Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

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The Romantics: A Review

The Romantics by Leah KonenGael Brennan is a textbook Romantic; he believes in love and he loves the idea of being in love. Unfortunately, life seems intent on squashing his Romantic tendencies first with his parents’ painful separation and a painful breakup with his first girlfriend.

Love has big plans for Gael and can see big things in his future. But only if Gael’s youthful relationships go a certain way–and do not include a dreaded Rebound. When Romantic Gael meets a Serial Monogamist, it seems like Love’s plans for Gael are doomed to failure.

Fortunately, Love has more than a few tricks ready to use to set Gael straight. In trying to redirect Gael’s path to the right romance, Love (and Gael) will realize that sometimes even the best relationships aren’t meant to last forever in The Romantics (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Romantics is narrated by Love who is an omniscient presence throughout the novel. Although Love does not interact with any characters directly, Love does play a hand in near-misses, coincidences, and other interventions to try and move things in the right direction with Gael.

Gael is a fun protagonist and his journey both with romantic love and his other relationships is authentic and entertaining. Gael has a lot of knocks between a painful breakup and his parents’ separation which is painful both in its reality and because it comes as such a shock to Gael and his younger sister.He is realistically angry and frustrated but also remains optimistic as he tries to move forward.

Although the story understandably spends a lot of time on Gael’s romantic travails, The Romantics also underscores that love comes in all forms–both romantic and not–including a really lovely friendship arc between Gael and his best friend Mason. (Though it is worth noting that the novel is generally hetero-normative as the main relationships remain male-female.)

Because Love spends time with all of the major characters, The Romantics also has a thoroughly developed cast and a plot that develops from multiple angles with some surprising results. The Romantics is a breezy and fun story and a sweet romance filled with witty asides from Love along with footnotes and illustrations. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows; Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also check out my interview with Leah Konen about this book.

Don’t You Trust Me?: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Don't You Trust Me? by Patrice KindlMorgan has known for a long time that she is different–cold, even. She is very good at mimicking and reading people. But she doesn’t care about anyone except herself.

When her parents decide to send Morgan away to a school for troubled teens even though she is obviously not troubled and knows exactly what she’s doing, Morgan knows it’s time to move on before her plans to attend a top-tier college, become a lawyer, and make lots of money are completely ruined.

Morgan’s one weak point has always been impulsiveness. When Morgan sees a sad sack girl sobbing hysterically at the airport over being separated from her boyfriend, Morgan doesn’t think twice before offering to switch places.

Suddenly Morgan is living across the country under an assumed name with her very well off “aunt” and “uncle.” And her overly trusting “cousin” Brooke. Morgan knows she has found a good thing here–something that can help her achieve that grand future she has planned. The only question is whether or not Morgan can keep such a complex con going indefinitely in Don’t You Trust Me? (2016) by Patrice Kindl.

While Morgan never calls herself a psychopath or sociopath during the course of the novel, it’s safe to say that she has Antisocial Personality Disorder and the related lack of empathy at the very least.

Kindl packs a lot into this slim novel where Morgan learns very quickly how to use her unique skills to get ahead. Morgan is a classic unreliable narrator as she leads her new “family,” friends, and readers on a wild ride through her months living a double life in an affluent Albany suburb.

Morgan’s first person narration is as humorous as it is heartless as she explains exactly how she changes identities and begins conning local charities and rich neighbors in her constant quest for money and security.

Unsurprisingly, not everything comes easily to Morgan as lies begin stacking up and secrets threaten to come out in Don’t You Trust Me? Short chapters and Morgan’s blunt narration make this book ideal for readers looking for a fast-paced story. Thriller fans looking for something a little different and readers who enjoy dark humor will also find a lot to recommend here.

Possible Pairings: The Graces by Laure Eve, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies by Lindsay Ribar, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Suffer Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Suffer Love by Ashley Herring BlakeHadley St. Clair’s family fell apart last year when she came home to a door covered in papers that revealed, again and again, that her father cheated on her mother. Everyone is telling Hadley that it’s time to move on. Her best  friend doesn’t recognize the girl Hadley has become. Her father is constantly hurt by Hadley’s anger. Her mother says she is trying to save their marriage but she can barely stand to be around Hadley or her father.

Sam Bennett hopes he can start over when he moves to a new town with his mother and younger sister after his parents’ bitter divorce. Sam is tired of drama and wary of relationships. All he wants to do is survive senior year and move on to college where he can be far away from his parents and their tacit disapproval.

Hadley and Sam are both hurting. They’re both feeling abandoned and maybe even betrayed by their parents’ choices. Neither of them expects to find comfort or connection with the other–especially Sam who knows exactly how ludicrous their mutual attraction really is–but then they find exactly that. And maybe more in Suffer Love (2016) by Ashley Herring Blake.

The story alternates first-person narration between Hadley and Sam whose distinct personalities come across clearly. The hurt and anger both characters feel comes across strongly throughout the novel making parts of this story a bit brutal.

Hadley and Sam’s connection, hinted at as mysterious in the jacket copy, is revealed early on as Sam realizes he knows exactly who Hadley is and her connection to his family. While this element adds tension to the plot, the real crux of the story is how Hadley and Sam connect to each other and their families.

Both Hadley and Sam are authentic characters and realistically flawed. Neither of them have made the best decisions in the last year and they are both suffering the aftermath of their families being laid to waste with one marriage ending in divorce and the other barely holding it together.

Sam and Hadley are both nuanced and well-developed characters, often making their friends and parents seem one-dimensional in comparison. This character-driven novel interestingly works Shakespeare (whose plays Sam and Hadley are studying in class) into the plot which does add an extra something to the story.

Suffer Love is a visceral and emotive contemporary novel. Recommended for readers looking for a quick and romantic read.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

Bookishly Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bookishly Ever After by Isabel BandeiraPhoebe Martins is an avid reader who always has a book nearby. She loves YA books and is content to escape her mundane high school reality in the fantasies of her books–especially a swoony paranormal romance. She has a small, close-knit group of friends, band, archery, and knitting. Phoebe doesn’t necessarily want more than that either.

When her best friend Em tries to play matchmaker between Phoebe and dreamy fellow band geek and drama nerd Dev. Phoebe isn’t sure how to feel about Dev potentially liking her or how to navigate her own maybe-crush on him.

So she turns to the heroines in all of her favorite books, of course, for advice on how to overhaul her wardrobe, flirt and generally be awesome.

But it turns out fictional romances don’t always translate well to reality. If Phoebe wants her own happy ending, she might have to figure out the answer herself in Bookishly Ever After (2016) by Isabel Bandeira.

Bookishly Ever After is the first book in Bandeira’s contemporary Ever After trilogy.

Bookishly Ever After is narrated by Phoebe and includes her “notes” on passages from her favorite novels complete with excerpts and Phoebe’s own underlining and commentary.

Phoebe is a realistic sixteen-year-old who is refreshingly content with her life, friends, and family at the start of the novel. Although Phoebe spends a lot of the story figuring out how to deal with Dev, she remains self-actualized and very aware that her own happiness and fulfillment comes first. She is bookish and fun without being overly precocious–in other words Phoebe sounds and acts her age which isn’t always as common as it should be.

Set over the course of several months in the school year, Phoebe and Dev have a slow courtship as they circle each other and as Phoebe tries to make sense of her own conflicted feelings. Fictional crushes were always enough for her before so the prospect of a real crush–not to mention actual dating–initially feels overwhelming.

Phoebe’s friends are all supportive and memorable with distinct personalities that Bandeira conveys expertly through brief descriptions and asides. Em initially comes across as overbearing but through Phoebe’s eyes readers soon understand the strength and importance of their friendship. It’s also great to see all of the characters have a variety of interests and refuse to be classified as any one thing.

Bookishly Ever After is a fun romance with authentic characters and delightful dialogue. This sweet story is sure to leave readers smiling. Recommended for bookish readers looking for a bubbly new contemporary.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roate, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

You can also check out my interview with Isabel.

*A copy of this title was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2016*

Cloudwish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cloudwish by Fiona WoodVân Uoc is used to walking a tightrope between her Vietnamese immigrant parents’ expectations for her to become a financially secure doctor and her own dreams of becoming an artist.

During a creative writing class Vân Uoc could have wished for less schoolwork as she works to maintain her scholarship to her fancy private school. She could have wished for her parents to talk more about the PTSD her mother has struggled with since they emigrated from Vietnam. But she doesn’t. Instead Vân Uoc wishes for Billy Gardiner to find her fascinating and like her more than any other girls.

When Vân Uoc‘s wish impossibly (magically?) comes trues, she doesn’t know what to think. She isn’t used to finding magic in her world and she isn’t sure if she should ignore it or embrace this strange bit of wonder while it lasts.

As Vân Uoc and Billy get to know each other, Vân Uoc realizes there’s more to her longtime crush than she expected. As she confronts the possibility that her wish came true (or even stranger that it didn’t), Vân Uoc realizes that there might be more to her than everyone expects too in Cloudwish (2016) by Fiona Wood.

Cloudwish is Wood’s third novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Wild Life although it functions as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles.

Before discussing anything else about Cloudwish it’s important to note that Fiona Wood is a white Australian author writing about a Vietnamese-Australian heroine. Wood has clearly done her research and had Vietnamese readers look at her novel, but as some reviews (notably Kirkus) have pointed out, some of the cultural elements in this novel do not ring true. I can’t speak to any of that and, for me, it did not detract from the books merits. But it’s worth keeping in mind while reading.

Like many children of immigrant parents, Vân Uoc faces added responsibility at home where she acts as interpreter and caregiver making sure her mother takes the medication she has been prescribed for her PTSD.

Vân Uoc‘s parents have struggled and saved to make sure that Vân Uoc has advantages that were never a possibility for them in Vietnam. They don’t talk about their struggles or their harrowing flight from Vietnam because it’s the past and things are better now. They’ve survived. Compared to their struggles, Vân Uoc‘s own difficulties with mean girls at school and her relatively low social status seem trivial.

When Vân Uoc inexplicably attracts Billy Gardiner’s attention, she doesn’t know what to think. Her school friends worry that Billy is going to hurt her when he inevitably loses interest. She and her best friend Jess wonder if Vân Uoc could possibly be the subject of a long-term joke Billy is planning. But Vân Uoc has no experience with boys and Jess is a self-prescribed “lesbian-in-waiting” so neither of them are sure.

As Billy starts following her around, Vân Uoc wonders if her crush was misplaced. Billy is certainly attractive and funny. But he also has a habit of making mean-spirited jokes and a complete lack of awareness when it comes to his own privilege–something Vân Uoc has no problem pointing out to him.

While contemplating the possibility of her wish being granted and of Billy genuinely liking her, Vân Uoc also begins to reassess her life choices in other areas with an eye toward her literary idol, Jane Eyre. As Vân Uoc embraces Billy’s attentions and her own dreams for a larger life beyond studying and waiting for college.

Cloudwish is a thoughtful and meditative novel that contemplates both the everyday and the place (and possibility) of magic in the real world. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Spontaneous: A Review

Spontaneous by Aaron StarmerMara Carlyle’s class is thrown into chaos when Katelyn Ogden explodes in the middle of third period calculus. After Katelyn’s untimely demise more seniors start blowing up. After suspecting terrorism, suicide, and other sundry conspiracies, the town of Covington soon realizes that the high school seniors are falling victim to spontaneous combustion.

No one knows why it’s happening. No one knows who might be next.

All Mara and her best friend Tess want to do is make it to graduation in one piece. But that might be harder than they think as students keep popping with no obvious pattern or warning. Mara’s senior year is going to have love, friendship, drugs, and even more explosions than the usual high school drama would suggest in Spontaneous (2016) by Aaron Starmer.

Mara’s first-person narration is dark, no-nonsense, and sometimes blatantly insensitive as she tries to make sense of her friends and classmates blowing up. She deals with the stress and the possibility of her own eventual demise with humor and avoidance.

Starmer’s prose is snappy and substantive. Like many critically acclaimed novels, Spontaneous strikes a good balance between philosophical and absurd. Unfortunately, much of the story also feels like it is being spoon-fed to readers with heavy-handed descriptions and plotting.

Spontaneous isn’t the first quasi-literary YA novel to be written by a male author with a female protagonist. It also won’t be the last. Unfortunately, and this speaks to a number of potential flaws in the text, nothing about this book makes it matter that Mara is a girl. She could be anyone from any background. Nothing about her feels distinct or unique, begging the question why is this her story and not the story of one of the other unlucky seniors at Covington High School?

Throughout the novel, Mara keeps readers at a remove both from herself and from the other characters who populate the novel. While possibly a deliberate decision by Starmer, it does little to endear Mara to readers or generate much interest in her story.

Unfortunately an interesting premise and strong writing are not enough to make Spontaneous a compelling story. Spontaneous is a wacky, macabre novel sure to appeal to fans of Grasshopper Jungle.

Possible Pairings: Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes, Going Bovine by Libba Bray, Deadline by Chris Crutcher, Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend by Alan Cumyn, Hellhole by Gina Damico, We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*