Twist: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Twist is the sequel/companion to Loop. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one.*

Twist by Karen AkinsBree Bennis should be living happily ever after now that she’s saved her mother, found a way to fight back against ICE’s plans to change the timeline to their advantage, and reunited with her boyfriend Finn from a different century.

But it turns out being a time traveler is never easy.

In the twenty-third century, ICE is still trying to alter the timeline by allowing non-shifters to time travel to points in their own pasts. Bree’s reverter can undo the changes before the timeline is permanently altered but she can only work so fast. Now that she is no longer a chipped Shifter, she can literally see when her reality changes.

Everything still feels controllable until Bree’s Future Self stops her from fixing one key change to Bree’s own life six months earlier. Losing the last six months of her life, Bree never travels to the twenty-first century to meet her boyfriend Finn. She never tangles with ICE. But she knows the timeline is still at risk and she still has to stop it.

Now, Bree is stuck undercover with Wyck as her boyfriend. Sure he hasn’t tried to kill her on this timeline but Bree still remembers him as Evil Wyck and she still doesn’t want to pretend to date him. With only a minimal sense of what she has to do to stop ICE, Bree can’t even take a moment to stew when Finn shows up in the twenty-third century dating another Shifter. As a time traveler, Bree should have time on her side. But as ICE’s changes become more extreme, with more devastating personal consequences for her, Bree knows she’s running out of time in Twist (2015) by Karen Akins.

Twist is the sequel to Loop and the conclusion of Bree Bennis’ story.

Twist is a trippy, page-turning continuation of Bree’s adventures. The story is filled with the catch-22 time travel scenarios readers will remember from book one. While this book has a contained story and recaps of key moments, it heavily references Loop and should not be read out of order.

Akins expertly manipulates familiar time travel conventions and tropes to create a unique story filled with twists and turns. While the timeline keeps changing, Bree and Finn’s relationship remains relatively constant as the emotional heart of this story.

Snappy prose and Bree’s witty first-person narration enhance this story and bring readers along for the sometimes bumpy ride across multiple reality shifts for Bree and the timeline. While the story has some nail-biting moments of suspense (and worry for this likable cast of characters), this book is a finale worthy of these characters. Twist is an immensely satisfying conclusion to an adventurous and fascinating sci-fi duology. Highly recommended for readers seeking a new time travel adventure.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, 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

The Last Time We Were Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We’re all just trying to be the best version of us, the only way we know how.”

The Last Time We Were Us by Leah KonenLiz used to go by Lizzie and her life used to be simple. But the summer before her senior year is anything but as she sifts through the expectations of her friends and family to figure what she might really want. Thanks to her best friend MacKenzie’s concentrated efforts, she and Liz are on the verge of popularity. Liz is getting invited to the best parties. Everyone is certain that if Liz plays her cards right she’ll have Innis Taylor–the hottest and most popular guy in Bonneville–as her boyfriend.

When her childhood best friend, Jason, comes home unexpectedly from juvie the obvious thing to do is ignore him. Liz doesn’t owe Jason anything. She isn’t even sure she can give him the friendship that he’s asking for. Liz never wanted to believe that Jason was capable of attacking someone but the rest of the town is convinced that he is guilty and still dangerous.

Liz has every reason to avoid Jason and everything to lose if anyone catches them together. But the more Liz remembers about who she and Jason used to be together, the more she finds herself drawn to him and the secrets he keeps alluding to that surround his arrest. Liz will have to learn how to trust Jason again as she remembers his role in her past and decides if he deserves a place in her future in The Last Time We Were Us (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Last Time We Were Us is Konen’s second novel.

This book explores a lot of the themes covered in Matthew Quick’s Every Exquisite Thing. However, the idea of finding yourself and the value to be had in teenage rebellion is handled more effectively here and without the obvious disdain Quick displays for his heroine throughout.

The Last Time We Were Us is a subtle, sexy story about figuring out who you want to be when everyone already seems to know you. Liz remains extremely aware of who she is and of her own values–even if that sometimes means deeply disappointing those closest to her. While this story has action and twists, it remains largely introspective with Liz working through some of her largest conflicts on her own as she tries to choose the kind of person she wants to be moving forward.

This book is one of those formative stories where the writing is so smart and so on point that it often feels like have your own thoughts and ideas spoken back to you. Konen’s evocative descriptions of Bonneville and a varied (though probably all white) cast help to further develop the story. The Last Time We Were Us is a thoughtful exploration of what place nostalgia and memory have in life as you grow older and how, even when you try not to, the past can irretrievably shape your future.

The Last Time We Were Us is a story with a hint of mystery, romance, and a healthy dose of feminism. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrough, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell

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

How to Be Brave: A Review

How to Be Brave by E. Katherine KottarasReeling from her mother’s death, Georgia knows that things have to change. After years of trying to blend into the background, Georgia is ready to be brave just like her mother told her to be in her last letter.

Armed with a list of brave things to do ranging from “asking him out” to smoking pot to going to trapeze school, Georgia is ready to get out of her own way and do everything; she’s ready to be everything in How to Be Brave (2015) by E. Katherine Kottaras.

How to Be Brave is Kottaras’ first novel. In a red-letter year for body acceptance novels, it’s also being touted as comparable read for Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy.

A lot of my issues with the book are decidedly my own. They also include spoilers to some extent so be wary.

Continue reading

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, In Real Life by Jessica Love, The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, 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, Winterspell by Danielle Paige, 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, Everland by Wendy Spinale, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, 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, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, 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