Pretending to Be Erica: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tumbling: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tumbling by Caela CarterGrace cares more about gymnastics than she cares about anything. She has the “international” look that appeals to judges. But with younger, smaller gymnasts coming along all the time, Grace is desperate to keep her edge–even if it hurts her.

Leigh is Grace’s best friend but it’s hard to balance friendship with their constant competition for first place. Leigh balances a normal life in school with her professional aspirations at the gym but she doesn’t feel like she belongs anywhere.

Camille was an Olympian four years ago–but only for a day. Now everyone is cheering  for “Comeback Cammie” as she tries to make the team again. Between her mother’s expectations and her boyfriend’s disapproval, she isn’t even sure she wants to be an Olympian anymore.

At nineteen Wilhemina is practically a different generation from the other girls competing when it comes to gym years. She missed her chance four years ago because her birthday was four days too late. This time she isn’t going to let anything stand in her way, especially not petty gymnastics politics.

Monica is far from the top and everyone knows it. She’s a decent gymnast. She’ll definitely qualify for an NCAA scholarship one day. But she knows to keep her expectations low because hoping for more and falling short will hurt too much.

These five girls are gambling everything–every choice they have made for their entire lives–on how well they perform at the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials. At the end of the trials some of the girls will be stars, some will have nothing. All of them will be changed forever in Tumbling (2016) by Caela Carter.

Tumbling rotates between five perspectives (all close, third-person) throughout the novel to explore Grace, Leigh, Camille, Wilhemina, and Veronica’s stories. Set over the two days of the meet for the U.S. Olympic Gymnastics Trials this story explore their individual stories as well as their (sometimes unexpected) moments of intersection. These girls are also a diverse and inclusive group that reflect the real face of this sport.

Carter takes this ambitious structure and handles it well. Each girl’s personality comes through in her individual sections as well as in the larger plot of the novel. Supplemental material including a roster with all of the characters (and the seven other gymnasts competing at the trials) and a glossary of gymnastics terms will help even the least initiated feel like a gymnastics expert while reading.

Tumbling explore the competitive and grueling nature of gymnastics. All of the girls are struggling with something whether it’s body image and not eating, self-esteem, figuring out if being a lesbian really needs to be a part of a public gymnast persona, or just self-esteem. While this book highlights the thrill of competition (and the drama), it also is an honest portrayal of the work and dedication needed to compete at such a high level. Themes of body positivity and staying healthy while competing are also stressed throughout.

While there is drama, fierce competition, and some intense conflict the overwhelming focus of Tumbling is on positivity and friendship. Yes, these five girls are competing. But it’s not always with each other so much as it is to be the best. While each character is flawed, by the end of the story they are all striving to build each other up and be better versions of themselves both in and out of competition.

Readers will think they know what to expect at the start of Tumbling but Carter artfully includes realistic twists and surprises that leave several characters in surprising circumstances by the end of the novel. Veronica and Wilhemina’s arcs are particularly satisfying and work well to bring the entire novel together. Highly recommended for gymnastics enthusiasts as well as readers looking for an exciting book with a strong cast of female characters.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Rival by Sarah Bennett-Wealer, Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Bunheads by Sophie Flack, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, The Flip Side by Shawn Johnson, Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma

The Truth Commission: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“When you tell a story, you shape the truth.”

The Truth Commission by Susan JubyAfter years of being fodder (along with her parents) for her sister Kiera’s best-selling graphic novel series, The Diana Chronicles, Normandy Pale is ready to come into her own. She’d like to be known for her own strengths and accomplishments instead of constantly being compared to her hapless counterpart in the Chronicles.

But it turns out it’s hard to stop being a muse. Especially when you never asked to be one.

How can Normandy focus on her projects at the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design when she is terrified of what fresh humiliations her character will be subjected to in Kiera’s highly anticipated new book? How can she embark on a search for truth with the Truth Commission she accidentally started with best friends Dusk and Neil when it feels like secrets are the only things holding her fragile and peculiar family together?

In searching for secrets at Green Pastures, Dusk, Neil and a reluctant Normandy hope to bring some kind of peace and honesty to their school. But when their hunt for truth reveals some uncomfortable secrets and shocking truths about Kiera and her work, Normandy will have to decide how much honesty she wants in her own life in The Truth Commission (2015) by Susan Juby.

The Truth Commission is an ambitious novel presented as a work of narrative non-fiction complete with footnotes and illustrations (by Trevor Cooper). Written as Normandy’s spring project for the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design, The Truth Commission is a sleek and self-aware novel.

In watching Normandy work through the process of writing her own book (when to add chapter breaks, how to move the plot along, etc.) The Truth Commission also becomes a sort of primer on how to write and write well. The one-sided dialog (in footnotes) between Normandy and her teacher Ms. Fowler also adds another dimension to a novel that is already delightfully complex.

Speaking of Ms. Fowler, it’s also refreshing to see that Normandy has adults in her life who are present and offer support throughout the novel–even if they aren’t always the ones who should be at the forefront in terms of support. This novel is about a lot of other things but seeing Normandy create and nurture her own support system is very powerful.

As the title suggests, The Truth Commission is a story about truth and honesty. It’s also a story about family and what it means when the family you are born into is not always as good or healthy as the family you might choose. It’s a story about art–both making it and engaging with it. It’s a story about the push and pull of friendships. It’s even a bit of a story about love. Most importantly, The Truth Commission is about how people–both creators and not–shape their own worlds and stories in the telling.

The Truth Commission is a thoughtful, smart, and funny story that works on many different planes. What starts as a humorous and promising project for Normandy and her friends becomes much more in Juby’s expert hands in this meditation on subjectivity, consent and how telling the truth (or choosing not to) can change everything. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, In Real Life by Jessica Love, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Susan!

Dove Arising: A Review

Dove Arising by Karen BaoPhaet Theta has lived in Base IV of a colony on the moon for all of her fifteen years. Despite her name sounding like “fate,” she doesn’t put much stock in destiny. Phaet knows there is no room for a larger, grander life within the oppressive rules and regulations issued by the Standing Council keep residents safe.

There is no room for defiance or even annoyance when the colony’s militia could be listening anywhere.

That also means Phaet’s mother can be detained at a moment’s notice leaving Phaet in charge of her two younger siblings and unsure how she can keep any of them out of the colony’s horrifying Shelter division.

With no other options, Phaet quickly abandons her dreams of scientific study to join the militia in hopes of earning enough money to cover her mother’s medical bills and her family’s expenses. All Phaet needs to do is survive training and earn enough money for her family. Simple. At least until everything Phaet thought she knew turns out to be very wrong in Dove Arising (2015) by Karen Bao.

Dove Arising is Bao’s first novel and the start of a projected trilogy.

Dove Arising starts with a fascinating setting. The moon colony is filled with new technology as well as a detailed history, details of which come in the form of exposition delivered as clunky asides throughout the narrative. While the information is often crucial to the story it is also often a distraction from the plot.

While not truly derivative, it’s impossible to read Dove Arising without drawing parallels to other big name dystopian novels. Readers who are fond of plots involving training and initiation, conspiracies and possibly corrupt regimes, will definitely want to pick up Dove Arising. Readers looking for a purely sci-fi novel might be better served elsewhere.

Phaet is withdrawn and quiet. Introspective and rational to a fault, she is an interesting narrator in that she is often a bystander in her own life. Bao expertly demonstrates Phaet’s growth as she learns to fight her own battles during training–her first time without best friend Umbriel to do the talking for her.

Dove Arising is an interesting sci-fi novel with a diverse and varied cast of characters. Although they never quite come together in Dove Arising, all of the pieces are here for a strong and wildly popular series. These strengths combined with a game-changing ending that will leave readers eager for the next installment make Dove Arising a promising start to a new series.

Possible Pairings: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Legend by Marie Lu, Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Divergent by Veronica Roth

All the Truth That’s in Me: A Review

allthetruthinmeFour years ago Judith disappeared from the small town of Roswell Station. Two years ago she came back with no explanation, no longer able to speak.

Shamed by her loss of speech and shunned by everyone from her former friends to her own family, Judith subsists on small glimpses of Lucas, the boy she has always loved, and the one-sided conversation she has with him in her head.

When homelanders threaten to attack Roswell Station, Judith is forced into action as she tries to save the town that has all but forsaken her. Her efforts to stop the invaders prove successful but also raise questions about Judith’s return to town and what she might have suffered during her time away.

Judith has survived these past two years well enough. In order to flourish, she will have to find her voice in All the Truth That’s in Me (2013) by Julie Berry.

All the Truth That’s in Me is Berry’s first novel written for young adults.

Written in the second person as Judith talks directly to Lucas, this novel is part mystery and part coming of age story. Sparse, short chapters and a stark narrative style make this novel ideal for fans of verse novels.

Berry situates the story in a quasi-historical, quasi-Puritanical society. While this environment works well for the plot (and indeed creates one of the only scenarios where Judith’s shunning would make sense) it is also a distraction that feels more like a shortcut in world building and research. While the society does raise questions about freedom and feminism especially, those questions become difficult to answer or even fully discuss with a lack of concrete setting.

Questions about setting aside, this novel does offer a taut and atmospheric story. Readers are thrown directly into Judith’s claustrophobic and often heartbreaking life as she struggles with cruel treatment and bitter memories.

Although this novel was a finalist for the Edgar Award, it is surprisingly thin on mystery. Answers are sought when Judith tries to unravel the secrets surrounding the disappearance of her friend (a girl who went missing near when Judith herself was taken) but the need to investigate is not especially pressing until the final act. A certain urgency is implied early in the story as the homelanders approach only to taper off in a similar fashion in the wake of the attack.

While there is mystery, All the Truth That’s in Me is really a meandering story about a girl trying to find herself (and her voice) after years of being lost–a story, it is worth mentioning, that is told quite well.

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill, Madapple by Christina Meldrum, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, All the Truth That’s in Me by Anna Sheehan, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2013*

Tea Party Rules: A Picture Book Review

Tea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by K. G. CampbellCub follows his nose through the woods all the way to a backyard party–with cookies! But this isn’t any party. It’s a tea party. A fancy one. And the little girl hosting the party has some very specific rules about how tea parties should go. Cub is willing to go through a lot for cookies. But how much can one bear take? And will the little girl realize a friend is just as important as a properly executed tea party?

Tea Party Rules (2013) by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by K. G. Campbell is a delightfully fun read about how sometimes breaking the rules can be just as important as following them. Both Dyckman and Campbell received the 2014 Ezra Jack Keats New Author and Illustrator Award for this title.

In her sophomore picture book, Dyckman once again uses sparse, well-chosen text to tell a whimsical story of two unlikely friends. Campbell’s detail-packed illustrations bring Cub and the little girl to life with vibrant colors.

You can also check out my interview with Ame Dyckman about this great book.

The Glass Sentence: A Review

The Glass Sentence by S. E. GroveBoston, 1891: Nearly a century has passed since the Great Disruption remade the world and threw all of the continents into different Ages. While Boston and the rest of New Occident moves forward in the 1890s, other parts of the world reside in drastically different Ages including some from the near past, prehistory and others that are entirely unknown.

Thirteen-year-old Sophia Tims knows all about maps thanks to her uncle Shadrack Elli, one of the most renowned carologers in New Occident. With the borders closing any day and Sophia’s parents still missing after ten long years with no word, Shadrack and Sophia prepare to leave New Occident and mount a proper search expedition.

Unfortunately in midst of their preparations, Shadrack is kidnapped. With no idea how to find him beyond one small clue and a basic knowledge of what to expect in the Baldlands, Sophia sets off with an unlikely traveling companion and little else. As Sophia and Theo journey toward the Baldlands’ capital of Nochtland they will uncover shocking truths about the Great Disruption and find themselves at the center of a vast conspiracy that could change the entire world in The Glass Sentence (2014) by S. E. Grove.

The Glass Sentence is Grove’s first novel. It is also the start of the Mapmakers Trilogy.

Groves presents a rich fantasy with gorgeous world-building. Maps at the beginning of the novel introduce readers to Sophia’s world as well as the outlying regions. The story opens right in the middle of the action as New Occident’s borders are closed and never lets up.

The story expertly plays with readers’ ideas of history and causality imagining, among other paradoxes, a world where John Donne is known through his works before the Great Disruption as England has not yet reached (and may never reach) the time of his birth. These details lend a haunting quality to The Glass Sentence allowing readers with knowledge of the related world history to imagine what might have been.

However readers who lack the historical background (due to youth or lack of interest) will still find an engrossing fantasy here. Sophia and Theo travel across New Occident and into the wilds of the Baldlands where they encounter outlandish travel companions and chilling villains.

Chapter epigraphs from Shadrack’s published works as well as other sources further the world-building and explain key details of this alternate history to readers while a narrative structure reliant on clocks and time-keeping help keep readers grounded in the story.

With so many vivid and evocative details in the world-building and backstory, The Glass Sentence is decidedly lengthy at 493 pages. Although the arc of this novel is resolved in this story, the over-arching story of Sophia’s missing parents will likely span the rest of the trilogy. Readers who enjoy thick, intricate fantasies will undoubtedly find a new favorite in this promising start to a series with both middle grade and young adult appeal.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale and Nathan Hale, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld