The Careful Undressing of Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I’ve been waiting for one thing, but love can be anything.”

“When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.”

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann HayduEveryone knows that Devonairre Street in Brooklyn is cursed. Being loved by a Devonairre Street girl ends in tragedy. Just look at the number of war widows on the street or the concentration of Affected families left without husbands and fathers after the Times Square Bombing in 2001.

Lorna Ryder and her mother have never put much stock in the curse even though they pretend to play along. Lorna celebrates a shared birthday along with Cruz, his sister Isla, Charlotte, and Delilah. She keeps her hair long and wears a key around her neck. She does everything she is supposed to just the way Angelika has advised since Lorna was a child.

But none of it seems to be enough when Delilah’s boyfriend Jack is killed in the wake of the grief and confusion surrounding another terrorist attack across the country. Lorna and her friends are shocked by Jack’s sudden death. Grieving and shaken, Lorna has to decide what this new loss means about the veracity of the curse and her own future as a part of Devonairre Street and away from it in The Careful Undressing of Love (2017) by Corey Ann Haydu.

The Careful Undressing of Love is Haydu’s latest standalone YA novel. Lorna narrates this novel with a breezy nonchalance that soon turns to fear and doubt as everything she previously believed about love and the curse on Devonairre Street is thrown into question. The style and tone work well with Haydu’s world building to create an alternate history that is simultaneously timeless and strikingly immediate.

Haydu’s characters are realistically inclusive and diverse. An argument could be made that it’s problematic that Delilah and Isla (the Devonairre Street girls who are not white) are the ones who suffer more over the course of this novel filled with loss and snap judgements by an insensitive public. But the same argument could be made that privilege makes this outcome sadly inevitable–a contradiction that Lorna notes herself when she begins to unpack her own privileges of being white contrasted with the burdens she has under the weight of the supposed curse and living as one of the Affected.

This story is complicated and filled with philosophical questions about grief and fear as well as love and feminism. While there is room for a bit more closure, the fate of Devonairre Street and its residents ultimately becomes irrelevant compared with Lorna’s need to break away to protect herself and her own future.

A quiet, wrenching story about the bonds of love and friendship and the ways in which they can break; a commentary on the stresses and pressures of being a girl in the modern world; and a story about self-preservation first. The Careful Undressing of Love is smart and strange, frank and raw, and devastating. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also read my interview with the author about this book!

Caraval: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett and her younger sister Tella grew up hearing their grandmother reminisce about visiting Caraval as a young woman. Scarlett writes to Legend every year hoping against hope that he might bring Caraval back to the small island of Trisda in the Conquered Isles.

When tickets to Caraval finally arrive, Scarlett knows she won’t be able to go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tell and herself from their abusive father, is far more pressing. Except impetuous Tella has other plans and recruits a disreputable sailor to help bring Scarlett to the magical show.

Caraval is meant to be a game and a decadent diversion for both players and spectators. But Tella’s disappearance is very real and, Scarlett soon realizes, central to this year’s game.

As Scarlett tries desperately to follow the clues to her sister, the dangers of the supposed show become very real. If she fails to find Tella and win the game, Scarlett risks losing her sister forever in Caraval (2017) by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval is Garber’s debut novel and the first book in a series. The book is written in close third person following Scarlett’s perspective. Although the epilogue promises  twists and adventures in future installments, this novel functions for the most part as a standalone.

Garber’s vibrant descriptions bring the whimsical and dangerous elements of Caraval to life as Scarlett begins to discover the wonders to be found in a place where secrets can become currency and time can be bought and sold.

Scarlett is a cautious and timid heroine for much of Caraval. She has spent years trying to shelter her sister from their father’s calculated abuse and manipulations. Scarlett’s primary concerns are safety and distance from her father. Love, adventure, and all of the things Tella craves feel secondary if not entirely superfluous in comparison.

Caraval features a varied array of characters and some romance but this novel remains surprisingly introspective in its focus on Scarlett’s own journey toward autonomy and agency. A few predictable twists and some unexpected turns serve as a strong backdrop for Scarlett’s growth as she realizes she is the victim of her father’s abuse, not the cause. As Scarlett moves deeper into the machinations of Caraval she begins to correct her earlier mistakes both in the game and in her own life while learning to trust her instincts.

Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure. Intricate world building and the circus-like atmosphere of Caraval lend this novel an extra bit of flair that even Legend would admire.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

The Reader: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sefia has been hiding and evading capture for most of her life. It started with the house  built on a hill filled with secret rooms and hidden passages meant to guard a dangerous secret. When her father is murdered, Sefia does what she has been trained to do. She hides. She grabs the thing that her parents spent their lives protecting. She goes to her aunt Nin and together they run away.

After Nin is kidnapped, Sefia vows to find her. Sefia turns to the strange rectangular object her father died to protect. As she examines the thing, Sefia slowly realizes it is a book.

The Book may hold secrets about Nin’s abduction and Sefia’s own parents if only she can master the symbols within and learn to read the words. In Sefia’s world, books are their own kind of magic–a dangerous power in the wrong hands. Sefia will need that power if she wants to rescue Nin and stop hiding in The Reader (2016) by Traci Chee.

The Reader is Chee’s first novel and the beginning of her Sea of Ink and Gold series. This book is a layered narrative filled with hidden messages and clues within the text (be sure to look at the page numbers for one of them). The depth and layers within The Reader are impressive and staggering to contemplate. However the hidden clues, messages, and intricate physical design of this novel are distracting at times. Readers willing to give this story time and a proper chance will enjoy the intricate layers and the unexpected ways Chee’s multiple narratives come together.

In the fantasy world Chee has created the written word doesn’t exist. While they have identifying symbols to label things like herbs and other items, this world relies more heavily on an oral tradition for their stories and history. Books and reading are magic in a very literal sense and so both things are closely guarded by mysterious powers and largely unknown to citizens like Sefia.

If you spend too much time scrutinizing the main conceit of this plot (reading doesn’t exist), it starts to crumble. How does electricity work in this otherwise non-industrial society? How do characters leave messages for each other without written words? Are glyphs used? Oral recordings? No one knows or at least no one shares.

Vocabulary that would be taken for granted in any other story also needs further clarification in a book like The Reader. How do characters know about pens or reading lamps? Why do they exist if, as the novel states, reading doesn’t exist? Furthermore, although Chee’s writing is rich and heady, there isn’t a particularly good way to show a character learning to read when that character doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe a book, letters, or words. It makes for plodding passages and very slow progress for the rest of the story.

Readers willing to ignore these niggling questions may find themselves drawn into Sefia’s story. The premise, the larger message about the written word, and particularly Sefia’s own growth is empowering. Chee’s descriptions are vivid and bring Sefia’s multi-faceted world to life.

The Reader is a slow-paced adventure story. Sefia embarks on a journey with unlikely allies and surprising foes. She discovers magic and her own inner strength. She also, strangely enough, learns to read. How you feel about that last one will largely influence how you feel about this story as a whole. Recommended for readers seeking an introspective fantasy with a slow payoff. (Go into this one willing to commit to the series as many of the big reveals come in final chapters.)

Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Nemesis: A Review

Nemesis by Anna BanksPrincess Sepora of Serubel is the last Forger in the Five kingdoms. She is the only person alive who can create spectorium, a powerful element coveted for its energy and powerful properties.

When Sepora’s father weaponizes spectorium, Sepora chooses to leave her kingdom in secret and disappear rather than help him start a war. Across the border in Theoria, Sepora plans to live a quiet and anonymous life while hiding her Forging from prying eyes. Until she is captured and forced into service for Theoria’s king.

Tarik is young to be king and feels unready for the responsibilities that come with the title, especially as he has to deal with a mysterious plague sweeping through Theoria’s people with alarming speed. His efforts to track down a cure are complicated by a distracting new servant.

When Sepora and Tarik meet they form an immediate bond and an unlikely friendship could lead to much more. Sepora’s Forging could save Tarik’s kingdom but if her father finds her, it could also lead to war across the Five Kingdoms in Nemesis (2016) by Anna Banks.

Nemesis is the first book in Banks’ new duology which will conclude with Ally.

Nemesis introduces an interesting world filled with unique cultures that nod to ancient civilizations (Theoria places their dead in giant pyramids waiting for the day their scientists learn to conquer death) and science that comes close to magic. Unfortunately most of these elements are introduced through dense informational passages that make the opening of this novel feel clunky. And even worse, a lot of the world building in this book is just plain problematic.

The novel alternates between Sepora’s first person narration in a stilted style that rarely uses contractions and Tarik’s third person narrative. The transition from first to third person does little to differentiate between Sepora and Tarik’s narrative voices and instead creates a jarring transition between chapters.

Sepora is a thoughtful protagonist. She struggles with the choice to leave her home and what it will mean for her kingdom and beyond as spectorium disappears. Her moral dilemmas are portrayed throughout the book with careful thought and her growth throughout the novel is handled quite well.

Unfortunately some remarks about other kingdoms lack that same forethought. Throughout Nemesis the Wachuk kingdom is described as primitive because the people their have chosen to eschew verbal language because actions, as it were, speak louder. The Wachuks use sign language and some sounds described alternately as clicks, growls and grunts. The commonality for every descriptor is that they are described as primitive. Readers never see what Wachuk life actually looks like. The idea that being non-verbal makes the Wachuk’s primitive is never challenged or even explored in any meaningful way on the page. None of the characters have a teachable moment about it. Lingots, Theorians who are able to discern lies from truths and interpret languages, can understand the Wachuk but again that never leads to any deeper revelations.

This bias where different is equated with primitive/inferior is compounded with the portrayal of the Parani. In Serubel, parents tell their children about the Parani as a cautionary tale to keep them out of the dangerous water nearby. The Parani live underwater and are rumored to be able to kill a person in moments. They have tough skin, webbed fingers, and sharp teeth. Sepora also learns firsthand that they are humanoid in appearance and capable of comprehension, reasoning, and language (in the form of high pitched sounds that again do not resemble “typical” words and therefore must be “primitive”). Everyone else in the five kingdoms views the Parani as animals to be avoided or, if encountered, killed before they can attack. Or eaten. Again meaningful realizations that the Parani are people become sidelined by the Lingots’ magical ability to understand them despite the Parani being crucial to the story.

There is a lot in Nemesis that works well. Sepora is an engaging if sometimes misguided heroine and Tarik is an entertaining foil/love interest. The premise of the story is intriguing if not the most highly developed. Unfortunately the combination of stock secondary characters, poorly integrated world building details, and badly handled misconceptions about “primitive” or “other” characters take this potentially fun story and make it incredibly problematic and often painful.

Readers looking for a story with star-crossed lovers and/or nuanced fantasy would be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, And I Darken by Kiersten White

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

Goldenhand: A Review

*This is the fifth book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series. It contains major spoilers for the rest of the series. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel*

Goldenhand by Garth NixSix months ago, Lirael was instrumental in the binding of Orannis where she lost her hand and was separated her from her truest friend, the Disreputable Dog. Now Lirael has a new hand forged out of metal and Charter Magic. She is no longer a Second Assistant Librarian in the Clayr but the Abhorsen-in-Waiting using her bells to bind and banish both Free Magic creatures and the dead.

When Lirael’s duties as Abhorsen-in-Waiting bring her across the wall to Ancelstierre, she saves Nicholas Sayre from a dangerous Hrule only to realize his injuries are slow to heal because of the Free Magic that riddles his body despite the Charter mark meant to contain it.

As Lirael seeks help for Nick at the Clayr’s Glacier, trouble brews near the northern borders of the Old Kingdom. A girl named Ferin leaves her nomadic clan to travel across dangerous terrain evading pursuers and Free Magic creatures as she makes her way toward the Clayr’s Glacier with a message for Lirael about a threat from the Witch with No Face.

Lirael, Ferin, and others will have to work together to unravel the truth of who the Witch with No Face is and what she is planning. With magic keeping the Witch alive both in Life and Death, it will take everything Lirael and her friends have to stop this new threat in Goldenhand (2016) by Garth Nix.

Goldenhand is the fifth book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel. This book is set six months after the events of Abhorsen and picks up immediately after the conclusion of Nix’s novella “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case” found in his short story collection Across the Wall.

Nix blows the world of the Old Kingdom wide open in this installment as he brings his characters and readers North of the Old Kingdom where even the Great Charter cannot reach.

Written in close third person, Goldenhand alternates chapters following Ferin’s journey to deliver her message and Lirael’s travels to the Glacier with Nick and then beyond the borders of the Old Kingdom.

Ferin is a fine addition to this series with a brusque manner and directness that is refreshing and contrasts particularly well with Lirael’s often tentative interactions as she makes sense of her new status and notoreity.

It’s fantastic to see Lirael’s growth as she processes and reacts to the fact that she is not the person she once was (a Sightless Second Assistant Librarian, that is) and learns to embrace her new position and everything that comes with it. Lirael’s relationship with Nick is guileless and utterly charming as these two characters circle each other and ultimately make each other better as they grow closer.

Goldenhand is an interesting expansion of the world of the Old Kingdom and the conclusion this series needed and deserved when the original trilogy ended. A completely satisfying end to a favorite series. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

My Lady Jane: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi MeadowsEdward (King of England, teenage boy, lover of blackberries, and dogs) is dying. Before he has a chance to kiss a girl or do much of anything with his tragically short life. Edward would like to wallow about his pending demise thanks to “the Affliction” but instead he’s facing a lot of pressure to secure his line of succession. Unsure if he can trust his sister Bess with the crown, and positive he can’t trust his blood-thirsty sister Mary, Edward’s only option seems to be his cousin. Jane.

Lady Jane Grey has little interest in marriage or the crown. But faced with a royal decree arranging her marriage, she has little choice but to comply. When she ends up married to Lord Gifford Dudley–an aspiring poet by night and a horse by day thanks to his uncontrolled Eðian (eth-y-un) magic–she is resigned to a quiet life with a husband who may or may not be horrible.

Then Jane’s dear cousin Edward dies (or does he?) setting off a hectic nine days with Jane in the throne and, eventually, on the run with her new husband in My Lady Jane (2016) by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows.

My Lady Jane is a delightful historical fantasy co-written by three authors (who will be writing at least two more “Jane” books about other famous Janes in history). The novel alternates first-person narration between Edward, Jane, and G.

The authors start the book with a preface explaining that this book offers an alternate (and true, according to them) history of England and Lady Jane Grey. The authors don’t expand upon what they changed but interested readers can easily research the key players online. The addition of shape-shifter magic works surprisingly well within the context of English politics at the time.

My Lady Jane is a page-turner filled with adventure, action, sweet romance, and even some magic. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, The Romantics by Leah Konen, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

The Graces: A Review

The Graces by Laure EveEveryone says that the Graces are witches.

Thalia might dress the part with her spangly skirts and scarves, and Fenrin might bewitch all the girls in town with his good looks and charm. But Summer, the youngest Grace, is the only one willing to admit that she is exactly what everyone in town whispers.

Everyone wants to get close to the Graces. Everyone knows how much it must hurt to lose their interest. Because everyone, inevitably, loses the Graces’ interest.

River is new in town and desperate to attach herself to the Graces. She’s in love with Fenrin, like everyone, even though it’s a cliche. She hopes that seeing into their strange world might understand some of what’s been happening to her. But first River has to become one of the Graces. And she’s will to do whatever it takes to get their attention in The Graces (2016) by Laure Eve.

The Graces is Eve’s first novel and the start of a series.

Eve builds tension early with a narrator who remains nameless for the first part of the novel. Readers know that River arrived in town under a cloud, forced to move for reasons she will not divulge. River sees herself as different and other–just like the Graces themselves–and her narration is suitably calculating and cold.

While The Graces is atmospheric, the beginning remains slow with River carefully circling the Grace siblings as she tries to break into their orbit. The push and pull between what is true and what is not works well with the interplay between magic and reality throughout the novel.

Recommended for readers looking for a trippy book with twists reminiscent of Liar and readers who enjoy an unsympathetic main character–whether to root for them or to watch them fail.

Possible Pairings: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Wink, Poppy, Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*