Genuine Fraud: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You stay away long enough, there doesn’t seem like much to go back for.”

Jule is strong.She is athletic. She is resilient.

Imogen is charming. She is wealthy. She is enchanting.

Together Jule and Imogen could be the perfect pair. Or maybe that was never the plan. Whatever Imogen might think, Jule knows that they need each other.

But Jule has everything under control because she is smart. Jule is the one who will save the day, not some great white hetero action hero. Jule knows that she is the center of her story and she’ll do anything to stay there in Genuine Fraud (2017) by E. Lockhart.

This inventive standalone thriller starts at the end. Jule is in Mexico. She’s on the run. And nothing turned out the way she had planned. From there the story unspools toward the beginning and the unlikely twist of fate that set Jule on this path and her collision course with Imogen.

Even knowing how it all ends, this homage to classic thrillers and Victorian novels packs in more than its share of twists and shocking reveals. Like Jule herself Genuine Fraud is shrewd, calculating, and electric.

Possible Pairings: Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Bad Girls with Perfect Faces by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2017*

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Saint Death: A Review

“Each of us dies the death he is looking for.”

“Don’t worry where you’re going, you’ll die where you have to.”

Saint Death by Marcus SedgwickArturo is scraping by living in Anapra on the outskirts of Juarez, Mexico. He can see El Norte from his small shack but America feels distant compared to his reality spent hauling things at the auto shop and trying to avoid the notice of gang members and the cartel who have carved Juarez into their own sections of territory.

Arturo’s childhood friend Faustino reenters his life preparing to use stolen money to send his girlfriend and their son illegally across the border. With his gang boss on the verge of discovering the theft, Faustino is desperate for help to replace the thousand dollars he has taken. Arturo reluctantly agrees to try to win the money playing Calavera but as with most card games, things don’t go according to plan.

Looming over Arturo’s story, and Juarez itself, is Santa Muerte–Saint Death. The folk saint watches impassively as people in the border town struggle in the face of a vicious drug trade, dangerous trafficking, corruption, and income inequality. It’s possible that Santa Muerte might help Arturo if he prays hard enough and proves himself. But it’s also possible she’ll watch as Arturo heads toward his tragic ending. The outcome doesn’t really matter, everyone comes to her in the end in Saint Death (2017) by Marcus Sedgwick.

To call Saint Death ambitious would be a gross understatement. This slim novel complicates a deceptively simple story about one young man and uses it as a lens to examine the world on a much larger scale.

Arturo’s story, as related by an omniscient third person narrator, alternates with commentary from nameless third parties on conditions affecting Mexico and Juarez specifically including The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), climate change, the city’s founding, and even the worship of Saint Death herself.

The formatting and language Saint Death underscore that this is a book about Mexican characters who live their lives in Spanish. There are no italics for Spanish words and dialogue is formatted according to Spanish language conventions with double punctuation for question marks and exclamation points (one at either end of the sentence) and no quotation marks for dialogue which is instead indicated with dashes.

Saint Death is simultaneously an absorbing, heart-wrenching read and a scathing indictment of the conditions that have allowed the drug trade and human trafficking to flourish in Mexico. Eerily timely and prescient this ambitious story is both a masterful piece of literature and a cautionary tale. Add this to your must-read list now. Highly recommended.

If you want to know more about some of what’s mentioned in the book and a bit about Sedgwick’s writing process, be sure to check out his blog posts about the book as well.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough,The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle,The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the March 2017 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review*

The Princess and the Warrior: A Picture Book Review

The Princess and the Warrior by Duncan TonatiuhMany prosperous suitors ask Princess Izta to marry them. She refuses them all. Instead it is a warrior named Popoca who steals Itza’s heart when he promises to be true to her and stay by her side.

The emperor is wary of such a match for his only daughter. But he promises that if Popoca can defeat the fierce Jaguar Claw that he and Itza will be allowed to marry. When victory is in Popoca’s grasp, the Jaguar Claw conspires to tell Itza that her true love has died. Grief stricken, Itza falls into a deep sleep that even Popoca cannot lift.

But true to his word, Popoca stays by Itza’s side forever in The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes (2016) by Duncan Tonatiuh.

The Princess and the Warrior is Tonatiuh’s reimagining of the Aztec legend of two volcanoes: Iztaccíhuatl, the princess who continues to sleep, and Popocatépetl, the warrior who spews ash and smoke, trying to wake his love.

Tonatiuh’s artwork is immediately recognizable with sharp line work and figures always shown in profile. This style, reminiscent of Aztec art itself, lends itself especially well to this story.

The text of The Princess and the Warrior draws readers in from the first page with a evocative language and a sense of urgency. The story is aptly retold in picture book form here with themes that will bring to Romeo and Juliet to mind for older readers.

The book concludes with an author’s note from Tonatiuh talking more about his creative choices for this book and the source material. The book itself is well-packaged from the dustjacket and case covers to the interior pages. Bold full-page spreads highlight action in battle scenes while smaller detail illustrations add momentum to the story.

The Princess and the Warrior is a fantastic addition to any picture book collection. An obvious recommendation for any fans of picture book versions of classic folktales and myths. Recommended.

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

Dream Things True: A Review

Dream Things True by Marie MarquardtAlma is less than happy to be leaving her academically challenging high school in Atlanta to return to the small town of Gilbertson to help take care of her cousins. She always thought Atlanta was her ticket to something better. Now, Alma isn’t sure how she’ll get out of Gilbertson and away from her overbearing father. She just knows she has to try. Alma’s brother let his status as an undocumented Mexican immigrant keep him away from his dreams. Alma refuses to make the same mistake.

Evan has never had to think much about immigration. He’s never had to think about a lot thanks to his family’s wealth and privilege. Like Alma, Evan’s family wants to keep him close but Evan knows college is his chance to get away before he settles for the life his distant father has planned.

When Alma and Evan meet, their attraction is immediate and undeniable. Despite their different lives and other obstacles, the unlikely couple falls in love. But with family pulling them in different directions and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) raids threatening Alma and her friends and family, Evan and Alma will have to work harder than ever to be together in Dream Things True (2015) by Marie Marquardt.

Dream Things True is Marquardt’s first novel. Marquardt has done extensive work with an advocating for Mexican immigrants as outlined in her author bio. The story is written in a close third person point of view that alternates between Evan and Alma’s focus.

Dream Things True does some things very well. It is an important and timely novel about immigration. It is a diverse title, of course. And, despite the numerous challenges they have to deal with, this book also has a really healthy and positive relationship as Evan and Alma get to know each other and try to help each other.

There is a lot of good stuff here and Dream Things True is undoubtedly a valuable novel. However it’s also worth noting that it often felt like the portrayals of non-white characters could have been handled better. Evan compares Alma’s skintone to coffee with cream in it. An African-American character is described as being lighter skinned. Evan’s descriptions of Alma often seemed to portray her as more other and exotic perhaps in a misguided attempt on Marquardt’s part to create an authentic male protagonist, perhaps for other reasons. Regardless of intent, it’s the one aspect of this novel that repeatedly grated.

In order to keep the focus of the novel on immigration issues, several plot points in Dream Things True feel contrived in order to move the plot along. While Alma’s father is convincingly problematic, even his logic for why Alma has to return to Gilberston from Atlanta is murky at best. While this focus makes sense, it often made the characters and settings feel one-dimensional by comparison.

An ideal choice for readers looking for a light romance that still has some depth, Dream Things True is a thoughtful novel that proves Marquardt is an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu, Drown by Junot Diaz, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, A Step From Heaven by An Na, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

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

Because It Is My Blood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

**As the second in a series, this book (and the review) may contain spoilers for All These Things I’ve Done. You have been warned.**

Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle ZevinAnya Balanchine knows firsthand that being the presumptive heir to an illegal chocolate empire comes with its fair share of complications. After a turbulent year filled with futile attempts to move beyond her criminal reputation and date a truly ill-advised boy–all while caring for her brother and sister–Anya is hoping that the start of autumn and her release from Liberty Children’s Facility will bring with it calmer times.

Unfortunately, nothing about Anya’s life after Liberty is calm. Her criminal record makes attending (not to mention finishing) high school nearly impossible.

Her little sister Natty has grown up during Anya’s time away. Scarlet, her best friend, seems closer than ever to her odious boyfriend Gable. And Win? The boy who made Anya want to give up almost everything her family stood for seems to have a new love.

Anya isn’t sure where she fits into this world where everything and everyone has moved on without her except that she hopes it has nothing to do with her extended family. Or chocolate.

Unfortunately, as ever, Anya’s wants are overlooked as she is drawn back into the Balanchine’s world of crime, chocolate and intrigue. Taken away from the city and the people that she loves, Anya will have to decide what price she is willing to pay for safety and who she truly wants to be in Because It Is My Blood (2012) by Gabrielle Zevin.

Because It Is My Blood is the second book in Gabrielle Zevin’s Birthright series which started with All These Things I’ve Done.

As exciting as Because It Is My Blood can be, this novel’s strength is in its focus on Anya. She is still impetuous and often acts rashly. But she is also circumspect and calculating–as is fitting of a mafiya princess, even a reluctant one.

While Anya struggles with familiar questions about her family and her identity, Zevin keeps the story original with her surprising turns and Anya’s wry, eloquent narration. Readers will also notice Anya’s continued growth as she moves out from her dead father’s shadow (and advice) to begin making her own decisions.

Zevin also continues to delicately build Anya’s world in Because It Is My Blood with some tantalizing hints of what readers can expect in the latter half of this series. As our heroine moves beyond the island of Manhattan, Zevin develops the politics of 2083 that surround a country where chocolate is illegal and many other items are in short supply.

Because It Is My Blood proves that Anya still has more to learn and even more tricks up her sleeve making this book another absorbing installment in an already gripping series.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

Thanks to Esther Bochner at Macmillan Audio I also have a clip to share from the audiobook of Because It Is My Blood: You can listen to the clip on my website.

You can also read my exclusive interview with Gabrielle Zevin!

Also be sure to check out the cool trailer.

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012

Goliath: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Goliath by Scott WesterfeldAlek and Deryn have circumnavigated most of the globe aboard the Darwinist airship Leviathan as they try to end World War I. Along the way, perhaps Alek will be able to claim his position as the true heir to Clanker Austria’s throne. And perhaps Deryn will finally be able reveal her biggest secrets to Alek, namely that she is not just a girl but that she loves him.

But as the Leviathan flies first to Siberia and then over the United States and Mexico, bigger problems arise as Deryn’s secrets begin to unravel with alarming speed and Alek turns to a misguided lunatic in his continued efforts to end the War. The truth is supposed to set you free, but will it be enough to not just save Alek and Deryn but also end a war in Goliath (2011) by Scott Westerfeld (with illustrations by Keith Thompson)?

Goliath is the phenomenal conclusion to Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy which began with Leviathan and continued in Behemoth. It is also the perfect end to what is essentially a perfect trilogy. Goliath truly exceeded my already very high expectations.

I worried about this book. What would happen to Deryn? Where would Alek end up? What about Alek and Deryn together? There were so many potential pitfalls and unfortunate conclusions. Westerfeld avoided all of them.

Goliath is a truly satisfying end to a trilogy that was filled with actions and surprises from the very first pages to the very last. The whole series is a must read for anyone interested in speculative fiction, alternate histories or, of course, steampunk. As its dedication suggests, Goliath is also the perfect book for readers who appreciate a long-secret love story finally revealed. Truly wonderful.

Possible Pairings: The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist: Flight of the Phoenix by R. L. LaFevers with illustrations by Kelly Murphy, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, Jackaby by William Ritter, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Everland by Wendy Spinale, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, Firefly (television series) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (graphic novel and movie), The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (television series), Serenity (movie)

 

Esperanza Rising: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz RyanEsperanza had a wonderful life in Mexico in 1930. She lived with her mother and father, Ramona and Sixto Ortega at a beautiful ranch where her grandmother taught Esperanza to crochet. El Rancho de las Rosas is a little piece of paradise. Beloved servants tend to Esperanza’s every need while field hands tend to the family’s vineyard. Everything in Esperanza’s life is perfect right down to the preparations for her fourteenth birthday.

That is, until the day Esperanza’s father does not come home from tending to the ranch. Suddenly Esperanza’s life is turned upside. Her father is gone. El Rancho de las Rosas is slipping away. Esperanza and her mother are fleeing to California with nothing to find work as field workers. Worse, they have to leave Abuelita behind.

Suddenly thrust into poverty, Esperanza feels lost. She and her mother are suddenly equal to the servants who helped them escape Mexico. Prejudice and inequality leap at Esperanza from everywhere. Nothing will ever be the same and the more Esperanza sees of America, the land of opportunity, the more she feels like she’s sinking. Will Esperanza be able to rise about her circumstances and embrace her new life before it’s too late in Esperanza Rising (2000) by Pam Muñoz Ryan?

Esperanza Rising is a Pura Belpre Winner (Pura Belpre being an award that highlights distinguished work in literature and illustration by hispanic or latino authors–I’m not sure which is stated specifically in the award criteria). It’s really popular and generally well-received. And it even has a play adaptation (apparently not playing anywhere right now, but you can see hints of it in an online search).

All the same, I was initially extremely resistant to this book. I did not want to like it. The story starts depressing and, frankly, Esperanza starts off irritating. Having finished the book, I greatly regret that resistance.

One of the coolest things about this book is that it’s based on the true story of the author’s grandmother’s immigration to the United States. Like most of the books I’ve listed as possible pairings, it is a quintessential immigrant story. Esperanza has a lot of growing up to when she is forced to move to California. She faces a lot of hardships and learns a lot about herself and her inner strength.

At its core Esperanza is, unsurprisingly, a story about hope and perseverance (esperanza means “hope” in Spanish). It is also a great introduction to the immigrant experience. While Esperanza remains at the center of the story, Ryan also touches upon the Depression, the Dust Bowl, social reform, and discrimination in this rich story.

This story also shines a light on the not-always-well-known world of migrant farm workers in a respectful and informative way. That is not to say that the story itself is not interesting. Far from it. Esperanza Rising is a wonderful blend of everything good about contemporary and historical fiction; Ryan skillfully presents the time period while making Esperanza and her world approachable to modern readers of all ages.

Possible Pairings: Ashes of Roses by Mary Jane Auch, Drown by Junot Diaz, Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, From Ellis Island to JFK by Nancy Foner, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, Imagining America: Stories from the Promised Land by Amy Ling, …y no se lo tragó la tierra / …And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera and Evangelina Vigil-Pinon (translator), Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska