The Witch of Blackbird Pond: A (Classic) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Kit Tyler leaves her home in Barbados to travel alone across the ocean to colonial Connecticut in 1687. She has no reason to stay in Barbados with her grandfather dead and buried. With nowhere else to go she undertakes the long boat trip on her own assured that she will be welcome with open arms by her aunt’s family.

Her arrival doesn’t go as expected. Kit’s uninhibited childhood in Barbados has left the sixteen-year-old wildly unprepared for life among her Puritan relatives. Her cousins covet her beautiful clothes even while her uncle looks at the bright colors and luxurious fabrics of her dresses with scorn. Kit barely recognizes her aunt, struggling to see any hint of her own mother in her aunt’s weather worn face.

When she discovers a beautiful meadow near a pond, Kit finds some much needed solitude and a break in the monotonous drudgery of life with her relatives. Kit also finds an unexpected friend in Hannah Tupper, an old woman who is shunned reviled by the community for her Quaker beliefs and rumors that claim Hannah is a witch.

As she learns more about Hannah and her life by the pond Kit will have to decide what, if anything, she is willing to give up for a chance to belong in The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958) by Elizabeth George Speare.

Have you ever had a visceral reaction to a book. The Witch of Blackbird Pond is that kind of title for me.

This Newbery award winner came to my attention after my aunt gifted me a copy from her days working at Houghton Mifflin when I was in grade school. Like a lot of books back then I motored through it, eventually donated my copy to my school library, and didn’t think about it again for years. But because I became a librarian and worked briefly at a bookseller, I encountered this classic title again as an adult.

Every time I saw it on a shelf I would feel that jolt of recognition. Yes, this book was one that meant so much to me as a child. It also, if you pay attention to book editions, has had some hideous covers over the years. My most recent rediscovery of The Witch of Blackbird Pond happened when The Book Smugglers featured the book in their Decoding the Newbery series. I enjoyed reading Catherine King’s thoughts (and share many of them) but what really jolted me was the cover. Because finally it was the cover I had first read so many years ago!

Finding and purchasing that edition prompted me to re-read The Witch of Blackbird Pond. I discovered a lot of the things I remembered loving when I read the story the first time: Kit’s determination and perseverance not to mention her friendship with Hannah Tupper. I also love the push and pull Kit has both with her cousins and her suitors. This story is more purely historical than I remembered and Speare’s writing is starkly evocative of Puritan New England.

For readers of a certain age, The Witch of Blackbird Pond needs no introduction or recommendation. Younger readers will also find a smart, character driven story. Perfect for fans of historical fictions and readers hoping to discover (or rediscover) a charming classic.

Possible Pairings: All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry, Chime by Franny Billingsley, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Conversion by Katherine Howe, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Witch Child by Celia Rees, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni

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But Then I Came Back: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Time served on planet earth is yours to use as you see fit. It keeps spinning, and just because someone’s life ends or pauses doesn’t mean we have to do the same.”

“We do have to rescue ourselves in the end, no matter how much we learn to lean on other people.”

Eden Jones fell in the river and hit her head. She was in a coma for a month. But then she woke up.

That’s when the real recovery begins as Eden has to teach her body how to walk, talk, and even eat again. All easy compared to trying to fit herself back into a life that moved on without her. Eden struggles to reconnect with her twin brother who used to know her better than anyone, her best friend who saved her, and her parents. But maybe she isn’t the person they remember anymore. Maybe she isn’t the person she remembers either.

Eden still feels a pull to wherever she was while she was in a coma–to the In Between place filled with flowers and a girl trying to tell her something that she can’t hear. The flowers follow Eden back into the real world where they start appearing everywhere. It turns out the girl followed Eden back too.

Jaz is in the hospital room next to Eden, comatose and unresponsive except that Eden still feels a pull toward her. As she tries to understand their connection, Eden also forms a surprising friendship with Joe–the boy who is desperate for Jaz to wake up. Eden might be the only person who can get Jaz to come back. Helping Jaz could mean losing a piece of herself. Or it could help Eden find something she’s been missing all along in But Then I Came Back (2017) by Estelle Laure.

But Then I Came Back is a companion to Laure’s debut novel This Raging Light. It begins a few weeks after the end of This Raging Light and tells Eden’s story.

Although she is facing a lot of external change most of Eden’s journey and development is internal as she tries to make sense of her interpersonal relationships–both new and old–and figure out who she is now and who she wants to become. For most of her life, Eden has defined herself as a ballet dancer with big plans. That future is thrown into doubt at the start of But Then I Came Back and Eden’s return to dance is a compelling addition to this story and as satisfying as her blooming relationship with Joe.

Laure channels Eden’s frenetic, energetic personality in a first person narration filled with staccato observations as she wakes up in the hospital and begins the arduous process of returning to her old life.The glaring contrast between Eden’s current reality and the pieces of her time In Between that begin to bleed into the waking world lend an eerie quality and a sense of urgency to this otherwise quiet story.

Eden’s voice and her experiences are completely different from Lucille’s in This Raging Light but themes of connection and perseverance tie these two characters and their stories together. But Then I Came Back is about loss, recovery, self-discovery, and choice. A powerful story about a girl who has to lose a lot before she can find herself again. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Fracture by Megan Miranda, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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

Be sure to check out my interview with the author about this book!

But Then I Came Back was one of my most anticipated 2017 releases. I couldn't wait to read this companion novel to Laure's electric debut This Raging Light. Stop by my blog today to check out my interview with Estelle Laure about the book and check tomorrow for my review. For now I'll leave you with a teaser of my summary for the book: 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Eden Jones fell in the river and hit her head. She was in a coma for a month. But then she woke up. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 That's when the real recovery begins as Eden has to teach her body how to walk, talk, and even eat again. All easy compared to trying to fit herself back into a life that moved on without her. Eden struggles to reconnect with her twin brother who used to know her better than anyone, her best friend who saved her, and her parents. But maybe she isn't the person they remember anymore. Maybe she isn't the person she remembers either. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Eden still feels a pull to wherever she was while she was in a coma–to the In Between place filled with flowers and a girl trying to tell her something that she can't hear. The flowers follow Eden back into the real world where they start appearing everywhere. It turns out the girl followed Eden back too. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Jaz is in the hospital room next to Eden, comatose and unresponsive except that Eden still feels a pull toward her. As she tries to understand their connection, Eden also forms a surprising friendship with Joe–the boy who is desperate for Jaz to wake up. Eden might be the only person who can get Jaz to come back. Helping Jaz could mean losing a piece of herself. Or it could help Eden find something she's been missing all along in But Then I Came Back (2017) by Estelle Laure. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #butthenicameback #estellelaure #clarendonfilter

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Suffer Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Suffer Love by Ashley Herring BlakeHadley St. Clair’s family fell apart last year when she came home to a door covered in papers that revealed, again and again, that her father cheated on her mother. Everyone is telling Hadley that it’s time to move on. Her best  friend doesn’t recognize the girl Hadley has become. Her father is constantly hurt by Hadley’s anger. Her mother says she is trying to save their marriage but she can barely stand to be around Hadley or her father.

Sam Bennett hopes he can start over when he moves to a new town with his mother and younger sister after his parents’ bitter divorce. Sam is tired of drama and wary of relationships. All he wants to do is survive senior year and move on to college where he can be far away from his parents and their tacit disapproval.

Hadley and Sam are both hurting. They’re both feeling abandoned and maybe even betrayed by their parents’ choices. Neither of them expects to find comfort or connection with the other–especially Sam who knows exactly how ludicrous their mutual attraction really is–but then they find exactly that. And maybe more in Suffer Love (2016) by Ashley Herring Blake.

The story alternates first-person narration between Hadley and Sam whose distinct personalities come across clearly. The hurt and anger both characters feel comes across strongly throughout the novel making parts of this story a bit brutal.

Hadley and Sam’s connection, hinted at as mysterious in the jacket copy, is revealed early on as Sam realizes he knows exactly who Hadley is and her connection to his family. While this element adds tension to the plot, the real crux of the story is how Hadley and Sam connect to each other and their families.

Both Hadley and Sam are authentic characters and realistically flawed. Neither of them have made the best decisions in the last year and they are both suffering the aftermath of their families being laid to waste with one marriage ending in divorce and the other barely holding it together.

Sam and Hadley are both nuanced and well-developed characters, often making their friends and parents seem one-dimensional in comparison. This character-driven novel interestingly works Shakespeare (whose plays Sam and Hadley are studying in class) into the plot which does add an extra something to the story.

Suffer Love is a visceral and emotive contemporary novel. Recommended for readers looking for a quick and romantic read.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

With Malice: A Review

“They’re hinging everything on meeting the legal term of having done something with malice aforethought. That you wanted to do something badly, and you planned it.”

With Malice by Eileen CookEighteen-year-old Jill Charron wakes up in a hospital room recovering from a broken leg and a traumatic brain injury with no memory of how she got there.

She doesn’t remember anything about her study abroad trip to Italy six weeks ago with her best friend Simone. She doesn’t remember the car crash that killed Simone or the flight her wealthy father chartered to get her to an American hospital. She doesn’t remember why she might need the lawyer her father has hired.

Everyone thinks they know what happened between Jill and Simone thanks to witness accounts and the sensational news coverage, but it’s up to Jill to figure out the truth for herself in With Malice (2016) by Eileen Cook.

This character-driven thriller teases out what might have happened between the two girls as the events leading to the accident slowly unfold. Jill’s recovery in the hospital includes realistically portrayed rehab for her broken leg and speech therapy for the aphasia that leaves her forgetting words. Therapy sessions allow Jill to process the trauma of the accident while working through her retrograde amnesia.

Cook intersperses Jill’s first person narration with supplemental materials including police interviews, news coverage, and blog posts about the car crash. Travel guide excerpts are as close as readers will get to any Italian locations as Jill’s memories of the trip remain elusive for most of the novel.

Flashbacks, Facebook posts, and emails help to further develop Jill and Simone’s characters as well as their complicated relationship. The rest of the cast fall more comfortably into stock character territory including the rich-but-absent dad, the smooth-talking lawyer and the wannabe-Casanova-tour-guide.

Questions of what Jill remembers and what might have been a dream or suggested memory lend a chilling quality to the conclusion of this novel. A solid thriller that expertly navigates familiar territory, With Malice will leave readers guessing until the very last page.

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the April 2016 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

Tell the Wind and Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees BrennanLucie Manette was born in the Dark City, where Dark magicians or those with families connected to Dark magic are kept close to the Light but not too close. She grew up in the Dark until her father was arrested. But that was two years ago. She’s out now.

Using cunning and strategy, Lucie saved her father when he was condemned. She brought them both into the luxury and relative safety of the Light.

Now, Lucie tries to put her time in the Dark behind her. She can offer no help to the people she loved and left behind when the city is ruled by the power and might of the magicians and politicians on the Light Council. It’s easier to keep a low profile and protect her father and spend time with her boyfriend, Ethan.

Lucie’s precarious world comes crashing down when a weekend trip goes horribly wrong and Ethan is accused of treason. Carwyn, a mysterious boy from Ethan’s past, can deflect suspicion but he, too, is hiding a secret that could ruin Ethan and his family.

Unrest is growing in both the Light and the Dark. When revolution comes, Lucie will have to decide which secrets to keep and which truths to tell. As she struggles to protect herself and those she cares about, Lucie will stop at nothing to save both Ethan and Carwyn. With luck and determination she can save one of them, but only one in Tell the Wind and Fire (2016) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Tell the Wind and Fire is a stand alone novel inspired by (and loosely retelling) A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Rees Brennan sticks to the structure of the original story while also adding her own spin to mark this book as the well-developed urban fantasy that fans of the author have come to expect. The contrast between Light and Dark magic as well as a richly detailed version of New York City come to life with vivid descriptions and carefully executed world building.

This novel brings a decidedly feminist slant to this familiar story. Instead of focusing on any of the male characters, Tell the Wind and Fire focuses its narrator, Lucie Manette. Throughout the novel, Rees Brennan gives Lucie (and her father) significantly more agency than they ever got from Dickens.

Lucie is a shrewd and calculating heroine. She is a survivor and she admits the high cost of that survival in a world where the stakes can literally be life and death. Lucie manipulates her femininity and her perception in the public eye to do what she must to keep herself and those who matter safe as both sides of the revolution vie to use her as a symbol for their cause.

Tell the Wind and Fire is everything you want in a retelling of a beloved classic. This novel will make you miss and want to re-read Dickens’ sweeping novel while also asserting itself as a strong novel in its own right. Highly recommended.

Possibly Pairings: The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Legend by Marie Lu, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Code Name Verity by Elizbeth Wein

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

email review to childrens_publicity@hmhco.com

This Raging Light: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Get through it. Just get through this day. Worry about the other ones later.”

“I am a hell-breathing fire monster and I will not totter.”

This Raging Light by Estelle LaureAfter her dad’s breakdown and her mother’s decision to leave town indefinitely to regroup, seventeen-year-old Lucille finds herself alone with bills mounting, food dwindling, and her little sister Wren who she is desperate to shield from everything that is quickly going to hell.

But with so many things missing from her life, Lucille isn’t sure what to do when other things start appearing–like inconvenient feelings for her best friend Eden’s twin brother, magical deliveries of food, and her changing dynamic with Eden.

Lucille is used to being responsible and she knows that if she takes everything one step at a time she can handle everything. She can find a job, she can take care of Wren, she can make sure no one notices that their mother is conspicuously absent. But Lucille isn’t sure if she can do all of that while holding onto her best friend and maybe falling in love in This Raging Light (2015) by Estelle Laure.

This Raging Light is Laure’s stunning debut novel.

I saw a lot of myself and my experiences mirrored in Lucille’s story. Talking about this book has become inseparable from talking about my own life. This Raging Light wasn’t something I even knew I needed until I had finished it.

In my mid-twenties I was underemployed and took on a lot of debt. It was incredibly hard to watch that debt pile up and to realize there was no one to fall back on. During that same time my mother was hospitalized twice and for a while it was touch and go. Worse, I had almost no support system the first time and no one I felt comfortable talking to about what was happening.

Those years were some of the hardest in my life and, even now, are some of the hardest to talk about. I came home many nights and cried until I ran out of tears. I was exhausted and certain that I couldn’t handle anything else. But I got up each day and I did it all again. I kept going. It was hard and it was awful but I know now that I can handle anything–everything–because of that time in my life.

This Raging Light is that kind of story and Lucille is that kind of character. She is an unintentional hero and an ordinary girl. She is scared and brave and strong. I am so glad that readers get to meet a girl like Lucille who pushes through every obstacle and just keeps going because that’s the only option.

There’s no easy way to say it: This Raging Light is a real gut punch to read–especially the final third. But here’s the thing: real life is like that too. Laure expertly captures the way in which everything is heightened and seems to happen all at once in any high anxiety situation.

Lucille’s story is somber and introspective. There is romance but there are also themes of family and survival as Lucille works to build a support system for herself from scratch. The way Lucille handles her life is extremely realistic and well-handled throughout the novel. The way every awful thing stacks up and the way Lucille often doesn’t get a chance to breathe is authentic and conveyed incredibly well with her unique narrative voice.

This Raging Light is a page-turner about first love and inner-strength. It’s an empowering novel about never giving up and survival. Highly recommended. I can’t wait to see what Laure does next.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, The Alison Rules by Catherine Clark, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, If I Fix You by Abigail Johnson, Golden by Jessi Kirby, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, This Ordinary Life by Jennifer Walkup, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2015*

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

Into the Dim: A Review

Into the Dim by Janet B. TaylorHope Walton is certain that her mother isn’t really dead. But no one else saw the flash of news coverage and no one can find any evidence to corroborate what Hope knows to be true thanks to her eidetic memory.

Expectations for a summer visiting her aunt in Scotland are low (even without the smack of rejection knowing her father will be on a cruise with his new girlfriend). Between her crippling claustrophobia and headaches brought on when her photographic memory gets away from her, even time at home–alone–can be overwhelming.

Soon after arriving in Scotland, Hope learns that her aunt and mother belong to a secret society of time travelers dedicated to preserving the timeline–a mission that has left Hope’s mother trapped in twelfth-century England.

Hope might be the only one who can save her mother. But she’ll have to learn how to conquer her own fears first in Into the Dim (2016) by Janet B. Taylor.

Into the Dim is Taylor’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Written in the first person, Into the Dim is narrated by sixteen-year-old Hope. Hope is incredibly book smart thanks to her memory but she is also naive and reads as much younger than her sixteen years would suggest. Taylor also chooses to write characters’ speech in dialect to convey accents which often feels stilted if not clumsy to follow.

The novel’s plot is based on some problematic elements. The role of her father is especially troubling. Readers learn early on that Hope was adopted by her mother who married when Hope was five. Her mother and father are the only parent’s Hope has ever known and she considers both her parents without qualification and, as far as the story suggests, Hope’s father feels the same way about her. Despite that Hope’s father allows his own mother to treat Hope as an outsider and inferior to the “real” members of the family. (This is behavior that leaves Hope’s mother seething but seems to get a pass from her father.) Aside from being a damaging trope to perpetuate it feels like a heavy-handed attempt to build in sympathy for Hope and better explain her decision to go along with a visit to Scotland at all.

Other problematic familial aspects of Into the Dim include the fact that Hope’s father has a new girlfriend a mere eight months after his wife’s sudden death and chooses to go on a cruise with her while leaving Hope to fend for herself with an aunt she has never met in a foreign country. Furthermore the idea that Hope’s aunt has never bothered to speak to her–ever–despite speaking to Hope’s mother weekly seems highly unlikely.

Hope’s photographic memory and phobias often feel contrived. That isn’t to say that her fears are invalid or badly portrayed. Rather they feel like elements added into the story solely to move the plot in a very specific direction. The addition of extreme headaches brought on by Hope’s eidetic memory seems superfluous and lacks any basis (as far as my research shows) in reality.

Into the Dim veers more to the light end of the speculative fiction spectrum. Explanations for the mechanics of time travel are thin when they are presented at all. The novel is also poorly paced with obvious twists (time travel!) that are hinted at in the plot summary not appearing until well into the story. For a novel that travels to a variety of locations and time periods, Into the Dim often lacks a strong sense of place feeling as it if could be set anywhere without much change to the action. The historical parts of the novel are well-researched but come too late to enhance the text.

Into the Dim begins with a promising premise that hints at action, time travel, and even some romance. Unfortunately in a year rich with titles that explore similar themes, this one often falls short by comparison.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Winterspell by Claire LeGrand, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone