Pretending to Be Erica: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle PainchaudErica Silverman was kidnapped when she was five years old and she hasn’t been seen since. Two other girls came to Las Vegas to pretend to be Erica and try to steal her life. They were both caught. But they didn’t have Violet’s father Sal backing them.

Sal knows that Erica is gone and he has something none of the previous con artists did: Erica’s DNA. He also has been training Violet to con the Silvermans since she was five years old. Violet shares Erica’s blood type and has undergone plastic surgery to make sure her face matches the age projections of Erica. She isn’t going to make the same mistake the other Ericas made. Violet isn’t there to stay; she doesn’t need to become Erica forever.

All Violet has to do is keep up the charade long enough to steal the coveted Silverman Painting. It should be easy. Except the longer she spends as Erica, the more Violet wants the stability and comforts of Erica’s life for herself. Violet knows why she is living with the Silvermans, she knows exactly how to sell the lie, she knows the endgame. The only thing Violet doesn’t know is what to do when she wants to believe the con herself in Pretending to Be Erica (2015) by Michelle Painchaud.

Pretending to Be Erica is Painchaud’s debut novel. Violet narrates her time impersonating Erica in the first person while flashbacks to her childhood as Violet are related in third person.

While the writing is sleek and sharp, this novel really shines with its protagonist. Violet has no idea what a real family or a true friend looks like before she arrives at the Silverman home. Affection and basic comforts are alien concepts to her and even the friends she begins to make when Erica returns to high school feel strange and dangerous. Against the backdrop of her con, Violet begins to understand that she’s allowed to want more than a precarious life built on lies and tricks.

Pretending to Be Erica has all the earmarks of a traditional thriller or heist mystery. Tension is high as the stakes increase and Violet’s carefully drawn lines between her real life as Violet and her fake life as Erica begin to blur. Suspense and the numerous moving parts of the con come together for a high action conclusion.

Pretending to Be Erica is the perfect choice for readers who like their heroines to be as intense and unexpected as their mysteries. A fast-paced yet introspective story about a con, a heist, and a girl doing the best she can to save herself when it start to feel like she could lose everything.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud was one of my favorite reads of 2016. Raised by a conman who is the only father she's ever known, Violet has been preparing to become Erica for almost as long as she can remember. Now the time has come. Plastic surgery has smoothed out the differences in their appearance, years of practice and preparation do the rest. Becoming a dead girl is surprising easy once Violet is returned to Erica's family. All Violet has to do now is keep the lie going long enough to steal the Silverman Painting that every Vegas criminal has dreamt of scoring themselves. Violet thought she was ready to become Erica. But it turns out pretending to be someone else is much harder when you want the lie to be the truth. Pretending to Be Erica is an engrossing thriller and a sleek heist story. But it's also a story that's all about a girl learning to be kind to herself and forgive herself. You can also see the beautiful card here that @thatsostelle made for me this year (including an appropriate pep talk to cut myself more flask!). I've framed the card and the book is on my shelves already, but I love seeing them together here. Definitely add this backlist title to your to read list if you're a mystery fan. #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #bookaddict

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Snow Like Ashes: A Review

Snow Like Ashes by Sara RaaschSixteen years ago the kingdom of Spring invaded Winter. The Winterians were captured and enslaved during the invasion and the kingdom was left without a ruler or the locket that serves as a vessel for its magic.

Eight survivors escaped that day. They have spent the years since hiding, training, and following any clue that might bring them closer to reclaiming their lost kingdom. Meira has lived among the refugees for most of her life. Her memories of Winter come from the stories of her older companions, leaving the ruined kingdom feeling more like a concept than a home.

Meira is determined to prove her worth among her band and show that she can and will do whatever it takes to save Winter and to protect Winter’s heir, Mather–the boy Meira loves even though she knows he will need to forge a powerful alliance for Winter with his marriage to someone more influential and powerful.

When the refugees have a solid lead on part of the Winterian locket, Meira impetuously strikes out to steal it back. The mission doesn’t go as planned thrusting Meira and her friends on a dangerous path toward unknown magic, risky alliances, and a destiny Meira never could have imagined in Snow Like Ashes (2016) by Sara Raasch.

Snow Like Ashes is the first book in Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes trilogy. Meira’s story continues in Ice Like Fire and Frost Like Night.

Meira narrates this novel in first person present tense. The close focus on her perspective leave a lot of room in the narrative for unexpected twists and surprises as the story moves forward. Because of her distance from the events of Winter’s past it also leads to a lot of information being passed along in clunky accounts of memories and past lessons.

Winter is part of a world with eight kingdoms, four seasons and four rhythms which move through all four seasons. While the concept is interesting, it’s never fully explained as Meira spends more time focused on fighting with her chakram and proving herself to the leader of the refugees. Meira is headstrong and often reckless but her heart is in the right place and she’s definitely a strong female character.

It’s worth noting that this novel makes nods to diversity but doesn’t quite meet the mark. Characters from other kingdoms have different coloring but the cast here is overwhelming white including the light skinned Spring citizens and Winterians who are winter pale with white hair.

Snow Like Ashes is a breakneck story filled with intense action, carefully described fights, and lots of battles. Raasch dives right into the action at the beginning of the book and doesn’t let up throughout the novel. Recommended for readers looking for plot driven fantasy above intricate characterization.

Possible Pairings: Frostblood by Elly Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

The Lie Tree: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Magic” was not an answer; it was an excuse to avoid looking for one.

The Lie Tree by Francis HardingeFaith Sunderly is no longer a child but at fourteen she is not quite a woman. Desperate for her father’s respect, Faith is keen to be seen as a proper young lady. But a proper young lady doesn’t have a sharp intellect or burning curiosity that drives her to acts of subterfuge. They certainly don’t harbor dreams of becoming a scientist.

Faith knows that some kind of calamity drove her family from their home in Kent to the strange island of Vane and ruined her father’s reputation. The Reverend Sunderly’s name is further sullied when he dies under strange circumstances soon after the family’s arrival. While her grasping mother does everything she can to ensure the Reverend has a Christian burial, Faith is resolutely certain that her father was murdered.

Investigating his death and the events that brought the family to the island, Faith discovers that her father was hiding an odd tree that thrives in near darkness and bears fruit for every lie it’s told. Stranger still, every piece of fruit can reveal a secret truth.

Hoping to prove her worth as a scientist and discover her father’s murderer, Faith plans to study the tree and use its fruit. But revealing a truth as large as the identity of a murderer requires monstrous lies which soon gain a life of their own and threaten to destroy far more than Faith’s reputation in The Lie Tree (2016) by Frances Hardinge.

The Lie Tree is Hardinge’s latest standalone novel.

The Lie Tree is atmospheric and evocative with vibrant descriptions of the island landscape. Hardinge seamlessly blends a variety of genres in this book which features a compelling mystery, a thoughtfully detailed historical setting circa 1868, and fascinating fantasy elements.

In her short life Faith has come up against the limitations of her gender repeatedly and seen the scientific world she so loves betray her again and again. Faith knows she is capable of becoming more than a decorative and occasionally witty wife like her mother. Yet the men in her life constantly remind Faith that to want more, indeed to want almost anything at all, runs contrary to her proper place in the world. As a result Faith is a pragmatic and often ruthless heroine. She knows she is unkind and unlikable. She doesn’t care. This fact is deftly illustrated with her reluctant association with Paul–an island boy unwillingly drawn into Faith’s investigations.

This complex and nuanced narrative is all about contrasts and tensions. The Lie Tree takes place at a time when scientists are still struggling to find ways to articulate evolution and to reconcile scientific advancements with spiritual belief. Faith’s father is terrified of what evolution and archaeology might mean for his already fragile religious faith. His efforts to find definitive proof of one or the other ultimately becomes his undoing.

The Lie Tree also examines the ways in which femininity can be exploited and manipulated as demonstrated by its varied cast of characters. Faith explores this theme throughout the narrative as she tries to make sense of her role in an adult world that has little use for her both as a not-quite child and as a young woman.

Recommended for readers who like their fantasy to come with mystery, suspense, a firmly historical setting and a healthy dose of feminism. The Lie Tree is a provocative and fascinating novel guaranteed to stay with readers long after the book is finished. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Steeplejack by A. J. Hartley, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, A Tyranny of Petticoats edited by Jessica Spotswood, The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller, The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

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

If I Was Your Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can have anything once you admit you deserve it.”

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith RussoAmanda Hardy is new to Lambertville, Tennessee and nervous about starting at a new school for her senior year. She isn’t sure what to expect when she moves in with her father who she hasn’t seen in a few years. She isn’t sure if this town will be any kinder to her than the hometown she had to leave. All she wants to do is blend in and avoid getting too close to anyone. She’s used to being an outsider so it should be simple.

Grant Everett sorely tests Amanda’s resolve. He is funny, kind, and no one Amanda ever thought she could be with. Getting closer to Grant makes Amanda feel safe and known. So much so that shea wonders if it might be time to let Grant see all of her–including the secrets from her past.

But she has no idea if Grant will be able to see her as the girl he’s gotten to know when he finds out that Amanda used to be Andrew in If I Was Your Girl (2016) by Meredith Russo.

If I Was Your Girl is Russo’s first novel. It’s also important to mention that she is a transgender woman. An author’s note at the back of the book addresses some of her creative choices and provides further resources and support for trans teens.

This book is a really powerful and important story. Amanda is an empathetic heroine with a narrative voice that is immediately engaging and approachable. More importantly, this is not an issue-driven book. Instead, If I Was Your Girl is a sweet, introspective, and romantic story about a girl who happens to be transgender.

Everyone in If I Was Your Girl has a secret whether it’s something they’re hiding for their own protection or just because they’re embarrassed. These secrets include sexual orientation and a character who is hiding his mother’s health problems and his family’s low income status. The way these secrets unfold and play out in the narrative add another dimension to the story as Amanda and her friends learn about what it means–and what it can cost–to reveal your deepest truths to someone new.

Parts of the plot meander and even drag. Amanda’s adjustment to her new school is contrasted throughout the novel with flashbacks to her distant and recent past including moments when she was bullied, her decision to transition, and a heart-wrenching suicide attempt.

Russo presents Amanda’s story with tenderness and care. In addition to featuring a strong, transgender girl at its heart, this story also surrounds Amanda with support. Her life still isn’t easy–there are obstacles and hateful, scary moments. But throughout the story, Amanda also has her mother cheering her on and begins to rebuild her relationship with her estranged father. She finds friends who trust and accept her and a boy who cares deeply about her. If I Was Your Girl is a hopeful and uplifting story where Amanda works to become the person she’s always wanted to be.

Possible Pairings: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

Quintana of Charyn: A Review

“We could look at the side of wonder.”

Quintana of Charyn by Melina MarcherraFroi was left for dead on the mountaintops of Charyn, taken to his uncle–a gifted physician. He has lost Quintana. He has lost Gargarin and Lirah.

Quintana of Charyn is alone and in hiding. She might be the curse breaker, but first she will have to survive long enough to give birth to the new heir.

In Lumatere, the Charyn threat is growing. Lucian of the Monts is uncertain of how to deal with his unwanted neighbors across the valley. Isaboe wants to erase the royal line responsible for the days of the unspeakable and the murders of her family. Finnikin wants to find Froi before it’s too late. But in their months apart, both young men have changed.

Two countries torn apart by grief and rage will have to find common ground if either of them hopes to heal in Quintana of Charyn (2013) by Melina Marchetta.

Quintana of Charyn is the final book in Melina Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finninkin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles.

Quintana of Charyn picks up soon after the brutal events of Froi of the Exiles. Everything is still a mess. The characters are all separated. The outlook is bleak.

It’s difficult to talk about too much of the plot but suffice to say that Quintana of Charyn gives these characters the space and the ending that they deserve. Through careful writing and artful plotting, Marchetta subtly shifts her characters and tone. After the harrowing experiences of book two, this conclusion to her epic fantasy trilogy reads like a soothing balm.

It’s a testament to the strength of the writing and the intricacy of this series that absolutely everything comes together here. Marchetta uses the fantasy setting to explore larger issues of forgiveness and love as well as grieving and rebirth in this powerful novel.

Quintana of Charyn is a must read for fans of the first two books in the series. Readers looking for their next sweeping fantasy series should definitely start this series at the beginning. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Froi of the Exiles: A Review

Froi of the Exiles by Melina MarchettaIt has been three years since the curse on Lumatere was lifted. Three years since the Lumaterans trapped inside the kingdom for ten long years and those exiled during the siege reclaimed their land and tried to make it whole. But memories are long and recovery is slow as the country come to terms with what was lost during the time of the unspeakable and what has changed forever.

During his years as an exile, Froi never imagined he would find a home in Lumatere much less a position in the Queen’s Guard. He could not have guessed that he would one day count Queen Isaboe and her consort, Finnikin among his dearest friends. Even with so much changed, Froi is haunted by who he was during the exile. He has sworn a bond to the queen, and to Lumatere, that he might make up for his past and never stray again.

That bond is sorely tested when Froi is sent to a neighboring kingdom on a secret mission. In Charyn’s royal court Froi finds a princess who may speak prophecy or madness and twins who can offer two halves of the story behind Charyn’s own curse–and secrets of Froi’s past–if only they can learn to speak to each other again. In a barren kingdom where brutality has become more valuable than compassion for most, Froi will have to decide if he can stay true to his bond to Lumatere while also doing what is right in Froi of the Exiles (2012) by Melina Marchetta.

Froi of the Exiles is the second book in Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finnikin of the Rock.

Froi of the Exiles is a sweeping novel that blows the world of the Chronicles of Lumatere open as Froi and readers are introduced to new countries and cultures. This novel brings the strangely barren land of Charyn to life with stark, vivid descriptions. The dangers found in much of Charyn are expertly contrasted with moments of wondrous beauty and tempered by the sharp wit of these characters.

Marchetta offers a thoughtful meditation on forgiveness and recovery in Froi of the Exiles. Every character here has been broken in some way–sometimes by looming curses and other times by the casual cruelty of other people–that damage and those scars are givens. But it never defines them. Each character, but especially Froi, strives throughout the novel to move past that hurt and to take the damaged pieces and make himself into something stronger and better.

Froi of the Exiles is a masterful and well-executed novel where every word matters and the story will completely enthrall readers. Highly recommended. Part of a must-read series for fans of high fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Blackfin Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can’t be remarkable without being remarked upon.”

blackfinskyThree months ago, on the night of her sixteenth birthday, Skylar Rousseau fell from the pier and drowned in Blackfin.

But she also didn’t.

Three months later, Sky mysteriously returns to Blackfin with no memory of having died. Someone was pulled from the water. Someone was buried. No one, least of all Sky, is sure how that someone is not her.

No one knows exactly what happened to Sky and no one except Sean, her friend and long-time crush, wants to help her find answers. When impossibly real dreams begin to draw Sky to a strange circus in the woods, Sky knows the truth must be lurking there too.

Secrets are buried and waiting to be uncovered in the strange town of Blackin including truths about Sky and her past that could change everything in Blackfin Sky (2014) by Kat Ellis.

Blackfin Sky is Ellis’ first novel.

Blackfin is a strange town where the weather vane follows people instead of the breeze and church bells chime every hour even though the town has no church. Strange things are always happening in Blackfin. But a girl has never died and returned. Even in Blackfin.

Blackfin Sky begins with this impossible premise and strings it along into a well-realized fantasy filled with marvelously quirky things and not a fair bit of wonder. Sky’s understanding of her place in Blackfin begins to expand and change after her death when she finally realizes she might be more than a fascinating outsider to Blackfin’s locals.

Ellis populates this novel with a myriad cast of well-realized characters including supportive parents for Sky and an admirable sidekick in Sean. Excellent pacing and an action-packed plot move this story from one revelation to the next as Sky begins to uncover long-hidden secrets and learn more about her mysterious death.

Blackfin Sky offers the perfect blend of mystery and the supernatural (with just a bit of humor and romance) to create a story that is as satisfying as it is entertaining. Readers can only hope that Ellis will return to Sky and Blackfin in future novels.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my interview with Kat Ellis about this book starting March 12.