Wild Swans: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wild Swans by Jessica SpotswoodThe Milbourn legacy started with Ivy’s great grandmother–a talented painter who killed herself and two of her children by driving in front of a train. Dorothea survived the crash and went on to meticulously journal her life, win a Pulitzer for her poetry, and be murdered by her lover’s wife. Ivy’s mother fled her responsibilities as a mother and a Milbourn when Ivy was two-years-old. Ivy hasn’t seen her mother since.

Now Ivy is seventeen and looking forward to a summer free of the responsibilities of being a Milbourn and the numerous enrichment classes that Granddad usually encourages in his efforts to support Ivy and find her latent Milbourn talent. Those plans fall apart when her mother comes home unexpectedly with two daughters who have never met, or even heard, about Ivy.

Confronted with the reality of her mother’s indifference and her family’s broken edges, Ivy begins to crack under the pressures of her unexpected summer. Ivy finds solace in poetry, swimming, and a beautiful tattooed boy but she isn’t sure any of that will be enough to help her determine her own legacy in Wild Swans (2016) by Jessica Spotswood.

Wild Swans is Spotswood’s first foray into contemporary fiction and demonstrates her range as an author. This novel is grounded in the creativity and madness of the Milbourn women whose shadows haunt Ivy even as she struggles to find her own place among her talented ancestors.

This character-driven story is a charming and effective book. The story is quiet in terms of action, a fact that is balanced well with Spotswood’s characterization and ensemble cast. This relatively slim slice-of-life story touches on poetry, feminism, family, and even transgender identity.

Wild Swans is an introspective and evocative story about family, inspiration, and choice. Highly recommended for fans of contemporary fiction, readers (and writers of poetry), and feminists (or proto-feminists) of all ages.

Possible Pairings: The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also read Jessica’s guest post for Poetically Speaking about this novel and the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay!

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Star Cursed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Star Cursed by Jessica SpotswoodCate Cahill will do anything to keep her sisters, Maura and Tess, safe. In fact she has already done the unthinkable: joining the Sisterhood–the sister organization of the Brotherhood–whom her mother never trusted despite their long history of harboring and protecting witches like Cate and her sisters.

Instead of a quiet, uneventful life with Finn, Cate finds herself at the center of a prophecy that could change everything and bring the Brotherhood to its knees. The problem: the Brotherhood knows about the prophecy and they are looking for Cate and her sisters as well.

The other problem: One of the Cahill sisters is the prophesied witch and one of the Cahill sisters will kill another. Cate can’t believe that of either of her sisters. But she can’t believe she is the powerful witch Oracles have predicted either. She doesn’t want to be that witch.

Isolated with the Sisterhood in New London, Cate is loathe to embrace her supposedly brilliant future. But if she wants any chance of saving her overly ambitious sister Maura from herself, Cate will have to act and quickly. Everything in New England is changing almost as quickly as everything in Cate’s own world. With time running out and stakes climbing higher Cate will have to decide how much more she can sacrifice before she will lose everything that matters in Star Cursed (2013) by Jessica Spotswood.

Star Cursed is the second book in Spotswoods Cahill Witch Chronicles. The story started with Born Wicked.

Set six weeks after the conclusion of Born Wicked, Star Cursed is able to let Cate reminisce about events from book one without bogging down book two. The story moves along evenly with pacing that builds much faster to a dramatic confrontation than the quieter plot of book one.

With Cate’s entrance into the Sisterhood, Star Cursed also has a strikingly changed setting and largely a different mood as Cate is relocated to New London from her small hometown of Chatham. The tone changes to match. This is a bleaker story with more threat and menace lurking in the dark corners of the narrative.

Spotswood keeps the Cahill sisters at the center of the plot once again masterfully illustrating their complicated and often painful dynamics. With tons more suspense and a shocking twist at the end, Star Cursed is very much a second book. While much more is learned about the characters and the world, very little is resolved as the story sets up for a dramatic conclusion in the forthcoming third book Sisters’ Fate.

Star Cursed is a darker story but still a gripping one that will leave readers anxiously waiting to see how this fantastic trilogy will conclude.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Infinityglass by Myra McEntire, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

Author Interview: Jessica Spotswood on Born Wicked

Jessica Spotswoods‘s debut novel Born Wicked came out earlier this year. This stunning alternate history is filled with witches and unexpected twists and feminist ideas to boot. The ending broke my heart a little bit and made me desperate for book two, but Born Wicked remains a favorite 2012 read and I can’t wait to see the rest of the trilogy. Ms. Spotswood is here today to talk about her debut novel and answer some of my questions.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Jessica Spotswood (JS): I loved writing in high school, but got absorbed in theatre in college. After grad school, in 2007, I realized that I didn’t love theatre enough to make a career out of it. It was a scary thing to admit, but I coped by rereading my favorite books from childhood like L.M. Montgomery and Louisa May Alcott. That led me to reading some of the YA that was out at the time, like Vampire Academy, Wicked Lovely, and Twilight. I started writing my own YA fantasy, about a portrait-painting girl who discovers her family’s link to a world where artists are considered enemies of the state. I queried in 2009 with that manuscript, which earned me representation from my awesome agent, Jim McCarthy. While I was on submission, I wrote Born Wicked. That first manuscript never sold, but BW did, in a week!

MP: What was the inspiration for Born Wicked?

JS: I had a dream about three sisters who were fighting over a magical locket. There’s no magical locket in BW, but the idea stuck of writing about three sisters with a complicated magical inheritance.

MP: Born Wicked focuses on the three Cahill sisters, all witches and all extremely different. Did you identify with one sister more than the others? How did you go about giving each of the Cahill sisters their own unique personality?

JS: I identify with Cate the most; since the books are from her point of view, I spend the most time in her head. Like Cate, I’m the oldest of three sisters. Also like Cate, I’m a worrier and I’m super-stubborn (I think you have to be, in publishing)! As for how I gave them each their own personalities, I tend to think of each sister in terms of what she wants most and what she fears most, as well as her strengths and weaknesses. For instance: Cate’s best and worst qualities would be selflessness & overprotectiveness; Maura’s are ambition & jealousy; Tess’s are perceptiveness & impulsiveness.

MP: Although your book is set in an alternate history, Born Wicked is still grounded in pre-twentieth century clothing and social behaviors. Did research play into your writing process?

JS: Yes! One of my favorite notes from my editor was to “ruffle my corsets” more, so I read up on Victorian fashion and home décor and social customs. Since BW is an alternate history, I was able to take some liberties, but I hope all of those little details contribute to a rich portrait of the Cahills’ world.

MP: Before writing you studied and worked in the theater. Did your theater background affect how you set about writing each scene or setting up the plot Born Wicked?

JS: I’m not sure if it contributes to how I plot, but I do tend to write dialogue first and then add in description and Cate’s observations and thoughts. I read plays pretty exclusively for several years, so I think (hope?) I have a good ear for dialogue. I also tend to think in three-act structure, which may be why the Cahill Witch Chronicles is a trilogy!

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project? Or when to start looking for the second book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles?

JS: Right now I’m working on revisions for Star Cursed, the second book. It will be out February 7, 2013! On the Breathless Reads tour, I liked to say that Star Cursed will be brutal & awesome, with kissing. A longer teaser: The Cahill sisters will get to learn more about their magical heritage and what’s expected of them in the coming war between the Brotherhood and the witches. As usual, they’ll be divided about how to handle the responsibilities they’re faced with. They’ll finally get to meet their godmother, Zara Roth. There will be scandalous romantic trysts, new friends, political uprisings, and heartbreaking betrayals!

[MP: OMG that sounds awesome!]

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

JS: Find people to read your work and give you honest feedback. Other writers are great, but so are friends who read a lot. It is incredibly helpful to have objective opinions on what works well, what they love, as well as what they have questions about or what might not quite make sense to them. My critique partners are invaluable!

Thanks again to Jessica Spotswood for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you want to read more about Born Wicked check out my review!

Born Wicked: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Born Wicked by Jessica SpotswoodCate Cahill and her sisters are witches. Unfortunately they don’t hide it as well as their mother did. Too educated and far too clever, the Cahill sisters are already known throughout town for being eccentric and reclusive. Cate doesn’t mind their poor reputations, though, not if it can keep her younger sisters Maura and Tess safe.

And all three of the Cahill sisters do need to be kept safe. If the Brotherhood finds out about their magic, the girls could be sent to a prison ship. Or an asylum. Or they could disappear altogether never to be heard from again.

Cate’s efforts to keep the family beneath the Brotherhood’s notice begin to unravel as her Intention Ceremony approaches. With six months to choose between marriage or a life of service to the Brotherhood, Cate finds herself thrust into the heart of town society where she has to contend with tea parties, securing a suitable proposal, and the completely unsuitable but fascinating Finn Belastra.

Cate promised her mother she would keep her sisters safe. But as Cate learns more about the nature of her family’s magic and the risks they all face, Cate wonders if she is up to the task. Being a woman in New England during the late 19th century is bad enough. Being a witch could prove deadly in Born Wicked (2012) by Jessica Spotswood.

Born Wicked is Spotswood’s first novel. It is also the first book in the Cahill Witch Chronicles trilogy.

Set at the end of the 19th century, Spotswood creates an alternate history where witches are very real and women are seen as a threat. With historical details, some familiar and some not, Spotswood brings Cate’s New England to life with lushly described settings and brilliant characters that all but jump off the page.

Cate is a witty, realistic heroine torn between her own wants and her desire to protect her sisters at all costs. Cate’s siblings Maura and Tess have less page time but are equally individual and add another layer to the story. Finn Belastra, in addition to having a very cool surname, is an excellent foil for Cate throughout the story.

Born Wicked is a fast-paced, exciting read that will keep you guessing. The novel is well-plotted and keeps up the tension until the shocking conclusion. With so many delightful characters and so many unexpected turns, Born Wicked is a splendid start to a series that gives readers a lot to look forward to in book two.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink

You can also read my exclusive interview with Jessica Spotswood starting May 7, 2012!