Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

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Wild Swans: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wild Swans by Jessica SpotswoodThe Milbourn legacy started with Ivy’s great grandmother–a talented painter who killed herself and two of her children by driving in front of a train. Dorothea survived the crash and went on to meticulously journal her life, win a Pulitzer for her poetry, and be murdered by her lover’s wife. Ivy’s mother fled her responsibilities as a mother and a Milbourn when Ivy was two-years-old. Ivy hasn’t seen her mother since.

Now Ivy is seventeen and looking forward to a summer free of the responsibilities of being a Milbourn and the numerous enrichment classes that Granddad usually encourages in his efforts to support Ivy and find her latent Milbourn talent. Those plans fall apart when her mother comes home unexpectedly with two daughters who have never met, or even heard, about Ivy.

Confronted with the reality of her mother’s indifference and her family’s broken edges, Ivy begins to crack under the pressures of her unexpected summer. Ivy finds solace in poetry, swimming, and a beautiful tattooed boy but she isn’t sure any of that will be enough to help her determine her own legacy in Wild Swans (2016) by Jessica Spotswood.

Wild Swans is Spotswood’s first foray into contemporary fiction and demonstrates her range as an author. This novel is grounded in the creativity and madness of the Milbourn women whose shadows haunt Ivy even as she struggles to find her own place among her talented ancestors.

This character-driven story is a charming and effective book. The story is quiet in terms of action, a fact that is balanced well with Spotswood’s characterization and ensemble cast. This relatively slim slice-of-life story touches on poetry, feminism, family, and even transgender identity.

Wild Swans is an introspective and evocative story about family, inspiration, and choice. Highly recommended for fans of contemporary fiction, readers (and writers of poetry), and feminists (or proto-feminists) of all ages.

Possible Pairings: The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also read Jessica’s guest post for Poetically Speaking about this novel and the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay!

The Romantics: A Review

The Romantics by Leah KonenGael Brennan is a textbook Romantic; he believes in love and he loves the idea of being in love. Unfortunately, life seems intent on squashing his Romantic tendencies first with his parents’ painful separation and a painful breakup with his first girlfriend.

Love has big plans for Gael and can see big things in his future. But only if Gael’s youthful relationships go a certain way–and do not include a dreaded Rebound. When Romantic Gael meets a Serial Monogamist, it seems like Love’s plans for Gael are doomed to failure.

Fortunately, Love has more than a few tricks ready to use to set Gael straight. In trying to redirect Gael’s path to the right romance, Love (and Gael) will realize that sometimes even the best relationships aren’t meant to last forever in The Romantics (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Romantics is narrated by Love who is an omniscient presence throughout the novel. Although Love does not interact with any characters directly, Love does play a hand in near-misses, coincidences, and other interventions to try and move things in the right direction with Gael.

Gael is a fun protagonist and his journey both with romantic love and his other relationships is authentic and entertaining. Gael has a lot of knocks between a painful breakup and his parents’ separation which is painful both in its reality and because it comes as such a shock to Gael and his younger sister.He is realistically angry and frustrated but also remains optimistic as he tries to move forward.

Although the story understandably spends a lot of time on Gael’s romantic travails, The Romantics also underscores that love comes in all forms–both romantic and not–including a really lovely friendship arc between Gael and his best friend Mason. (Though it is worth noting that the novel is generally hetero-normative as the main relationships remain male-female.)

Because Love spends time with all of the major characters, The Romantics also has a thoroughly developed cast and a plot that develops from multiple angles with some surprising results. The Romantics is a breezy and fun story and a sweet romance filled with witty asides from Love along with footnotes and illustrations. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows; Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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

The Graces: A Review

The Graces by Laure EveEveryone says that the Graces are witches.

Thalia might dress the part with her spangly skirts and scarves, and Fenrin might bewitch all the girls in town with his good looks and charm. But Summer, the youngest Grace, is the only one willing to admit that she is exactly what everyone in town whispers.

Everyone wants to get close to the Graces. Everyone knows how much it must hurt to lose their interest. Because everyone, inevitably, loses the Graces’ interest.

River is new in town and desperate to attach herself to the Graces. She’s in love with Fenrin, like everyone, even though it’s a cliche. She hopes that seeing into their strange world might understand some of what’s been happening to her. But first River has to become one of the Graces. And she’s will to do whatever it takes to get their attention in The Graces (2016) by Laure Eve.

The Graces is Eve’s first novel and the start of a series.

Eve builds tension early with a narrator who remains nameless for the first part of the novel. Readers know that River arrived in town under a cloud, forced to move for reasons she will not divulge. River sees herself as different and other–just like the Graces themselves–and her narration is suitably calculating and cold.

While The Graces is atmospheric, the beginning remains slow with River carefully circling the Grace siblings as she tries to break into their orbit. The push and pull between what is true and what is not works well with the interplay between magic and reality throughout the novel.

Recommended for readers looking for a trippy book with twists reminiscent of Liar and readers who enjoy an unsympathetic main character–whether to root for them or to watch them fail.

Possible Pairings: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Wink, Poppy, Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2016*

The Serpent King: A Review

The Serpent King by Jeff ZentnerDill is used to being an outsider. First because of his father’s Penecostal ministry where members handled poisonous snakes to prove their faith. Then later because of his father’s arrest for possession of child pornography. Consequently Dills tries to keeps his head down and does what is required to get by while attracting as little attention as possible.

Travis doesn’t worry much about what other people think of him, his dragon necklace, or the staff he carries everywhere. He knows who he is and refuses to let anyone diminish his abiding love of fantasy novels–also he’s 6’4″ which is a big help even if he hates aggression and violence.

Lydia has never avoided notice in her life. Born and raised in small town Tennessee, she dreams of life in the big city. And she knows that her ambition and her fashion and lifestyle blog Dolly Would will help her get there–starting with her application to NYU.

While Lydia and Travis have their eyes on the future, Dill knows that this last year of high school is as good as he can hope for. As everything ends and falls apart around him, Dill will have to try to write a new beginning for himself in The Serpent King (2016) by Jeff Zentner.

The Serpent King is Zentner’s first novel. It alternates first person narration primarily between Dill and Lydia with fewer chapters from Travis.

This novel is filled with evocative descriptions and dynamic characters. Lydia especially comes across as larger than life throughout the novel. While all three friends have a strong bond, they also have a lot of secrets. The contrast between their narrations highlight the ways that these friends come together and also the ways that they keep each other at a distance.

In addition to dealing with his family’s poverty and the repercussions of his father’s arrest, Dill also struggles with his faith throughout The Serpent King as he tries to reconcile his religious beliefs with his ambitions (and his mother’s refusal to believe that Dill can or should want more from his life).

Lydia’s life is a huge contrast to both Dill and Travis. Her family has more money, stability, and affection than either of the boys can imagine. While Lydia refuses to rein in her ambitions because of Dill and Travis’ limitations (they are both poor, have weaker grades, and fewer prospects after high school), she does unpack her privilege and gain some hard-won empathy as the novel progresses.

The Serpent King is an introspective and meditative novel closely focused on Dill, Lydia, and Travis. Thoughtful prose and a tense plot build to a satisfying conclusion as these characters realize the future can be whatever they choose to make it. Although the overall tone of this novel is melancholy, the story remains empowering and ultimately hopeful.

Possible Pairings: Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood

You can also check out my interview with Jeff Zentner starting tomorrow.

This is What Happy Looks Like: A Review

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. SmithIt all started with a typo in an email address.

Graham Larkin thought he was emailing his pet pig’s walker, instead his email shoots across the country to Ellie O’Neill. Their conversations are always personal but they never reveal personal details. Ellie has no idea that Graham is a major celebrity. Graham knows very little about Ellie until she slips and reveals the name of her small town in Maine.

That’s all it takes for Graham to mark the town of Henley as the perfect location for his next film. And, of course, the perfect location to meet Ellie in real life.

But as Graham and Ellie get to know each other they are both hampered by “what ifs?” What if their relationship really is at its best in email form? What if a famous actor like Graham isn’t cut out for a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? What if Ellie is drawn into Graham’s spotlight has to reveal some closely guarded secrets of her own. Graham and Ellie have talked at length about happiness, but they still have to figure out if they can be happy together in This is What Happy Looks Like (2013) by Jennifer E. Smith.

This story has a slow start as both Graham and readers are introduce to Ellie’s idyllic small town home. A charming cast of secondary characters and picturesque locations vividly situate each scene in this novel. Ellie and Graham’s correspondence is simultaneously authentic and endearing as emails and face-to-face interactions work together to give readers the full story of Graham and Ellie’s courtship. Snappy dialogue also helps to make this story shine.

Smith delves into the familiar territory of missed connections (The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight) and long-distance pining (The Geography of You and Me). While This is What Happy Looks Like has some of the same charm as Smith’s other novels, its characters never feel quite as well-realized or compelling.

This is What Happy Looks Like is a sweet and summery romance filled with small-town charm and memorable moments.

Possible Pairings: Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, In Real Life by Jessica Love, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

A Week of Mondays: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Week of Mondays by Jessica BrodyEllison Sparks is having the worst Monday ever. She runs a red light and gets a ticket while driving herself and her best friend, Owen, to school. She forgets her umbrella and gets soaked in the rain. Right before it’s time to take her school picture which turns out terribly, of course. She gives the worst election speech for Junior Class Vice-President in the history of ever. She doesn’t make the cut at softball tryouts. Worst of all her dreamy, rockstar boyfriend Tristan dumps her. At the carnival. On what should have been their dream date.

Ellie knows if she just had a second chance she could get Monday right. But what happens when she gets seven chances?

As Ellie tries again and again (and so on) to get her Monday right she starts to realize that maybe the dream Monday she’s been chasing isn’t so perfect after all in A Week of Mondays (2016) by Jessica Brody.

A Week of Mondays is a fun standalone novel. Although there are some fantasy elements with the repeating day (reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day), this novel is contemporary at its heart and will appeal to fans of that genre.

Brody makes good use of the repeating days to flesh out Ellie’s character and explore different aspects of her life over the course of this unusual week. Readers will also see the scope of the book’s plot expand as Ellie begins to delve into other parts of her day including why her parents are fighting every morning and what problems her younger sister is facing at school.

While some of Ellie’s decisions may seem obvious to readers from the start, this story is more about the journey than the destination. Ellie’s character development and growth over the course the novel more than makes up for any predictability to the plot. The payoff at the end of Ellie’s “week” also seamlessly brings every repeated Monday together for a satisfying conclusion to a truly enjoyable story.

A Week of Mondays is a sweet, optimistic novel with a breezy narrative and tons of humor. Highly recommended for readers looking for a new fun diversion.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, So Much Closer by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West

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