Kissing in America: A Review

Kissing in America by Margo RabbEva Roth’s father died two years ago. She tells everyone it was the result of a heart attack because the real answer–that he died in a plane crash–is too sensational and messy. No one asks more questions about a heart attack.

Eva’s father was always the one who understood her, the one she’d sit with and write. In his absence Eva feels more friction than anything else when it comes to her women’s studies professor mother–something her mother suspects is at the root of Eva’s love of romance novels.

When Eva meets Will Freeman it seems like she might have found someone who really understands. Someone who can possibly help her to move past her grief. Until he moves away.

Afraid of losing Will and everything he promises, Eva and her best friend Annie Kim make a plan to travel across the country to find Will again. Along the way Eva and Annie will see unexpected pieces of the country and learn some surprising things about love in Kissing in America (2015) by Margo Rabb.

Kissing in America is Rabb’s followup to her YA debut Cures for Heartbreak. This novel treads similar territory as Eva tries to find her way through grief and her teen years. Although it is often touted as a light romance and a summery read, this story is filled with melancholy and very much mired in Eva’s grief.

Rabb’s writing remains superlative and evocative. Eva’s love of poetry also plays out in the novel with references to and poems from Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Nikki Giovanni, Marie Howe, and other authors add another layer to this story. While this book is marketed as a romance, it is really Eva’s relationship with her best friend and with her mother that makes Kissing in America shine.

Eva’s mother in an interesting character who is a vocal feminist and a women’s studies professor. She terms Eva’s love of romance novels as a rebellion which never quite rings true as the romance genre is one where women are able to dominate the market and a genre that is often referenced for its feminist elements and even promoting female equality. That this never comes up in the story remains a frustrating omission.

Kissing in America is a thoughtful and witty road trip story about best friends, family, grieving and, of course, love. Recommended for readers looking for a smart read that will have them smiling through the tears.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Black and White by Paul Volponi, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

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To Hold the Bridge: A Review

To Hold the Bridge by Garth NixTo Hold the Bridge (2015) by Garth Nix is a collection of some of Nix’s previously published science fiction and fantasy short stories as well as a new Old Kingdom novella. Although To Hold the Bridge collects previously published stories, many of them were new to me and will likely be new to other readers as well. I was especially pleased that some of the stories included were ones not easily found in US editions.

Like most short story collections, this one had its strengths and its weaknesses. Instead of trying to review the entire collection in a few sentences, I decided to give smaller reviews of each story:

To Hold the Bridge: An Old Kingdom Story–Morghan has few prospects when he arrives at The Worshipful Company of the Greenwash Field and Market Bridge. His training as a new cadet is quickly tested when he has to hold the bridge against a necromancer’s Free Magic attack. I’m not sure if this story is circa Clariel, Sabriel, or Abhorsen but I hope we eventually see more of the Bridge and Morghan in a future book.

Vampire Weather–Amos lives in a secluded community that does not hold with modern technology or vaccinations. When Amos meets an alluring girl near the mailbox in the thick fog of vampire weather his life is irrevocably changed. An odd little story. A bit like the movie The Village.

Strange Fishing in the Western Highlands–A strange story about Malcolm MacAndrew’s first encounter with Hellboy (yes, that Hellboy). I love how Dark Horse does such weird things with their properties and it was kind of fun reading a prose story about a character usually seen in comics. I would like to see the anthology where this was originally published just for curiosity’s sake.

Old Friends–This story skewed on the older end (adult character, adult themes as it were) and was excellent. An alien is making a home on the coast of a small town when he realizes his enemies are coming for him. Fantastic narrative voice.

The Quiet Knight–Tony embrace his LARPing character’s heroism to find his voice in the real world. Few things amuse me as much as stories about Live Action Role Playing. This story was a bit short but entertaining.

The Highest Justice–Princess Jess summons Elibet, a unicorn to dispense high justice after her mother the Queen is murdered. Previously seen in Zombies vs. Unicorns. This is a short, dark story.

A Handful of Ashes–Mari and Francesca are students at a private boarding school for witches. Unlike most of the rich students, Mari and Francesca work in the kitchens to afford their tuition. When an old bylaw is established that threatens their position at the school–and the very safety of the school grounds–Mari and Francesca will have to take matters in their own hands to save the day. A delightful story about never accepting your lot and doing your part to make the world better. Possibly my favorite story in the collection. More of these two please!

The Big Question–Full circle story about a young man named Avel who leaves his village seeking wisdom and answers from a wise woman only to realize he doesn’t need to seek answers from someone else. This one was interesting but because the story covers such a large scope of time (most of Avel’s life), it is a bit hard to connect with the characters.

Stop!–Creepy and suspenseful story. When a mysterious figure shows up an atomic bomb test site in the desert he leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. There are hints here that the figure in question is an alien or even a dragon. It’s just really creepy. Trust.

Infestation–Wow. Judas as an alien and first ever vampire hunter. At least that’s my interpretation. I loved this story. It was incredibly cinematic and richly detailed. I would love to see this picked up for television.

The Heart of the City–A rather tedious story set in seventeenth century (or thereabouts) France where agents of the king work to corral and harness a dangerous angel’s power. It doesn’t go according to plan, of course.

Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West–Ambrose is recovering from a wartime (World War I) injury in the English countryside and hoping his days as an agent are far behind him. When supernatural creatures and old colleagues come knocking, Ambrose realizes leaving his past behind may not be an option anymore. It may never have been an option. This story is spooky and excellent. I hope Ambrose survives whatever comes next and I’d love to see more of him.

Holly and Iron–A story that borrows elements from the plot of Robin Hood and King Arthur blended with a world where natural magic and iron magic oppose each other. The world building here is very detailed but the characters felt under-developed in comparison.

The Curious Case of the Moon Dawn Daffodil Murder–A messy, madcap story about Sherlock Holmes’ brother. Not Mycroft. The other one.

An Unwelcome Guest–What happens when a girl runs away from home and decides to move in with the local witch? Nothing good for the witch, that’s for sure. This was a fine reinterpretation of Rapunzel and a well-done fractured fairy tale in the fine tradition of Vivian Vande Velde.

A Sidekick of Mars–Everyone knows about John Carter’s adventures on Mars but now Lam Jones is here to tell you how it really went. He should know having been with John a good eighteen percent of the time. This was a funny story but I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have if I actually knew anything about John Carter.

You Won’t Feel a Thing–Blaaaaaah. This story is set in the world of Shade’s Children but ten years before the events of that book. Shade’s Children is the only book by Garth Nix that I have read that was so horrendously upsetting I couldn’t finish it. This story was about the same.

Peace in Our Time--A very grim and unsatisfying steampunk story. I tend to think of steampunk as a sci-fi subgenre with a generally lighter tone which was not at all true for this story.

Master Haddad’s Holiday–When Haddad is sent on a mission to earn his Master Assassin status, he knows his chances of success are slim. Still, he endeavors to succeed where others would likely fail. This story is set in the same universe as A Confusion of Princes and it is as delightfully high-action as that book.

To Hold the Bridge is a solid anthology although it is not quite as consistent as Nix’s earlier collection Across the Wall.

My favorite stories were definitely “A Handful of Ashes,” “Infestation,” “Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West,” and “Master Haddad’s Holiday.” I could read about those characters all day.

Nix became a favorite author of mine because of his fantasy and the fantasy stories are the strongest ones here. Although not all of the stories were stellar, this collection demonstrates Nix’s range as an author. Recommended for fans of the author, readers who enjoy short stories, and fans of speculative fiction.

Goldenhand: A Review

*This is the fifth book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series. It contains major spoilers for the rest of the series. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel*

Goldenhand by Garth NixSix months ago, Lirael was instrumental in the binding of Orannis where she lost her hand and was separated her from her truest friend, the Disreputable Dog. Now Lirael has a new hand forged out of metal and Charter Magic. She is no longer a Second Assistant Librarian in the Clayr but the Abhorsen-in-Waiting using her bells to bind and banish both Free Magic creatures and the dead.

When Lirael’s duties as Abhorsen-in-Waiting bring her across the wall to Ancelstierre, she saves Nicholas Sayre from a dangerous Hrule only to realize his injuries are slow to heal because of the Free Magic that riddles his body despite the Charter mark meant to contain it.

As Lirael seeks help for Nick at the Clayr’s Glacier, trouble brews near the northern borders of the Old Kingdom. A girl named Ferin leaves her nomadic clan to travel across dangerous terrain evading pursuers and Free Magic creatures as she makes her way toward the Clayr’s Glacier with a message for Lirael about a threat from the Witch with No Face.

Lirael, Ferin, and others will have to work together to unravel the truth of who the Witch with No Face is and what she is planning. With magic keeping the Witch alive both in Life and Death, it will take everything Lirael and her friends have to stop this new threat in Goldenhand (2016) by Garth Nix.

Goldenhand is the fifth book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel. This book is set six months after the events of Abhorsen and picks up immediately after the conclusion of Nix’s novella “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case” found in his short story collection Across the Wall.

Nix blows the world of the Old Kingdom wide open in this installment as he brings his characters and readers North of the Old Kingdom where even the Great Charter cannot reach.

Written in close third person, Goldenhand alternates chapters following Ferin’s journey to deliver her message and Lirael’s travels to the Glacier with Nick and then beyond the borders of the Old Kingdom.

Ferin is a fine addition to this series with a brusque manner and directness that is refreshing and contrasts particularly well with Lirael’s often tentative interactions as she makes sense of her new status and notoreity.

It’s fantastic to see Lirael’s growth as she processes and reacts to the fact that she is not the person she once was (a Sightless Second Assistant Librarian, that is) and learns to embrace her new position and everything that comes with it. Lirael’s relationship with Nick is guileless and utterly charming as these two characters circle each other and ultimately make each other better as they grow closer.

Goldenhand is an interesting expansion of the world of the Old Kingdom and the conclusion this series needed and deserved when the original trilogy ended. A completely satisfying end to a favorite series. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

The Thousandth Floor: A Review

The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGeeThe year: 2118. The city: Manhattan. The place: The Tower–the world’s first thousand floor skyscraper. Other buildings have since overtaken the Tower but it still stands as an icon in Manhattan where it acts as a city unto itself.

Everyone thinks Leda Cole has everything. But after a stint in rehab, she’s learning that it’s all too easy to give into her addictions when things stop going her way.

Eris Dodd-Radson has the perfect family, wealth, and beauty. Until a family secret ruins all of that.

Rylin Myer’s life is far from glamorous all the way down on the thirty-second floor of the Tower. As the only person who can take care of her younger sister, Rylin is determined to do whatever it takes to survive at any cost.

Watt Bakradi has an illegal computer and hacking skills that could get him in a lot of trouble. When Watt is hired to spy on a girl on the upper floors, he can’t imagine the ways it will complicate his life.

Up on the thousandth floor, Avery Fuller has the best of the best right down to her genetically engineered looks. But this girl who can have everything is haunted by the one thing that remains stubbornly out of her reach.

The Tower is a world unto itself with everything residents could want–especially the residents of the upper floors. But when you’re all the way at the top, it’s a long fall back to the bottom in The Thousandth Floor (2016) by Katharine McGee.

The Thousandth Floor is McGee’s first novel and the start of a new series.

If you have ever wondered what a book might look like with elements of the Gossip Girl series and pieces from the game Tiny Tower, look no further. Filled with twists and turns this novel is exactly what you’d expect from its pitch complete with truly fascinating (and often horrifying) world building.

McGee rotates between the close, third-person points of view of several characters to create narratives with unexpected points of intersection. The Thousandth Floor is a fun bit of mystery with sensationalism and voyeuristic thrills thrown in as readers are thrown into the world of the Tower. Recommended for readers looking for a juicy diversion that doesn’t shy away from drama. A great stepping stone for readers looking to try their hand at speculative fiction as well.

Possible Pairings: Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar, Falling into Place by Amy Zhang

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

Currently reading The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee. The year is 2118 and most of Manhattan has been redesigned to accommodate The Tower–the first thousand floor skyscraper in the world. The Tower is a world unto itself with everything residents could want–especially the residents of the upper floors. But when you're all the way at the top, it's a long fall back to the bottom. The Thousandth Floor is exactly what you'd expect with a premise that blends Gossip Girl and Tiny Tower. A fun diversion you should watch for this August. #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram

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Dreamology: A Review

Dreamology by Lucy KeatingAlice has been meeting Max in her dreams for as long as she can remember. Every night they travel through the dream world having adventures together. Alice is madly in love with Max, after all he is her dream boy.

But that’s the problem too. Max doesn’t actually exist.

At least not until Alice and her father move to Boston and Alice finds Max at her new school. Unfortunately Real Max isn’t at all like Dream Max. He claims he doesn’t know Alice and that he wants nothing to do with her.

While Alice is desperately avoiding Real Max she and Dream Max are still having beautiful dreams together. But something is wrong in their dreams too. As elements of their dreams start to appear in their waking lives, Alice and Max realize that their dreams might be ending all too soon in Dreamology (2016) by Lucy Keating.

Dreamology is Keating’s first novel.

Alice narrates this story in first person including dream sequences and her day-to-day life. While the dream sequences add a strong dose of silliness, Alice is still dealing with pent up feelings from her mother’s abandonment years ago. She and her father are still working out how they work as a family of two (two and a half with their dog).

Although she is often naive to the point of rashness, Alice is an endearing heroine with an authentic voice and problems that will be relatable (and seem surmountable) to teen readers.

There is no way around it: the premise here is kind of wacky. Readers able to provide a willing suspension of disbelief will enjoy this funny story where dreams blend with reality and romance transcends both. Dreamology is a quick diversion with a sweet romance and a nice touch of humor.

Possible Pairings: Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, I Woke Up Dead at the Mall by Judy Sheehan, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

 

The Decent Proposal: A Rapid Fire Review

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan (2016)

The Decent Proposal by Kemper DonovanTwo strangers are approached and told that a mysterious benefactor will give them each five hundred thousand dollars at the end of the year. All they have to do is talk to each other weekly for a minimum of two hours one-on-one.

Although Elizabeth is suspicious of the offer and has little need for the money as an eight year associate at her law firm, she agrees with Richard that they have nothing to lose. Richard, for his part, certainly has everything to gain with his career floundering and his savings depleted.

What starts as an agreement to get easy money quickly becomes something more as Richard and Elizabeth get to know each other. Richard and Elizabeth had different reasons for agreeing to meet but can friendship (and maybe even something more) really be forced with the promise of a monetary incentive?

Donovan’s debut novel starts with a unique premise sure to draw readers in. The title and plot are immediately intriguing. Unfortunately, the novel’s execution is underwhelming by comparison.

The Decent Proposal is set in Los Angeles–the novel works especially hard to stress the latter with copious asides and details about life in LA and its neighborhoods that add little to the plot. The characters, though diverse, are often one-dimensional with good looks that alternate between effortless and understated depending on the character.

The choice to frame Elizabeth as an uptight and somewhat repressed woman who needs a man as an impetus to show her how to loosen up and embrace spontaneity was also deeply frustrating. There is a bit of mystery surrounding how and why Elizabeth and Richard are chosen for the proposal but that isn’t enough to make up for the slight characterization throughout.

The Decent Proposal is a self-aware story with a diverse cast of characters and a fun premise. A fun story about connection ideal for readers who are more concerned with a good plot than with fully developed characters.

Beauty: A (Classic!) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Beauty by Robin McKinleyIt has been many years since Beauty liked her nickname. It is better than Honour, to be sure. And better, at this point, to keep it than to admit the folly of such a nickname. But she knows far too well that she is no beauty. Not really and certainly not compared to her sisters. She is thin and awkward and short.

No one quite believes it when their father returns home with tales or an enchanted house in the woods and a Beast who lives there. They don’t even want to consider the bargain their father was forced to strike.

She may not be pretty but Beauty is smart. She is kind, just like her sisters. And, when it comes time to make a dangerous choice, she is brave in Beauty (1978) by Robin McKinley.

Beauty is the first book in a trilogy of companion novels by McKinley that retell popular folktales. Beauty is a retelling of the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast.” Originally published in 1978, this novel is also strikingly close to Disney’s classic animated version of the story.

Beauty is a pragmatic narrator who does not tolerate nonsense and values books and intelligence above almost everything else. Beauty’s narration is thoughtful and brisk as the story moves along. Beauty is appropriately introspective as Beauty makes sense of her new surroundings and begins to unravel some of the Beast’s secrets.

This novel is filled with a level of thought and detail typical to one of McKinley’s books. The settings are vibrant and evocative. The characters are vivid and authentic. Even with so much description and exposition, Beauty is an engrossing read.

Beauty is a must-read for fans of fairy tale retellings and fantasy readers alike. Also ideal for readers who prefer smart heroines and romances with a slow burn.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin