Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend: A Non-Fiction Review

You’ve read the story of Jesse James
of how he lived and died.
If you’re still in need;
of something to read,
here’s the story of Bonnie and Clyde.

cover art for Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of Legend by Karen BlumenthalYou might think you know the story of Bonnie and Clyde–the love struck couple who went on a crime spree throughout Texas in the 1930s. Over the years they have been immortalized in stories, songs, and on film.

Thanks to the advent of photography, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were documented in newspapers which printed Bonnie’s poetry left behind after a fortuitous flight from a safe house. The media and the public were quick to latch onto these ill-fated young people ready to cast them as a modern answer to Robin Hood.

Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend (2018) by Karen Blumenthal unpacks this sensationalized story to look at the facts.

By examining the poverty of their neighborhood and the other barriers they faced growing up in Texas Blumenthal tries to offer some explanation of how two poorly educated teens became two of the most notorious criminals of our time.

Bonnie and Clyde: The Making of a Legend is a quick and informative read with numerous photos and first-person accounts from witness statements. Recommended for true crime enthusiasts and mystery readers of all ages.

Possible Pairings: Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary by Gail Jarrow, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Trial of the Century by Sarah Miller

The Brilliant Death: A Review

cover art for The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose CapettaEveryone in Vinalia knows that magic and the streghe who use it only exist in stories. Or they did before Vinalia’s unification under the Capo and rumors that magic has returned to Vinalia.

No one knows that Teodora di Sangro is a strega who can change people into objects. For Teo and her siblings family has always been fate, forcing them into roles they may not want. Teo is proud to belong to one of the Five Families. But she also knows that as a girl she will never truly have a place at the table the way her brothers do.

Desperate for her father’s approval, Teo takes it upon herself to address any threats to the family. Instead of killing their enemies, Teo uses her secret strega magic to transform them into objects like music boxes or mirrors that decorate her room.

When the Capo’s latest bid for power leaves Teo’s father poisoned and the heads of the other families dead, Teo knows she is the only one who can answer the Capo’s summons to the capital and find an antidote. But first she will have to transform herself to look the part of a di Sangro heir by becoming a boy.

Unable to learn this new magic alone, Teo enters into a bargain with Cielo, a mysterious strega who can switch between male and female forms as easily as opening a book. Teo’s transformation and her journey bring her into the center of Vinalia’s sinister politics as she tries to save her family in The Brilliant Death (2018) by Amy Rose Capetta.

The Brilliant Death is the first book in Capetta’s latest fantasy duology.

Vibrant imagery and vivid language imbue The Brilliant Death with wonder and intrigue in a world inspired by Italian folklore. In addition to unraveling plots and facing dangerous enemies, Teo explores her gender identity and what it means to be a girl (or not) in her world alongside her sexy genderfluid magic tutor Cielo whose dry wit and charm only increases the chemistry between them.

A highly original magic system and a protagonist who is as ruthless as she is fiery make for a fast-paced adventure. Fans will be eager for the conclusion of this duology.

Possible Pairings: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Nocturna by Maya Motayne, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West

*A more condensed version of this review was published in an of School Library Journal as a starred review*

Saint Anything: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Saint Anything by Sarah DessenSydney has always lived in her charismatic older brother Peyton’s shadow. But it’s hard to hide after Peyton’s DUI and its horrible aftermath pushes Sydney and her family into the public eye. Sydney’s parents seem intent on ignoring Peyton’s role in the car accident and the damage he caused. Meanwhile Sydney is haunted and infuriated by it.

Hoping for a fresh start Sydney switches schools and looks for a new normal in the midst of her family turmoil. She finds it in the unlikely form of Seaside Pizza and the Chathams—the boisterous family owners. Layla draws Sydney into her family’s world as if they’ve always been friends while her brother Mac makes Sydney feel safe for the first time in a long while. Finally Sydney feels like she’s the one being seen and with that certainty she might be able to see herself and what she wants too in Saint Anything (2015) by Sarah Dessen.

I’ve been following Sarah Dessen’s publications for a few years. She is a touchstone name in YA and I am constantly order replacement copies of her books for my library as the old ones wear out. But I have never felt like any of her books really clicked for me. As soon as I heard about Saint Anything it felt like this book would be it: the make it or break it Sarah Dessen book for me. I’d either love it unequivocally or it would confirm that not every author can work for every reader. But it turns out, much like Sydney’s story, my feelings about the book weren’t so clear cut.

Saint Anything is filled with a quirky cast of characters including Mac Chatham, the quiet and stoic boy Sydney meets at Seaside Pizza who quickly becomes a steady and constant source of support for her. Mac, like the rest of the Chathams, is a great character. But what give me pause and what continues to frustrate me about this book is Mac’s backstory. When Sydney meets him she is immediately taken aback by how attractive Mac is and baffled at his utter lack of awareness of his own good looks and their inherent power (two things Peyton routinely used to get his own way before he was arrested). During the story we learn that Mac used to be fat until he made drastic diet changes and started seriously hiking. It’s a very personal response but everything about Mac’s storyline and his weight irritated me. I didn’t like how it was portrayed and didn’t like that it was part of the story at all in the way that it connotes finding a way to be true to yourself with also being thin. Mac’s backstory became a sour note in this otherwise sweet story.

As sometimes happens in longer novels Saint Anything also starts to lose momentum as it builds to the final act. Of course there is an unexpected romance but that added with a friend’s ill advised relationship and the rest of the plot made the final third of the novel feel bloated and, because there was so much to do, the ending itself seemed rushed.

Sydney’s relationship with her family at the beginning of Saint Anything is heartbreaking and it’s so clear that the Chathams are the jolt that Sydney needs to start making changes–not just in asking for more of her parents’ attention but in realizing that she deserves more. I love that aspect of the story. Sydney’s growth as she works through her own grief and regret for Peyton’s drunk driving accident are incredibly powerful. Watching Sydney try to ignore and ultimately confront the unwanted attentions of Peyton’s older friend is tense and utterly relatable.

If this book sounds at all appealing (or you’ve already read it) I also urge you to check out the essay Dessen wrote near Saint Anything‘s release for Seventeen: “I Thought Dating An Older Guy Was Cool — Until I Sensed That Something Was Very Wrong

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett,, Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake, Between Us and the Moon by Rebecca Maizel, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonneblick

Down and Across: A Review

cover art for Down and Across by Arvin AhmadiScott Ferdowski is a great quitter. For as long as he can remember he has had a trail of abandoned hobbies and projects. While his best friends are driven and certain of their futures Scott just feels like he’s floundering. How can he find his passion when he can’t even commit to breakfast?

Scott’s parents want him to succeed and get serious about a secure career path like engineering or medicine. Scott isn’t sure what he wants but he knows it isn’t that.

When he hears about a professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success, Scott thinks she might be able to help him figure out how to change. All he has to do is quit his internship and run away to Washington, DC. It won’t even be that hard with his parents away visiting Scott’s grandfather in Iran.

Scott doesn’t expect to find an adventure when he runs away. It doesn’t feel momentous as he steps onto bus or even when he first meets Fiora and Trent.

Fiora is passionate about crossword puzzles and wants nothing more than to write them. Trent is trying to land his dream job in politics. But, like Scott, they’ve each hit their own road blocks. Can three misfits really help each other to find their passions over the course of one unexpected summer? Scott isn’t sure. But he’s about to find out in Down and Across (2018) by Arvin Ahmadi.

Down and Across is Ahmadi’s debut novel and it is fantastic.

Like a lot of teenagers, Scott isn’t sure what he wants to do with his life. Add to that growing pressure from his parents (especially his father) to commit to something (anything) and Scott is feeling completely overwhelmed. Scott’s efforts to balance his Iranian heritage with his life as an American teen is equally difficult–it’s why he has been going by Scott since kindergarten instead of his real name “Saaket.

Scott’s first person narration is thoughtful and endearing. Although he doesn’t start the novel with much self-awareness he does reach a new understanding of grit as it relates to his surprisingly eventful summer and beyond. While there is a heavy focus on the mechanics of writing a crossword puzzle it serves to enhance the story and Scott’s learning process mirrors the ways in which Scott’s view of his world (and himself) changes over the summer.

Down and Across is a smart, subtle novel about growing up and embracing who you are–even if you might not have it all figured out just yet. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Gap Life by John Coy, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, Paper Towns by John Green, Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Odd One Out by Nic Stone, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Fashion Committee: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Find something that makes your heart sing and your brain expand, and let it carry you past all the ugliness and low spots.”

“Measuring someone is borderline invasive. You have to touch them and record their physical presence in the world. It’s a pretty specific way to understand someone.”

Charlie Dean lives and breathes fashion and she strives for style in all things. John Thomas-Smith is a metal sculptor and he could not care less about clothes. They have one thing in common: they desperately want the chance to attend the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design on full scholarship.

When Green Pastures announces that this year’s scholarship will be awarded to a fashion design student, Charlie thinks the stars have finally aligned to make her dreams come true. John, meanwhile, is disappointed that the scholarship isn’t for metalwork but he also knows that fashion is a joke. How hard can faking his way into the competition really be?

Charlie and John have nothing in common except for art and ambition. They are both determined to win and they won’t let anything stand in their way. Not a soul-killing job at Salad Stop or an unsympathetic girlfriend. Not a dad’s girlfriend’s drug-addicted ex-boyfriend. And definitely not a very minor case of kidnapping.

Two very different artists. One life changing competition. And only one winner in The Fashion Committee (2017) by Susan Juby.

Although set in the same world as The Truth Commission, Juby’s latest novel is a standalone contemporary with an entirely new cast of characters (and illustrations by Soleil Ignacio).

This epistolary novel features alternating chapters from Charlie and John’s fashion journals written over the course of the competition. Charlie’s sections each start with one of her signature bright ideas (“Dress for the life you want!”) while John’s sections finish with quotes from the fashion industry and his own scathing indictments. Although Charlie and John often share physical space, their narratives have little overlap as the plot focuses on their own paths through the competition from developing their concepts and designing their garments to the final fashion show.

Juby introduces two very different characters in The Fashion Committee. Charlie Dean has been curating and shaping her own persona from a very young age. She values fashion above most else and she believes in deliberate sartorial choices to create a facade to present to the world. Charlie uses that facade to offset some of the things she’d prefer to forget like her father’s struggle with drug addiction. John, meanwhile, considers himself a straight shooter with a hard knock upbringing. He is very aware of the privileges of those around him (especially those attending Green Pastures) but turns a blind eye to his own good fortune being raised by two loving and conscientious grandparents. Despite their differing opinions of fashion (and almost everything else), Charlie and John’s journeys mirror each other well with a variety of ups, downs, and even a littler romance for both protagonists.

Charlie and John both have to deal with some stereotypes and preconceptions about themselves and, through meeting the unique group of students competing in the fashion show, they also learn to acknowledge their own biases. Does everything go perfectly in The Fashion Committee? No. Not even with Charlie’s efforts to impose beauty and positivity on the world through sheer force of will or John’s deliberate choice to always expect the worst.

The Fashion Committee is a thoughtful novel about fashion, privilege, and perspective where Charlie and John learn to appreciate what they have and also strive to get what they deserve. A must-read for fashionistas of all levels of expertise and anyone who seeking a book that will leave them laughing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall by Seph Lawless, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Flannery by Lisa Moore, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1 by Hope Nicholson (editor), Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, D. V. by Diana Vreeland, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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

Be sure to check out my interview with Susan about this book too!

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: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre, 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

View this post on Instagram

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

A post shared by Emma (@missprint_) on

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