Dumplin’: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dumplin' by Julie MurphyWillowdean Dickson has always been comfortable in her own skin. Even when she knows small-minded people might make unfavorable comparisons between Will and her beautiful best friend, Ellen. But Will knows who she is and she is okay with it. At least, she thinks she is until she takes a summer job working at Harpy’s–a local burger joint–alongside Private School Bo.

Bo is a former jock and totally hot. Of course Will is attracted to him. What gives her pause is that Bo seems to be attracted to her too.

When this unexpected romance makes Will question everything she thought she knew about herself (and her self-esteem), she knows it’s time to take a step back and make a change.

Inspired by all of the things her aunt let herself miss out on because of her weight, Willowdean decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant to prove to herself and everyone else (and maybe even her mother) that she can.

Entering the pageant might be the worst idea Will has ever had but with help from her friends, inspiration from Dolly Parton, and a lot of humor along the way, Willowdean will take Clover City by storm in Dumplin’ (2015) by Julie Murphy.

Dumplin’ has a very strong sense of place as Willowdean’s first person narration brings her small Texas town to life complete with its quirks and charms. And a love of Dolly Parton, of course.

Will is a charming and authentic narrator. Like many people, she has moments of doubt and often gets in her own way when it comes to being happy. She is also refreshingly self-aware and can identify these behaviors even if she can’t always stop them. While it’s hard in parts Dumplin’ to watch Willowdean being her own worst enemy, it’s also incredibly empowering to see her get it right and go after what she really wants.

Murphy’s sophomore novel highlights a lot of diverse lifestyles in this story including single parent homes, poor families, and some others that I can’t mention because they’re small spoilers.

Dumplin’ is an effervescent novel with a lot of heart and as much charm is its one-of-a-kind heroine. Recommended for readers looking for a sweet romance, thoughtful characters and an empowering story. Bonus appeal for readers who enjoy stories that feature beauty pageants.

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras, The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

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

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

Winterspell: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Winterspell by Claire LegrandNew York City, 1899. Clara Stole’s mother has been dead for a year. Without the guiding goodness of her mother, Clara lives in fear of the greed and corruption that grip New York City and the Concordia syndicate that rules it with a firm and corrupt hand with her father as their mayor and figurehead.

Thanks to her godfather, Drosselmeyer, Clara is well trained in self-defense. But blending into shadows, picking locks and throwing a punch are little help when the mere thought of confronting the dangerous leaders of Concordia fills Clara with crippling dread. Despite her perceived weakness, Clara is determined to find out the truth behind her mother’s murder. But in uncovering that truth, Clara also finds shocking secrets about her own life.

On Christmas Eve Clara’s house is attacked and her father abducted by mysterious creatures not of this world. To rescue her father and keep her family safe, Clara will have to follow the creatures to Cane–a distant land ravaged by magic and strife–with only Nicholas, cursed prince of Cane, for help.

Clara needs Nicholas and therefore must work him but the prince has secrets and an agenda of his own–one that may do Clara more harm than good. With time running out as she moves through Cane’s ruthless landscape, Clara realizes she can trust no one but herself if she hopes to leave Cane alive in Winterspell (2014) by Claire Legrand.

Winterspell is Legrand’s first young adult novel. Readers can also pick up a companion prequel novella called Summerfall. An extended epilogue called Homecoming can be found on Legrand’s website.

Legrand delivers a sumptuous, rich fantasy in this dark retelling of The NutcrackerWinterspell stays true to the source material (even including epigraphs from the original story at the start of each section) while also pushing the plot in unexpected directions in this story about magic gone wrong, war and the strength that comes from realizing your own power.

While Clara knows she is strong and capable she is also hampered by her own fears and doubts as much as by the trappings of being a young woman of privilege in 1890s New York. Clara is terrified of her own strength (and her inability to use it at crucial moments), her own body, and especially her own sexuality. As much as this story is about magic and action, it is equally about Clara’s sexual awakening as she learns to embrace all aspects of her self even those society tells her she should hide away.

Winterspell is a sexy, gritty story that brings the world of Cane monstrously to life. Endpapers provide a detailed map of Cane (illustrated by Catherine Scully) while Legrand’s prose evokes the fearful cold and danger lurking around every corner.

The interplay between Clara and Nicholas adds another dimension to this story. Both characters rightfully have a healthy suspicion of each other but also an undeniable physical attraction. There is a delicious slow burn as these characters circle each other. This distrust and attraction coalesces into a thoughtful treatment of consent that works on many levels throughout the story.

Winterspell is a sexy, gritty story that operates in the grey areas between good and evil. With brutal heroes and sympathetic villains this is a multifaceted story sure to appeal to fantasy readers and fans of unconventional retellings.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, The Luxe by Anna Godbersen, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, Jackaby by William Ritter, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

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

Split Second: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Split Second is the second book in West’s Pivot Point duology which begins with Pivot Point. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

Split Second by Kasie WestEverything changes the moment Addie chose to stay with her mother after her parents’ divorce. Staying on the Compound is familiar. The Compound gives her the support she needs to advance and train her psychic ability to Search different outcomes for every decision she makes. Not to mention it has advanced technology the likes of which the Norm world can’t imagine.

Addie knows she stayed for a reason. Why else would a path where her boyfriend manipulated both Addie and her best friend Laila be the best option? The problem is she still isn’t sure why because she also asked Laila to erase Addie’s memories of the Search.

Laila, meanwhile, knows she can restore Addie’s memories. She just needs to learn how first. She knows Connor–a boy at school known for selling contraband tech–will be able to help. Unfortunately, Laila did not realize that he might be the only guy on the Compound immune to her charms and manipulation tactics.

When Addie goes to Texas to visit her Dad, she expects to have a quiet six weeks of relaxing and solitude. That changes when she meets Trevor who seems achingly familiar even though Addie barely knows him.

Together Addie and Laila have all of the pieces to restore Addie’s memories and unearth a much bigger secret. But only if they figure out how to put all of the information together before it’s too late in Split Second (2014) by Kasie West.

Split Second is the sequel/companion novel to West’s debut novel Pivot Point.

Split Second picks up one week after the events from Pivot Point play out. Given the nature of the stories, Split Second does function in many ways as a standalone however a lot of the emotional resonance will be lost without reading Pivot Point.

While Addie is dealing with the fallout from Duke’s lies and tricks, Laila is grappling with guilt over her (unintentional) role. Laila also has a letter Addie wrote asking her to restore Addie’s lost memories and no idea where to start.

The story unfolds in chapters alternating between Addie and Laila’s first person narration (each labeled with texts written to each other). West handles the overlap and convergence of the two plots expertly to make for one cohesive novel.

After meeting Laila in Pivot Point, it is great to see more of her story in Split Second. Laila is often calculating and even ruthless when it comes to protecting people she cares about. But she is also loyal to a fault with hidden depths. Laila always projects an effortless confidence that is delightful to behold.

While Addie rediscovers Trevor in Texas, Laila is left on the Compound where she finds Connor. Connor’s introspection and calm is a perfect counterpoint to Laila’s bravado and extrovert personality. Both characters have a lot of secrets and make conscious choices in what they present to the world and what they choose to protect. Their changing dynamic adds a great element of both humor and sweetness to Split Second.

Split Second is another fantastic sci-fi adventure complete with not one but two romances. West does a great job bring readers back to Addie and Trevor’s story while also introducing Laila and Connor. Although there are still a lot of questions (and many readers who would love to see more about these characters), Split Second is the perfect conclusion to a delightfully fun series.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Unearthly by Cynthia Hand, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Fair Coin by E. C. Myers, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Loop: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can’t change the past. One of those weird temporal loops that couldn’t be explained.”

Loop by Karen AkinsBree Bennis lives in the twenty-third century where, because of a special gene mutation, she can travel anywhere in time. It’s been years since travelers had to hide their unique skills but Bree knows better than most that time travel is still greeted with suspicion and even disdain by those unable to travel.

Bree used to be at the top of all of her classes. Now her biggest talent seems to involve making a mess of things.

After her solo midterm to the twenty-first century goes spectacularly wrong, Bree knows she’s in big trouble. Failing to complete her mission is one thing. Accidentally revealing herself to a boy and sort of taking him hostage? That could get Bree expelled. Or worse.

The only option is to try to sneak back and try to complete her midterm before anyone notices. The only problem is Bree ends up missing her target destination. She finds the boy–Finn who is now three years older and at least three times more attractive–but before she can fix anything Bree is pulled back to her own time. With Finn. Who claims that he and Bree’s future self are . . . dating?

Bree has plenty to do between hiding Finn and not flunking out of school when she learns that a rash of accidents have been taking out time travelers around the school. Turns out the attacks are anything but accidental and with Finn’s help Bree soon realizes she might be the only one able to find the person responsible and stop them before their timeline is irreparably damaged in Loop (2014) by Karen Akins.

Loop is Akins’ first novel and the first half of a duology that completes with Twist.

Loop dives right into the action when Bree’s life goes from bad to worse after everything goes wrong on her midterm. Bree manages to take everything in stride with only a few choice (and possibly made up) swear words to help. As Bree delves deeper into secrets about her own past (and future) she also realizes she might be at the tip of a very big problem–one her future self knew Bree would have to try to solve.

Akins skillfully combines science fiction adventure with a fascinating mystery to create a story that is as original as it is fun. Although some plot points–particularly clues left for Bree–are often obvious, Bree and Finn’s journey as they try to understand what brought them together more than makes up for it.

Bree’s world is filled with casual wonders ranging from automated travel pods to Pegamoos, all of which are brought to life in vivid prose. In a story that literally spans centuries, the world-building to top notch and gives Loop a strong sense of place no matter where or when Bree finds herself.

Bree’s voice is distinct and snappy, making this book conversational and completely fascinating. While the romance in Loop is a big draw, Bree also has a great character arc as she tries to reconcile who she is in her present with who she seems to be in the future. With massive conspiracies, clues left across time, and a displaced romance that is often baffling to Bree, Loop is an action-packed story with humor and excitement.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Daughter of Deep Silence: A Review

Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie RyanThree people survived when the luxury yacht Persephone sank. Two of them are lying.

Frances Mace knows the truth but at just fourteen, with everyone who ever knew her gone, Frances has no way to contradict the lies being told by the other survivors.

Four years after the disaster, everything about Frances is a lie. Everything about her is a tool meant to help her exact revenge. Frances will stop at nothing to get justice for the victims of the Persephone even if it means giving up the boy she loves and sacrificing her own identity in Daughter of Deep Silence (2015) by Carrie Ryan.

Daughter of Deep Silence is a standalone contemporary thriller reminiscent of the TV show Revenge.

Evocative language and vivid descriptions bring the novel’s South Carolina settings and Frances’ horror-stricken memories of the Persephone to life. Ryan pulls no punches in describing the hardships Frances faced when the Persephone sank nor does she shy away from exploring the post-traumatic stress that obviously plagues Frances four years later.

With rich characters and lavish settings, this story is a classic revenge story with added depth for the main character. Frances’ life is complicated and her sacrifices in pursuing revenge are almost too numerous to count.

Although Frances is a vibrant and strong character, her singular focus and strong personality only serve to underscore the fact that the rest of the characters are thinly drawn. (Shepherd in particularly felt like a prop for most of the story meant to act as a placeholder for Frances’ conscience.)

While Frances’ revenge plot is well-planned, the logic behind it (as well as the truth behind the sinking of the Persephone) both are largely anti-climactic after a book’s worth of build up. Readers seeking a story with more substance and stronger characterization will be left wanting more from this novel.

Daughter of Deep Silence will appeal to readers looking for an edgy, fast-paced revenge story that has its smart moments.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Pretending to Be Erica by  Michelle Painchaud, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, Revenge (TV series)