Tunnel of Bones: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Maybe is a match in the dark.

“Maybe is a rope in a hole, or the key to a door.

“Maybe is how you find the way out.”

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria SchwabCassidy Blake’s best friend Jacob is a ghost. This wasn’t as big of an issue until Cassidy and her parents (and Jacob) traveled to Scotland to film a TV about the world’s most haunted places. There Cassidy learned that she isn’t just a girl who can talk to ghosts. She is a ghost hunter tasked with putting ghosts to rest.

This has, understandably, created some tension between the two friends.

But understanding her role as a ghost hunter will have to wait when the Blakes travel to Paris and Cassidy accidentally awakens a dangerously strong ghost.

As the new ghost and Jacob both grow stronger Cassidy will have to rely on old friends and new to put this new menace to rest before it’s too late in Tunnel of Bones (2019) by Victoria Schwab.

Find it on Bookshop

Tunnel of Bones is the second book in Schwab’s middle grade series following Cassidy Blake. The story starts in City of Ghosts but thanks to sufficient recaps the books can be read independently or even out of order.

I love this series. There is nothing more comforting to me than reading about Cassidy’s growing pains as a friend to Jacob and as a fledgling ghost hunter. Readers can expect to see the usual spooky suspects in Paris including the Catacombs and a poignant visit to Notre Dame before the fire in April 2019 left the historic cathedral in ruins.

New locations and new reveals add dimension to Cassidy’s understanding of her ghost hunting abilities as well as Jacob’s backstory. Schwab expertly balances scares and laughs in this fast-paced read that is sure to entertain readers both young and old. A surprise ending will leave readers especially eager to see what awaits Cassidy and Jacob in the next installment.

Tunnel of Bones is as entertaining as it is evocative. Come for the ghosts and stay for the friendships–just be sure to have a snack on hand because the descriptions of all of the French cuisine Cassidy discovers will leave you hungry.

Possible Pairings: The Jumbies by Tracy Baptiste, Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The Gilded Wolves: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“When you are who they expect you to be, they never look too closely.”

cover art for The Gilded Wolves by Roshani ChokshiParis, 1889: Séverin Montagnet-Alarie is well-known throughout Paris society as a wealthy hotelier–a persona that helps him acquire secrets and artifacts from the French faction of the Order—powerful houses who manage all Forged artifacts and guard the secrets of the Babel Fragments that make Forging both materials and minds possible.

Over the years Séverin has created a loyal team to help with his acquisitions: Tristan, his brother in everything but blood; Enrique, his Filipino historian eager to champion his own cause; Zofia, a Polish engineer with obligations of her own; and Lailah, an Indian dancer with a secret that could be deadly.

The Order has taken everything from Séverin but if he and his crew find an ancient artifact for a rival, he could get it all back. If they succeed, Séverin will be able to change all of their fates. If the artifact doesn’t reshape the world first in The Gilded Wolves (2019) by Roshani Chokshi.

Find it on Bookshop.

Chokshi’s new series starter is a sumptuous, fascinating historical fantasy that perfectly evokes the luxury and unrest of Belle Époque Paris alongside a carefully detailed world where Babel fragments allow Forgers to create wonders including portable recording devices, animated topiaries, and even control minds.

Séverin and members of his crew alternate chapters in close third person introducing readers to their faceted backstories while the story itself unfolds in multiple directions. Chokshi has created an inclusive and authentic cast of characters (notably including a character on the autism spectrum as well as a character whose bisexuality is sensitively explored throughout the narrative). The entire team has obvious affection for each other along with the witty banter and twists fans of the author’s previous books will appreciate. Then there’s the chemistry between Séverin and Lailah which is so strong that the pages practically sizzle.

The Gilded Wolves is part mystery, part fantasy, and all adventure as Séverin and his team work to pull off a world-changing heist and make their own way in the world. In addition to solving ciphers and riddles while on the hunt for the artifact, Séverin’s crew also interrogates the troubling history of European colonialism and cultural appropriation showing that not everything in Belle Epoque Paris is solid gold.

Chokshi’s expert pacing, intricate alternate history, and a complex and fully realized magic system are perfectly executed in this ambitious novel. The Gilded Wolves is a delectably intriguing adventure and guaranteed to be your next obsession.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Rosh about this book!

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Reader by Traci Chee, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, Enchantée by Gita Trelease

*A more condensed version of this review was published in the December 2018 issue of School Library Journal as a starred review*

Painting Pepette: A Picture Book Review

Painting Pepette by Linda Ravin Lodding and Claire Fletcher Josette Bobette lives at #9 Rue Laffette, Paris with her family and her toy rabbit, Pepette. Josette loves Pepette dearly and takes her everywhere. One day when she and  are cuddling in the great room, she notices that every member of the Bobette family has a portrait hanging on the wall. Except that there is no portrait of Pepette!

Determined to fix this egregious omission, Josette and Pepette take to the streets of Paris to find an artist who can paint Pepette’s portrait and create a picture as special as she is in Painting Pepette (2016) by Linda Ravin Lodding, illustrated by Claire Fletcher.

Traveling through the busy streets of 1920s Paris, Josette and Pepette meet Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, and Henri Matisse. Each artist is eager to paint Pepette but Josette soon realizes that none of them quite capture everything that makes her rabbit so special (and Pepette has to agree). After a busy day and several portraits, Josette realizes that she is the best candidate to paint a portrait of Pepette and she finally finds a picture just as special as her special friend, Pepette.

Rhyming names and a repeated refrain (And Pepette had to agree) make this an excellent story time title with a lot of potential as a read-a-loud. Bold illustrations take advantage of the large page size alternating between detailed two-page spreads and closer shots of individual characters. Fletcher excellently conveys the individual styles and aesthetics of each artist that Josette encounters during her travels.

The famous artists are not mentioned by name in the story. Instead, each artists presents Josette with their portrait of Pepette which demonstrates their artistic style. An author’s note at the end of the book details exactly who Josette meets during her day too. The references to actual artists make Painting Pepette a versatile read sure to appeal to art enthusiasts both young and old.

Painting Pepette is a charming picture book filled with riotously colorful illustrations and naturally flowing text which easily moves readers through the story.

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

A Little in Love: A (Rapid Fire) Review

A Little in Love by Susan Fletcher (2015)

A Little in Love by Susan FletcherA Little in Love is a retelling of Les Miserables which focuses on Eponine’s story. In reading this book I discovered that, despite seeing the musical in college, I had retained very little of the story. Worse, I realized I had very little interest in reading a new retelling.

In retrospect this should have been obvious to me, but A Little in Love is not a fun story. One might even go as far as to say that it was, well, miserable. Eponine has a hard life which Fletcher aptly fleshes out in this story. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough to hold my attention.

The characters, particularly Eponine’s cruel parents, came across as thinly-drawn caricatures while the story lacked much forward momentum and demanded little investment from me as a reader. The writing also felt stilted with florid descriptions to no particular purpose.

I could see this appealing to fans of Hugo’s original novel or the musical. It would also work well for readers who enjoy reading sad stories. For me, however, this one largely missed the mark.

*An advance copy of this book was acquire from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Charlie, Presumed Dead: A Review

charliepresumedeadEveryone is going to miss Charlie. He’s young, handsome, rich and charming. A world-traveler who always knows the right thing to say and all the right people. It’s a tragedy when Charlie is presumed dead when his bloody jacket is found at the site of a shocking accident with no trace of a body left behind.

Charlie’s memorial service is filled with mourners despite the short notice–including Lena and Aubrey. Although the two girls have never met, they have one important thing in common: both of them are dating Charlie.

While Aubrey came to the memorial seeking closure and hoping to move on from her tumultuous year as Charlie’s girlfriend, Lena is certain that there is more to Charlie’s disappearance including clues that will lead them both on an international hunt for the truth.

Traveling from Paris to London, Mumbai, Kerala and Bangkok will teach Aubrey and Lena some hard truths about themselves and whether they can trust each other. Their trip will also reveal shocking truths about Charlie that are beyond anything they could have imagined in Charlie, Presumed Dead (2015) by Anne Heltzel.

Charlie, Presumed Dead is Heltzel’s first novel.

Lena and Aubrey are complete opposites with few reasons to trust each other and fewer reasons to like each other. Heltzel’s dual narration allows readers to understand more of each girl’s motivations as well as their secrets. Charlie, Presumed Dead is a tense thriller that will have readers questioning everything.

Charlie, Presumed Dead has a narrow focus on Lena and Aubrey as they unravel Charlie’s lies. What begins as a simple plot expands into a simultaneously creepy and surreal journey as their search is contrasted against vivid international locations inspired by the author’s own travels.

Filled with twists, jaw-dropping shocks and several genuinely scary moments, Charlie, Presumed Dead is a page-turning mystery guaranteed to keep readers guessing until the very last page.

Possible Pairings: Dial M for Murder by Marni Bates, Shift by Jennifer Bradbury, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, After the Kiss by Terra McVoy, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

Faces of the Dead: A Review

Faces of the Dead by Suzanne WeynMarie-Therese Charlotte is the Child of France despite never setting foot outside the palace. As the daughter of Louis the XVI and Marie Antoinette, Marie-Therese lives a life of luxury and isolation save for her dear friend Ernestine.

When the two girls realize they are strikingly similar in appearance, Marie-Therese hatches a plan to see the real Paris once and for all. But what Marie-Therese sees outside the palace is a shock. People are hungry and angry at the royal family. There is talk of revolution everywhere. After befriending a boy she meets in Paris, Marie-Therese is no longer sure who is right or even what to believe.

But as revolution rages and the Terror cuts a bloody path through Paris, Marie-Therese will be forced into hiding while Ernestine holds the princess’ place as a captive. Taking refuge with Henri at a well-known wax exhibit, Marie-Therese will learn that she is not the only one in Paris with a secret. Even the wax figures themeselves may be hiding something in Faces of the Dead (2014) by Suzanne Weyn.

Weyn delivers a powerhouse novel with high appeal and lots of action in a slim and easy to read volume. Although Marie-Therese often comes across as immature and naive, it generally makes sense in the context of the story and her origins.

A supernatural twist with wax figures and historical characters add a fun layer to this story as Weyn draws out real details to fantastical conclusions. Although the romantic element here is not always the most convincing, Faces of the Dead remains a solid story that serves as a fine introduction to both voodoo and the French Revolution.

An author’s note at the end of the story separates fact from fiction and highlights the real figures from history who feature in the story for further reading options.

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

Isla and the Happily Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie PerkinsIsla Martin has had a hopeless, all-consuming crush on Josh Wassertein since their first year at the School of America in Paris. After years of pining, Isla has grown used to watching Josh from afar.

Then one magical, painkiller-fueled, chance encounter in New York the summer before their senior year changes everything.

After years of bad timing and missed connections, Josh and Isla are finally together. But with false-starts and near-misses aplenty, neither of them is sure this relationship is meant to last. Isla doesn’t understand how someone like Josh can ever feel as deeply for her as she does for him. Neither is sure how to deal with the growing pains and doubts that stem from their new, intense relationship.

With uncertain plans for college and the future looming,  Josh and Isla will have to learn to be apart before they have any chance of staying together in Isla and the Happily Ever After (2014) by Stephanie Perkins.

Find it on Bookshop.

Isla and the Happily Ever After is the highly anticipated conclusion to Perkins’ loose trilogy that began with Anna and the French Kiss and continued with Lola and the Boy Next Door. These books function as perfect companions to each other but Isla’s story is very much her own and functions as a standalone. Readers who have followed these books from the start, however, will be pleased with cameos from all the obvious suspects toward the end of the novel.

While much of the story focuses on Isla and Josh’s fledgling relationship, Perkins also artfully explores changing friendships as well as the complexities relationships with sisters. Kurt, Isla’s best friend, is an especially wonderful addition to the story. Isla’s panic at facing her future both in terms of college and life beyond is authentic and well-handled throughout the story.

Although Josh and Isla are perfect together, Isla’s growth is happily a solo endeavor as she is forced to acknowledge her flaws as well as her strengths and wants. Isla (and Josh) are often foolish and make mistakes but they also both learn and begin to thrive because of them.

Perkins is a master when it comes to writing clever, swoony romances. Josh and Isla are perfect counterpoints to each other in this story about first love and growing up. Isla and the Happily Ever After is an apt conclusion for these characters and a perfect romance for anyone looking for a smile.

Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, When It Happens by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marhcetta, Damaged by Amy Reed, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

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

Starry Nights: A Review

Starry Nights by Daisy WhitneyJulien Garnier is a skilled draftsman even if his own works always lack that creative spark found in great art. But that’s usually okay. Working as a tour guide in the museum his mother runs means that Julien is never far away from the inspiration and beauty found in the works of Van Gogh, Monet and other old talents–especially other Impressionists.

When a peach falls out of a painting and Olympia’s cat wanders the museum, Julien thinks he must be dreaming. Then Degas’ dancers jete across the museum floor and Julien realizes that, impossible as it seems, what he is seeing is very, very real.

When a lost Renoir arrives at the museum, Julien can’t help but fall in love with the girl it depicts. He falls even harder when she walks out of the painting and introduces herself.

But Clio isn’t like the other art. Instead of a mere depiction, Clio is a real girl trapped inside the painting by a strange and powerful curse.

As Julien learns more about Clio and how he might be able to free her, other strange things begin affecting are throughout the museum. As the paintings twist and change, Julien and Clio must race to find a way to break the curse–even if it might tear them apart in Starry Nights (2013) by Daisy Whitney.

With its beautiful cover and intriguing premise, who wouldn’t be excited about Starry Nights? The book itself is physically beautiful with full color endpapers featuring some of the paintings mentioned in the story. The initial summary is also extremely appealing to any art enthusiast.

Although this book is adorably romantic with a decidedly French feeling conveyed in the setting, it never quite realizes its potential. Instead of becoming a resonant or memorable story, Starry Nights falls short in key moments where the characters and the events themselves could have gone further. Part of the problem here is definitely too much happening in too short a book.

Starry Nights is only 288 pages (hardcover) and Whitney packs a lot into those pages. The realms of believability (even in a story where art comes to life) are tested and stretched repeatedly as new dimensions are added to the story and the premise reshapes itself around this new information.

While the settings and the initial premise were delightful the story became mired in less enjoyable details including, sadly, a romantic pairing that was never quite as convincing as it needed to be for such a patently romantic book. Starry Nights will be a joy for art fans and readers looking for a superficially satisfying romance with some offbeat twists. Readers looking for a richer story or characters with more depth may have to look elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: Heist Society by Ally Carter, Graffitti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece by Edward Dolnick, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, Temping Fate by Esther Friesner, Darker Still by Leanna Renne Hieber, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*

A Spark Unseen: A Review

A Spark Unseen by Sharon CameronWhen Katharine Tullman took charge of her uncle’s estate two years ago, she knew there would be difficulties. She knew there were people who might want Uncle Tully and his brilliant mind; people who might do anything to secure his genius for their own purposes.

She just didn’t know she would be dealing with these circumstances on her own.

Nearly two years have past since Lane Moreau left Katharine behind at Stranwyne, promising he would return to her when he could. Katharine has been able, if not happy, to wait until Lane disappears. When she wakes in the night to witness a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, Katharine knows it is time to leave her beloved home.

She travels to Paris hoping to find answers and security for herself and those she holds dear. If she is very lucky, she hopes she will also find Lane.

Unfortunately nothing in Paris is as Katharine expects. Soon enough she caught up in a web of deceit and the political machinations of two governments. Everyone wants something from Katharine or her uncle. But only Katharine can decide whom she can trust in A Spark Unseen (2013) by Sharon Cameron.

A Spark Unseen is the followup to Cameron’s debut novel The Dark Unwinding. This story picks up two years after the events of The Dark Unwinding in 1854. After the opening chapters the majority of the novel is set in Paris, France.

Unfortunately, this book suffers for the location change. Stranwyne is so vivid and evocative that it became a character in The Dark Unwinding. By comparison, the Parisian atmosphere in this novel feels dry and unexciting and much of the beauty was lost with the French backdrop. While Katharine is still a delightful heroine even her charms seem diminished as the focus shifts in this book to a convoluted arms race centered around Uncle Tully and his inventions.

Cameron maintains a sense of urgency and page-turning tension throughout the story that will keep readers engrossed. However there is so much plot and so much action that it left very little room for the characters that readers came to love in the first book (or new characters for that matter). So many details had to be packed into such a small space that the entire novel felt rushed and much more plot driven.

A Spark Unseen ties up the story of Katharine and Lane (and Stranwyne) decently enough–fans of The Dark Unwinding will likely want to pick up this sequel to see what happens next. Either way A Spark Unseen remains a very different reading experience from its predecessor, not to mention losing much of the whimsy found in The Dark Unwinding.

Possible Pairings: Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, The Gilded Cage by Lucinda Gray, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*