Hold Me Like a Breath: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany SchmidtIn a world where organ donation is strictly regulated, Penelope Landlow’s Family helps those who can’t afford to wait for legal organ transplants . . . as long as they can afford to pay black market prices.

With rival families and upstarts jockeying for position, Penelope knows as well as anyone that the Family business is dangerous. With the Organ Act making its way through congress she also knows the Family business is on the verge of a major change.

Thanks to an autoimmune disorder called Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) that causes excessive bruising and bleeding, Penelope also knows she’ll never really be a part of the Family business–changes or not.

With her entire family, and even her lifelong crush, convinced that she is far too fragile for the Family business or anything resembling a normal life, Penelope spends her days dreaming of NYC, shopping, watching C-Span, and wandering her family’s lavish estate.

It isn’t enough.

When disaster strikes, Penelope is thrust into a world of secrets and betrayals she is ill-equipped to understand. As she struggles to make sense of her shattered past and shape her own future she’ll also learn that life isn’t always a fairy tale. Sometimes you have to make your own happy ending in Hold Me Like a Breath (2015) by Tiffany Schmidt.

Hold Me Like a Breath is the first book in Schmidt’s Once Upon a Crime Family trilogy. It is loosely inspired by the story “The Princess and the Pea.”

Penelope is an interesting heroine in that she is spunky while also being painfully naive thanks to her sheltered upbringing. Although she is fragile because of her ITP, Penelope is not easily broken as she demonstrates repeatedly throughout the narrative.

With organized crime, black market organs and murder as part of the plot, Hold Me Like a Breath is not your typical fairy tale romance. Sweet moments of first love are tempered with suspense and action as Penelope tries to make sense of the catastrophe that leaves her alone for the first time.

Hold Me Like a Breath is an engaging mystery and coming-of-age story complete with twists that turn the narrative completely upside down not once but twice. A romantic lead who sees Penelope as a true equal helps move the romance here from saccharine and sweet to rock solid and empowering.

Schmidt blends elements of mystery and romance in this retelling that is as unique as it is exciting. In addition to nods to the source material, this book also builds a world that is developed down to the finest details and includes a diverse cast of characters who readers will look forward to seeing in book two. Hold Me Like a Breath is a clever page-turner with a heroine who learns what it takes to chase her own happily ever after in this sensational start to what is sure to be a marvelous series.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

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

You can also check out my interview with Tiffany!

The Secrets We Keep: A Review

“But no matter what I did or how far I went for her, she’d keep me on the outside, five safe steps away from her and her inner circle.”

The Secrets We Keep by Trisha LeaverIdentical twins Ella and Maddy used to be inseparable until Maddy started to care more about field hockey and the popular crowd than she did about her quiet, artsy sister.

Ella still always come when Maddy calls. Even if it means sneaking out of her room and away from her art school portfolio in the middle of the night to pick Maddy up.

Instead of a quick drive and a painless trip with both of them home in half an hour, Ella’s car goes off the road in the midst of a bitter argument.

After, Ella is in the hospital, battered and with little memory of the accident. Maddy is dead.

Surrounded by friends and family who believe she is Maddy–convinced Maddy will be missed more than she ever will and filled with guilt over the accident–Ella makes a choice. She will become Maddy. She’ll live the life Maddy deserved. She’ll make things right.

Ella soon realizes that her sister’s  life is filled with secrets which Ella will have to understand while she tries to keep them. As Ella tries to make sense of the sister she barely knew she will also have to decide if she can continue living a lie or finally step out of her sister’s shadow in The Secrets We Keep (2015) by Trisha Leaver.

The Secrets We Keep is a story about family and grieving but also a mystery as Ella tries to understand what Maddy had done that left her crying and desperate for Ella to pick her up on the night of the accident.

Leaver begins the story with a prologue telling readers exactly what Ella has done and why she feels so strongly that she has to pretend to be Maddy (along with numerous circumstances stacking up to lead to Ella’s initial mis-identification as Maddy). The book then backs up to the night of the accident as readers learn more about the sisters’ estrangement and currently strained relationship.

There is no way to get around the fact that Maddy is a stereotypically mean popular girl before her death. An identifier which she never gets to transcend because she dies and instead it is Ella left picking up the pieces.

Unfortunately shifting the start of the novel to before the accident (and before Ella truly makes her choice as she is swept up in the post-accident confusion at the hospital) neutralizes a lot of the initial urgency. For the first seventy-five pages of the novel, readers know know exactly what happens after the accident which means that readers also know more than Ella herself.

Within The Secrets We Keep, Ella’s decision to become her sister makes perfect sense as the motivations stem from a deep sense of guilt combined with grief. But the premise begins to wear thin as the plot progresses and Ella’s secret begins to unravel.

Elements of romance and mystery move the story forward but never integrate perfectly with the main plot of Ella making peace with her sister’s death. The addition of an awkward love triangle between Ella, her best friend Josh and Josh’s two-years-younger girlfriend (who Ella strongly dislikes–and maybe feels threatened by–while refusing to acknowledge possibly having romantic feelings for Josh herself) further dilutes the core elements of the story which had so much promise.

Despite having all of the right pieces, including a great heroine and strong premise, The Secrets We Keep fails to meet its potential and instead becomes very familiar as the plot moves in directions previously handled more notably by Zevin and Oliver among others.

The Secrets We Keep blends several genres to deliver elements of romance and suspense within a story about loss and grieving that will appeal to readers looking for more of the same.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Beautiful Lies by Jessica Warman, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin, Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Soulprint: A Review

Soulprint by Megan MirandaAlina Chase has been imprisoned her entire life for crimes she didn’t commit. With soul fingerprinting a chilling reality, the world knows that Alina’s soul belongs to the most notorious criminal of her time. Everyone is terrified that if she is free, Alina will do it all again.

Desperate for freedom, Alina jumps at the chance to escape even if it means throwing herself in with people she doesn’t know let alone trust. But freedom has a cost and it might be more than Alina is able to pay.

Everyone wants something from Alina. All Alina wants is to be left alone. On the run and still trying to clear her soul, Alina will have to follow clues left by her former self to a shocking secret if she ever wants to escape in Soulprint (2015) by Megan Miranda.

Miranda once again offers up her trademark blend of science and suspense in this story where reincarnation can have severe consequences. In the midst of Alina’s daring escape and numerous chase sequences, Miranda raises questions about the inevitability of fate and whether certain traits really can transfer from life to life.

Alina is a great heroine. She struggles to be strong and independent while also yearning for the kind of human connection that is impossible when you have been a prisoner your entire life. It is also worth nothing that Alina’s mother is Hispanic–a culture Alina identifies strongly with as she clings to the memories of her mother.

Although some big twists are broadcast early on, Soulprint remains a nail-biting mystery that will keep readers on their toes as they try to follow the clues along with Alina. With a strong cast of characters and just a hint of romance Soulprint is one action-packed story sure to have wide appeal.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Minority Report

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

Shadow Scale: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The world is seldom so simple that it hinges on us alone.”

Shadow Scale by Rachel HartmanThe kingdom of Goredd has had an uneasy peace with the dragons found in the neighboring Tanamoot for the past forty years–a time in which the arts have flourished while Goredd’s dragon-fighting tools have languished.

When mounting tensions between humans and dragons threatens to draw Goredd into the middle of another treacherous war, Seraphina reluctantly finds herself as the center of the conflict. Goredd has few tools left to fight dragons save for rumors of a magical weapon used during the Age of Saints. A weapon Seraphina might be able to recreate with help from other half-dragons like herself.

After spending years hiding her true self, Seraphina sets out across kingdoms to seek out the other half-dragons–beings she’s only ever previously encountered in her own mind–before war breaks out.

As Seraphina gathers her motley band of allies, she soon realizes that war is not the only threat to the half-dragons, her kingdom, or even herself. With so many trying to stop her, Seraphina will have to embrace her true identity, and the ramifications it will have for herself and the other half-dragons, if she has any hope of stopping this senseless war in Shadow Scale (2015) by Rachel Hartman.

Shadow Scale is the highly anticipated sequel to Hartman’s debut novel Seraphina. While this book does an excellent job of explaining key events from book one, it’s still crucial to read these in order.

Every aspect of Shadow Scale is handled brilliantly and often surpasses the achievements and charms of Seraphina, which is no small feat. This book is intricate, clever and often unexpected as many given facts from Seraphina are challenged or turned upside down.

Shadow Scale picks up shortly after the conclusion of Seraphina but soon moves the story in a new direction as readers learn more about Seraphina’s connection to the other half-dragons and how she uses her mind garden to interact with them. Where Hartman’s first book is about Seraphina finding herself, Shadow Scale is surely about Seraphina finding her place in the world.

Hartman blows  Seraphina’s world wide open in Shadow Scale as she crosses borders and visits neighboring kingdoms in her search for the other half-dragons. This book is the full package complete with a map and glossary to highlight all of the wonderful details that Hartman has included in this much-expanded world.

The way different plot threads and pieces of this world knit together is fascinating and wondrous to behold as this story asks (and sometimes answers) questions about ethics, friendship, love and even what being family can really mean. I can’t wait to see what Hartman does next.

Shadow Scale is a satisfying and often surprising conclusion to a story where nothing is ever truly neat or perfect but everything does have the potential to be beautiful. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

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

The Dolls: A Review

The Dolls by Kiki SullivanEveny Cheval hasn’t set foot in Carrefour, Louisiana in fourteen years–not since she moved away with her aunt Bea after her mother’s suicide. After years spent in Brooklyn, New York, Bea and her aunt are moving back to Carrefour just before Eveny’s seventeenth birthday.

Upon her return, Eveny is stunned by the stately old houses and the pristine gardens. Even her new classmates are flawlessly beautiful–so much so that most people call them the Dolls. Drawn in by Peregrine Marceau and Chloe St. Pierre, Eveny is soon at the center of the decadence that is the Dolls’ world.

But beneath the wealth and charm, Carrefour is hiding a secret, one that leads to murder and dark truths about Eveny and her past in The Dolls (2014) by Kiki Sullivan.

Atmospheric writing and genuine chills enhance this story that is populated with familiar mean girls, gorgeous boys and a generally clever narrator (however readers like me may wonder why a girl who left town at the age of three has quite so many memories of the town she left behind).

Sullivan capitalizes on the southern setting here to spine-tingling effect as the story moves in a surprising direction involving voodoo magic and sinister forces at work around Carrefour. Spooky moments and incidents of near-peril are tempered with campy fun and a hint of romance with one of the numerous beautiful boys to be found in this narrative. Although Eveny fits in seemlessly with the Dolls she remains equally sharp-witted and sharp-tongued throughout the story, making her easy to cheer for throughout the story.

Sure to be popular with fans of similar books as well as Veronica Mars.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the June 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online including an SLJ Spotlight*

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