Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow: A (Halloween-y) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Morrigan Crow is cursed and doomed to die on her eleventh birthday on Eventide night. She is blamed for every bit of bad luck and misfortune that plagues the residents of the town of Jackalfax in the Wintersea Republic.

When Eventide arrives early ushering a new Age across the realm, Morrigan is faced with the prospect of her premature death until a strange man named Jupiter North arrives. Together the two escape the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow and arrive in the Free State city of Nevermoor. Miraculously alive and possibly no longer cursed, Morrigan can make a fresh start.

With Jupiter’s help she has the chance to compete in a series of trials for a place in Nevermoor’s most revered group: The Wundrous Society. If she makes it she’ll also earn her place in Nevermoor and finally have a home and family who cares about her.

Despite Jupiter’s assurances, Morrigan dreads the final Show Trial where the remaining competitors will have to demonstrate their astounding talents–something Morrigan is quite certain she doesn’t possess. Morrigan will have to step boldly and learn to trust her new friends if she hopes to pass the trials and join the Wundrous Society in Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (2017) by Jessica Townsend.

Nevermoor is Townsend’s debut novel and the start of a middle grade trilogy. The story revolves around Morrigan’s struggle to find her place and discover her own worth. All while she completes magical tasks and investigates the strange world of Nevermoor.

This dynamic novel is filled with intricate and carefully detailed world building that brings the renowned figure of Jupiter North and the rest of Nevermoor vibrantly to life. Set over the course of Morrigan’s year of trials this entertaining and fast-paced story is filled with wondrous things like the Hotel Deucalion where Morrigan’s room changes to suit her mood, the Wundrous Society grounds which turns the weather up a notch, and even a giant talking “Magnificat” named Fenestra.

Nevermoor is filled with adventure, magic, and wonder. Readers, like Morrigan herself, will feel at home in these evocative pages where magic and confidence go hand in hand. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee, The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon Foxheart by Claire Legrand, Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Cabinet of Wonders by Marie Rutkoski

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the July 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

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Infinite In Between: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Not necessarily the beginning and not really the end, either. It was the infinite in between, all those minuscule and major moments when they’d dipped in and out of each other’s lives. That had been their journey and somehow, even though they hadn’t realized it, they’d been on it together.”

The five of them meet at high school orientation.

Gregor plays cello and he loves his family. His world feels far too small to be starting high school where older kids like his sister seem so much more together. He is hopelessly in love with Whitney but he has no idea how to tell her especially when his grand gestures manage to go awry. Getting Whitney to notice him is Gregor’s biggest problem  until a sudden tragedy changes everything.

Everyone saw the viral video of Zoe’s actress mother screaming at her in a dressing room. She knows everyone sees her as a spoiled brat who is just like her mom. But that isn’t the whole story. It isn’t even close.

Jake knows he’s gay. He knows it the same we he knows he’s an artist and the same way he knows he can’t play football anymore after what happened on the bus. The harder part is dealing with his crush on his best friend, Ted.

Whitney is pretty and popular. She seems to have it all. Except things at home are starting to unravel and there’s a constant push and pull to balance expectations people have of who Whitney should be like–her white mother or her black father.

Even at orientation, Mia is an outsider. She doesn’t have many friends or much of a family with her parents more interested in work than her. Mia is an observer and an expert at blending in. But before high school ends she’ll have to figure out where she fits and how to speak up before it’s too late.

Five teens. Four years. One journey that changes everything in Infinite in Between (2015) by Carolyn Mackler.

Infinite in Between is written in close third person perspective which shifts between Gregor, Zoe, Jake, Whitney, and Mia. The novel starts with their orientation the day before high school and follows all of them through four years to graduation day.

Despite the broad scope and large cast, Infinite in Between is fast-paced and populated with well-developed characters. While each character has their own journey–often without much overlap–all five of their stories intersect in interesting ways throughout the novel often in ways only apparent to the reader.

Infinite in Between is an inventive novel ideal for readers making their own way through the labyrinthine passages of high school as well as readers who appreciate overlapping narratives and stories reminiscent of Six Degrees of Separation. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen, The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, The List by Siobhan Vivian

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

Strange the Dreamer: A Review

“He’d sooner die trying to hold the world on his shoulders than running away. Better, always, to run toward.”

No one knows what happened in Weep two hundred years ago to isolate the wondrous city from the rest of the world.

Lazlo Strange has been obsessed with Weep since he felt the city’s true name stripped from his mind when he was five years old. Now he spends every free moment tracking down what clues he can about the city as it once was and hints to what might have transpired there.

Unlikely as it may be for a war orphan turned into a lowly junior librarian, Lazlo’s greatest dream is to visit Weep and see its wonders with his own eyes. He knows such opportunities, such legends, are more suitable to men like Thyon Nero–a scholar renowned through the land for his alchemical wonders–but that does little to tamp down his hope. Lazlo is a dreamer who survives on a steady diet of magic and fairy tales. To deny the possibility of either in his own small life is unthinkable.

When an unexpected caravan led by Eril-Fane, the Godslayer, arrives Lazlo has to embrace his dream and strive for the impossible: not just the chance to see the Unseen City for himself but possibly the chance to save it.

The city is more than even Lazlo could have expected filled with wonders and horrors in equal measure. The city is still haunted by the centuries long legacy of war and terror under the Mesarthium–blue-skinned gods who came down from the sky when the city was still whole.

There are problems to solve in Weep and answers to find. But as Lazlo explores his dream city, he realizes there are also more questions as his own dreamscape becomes something he doesn’t recognize with moments that are strikingly, vividly real, and a blue-skinned goddess who seems nothing like the terror he’s heard about from the Godslayer.

In a world where the old gods are dead and dreams have weight, Lazlo will have to decide what he wants to protect and what he’s willing to lose in Strange the Dreamer (2017) by Laini Taylor. Welcome to Weep.

Strange the Dreamer is the first book in Taylor’s latest duology which will continue in The Muse of Nightmares. While this story is very obviously unfinished (the last line of the novel is “Because this story was not over yet.”) Strange the Dreamer does provide a partially contained arc in terms of Lazlo’s journey and growth as he comes into his own upon arriving in Weep.

Through Weep and its history Strange the Dreamer artfully explores themes of forgiveness and recovery as both Lazlo and the rest of Weep struggle to determine next steps for the wounded but healing city. The imagined city of Weep is evocative and vibrant with distinct customs, landscapes, and even language. The use of language is demonstrated especially well with the words in Weep’s native language used to start each section of the novel.

Taylor builds drama that remains taut from the opening prologue until the very last page. Written with an omniscient third person point of view this story is very self-aware and encompasses numerous points of view. This narrative structure and the tone of the novel are deliberately reminiscent of the fairy tales that Lazlo so richly loves and serve to underscore the fairy tale nature of Strange the Dreamer where magic continuously appears in seemingly mundane and unexpected places.

Strange the Dreamer is a captivating fantasy sure to appeal to readers looking for an intricate and unique story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Reader by Traci Chee, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Lirael by Garth Nix, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Chime: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I know you believe you’re giving me a chance–or, rather, it’s the Chime Child giving me the chance. She’s desperate, of course, not to hang an innocent girl again, but please believe me: Nothing in my story will absolve me of guilt. It will only prove what I’ve already told you, which is that I’m wicked.”

Chime by Franny BillingsleyBriony knows in her heart that every bad thing that has happened to her family is decidedly her fault. She looks sweet and innocent, the way her identical twin sister Rose looks when she isn’t screaming. But Briony knows that she is a blight on her family and probably on Swampsea as a whole–her stepmother made sure she knew.

Now Briony’s stepmother is dead and Briony is waiting to be hanged for her misdeeds. There are several places her story could start but it seems fitting, in its own way, to start with Eldric’s arrival because doesn’t every story truly begin when a good looking young man appears? Didn’t Briony’s fragile grasp on her life begin to crumble the moment she first saw his sunshine smile and his lion hair? in Chime (2011) by Franny Billingsley.

Chime was a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Chime is a circuitous and layered novel written in Briony’s complicated first person narration. Long, winding sentences filled with tangents and asides lend this book the feel of a stream of consciousness and creates a strong textuality to the book.

Briony is a complex character. The loops and whorls of her consciousness are dense and exhausting to read. Just keeping up with Briony’s narration is a feat let alone penetrating it enough to get at what she is sharing and, often more importantly, what she is not sharing as she relates her story.

Chime takes place in an alternate historical England. Magic and magical creatures still flourish but industrialization is beginning to take hold in the form of electric lights and other technical wonders like metal paperclips. The contrasts between the fantastical and the technological are further emphasized in the dichotomy between Briony and Eldric as they try to make sense of each other.

Because of the peculiarities of the narrative and Briony’s initially cutting personality, Chime isn’t a book for everyone. Although it is a fantasy first and foremost, it is also a thoughtful romance and a bit of a mystery as readers unravel what brought Briony to the point of requesting she be hanged posthaste. Readers who can engage with the text and adjust to the writing style will enjoy the world building, the stories within stories, and the twists to be found.

Briony’s story is all about self-care and self love. Along the way, thanks to the vagaries of life and the calculated moves of certain characters, Briony loses sight of who she used to be and who she can become. Chime is about Briony’s journey to rediscover that lost girl of her youth and also to redeem herself–not in the eyes of others but simply for herself.

Best suited to readers who appreciate acerbic wit, rich fantasies, and multifaceted tales.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Wildthorn by Jane Eagland, I, Coriander by Sally Gardner, The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Hunter’s Moon by O. R. Melling, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, The Haunting of Alaizabel Cray by Chris Wooding

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 Last Time We Were Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We’re all just trying to be the best version of us, the only way we know how.”

The Last Time We Were Us by Leah KonenLiz used to go by Lizzie and her life used to be simple. But the summer before her senior year is anything but as she sifts through the expectations of her friends and family to figure what she might really want. Thanks to her best friend MacKenzie’s concentrated efforts, she and Liz are on the verge of popularity. Liz is getting invited to the best parties. Everyone is certain that if Liz plays her cards right she’ll have Innis Taylor–the hottest and most popular guy in Bonneville–as her boyfriend.

When her childhood best friend, Jason, comes home unexpectedly from juvie the obvious thing to do is ignore him. Liz doesn’t owe Jason anything. She isn’t even sure she can give him the friendship that he’s asking for. Liz never wanted to believe that Jason was capable of attacking someone but the rest of the town is convinced that he is guilty and still dangerous.

Liz has every reason to avoid Jason and everything to lose if anyone catches them together. But the more Liz remembers about who she and Jason used to be together, the more she finds herself drawn to him and the secrets he keeps alluding to that surround his arrest. Liz will have to learn how to trust Jason again as she remembers his role in her past and decides if he deserves a place in her future in The Last Time We Were Us (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Last Time We Were Us is Konen’s second novel.

This book explores a lot of the themes covered in Matthew Quick’s Every Exquisite Thing. However, the idea of finding yourself and the value to be had in teenage rebellion is handled more effectively here and without the obvious disdain Quick displays for his heroine throughout.

The Last Time We Were Us is a subtle, sexy story about figuring out who you want to be when everyone already seems to know you. Liz remains extremely aware of who she is and of her own values–even if that sometimes means deeply disappointing those closest to her. While this story has action and twists, it remains largely introspective with Liz working through some of her largest conflicts on her own as she tries to choose the kind of person she wants to be moving forward.

This book is one of those formative stories where the writing is so smart and so on point that it often feels like have your own thoughts and ideas spoken back to you. Konen’s evocative descriptions of Bonneville and a varied (though probably all white) cast help to further develop the story. The Last Time We Were Us is a thoughtful exploration of what place nostalgia and memory have in life as you grow older and how, even when you try not to, the past can irretrievably shape your future.

The Last Time We Were Us is a story with a hint of mystery, romance, and a healthy dose of feminism. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrough, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also check out my interview with Leah Konen about the book.

Finished The Last Time We Were Us last night. It's one of the smartest books I have read this year. Liz used to go by Lizzie and her life used to be simple. But the summer before senior year is anything but as she has to sift through the expectations and wants of her friends and family to figure what she might really want. When her childhood best friend, Jason, comes home unexpectedly from juvie the obvious thing to do is ignore him. Liz doesn't owe Jason anything and she isn't sure she can give him what he's asking for either. This is a subtle, sexy story about figuring out who you want to be when everyone already seems to know you and an exploration of what place nostalgia and memory have in life as you grow older. A story with a hint of mystery, romance, and a healthy dose of feminism. Cannot recommend it highly enough. #books #bookstagram #igbooks #reading #currentlyreading #ireadya

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How to Be Brave: A Review

How to Be Brave by E. Katherine KottarasReeling from her mother’s death, Georgia knows that things have to change. After years of trying to blend into the background, Georgia is ready to be brave just like her mother told her to be in her last letter.

Armed with a list of brave things to do ranging from “asking him out” to smoking pot to going to trapeze school, Georgia is ready to get out of her own way and do everything; she’s ready to be everything in How to Be Brave (2015) by E. Katherine Kottaras.

How to Be Brave is Kottaras’ first novel. In a red-letter year for body acceptance novels, it’s also being touted as comparable read for Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy.

A lot of my issues with the book are decidedly my own. They also include spoilers to some extent so be wary.

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