Dove Arising: A Review

Dove Arising by Karen BaoPhaet Theta has lived in Base IV of a colony on the moon for all of her fifteen years. Despite her name sounding like “fate,” she doesn’t put much stock in destiny. Phaet knows there is no room for a larger, grander life within the oppressive rules and regulations issued by the Standing Council keep residents safe.

There is no room for defiance or even annoyance when the colony’s militia could be listening anywhere.

That also means Phaet’s mother can be detained at a moment’s notice leaving Phaet in charge of her two younger siblings and unsure how she can keep any of them out of the colony’s horrifying Shelter division.

With no other options, Phaet quickly abandons her dreams of scientific study to join the militia in hopes of earning enough money to cover her mother’s medical bills and her family’s expenses. All Phaet needs to do is survive training and earn enough money for her family. Simple. At least until everything Phaet thought she knew turns out to be very wrong in Dove Arising (2015) by Karen Bao.

Dove Arising is Bao’s first novel and the start of a projected trilogy.

Dove Arising starts with a fascinating setting. The moon colony is filled with new technology as well as a detailed history, details of which come in the form of exposition delivered as clunky asides throughout the narrative. While the information is often crucial to the story it is also often a distraction from the plot.

While not truly derivative, it’s impossible to read Dove Arising without drawing parallels to other big name dystopian novels. Readers who are fond of plots involving training and initiation, conspiracies and possibly corrupt regimes, will definitely want to pick up Dove Arising. Readers looking for a purely sci-fi novel might be better served elsewhere.

Phaet is withdrawn and quiet. Introspective and rational to a fault, she is an interesting narrator in that she is often a bystander in her own life. Bao expertly demonstrates Phaet’s growth as she learns to fight her own battles during training–her first time without best friend Umbriel to do the talking for her.

Dove Arising is an interesting sci-fi novel with a diverse and varied cast of characters. Although they never quite come together in Dove Arising, all of the pieces are here for a strong and wildly popular series. These strengths combined with a game-changing ending that will leave readers eager for the next installment make Dove Arising a promising start to a new series.

Possible Pairings: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, Legend by Marie Lu, Breaking Sky by Cori McCarthy, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, Divergent by Veronica Roth

Love and Other Foreign Words: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahanJosie speaks many languages. She can converse in the languages of high school, college, friends, boyfriends and even the volleyball team. She can parse behaviors to see the right way to act, the right thing to say. She can always translate the things around her into her own native Josie.

But living a life in translation is exhausting. Even though Josie can take part in many different groups, and speak many different languages, only her family and her best friend Stu can ever properly understand Josie’s native language.

The people who understand Josie threatens to get even smaller when her sister Kate announces that she is engaged to a truly insufferable man. With the wedding approaching, Josie notices more and more changes in her beloved Kate.

Love is a word found in many languages. And with so many things around her changing, Josie is about to get a crash course in the true meaning of the word in Love and Other Foreign Words (2014) by Erin McCahan.

Josie is a lovely heroine who is convincingly intellectual without ever coming across as stilted. Stu is her perfect foil and the quintessential dreamy best friend. In every sense this story is heartwarming with many saccharine moments and authentic realizations about what it means to be part of a family.

That said the pacing felt off with were ostensibly the main parts of the story (the wedding preparation, the actual romance, the discord between sisters) not appearing until the second half of the story. Although the direction the story moves in makes up for the rushed feeling of the ending. (And oh how I wish Josie had glasses on the cover.)

While there are hints of romance, the real romance–the one that should have been the meat of the story–doesn’t appear until the last fifty pages of the novel. At the end of the day Love and Other Foreign Words is a sweet story about sisters and how familial relationships change that will appeal to readers of light contemporary romances.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

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

The Start of Me and You by Emery LordFor the past two years Paige has been defined by the unexpected death or her first boyfriend. While Paige’s grief is real, she also often feels like an impostor being lumped together with others who knew her boyfriend so much better and miss him much more keenly.

When Paige decides she’s ready to make the most of her time left in high school, she knows she has to start dating again. Who better than her long-time crush Ryan Chase to help Paige convince everyone she is back to normal? They don’t have a lot in common but Paige is certain they could become friends. Especially when Ryan’s smart (nice, cute, totally nerdy) cousin convinces Paige to join the school’s Quiz Bowl team (number two: re-join an extracurricular activity).

With help from her friends Tessa, Kayleigh and Morgan–and even Ryan and Max–Paige is certain to have an unforgettable year filled with quiz competitions, nerdy discussions, TV shows and healing. As Paige and Max get to know each other, she has to decide if she needs to stick to her plan or take a leap to discover something completely unexpected in The Start of Me and You (2015) by Emery Lord.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Start of Me and You is Lord’s sophomore novel, coming after her debut Open Road Summer made a splash in 2014.

While it’s easy to focus on the romantic aspects of this story since Max is adorable (as is Ryan to a lesser extent), it’s also not entirely accurate. Yes, there is a romance plot here. Yes, the cover and title make that overtly clear. At the time time, The Start of Me and You is a lot more than that.

Lord delivers a fully-realized world in this novel as readers are immediately drawn into Paige’s life in her small and sometimes stifling town. This novel also boasts a charming ensemble cast filled with characters who compliment Paige and add their own elements to the story. In addition to Paige moving through her grief, Lord also includes plot threads about dealing with divorce, dating someone who is maybe not right, the push and pull between close friends to name just a few.

At its core The Start of Me and You is a true slice-of-life novel as it follows Paige over the course of her junior year. At times it feels like Lord might have taken on too much but she brings everything together by the end in a way that is both authentic and satisfying.

Paige and Max are a great pair who work well together even as they challenge each other to be their best selves. It would be a spoiler to discuss how their relationship ends, but rest assured that not matter what follows it starts with a rock solid friendship.

Happily, friendship is a common theme throughout the novel as, even in the midst of romantic troubles, Paige returns to her friends Tessa, Kayleigh and Morgan. The girls are a great support system for each other and have unconditional love and trust between each other–something that is sadly not seen enough in YA novels. Paige’s family is also a great source of support though often in unconventional ways.

The Start of Me and You is a book that truly has it all including a smart heroine, an adorable male lead, a great story and even some allusions to Jane Austen thrown in. A delight. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my review with Emery about the book!

Possible Pairings:  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills,  I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Sandell, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

Vampire Academy: A Review

Vampire Academy by Richelle MeadRose Hathaway and her best friend Lissa Dragomir have been on the run for two years. After so long away from St. Vladimir’s Academy, the girls thought they were finally free. They were wrong.

Dragged back the Academy, Lissa is once again drawn into plots and machinations as Moroi vampire princess. Rose’s return is less welcome and comes with several firm conditions including extra lessons from an equally attractive and infuriating instructor. Worse, no matter how much Rose uses her dhampir strength and her bond with Lissa, it might not be enough to keep the other girl safe.

With danger circling from every side, Rose and Lissa can only trust each other in Vampire Academy (2007) by Richelle Mead.

Find it on Bookshop.

Vampire Academy is the first book in Mead’s Vampire Academy series.

Vampire Academy is a breath of fresh air in the world of paranormal (romance). Mead has created clever, capable heroines in both Rose and Lissa. The premise here is also interesting with different castes/types of vampires as well as loads of intrigue and action.

Although Mead throws lots of world-specific vocabulary at readers early on, the story moves as fast clip without falling into the usual paranormal fantasy tropes. The story here is interesting and will definitely have appeal for readers looking for a campy paranormal–romance or otherwise as this does include some romance elements in addition to other plots.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger,  Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

17 and Gone: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The snow came down and the bristly trees shuddered in the wind, sharing secrets, and no one stopped to listen. Until I did.”

17 and Gone by Nova Ren SumaWhen seventeen-year-old Lauren first sees the Missing flyer for Abigail Sinclair, she knows it was left for her. Against all odds, Lauren is certain that she was meant to find this poster, to find out Abigail’s story, maybe even to find her.

As Lauren digs into Abigail’s disappearance she finds out that the missing girl preferred to be called Abby. She hated the summer camp where she was working. And she definitely didn’t just run away.

The problem is no one else seems to care. The more Lauren investigates, the more missing girls she finds. All of them seventeen. All of them gone without a trace. Abby went missing in the summer. But it’s winter now. Any girl could be next. Maybe even Lauren herself.

While trying to find Abby, Lauren will have to face secrets from her past and confront several uncomfortable truths in 17 & Gone (2014) by Nova Ren Suma.

17 & Gone is a chilling blend of suspense and what may or may not be ghosts. As Lauren grapples with the missing girls that are haunting her she also comes to realize that her mind may not be as reliable as she thought. Suma deftly unravels the stories of the missing girls and also examines Lauren’s mental state from a variety of angles.

Eloquent prose and a gripping story come together here in a story that is as literary as it is unexpected. Recommended for readers who like their mysteries to be open-ended and their heroines to be clever and determined.

Possible Pairings: Find Me by Romily Bernard, All Fall Down by Ally Carter, The Night She Disappeared by April Henry, Damaged by Amy Reed, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart

Life by Committee: A Review

lifebycommitteeIt isn’t Tabitha’s fault that her breasts are bigger now. It isn’t her fault that she likes wearing makeup as much as she likes reading margin notes in used books. It isn’t her fault that Joe seems to like talking to her more than he likes talking to his crazy-eccentric-special-snowflake girlfriend Sasha Cotton.

But it might be Tabitha’s fault when she kisses Joe. And when she does it again.

Normally, Tabitha would so not be that girl. But with the help of a website called Life by Committee, Tabitha starts doing a lot of things she wouldn’t normally do in the spirit of being more. At first sharing secrets and completing assignments to keep those secrets safe is easy. The assignments are empowering and push her limits.

When Tabby becomes more involved in the site, and the stakes get much higher, she has to decide how far she is willing to go, and who she is willing to hurt, to be more in Life by Committee (2014) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Life by Committee is Haydu’s sophomore novel.

Tabitha is a great heroine. She struggles with a lot of things throughout Life by Committee. Obviously, there is the morality issue with cheating. But Tabitha is also trying to understand her place in a world where the rules are constantly changing not because of anything she has done but simply because of how she looks. (And sometimes not even that in the case of her changing home life.) The way Tabby, through Haydu’s prose, grapples with feminism and slut shaming and loneliness–problems she can’t always articulate, or even give a proper name–is shattering.

Tabitha is incredibly lonely at the start of the novel. She tries to reshape her life without the friends she had assumed were a given but it’s hard. Then Tabitha stumbles upon Life by Committee. LBC is an anonymous online community where users share secrets and complete assignments (more like dares) in the name of being more and leading their best lives. The wisdom in joining such a site is, of course, debatable. But Haydu does such an excellent job of bringing Tabitha and her hurt to life that it makes sense. Readers begin to understand how Tabitha might become this person who is completely consumed by people she has never met.

The great thing about Tabitha is that she knows exactly who she is and who she would like to be. When Tabitha gets involved with LBC, she starts to question a lot of the ideas she has about herself. Sometimes that leads to empowering moments. Unfortunately it also leads to some heart wrenching decisions that are so obviously Bad Ideas they become painful to read.

Those choices, the power and allure of LBC, are hard to understand at times. Unless you remember being that lonely high school (or college) student trying to find your way. Unless you remember the thrill that can come with telling everything that matters to someone who will never meet you, never be able to really judge you. Life by Committee captures that heady mix of connection and anonymity found on the Internet so very well.

Life by Committee also subtly highlights the pitfalls that can come from such a scenario. It’s wonderful to have friends online saying “yes!” to every risk you want to take. But without the context that comes from knowing a person in real life, it’s also difficult to ever adequately understand the consequences and the aftermath of those risks.

At the end of Life by Committee it’s safe to say that Tabitha comes out a little wiser and a lot stronger. Because this book is on the short side (304 pages hardcover) readers don’t get to see all of the payoff after Tabitha realizes she can find her own way, all by herself, but the development is there. The growth and the hint at something more–LBC-inspired or not–is there in the final pages.

Although she has her stumbling blocks, Tabitha remains a smart and capable heroine throughout. While she doesn’t always make the best decisions, she always learns. And that, really, is all anyone can hope for. Life by Committee is a shrewd, clever read that raises all of the right questions for its characters and readers. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, In Real Life by Jessica Love, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Kissing in America by Margo RabbThe Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

*A review copy of this book was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2014*

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty: A Review

Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine HeppermanEveryone knows the fairy tale stories. Girls who are princesses who are rescued by princes who get married and live happily ever after until the end.

But life isn’t really like a fairy tale, not for most modern girls in Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty (2014) by Christine Hepperman.

In this collection Hepperman presents 50 poems that bring fairy tale themes and ideas together with the lives of modern girls in clever ways. Eerie photographs accompany the poems to lend a haunting quality to this deceptively slim volume.

Hepperman’s poems range from titillating to empowering as she explores themes of beauty, freedom and sexuality among others in a variety of free-verse poems. While many of the themes–particularly those dealing with physical beauty or eating disorders–are familiar ones, Hepperman’s commentary remains timely and electric.

A range of retellings and original material make these poems approachable for every reader while the black and white photography throughout the book is guaranteed to draw readers in.

Poisoned Apples is a smart, utterly feminist collection of poems that encourages girls to take charge of their lives whether that means finding their own way to a happy ending or taking a different path into new territory.

Possible Pairings: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen, The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

A Spy in the House: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Agency: A Spy in the House by Y. S. LeeMary Quinn is twelve years old when she is arrested for theft and sentenced to hang in London in 1853.

Rescued from the gallows, Mary receives an extraordinary offer of an education and proper upbringing at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Hidden behind the cover of a finishing school, The Agency works as an all-female investigative unit.

Five years later, with her training nearly complete, Mary is offered her first assignment working undercover as a lady’s companion. Stationed in a rich merchant’s home, Mary is tasked with helping along the investigation into missing cargo ships.

As Mary delves deeper into her investigation she soon discovers that everyone in the household is hiding something in A Spy in the House (2010) by Y. S. Lee.

Find it on Bookshop.

A Spy in the House is Lee’s first novel. It is also the start of The Agency series (and consequently sometimes referred to as The Agency–by me at least).

Lee presents a well-researched, thoroughly engrossing mystery here. A Spy in the House evokes the gritty and glamorous parts of 1850s London with pitch-perfect descriptions. The dialog also feels true to the period with no jarring, obviously modern, turns of phrase.

The story is filled with twists and also some very smart observations about race, feminism and what being a woman with agency might have looked like in 1850s London. Although the ending is a bit rushed there is still an ideal balance between closure and hints of what to expect in future installments. The resolution is quite surprising in a way that is especially satisfying for a Victorian mystery.

Mary is a capable, pragmatic heroine who is as smart as she is endearing. With just a hint of romantic flirtation that is realistic and witty (and decidedly lacking in instant love), A Spy in the House

Possible Pairings:  I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance by Jennieke Cohen, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

The Night She Disappeared: A Review

The Night She Disappeared by April HenryGabie drives a Mini Cooper. She works at Pete’s Pizza where she makes deliveries. She’s the girl the customer asked for on Wednesday when Kayla was making deliveries. Gabie is the girl that would have been taken if she and Kayla hadn’t swapped shifts.

Now Kayla is gone. Gabie can’t stop thinking about how it should have been her that night. Drew–the boy who took the call–keeps wondering if he should have done something.

With Kayla dead or maybe worse, Gabie becomes obsessed with the investigation and–if she can–with finding Kayla. Riddled with guilt and his own desire to see help both girls, Drew decides to help. With time running out and few leads, Gabie and Drew will have to work together to prove that Kayla is alive and to find Kayla before she isn’t anymore in The Night She Disappeared (2012) by April Henry.

The Night She Disappeared is a well-assembled page-turner with a multimedia aspect as receipts, news clippings and other ephemera are interspersed to help tell the story. Short chapters with varied viewpoints and Henry’s straightforward prose make this book very readable with appeal for both avid and reluctant readers.

Although Gabie’s connection to Kayla pushes the limits of plausibility in this contemporary mystery, it still does add a unique dimension to the story. With no supernatural sideline and minimal romance, The Night She Disappeared is more in the vein of traditional mysteries as Gabie and Drew move through their investigation. Every piece works well here to create a tense narrative that builds to a surprising, action-packed conclusion.

Possible Pairings: Find Me by Romily Bernand, Breaker by Kat Ellis, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Acceleration by Graham McNamee, Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly, Wherever Nina Lies by Lynn Weingarten, Cathy’s Book: If Found Call 650-266-8233 by Jordan Weisman and Sean Stewart

And We Stay: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

And We Stay by Jenny HubbardNo one expected senior Paul Wagoner would walk into his high school with a gun. No one thinks he planned to kill himself and never walk out. Not even his girlfriend, Emily Beam, expected to be threatened by Paul as he confronted her in their high school library.

But all of those things did happen.

Paul is gone and with him pieces of Emily are gone too. Even before his suicide, Emily knew she would never be the same. She just didn’t know it would hurt this much.

Vacillating between guilt and anger, Emily Beam is sent to an all girls boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. Surrounded by history from Emily Dickinson’s life, Emily delves into poetry and her new life hoping to escape.

She has help along the way from her habitual liar roommate K. T. and a girl who likes to steal almost as much as she likes to paint. But it is only Emily herself who can forgive and leave her past behind in And We Stay (2014) by Jenny Hubbard.

And We Stay is Hubbard’s second novel. It was also a Printz honor title in 2015. The story is set in 1995 for reasons that are never entirely clear. Despite the obvious setting (all of Emily’s poems are dated) the novel is largely timeless.

And We Stay is a very short, very fast read. In spite of that, Hubbard’s prose is imbued with substance as this slim novel tackles weighty topics ranging from feminism to processing loss and grief.

Written in the third person, present tense this story is often very distancing. Emily Beam is at a remove from readers, however it’s easy to think she prefers it that way. Flashbacks to Emily’s relationship with Paul, the shooting, and other key moments are interspersed throughout the main narrative of Emily’s first two months at the boarding school.

Each chapter ends with one of Emily’s poems which also further develop the story. Emily Dickinson also features heavily as a character of sorts–her poems are used throughout the story and a somewhat improbable plot thread at the end of the novel revolves around Dickinson’s family home in Amherst.

It’s rare to find books that focus so heavily and so well on girls. And We Stay is one of those books. Emily Beam is a prickly, sad, and surprisingly real heroine. Her observations throughout the story are caustic and insightful in a way heroines rarely get to be in most novels. Hubbard’s portrayal of Emily’s relationships with her new friends and her French teacher are beautifully handled and shockingly real.

Although the pacing was slow and a little strange (with a jarring plot thread late in the story), somehow it all works. The plot develops organically and the included poetry feels seamless. And We Stay is a lovely, thoughtful blend of poetry, feminism and fiction about a girl finding her voice.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Hate List by Jennifer Brown, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales,  Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia by Jenny Torres Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez, The Beautiful Between by Alyssa B. Sheinmel, Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser, Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, Some Things That Stay by Sarah Willis