The Keeper of the Mist: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“There was something appalling about the steady progression of time, or at least about dividing time into sharp little seconds and counting them off, like a knife flicking through the day, tick tick tick, and nothing anyone could do to turn back the hands of time.”

Keri’s main focus since her mother’s death has been running the family bakery on her own. She doesn’t have much time to think about her father, the Lord of Nimmira, who has never wasted a thought on Keri. Nor is she inclined to entertain predictions about which of her half-brothers will take up the title of Lord upon their father’s death.

When Nimmira’s ancient and inscrutable magic chooses Keri as the unlikely heir her focus shifts abruptly from baking to all manner of details implicit to overseeing her small country as its new Lady. Caught between larger countries eager to conquer each other and absorb its resources, Nimmira has relied on its border mists and a strict policy of isolation for generations. Keri should be able to control and maintain the mists as the new Lady. Except they continue to fail after her ascension and no one knows why.

Keri’s Timekeeper is counting the seconds, minutes, and hours to something important. But he can’t–or perhaps won’t–explain what exactly that is or how Keri can prepare for it. Keri’s best friend Tassel acclimates quickly to her role as Bookkeeper but even her magic can’t help unravel some of Nimmira’s deepest secrets. Then there’s Cort, Keri’s unlikely Doorkeeper. Cort is steadfast in his commitment to protecting and maintaining Nimmira’s borders. But will he and Keri finally be able to see eye to eye as they try to restore the mist?

Change is coming to Nimmira. Only time will tell if Keri and her friends will be ready to face it in The Keeper of the Mist (2016) by Rachel Neumeier.

The Keeper of the Mist is a charming standalone fantasy novel with a beautiful cover. It is also, as a hardcover edition, very poorly edited with typos and repeated phrases. While that doesn’t detract from the story, it did often make for a frustrating reading experience.

Keri’s story is a novel of manners with the feel of a regency romance (though don’t tell that to Keri or Cort) with a healthy dose of fantasy. Keri is scattered and sometimes lacking in confidence but she is also a woman of action who, once she commits, is prepared to do the right thing and follow through.Tassel and Court serve as excellent counterpoints to Keri and the relationships between these three characters are an excellent underpinning for the rest of the novel.

Everything about The Keeper of the Mist comes back to time. Keri’s ascension to Lady has to happen on a very specific schedule. The expiration date for the mist is clearly in sight if the magic border isn’t fixed. Foreign intrusion is imminent as Nimmira becomes more visible to its neighbors. All of this urgency lends itself to a fast-paced story. Unfortunately that same urgency underscores the fact that this story is very slow and much more focused on characters than plot.

The Keeper of the Mist is a contemplative coming-of-age fantasy about friendship, embracing change, and facing challenges head on. Recommended for readers who enjoy well-realized regency fantasies in the tradition of Patricia McKillip or Diana Wynne Jones.

Possible Pairings: Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Words in Deep Blue: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“And if there is no hope of saving the thing we love in their original form, we must save them however we can.”

“Sometimes, the end begins.”

Rachel Sweetie lays her heart bear when she writes Henry Jones a love letter and leaves it in his favorite book in his family’s bookshop. It is the ultimate grand gesture before she moves away with her family.

Henry never acknowledges it.

Years later Rachel is moving back to the city and, unbelievably, picking up a job at Howling Books. But nothing is the same as when she left because her brother Cal drowned months ago. She knows she isn’t the girl she was before–failing Year 12 and abandoning her dream of becoming a marine biologist prove that well enough. But she isn’t sure how she can be anything else when her brother is gone.

All Henry knows is that his best friend is back and, he hopes, willing to pick up their friendship where they left off. Henry could use a friend right now. He is perfectly content working in the family bookshop, hunting for secondhand books to buy and living upstairs with his father and his younger sister George. Henry’s comfortable world is shattered when his girlfriend dumps him and his parents start arguing about selling the bookshop. With everything changing, Henry’s perfect if unambitious future is threatened.

Howling Books is filled with memories in used books, love letters, and messages exchanged through the shop’s Letter Library. As she rediscovers the bookstore and the boy she left behind, Rachel realizes that is is possible to breathe and keep going even when everything feels broken. She and Henry both begin to understand that second chances can be as beautiful as new beginnings in Words in Deep Blue (2017) by Cath Crowley.

Crowley explores familiar themes of grief and reclaiming what was lost. Words in Deep Blue alternates between Rachel and Henry’s first person narrations. The lighthearted banter and romance of this story belie the deep melancholy and sadness that has settled over Rachel like a shroud after her brother’s death. Rachel’s pragmatic and introspective tone contrasts well with Henry’s more boisterous narration filled with references to books and poetry.

Rachel and Henry’s fragile relationship mends itself in front of the backdrop of the bookstore and its own uncertain fate. As Rachel works to catalog the notes and memories in the shop’s Letter Library other stories unfold and reveal secrets about longtime customers, Henry’s sister George, and even Rachel’s brother. These threads come together by the end of Words in Deep Blue in a neat but ultimately bittersweet conclusion as Rachel and Henry realize that some losses cannot be avoided.

The scope of the plot leaves little room in this slim novel for fully realized characters but the sketches readers do receive are more than enough to make this story crackle with potential. The evocative setting, particularly the world within Howling Books, adds another dimension to this story. Words in Deep Blue is a thoughtful story about healing and reunions as well as memory and salvaging that which is lost–whether it’s a beloved person or a cherished place. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Flannery by Lisa Moore, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

I Remember You: A Review

I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt BellLucas and Juliet have nothing in common. Juliet is an overachiever who, even as a junior, already has plans for college and law school. Lucas knows that at the end of his senior year he will enlist in the Marines–just like his father and countless other relatives.

Still, Juliet finds herself drawn to Lucas even as common sense tells her she should be afraid. Despite just meeting, just starting to know each other, Lucas says he remembers their entire relationship from their first kiss to their first fight and even how they break up.

Juliet doesn’t know if she should be more worried about Lucas or herself when she starts to believe him. As they grow closer, Lucas’ memories begin to come with more frequency and much more foreboding. Juliet wants desperately to keep Lucas safe with her in the present but she doesn’t know how to do that when she has already lost him in the future in I Remember You (2015) by Cathleen Davitt Bell.

I Remember You sounds like a fantasy. It is not. Instead I Remember You reads superficially as a contemporary romance with one (supposedly though with no explanation given) supernatural element. Except it’s technically historical because most of the book is set in 1994. (It becomes clear early on that Juliet is relating past events from a point in the future as an adult which also raises questions about whether this book even is YA in the truest sense but that’s a different discussion.)

Upon closer reading, the problems in I Remember You begin to mount. A lot of how readers react to I Remember You depends on how they feel about Juliet and Lucas (both separately and as a couple).

Working from the initial fact that Lucas and Juliet have nothing in common beyond proximity in Physics class (the only class they have together since the rest of Juliet’s schedule consists of Honors classes), it’s incredibly hard to believe these two characters would ever embark on a relationship, let alone an epic one that seems poised to defy time and space. This uncertainty about the two main characters ever connecting casts the entire initial premise of the book in doubt but if you can get past it, then maybe this book will work for you.

That is assuming you can also get past the fact that when Juliet and Lucas first begin to talk, Juliet is afraid of him. It’s important to point out that Juliet is also drawn to Lucas and there is definitely mutual attraction. But the key point here is that Juliet is afraid of Lucas when he starts to talk about remembering their relationship. If you can get past fear being as key to this relationship as attraction, then maybe this book will work for you.

Plot-wise, I Remember You is going to be familiar because it reads like countless other romantic first love stories.

Character-wise, there are also a lot of familiar faces. Juliet is the calm, focused, over-achiever-with-her-eye-on-the-prize. Lucas is the jock with a surprising amount of depth but also the boy who is going to leave everything behind to enlist. Add to the mix a single mother (Juliet’s), a disillusioned father and harried mother (Lucas’s) and you start to check off a lot of character archetypes.

Juliet’s best friend Rosemary also features. Rosemary–sometimes Rose–is gorgeous and she knows it. She also uses it at every opportunity to manipulate men (men because she is 16 and dating college students) to give her gifts and adoration. Rosemary’s outlook on life seems to be “love ’em and leave ’em” which would not raise any eyebrows if she were a boy and it is an interesting choice here. Except it all leads to rather disastrous consequences for Rosemary (and Lucas and Juliet) as one relationship escalates into stalking territory. Furthermore, without actually discussing that Rosemary is trying to parlay her looks into agency the entire thing falls flat and we are instead left with a one-note character who is manipulative and often quite mean.

Then we have Lucas’ best friend Dexter. Poor, hapless Dexter with his sad, hopeless crush on Rosemary. Dexter is used and abused in this story when he appears seemingly out of nowhere so that Rosemary will have a new guy to chew up and spit out. Dexter is shy. He has bad hair and he wears baggy clothes. He is also almost certainly white. Dexter eventually gets his day which comes in the form of a good haircut that highlights his inherent good looks. So far so good. Then Juliet says the haircut makes people notice things about Dexter including the fact that he has cheekbones like a Lenape warrior. There is no scenario in which that description can be interpreted as anything but the worst kind of cultural appropriation.

In addition to these problems, I Remember You often handles the fact of Lucas’ imminent enlistment very poorly. Juliet never truly accepts that being a Marine is something Lucas very deeply wants and not something he is being forced into. (There is a hint of familial obligation here since Lucas likely wants to gain approval from his father. But at the same time Lucas has two younger brothers who do not seem to share his aspirations so maybe there isn’t that much familial pressure after all?)

Later in the novel, Juliet describes herself as a pacifist. She goes on to talk about Lucas’ decision to enlist with what can only be called disdain. This disdain is especially troubling given the fact that the book has already established that Lucas is not as smart as Juliet (per their classes) and perhaps from the wrong side of the tracks (or at least the bad part of town).

Juliet’s friends are horrified by Lucas’ choice and have an even more pervasive dislike not only of him but perhaps the entire military as they clearly see Lucas (and by extension anyone who joins the military) as somehow lacking. Both viewpoints seemed reductive and distasteful. Is it not possible to be a pacifist while also holding at least some respect for our troops and the risks they take to protect our country?

In terms of unlikely romance, I Remember You is about as unlikely as it gets. I Remember You may appeal on a surface level to readers looking for a book to transition into YA as well as fans of The Time Traveler’s Wife or Nicholas Sparks. Readers who give their novels closer inspection may find more to fault than to praise.

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, How to Love by Katie Cotungo, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Pivot Point by Kasie West

Love and Other Perishable Items: A Review

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura BuzoAmelia is fifteen and chafing under her stunning lack of control over her own life. She is also painfully and completely in love with Chris who works checkout with her at the local supermarket.

Chris is twenty-one.

Amelia is a smart girl and she knows that Chris is a smart guy. She knows that Chris talking to her about literature doesn’t mean much beyond the fact that no one else working at the Land of Dreams actually reads. She knows that being his confidant about his studies at university or even his partner for witty banter does not magically mean she’ll ever be his girlfriend.

But somehow when Amelia is with Chris, anything seems possible. Especially when, as time passes, it starts to feel like maybe Amelia isn’t the only one feeling the effects of this crush.

In a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of new things for both Amelia and Chris, this improbable pair will learn that friendships–and sometimes even more confusing feelings–can blossom anywhere in Love and Other Perishable Items (2012) by Laura Buzo.

Love and Other Perishable Items is Buzo’s first novel (published in 2010 in Australia before making its way to the US in 2012). It was a finalist for the Morris Award for YA Debut Fiction in 2013.

Love and Other Perishable Items is an incredibly smart book with not one but two introspective narrators who are as approachable as they are authentic.

Amelia is sharp and clever as well as utterly endearing. The first part of the novel, called “Spheres of No Influence,” aptly highlights the breadth of her world as well as its limitations in a way that makes sense within the context of the plot as well as for an actual teenaged girl.

Spending so much of this novel seeing Chris through Amelia’s rose-colored glasses, it’s hard to view him as anything but perfect. In the frame of Amelia’s adoring descriptions, who wouldn’t fall in love with Chris just a little? Buzo brings Chris into sharper focus by presenting parts of the story through his journal entries. Chris is broken. He is lonely. He hurts. He is, like many young adults, lost and trying to find his way to adulthood in whatever form that may take.

The incredible thing here is how well Amelia and Chris’s stories come together. Their frustrations and hopes, on many levels, mirror each other as both characters struggle to figure out who they want to be and how to get to that version of themselves.

Love and Other Perishable Items is a melancholy, buoyant novel about looking for love and finding oneself with equal parts letting go and holding on. Nothing in this book is especially neat or clearly defined, but neither is real life. In many ways this story is only the beginning, for both Amelia and Chris, as readers are left to imagine what other marvelous things life has to offer these two well-realized protagonists. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice MacLeod, Realist at Last by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

All the Bright Places: A Review

All the Bright Places by Jennifer NivenTheodore Finch has been contemplating death and how he might end his own life for years. But whenever he starts to think really hard about killing himself something good, even a small good thing, makes him reconsider. It’s hard to stay present and Awake, but once he surfaces Finch is always willing to try.

Violet Markey is counting the days until graduation when she can leave her small Indiana town and the sharp pain of her sister’s sudden death behind.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s easy for everyone to believe that Violet saved Finch. But that isn’t the truth.

After, when they pair up for a school project to explore the wonders of their state, both Finch and Violet realize they might have found exactly who they need in each other. But while Violet begins to embrace life again, Finch finds himself struggling to stay Awake and in the moment in All the Bright Places (2015) by Jennifer Niven.

All the Bright Places is Niven’s first novel written for young adults. It was also optioned for a movie before its official release date.

All the Bright Places is very similar to The Fault in Our Stars both thematically and stylistically. It is also poised to be a defining book of 2015 (and possibly also of whatever year the movie adaptation is released if it moves beyond developmental stages) with its appeal and buzz not to mention critical acclaim in the form of several starred reviews.

It is also worth noting that this book is beautifully packaged with a lot of great details ranging from the cover colors to the post it note motif and even a special message on the spine of the physical book.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with such an anticipated title, Niven’s generally strong writing only serves to underscore the numerous flaws within this incredibly frustrating novel.

Spoilers ahead as we delve into deeper discussion . . .

Continue reading

Now That You’re Here: A Review

“A boy shows up at my door and sets off a series of events that shatters everything I understand about the universe.

“And my place in it.”

nowthatyourehereDanny has spent his entire life pushing back against the totalitarian restrictions his government has put in place to monitor citizens in the name of law and order. Sometimes that means putting up coded messages in graffiti on city walls. Danny knows that this kind of tagging is dangerous, but he’s also positive that this will be the last time.

Then everything blows up.

When Danny wakes up he is still himself. But not quite. Longer hair, less muscle, and definitely not on the run. Things get even weirder when Danny realizes he recognizes the girl sitting next to him.

Eevee is calm, collected, and knows exactly what she has to do to get the best grades to get into the best college and then get the best job. She doesn’t know anything about Danny or why he seems to think he knows her as anything more than a classmate. She also doesn’t know why this new version of Danny is making her question everything she thought she knew about her life.

Thrown together by the most unlikely of circumstances, Danny and Eevee will have to work together to get Danny back home to his own universe before time runs out in Now that You’re Here (2014) by Amy K. Nichols.

Now That You’re Here is Nichol’s first novel. It is also the first Duplexity book. The second novel, While You Were Gone, will be a mirror image of Now That You’re Here. It is slated for a 2015 release.

Told in alternating chapters by Eevee and Danny, Now That You’re Here is an interesting addition to the sub-genre of alternate universe stories. With action, romance and lots of science, this story is a great introduction to the world of YA science fiction as well as a dramatic story for anyone looking for their next impossible romance.

Nichols populates the story with quirky characters including Eevee’s parents and her best friend Warren. While Nichols makes several nods to diversity with a disabled parent (not seen in this novel but perhaps they will feature more largely in book two) as well as parents who were never marries. Both points were unbelievably welcome and refreshing. Unfortunately an entirely different character is revealed to have no lower legs with no references made to any concessions needed for such a disability (to the point that no one knew this character was disabled and they didn’t even use a cane) which lowered the entire effort to lip service more than actual mindful inclusion.

It’s difficult to judge Now That You’re Here on its own knowing that it is the first part of a duet. Ideally, many of the flaws in this novel will be smoothed over in the second volume. It seems likely that these stories are more a case of one book in two packages rather than two distinct stories. Nonetheless, readers only have one half of the story here which leaves many plot points to develop off page as Danny catches glimpses of his home universe and later explains what is happening to readers.

The development of Eevee and Danny’s relationship is similarly jarring as it lacks a basic foundation and instead escalates to all-out love very quickly. This abrupt shift in both characters’ feelings also makes for some very murky character motivation as the story progresses.

Set in present-day Arizona, Now That You’re Here offers tantalizing hints of an alternate history and what it’s like for Danny to live in his own universe. The dual-narrative structure also offers readers a very faceted view of the story that will likely expand even more when the companion novel is punished. This book is an obvious choice for readers looking for a sweet romance with a lot of action in any genre.

Possible Pairings: I Remember You by Cathleen Davitt Bell, In Some Other Life by Jessica Brody, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, A Crack in the Line by Michael Lawrence, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Fair Coin by E. C. Myers, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski,  Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West

The Spectacular Now: A Review

“Goodbye, I say, goodbye, as I disappear little by little into the middle of my own spectacular now.”

The Spectacular Now by Tim TharpSutter Keeley is  great in his own mind. Larger than life, always the life of the party. Sutter is, surely, as irresistible as he is wise.

The reality, unsurprisingly, is a little different. What Sutter defines as a life as “god’s own drunk” is a boilerplate drinking problem. The rest of Sutter’s charms are debatable at best and vary wildly depending on if you’re asking one of his beautifully amicable ex-girlfriends, his family who is legitimately worried, or his friends.

Sutter is content to live the moment, whether it involves trying to win back his gorgeous, fat ex-girlfriend Cassidy or befriending the mousy, painfully nerdy Aimee, or getting a drink. The problem with living in the moment is that eventually everyone else starts to pass you by in The Spectacular Now (2008) by Tim Tharp.

Your reaction to this book is going to depend a lot on how you feel about Sutter. Tharp provides another fine addition to the already well-populated world of lovable alcoholics in fiction. The problem–not just here but in general–is that this general affability belies the fact that alcoholics are train wrecks and only very rarely lovable.

There are no consequences for Sutter in his own mind or in real life. Drunk driving never leads to an arrest or even a ticket. Drinking only impairs his judgement so far as it needs to go for the plot. While no story needs to have a message or a moral, it felt strangely one-sided to read this story and watch Sutter skate through life on his charms, his flask, and very little else.

Following the story thread with Aimee and Sutter, it’s possible to argue that Sutter is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy meant to flit through life, fall in love and leave his love interest the better for their acquaintance. Except Sutter is a really terrible MPDB and profoundly bad at making anyone’s life better.

The other reading, the one I favor, is that Sutter is a sociopath. Everything in the narrative is sinister. Sutter is sinister. Ideas and themes are touched upon but never fleshed out enough to really matter or leave an impact. Sutter’s unreliable narration raises more questions than the story ultimately answers.

While Tharp’s writing is excellent and completely on-point The Spectacular Now is lacking in character development and, on a smaller level, heart. With a narrative that reads more as a mid-life crisis than teenage unrest, this book is interesting but ultimately frustrating.

Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You by Peter Cameron, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Slumming by Kristen D. Randle, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Wild Awake by Hillary T. Smith, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman