Kissing in America: A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Apple Throne: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It is by touching gods and godlings, elves and trolls and men and women, by starting a new story for ourselves and our names, that we reach into the future.

“That is how we thrive.”

The Apple Throne by Tessa GrattonAstrid Glynn traded her life as a talented prophet and seethkona to save the person she loves. Soren Bearstar struck a bargain in turn so that he would remember Astrid even as the rest of the world forgot her.

It has been two years since Astrid gave up her name, her prophetic dreams, and her life to become Idun the Young–the not-quite goddess who guards and distributes the apples of immortality. In those two years Soren’s bargain has allowed him to visit her every three months. Until he doesn’t come.

Certain that something terrible is keeping Soren away, Astrid goes against the gods to escape her hidden orchard and search for him. With unexpected help from one of Thor’s bastard sons, Astrid travels across New Asgard to find Soren and save him.

Astrid is no longer the seer she once was nor is she exactly a goddess. She will have to bridge the gap between her old life and new if she wants to save the people she loves and protect the world as they know it in The Apple Throne (2015) by Tessa Gratton.

The Apple Throne is the conclusion to Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard (United States of Asgard) series. It is preceded by The Lost Sun and The Strange Maid. All of the books function very well as stand-alone titles however, because of timeline and character overlap, The Apple Throne does include spoilers for the earlier books. These titles have all been reissued by the author through CreateSpace as paperbacks and eBooks.

The Apple Throne is a fantastic conclusion to one of my favorite fantasy series. This story starts soon after the conclusion of Soren’s story and references the events of Signy’s ascension to her title as Valkryie. Although Astrid’s story is removed from that of the other protagonists in this series, her arc culminates in a finish that neatly ties all three books together.

Astrid accepts her current role as Idun, a quasi-goddess, gladly. But the loss of her identity as young prophet Astrid Glynn and her separation from Soren still sting. More importantly, Astrid isn’t sure who she is without a place in the world and her dream visions to guide her. Throughout the story Astrid has to reconcile who she used to be with who she has become as she tries to correct past mistakes and protect the people she holds dear.

A feminist story literally about a young woman carving a place for herself in the world, The Apple Throne is another thoughtful fantasy filled with the intricate world building that Gratton’s fans will expect. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers, Freya by Matthew Laurence, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Clariel by Garth Nix, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Be sure to watch for my interview with Tessa about this book tomorrow!

You can also enter my giveaway to win ebooks of this trilogy!

The Last True Love Story: A Review

The Last True Love Story by Brendan KielyTeddy Hendrix feels adrift with his grandfather, Gpa, in an assisted living facility slowly dying of Alzheimer’s. His dad is long dead and his mother is more concerned with traveling for her job which leaves Hendrix alone to watch Gpa’s deterioration.

Hoping to appease Gpa and ease his own anxiety about his condition, Hendrix makes a promise he isn’t sure he can keep. He promises to bring Gpa across the country, east, to Ithaca where he first met and married Gma. Hendrix has no idea how his driver’s license-less self is going to do that until everything starts to gel on an unlikely summer night.

Hendrix has been watching Corrina play all summer. Corrina is a talented musician chafing under her adoptive parents’ strict rules. Adopted from Guatemala she feels at a remove from her family and her supposed friends. She wants to get away from town and try to jump start her music career.

Realizing they can help each other, Hendrix and Corrina decide to take a chance on each other. They take a car, grab Hendrix’s dog Old Hump, and pick up Gpa to start heading to the east coast. Of course, nothing else goes exactly to plan in The Last True Love Story (2016) by Brendan Kiely.

The Last True Love Story has been the subject of much buzz and critical acclaim. Which it absolutely deserves. Kiely’s writing is smooth and lyrical while also being straightforward. Hendrix and Corrina are interesting characters who are vibrantly portrayed in Hendrix’s first-person narration.

At the same time, The Last True Love Story is a difficult book. Gpa (why is he called Gpa?) and his struggles with the progression of Alzheimer’s is hard to read. Hendrix’s grief over losing the man who raised him long before he dies is painful. Because of that, this book isn’t going to work for everyone.

Readers who can deal with the inherent melancholy and sadness will be rewarded with a surprisingly optimistic and humorous book. Like all good road trip books The Last True Love Story is filled with excitement, adventure, and introspection. The addition of Kiely’s thoughtful prose and distinctive characters further elevate this novel. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Pirouette by Robyn Bavati, Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, Be Good Be Real Be Crazy by Chelsea Philpot, An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

In Real Life: A Review

In Real Life by Jessica LoveHannah Cho and Nick Cooper have been best friends since eighth grade. They chat and text constantly. They talk on the phone for hours. They know each other better than anyone.

They’ve never met.

After years of following the rules and doing what everyone expects, Hannah’s summer plans are ruined. Instead of spending her last high school summer on a trip to DC, Hannah has no plans whatsoever. With nothing holding her back and a sudden desire to be reckless, Hannah decides to take the ultimate risk and road trip from California to meet Nick in Vegas.

With her older sister and best friend on board, Hannah expects it to be the perfect summer trip. But when the trio arrive in Vegas to surprise Nick everything starts to go wrong. Instead of being able to admit her more-than-best-friend feelings for Nick, Hannah finds out that Nick has been less-than-honest with her.

Hannah still thinks the Nick she’s known online can’t be that different from Nick in real life. But she only has one night in Vegas to figure that out and decide if she’s ready to risk her heart trying to make their friendship into something more in In Real Life (2016) by Jessica Love.

Hannah is a guileless narrator in this story about stepping out of your comfort zone and taking big risks. Although the night is filled with adventure (and some kissing and drinking) the story reads young enough that it can easily appeal to the younger end of the teen reader spectrum.

Hannah and Nick are an interesting pair but missed connections, white lies, and intentional misinformation from both often leaves this couple lacking in chemistry or much of a connection once they’re face-to-face.

Hannah is accompanied by her (much more adventurous) older sister and best friend. Unfortunately any potentially empowering friendship moments quickly vanish as each girl is abruptly paired off with a guy and effectively disappears from the narrative. This leads to more than a few hurt feelings and a solid heart-to-heart before the novel’s end. It also leaves Hannah in her own head for most of the novel.

Like many road trips the path from start to finish is messy for Hannah and filled with bumps in the road. Readers looking for a story that addresses the merits and value of online friendships realistically (even with some madcap adventures) will find a lot to enjoy here. In Real Life is a funny novel with a romance that ends on a sweet note.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, 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, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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

The Devil You Know: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Devil You Know by Trish DollerArcadia “Cadie” Wells is sick to death of her life in her tiny Florida town with her broken-down father and her four-year-old brother. Cadie is tired of being the de facto caretaker for her family. She is tired of putting what she wants last. Now that high school is over, all she can see ahead of her is an endless stretch of stifling sameness with work and family obligations pulling her down.

Cadie wants something more.

She wants adventure.

She wants a little act of rebellion.

It starts with a campfire party and a cute dress. It turns into a sudden road trip with two unbearably attractive cousins and the exact kind of escape Cadie’s been yearning for. It will end with dangers Cadie never imagined and a dead body in The Devil You Know (2015) by Trish Doller.

The Devil You Know is a sexy and exciting thriller. Doller’s writing is taut with tension as Cadie tries to step outside of her everyday routine with risks that are sometimes shocking even to herself. While this story follows many familiar conventions as Cadie questions who she can trust and the wisdom in falling hard for a handsome stranger, The Devil You Know is not your average thriller.

In this slim novel (256 pages, hardcover), Cadie struggles to reconcile her own wanderlust with the obligations weighing her down. Coming from a small town and a family that is struggling to get by, Cadie is very aware of the limitations on her life. She is also confident in her own ability to achieve more than life in her small town has to offer and also in how much she deserves it.

Cadie is a strong heroine with absolutely the best feminist ideals that are presented as a seamless part of her character. Throughout The Devil You Know Cadie takes ownership of her life and her sexuality in moments that are refreshingly empowering. The chemistry between Cadie and her love interest is palpable with dialog and descriptions that absolutely sizzle.

Although parts of the story veer toward predictable or even contrived, this book is decidedly clever and often entertaining. The Devil You Know is a smart thriller that uses this familiar form to subvert as many conventions as it follows.

Possible Pairings:  The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, With Malice by Eileen Cook, Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Damaged by Amy Reed,  Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams

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

Beau, Lee, The Bomb and Me: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Beau, Lee, the Bomb and Me by Mary McKinleyBeau, Lee, The Bomb and Me by Mary McKinley (2014)

It’s bad enough being smart or fat in a high school with known bullying issues, Rusty Winters is both. It’s even worse to be gay, which is unfortunate for new kid Beau Gales.

When Beau arrives, Rusty’s first thought is relief when she thinks the school might have someone else to target for a while. But when Rusty and Beau become fast friends, it hits her hard when Beau’s bullying escalates to a beating on his way home. Rusty and fellow misfit Leonie readily agree to follow Beau when he decides to run away to San Francisco to ask his gay uncle for advice.

This road-trip novel is peppered with nods to The Wizard of Oz that range from clever to heavy-handed. A detour to the town of Forks (of “Twilight” fame) and numerous additional plot points—including the friends deciding how to properly deal with Leonie’s molestation by her teacher and others, a car-jacking, and more—force much of the character development off-page in the form of time jumps and informative asides.

Lengthy passages about the devastating effects of the AIDS outbreak, often reductive explanations of the gay rights movement, and numerous reminders about the importance of tolerance lend a self-righteous tone to the narrative.

While the issues of bullying and gay rights are timely, outmoded pop-culture references and odd slang choices lend a dated feel to this novel. Worth a look for those hoping to flesh out their LGBTQ or bullying selections as well as hardcore Oz-philes. A good choice to pair with Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.

*A slightly different version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*

In the Afterlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Black is the color of memory.

“It is our color.

“The only one they’ll use to tell our story.”

In the Afterlight by Alexandra BrackenRuby is haunted by memories of her time at Thurmond–the country’s largest rehabilitation camp–and what she has done to survive since her escape. No matter how hard she runs, she can’t get away from the memories of the people she has lost along the way.

But she has to keep moving because there might finally be an end in sight with a potential cure for IAAN–the disease that has killed so many children and left survivors like Ruby with strange and sometimes crippling abilities.

Pressure is mounting to rescue Psi kids from the camps. But time is also running out to stop IAAN. After surviving the government’s attack on Los Angeles, Ruby and the other Psi kids are even more determined to bring about change. Questions arise, however, as they try to decide what to do and who to follow.

Ruby’s loyalties are soon torn between Liam, the boy who has Ruby’s heart and his brother Cole, the only person who understands everything Ruby struggles to control. With both brothers trying to pull their motley team of survivors in different directions, Ruby has to make some painful choices.

After years of hiding, Ruby will have to embrace who she is–and what she can do–to save the people she loves in In the Afterlight (2014) by Alexandra Bracken.

In the Afterlight is the conclusion of Bracken’s Darkest Minds trilogy. It is preceded by The Darkest Minds and Never Fade.

Bracken once again delivers a high action and deeply thoughtful story as she brings her bestselling trilogy to a close.

While the story has its moments of action (and a bit of a road trip) this novel really shines as the focus turns to Ruby and the characters that have been with her from the beginning. Readers have seen Ruby push people away and sacrifice her own well-being for the sake of others. Throughout the series she has also struggled with her ability and what it means in relation to her sense of self. In the Afterlight includes the same struggles but more than ever it is obvious that Ruby is coming into her own as she embraces who she is and everything she can do.

It’s impossible to say too much about the plot without revealing too much, but rest assured that In the Afterlight has everything readers could hope for in this final installment. In the Afterlight is largely the story that these characters, particularly Ruby, deserve and also one that is deeply satisfying. An excellent conclusion to an excellent series.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin