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, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, 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, Everless by Sara Holland, 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.

Find it on Bookshop.

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

 

Reduced Circumstances: A Review

Reduced Circumstances by Vincent H. O'NeilVincent H. O’Neil‘s inimitable beach bum/amateur sleuth Frank Cole is back in Reduced Circumstances (2007), his followup to Murder in Exile (2006). Things have quieted down for Frank since solving the Eddie Gonzalez case in Exile. In fact as fast as fact checking is concerned, business is just about non-existent.

Although Frank’s peculiar bankruptcy case prevents him from earning too much money, he does still have living expenses. So, to deal with the light times as a fact checker, Frank finds himself working as a night dispatcher for the Midnight Taxi Service near his home in Exile, Florida.

The taxi stand is where Frank first hears about the kid. The young man was seen hailing a Midnight cab near a drug bust the night before–interesting but not exactly big news. Of course that’s before a parade of visitors drop by the cab stand trying to find the kid and the MIA driver who picked him up the night before. First there’s the private investigator from Atlanta, then the possible bounty hunters from Mobile, and finally the kid’s girlfriend–a blond femme fatale of sorts who never seems to leave a fingerprint in her wake.

Suddenly Frank finds himself a person of interest on all side of the investigation despite having little in the way of information to share. Urged on by equal parts curiosity and necessity, Frank begins to investigate the kid and his mysterious disappearance trying to figure out why exactly so many people want to find him. And who, if any of them, want to find him alive.

Murder in Exile was a lot of fun. Amazingly, and happily, this installment in the series is even more enjoyable. The narrative also provides ample yet brief recaps of Frank’s adventures in the first book for anyone who might be fuzzy on those early details. Reduced Circumstances is an interesting blend of character study and mystery. The elements for both are here and used well to create a breezy read that leaves readers with a satisfying investigation and more insight into Frank’s personality and life.

Because Frank comes to the world of investigation from a fact checker’s side of things, the novel also provides a unique look at the world of online research and a commentary on just how much information can be found online. O’Neil keeps these segments just the right length to stay interesting for the typical readers and any information professionals who should happen to pick up the book.

While the investigation wraps up nicely, the novel does still end with a slight cliff hanger that will leave readers eager for the next installment in the series Exile Trust (2008).

Murder in Exile: A review

Murder in Exile by Vincent H. O'NeilWhen Frank Cole’s business went belly up, he had hoped bankruptcy would provide him with a fresh start. Instead, thanks to a bizarre court decision, Frank’s future earnings above a certain level are attached to his past debts. Partly to wait out an appeal and partly to spite his creditors, Frank moves down to the small town of Exile, Florida to begin his own exile of sorts until his appeal is resolved one way or another in Murder in Exile (2006), Vincent H. O’Neil‘s first Frank Cole mystery.

Still wary of his time as a company head, Frank doesn’t much mind the easygoing, low responsibility lifestyle he’s created in Exile working odd jobs as a fact checker and playing the odd chess game with Gray Tolliver, a local retiree. In fact, the mellow pace is a nice change from the hectic life he left behind.

When an insurance company hires Frank to do some fact checking on a hit-and-run, he expects a routine case. But the more Frank investigates, the more obvious it becomes that there is more to this case than meets the eye.

O’Neil’s writing is refreshingly original. On top of that, he’s created a really fun protagonist in Frank Cole. The narrative is breezy, light, and willing to crack a joke when necessary. The premise that brings Frank to Exile is not, it is true, the most probable. But it is most enjoyable, as is  Murder in Exile itself–a quick, delightful read that delves into the world of fact checking and research just as easily as the world of murder and mystery. On top of that, this novel was also the winner of the Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Contest.

Franks adventures continue in Reduced Circumstances (2007).

What I Saw and How I Lied: A (noir) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy BlundellEvery good book should start with a good story. In the case of What I Saw and How I Lied (2008) by Judy Blundell, it actually starts with two.

What I Saw and How I Lied (find it on Bookshop) is Blundell’s debut novel although, under pen names, she has written many other titles. In a School Library Journal article, Blundell said that this was the first book that felt like it was hers. How wonderful then to also have it win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and receive accolades from all over. (Plus, the book was edited by David Levithan, himself a YA author/editor extraordinaire).

But that’s just the backstory. What I Saw and How I Lied also has an excellent actual story.

The year is 1947, the place Queens, New York. For fifteen-year-old Evie Spooner, it feels like life has gone back to normal. Her step-father Joe is back from the War, Evie’s blonde bombshell mother Barb is back to playing housewife, and Joe’s mother is annoying everyone. All everyday, mundane things.

That changes when Joe announces suddenly that the family is going to take a trip to Florida. When Peter Coleridge, a dashing ex-GI who served with Joe, finds the family, Evie knows that things will never be mundane again. The close Evie gets to Peter, the more secrets she finds–not only Peter’s but also secrets surrounding her own family.

As the events of the novel come to a head Evie has to face these secrets and the lies told to keep them. The more she learns about the truth, and the lies, the more Evie wonders if truth has anything to do with loyalty.

The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover with its heroine steeped in shadows. It is the epitome of film noir (hardboiled fiction when in written form), a fitting choice since this novel is nothing if not noir.

The writing here is taut, fraught with tension and even a bit of suspense right from the beginning. Every word here matters. If ever I met someone who suggested that writing was not an art, this book would be part of my argument to the contrary.

Sometimes novels told in retrospect, which is basically the case here, can be boring because the narrator keeps complaining about the things they didn’t know. Evie is made of stronger stuff. Instead of bemoaning the things she missed the first time around, she simply lays out the events as they happened. This makes Evie’s perspective on things look a bit naive. At the same time it also gives the book a certain honesty because, like Evie, we learn that everything is not as it seems as the story progresses.

Blundell also uses a lot of foreshadowing in her novel. In the wrong hands foreshadow is another writing technique that can go horribly wrong. In What I Saw and How I Lied it only adds to the suspense and complexity of the writing–writing that is both poignant and beautiful (while evoking the atmosphere and mood of 1947 in both New York and Florida).

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, New York City: A Short History by George J. Lankevich, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Mad Apple by Christina Meldrum, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Double Indemnity (movie)