Loop: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can’t change the past. One of those weird temporal loops that couldn’t be explained.”

Loop by Karen AkinsBree Bennis lives in the twenty-third century where, because of a special gene mutation, she can travel anywhere in time. It’s been years since travelers had to hide their unique skills but Bree knows better than most that time travel is still greeted with suspicion and even disdain by those unable to travel.

Bree used to be at the top of all of her classes. Now her biggest talent seems to involve making a mess of things.

After her solo midterm to the twenty-first century goes spectacularly wrong, Bree knows she’s in big trouble. Failing to complete her mission is one thing. Accidentally revealing herself to a boy and sort of taking him hostage? That could get Bree expelled. Or worse.

The only option is to try to sneak back and try to complete her midterm before anyone notices. The only problem is Bree ends up missing her target destination. She finds the boy–Finn who is now three years older and at least three times more attractive–but before she can fix anything Bree is pulled back to her own time. With Finn. Who claims that he and Bree’s future self are . . . dating?

Bree has plenty to do between hiding Finn and not flunking out of school when she learns that a rash of accidents have been taking out time travelers around the school. Turns out the attacks are anything but accidental and with Finn’s help Bree soon realizes she might be the only one able to find the person responsible and stop them before their timeline is irreparably damaged in Loop (2014) by Karen Akins.

Loop is Akins’ first novel and the first half of a duology that completes with Twist.

Loop dives right into the action when Bree’s life goes from bad to worse after everything goes wrong on her midterm. Bree manages to take everything in stride with only a few choice (and possibly made up) swear words to help. As Bree delves deeper into secrets about her own past (and future) she also realizes she might be at the tip of a very big problem–one her future self knew Bree would have to try to solve.

Akins skillfully combines science fiction adventure with a fascinating mystery to create a story that is as original as it is fun. Although some plot points–particularly clues left for Bree–are often obvious, Bree and Finn’s journey as they try to understand what brought them together more than makes up for it.

Bree’s world is filled with casual wonders ranging from automated travel pods to Pegamoos, all of which are brought to life in vivid prose. In a story that literally spans centuries, the world-building to top notch and gives Loop a strong sense of place no matter where or when Bree finds herself.

Bree’s voice is distinct and snappy, making this book conversational and completely fascinating. While the romance in Loop is a big draw, Bree also has a great character arc as she tries to reconcile who she is in her present with who she seems to be in the future. With massive conspiracies, clues left across time, and a displaced romance that is often baffling to Bree, Loop is an action-packed story with humor and excitement.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, 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 Girl at Midnight: A Review

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa GreyThe Avicen have lived beneath New York City for years. Bird-like creatures with feathers for hair, the Avicen can use scarves and sunglasses to blend in when they have to. The rest of the time magical wards make sure they remain hidden from prying human eyes. Except for Echo–the human pickpocket who considers the Avicen, at least some of them, her family.

Echo is used to fending for herself and she has the fierce, brusque persona to prove it. When she isn’t busy being reckless and stealing things around the world for the thrill of it, she is also extremely loyal.

When word surfaces of a way to end the centuries-long war between the Avicen and their dragon-like enemies the Drakharin, Echo jumps at the chance to help.

Legend suggests that the Firebird is the only thing with the power to end the war. The only problem is no one knows what the Firebird is or where to find it. But if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to enjoy a challenge in The Girl at Midnight (2015) by Melissa Grey.

The Girl at Midnight is Grey’s debut novel and the start to a trilogy.

The Girl at Midnight starts strong with a fantastically intricate world complete with magic, mythical creatures and a conflict that has lasted centuries. Both the Avicen and Drakharin make sense within the story and have complex cultures to match. In fact, the only thing that doesn’t make sense is trying to picture them while reading as imagining feathers as hair continues to be a sticking point.

Unfortunately the characters who populate The Girl at Midnight pale in comparison to the world within the novel. Most of the characters are defined by one carefully chosen trait and little else. Echo is slightly more developed although she too often comes across as a collection of eccentricities and behaviors (between her preoccupation with food, collecting words, hoarding books and throwing out pop culture references with zero context) that never quite rang true. The logistics of Echo’s living unnoticed in a library also begins to fall apart under any kind of scrutiny.

The Girl at Midnight is a decent urban fantasy in places but it also one that will immediately feel familiar to anyone well-read in the genre. Grey’s admirable world building only serves to underscore the predictable, lackluster plot and weak characters. Recommended for readers looking to discover new places (both real and imagined) rather than find their next engrossing read.

Possible Pairings: Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray, Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Compulsion: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Compulsion by Martina BooneBarrie Watson’s life in San Francisco was never normal. Not with her mother a shut-in after the fire that left her scarred and in constant pain. Not when so many people failed to appreciate her godfather Mark and his distinct drag style.

But now Barrie’s mother is dead and she has to leave Mark and San Francisco behind. Traveling to South Carolina to live with an aunt she’s never met is not Barrie’s idea of a good time. But maybe life on Watson Island can be different–a chance to be someone braver and stronger, a chance to really put her collection of glamorous shoes to good use.

Watson’s Landing is nothing like Barrie expected. The plantation is decrepit and filled with an overpowering sense of loss despite its neglected grandeur and the pedigree that comes with belonging to one of the island’s founding families. Everyone on the plantation and on the island beyond seems to know more about Barrie and her family than Barrie herself–especially Eight Beaufort, the gorgeous and infuriating neighbor who seems to know what Barrie wants before she knows herself.

With decades-old secrets and a generations-old family feud coloring everything she learns about her new surroundings, Barrie will have to unearth the truth about the island and its three founding families before she can ever call the plantation home in Compulsion (2014) by Martina Boone.

Compulsion is Boone’s first novel. It is also the first book in her trilogy The Heirs of Watson Island which will continue with Persuasion out in October 2015.

Barrie Watson is a sassy, astute heroine who is never afraid to speak her mind. With a gift for finding lost things and a pile of secrets about her past, Barrie’s exploration of her new home is immediately engrossing.

Eight Beaufort serves as an interesting counterpoint to Barrie throughout the story as he helps Barrie begin to separate her own wants and desires from that which she thinks she ought to want. The dynamic between these two vacillates a bit too abruptly from fighting to thoughts of kissing at points but it also highlights real caring and understanding as they work together to unearth some long-buried secrets about the island.

Boone delivers evocative settings and pitch perfect dialog in this Southern Gothic mystery with just a touch of paranormal romance.

In addition to page-turning action and lots of humor, Compulsion is filled with some genuinely scary moments as the story builds to its surprising conclusion. Compulsion is a strong debut on its own while also hinting at things to come later in The Heirs of Watson Island trilogy. Recommended for readers who like their romance a little spooky or paranormal as well as for Southern Gothic enthusiasts.

Possible Pairings: Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Beware the Wild by Natalie C. Parker, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

You can also check out my interview with Martina!

The Wrath and the Dawn: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.”

***

“All our lives are forfeit. It it just a matter of when.”

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee AhdiehKhalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night. Every bride is executed with the dawn. The Caliph offers no explanations, making it easy for his people to believe he is a cold-hearted monster.

Shahrzad shocks everyone she cares about when she volunteers to marry the Caliph, rendering her life forfeit. But Shahrzad plans to survive the dawn. In fact she plans to live long enough to exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and so many other girls.

The longer she survives in the palace, the more Shahrzad realizes the boy-king is hiding something behind his cold exterior and his closely guarded secrets. Shahrzad volunteered to marry Khalid out of hatred but as she grows closer to to him, it is soon obvious that love is what keeps her in the palace.

Separately Shahrzad and Khalid are both formidable. United together, they may have the strength to save their country and each other in The Wrath and the Dawn (2015) by Renee Ahdieh.

The Wrath and the Dawn is Ahdieh’s first novel. It is also the first book in a series which will continue with The Rose and the Dagger (expected publication 2016).

In this loose retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, Ahdieh transcends her source material to create a story that is both original and captivating. Instead of focusing on the stories told each evening, The Wrath and the Dawn expertly expands the framing story found within A Thousand and One Nights to imagine a world where a king executes countless brides and one girl is bold enough to think she can stop him.

As much as The Wrath and the Dawn is a romance of the slow burn variety, it is also very much a story of equals. Shazi and Khalid are perfectly matched protagonists with obvious magnetism even as they warily question each other’s intentions. They are also both incredibly strong characters, often to the point of being arrogant or foolhardy.

The way Shazi and Khalid interact highlights how the best partnerships, the strongest relationships, stem from mutual respect as well as understanding. The push and pull between these two also serves to underscore how nothing is clear-cut in this story where often there are no “good” choices–only necessary ones.

The Wrath and the Dawn is a debut filled with writing that brings the world of Khorasan vividly to life. Elements of fantasy, romance and historical fiction all come together here to create a lush, expansive story with complex characters to match. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Clariel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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*