Love and Other Foreign Words: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahanJosie speaks many languages. She can converse in the languages of high school, college, friends, boyfriends and even the volleyball team. She can parse behaviors to see the right way to act, the right thing to say. She can always translate the things around her into her own native Josie.

But living a life in translation is exhausting. Even though Josie can take part in many different groups, and speak many different languages, only her family and her best friend Stu can ever properly understand Josie’s native language.

The people who understand Josie threatens to get even smaller when her sister Kate announces that she is engaged to a truly insufferable man. With the wedding approaching, Josie notices more and more changes in her beloved Kate.

Love is a word found in many languages. And with so many things around her changing, Josie is about to get a crash course in the true meaning of the word in Love and Other Foreign Words (2014)by Erin McCahan.

Josie is a lovely heroine who is convincingly intellectual without ever coming across as stilted. Stu is her perfect foil and the quintessential dreamy best friend. In every sense this story is heartwarming with many saccharine moments and authentic realizations about what it means to be part of a family.

That said the pacing felt off with were ostensibly the main parts of the story (the wedding preparation, the actual romance, the discord between sisters) not appearing until the second half of the story. Although the direction the story moves in makes up for the rushed feeling of the ending. (And oh how I wish Josie had glasses on the cover.)

While there are hints of romance, the real romance–the one that should have been the meat of the story–doesn’t appear until the last fifty pages of the novel. At the end of the day Love and Other Foreign Words is a sweet story about sisters and how familial relationships change that will appeal to readers of light contemporary romances.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Out of the Easy: A Review

“My mother’s a prostitute. Not the filthy, streetwalking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute.”

Out of the Easy by Ruta SepetysJosie Moraine’s mother has been working as a prostitute for the past ten years, since she and Josie moved to New Orleans in 1940.

It’s 1950 now. Josie is seventeen. And she wants nothing more than to get out of New Orleans once and for all. While her mother is content to tie herself to whichever man comes along, Josie works cleaning the brothel where her mother works and at a bookstore as she works to save enough money for college and her ticket out of the Big Easy.

Josie’s careful escape plan is put into jeopardy when she becomes tangled in the investigation of a mysterious death in the Quarter. Torn between her allegiance to Willie Woodley, the madame who has been more of a mother to Josie than her own, and her fierce desire to leave New Orleans behind, Josie will have to decide how much she is willing to sacrifice in her search for the truth in Out of the Easy (2013) by Ruta Sepetys.

Out of the Easy is Sepetys’ second novel and her follow-up to Between Shades of Gray.

Josie is a determined heroine but she also has a very reductive view of the world–particularly given her background. While Josie, her family, and many of her friends operate in what can only be called grey areas of the law–Josie’s views remain very black and white. She is friends with Willie and some of the girls who work at the brothel. But she also views them at a remove. As the opening of the novel (quoted above) might suggest, there is also always a slight hint of distaste.

While this story is an evocative historical novel, the lush setting often serves to emphasize a lackluster plot. A lot of things happen to Josie in the story but despite being self-sufficient in a financial sense, Josie is very short on actual agency. Throughout the novel Josie’s fate falls into the hands of others. Eventually she does break free and choose her own path, but it comes very late in the story only after her inaction has dramatic consequences. Yet everything still manages to resolve very neatly and decidedly in Josie’s favor.

Sepetys once again delivers a well-researched historical novel in Out of the Easy. This novel brings the world of 1950 New Orleans to vivid life with a setting that is as vibrant and evocative as any of the characters found within these pages. Out of the Easy is an engrossing historical novel ideal for readers who want to get lost in a book’s vividly described settings.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman, Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross, Bowery Girl by Kim Taylor, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In the Afterlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Black is the color of memory.

“It is our color.

“The only one they’ll use to tell our story.”

In the Afterlight by Alexandra BrackenRuby is haunted by memories of her time at Thurmond–the country’s largest rehabilitation camp–and what she has done to survive since her escape. No matter how hard she runs, she can’t get away from the memories of the people she has lost along the way.

But she has to keep moving because there might finally be an end in sight with a potential cure for IAAN–the disease that has killed so many children and left survivors like Ruby with strange and sometimes crippling abilities.

Pressure is mounting to rescue Psi kids from the camps. But time is also running out to stop IAAN. After surviving the government’s attack on Los Angeles, Ruby and the other Psi kids are even more determined to bring about change. Questions arise, however, as they try to decide what to do and who to follow.

Ruby’s loyalties are soon torn between Liam, the boy who has Ruby’s heart and his brother Cole, the only person who understands everything Ruby struggles to control. With both brothers trying to pull their motley team of survivors in different directions, Ruby has to make some painful choices.

After years of hiding, Ruby will have to embrace who she is–and what she can do–to save the people she loves in In the Afterlight (2014) by Alexandra Bracken.

In the Afterlight is the conclusion of Bracken’s Darkest Minds trilogy. It is preceded by The Darkest Minds and Never Fade.

Bracken once again delivers a high action and deeply thoughtful story as she brings her bestselling trilogy to a close.

While the story has its moments of action (and a bit of a road trip) this novel really shines as the focus turns to Ruby and the characters that have been with her from the beginning. Readers have seen Ruby push people away and sacrifice her own well-being for the sake of others. Throughout the series she has also struggled with her ability and what it means in relation to her sense of self. In the Afterlight includes the same struggles but more than ever it is obvious that Ruby is coming into her own as she embraces who she is and everything she can do.

It’s impossible to say too much about the plot without revealing too much, but rest assured that In the Afterlight has everything readers could hope for in this final installment. In the Afterlight is largely the story that these characters, particularly Ruby, deserve and also one that is deeply satisfying. An excellent conclusion to an excellent series.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Love and Other Perishable Items: A Review

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura BuzoAmelia is fifteen and chafing under her stunning lack of control over her own life. She is also painfully and completely in love with Chris who works checkout with her at the local supermarket.

Chris is twenty-one.

Amelia is a smart girl and she knows that Chris is a smart guy. She knows that Chris talking to her about literature doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that no one else working at the Land of Dreams actually reads. She knows that being his confidant about his studies at university or even his partner for witty banter does not magically mean she’ll ever be his girlfriend.

But somehow when Amelia is with Chris, anything seems possible. Especially when, as time passes, it starts to feel like maybe Amelia isn’t the only one feeling the effects of this crush.

In a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of new things for both Amelia and Chris, this improbable pair will learn that friendships–and sometimes even more confusing feelings–can blossom anywhere in Love and Other Perishable Items (2012) by Laura Buzo.

Love and Other Perishable Items is Buzo’s first novel (published in 2010 in Australia before making its way to the US in 2012). It was a nominee for the Morris Award for YA Debut Fiction in 2013.

Love and Other Perishable Items is an incredibly smart book with not one but two introspective narrators who are as approachable as they are authentic.

Amelia is sharp and clever as well as utterly endearing. The first part of the novel, called “Spheres of No Influence,” aptly highlights the breadth of her world as well as its limitations in a way that makes sense within the context of the plot as well as for an actual teenaged girl.

Spending so much of this novel seeing Chris through Amelia’s rose-colored glasses, it’s hard to view him as anything but perfect. In the frame of Amelia’s adoring descriptions, who wouldn’t fall in love with Chris just a little? Buzo brings Chris into sharper focus by presenting parts of the story through his journal entries. Chris is broken. He is lonely. He hurts. He is, like many young adults, lost and trying to find his way to adulthood in whatever form that may take.

The incredible thing here is how well Amelia and Chris’s stories come together. Their frustrations and hopes, on many levels, mirror each other as both characters struggle to figure out who they want to be and how to get to that version of themselves.

Love and Other Perishable Items is a melancholy, buoyant novel about looking for love and finding oneself with equal parts letting go and holding on. Nothing in this book is especially neat or clearly defined, but neither is real life. In many ways this story is only the beginning, for both Amelia and Chris, as readers are left to imagine what other marvelous things life has to offer these two well-realized protagonists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Life by Committee: A Review

lifebycommitteeIt isn’t Tabitha’s fault that her breasts are bigger now. It isn’t her fault that she likes wearing makeup as much as she likes reading margin notes in used books. It isn’t her fault that Joe seems to like talking to her more than he likes talking to his crazy-eccentric-special-snowflake girlfriend Sasha Cotton.

But it might be Tabitha’s fault when she kisses Joe. And when she does it again.

Normally, Tabitha would so not be that girl. But with the help of a website called Life by Committee, Tabitha starts doing a lot of things she wouldn’t normally do in the spirit of being more. At first sharing secrets and completing assignments to keep those secrets safe is easy. The assignments are empowering and push her limits.

When Tabby becomes more involved in the site, and the stakes get much higher, she has to decide how far she is willing to go, and who she is willing to hurt, to be more in Life by Committee (2014) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Life by Committee is Haydu’s sophomore novel.

Tabitha is a great heroine. She struggles with a lot of things throughout Life by Committee. Obviously, there is the morality issue with cheating. But Tabitha is also trying to understand her place in a world where the rules are constantly changing not because of anything she has done but simply because of how she looks. (And sometimes not even that in the case of her changing home life.) The way Tabby, through Haydu’s prose, grapples with feminism and slut shaming and loneliness–problems she can’t always articulate, or even give a proper name–is shattering.

Tabitha is incredibly lonely at the start of the novel. She tries to reshape her life without the friends she had assumed were a given but it’s hard. Then Tabitha stumbles upon Life by Committee. LBC is an anonymous online community where users share secrets and complete assignments (more like dares) in the name of being more and leading their best lives. The wisdom in joining such a site is, of course, debatable. But Haydu does such an excellent job of bringing Tabitha and her hurt to life that it makes sense. Readers begin to understand how Tabitha might become this person who is completely consumed by people she has never met.

The great thing about Tabitha is that she knows exactly who she is and who she would like to be. When Tabitha gets involved with LBC, she starts to question a lot of the ideas she has about herself. Sometimes that leads to empowering moments. Unfortunately it also leads to some heart wrenching decisions that are so obviously Bad Ideas they become painful to read.

Those choices, the power and allure of LBC, are hard to understand at times. Unless you remember being that lonely high school (or college) student trying to find your way. Unless you remember the thrill that can come with telling everything that matters to someone who will never meet you, never be able to really judge you. Life by Committee captures that heady mix of connection and anonymity found on the Internet so very well.

Life by Committee also subtly highlights the pitfalls that can come from such a scenario. It’s wonderful to have friends online saying “yes!” to every risk you want to take. But without the context that comes from knowing a person in real life, it’s also difficult to ever adequately understand the consequences and the aftermath of those risks.

At the end of Life by Committee it’s safe to say that Tabitha comes out a little wiser and a lot stronger. Because this book is on the short side (304 pages hardcover) readers don’t get to see all of the payoff after Tabitha realizes she can find her own way, all by herself, but the development is there. The growth and the hint at something more–LBC-inspired or not–is there in the final pages.

Although she has her stumbling blocks, Tabitha remains a smart and capable heroine throughout. While she doesn’t always make the best decisions, she always learns. And that, really, is all anyone can hope for. Life by Committee is a shrewd, clever read that raises all of the right questions for its characters and readers. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel QuinteroThe Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

*A review copy of this book was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2014*

The Darkest Part of the Forest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“But in all the stories, you have a single chance; and if you miss it, then it’s gone. The door isn’t there when you go back to look. There is no second invitation to the ball”

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly BlackHazel has always known that life in Fairfold is different from the glass coffin that houses a sleeping prince to the strange things that are known to happen to tourists. She has always known the the fairies that live around Fairfold can be as lethal as they are charming; that they will just as soon kill a human as they will bargain with one.

Even then, knowing the dangers, Hazel finds herself drawn to the dark things that lurk outside of Fairfold. With a sword and her brother Ben by her side, Hazel hoped once to become a knight and hunt the monsters that lurked in the Fairfold woods. But Ben put a stop to that.

Seven years ago Hazel made a bargain to try and fix things. To get back the life she thought she wanted. But that fell apart as well.

Now Hazel kisses boys with wild abandon and has fun, hoping to shore up enough in reserve for the day it all might be lost to her. But the payment for Hazel’s bargain is coming due and time is running out for regrets or preparation.

That is until the coffin in the woods is broken and the prince, who has been there for as long as anyone can remember, disappears. Until Hazel wakes up in her bed surrounded by dirt and pieces of broken glass with no idea how to fix anything in The Darkest Part of the Forest (2015) by Holly Black.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a fresh-faced fairy story where the fairies are as as entrancing as they are dangerous. Black once again delivers a thoughtful, intricate story of magic and identity in this smartly modern tale.

The Darkest Part of the Forest takes traditional fairy tale tropes (not to mention gender roles) and turns them on their heads as this story infuses familiar lore with new twists and turns. Hazel, in particular, is a stunningly authentic and multi-faceted heroine. She is flawed and impulsive. She is genuine and kind. This story expertly negotiates exactly what agency and identity really mean not just for a girl in a small town but also for a girl with a self-proclaimed charge of saving that town.

There are other relationships in this story that are equally well done. Hazel and Ben come to understand each other as equals and family for perhaps the first time while both also come to terms with a less-than-idyllic upbringing. There is romance for both Hazel and Ben in unlikely places.

This novel also wonderfully examines the nature of family and the ramifications that come when people decide to choose their own–even if it is just for a time. Throughout the quests, the adventures, and the reconciliations, Hazel remains firmly grounded at the center of this plot. Her growth, particularly in the second half of the novel, is phenomenal as the narrative explores what it means to truly know oneself and trust oneself after years of doubt.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a wonderful fantasy but where it really shines is as the sensational story of a girl who not only finds her place in the world but also finds herself when she chooses to face the darkness in herself as well as in the forest.

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Lament by Maggie Stiefvater, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

All the Bright Places: A Review

All the Bright Places by Jennifer NivenTheodore Finch has been contemplating death and how he might end his own life for years. But whenever he starts to think really hard about killing himself something good, even a small good thing, makes him reconsider. It’s hard to stay present and Awake, but once he surfaces Finch is always willing to try.

Violet Markey is counting the days until graduation when she can leave her small Indiana town and the sharp pain of her sister’s sudden death behind.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s easy for everyone to believe that Violet saved Finch. But that isn’t the truth.

After, when they pair up for a school project to explore the wonders of their state, both Finch and Violet realize they might have found exactly who they need in each other. But while Violet begins to embrace life again, Finch finds himself struggling to stay Awake and in the moment in All the Bright Places (2015) by Jennifer Niven.

All the Bright Places is Niven’s first novel written for young adults. It was also optioned for a movie before its official release date.

All the Bright Places is very similar to The Fault in Our Stars both thematically and stylistically. It is also poised to be a defining book of 2015 (and possibly also of whatever year the movie adaptation is released if it moves beyond developmental stages) with its appeal and buzz not to mention critical acclaim in the form of several starred reviews.

It is also worth noting that this book is beautifully packaged with a lot of great details ranging from the cover colors to the post it note motif and even a special message on the spine of the physical book.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with such an anticipated title, Niven’s generally strong writing only serves to underscore the numerous flaws within this incredibly frustrating novel.

Spoilers ahead as we delve into deeper discussion . . .

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