It Wasn’t Always Like This: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

It Wasn't Always Like This by Joy PrebleThanks to a mysterious tea, Emma O’Neill and her family stopped aging. Charlie Ryan and his parents suffered the same fate. By 1916, Emma has been seventeen for two whole years.

When an organization called the Church of Light notices, both families are targeted. Emma and Charlie survive the massacre but they aren’t sure they can ever really be safe. Separated during their escape, they are still bound together by their love for each other even as circumstances conspire to keep them from finding each other.

Over the last hundred years Emma’s gotten good at hiding and at noticing patterns. It takes someone with her uniquely long perspective to realize a decades long series of murders have something in common: every victim bears a striking resemblance to Emma.

The murders are coming closer together now–closer than they have in a very long time. Which can only mean Emma’s enemies are getting closer too. As Emma hunts the murderer she begins to hope, for the first time in a long while, that solving this case might also help her find Charlie again in It Wasn’t Always Like This (2016) by Joy Preble.

It Wasn’t Always Like This has been likened to Tuck Everlasting meets Veronica Mars. It turns out that this comparison is wonderfully accurate.

Preble uses sparse prose for Emma’s no-nonsense narration. Third person narratives from other characters are interspersed throughout for necessary exposition.

It Wasn’t Always Like This offers a fascinating perspective with its immortal teenager heroine. Emma is as jaded as the best hard-boiled detectives and possibly even more world-weary. But she is also still seventeen. She is still rash and impetuous. Sometimes she’s still dangerously optimistic in spite of everything she has seen. Throughout the novel Emma keeps wondering if she can ever really learn from her mistakes and grow when it is physically impossible for her to grow up or mature.

A high stakes mystery and lots of action make this a page-turner even while the characters hearken to a more thoughtful tome. It Wasn’t Always Like This is a refreshingly original mystery with a little something for everyone. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Veronica Mars (TV show)

Evermore: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Evermore by Alyson NoelEver Bloom used to be your average sixteen-year-old girl. She was head cheerleader. She was vain about her long blonde hair. She had parents, a little sister named Riley, and a puppy named Buttercup. She even had a boyfriend.

She doesn’t have any of those things now. And she isn’t your average sixteen-year-old girl. Not anymore.

Ever had what they call a near death experience. Except there was nothing near about it. Ever was dead along with the rest of her family. They all crossed a threshold, and Ever meant to as well. But she was too late.

Now instead of a normal life, Ever has psychic abilities. She can see people’s auras, read their thoughts, and learn their life stories with a casual touch. It’s too much.

Ever can’t get rid of her new abilities, but she can ignore them by withdrawing into herself, blasting her music, and hanging out with the school misfits instead of the popular crowd. Which is fine since everyone thinks she’s a freak anyway.

Gorgeous, exotic, and apparently rich the new student Damen Auguste is a shot of adrenaline to the entire school. Which Ever knows without even looking at him. He is also the only person who can quiet the noise in her head; the only person whose aura is invisible to her.

The more Ever learns about Damen, the more questions she has about who he is and what exactly he is. Nothing about the new guy makes sense. Especially not the fact that Ever might be falling for him in Evermore (2009) by Alyson Noël.

The first book in Noël’s The Immortals series, Evermore has all the markings of a being a popular paranormal romance. The plot follows one that will be familiar to Twilight fans right from the outsider girl and the gorgeous, mysterious new guy to the narrative that is strangely depopulated of peripheral characters and the passive aggressive jealous best friend.

Noël’s writing is interesting. At times the prose is very sharp with sweeping sentences detailing the types of minutiae Ever is subjected to about her classmates and teachers. At others the story drags with awkwardly worded sentences, weird vernacular choices and dated pop culture references (were teens still watching “Friends” in 2009?).

If you can get past the erratic writing, the story is intriguing. Even though the plot itself will feel familiar, the premise is unique as far as modern teen fantasies go. The book also spends a lot of time explaining the nuances of Ever’s abilities although most of the references are poorly integrated and read more like research notes than actual parts of the story. Ever is likable enough as a character but in her efforts to create unique side characters Noël managed to make Ever’s best friends pretty annoying.

At the same time, Ever and Damen sizzle. While readers might get the gist of things before Ever does, Evermore is mysterious and romantic and sure to excite readers looking for a new paranormal romance fix.

Tuck Everlasting: A (classic) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie BabbittTen-year-old Winnie Foster is frustrated with her boring,  respectable life. Her mother and grandmother never let her do anything. It’s the first week of August and Winnie can’t even sit in her front yard telling her troubles to a toad without them worrying about her staining her stockings or getting heat stroke.

More than anything Winnie wants a chance to be by herself and do something all her own–something that will make some kind of difference in the world. Winnie isn’t exactly sure what that something would be, but she knows it would be interesting. And she knows the first step is leaving home, even if it is just for a little while.

Running away from home proves much simpler than Winnie expected, at least until she enters the woods next to her house and stumbles upon a spring with very unusual water. And a family claiming they drank from the spring 87 years ago and haven’t aged a day since. She soon finds herself caught up in the unbelievable lives of this family, the Tucks, as they try to show Winnie the importance of keeping this enormous secret. Not talking about the spring is one thing, but given a chance to live forever, will Winnie be able to forget about it all together in Tuck Everlasting (1975) by Natalie Babbitt?

Find it on Bookshop.

Tuck Everlasting is widely, and probably fairly, viewed as a classic. Because the novel is set so far in the past (1880) it is also fairly timeless. All the same, it was deeply irritating for me that Winnie was only ten years old*. She sounded older and much of her behavior felt older. The immediate infatuation she and Jesse Tuck share makes very little sense to this modern reader when Winnie is a mere ten years old and Jesse is seventeen (or 104 depending on how you look at it).

The ending also seemed unbearably melancholy. The fantasy genre is filled with immortals and fountains of youth. But never have I encountered any as isolated and alone as the Tucks. The idea that they live on after the end of the book indefinitely, unable to ever really connect with anyone in a proper sense, is crushing.

That is not to say that Tuck Everlasting lacks charm. The story goes by quickly and is often quite fun. Babbitt clearly wanted to say specific things with the story about life–eternal or not. Which she did. It’s just that the particular devices she used to make her points made parts of the book problematic.

*In the movie adaptation Winnie is actually fifteen instead of ten. I saw trailers for the movie before reading the book which might have created a bias, but it just makes more sense to me with Winnie being a few years older.

Possible Pairings: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Snowfall by K. M. Peyton, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Lily’s Ghosts by Laura Ruby, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by Natalie Babbitt, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

The Hundred Secret Senses: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review


The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy TanWhile Amy Tan is an amazingly talented writer with a lot of great books under her belt, she is arguably most well known as the author of The Joy Luck Club, which I have yet to read. I did, however, read The Hundred Secret Senses (1996) not once but twice. (Find it on Bookshop.)

I almost never do that because the second reading just feels boring. However, that wasn’t the case with this book because it was so enjoyable and rich that rereading felt more like visiting old friends than rehashing something I already knew.

While on the subject of this novel’s freshness, it bears mention that some reviewers suggested The Hundred Secret Senses was little more than a rehash of previous, very similar, plots from her earlier books. Obviously, I can’t speak for The Joy Luck Club but I did read The Kitchen God’s Wife which had a similar theme but in my view an entirely different plot. I also happened to think this novel was the markedly better of the two.

Olivia’s mother is American, her father Chinese. She comes from a “traditional American family.” At least for the most part.  At the age of eighteen, Kwan entered the lives of Olivia (then four) and her family from her native China. Nothing about Kwan is American from her accent to her belief that she has yin eyes to see “those who have died and now dwell in the World of Yin, ghosts who leave the mists just to visit her kitchen on Balboa Street in San Francisco.”

These ghosts are not only a fundamental part of the story but one of the main reasons Olivia can never truly get along with her older sister.

For a while, it seems like Olivia will be able to ignore Kwan’s eccentricities and lead her own, American, life. But the more Olivia hears, the more Kwan’s old ghosts stories intrigue her. Their enticement grows when Olivia unexpectedly finds herself traveling to China with her husband, Simon, and Kwan for a magazine assignment. As the three navigate Kwan’s childhood stomping grounds, surprising connections are made between the threesome and, amazingly, with one of Kwan’s ghost stories.

The novel chronicles Olivia’s relationship with Kwan as well as her early courtship and eventual estrangement from Simon. At the same time, in alternating chapters, The Hundred Secret Senses tells the story of one of Kwan’s past lives in China during the 1800s–a dramatic love story closely tied to Kwan’s (and Olivia’s) present lives.

Tan’s prose here is conversational and enticing, feeling like a friend telling a particularly juicy story at dinner or over the phone. The connections between past, present and the very distant past is seamless creating a tight narrative that, by the end of the book, weaves all aspects of the story together in a neat package.

At the same time, The Hundred Secret Senses offers an interesting commentary on assimilation and multi-cultuarism with both Olivia and Simon being half-white and half-Chinese. Although Olivia might be too old to say she comes of age in this novel, it would be fair to say she learns to accept her own identity by the novel’s completion.

While all of that makes for a dynamo on its own, my favorite aspect of this book is the way in which it deals with family relations both romantically (with Olivia and Simon) and otherwise (with Olivia and Kwan). The story ends with an optimism that suggests, if you are willing to see them, loved ones are never very far away.

Possible Pairings: The Ghost of Stony Clove by Eileen Charbonneau, Drown by Junot Diaz, The Namesake by Jhumpa Larhiri, Snowfall by K. M. Peyton

Time Dancers: A review

Time Dancers by Steve CashTime Dancers (2006) is the second book in Steve Cash‘s sweeping fantasy trilogy called “The Meq” (also the title of the first book in the trilogy). When forced to explain the plot of The Meq in one sentence, my reply is this: the story is like the Highlander TV series/movies but the immortals here are twelve years old. To get more specific, the Meq stop aging when they turn twelve until they find their ameq (their soul mate). Once they are united, the two enter what is called “The Wait” until they decide to cross over, as it were, becoming mortal and able to have a child.

The telling of this story falls on the shoulders of Zianno Zezen, one of the youngest members of the Meq. In the first book, Zianno searches for others like him after the death of his parents. Along the way he learns the significance of the stone he carries–the stone of dreams–and that there are others like it. He finds friends, both Giza (human) and Meq alike, his ameq, and a mortal (or perhaps it would be more apt to say immortal?) foe in the form of a corrupt Meq assassin known as the Fleur-du-mal. In the midst of all that, Z and his friends try to prepare for a Meq event known as the remembering which will reveal their origins and their purpose, a scant hundred years away.

Okay, so if you didn’t read the first book that was all probably a bit confusing. The reason for that is simple: this trilogy isn’t comprised of what can be called stand-alone novels. The sad truth is that I read The Meq about six months before I had the chance to pick up Time Dancers. It took about fifty pages for me to find my stride and maybe a bit longer to really get into the book. I suspect those difficulties would have lessened if I had read the books closer together. Slow start aside, the first book had me invested enough in the characters and plot and (warning!) ended on enough of a cliffhanger-esque note that I was willing to plod along until things picked up even if it did leave me with the impression that, perhaps, the first book was better (I later revised my opinion but perhaps others won’t).

Anyway, the Meq’s preparations for the remembering (AKA “the Gogorati”) begin in earnest in Time Dancers. Both Sailor and the Fleur-du-Mal embark on a search for the elusive sixth stone that may be vital to the Remembering and, much worse, to the Fleur-du-Mal’s continuous quest for dominance over the other Meq. Along the way, Z and his allies (which happily include all of the wonderful characters from The Meq) cross oceans and hop continents in their quest. Though the stone proves elusive, Z forges new alliances and finds several new mysteries along the way–including a Meq whose age is without precedent and another dangerous enemy.

Time Dancers is a good book. But not one that readers can follow without reading its predecessor, thereby firmly grounding this novel as part of a trilogy. What I particularly like about this book is the way Cash incorporates history into the novel. Beginning in 1919 after the end of World War I and ending as World War II approaches its conclusion, this book looks at major events of the twentieth century from up close but also from an anonymous perspective. Anyone interested in history would do well to give this book a glance to see how Cash artfully incorporates contemporary history as a plot vehicle for his fantastical story.

The Meq: A Review

The Meq by Steve CashI just finished reading The Meq (2005) by Steve Cash yesterday. And, at the risk of gushing, the word “awesome” really doesn’t do this book justice. The Meq was Cash’s first novel, but the richness of the text and the strong characters seem like the work of veteran writer. So, you may ask, what is The Meq about? The quick version is that it’s a story akin to the Highlander movies. But that doesn’t really explain much.

The Meq are a mysterious race of immortals that have been around since, well, the beginning. They stop aging when they turn twelve, they cannot get sick or die, and they do not continue aging until meeting their ameq (soulmate). The catch is they have no idea why they are immortal; no knowledge of their origins.

Cash’s book begins when Zianno Zezen turns twelve (for the first time) in 1881 and learns that he and his parents are Meq. This book, the first in a series, spans from 1881 to 1918. Cash’s writing style lends itself to the breezy way that the Meq can deal with time (what’s a few years when you can live forever?). And, while it may seem strange to read about centuries-old people living in the bodies of children, Cash makes that work too. While the story has adventure and romance, the main conceit of this novel (and I presume later ones in the series) is Z’s search, along with his fellow Meq, for the truth behind their origins.

The book is generally categorized as YA, but I really think it’s a must-read for anyone who has any interest in fantasy novels.