Tag Archives: romantic

Foolish Hearts: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Foolish Hearts by Emma MillsThe entire construct of a pink party works on the expectation that the guests wear pink. Iris Huang wearing lavender to Amber Brunati’s pink party suggests exactly what she thinks of Amber and the party. But that’s just the way Iris operates–a surliness that is usually balanced out by her sweeter girlfriend, Paige Bruckner. The two have been together for most of high school and always present a united front. Always.

At least they did before Claudia overhears Paige breaking up with Iris. And gets caught eavesdropping.

Being on Iris’s bad side is punishment enough but it gets worst when Claudia and Iris have to write a paper together. Which they fail. Claudia is certain that working with Iris on the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for extra credit promises even more torture.

But somewhere between bombing her audition and shopping for materials to help with costume production, something funny happens. Suddenly instead of sticking to what she knows and keeping her head down, Claudia’s world is starting to get bigger.

Soon Claudia realizes that appearances can be deceiving as she discovers a boy band obsession, the ineffable Gideon Pruitt, and perhaps most surprisingly of all an unexpected friendship with the last person she expects in Foolish Hearts (2017) by Emma Mills.

In her latest standalone contemporary Mills explores friendship, romance, and fandom. Claudia’s world is pretty small. She has her family and her best friend Zoe, her scholarship to a fancy prep school, and all of the culture shock that implies. Claudia also has Battle Quest the massively multiplayer online role playing game she plays with her older brother and sister, her brother-in-law, and Zoe. Together they explore the game and pursue quests to find and vanquish the elusive Lord of Wizard. Claudia knows it’s not the most interesting of lives, but she’s always liked it.

At the start of senior year everything is changing as Claudia considers a near future where she and Zoe will be separated. That paired with Iris’s threat to ruin Claudia if she blabs about overhearing the breakup is more than enough excitement and uncertainty. Usually it would also force Claudia into a tactical retreat to maintain her low profile. Working on the school play changes that as Claudia is thrust into the world of costume creation and becomes a de facto drama coach helping the cast make sense of their dense dialogue.

I almost never say this but everything about Foolish Hearts makes me so happy. This book is all of the things that I loved in This Adventure Ends (including a male lead every bit as compelling and quirky as Frank Sanger) with none of the frustrating parts. Mills’ cast is thoughtfully and effortlessly inclusive (just like real life) and features a cast of memorable, quirky characters readers will love.

Even months after finishing Foolish Hearts I am still completely overwhelmed by how much I love it and how happy this story and these characters made me. A must read for fans of contemporary (romance) novels and anyone who’s ever fallen headfirst into a fandom without looking back. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

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Midnight at the Electric: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You become as strong as you have to be.”

cover art for Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn AndersonKansas, 2065: Adri has been handpicked to live on Mars as a Colonist. With just weeks before her launch date, Adri is sent to acquaint herself with the only family she has left–an aging cousin named Lily that she’s never met before. While Adri trains for life on Mars and prepares to leave Earth behind forever she finds an old notebook about a different girl who lived in the house more than a hundred years ago. As she says her goodbyes to everything she’s ever known, can Adri find answers about the girl in the notebook and what happened to her with what little time she has left?

Oklahoma, 1934: Catherine dreams of a life away from the danger and severity of the Dust Bowl. She pines for her family’s farmhand, James, even as she knows must have eyes for someone else. Most of all she yearns for a way to help her younger sister before the dust finally kills her. A midnight exhibition at a strange traveling show called the Electric promises hopes and maybe a cure. When everything goes wrong will Catherine have the courage to leave everything she knows behind to save the person she loves most?

England, 1919: The Great War is over and things should be going back to normal. But Lenore isn’t sure what normal means when her brother died in battle. Desperate for a chance to start again, Lenore plans to sail to America and her childhood friend. In the days leading up to her departure Lenore keeps writing. As more days pass without a reply, Lenore wonders will the friend she remembers be the same one she meets? Will their reunion will be enough to help Lenore remember herself?

Three young women separated by miles and generations, three stories, one shocking moment of connection in Midnight at the Electric (2017) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

Anderson’s latest standalone novel blends romance, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction in three interconnected stories. Adri, Catherine, and Lenore’s stories unfold in alternating parts as their separate paths begin to connect and even intersect.

Adri’s story unfolds in close third person while Catherine story is presented through her diary and Lenore’s through letters she writes to her friend in America. These changing formats offer windows into each girl’s personality. Adri is clinical and detached while she prepares to become a Colonist. Catherine is more conversational and clings to optimism to try and make sense of her bleak possibilities in the Dust Bowl. Lenore is all bravado as she tries to chase away the shadows and grief left in the wake of WWI.

At its core this is a story about leaving. All three heroines are hoping for something more–an adventure, salvation, change–if only they can reach that next destination. But before they can pursue what comes next each girl, in their own way, has to make peace with what came before and let it go.

 

Midnight at the Electric is a brief book that packs a punch. This character driven story offers poignant vignettes about human connection, loneliness, and perseverance. This book just about broke my heart in half while I was reading it. But then it mended it too. If I had to rank the stories I would say my favorite–and the one at the core of the novel’s overarching plot–is Catherine’s, followed closely by Adri’s, then Lenore’s. While Catherine’s story was the most buoyant and hopeful, Adri’s story and her relationship with Lily just about wrecked me. I cried for the entire final part of the book and I doubt I’m the only one.

Anderson has outdone herself in this beautifully written novel with a clever premise that is truly high concept. Midnight at the Electric is a book about leaving and endings but also about origins and coming home—even if home isn’t the same place as where you started. I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Selling Hope by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Nothing But Sky: A Review

Grace Lafferty began performing stunts as a wing walker with her uncle Warren and his barnstorming team, The Soaring Eagles, when she was thirteen years old. Her uncle didn’t know what to do with her after becoming her guardian when the rest of her family died an outbreak of Spanish Influenza. But even Uncle Warren knows better than to try and keep Grace out of the skies.

Five years later in 1922 Grace fears that the Soaring Eagles will soon be forced out of the sky by bigger teams or stricter air regulations. Determined to keep her chosen family together Grace will do whatever it takes to get to the World Aviation Expo where they can compete to win a lucrative contract with a Hollywood studio.

Throughout her preparations for the Expo Grace fights sabotage attempts from a rival barnstorming team and her growing attraction to new mechanic Henry. Haunted by nightmarish memories from the war and a limp from a battle injury Henry is stoic, professional, and infuriating to Grace who initially distrusts him. When a routine stunt goes wrong Grace wonders if she needs more than raw ambition to plan for her future in Nothing But Sky (2018) by Amy Trueblood.

Trueblood’s historical fiction debut looks at the years immediately following WWI when veterans returning home with flying experience and decommissioned fighter planes gave birth to barnstorming performances.

Grace is an ambitious narrator and daredevil with a singular focus–often to the detriment of the team she is supposedly desperate to keep intact. Henry’s struggle with shell shock makes him one of the most developed characters but it is handled poorly being used repeatedly as a reason for the team to distrust him. The sweetness of his fledgling romance with Grace is overshadowed by these constant doubts and a general lack of nuance in Grace’s worldview.

When Henry becomes the prime suspect for the team’s sabotage it is problematic as it builds to a predictable twist when it comes to the actual culprit. Breakneck stunts and romance lend Nothing Buy Sky high action while also detracting from the rich but often under-developed historical setting.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in the February 1, 2018 issue of School Library Journal*

Ink, Iron, and Glass: A Review

cover art for Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn ClareWith the right tools–a special pen, specific ink–the right person can create an entire world thanks to the science of scriptology. Detailed manuals, called worldbooks, outline the parameters of the world from how gravity works there to whether or not the air is breathable.

There are no limits to how complex a worldbook can be–something scriptologists and the world at large learned when Charles Montaigne created Veldana–the first populated world created with scriptology. After Jumi, a talented scriptologist in her own right, helped her people secure their independence Veldana remains the only populated scriptologist world.

Now in 1891 Jumi’s daughter Elsa is looking forward to the day when she can take on a larger role helping her mother maintain the Veldana worldbook and pursuing her other scientific interests.

Those plans change abruptly and violently when Veldana is attacked and her mother is kidnapped. Forced to flee Veldana Elsa finds herself in the real world with no way to get home or even know if the Veldana worldbook still exists.

With no option but to move forward Elsa travels to Sicily with her mother’s mentor to regroup and find help. Among the pazzerellones Elsa learns about the madness that fuels innovation here–a singular interest in scriptology, mechanics, or other sciences that manifests as madness, particularly for the rare few polymaths whose interests cross multiple disciplines.

Uncertain who to trust or where to begin, Elsa seeks help from the other madboys and madgirls she encounters including calculating Porzia and mechanist Leo. With the right tools Elsa can write almost anything she can imagine into existence but she still doesn’t know if that will be enough to save her entire world in Ink, Iron, and Glass (2018) by Gwendolyn Clare.

Ink, Iron, and Glass is Clare’s debut novel and the start to a duology.

This novel is a refreshing blend of adventure and excitement with a heroine who is both pragmatic and scientifically inclined. Clare’s world borrows from real historic events to build the bones of her alternate history filled with scientific madness and steampunk elements including automated machines, talking houses, and more.

The main sticking point with Clare’s complex and well-realized world (and for me it was a big one) is the concept of an affinity for the sciences being construed as madness. There are no negative connotations to this madness–nor is there any discussion of what mental illness might look like in this world–but the intense gendering of the madness by calling those who have it “madboys” or “madgirls” was incredibly frustrating and served no purpose in the larger context of the story. If you poke too hard at this aspect of the world and the conceit that all great innovation is tied to madness and a complete lack of focus on the big picture (the idea being that the mad ones can focus on nothing but their chosen sciences) the premise starts to fall apart.

Despite an exceedingly large ensemble cast, Elsa spends much of the novel in her own head as she works through using her mechanical and scriptological talents to pursue her mother’s kidnappers and mount a rescue. While this offers insight into the nuances of scriptology it makes for a narrative that is often surprisingly dry despite madcap chases and boisterous secondary characters.

Ink, Iron, and Glass is an entertaining story with fascinating if sometimes hastily sketched characters and world building. Fans will be eager for the sequel after the shocking conclusion of this volume. Recommended for readers who enjoy plot-driven stories and have a fondness for steampunk settings.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The Reader by Traci Chee, Invictus by Ryan Graudin, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

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

The Nowhere Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Nowhere Girls by Amy ReedGrace, Rosina, and Erin are used to being outsiders—nobodies. But as they get to know each other they realize they aren’t alone.

Grace is the new girl in town. The quiet daughter of a newly-minted radical liberal pastor who is so focused on building up her new church that she doesn’t have much time for Grace.

Rosina is a queer latina punk rocker. But she doesn’t have a band. And she isn’t out. Because most of her time is spent working in her family’s restaurant, taking care of her cousins, and avoiding her conservative Mexican immigrant relatives.

Erin knows everything there is to know about marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both things help her add routine to her life–something Erin needs to cope with her autism. But even routine can’t help Erin forget what happened before or answer the question of whether or not she’s an android.

Grace is outraged by the lack of sympathy and subsequent fallout for Lucy Moynihan–a local girl who accused three popular guys at school of gang rape only to be run out of town. Soon, Grace draws Rosina and Erin into her efforts to get justice for Lucy and for so many other girls.

It starts with just the three of them but soon they are everywhere because they are everygirl. They are The Nowhere Girls (2017) by Amy Reed.

There’s a lot to love in Reed’s latest standalone novel. This ambitious story is a scathing indictment of misogyny and rape culture as well as an empowering introduction to feminism for teen readers. Written in close third person the novel alternates viewpoints between Grace, Rosina, and Erin for most of the novel. The Nowhere Girls also showcases brief chapters (entitled “Us”) following other girls in town as they navigate first-time sex, negotiate physical intimacy with romantic partners, gender identity, and more.

Reed makes a lot of headway toward erasing the separation and exclusion of the primarily white feminism of the 1960s (and 1990s) with these “us” chapters as well as situating Rosina at the center of the start of the Nowhere Girls movement. This step is a really important one, and something I was glad to see. However a coworker pointed out that despite these inroads, a lot of The Nowhere Girls remains focused on white feminism with many of the brown girls in the story only being seen as saying this isn’t feminism meant to include them. That’s a problem and one I wish had more of a conclusion by the end of the novel.

It also points to one of the main problems with The Nowhere Girls which is that there isn’t always a payoff for much of the novel’s potential. The “us” chapters introduce a transgender character who wonders if she would be welcome in the Nowhere Girls with open arms. Unfortunately there is no answer to that in the text anymore than there is for the girls of color besides Rosina. Another girl contends with being labeled a slut by her peers and most of the town but her arc is cut abruptly short and leaves her, sadly and predictably, in mean girl territory instead of reaching for something bigger. I’d like to think these girls all have outcomes where they are able to embrace their own agency and feminism. But because The Nowhere Girls takes on so much there isn’t time to spell everything out on the page.

Then there’s Erin. I’m very happy to see more neuro-atypical characters getting major page time but there are questions as to whether a neurotypical author can (or should) delve into that interiority for a character. I don’t have an answer to that. What I can say is that Erin begins the novel by describing herself as having Asperger’s Syndrome–a term that is no longer used as a standard diagnosis–and generally not accepting her autism in a healthy way. There is growth with this and by the end of the novel Erin is referring to herself as autistic rather than an “Aspy” but it’s not given quite enough time to have a satisfying conclusion.

The Nowhere Girls is an ambitious, gritty novel that pulls no punches as it addresses complicated issues of rape culture and misogyny as well as solidarity and feminism. The Nowhere Girls is a novel full of potential and a powerful conversation starter. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Fragments of the Lost: A Review

Jessa so doesn’t want to clear out her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room after he dies. It’s hard enough to grieve and dodge questions about how she’s managing. But when his mother asks, she can’t say no. Jessa knows this is her penance—her punishment for being part of the puzzle of Caleb’s last day.

She can’t explain why Caleb was at her track meet that day anymore than anyone else can. She only knows what came after. His drive along the bridge as it flooded, the car crash, the body that was never found.

As Jessa sorts through Caleb’s possessions and begins the tedious, painful work of packing everything away she starts to remember details from the start of their relationship when things were still fresh and there was so much to learn. These pieces of his life also bring back painful memories of the end of their relationship and the distances that eventually grew between them.

As Jessa delves deeper into Caleb’s life she realizes his room might hold secrets to that strange last day and his death. She also realizes she might not be the only one looking in Fragments of the Lost (2017) by Megan Miranda.

Miranda delivers an eerie and atmospheric mystery in this latest standalone. Narrated by Jessa the novel moves through time with chapters marking Jessa’s present weekend project clearing out Caleb’s room and the past with chapters named for items Jessa discovers that bring up memories of her year-long relationship with Caleb. This premise is used to good effect to demonstrate Jessa’s (often self-imposed) isolation in her grief and her desperation to understand what really happened on the day Caleb died.

A taut narrative told over a short span of time amps up the tension as Jessa slowly begins to realize that something is incredibly wrong. While the big twist might be easily predicted by habitual mystery readers, Jessa’s arc throughout the novel is strong enough to still make for a compelling read. Recommended for readers looking for a chilling page turner and fans of mysteries or thrillers.

Possible Pairings: I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Forget Me by K. A. Harrington, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The After Girls by Leah Konen, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

All the Wind in the World: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for All the Wind in the World by Samantha MabrySarah Jacqueline Crow and James Holt are used to long, hot days working the maguey fields of the Southwest. The work is brutal but they have a plan. Keep their heads down, do the work, save enough money to head back east where everything isn’t so dry and they can start a ranch of their own. They do one other thing to make sure they can survive and stay together: they keep their love a secret at all costs. It’s safer, they’ve learned, to pose as cousins instead.

Forced to run again after an accident, Sarah Jac and James follow the trains to the Real Marvelous–a ranch known for its steady work and possible curse. The work is the same and their plan should stay the same too. But as strange things begin to happen on the ranch Sarah Jac realizes that their old tricks won’t be enough to keep them safe–they may not even be enough to keep Sarah Jac and James together in All the Wind in the World (2017) by Samantha Mabry.

All the Wind in the World is Mabry’s sophomore novel. It was also selected as a longlist title for the 2017 National Book Award.

All the Wind in the World is intensely character driven with a tight focus on Sarah Jac and James as they struggle to stay true to each other while keeping their relationship a secret. Sarah Jac’s first person narration makes it immediately obvious that something isn’t right at the Real Marvelous but, like readers, Sarah kept guessing as to what menace is befalling the ranch and its workers for much of the story. Mabry’s writing is tense and sexy as the story builds to its shocking conclusion.

This is the kind of novel that is immediately gripping in the moment–a true page turner despite the methodical pacing and relatively straightforward plot. However upon further inspection holes do start to show in the world building. While the dry, near dessert landscape of the Southwest is evocative and beautifully described the characters offer little explanation for how things got to this point. The payoff for the curse of the Real Marvelous (or the lack thereof) remains equally vague and open-ended.

Any shortcomings in the world or the plot are more than balanced out by the lush prose and singular characters. Sarah Jac and James are not easy characters. They are both flawed and grasping as they struggle to get past their day-to-day existence and strive for something more. How far should either of them be willing to go to get there? That’s a hard question to answer both for them and the reader.

All the Wind in the World is a striking, tightly wound novel. Readers will immediately be swept up in Sarah Jac and James’ story of longing, love, and darker impulses. A must-read for fans of magic realism. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff