Sawyer implodes.

How to Love is marketed as a story of one couple falling in love twice. The problem is that Sawyer getting even a first chance with Reena makes no sense much less him getting a second one. The fact that Reena is continuously drawn to Sawyer after seeing him at his worst again and again exhibits the worst kind of self-destructive behavior.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, City Love by Susane Colasanti, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Such a Rush by Jennifer Echols, Golden by Jessi Kirby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Infinite Moment of Us by Lauren Myracle, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa C. Walker, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Junonia: A (younger) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Junonia by Kevin HenkesAlice Rice knows everything about her family’s trip to Florida this year will be different. She is going to be ten–double digits–and that is a very important change. Maybe she’ll even find a rare Junonia seashell during their trip. After all, when you turn ten, anything is possible.

But as old friends fail to arrive and new visitors run the risk of ruining everything, Alice starts to wonder if her tenth birthday will be memorable for all of the wrong reasons in Junonia (2011) by Kevin Henkes.

With end papers and chapter caps illustrated by Henkes, the book brings Alice’s trip and her story to life. With his meditative, deliberate writing Henkes has created a story that perfectly captures the excitement and, yes, sometimes the sadness that comes with being a young child.

Junonia is a subtle, understated book. Focusing more on vignettes of Alice’s trip than on a singular plot, the book might not appeal to children looking for action or page-turning excitement. Readers who do stick with the story will be rewarded with a charmingly contemplative and at times effervescent book.

Possible Pairings: Ivy and Bean by Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall, Clementine by Sarah Pennypacker, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary, Fashion Kitty by Charise Mericle Harper