Nice Try, Jane Sinner: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The past doesn’t exist. It’s just a story we tell ourselves. And stories change each time you tell them.”

“If you don’t like what you’ve written, write something else.”

cover art for Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne OelkeJane Sinner is tired of pity and talking about what happened. She isn’t surprised at her expulsion from high school or her lack of plans for the future. She’s just surprised that anyone else is shocked.

In an effort to appease her parents and possibly get something right Jane agrees to attend a high school completion program at Elbow River Community College. She only has one condition: she gets to move out. Affordable housing appears in the form of a student-run reality show along the lines of Big Brother. Jane jumps at the chance to join the cast of House of Orange, live within her limited means, and compete to win a car (used, but whatever it’s still a car).

Stepping away from her conservative, religious parents and forgetting about what happened is exactly what Jane needs to start over. On campus she can reinvent herself as Sinner–the cynical and ultra-competitive version of herself that comes through in House of Orange edits–even if the HOOcaps (House of Orange production team) might be watching Jane’s every move and real life is becoming uncomfortable hard to separate from the game.

When House of Orange goes from low-rent web series to a local community tv sensation, Jane is forced to consider how far she’s willing to go to win. And how much she has to prove to herself and the world (or viewers of substandard reality tv anyway) in Nice Try, Jane Sinner (2018) by Lianne Oelke.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is Oelke’s debut novel. The book is written as Jane’s journal complete with dialog popped out as if it were a screenplay. This format allows Jane’s snappy comebacks and other banter between characters to really stand out.

Jane’s misadventures, like her narration, are sardonic and ridiculous in the best ways as she balances competing on the show and using everything she learns in Intro to Psychology to destroy her opponents with her high school completion work and maybe, just maybe, making some new friends. Jane has no allusions about herself or the nature of the show–it’s the worst and she might not be much better as she chases the win.

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is simultaneously contemplative and literally laugh-out-loud funny. A must-read for readers looking for a laugh and fans of reality shows (or anyone who likes to complain about those unsatisfying reality show outcomes).

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, American Panda by Gloria Chao, Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandyha Menon, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

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


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*

The Mirror King: A Review

*The Mirror King is the final book in a duology. This review has spoilers for the first book The Orphan Queen.*

cover art for The Mirror King by Jodi MeadowsEverything changed the moment she revealed herself as princess Wilhemina Korte and vowed to reclaim her kingdom of Aecor and the Vermillion Throne. Now Wil is torn between old allies and new friends as she struggles to become the leader her people deserve.

Wil’s closest ally Tobiah has been gravely wounded and struggles with his own reluctance to take his place on the Indigo Throne when he would much prefer to continue his vigilante work as Black Knife.

Both Wil and Tobiah will have to put aside their differences and their decisions as the Wraith continues to grow in power and come closer to their homes. Wil controlled the Wraith once with disastrous consequences. She isn’t sure she can trust herself, or her magic, to try again.

For the last ten years Wil has relied on her anonymity to keep her safe. Now, as alliances crumble and dangers loom she will have to learn to place her trust in others and step into the light if she wants to save her kingdom and everyone she cares about in The Mirror King (2015) by Jodi Meadows.

The Mirror King is the final book in a duology which began with The Orphan Queen. Meadows once again writes this story in Wil’s pragmatic first person narration.

This series–and particularly this book–highlights everything that can be done when a duology is handled well. The Mirror King continues to explore themes of identity and leadership in this novel while also expanding the world and the story as Wil and her friends race to stop the Wraith. Even the cover art nicely ties back to book one with clever design choices.

Wil’s external conflicts with the Wraith and to reclaim Aecor are juxtaposed against her reluctance to become a queen when she feels ill-prepared for the responsibilities or the costs. There are no easy choices for Wil or Tobiah and Wil’s development throughout the series illustrates that as she begins to understand and accept her obligations.

The Mirror King is an excellent conclusion to a fast-paced, truly engaging fantasy series. Highly recommended for fans of high fantasy novels filled with intrigue, adventure, and just a little romance.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

The Orphan Queen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ten years ago the Indigo Kingdom invaded Aecor, assassinated the king and queen, and claimed Aecor as its own territory during the One-Night War. Princess Wilhemina and the other orphaned noble children were taken to the capital city of Skyvale but managed to escape a life of captivity within the walls of an orphanage.

Now seventeen Wil and the other orphans, the Ospreys, are experts at stealth and theft after years of training and preparation. They are all ready to do everything they can to help Wil reclaim her throne. Even if it means Will has to assume the identity of a dead girl to infiltrate the palace.

That isn’t Wil’s only secret or her only obstacle. Magic has been outlawed for a century in a failing effort to push back the Wraith–a toxic by-product of magic that threatens to overtake the Indigo Kingdom sooner than anyone could have imagined. Wil’s own magic might be able to help her reclaim her throne and stop the Wraith. But only if she is able to keep her secrets–something that becomes increasingly unlikely when she attracts the attention of the notorious vigilante Black Knife. Nothing is as it seems in Skyvale and time is running out. Wil is poised to become a queen, but first she’ll have to prove she has what it takes to lead in The Orphan Queen (2015) by Jodi Meadows.

The Orphan Queen is the first book in a duology. Wil’s story concludes in The Mirror King.

The Orphan Queen is a plot-driven fantasy novel filled with action and intrigue. Narrated by Wil the novel follows her efforts to infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom and do whatever it takes to reclaim her throne. Slinking through the kingdom at night searching out materials for her forgery efforts Wil also has to avoid Black Knife–a vigilante known throughout the Indigo Kingdom for his work hunting down illegal magic users and arresting them for the crown.

These efforts play out against the larger backdrop of a world that is slowly be ravaged by Wraith–a substance that twists and ruins everything it touches as it gains strength from magic use. The more I read about the Wraith in The Orphan Queen the more it struck me as the perfect analogy for climate change and our current struggles with global warming.

While a lot of information about the Wraith is withheld from readers (we are, after all, limited to what Wil knows and she’s been in hiding since she was seven) this bit of world building felt ingenious and added a fair level of complexity to a world that otherwise might have been very black and white. The ethics surrounding magic use both as a kingdom and as an individual are things Wil struggles with throughout the novel as she contemplates her role in dealing with the Wraith should she manage to reclaim her throne.

My main issue with The Orphan Queen is that all of the characters are too young. This is something that happens a lot in young adult novels because there’s an idea that you can’t be a “young” adult without being an actual teen. Because of that the Ospreys are somehow trained, mentored, and led by Wil’s closest ally Patrick who takes on these responsibilities at the tender age of eleven. In addition to pushing willing suspension of disbelief to its limit, this also raises questions about how much Wil can actually remember of her childhood home or the One-Night War itself. Unfortunately, these questions remain not just unanswered but largely unasked in a moment of wasted potential for an otherwise strong novel.

Wil’s first person narration is engaging and entertaining as she moves seamlessly between identities as a princess, a rebel, a forger, and a fighter. Wil is calculating and clever but she is also compassionate and desperate to reclaim her kingdom and stop the Wraith with as little bloodshed as possible–something that becomes increasingly difficult as Wil’s various identities begin to overlap and she becomes torn between new alliances and old loyalties.

The Orphan Queen is a strong start to a fast-paced and delightfully exciting duology. Recommended for readers looking for a fantasy novel with high stakes action, intrigue, and just a touch of romance. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

Starfish: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Starfish by Akemi Dawn BowmanAll of Kiko Himura’s hopes are pinned on getting accepted to Prism–her dream art school. At Prism Kiko knows that it won’t matter that she’s half-Japanese and knows barely anything about her own culture. She won’t need to regret her failed relationships with her brothers. She’ll be able to get away from her mother who is alternately suffocating and neglectful. Best of all, Kiko knows that at Prism she’ll finally be understood the way she always used to be by her childhood best friend, Jamie.

After Prism rejects her, Kiko is forced to consider other options–especially when her abusive uncle moves into the house and makes life even more unbearable. When Kiko and Jamie meet up at a party, Kiko jumps at the improbable chance to tour art schools with him on the west coast. Along the way Kiko will learn how to be brave and and let herself be heard while understand that sometimes second choices can lead to second chances in Starfish (2017) by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Starfish is Bowman’s debut novel and a finalist for YALSA’s 2018 Morris Award.

This is a quiet and deliberate novel. Kiko knows better than most that words have weight thanks to what happened when she spoke out about her uncle’s abuse and also from the methodical way Kiko’s mother uses them to break her down. Kiko’s visions of vivid sketches and lavish paintings are interspersed throughout Starfish helping Kiko give voice to her emotions when she doesn’t feel strong enough to share them herself.

While Kiko’s strained relationship with her mother and her uncle’s abuse are key factors in Starfish, the main story here is Kiko’s growth and resilience as she begins to realize she has more options than she ever imagined.

Starfish is both heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful as Kiko comes into her own and discovers her own strength. Evocative settings and an obvious love for art are imbued in this story along with a subtle romance. Kiko is an empowering heroine readers will immediately want to cheer on. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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.

Saints and Misfits: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fifteen-year-old Janna Yusuf’s world is easily divided into three kinds of people.

There are the Saints who are so perfect they seem completely untouchable and intensely annoying. People like Saint Sarah who presides over the mosque with beauty, grace, and a personality so bubbly as to become infuriating. Especially when her brother Muhammad seems to fall for Saint Sarah’s entire act. Because it has to be an act, right?

Then there are the people like Janna, her best friend Tats, and her crush Jeremy. Misfits. That not-quite-fitting-in should be enough to bring Janna and Jeremy together (aside from the alliteration and his lovely forehead). But they still don’t go together. Not when Janna is Muslim and Jeremy is definitely not.

Last there are monsters–people Janna knows all too well from her favorite Flannery O’Connor stories and from her own life. Farooq is arguably the most pious member of their mosque. He’s already memorized the Qur’an and is the shining light of the community.

But he’s also tried to assault Janna when they were alone in his cousin’s basement–something Janna narrowly avoided and is trying to forget now. Everyone else thinks Farooq is a Saint. Who would ever believe Janna–a nobody, a misfit, the daughter of the only divorced woman in their mosque–if she tries tell everyone that their beloved Saint is really a Monster in Saints and Misfits (2017) by S. K. Ali?

Saints and Misfits is Ali’s debut novel. It was selected as a finalist for the 2018 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Janna is a genuine fifteen-year-old. Her first person narration is authentic and thoughtfully handled giving equal weight to Janna’s dealing with the aftermath of her assault as she decides what to do (if anything) and also her complicated crush on her non-Muslim classmate Jeremy.

Janna is comfortable wearing all black and hijab and she wishes other people in her life would respect that instead of trying to changer her. She is also trying to decide if who she is now–a devout Muslim girl–is who she wants to be moving forward. What does it mean that her attacker is more respected in the mosque than she is? What does it mean that her crush on Jeremy seems to be mutual while also being something directly in opposition to her faith?

These are messy questions and Janna doesn’t always have neat answers or closure. What she does have is a supportive family (especially her mother and older brother), resiliency, and the conviction to stick to what she knows is right.

This book is an excellent mirror for Muslim teens who do not seem themselves enough in books and an excellent window for readers who may not know much about what being a modem Muslim teen really looks like. Saints and Misfits is a thoughtful and surprisingly sweet story about a girl finding her voice and her people–both inside her religious community and beyond.

Possible Pairings: Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart by Deb Caletti, That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandyha Menon, The Authentics by Abdi Nazemian, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The List by Siobhvan Vivian