Seraphina: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Seraphina Dombegh has been surrounded by lies for most of her life. Everything from her patron saint to her own parentage has been altered and hidden beneath layers of half-truths and deceptions. With a new position at court and her musical gifts gaining more notice than is strictly wise, Seraphina’s time for hiding may well be over.

Seraphina’s home, the kingdom of Goredd has had peace with the neighboring dragons for four decades. They walk among the Goreddi in their human forms, they share knowledge. But that does not mean they are equals. Tensions are always higher when the treaty’s anniversary is near. This year, with a prince murdered under suspiciously dragon-like circumstances, relations are particularly strained.

Without meaning too, Seraphina soon captures the attention of the court with her musical talents. Worse, she captures the attentions of Prince Lucian Kiggs, captain of the Queen’s Guard, as well as an adept investigator. Working with Kiggs to unravel the secrets surrounding the murder and a conspiracy that could shake the foundation of their entire kingdom, Seraphina fears that her own secrets might be as easily discovered. As she works to find the truth, she will have to decide if she can survive having her own secrets brought to light in Seraphina (2012) by Rachel Hartman.

Seraphina is Hartman’s first novel as well as the first book in a series featuring Seraphina. There is also a prequel called The Audition available to read on Scribd at this link:

As far as fantasies go, Seraphina really hits all the marks from a complete glossary and cast of characters at the back of the book to an immersive setting replete with inter-kingdom tensions and political machinations. While there are dragons who can take on human forms, the fantasy in this story is more of an underpinning for Hartman’s masterfully written world.

Seraphina is a sweeping story that draws readers through Seraphina’s life and straight into a court full of intrigue and plotting. Readers who like their fantasies with a bit less magic and more surprises will find a lot to enjoy here. Some, including this reviewer, might be very surprised by this novel’s dynamic and unpredictable conclusion.

Though its length (a bit more than 450 pages, hardcover)–and the initial denseness of the text as Hartman introduces new characters as well as an entire kingdom and its history–can be off-putting, readers will be satisfied by the evocative prose, dramatic story, and especially Seraphina’s journey as she tries finds her own place both in her family and her country.

With characters that can make you laugh even as they break your heart* and a narrator who is as witty as she is unique, Seraphina is a clever introduction into a truly original fantasy world that promises even greater things in future installments.

*I’m looking at you, Orma.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, 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

You can also read my exclusive interview with Rachel Hartman!

The Butterfly Clues: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Penelope “Lo” Marin has always liked order. Since her brother’s death Lo has needed more than her rituals to bring order to the chaos of day-to-day life. Her collections of beautiful things, arranged perfectly around her room, make Lo feel better. They’ll never erase the gaping hole her brother left behind, but they help clear her head. At least until she sees another item she has to have for her room. Then nothing will quiet her head until the object is hers.

Wandering Cleveland’s Neverland searching for traces of her brother’s last days as well as objects for her room, Lo stumbles upon something she was never meant to see.

It’s all tied to a beautiful butterfly charm she finds at a flea market and the butterfly’s last owner–a girl named Sapphire who was murdered days before the butterfly makes its way to Lo. Convinced that finding the butterfly means something, that she is connected to Sapphire against all odds, Lo works to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding Sapphire’s death.

The deeper Lo delves into the murder, the more questions she unearths. What does Sapphire have to do with the alluring street artist who seems so eager to help Lo? Why did someone want Sapphire dead?

If she keeps searching, Lo hopes ordering all of the clues will lead to an answer and give her (and Sapphire) some peace. But that’s going to be as hard as it is for Lo to keep her rituals in check when someone in Cleveland wants Lo’s investigation stopped for good in The Butterfly Clues (2012) by Kate Ellison.

The Butterfly Clues is Ellison’s first novel.

It becomes obvious early in the narrative that Lo’s collecting, rituals, and habits are symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Ellison does a good job making Lo a relatable heroine, habits and all, but that only goes so far when every page has Lo tapping or counting in some way to get through her day.

However, while Ellison delves into the whys behind Lo’s OCD behaviors for most of the novel, some of Lo’s choices make little sense given not just her OCD but also common sense.* Though many of these decisions are crucial to the plot, they often pulled me out of the narrative as I found myself wondering what Lo could possibly be thinking.

Lo is a generally likable and sympathetic narrator so it’s easy to let that go. Seeing her broken family and Lo’s struggle to keep her OCD in check is heartbreaking and extremely compelling.

Unfortunately a shaky plot does little to strengthen The Butterfly Clues. Parts of the story are drawn out and seemingly superfluous to the actual plot instead serving only to lengthen the text. On the other hand key aspects of the actual mystery are obvious early on as Lo explores Neverland. Ellison demonstrates a lot of range in this debut and while I would have liked more mystery and less OCD, The Butterfly Clues is a definite clue that Ellison is an author to watch.

*The idea that Lo would have no problem with the germs and dirt inherent to Neverland’s homeless community–even Flynt–seemed extremely unlikely to me. Other–more spoilery–moments also defied all believability for me.

Possible Pairings: Frost by Marianna Baer, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Slide by Jill Hathaway, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten

Author Interview: Jill Hathaway

Jill Hathaway‘s debut novel Slide came out earlier this year. This mystery with a hint of the supernatural and a dash of romance with some snark to taste blew me away.

Ms. Hathaway is here today to talk about her debut novel and answer some of my questions.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell us a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Jill Hathaway (JH):  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I didn’t really become serious about it until a few years ago during NaNoWriMo. I decided to take the leap and query agents. I didn’t land an agent with my first (terrible) book, but I had interest from several agents with Slide. That’s when I knew I was onto something good! :)

MP: What was the inspiration for Slide?

JH: I wanted my protagonist to find herself standing over a dead body with no idea of how she ended up there. From there, I came up with the mechanism for sliding, which is the process through which Vee gets into other people’s heads and sees the world through their eyes.

JH:  I did some research online, but the thing is… Vee isn’t really narcoleptic. That’s just her excuse for what’s happening to her. As I understand it, narcoleptics actually fall asleep for very brief periods of time, and it’s not really like what happens to Vee.

[MP: Interesting.]

MP: In addition to being a writer, you are a teacher. Did your own teaching experiences influence your vision for the high school in Slide or for the classroom scenes during the novel? 

Since I’m in the world of high school every day, I’m sure my experiences filtered into the book somewhat. I had a former student comment on the thermostat that wasn’t working because I’ve had the same problem in my classroom. :D

MP: Since Slide is essentially a mystery there is a necessary suspense throughout the story as clues are uncovered. As a writer, how did you go about pacing this aspect of the story and deciding what to reveal when?

JH:  When I wrote the rough draft, I just threw in a bunch of stuff I thought would be cool. But during the revision process, I really had to sort out which clues to put where and which red herrings to put in. I’m trying to be smarter about writing my next book and plan all the clues before I even start writing. ;)

MP: Rollins is Vee’s best friend. He also makes his own zine. According to your website bio you too made your own zines. Are Rollins’ zines similar to your own?

JH:  Ha, I think they are about as cynical as my zines were. Like Rollins, I was very idealistic and indignant of any perceived hypocrisy around me. I also included interviews with bands and awful poetry.

MP: Vee’s father often cooks for Vee and Mattie to offer comfort. All of the food described in the book sounded delicious. How did you decide which dishes would be significant to the Bell family?

JH:  Ha, I think I wrote about whatever I was hungry for at the time. So my longing for the foods probably came through in the writing.

MP: To feel closer to her mother Vee listens to her mother’s music from the 1990s. Nirvana, the Gin Blossoms, Pearl Jam and The Smashing Pumpkins are some of the bands you mention in the story. How did you decide what songs to include in the novel?

JH:  A lot of bloggers and reviewers have commented that I obviously used music that I enjoyed when I was a teen, and that is very true. I was into “alternative” rock, and the songs I mention in the book are the songs I rocked out to when I was sixteen. In that way, I kind of pictured myself as Vee’s mom. I wonder if someday my daughter will read the book and listen to the same songs and think of me the way Vee does (but hopefully I won’t be dead at that point :P).

MP: Do you have a playlist for Slide? If so, do any of the songs mentioned in the book feature on the playlist? 

JH: Yes, there’s a lot of Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam on the Slide playlist. “Glycerine” by Bush is another song I listened to when I was writing the scenes with Vee and Zane, but I don’t think I mentioned it anywhere in the book. (Hint: I listened to “Everlong” by Green Day a lot while writing the sequel, IMPOSTOR!)

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

JH: IMPOSTOR, the sequel to SLIDE, will come out in spring 2013. In the book, Vee starts blacking out and realizing she’s been doing strange, dangerous things while she was unconscious. She eventually realizes that someone’s been sliding into her and wonders if the other slider is using her to do their dirty work.

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

JH: Never ever ever ever ever give up.

Thanks again to Jill Hathaway for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find more information about her books on her website.

If you want to read more about Slide check out my review!

Slide: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sylvia “Vee” Bell has passed out often enough in class for everyone to know she’s narcoleptic. What no one would believe is that Vee doesn’t just pass out during her episodes.

When Vee loses consciousness she can slide into someone else’s mind. Most of the time when Vee slides she discovers secrets she’d rather not know like seeing her sister, Mattie, cheating on a math test or watching a teacher sneak a drink before class.

When Vee slides late one night she sees something much worse: the murder of her sister’s best friend, Sophie. While everyone else believes that Sophie killed herself, Vee knows the truth. Even if she has no way to prove it.

As Vee learns more about her sliding and unearths secrets about her friends and family, she’ll have to try to stop the killer herself before they strike again in Slide (2012) by Jill Hathaway.

 Slide is Hathaway’s first novel.

In this sharp mystery with a sly supernatural twist, Hathaway introduces a heroine with equal parts candor and spunk. Vee’s narration is frank and unapologetic making her easy to identify with and even easier to love.

At a slim 256 pages, Slide is a finely tuned page-turner filled with unexpected surprises for Vee and readers alike. Vee’s father and sister are well-developed characters with their own flaws and, more troubling for Vee, their own secrets. Similarly Vee’s best friend Rollins is an admirable foil to Vee and adds another dimension to the story as he and Vee try to untangle their newly-complicated friendship.

While Vee works to use her sliding to uncover the killer, Vee also comes into her own as she learns more about how she slides as well as how to simply be herself. Slide finishes with an ending that is as shocking as it is satisfying. Hathaway skillfully completes most story threads while leaving room for future installments in what will hopefully be a long running series.

Possible Pairings: The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Clarity by Kim Harrington, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten

Check back June 1, 2012 to see my exclusive interview with the author!

Perception: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Clarity “Clare” Fern thought things would go back to normal for her once summer ended. Except it’s not so easy for people to forget the psychic girl who helped solve a murder and clear her brother’s name during the tourist season in their Cape Cod town.

Back at school Clare is getting a lot of unwelcome attention from the student body. Not to mention more attention than she can handle from ex-boyfriend Justin and new guy Gabriel Toscano. Both want to be more than friends. Too bad Clare isn’t as certain of her own feelings yet.

As Clare tries to navigate her new-found celebrity, she also starts getting unexpected notes from an unidentified sender. Could it be someone Clare knows? A shy secret admirer? Or is it something much more sinister in Perception (2012) by Kim Harrington?

Perception is Harrington’s sequel to her debut novel Clarity.

Set during Cape Cod’s off season, Perception  lacks some of the excitement found in Clarity even as Harrington shines a light on Clare’s more typical day-to-day life. Though the narrative often refers back to the first book, Perception explains enough to be able to stand on its own without much difficulty.

All of the characters readers loved from the first book are back. Unfortunately so is Clare’s unfortunate love triangle. While Justin and Gabriel both remain likable, Clare’s vacillation throughout the novel grew tiresome–particularly when to some readers her choice will be obvious from early chapters.*

Much like the love triangle, the mystery aspect of Perception felt a bit obvious as well. While some parts of the story will keep readers on their toes other twists will be guessed early on.

Clare and her family develop a lot over the course of Perception leading to a novel whose strength lies in its characterizations. That said, Perception continues the story of a spunky, clever heroine in a fun mystery sure to leave readers smiling.

*Happily, the love triangle is resolved to some extent at the end of the story so hopefully Clare, Justin and Gabriel can all move on to other things when Harrington writes another Clarity novel.

Possible Pairings: The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Slide by Jill Hathaway, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Wherever Nina Lies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ellie’s sister Nina disappeared two years ago.

Ellie isn’t sure who she is or what her life is supposed to be now that she doesn’t have her sister. Beautiful, artistic and a little wild, Nina is everything Ellie could want in an older sister. Ellie can only imagine what it must be like to be that kind of person.

Until Nina is gone. Then Ellie just wants her back. Even if two years later that is seeming less and less likely.

When Ellie finds a drawing that can only have been done by her sister, Ellie knows it’s a sign. Nina is out there somewhere and this is Ellie’s chance to make everything right. If she can follow the clues surely she can find Nina wherever she is and bring her home.

With the help of her mysterious crush, Ellie sets off on a road trip following Nina’s trail. Along the way she’ll meet some unlikely misfits and realize that she might be more like her sister than she thought in Wherever Nina Lies (2009) by Lynn Weingarten.

Wherever Nina Lies is Weingarten’s first novel. (She has since followed up with the off beat fantasy The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers.)

Wherever Nina Lies is a fast-paced mystery that takes readers across the country and on an emotional roller coaster as Ellie unravels the truth about Nina’s disappearance. Weingarten weaves a masterful mystery filled with so many twists and unexpected turns that even when I skimmed ahead I was completely floored by the shocking finish.

In addition to a thrilling, satisfying mystery Wherever Nina Lies is filled with clever characters and exotic locations that bring Ellie’s journey to life. Flashbacks interspersed throughout Ellie’s search add a second dimension to the story as readers get a glimpse of the relationship Ellie and Nina shared as well as Ellie’s regrets when it comes to her sister.

With a unique voice and a tight plot, Wherever Nina Lies is a must read for readers who like a bit of suspense with their road trip adventures.

Possible Pairings: Frost by Marianna Baer, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Friends With Boys: A Graphic Novel Review

After years of homeschooling, Maggie McKay is starting high school. She’s kind of freaking out.

She can’t get a ride from her dad, the new chief of police, but does that mean she has to walk to school alone? Sure her big brothers will be there to watch her back, but will they have time for her with all of their other friends? Being friends with her brothers used to be enough. But now that their Mom left, it’s not the same. At all.

Luckily, Maggie meets Lucy and her older brother Alistair right away. Lucy and Alistair keep to themselves but soon they start eating lunch with Maggie. Together they even go on some small-town adventures.

All in all, things seem to be on the up and up for Maggie. At least, they are if she ignores the ghost that’s haunting her in Friends With Boys (2012) by Faith Erin Hicks.

Friends With Boys is an awesome graphic novel. Happily for all of you who don’t have access to the actual book through a store or library, it is also available online as a webcomic at! So cool.*

It’s always hard to decide where to start when I review a graphic novel and determine what is more important to the reading experience. This is doubly hard with a book like Friends With Boys which works so well on every single level.

Hicks’ drawings are filled with details and bring her characters to life with her beautiful black and white illustrations. The story is filled with charming tidbits about Maggie and her family as well as tantalizing additions to the plot.

I really enjoyed Friends With Boys it’s a guileless novel that is sweet and just filled with fun. With hints of a mysterious past for the McKay family, strong secondary characters, and a subtle supernatural twists Hicks leaves plenty of room for a sequel. I, for one, hope we get to see a lot more of Maggie and all of the boys she’s friends with (and Lucy too, of course).

*That is to say most of the story is available online. I didn’t check but I think it’s intact except for the last few pages.

Possible Pairings: Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Sea Change by Aimee Friedman, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Library Wars by Kiiro Yumi and Hiro Arikawa
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Friends with Boys

Frost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Leena Thomas is thrilled to be starting her senior year at boarding. Although she is nervous about what her future away from the close-knit community of her school might look like, Leena is ready for a memorable year in the school’s best dorm ever: Frost House.

Instead of dealing with the ugly, impersonal dorm buildings Leena and her closest friends will have Frost House to themselves; it will be their own little refuge away from the pressures of school and the uncertainty the future holds.

Then Leena finds out about a surprise change of roommates. Instead of a semester with a room all to herself, Leena has to deal with Celeste Lazar the school’s resident eccentric–not to mention the center of her own little drama-filled world. Exactly the kind of thing Leena hoped to avoid by living in Frost House.

Celeste’s presence brings the added bonus of her cute brother David hanging around. But Leena isn’t sure a cute guy is enough to make up for her derailed plans, strained friendships, or listening to Celeste’s insane talk about a threatening presence in Frost House.

As Leena struggles to rediscover the refuge she knows Frost House should be, she finds herself gravitating more and more to the closet in her room and the calming presence she feels there. Something is clearly wrong in Frost House but the closer Leena gets to the truth the harder it is to see whether the problem really is a mysterious threat, Celeste herself, or something else entirely in Frost (2011) by Marianna Baer.

Frost is Baer’s first novel. It was also a finalist for the 2011 Cybils in Young Adult Fiction.

With equal parts thriller and ghost story Frost is a suspense-filled journey through Frost House and Leena’s own troubled world. Baer expertly spreads information throughout the story to keep readers guessing as their understanding of both the house and Leena herself constantly change.

The tension between Leena and Celeste mirrors the tension of the narrative itself as Frost works up to its shocking finish. This tension works well here adding an eerie ambiance to the story with Leena’s ominous foreshadowing throughout the narrative and the constant push and pull between the logical and the fantastic in the story.

While some of the characters are under-developed, Baer more than makes up for it with a fully realized setting that brings Frost House to life on the page. The writing here exemplifies what a creepy, atmospheric story should look like.

This book is ripe for discussion and open to many interpretations depending on how the story is perceived. The beauty of that, and the best example of Baer’s masterful prose, is that every interpretation is correct. Frost is a mysterious, sometimes sinister read guaranteed to hook readers and keep them guessing.

Possible Pairings: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Tragedy Paperby Elizabeth LaBan, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, Dark Souls by Paula Morris, Bliss by Lauren Myracle

Dark Souls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

After the accident last summer, nothing has been the same for sixteen-year-old Miranda. Her best friend, really her only friend, is gone. Her brother can’t stand small spaces or driving anymore. And Miranda, well, she can see ghosts.

When the chance to take a family vacation in York, England arrives, Miranda’s parents jump at the chance. A little family time can only help everyone. Almost everyone.

York is one of the most haunted cities in the world. How can Miranda deal with seeing ghosts when she is surrounded by them, her family doesn’t know about it, and she barely understands this new ability herself?

Then Miranda meets Nick, an intense Goth boy who might be able to answer all of her ghost-related questions. With Nick to show her the ropes and the painfully beautiful ghost in the attic across the way, maybe seeing ghosts won’t be so bad after all.

Or maybe things are as bad as Miranda thought. If no one intervenes, something bad is going to happen and Miranda seems to the only one who can stop it–no matter how much she wishes she wasn’t in Dark Souls (2011) by Paula Morris.

I was of two minds about this book.

On the one hand, Dark Souls read more like a middle grade novel than a young adult title. Without age cues written into the story I would have pegged Miranda at fourteen and her brother at sixteen (rather than their stated ages of sixteen and eighteen, respectively). Some aspects of the story also felt predictable or obvious–I realized details before Miranda did even though she really should have been on board and know what was going on herself. Again, this would have been easier to let slide in a middle grade novel where the readers/characters are significantly younger than me rather than just a bit younger.

On the other hand, Dark Souls is a nice traditional ghost story. No all-consuming romance, almost no love interest at all. It’s refreshing when so many paranormal books have romance tagged onto the end of that descriptor nowadays. Morris gets back to basics with some dubious ghosts, a mysterious friend, and a plot that needs to be unraveled. And it is those basics that make Dark Souls work as much as it does. This book is a good one for readers who want to be left spooked rather than swooning.

Possible Pairings: The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, Bliss by Lauren Myracle, Clockwork by Philip Pullman, Lily’s Ghosts by Laura Ruby

The Name of the Star: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Rory Deveaux’s parents decided a long time ago that it would be good for all of them to spend some time living outside of Louisiana which is how Rory finds herself arriving at a London boarding school the September of her senior year while her parents begin a teaching sabbatical in Bristol.

Rory isn’t sure what to expect of England much less her English school–especially when she finds out she will be playing hockey every single day as part of her curriculum. Rory’s expectations become unimportant soon enough when something strange happens.

Someone is killing London women and mimicking the gruesome crimes of Jack the Ripper–the notorious killer who terrorized London in the autumn of 1888 without ever being captured or even identified. The modern-day murders leave few leads. Nothing shows up on camera. No one sees anything. Still the murders continue as “Rippermania” grips the city.

In the midst of the murders something even stranger happens to Rory. She sees a man the night before a body is found on school grounds. Rory knows what she saw. But her roommate was with her and saw nothing. It can’t be coincidence. But can it really be the New Ripper?

An outsider in every way, Rory soon finds herself at center of the investigation of the Ripper murders. As she learns more about the crimes and the suspect, Rory learns she is also at the center of something else–something stranger and possibly much more dangerous in The Name of the Star (2011) by Maureen Johnson.

The Name of the Star is the first book in Johnson’s Shades of London series.

Starting with details from the original Ripper murders, Johnson creates a tense mystery all her own in The Name of the Star.  Suspense blends with the supernatural as Rory learns more about the Ripper (new and old) and also about her own strange connection to the investigation.

Rory is a completely likable, authentic heroine. Her take on London and English boarding school, colored by her Southern sensibilities, adds much needed wit and humor to what could have been an otherwise horribly grim story.By the middle of the novel Johnson turns everything upside down taking the story in a surprising direction and introducing many of my favorite characters.*

In addition to her usual humor, Johnson keeps the writing her tense building suspense to nearly unbearable levels by the last quarter of the novel.

In addition to being a mystery with a unique setting, The Name of the Star is filled with twists and not a few surprises that will keep readers guessing well past the last page–not to mention leaving readers extremely eager for the next Shades of London book.

The Name of the Star is an exceptional start to what I fully expect to be a brilliant series.

*Team Stephen forever! In all seriousness though, I think the latter half of the novel is more indicative of the direction the series will take in the next book and I’m really excited to see if I’m right. Reading more about Stephen is just an added bonus.

Possible Pairings: Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff