The Weight of Feathers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemoreLace Paloma is the youngest mermaid in her family’s show. Her dreams of swimming in their underwater performances are cut short when disaster strikes and she falls victim to what seems to Corbeau black magic. After all, every Paloma knows that the lightest touch of a Corbeau feather is poison.

Cluck Corbeau has always been an outsider. Especially in his own family. While the other Corbeaus take to the highest trees for their winged feats in each show, Cluck remains on the ground and in the background. An afterthought. He doesn’t believe the stories that Paloma scales are poison but he is certain that Paloma malice ruined his grandfather’s life.

When Cluck saves a girl in the woods, he doesn’t know he’s saving a Paloma or bringing her into his family’s inner circle. Lace and Cluck have every reason to hate each other, every reason to be afraid. But they also understand each other and what it means to be cast out by the people who should hold you the closest.

Twenty years ago something terrible happened in Almendro when the Palomas and the Corbeaus came to town. The sour memories and bitter rivalries still linger when they return each year. As Lace and Cluck learn more about their families, and themselves, they might learn enough to end the feud between their families once and for all in The Weight of Feathers (2016) by Anne-Marie McLemore.

The Weight of Feathers is McLemore’s first novel. Her debut was also a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

This novel is written in close third person narration which alternates between Lace and Cluck. It is also very grounded in the cultural identity of each family–Spanish for the Palomas and French (particularly Romani) for the Corbeaus–with proverbs and sayings at the start of each chapter section (Spanish for Lace and French for Cluck). Words and phrases in both Spanish and French are peppered throughout the dialogue and narrative as well (thought it is worth noting that a style decision was made to italicize these words).

The real strength of The Weight of Feathers is in McLemore’s strong characterization and the emotional tension at the heart of this story. While readers do not get a lot of explanation for how the Palomas have scales for birthmarks or what the Corbeaus grow feathers in their hair, it largely doesn’t matter. Lace and Cluck are real enough and authentic enough that the details of their backgrounds pale against the scope of their current story and possible romance.

The Weight of Feathers combines a heady blend of magic realism and romance in this story of mysterious performers, a small town, and a forbidden love reminiscent of Romeo and Juliette. Recommended for fans of magic realism and introspective novels with strong, subtle characters.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

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

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A Curse As Dark as Gold: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. BunceWhen their father dies suddenly, Charlotte Miller and her younger sister Rose are left in charge of the family mill. With it comes the large responsibility of seeing to the mill’s numerous employees as well.

The Millers are not known for their good fortune. Some even claim that the family has been cursed though Charlotte is loathe to put any stock in such silly superstitions. Still, the mill’s usual problems seem to multiply dangerously after Charlotte takes charge. Mending broken equipment and painting faded walls can only go so far, however, when Charlotte learns that her father also left behind a shocking debt.

Desperate to save the mill and protect those who work there, Charlotte enters into a dangerous bargain with a man known merely as Jack Spinner. But every bargain comes with a price. As the stakes grow higher, Charlotte begins to realize that saving her mill may jeopardize everyone she holds dear in A Curse as Dark as Gold (2008) by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a loose retelling of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. It is Bunce’s first novel and winner of the 2009 William C. Morris Debut Award.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a lush and well-researched historical novel with just a hint of fantasy to better accommodate the fairytale retelling aspect. Bunce’s prose is immediately evocative and brings Charlotte’s village and the mill to life.

Fairy tales in general, but especially Rumpelstiltskin, are often very black and white, making it easy to tell exactly who the villain is. A Curse as Dark as Gold complicates things with rich, thoughtful characters who raise interesting questions throughout the narrative. While there are some decidedly bad choices and terrible acts, no one is ever completely bad anymore than they are entirely good.

Despite the vibrant settings and compelling characters, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a slow read. While the pacing allows readers to really know Charlotte and her world, the novel doesn’t get to the actual plot (not to mention the retelling aspect) until the second half of the novel.

It is also impossible to ignore the fact that a significant number of problems for the characters could have been avoided with good communication. At several points throughout the novel, if Charlotte had chosen to talk to anyone about even half of what she had done or suspected, the entire plot could have easily been resolved. Instead Charlotte clings stubbornly to her pride and a foolish belief that, as head of the mill, she is meant to deal with all of the Miller’s problems entirely on her own.

Plot aside, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a beautifully written and very solid historical novel, making it easy to understand why it garnered the Morris win in 2009. Despite its interesting take on Rumpelstiltskin and a charmingly romantic plot thread, this novel remains a slow and often dense read. Recommended for readers who enjoy strong writing and well-rounded characters. A Curse as Dark as Gold will hold particular appeal for readers who can ignore weak plot points in favor of dazzling prose.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Beauty by Robin McKinley, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Poetically Speaking with Me (Miss Print) about Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (A CLW Review)

poeticallyspeaking1For today’s Poetically Speaking post I’m taking over to review Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero. Click the icon above to see the rest of this month-long series!

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel QuinteroGabi Hernandez chronicles all the important pieces of her senior year of high school in her diary. Through her diary she tries to make sense of her best friends Cindy’s pregnancy and Sebastian’s coming out.

Gabi also has to deal with college applications and the confusing world of boys.

Add to that her father’s meth addiction and her complicated relationship with food (thanks to her mom always harassing Gabi about what she eats) and Gabi’s plate is already more than full for the year.

In the midst of a difficult year Gabi finds solace in an unlikely place. Gabi always knew she liked writing and poetry. She just didn’t realize discovering the poetry within herself (and around her) would have the power to change everything in Gabi, a Girl in Pieces (2014) by Isabel Quintero.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is Quintero’s first novel and the winner of the 2015 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is told entirely through Gabi’s diary entries as she navigates an especially complicated year in her life as many long-standing problems come to a head including her father’s addiction and Gabi’s mother’s disapproval of Gabi’s plans to go away to college.

Quintero brings Gabi to life with a vivid voice and authentic storytelling that mark this novel as a standout in the diary novel sub-genre. While Gabi sometimes comes across as younger than her seventeen years, she is always honest and raw.

Gabi’s story is effervescent and overall sweet even with real moments of sadness and other serious situations in the story. Given the nature of a diary format, Gabi, a Girl in pieces is not always a cohesive story as Gabi’s thoughts and her life jump from point to point.

What does remain consistent throughout is Gabi’s love of words. The enthusiasm Gabi feels as she begins to find her voice as a writer and discover new poets is infectious. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces is an empowering, thoughtful novel brimming with creative energy.

Possible Pairings: Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Flannery by Lisa Moore, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez., How to Save a Life by Sarah Zarr

In the Shadow of Blackbirds: A Review

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat WintersIt is 1918 and it feels like the entire world is falling apart. Boys are dying overseas fighting in World War I while the Spanish Influenza is cuts a swath across America leaving countless dead, and still more ruined, in its wake.

When sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black is forced from her home in Portland, Oregon, she travels south to live with her aunt in San Diego. The flu is just as bad in California, if not worse. A quarantine is in effect. Face masks are mandatory at all times in public.

In the midst of this chaos and fear, Mary Shelley watches with dismay and skepticism as mourners seek comfort in seances and spirit photographs.

When a dear friend appears in a photograph of her and begins to ask her for help, Mary Shelley will have to put aside her doubts to solve a mystery that will bring her to the brink in In the Shadow of Blackbirds (2013) by Cat Winters.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is Winters’ first novel. It was also a finalist for the Morris Award in 2014.

Winters delivers a well-researched and atmospheric story of desperation and loss in this historical mystery with supernatural elements. Period photographs and carefully chosen true-to-life details bring this story and the horrors Americans faced in 1918 to life.

While ghosts feature heavily in the story, In the Shadow of Blackbirds remains firmly grounded in reality as Mary Shelley works to out a spirit photographer as a fraud while trying to unravel the final days of her dear friend after his death.

Mary Shelley is an exceptional heroine with a strong interest in science and technology as well as a complete lack of fear when it comes to saying (or doing) what is right. Although this story includes romantic elements in its back story and denouement, Mary Shelley remains the capable center of this novel as she works largely on her own to unearth the truth.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds is an impressive historical novel. It is also a sensational mystery with enough twists to keep even the most seasoned mystery reader guessing. Recommended for fans of both genres.

Possible Pairings: The Diviners by Libba Bray, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

Love and Other Perishable Items: A Review

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura BuzoAmelia is fifteen and chafing under her stunning lack of control over her own life. She is also painfully and completely in love with Chris who works checkout with her at the local supermarket.

Chris is twenty-one.

Amelia is a smart girl and she knows that Chris is a smart guy. She knows that Chris talking to her about literature doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that no one else working at the Land of Dreams actually reads. She knows that being his confidant about his studies at university or even his partner for witty banter does not magically mean she’ll ever be his girlfriend.

But somehow when Amelia is with Chris, anything seems possible. Especially when, as time passes, it starts to feel like maybe Amelia isn’t the only one feeling the effects of this crush.

In a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of new things for both Amelia and Chris, this improbable pair will learn that friendships–and sometimes even more confusing feelings–can blossom anywhere in Love and Other Perishable Items (2012) by Laura Buzo.

Love and Other Perishable Items is Buzo’s first novel (published in 2010 in Australia before making its way to the US in 2012). It was a finalist for the Morris Award for YA Debut Fiction in 2013.

Love and Other Perishable Items is an incredibly smart book with not one but two introspective narrators who are as approachable as they are authentic.

Amelia is sharp and clever as well as utterly endearing. The first part of the novel, called “Spheres of No Influence,” aptly highlights the breadth of her world as well as its limitations in a way that makes sense within the context of the plot as well as for an actual teenaged girl.

Spending so much of this novel seeing Chris through Amelia’s rose-colored glasses, it’s hard to view him as anything but perfect. In the frame of Amelia’s adoring descriptions, who wouldn’t fall in love with Chris just a little? Buzo brings Chris into sharper focus by presenting parts of the story through his journal entries. Chris is broken. He is lonely. He hurts. He is, like many young adults, lost and trying to find his way to adulthood in whatever form that may take.

The incredible thing here is how well Amelia and Chris’s stories come together. Their frustrations and hopes, on many levels, mirror each other as both characters struggle to figure out who they want to be and how to get to that version of themselves.

Love and Other Perishable Items is a melancholy, buoyant novel about looking for love and finding oneself with equal parts letting go and holding on. Nothing in this book is especially neat or clearly defined, but neither is real life. In many ways this story is only the beginning, for both Amelia and Chris, as readers are left to imagine what other marvelous things life has to offer these two well-realized protagonists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

Where Things Come Back: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Where Things Come Back by John Corey WhaleyWhere Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (2011)

Lily, Arkansas is a hopeless place full of sad people who tried to leave but failed. Cullen Witter, like a lot of people, wants desperately to get out of this stifling small town. The summer before his senior year in high school Cullen sees his first corpse. Then he sees the body of his cousin who overdosed on drugs. Later, after the corpses and the end of school, the entire town becomes obsessed with a woodpecker–long thought extinct–who may or may not be hiding in the woods around Lily. Stranger still, Cullen’s brilliant brother, Gabriel, disappears.

Chapters from Cullen’s first person narration are interspersed with third-person narratives from two unlikely missionaries. Other reviews will talk about these stories entwining in strange and surprising ways. They might also call this novel a mystery. I disagree with both statements.

Whaley’s debut novel was the winner of both the 2012 Printz Award and the 2012 Morris Award. While the prose is extremely literary, I contend there is very little mystery in this story. The narratives are not particularly shocking in the ways in which they overlap or the general story. Given the plot structure, the big reveal was ultimately predictable.

Where Things Come Back is about nothing so much as it is about waiting. The town is waiting for a woodpecker to return and change its fate. Cullen is waiting for his chance to get away and also for a simpler but much harder thing: the return of his missing brother. There are interesting ideas to be unpacked in this world of waiting–ideas that Whaley does examine in interesting ways.

Unfortunately that is never quite enough to make the story into a page-turner or anything more than a thoughtful, brief, meditation on the randomness of life.

Writerly prose can be found throughout the story which works in some instances to help Cullen develop a very unique voice. At the same time, it always feels like this novel is trying very hard to be thoughtful and contemplative in a way that feels forced.

Cullen’s mind wanders throughout the narrative as he goes off on tangents. While these flights of fancy are amusing (as Cullen imagines his town overrun by zombies and the like) they distract from the plot immensely. The structure reminded me so much of the “If you give a mouse a cookie” books that it became the only thing I could imagine as I read these imaginings. Worse, these elements added nothing to the story except to create a titillating ending that leaves a tiny bit of room for discussion.

By the end of the story, Where Things Come Back became a strange and arbitrary novel with a mildly interesting (and very open) ending.

Belle Epoque: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Belle Epoque by Elizabeth RossWhen Maude Pichon ran away to Paris she expected a brand new life far away from her provincial home in Brittany and her overbearing father. Instead, her money is running out and work is harder to find than she had imagined.

But Eiffel’s unsightly tower keeps climbing higher as construction continues buoying Maude’s perseverance. Paris is her city and she will find her place in it.

An add seeking girls for easy work seems innocent enough. Until Maude realizes exactly what kind of work she is meant to do. Working as a repoussoir Maude, with her plain face and ugly features, is meant to make real young women of society look more attractive.

The work repels Maude in a visceral way. But with bills to pay and desperation slinking closer, she takes the job with few expectations. Working in secret as a repoussoir, Maude slowly begins to befriend her client. Soon, Maude herself begins to lose track of her lies and where–in the midst of so much luxury–her real life actually lies in Belle Epoque (2013) by Elizabeth Ross.

Belle Epoque is Ross’ first novel and a finalist for the Morris Award for debut authors which is given by YALSA.

Ross’ writing is a delight as she brings 1888 Paris to life on the page with evocative scenes that are sure to dazzle. The book itself is stunning with an elaborate design fitting of the period as well as a beautiful cover (and a surprise under the dust jacket of the hardcover) that while deceptive in some ways is also very in keeping with the theme of beauty that runs through the novel.

Maude’s journey is a realistic one that many young people striking out on their own will find familiar. Her evolving conceptualizing of her own looks and her own worth without or without physical beauty is fascinating. The message here, to quote an old cliche, reminds readers with varying degrees of finesse that beauty is only skin deep.

While it is never meant with malice of any kind, the fixation throughout the story on looks and weight (Maude’s best friend at the repoussoir agency is overweight) began to feel uncomfortable as readers are reminded at every single appearance of a character’s flaws. Again, this technique reflects Maude’s own perceptions but that motif doesn’t make it easier to process.

Unfortunately, the pacing did not enhance Maude’s coming into her own or add much to the story. Instead Maude plods through a variety of beautiful parties and events before taking a hard fall that is broadcast for most of the story. At one point Maude also seeks to “debrief” a friend–a valuable activity but one that didn’t go by that name until 1945.

There are moments of ugliness and beauty in Maude’s story and Ross looks on all aspects of the plot with a careful eye and rich prose. That said, plot and premise aside, the thing that really shines throughout Belle Epoque is Maude herself–a lovely heroine in a story ripe for discussion to say the least.

Possible Pairings: Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Hard Times by Charles Dickens, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Lee Wilson