Royals: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Royals by Rachel HawkinsDaisy doesn’t want to be a princess, or even in the limelight really, but it turns out that’s hard when her older sister is practically engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland.

After one too many near-misses with the paparazzi Daisy is whisked off to Scotland with her sister to lay low. It’s not at all how Daisy wants to spend her summer but she doesn’t have much choice in the matter. Especially when Ellie announces her engagement.

In Scotland Daisy is supposed learn how to be regal while keeping a low profile. She even has help from the royal fixer and Miles, a close friend of the royal family. But it turns out keeping a low profile is hard when the prince’s younger brother, Sebastian, is an actual human dumpster fire–he and his friends (including Miles) are literally called the Royal Wreckers–and seems hellbent on dragging Daisy into as much trouble as he possibly can.

Daisy knows she doesn’t quite fit the royal rule book with her mermaid red hair, geeky interests, and no nonsense attitude. But no one ever said she couldn’t rewrite the rules herself in Royals (2018) by Rachel Hawkins.

Royals can be read as a standalone contemporary but it is also the start of a series–each following a different heroine.

Daisy is a delightful narrator. She is smart, witty, and she calls things as she sees them in this fast-paced story. Daisy struggles to mold herself in the image of her poised and elegant sister who seems to have been born to be a princess with hilarious results. But even royals have obligations and Daisy soon realizes that she isn’t the only one feeling pressure after her sister and the prince announce their engagement.

Daisy’s story is pure, escapist fun complete with an unexpected love interest, friend shenanigans, and many zany mishaps as Daisy learns the hard way that expectations can be misleading–especially when it comes to love.

Royals is an effervescent and cheery contemporary. I cannot wait to see what happens in book two.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm

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Into the Dim: A Review

Into the Dim by Janet B. TaylorHope Walton is certain that her mother isn’t really dead. But no one else saw the flash of news coverage and no one can find any evidence to corroborate what Hope knows to be true thanks to her eidetic memory.

Expectations for a summer visiting her aunt in Scotland are low (even without the smack of rejection knowing her father will be on a cruise with his new girlfriend). Between her crippling claustrophobia and headaches brought on when her photographic memory gets away from her, even time at home–alone–can be overwhelming.

Soon after arriving in Scotland, Hope learns that her aunt and mother belong to a secret society of time travelers dedicated to preserving the timeline–a mission that has left Hope’s mother trapped in twelfth-century England.

Hope might be the only one who can save her mother. But she’ll have to learn how to conquer her own fears first in Into the Dim (2016) by Janet B. Taylor.

Into the Dim is Taylor’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Written in the first person, Into the Dim is narrated by sixteen-year-old Hope. Hope is incredibly book smart thanks to her memory but she is also naive and reads as much younger than her sixteen years would suggest. Taylor also chooses to write characters’ speech in dialect to convey accents which often feels stilted if not clumsy to follow.

The novel’s plot is based on some problematic elements. The role of her father is especially troubling. Readers learn early on that Hope was adopted by her mother who married when Hope was five. Her mother and father are the only parent’s Hope has ever known and she considers both her parents without qualification and, as far as the story suggests, Hope’s father feels the same way about her. Despite that Hope’s father allows his own mother to treat Hope as an outsider and inferior to the “real” members of the family. (This is behavior that leaves Hope’s mother seething but seems to get a pass from her father.) Aside from being a damaging trope to perpetuate it feels like a heavy-handed attempt to build in sympathy for Hope and better explain her decision to go along with a visit to Scotland at all.

Other problematic familial aspects of Into the Dim include the fact that Hope’s father has a new girlfriend a mere eight months after his wife’s sudden death and chooses to go on a cruise with her while leaving Hope to fend for herself with an aunt she has never met in a foreign country. Furthermore the idea that Hope’s aunt has never bothered to speak to her–ever–despite speaking to Hope’s mother weekly seems highly unlikely.

Hope’s photographic memory and phobias often feel contrived. That isn’t to say that her fears are invalid or badly portrayed. Rather they feel like elements added into the story solely to move the plot in a very specific direction. The addition of extreme headaches brought on by Hope’s eidetic memory seems superfluous and lacks any basis (as far as my research shows) in reality.

Into the Dim veers more to the light end of the speculative fiction spectrum. Explanations for the mechanics of time travel are thin when they are presented at all. The novel is also poorly paced with obvious twists (time travel!) that are hinted at in the plot summary not appearing until well into the story. For a novel that travels to a variety of locations and time periods, Into the Dim often lacks a strong sense of place feeling as it if could be set anywhere without much change to the action. The historical parts of the novel are well-researched but come too late to enhance the text.

Into the Dim begins with a promising premise that hints at action, time travel, and even some romance. Unfortunately in a year rich with titles that explore similar themes, this one often falls short by comparison.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Winterspell by Claire LeGrand, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

The Geography of You and Me: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. SmithLucy and Owen meet in an elevator trapped between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City highrise during a citywide blackout. What could have been an ordinary night spent alone in the dark becomes a shared moment of wonder for Lucy and Owen. Together they explore a Manhattan that looks more like a party than a crisis before admiring the shockingly bright stars over Manhattan’s skyline.

But after that one magical night, Lucy and Owen find themselves pulled in opposite directions. Literally. Owen and his father head for points west while Lucy and her parents move to Edinburgh.

Lucy and Owen don’t have a lot in common to start with. They don’t even know much about each other. Still their relationship plays out across the miles in the form of postcards and sporadic emails. Although both Lucy and Owen try to move on they soon realize an unfinished something keeps pulling them back to each other in The Geography of You and Me (2014) by Jennifer E. Smith.

The Geography of You and Me is a delightful story of an unlikely long-distance relationship and an ode to the joys of travel and old-fashioned correspondence. Smith brings the wonder and frustrations of a New York blackout delightfully to life in the opening pages. The evocative prose just gets better from there as readers travel across the country with Owen and across the Atlantic with Lucy.

The story alternates between Lucy and Owen’s perspective to offer insights not just into their correspondence but also into the relationships both have with their parents. As much as The Geography of You and Me is a romance it is also an anthem for family and communication. With Lucy coming from a well-to-do family and Owen being on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, there are also some interesting moments about privilege and what that can mean in modern life.

Smith offers nods to social networking and emails while also hearkening back to the simpler and often more sincere communications found in postcards. It is highly likely readers will seek a new pen pal or join Post Crossing after finishing this cheerfully well-traveled novel.

Possible Pairings: A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, All I Need by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Drawing a Blank: A review

Drawing a Blank by Daniel EhrenhaftDrawing a Blank or How I Tried to Solve a Mystery, End a Feud, and Land the Girl of My Dreams (2006) by Daniel Ehrenhaft has a lot going for it. In addition to having a very straightforward, no holds barred, title Drawing a Blank also includes illustrations by Trevor Ristow.

More surprising (to me) was that I was already familiar with the book’s author, Daniel Ehrenhaft. In 2002 Ehrenhaft, writing under the pseudonym Daniel Parker, published the Wessex Papers trilogy. The three books (Trust Falls, Fallout, Outsmart) won the Edgar Award in 2003 for Best Young Adult Mystery. I didn’t know any of that while reading the Wessex Papers (or this book), but am inclined to agree with the hype. Like the Wessex Papers the writing here is smart both in the sense that it is clever and that it leaves readers thinking.

The story (as the full title explains) follows Carlton Dunne IV as he tries to rescue his father who is embroiled in an age-old family feud with another Scottish clan. In the process, Carlton runs away from his boarding school, visits the comic con from hell, meets a crazy girl who wants to be on “Cops” and continues working on his comic strip that runs in a local paper (thus the illustrations and the comic con debacle). As you might have guessed, Carlton wears many hats.

Carlton is also a really fun character, likably neurotic he brings to mind the protagonist of the Wessex Papers. A fact that makes sense when you realize the novels were written by the same person.

Although the book is a significant length, the chapters are short–averaging about three pages at a run. This is good because you can read them quickly. On the other hand, Ehrenhaft’s preference to end chapters on a cliff hanger becomes redundant after the eightieth time.

The story takes a while to get to the action, a fact Carlton himself acknowledges early on in a note at the front of the book. The time, however, is well-spent introducing memorable characters and explaining Carlton’s personal history. Most of the book understandably takes place in Scotland, but the scenes at Carnegie Mansion–Carlton’s boarding school–are a lot of fun even if they do more to set up the plot than actively set it in motion.

I’d recommend Drawing a Blank for reluctant readers who don’t read for lack of interest (even though the chapters are short with a fairly large font, the presence of footnotes and an involved plot might be daunting for readers who might read below level). Although this book is a bit more zany than any of the Wessex Papers, I’d also recommend it for fans of that series.

You can learn more about Daniel Ehrenhaft and his other books at his website DanielEhrenhaft.com.