I Capture the Castle: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for I Capture the Castle by Dodie SmithSeventeen-year-old Cassandra Mortmain and her family have lived in the castle for years. It had been different when her father was still writing and her mother was alive. There had been plans to fix up the castle then.

Everything is different now. Mortmain stopped writing after his time in prison and his second wife, Topaz, is at her wit’s end for ideas to get him to start again. Her work as an artist’s model is far from enough to support the entire family. Even with money from their sometimes servant and friend Stephen, there is no denying that the family’s situation is dire.

Cassandra’s older sister is certain that she can change her family’s fate if only she can find the right sort of man to marry. But as the eccentric, poverty-stricken neighbors, it isn’t easy to attract the right sort of man at all. Thomas, the youngest, is still in school but his prospects are unlikely to help any.

Without any clear way to change their fortunes, Cassandra settles instead to chronicle the day-to-day happenings within the castle in a hope to capture the strange circumstances that have become quite ordinary to her.

Little does Cassandra know as she sets out to document life in the castle, her family is about to embark on a momentous year filled with delightful surprises, momentous changes, and maybe even first love in I Capture the Castle (1948) by Dodie Smith.

I Capture the Castle only came to my attention when I saw the newest edition from Wednesday Books with a forward from Jenny Han. In her forward Jenny talks about accidentally becoming a collector of first editions of this book and her decision to buy it from her college bookstore based on the strength of JK Rowling’s blurb. I similarly was drawn to this book on the strength of Jenny’s forward and can confirm that if you are a fan of her cozy contemporary novels, this is a perfect classic to pick up.

The novel is presented as Cassandra’s journal, written over the course of three notebooks and one turbulent year. Cassandra narrates events as she sets them down in her notebook with sly observations and wit. Her narrative voice is breezy and the dialogue included is snappy.

I won’t say too much about the plot except to share that it was surprisingly unpredictable and kept me guessing–things I didn’t expect from a classic. By the time I got to the third act of this book, I couldn’t read fast enough. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

Vivid descriptions bring the eccentric castle and its residents to life drawing readers even further into this story. Although it was first published seventy years ago, I Capture the Castle is a timeless story. Cassandra’s struggles and triumphs feel as fresh and immediate as if they happened today.

Possible Pairings: Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstley, A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl, Edgewater by Courtney Sheinmel, A Map For Wrecked Girls by Jessica Taylor

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

Everless: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Everless by Sara HollandIn the kingdom of Sempera time can be bled out of a person and bound to iron making it the literal currency of the kingdom. In Crofton there’s never enough. Desperate to save her father before he sells what little time he has left, Jules returns to Everless—the family estate that was home to her fondest childhood memories as well as the haunting nightmare that forced her and her father to flee ten years ago.

No one seems to remember Jules but she remembers enough about cruel Liam Gerling and his handsome and kind brother Roan to know she’d best keep a low profile in her new position as a maid at the estate.

The entire estate is bustling with preparations for Roan’s wedding to Ina Gold, the Queen’s official heir. Raised up from humble beginnings as an orphan, Ina is beloved throughout Sempera and granted unguarded access to Everless and the Queen. Working as Ina’s maid at the estate might also be Jules’ best chance to unlock the mysteries of her own past.  Secrets abound at Everless but with danger looming Jules isn’t certain she’ll have enough time to uncover them all in Everless (2018) by Sara Holland.

Everless is Holland’s debut novel and the start of a series.

Everless starts with an inventive and surprising premise: what if time could be measured and sold? From this tantalizing question Holland builds the rich and strongly developed world of Sempera. Although the mythology and world building is initially muddy, many questions are answered by the end of the novel as various pieces of Sempera’s past begin to fall into place.

Jules is an impulsive and often frustrating heroine. She doesn’t think or consider. Instead she spends most of the book reacting first as she sneaks her way into a job at Everless and then when she realizes she can’t safely remain at the estate. While that makes for an incredibly exciting and nail-biting read it is also infuriating to watch Jules repeatedly rush into things that could easily be avoided if only she would listen.

Everless is a sprawling, grand estate and the novel itself is suitably well-populated with fascinating characters. Roan and Liam, the two Gerling sons who will one day inherit Everless and its wealth, serve as a point of infatuation for Jules–Roan as the object of her childhood affections and Liam as the reason she and her father had to leave the estate’s comfort and shelter when she was seven. Despite getting far less page time, Liam is by far the more interesting of the two and a character I look forward to seeing in the sequel.

Everless is a strong series starter filled with action and intrigue. This story starts small focusing on Jules’s own survival and revenge only to gain momentum as Jules finds herself at the center of a story that could change the entire forever. Highly recommended for fantasy readers and sci-fi fans who like their science with a heavy dose of alchemy.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

Foolish Hearts: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Foolish Hearts by Emma MillsThe entire construct of a pink party works on the expectation that the guests wear pink. Iris Huang wearing lavender to Amber Brunati’s pink party suggests exactly what she thinks of Amber and the party. But that’s just the way Iris operates–a surliness that is usually balanced out by her sweeter girlfriend, Paige Bruckner. The two have been together for most of high school and always present a united front. Always.

At least they did before Claudia overhears Paige breaking up with Iris. And gets caught eavesdropping.

Being on Iris’s bad side is punishment enough but it gets worst when Claudia and Iris have to write a paper together. Which they fail. Claudia is certain that working with Iris on the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for extra credit promises even more torture.

But somewhere between bombing her audition and shopping for materials to help with costume production, something funny happens. Suddenly instead of sticking to what she knows and keeping her head down, Claudia’s world is starting to get bigger.

Soon Claudia realizes that appearances can be deceiving as she discovers a boy band obsession, the ineffable Gideon Pruitt, and perhaps most surprisingly of all an unexpected friendship with the last person she expects in Foolish Hearts (2017) by Emma Mills.

In her latest standalone contemporary Mills explores friendship, romance, and fandom. Claudia’s world is pretty small. She has her family and her best friend Zoe, her scholarship to a fancy prep school, and all of the culture shock that implies. Claudia also has Battle Quest the massively multiplayer online role playing game she plays with her older brother and sister, her brother-in-law, and Zoe. Together they explore the game and pursue quests to find and vanquish the elusive Lord of Wizard. Claudia knows it’s not the most interesting of lives, but she’s always liked it.

At the start of senior year everything is changing as Claudia considers a near future where she and Zoe will be separated. That paired with Iris’s threat to ruin Claudia if she blabs about overhearing the breakup is more than enough excitement and uncertainty. Usually it would also force Claudia into a tactical retreat to maintain her low profile. Working on the school play changes that as Claudia is thrust into the world of costume creation and becomes a de facto drama coach helping the cast make sense of their dense dialogue.

I almost never say this but everything about Foolish Hearts makes me so happy. This book is all of the things that I loved in This Adventure Ends (including a male lead every bit as compelling and quirky as Frank Sanger) with none of the frustrating parts. Mills’ cast is thoughtfully and effortlessly inclusive (just like real life) and features a cast of memorable, quirky characters readers will love.

Even months after finishing Foolish Hearts I am still completely overwhelmed by how much I love it and how happy this story and these characters made me. A must read for fans of contemporary (romance) novels and anyone who’s ever fallen headfirst into a fandom without looking back. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

The Prince and the Dressmaker: My Favorite Panels Blog Tour (and Review)


cover art for The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen WangEverything is starting to change in Paris. Department stores are coming, fashions are rapidly evolving, the modern age is almost here.

Frances can’t wait for more changes to come. She’s tired of working in traditional styles catering to the boring tastes of her clients. Frances wants to be more than a dressmaker. She wants to be a designer. She wants the chance to design clothes in the styles she dreams of–the ones that most of her clients can’s possibly imagine wearing.

When she crosses paths with Prince Sebastian, Frances’ life takes a sudden turn. Sebastian’s parents want him to look for a bride. But Sebastian would rather spend his time becoming a sensation in Paris nightlife as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. Sebastian feels like a disappointment to his parents and ill-prepared to become king one day. But as Lady Crystallia he has the chance to not just be someone else but, thanks to Frances’ amazing designs, to be a fashion sensation.

Frances is happy to help Sebastian step into the limelight. But to help protect his secret, Frances also has to stay in the shadows hiding her own talents and ambitions. As Frances and Sebastian grow closer both will have to decide how much they’re willing to give up to protect each other in The Prince and the Dressmaker (2018) by Jen Wang.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a delightful standalone graphic novel with the feel of a modern fairy tale. Wang’s bold lines, dynamic panels, and lush full-color illustrations fully immerse readers in Frances and Sebastian’s story. The use of color here also makes all of Lady Crystallia’s dresses even more vibrant to behold.

This story remains hopeful and idealistic throughout, even as Sebastian struggles with how to tell his parents about his nights spent as Lady Crystallia and Frances is forced to quash her own dreams while keeping Sebastian’s secret. Sebastian’s relationship with Frances forms the backbone of this story and helps to highlight both characters’ strengths throughout. I loved the gentle affection and humor Wang brings to both her artwork and the dialog as this story unfolds.

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a winning tale of friendship, romance, and fashion. Absolutely impossible to read without a smile on your face. Highly recommended.

As part of this blog tour I also get to talk about my favorite panel from this book. There are a lot but I decided to go with one that isn’t too much of a spoiler. My favorite panels can be found on page 134 in the book.

I love the way that this panel reinforces the friendship between Frances and Sebastian and hints at how close they have grown throughout the story. You can also see the beautiful color work here which manages to be soft hued but also still bold and bright. The changes in panel design and the speech bubble layout also illustrates what I mentioned before about how dynamic the panels are in every spread.

Be sure to check out the full blog tour schedule to hear more about the book and see more favorite panels.

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

Say You’ll Remember Me: A Review

cover art for Say You'll Remember Me by Katie McGarryDrix is finally out of juvenile detention after serving out a year sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Now as part of his plea deal Drix is serving as the face of the governor’s new Second Chance Program meant to help delinquent teens get off the streets and break the school-to-prison pipeline once and for all. Drix hates being at the beck and call of the governor and his entire team but he also knows this is his last chance to get his life back on track–even if it means he might have to give up his beloved drums for fear of letting them lead him down the wrong path again.

Elle knows life as the governor’s daughter is filled with privilege. But she also knows that it’s filled with pressure to be perfect all the time and display a certain face to the public–even if it might not be the face that feels like it’s really her. All Elle really wants to do is pursue coding and win a prestigious internship–something her parents seem to think is impossible while Elle continues to help her father’s campaign.

Drix and Elle have nothing in common but their connection is immediate. Which makes it that much harder when Drix realizes that Elle is the last girl he should be thinking about, forget talking to. Together Drix and Elle might be able to find the truth behind Drix’s conviction and give Elle a chance to gain some independence but only if they’re willing to stick together in Say You’ll Remember Me (2017) by Katie McGarry.

McGarry’s latest is a fun standalone romance written in alternating first person chapters between Drix and Elle. McGarry’s writing is fast-paced and filled with snappy dialog, particularly between Drix and Elle whose chemistry is immediate both to themselves and to readers.

Although both characters are seventeen at the start of the novel they often start to sound like adults (particularly Drix as he delivers smooth remarks including the observation that Elle has lips that are “made for sin”) which sometimes makes the prose a bit clunky.

The problem of Drix and Elle’s extremely star-crossed relationship takes a backseat for much of the story to the more immediate issue of figuring out who committed the robbery for which Drix was arrested. Elle’s strained and often painful relationship with her parents also adds dimension to her character.

Say You’ll Remember Me is an exciting romance that explores teen incarceration, non-traditional families, and life in poverty with nuance and authenticity. Recommended for readers looking for a realistic bit of escapism guaranteed to end well (as all romances should and do).

 

Possible Pairings: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Now and Forever by Susane Colasanti, Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Dear Yvette by Ni-Ni Simone, The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne

The Hate U Give: A Rapid Fire Review

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (2017)

If I had to pick a defining book of 2017 it would be this one. Thomas’ debut novel has received numerous stars (more than I even knew existed). It has also been selected a finalist for both the National Book Award and The William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Thomas’s debut is one of several very timely and much needed books about social justice and specifically shining a light on the Black Lives Matter movement. It will also soon be a movie with Amandla Stenberg heading up a star-studded cast.

The book follows Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old black girl who is navigating life at her prestigious school populated with mostly white, mostly wealthy classmates and life at home in the poor neighborhood where she and her family has always lived. Starr doesn’t feel quite at home anywhere–a feeling that is compounded when Starr is driving home with her childhood friend Khalil when a police officer pulls them over and shoots Khalil without cause.

As the only witness, Starr knows she should testify. But she also knows doing so will put her under intense scrutiny from the media. And it might not even lead to justice for Khalil when so many similar cases have ended in acquittals for the officers. Starr’s choice will have lasting ramifications for herself, her family, and her community as she has to choose where her allegiances lie and speak up for what she believes in.

Thomas’s novel is evocative and gripping. It captures this moment in society perfectly and it highlights all of the things that still need to change with an indictment of the cultural biases and racism that brought us to this point and also with a note of optimism for the future. Narrated by Starr this novel has a great voice and fantastic dialog. Although the plot starts right away the story does have a tendency to meander (I will maintain forever that this book could have been edited down by at least a hundred pages) as the novel explores Starr’s family and home life as well as her life at school where she is constantly reminding herself that she has to put forward a very specific face among her classmates.

Heavy but hopeful and necessary. A must-read.

Dear Martin: A Review

Justyce McAllister is a scholarship student at the top of his class at his prestigious boarding school and heading to an Ivy League college next year. He’s miles away from the rough neighborhood where he grew up and has big plans for his future.

None of those accomplishments or plans matter when a police officer puts Justyce in handcuffs. Shaken by the severity of the encounter–and how much worse it could have been–Justyce isn’t sure where he belongs. Not with the other boys from his neighborhood many of whom are now in gangs and scorn Justyce for moving away. Not with his mostly white classmates who seem intent on making Jus feel small.

Justyce hopes to find some answers in the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who advocated non-violence in the pursuit of civil rights. But as Jus tries to follow his teachings and writes to Dr. King to try and make sense of his life, Justyce starts to wonder if those teachings have any place in the modern world where boys like Justyce are still dying in Dear Martin (2017) by Nic Stone.

Dear Martin is Stone’s powerful debut novel and a finalist for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award. This standalone contemporary is deceptively short with a page count that belies the weighty questions Justyce and his story raise.

Written in Justyce’s first-person narration along with his letters to Dr. King, this novel read partly like a diary with a conversational tone as Jus makes sense of the painful circumstances of his being handcuffed while trying to help his ex-girlfriend, grapples with casual racism with his classmates, and negotiates his complicated feelings for his debate partner SJ–a white girl Jus knows his mother would never want him to date.

Dear Martin is a compelling and timely story. Stone’s fast-paced prose and careful plotting make this novel an engrossing page-turner. An excellent choice for readers looking for a contemporary novel they can sink their teeth into. Ideal for anyone who has ever wanted to make their corner of the world a little better. Recommended.

 

Possible Pairings: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan Wolf, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*