Bad Girls With Perfect Faces: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I didn’t know then what I know now: Be careful when your feelings are too strong, when you love someone too much. A heart too full is like a bomb. One day it will explode.”

cover art for Bad Girls With Perfect Faces by Lynn WeingartenSasha always looks out for her best friend Xavier. She’s the one who helped him put the pieces back together after his girlfriend Ivy cheated. She’s the one who dyes his hair. She’s the one who watches documentaries about the ocean and sea life with him.

Sasha is the one who would be perfect for Xavier. She loves him and she would never hurt him the way Ivy did. She’d never lie to him. And she’s just about ready to tell him all of that when Ivy shows up again.

Xavier and Ivy are a toxic combination–something that Xavier fails to remember when they get back together. All Sasha wants to do is protect him and prove once and for all that Ivy is a liar and a cheat.

So she poses as a guy online to attract Ivy.

What starts as a simple scheme to prove Ivy will cheat on Xavier again escalates quickly until the lies and the secrets start to spiral out of control. As Sasha’s plan to pretend to be someone else starts to go terribly wrong, she begins to worry about who she’s becoming in Bad Girls With Perfect Faces (2017) by Lynn Weingarten.

Bad Girls With Perfect Faces is a fascinating thriller that imagines what might happen when a seemingly minor case of catfishing goes horribly wrong. The novel is written in alternating chapters with the majority of the story falling to Sasha’s world-weary narration as she relates the events that blew her world apart. Text messages and other conversations between Sasha’s fake profile guy and Ivy are also interspersed throughout.

I can’t tell you much more about this story without giving something important away except that this is a perfect read-a-like for fans of Gone Girl. Bad Girls With Perfect Faces is a tense, sexy, thriller that promises to take readers on a wild ride from its ominous start to a twisted finish.

Possible Pairings: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre, Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda, This is Not a Love Letter by Kim Purcell

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2017*

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Furyborn: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You’re just my kind of dangerous.”

cover art for Furyborn by Claire LegrandOnly two people are meant to have power over all seven kinds of elemental magic–a prophesied pair of queens. The Sun Queen will bring light and salvation. Her counterpart, the Blood Queen, will summon an age of ruin and destruction.

Rielle Dardenne should not be able to wield all of the elements. Her uncontrolled magic has already cost Rielle dearly. She isn’t eager to lose more. Terrified she may be marked as the Blood Queen, she hides her power from everyone.

When her best friend Audric, the crown prince, is attacked by assassins Rielle has no choice but to intervene. The kingdom believes Rielle to be one of the queens in the prophecy. But which one? To prove her loyalty and that she is the Sun Queen, Rielle agrees to demonstrate her control and her power by completing seven trials where failure will mean death.

One thousand years later, Queen Rielle is remembered as little more than a legend–a story from when magic and angels were thought to be real. Eliana Ferracora doesn’t have time for stories. Not when it takes all of her energy to keep herself and her family alive.

Eliana isn’t proud to be a collaborator with the invading forces of the Undying Empire. But she doesn’t have time for pride or regret or pity. Not when her work as a bounty hunter is the only thing keeping her mother and her brother Remy safe. Until her mother disappears.

To save her Eliana will have to form a tenuous alliance with a mysterious man called the Wolf and embark on a dangerous mission traveling across her country to distant shores and the center of a conspiracy closer to Eliana than she can imagine.

Two queens with the power to save their world or destroy it. Two young women pushed to desperate lengths for what they love. One war that has spanned millennia and demands that both Rielle and Eliana choose a side in Furyborn (2018) by Claire Legrand.

Furyborn is the dynamic start to Legrand’s Empirium trilogy. This high fantasy novel alternates chapters between Rielle and Eliana bringing both characters closer to dangerous realizations about their world and their own roles in it. Legrand expertly manages both story lines maintaining tension throughout even in the midst of a surfeit of fight scenes.

High action and lush writing create an evocative and sensuous setting with intricate world building. The dual narrative structure makes for a fascinating setup as readers are positioned with more knowledge than almost all of the characters except, perhaps, for Eliana’s perceptive younger brother Remy and my precious Simon.

Legrand’s characters are fully realized, complex, and often flawed. Rielle’s calculated self-preservation and Eliana’s ruthless protection of her family prove that there are no easy choices for these characters who exist in a world where good and evil often walk hand in hand.

Furyborn is a taut, dramatic story filled with action, adventure, and some hints of romance. This masterful series starter is utterly engrossing and sure to leave readers eager for the installment. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Frostblood by Elly Blake, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Be sure to check back tomorrow to read my exclusive interview with Claire about Furyborn too!

The Price Guide to the Occult: A Review

“Any decent human being, witch or otherwise, has the capacity to do good in this world. It’s merely a case of whether one chooses to do so.”

cover art for The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye WaltonMore than a hundred years ago Rona Blackburn arrived on Anathema Island with little more than her dogs and her magic. She built a home for herself and made a place on the island but even then the original eight settlers viewed Rona with fear and, eventually, with enough hate to try and burn her out of her home.

Rona survived. Determined to see the original eight and their descendants suffer she bound herself and her line to the island. But in casting her curse Rona inextricably tied daughters down the Blackburn line not just to the island but to the original eight families as well.

In the present all Nor wants to do is keep her head down, her unexceptional powers under control, and her love life nonexistent and untethered to any of the original eight families.

But when a strange price guide to the occult appears at her part time job Nor knows that the time for hiding is almost over in The Price Guide to the Occult (2018) by Leslye Walton.

The Price Guide to the Occult is Walton’s sophomore novel.

Written in close third person this novel, much like its heroine, keeps readers at a remove even as they are drawn deeper into the mysteries and intrigue that surround Anathema Island and its founding families. Each chapter is named for a spell and features an epigraphy from Rona Blackburn’s writings on witchcraft and magic.

Circuitous writing and lush descriptions bring Anathema Island and its magic to life especially as things begin to change when the Price Guide surfaces. Walton deftly builds a world where magic feels both plausible and inevitable with subtle twists on everyday moments that bring Nor’s world startling close to our own.

Nor is a cautious girl, if not by nature then through painfully learned lessons. Self-harm is a thread throughout The Price Guide to the Occult as Nor struggles with knowing that she can’t return to self-harm while wishing for a solution that could seem as simple as cutting herself once did.* She watches with growing horror as her home, the rest of the island, and beyond fall threat to dangerous magic being performed at a great cost.

This story is equal parts sexy and gritty as Nor experiences the elation of young love with an unlikely boy while searching for the source of the Price Guide and its magic that is slowly ruining the island and everything Nor loves. The novel, and the island itself, features a deliberately inclusive cast notably including Nor’s grandmother and her longterm partner Apothia Wu.

The Price Guide to the Occult is an unexpected and fascinating story that only begins to reveal the secrets surrounding Anathema Island and its founding families. Ideal for readers looking for a twisting fantasy whose memory will linger long after the book is closed. Recommended.

*Resources for readers who have struggled with self-harm themselves can be found in a note at the end of the novel.

Possible Pairings: Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Leslye about The Price Guide to the Occult too!

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

Roar: A Review

Aurora Pavan looks the part of a powerful princess from one of the oldest Stormling family lines. Everyone expects Rora to soon take up her mother’s mantle as queen using her abilities to control and dispel dangerous storms that plague all of Caelira to protect their kingdom. It has been this way since the first storms appeared generations ago.

No one knows the dangerous secret Roar and her mother have been keeping. Rora has no storm magic.

An arranged marriage to a ruthless Stormling prince from a neighboring kingdom can help Rora keep her secret and her kingdom safe. But Cassius Locke is dangerous and the more Rora learns about him the more she fears marrying him on any terms.

Legends tell of how the first Stormlings claimed their magic by facing storms and stealing their hearts–something she learns may still be possible from a storm hunter who reveals that he too was born without magic but has it now.

Determined to finally choose her own fate, Rora sets out to face a storm–and her future–on her own terms in Roar (2017) by Cora Carmack.

Roar alternates close third person point of view between key characters including Rora and Cassius among others. Quotes from Caeliran legends and songs help to expand the world. Carmack’s fantasy debut begins with a fascinating premise where storms plague the kingdoms of Caelira and only a select few can control them. Unfortunately the full potential of this premise is never quite realized.

You can see Carmack’s roots in contemporary romance here with Roar’s focus on interpersonal relationships over external details that would help to clarify the setting and magic system. Centering relationships from the beginning of the novel also leads to a slow start as Rora builds up to her storm hunting adventure.

Roar is a sexy, dramatic high fantasy that will appeal to readers who prefer character-driven books. Readers looking for a sweeping romance and adventure will be eagerly waiting for the sequel.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

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

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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Consent: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Consent by Nancy OhlinBetween all of the lies she tells at school about her non-existent piano teacher and her supposedly okay home life, Beatrice Kim has a lot of secrets even before starting her senior year at Andrew Jackson High School.

Then Bea meets her music history teacher. Mr. Rossi is young, good-looking, and completely believes in Bea’s potential as a professional pianist–something Bea hasn’t ever allowed herself to consider.

When their shared passion for music turns into something else, Bea and Rossi begin a sexual relationship that could ruin them both. Bea thinks she knows what she is doing and what she wants. She thinks Rossi understands her and loves her. But with the threat of discovery looming, Bea will have to confront uncomfortable truths about herself and her relationship with Rossi in Consent (2015) by Nancy Ohlin.

Consent delivers two stories in one slim volume. One, reminiscent of Sara Zarr’s The Lucy Variations, explores how Bea lost her love for the piano and how she can reclaim it; the other is an often uncomfortable examination of a relationship that never should have happened.

Despite the problems Bea hints at in her home life and the lies she tells, everything comes very easily to Bea in Consent. She is at the top of her class despite having no real interest in college. She is a piano prodigy with perfect pitch although she has never had formal lessons. She is also, conveniently, at a recently rebranded  “Campus for Baccalaureate and Performing Arts” despite having a nearly pathological desire to avoid the piano at the beginning of the novel. Readers who can get past these contrivances will be rewarded with a layered and thoughtful contemporary novel.

The push and pull between what is perceived and what is true throughout Consent adds another dimension to Bea’s often unreliable first person narration as readers, and Bea herself, contemplate Rossi’s agenda.  Despite some heavy-handed moments, Ohlin delivers an open-ended novel ripe for discussion as readers follow the plot’s twists and turns.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Graces by Laure Eve, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the September 2015 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

You can also read my review with Nancy Ohlin starting November 12.