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

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The Leaving: A Review

The Leaving by Tara AltebrandoEleven years ago six kindergartners were taken from their school and disappeared without a trace. There have been movies and conspiracy theories but nothing close to the truth; no kind of resolution for the parents and siblings left behind.

Until now.

When five of the missing children come back they’re sixteen years old and healthy. They have no memory of what happened or where they’ve been held. They barely remember the lives they’re returning to. None of them remember the sixth victim, Max.

Scarlett returns to a mother she hardly knows and a life that doesn’t quite fit while Lucas finds a family that has moved on without him and threatens to shatter with his return. Avery remembers both Scarlett and Lucas as well as she remembers the day Max never came home. Now, eleven years later, she waits again for a brother who doesn’t return.

Everyone wants to know what happened. Scarlett, Lucas, and the others are desperate to fill in the gaps in their memories while Avery is grasping for some trace of her still-missing brother. All five of the returned children begin to find strange clues that seem to be leading them somewhere. But only Lucas and Scarlett–with Avery’s prodding–are willing to follow the clues wherever they may lead in The Leaving (2016) by Tara Altebrando.

Altebrando juggles three narrators and numerous plot lines over the course of this novel. The story alternates first person narrated chapters between Scarlett (whose narration includes unconventional formatting and patterned text), Lucas (whose barely-there memories surface as blocky black text), and Avery (who has the most conventional narration). All three of the narrators are white but from a variety of economic backgrounds which adds another dimension to their connected stories.

There is something inherently cruel about this premise which Altebrando explores with frightening detail. The prose here is sparse leaving details to the imagination that make the experiences of the kidnapped children all the more horrifying to imagine. There are no easy answers here and no clean resolution–something that gives The Leaving a lasting impact.

The Leaving is, ostensibly, a thriller. The novel is packed with suspense and razor-sharp tension in short chapters that build to a chilling conclusion. At the same time, this story is also a thoughtful character study. Who are we without our memories? Who can we become? Is a blank slate of a childhood that different from the gradual forgetting that comes as we grow older? Are the monsters we fear any less frightening if we don’t remember them?

The Leaving is an ambitious work of suspense that is atmospheric, eerie, and incredibly successful. A must read.

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, False Memory by Dan Krokos,  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

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

The Winner’s Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. As such this review contains major spoilers for books one and two!*

“She thought, fleetingly, that this must be what memory was for: to rebuild yourself when you lose the pieces.”

The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiArin and Kestrel should be on opposites sides in the war that is brewing between Valoria and its newly independent colony Herran. Yet, despite all appearances to the contrary they have been on the same side–that is, Kestrel has been on Arin’s side–from the outset.

Arin is certain that Kestrel is getting exactly what she deserves serving at the Emperor’s shoulder while she watches her father prepare to make war with Herran.

He’s wrong.

Instead, one impetuous decision has led Kestrel to the northern tundra as a prisoner. A traitor to her own country desperate to escape.

Arin and Kestrel have always been bound by their decisions–deliberate acts and willful lies that have pulled them away from each other again and again. With the threat of war growing every day, both Kestrel and Arin will have to redefine victory–and trust–if they hope to find their way back to each other or the people they’ve worked so hard to save in The Winner’s Kiss (2016) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime.

This novel starts off soon after the climactic conclusion of book two. Arin prepares for war in Herran while Kestrel is brought to a prison work camp in the Valorian Tundra, both haunted by the decisions that have led them to this point.

Rutkoski manages to strike the perfect balance between character-driven introspection and nail biting tension throughout the novel. Arin and Kestrel are broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes larger, because of their ties to Herran and to each other. Their own attempts to heal and rebuild play out against the grand battle looming over who will control Herran moving forward.

This book is the exact right conclusion for this series and the one that the characters deserve. The Winner’s Kiss delivers everything readers of this trilogy have come to love and expect while expanding Arin and Kestrel’s world even further with still more insights into these two shrewd and talented characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

The Winner’s Crime: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

“The winner knows her whole line of play. But Kestrel saw only one move, and maybe the next.”

The Winner's Crime by Marie RutkoskiKestrel knew the cost would be high when she petitioned the Emperor of Valoria in an attempt to save Herrani lives. Months later outward appearances suggest that Kestrel has everything she could want. Her gambit to offer Herran independence as a colony only serves to better help Valoria while Kestrel’s shrewd strategy brought her to the attention of the Emperor. Engaged to Valoria’s crown prince, Kestrel is privy to countless parties and celebrations while all of Valoria admires the future Empress.

To Kestrel, it feels like nothing so much as a well appointed cage.

Kestrel longs to tell Arin the truth of her engagement. But with stakes higher on both sides, Kestrel is no longer certain she can trust Arin–if she ever could.

Arin thought his problems would end when Herran won its independence and he became governor of the new color. But independence as a reality–as more than a word–is a difficult thing. Leading an entire people is harder still. Arin buries the hurt deep, wrapping it in distrust and doubt. But once Arin thought he knew the truth in Kestrel’s heart. As he learns more about the machinations at work with Valoria, he wonders if he was ever truly wrong.

Navigating the complex alliances and threats of the capital, Kestrel comes to know the ruthless nature of life at court as well as her own heart. But despite years of training and loyalty, Kestrel’s heart no longer belongs to Valoria. It may not even belong to herself as she sets herself on a treasonous path to save her both the country and the man that never should have captured her love.

As lies multiply and deceptions wear thin, both Kestrel and Arin will have to face shocking truths as they answer for their deceptions and crimes. For both Kestrel and Arin, the greatest of their crimes may be not knowing their own hearts in The Winner’s Crime (2015) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse.

This story greatly expands the fraught world of intrigue and political machinations readers explored in the first novel as Kestril and Arin move through Valoria and lands unknown. The stakes have never been higher for either Kestrel or Arin.

Although there is still abundant action, The Winner’s Crime is an often introspective story as both protagonists try to make sense of their own hearts and motivations. After years of following her father and her empire without question, Kestrel begins to wonder if there might be more to honor that doing what is expected. Arin, meanwhile, stews in an untenable combination of responsibility to the Herrani and regret at having lost Kestrel.

The Winner’s Crime is a brutal, emotional read as both Kestrel and Arin deal with the ramifications of their unlikely association in Herran. Rutkoski’s prose continues to dazzle with rich, elegant descriptions of the decadent world of the Emperor’s palace. The shifting dual perspective between Arin and Kestrel is also used to excellent effect as this book once again highlights how much can be said between two people without uttering a word.

The Winner’s Crime is another stunning installment in a series that continues to impress.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

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

You can also check out my post for the What’s Your Winner’s Curse blog tour starting January 30!

The Vanishing Season: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“This is my work. This is the one thing I have to do.

“I am looking for the things that are buried.”

The Vanishing SeasonMaggie Larsen doesn’t know what to expect when she and her parents move from Chicago to Door County. But then, it’s not like there is another choice with her mother having been laid off and money being tight.

Although Maggie is sorry to leave Chicago behind, it is surprisingly easy to find a new place for herself in the small town of Gill Creek. As the days turn into weeks their ramshackle house on Water Street starts to look like a home. As the weeks turn into months, Maggie realizes she has found friends here in carefree, beautiful Pauline and Liam who is as kind as he is introspective.

While Maggie lives her new life, girls in Gill Creek are disappearing. No one knows who the killer is. No one knows who might be next. No one knows if it will stop.

All the while, a ghost is tethered to the house on Water Street. She can see the danger circling. She can even see some of the pieces of the story–a scorched key, a love letter, a bracelet with a cherry charm. But even the ghost isn’t sure why she is still here watching the season unfold to its final, disastrous conclusion in The Vanishing Season (2014) by Jodi Lynn Anderson.

The Vanishing Season is a quiet, aching read that builds slowly to a conclusion that is both shocking and inevitable. Anderson expertly weaves together Maggie’s story with the first-person narration of the ghost to create a haunting puzzle of a story. Even readers who think they have predicted every plot point may well be surprised by the way everything fits together by the end.

This story has romance and suspense. There is a foolish girl who breaks things sometimes by accident and sometimes because she can. Vignettes of small town life are interspersed with thoughtful commentary on privilege and ownership.

Anderson’s pacing is spot-on as the story builds to the denouement which is handled both eloquently and cleverly. The Vanishing Season is a beautifully written and subtle story about friendship and love and even heartbreak as well as a meditation on what living a life, and living it well, really means. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Frost by Marianna Baer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford

The Book Thief: A Review

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakGermany, 1939: Nazis are gaining ever more power. The country, maybe even the world, is holding its breath. Death, as he will tell you soon enough, has never been busier.

Liesel Meminger is fostered in a small town outside of Munich. Times are hard and money is tight. But it is a good life. Liesel lovers her foster father fiercely and, when the opportunity arises, she steals books to even the scales of the world.

But nothing lasts forever. Not pages in a book or friendships. Not secrets hidden in basements. Certainly not good moments in Nazi Germany in The Book Thief (2005) by Markus Zusak.

There isn’t a lot to say about this book that hasn’t been covered already. The Book Thief has received wide critical acclaim. It was Printz honor title in 2007. It was made into a movie in 2013.

The problem with picking up a book after everyone has been talking about it (and loving it) for years is that it puts a lot of pressure on the book. That’s a lot of hype to stand up against.

In this particular case, it was too much. The Book Thief is a very clever book. Death is the narrator. There are illustrations. It does so many cool things. But it was just never quite enough.

Honestly, The Book Thief is a miserable, gutting book. Not necessarily in a bad way. But not always in a good way either. The first parts dragged unbearably. They were ugly and dense but it picked up in the last third and the transformation is obvious for all of the characters. I can see how when it came out (and still) it is groundbreaking and shocking. It’s a powerful book if not a perfect one or one I ever want to read ever again.

Possible Pairings: Alan and Naomi by Myron Levoy, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, Tamar by Mal Peet, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, Hitler’s Canary by Sandi Toksvig, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackWhen Tana wakes up after the Sundown Party it takes her a few moments to realize everything has gone horribly wrong.

Then she sees the blood.

Then she starts passing the dead bodies.

Then she hears the vampires waiting in the dark.

The only other survivors of the massacre are Tana’s ex-boyfriend–infected and on the verge of becoming a vampire himself–and a strange boy who seems to know much more than he says.

Possibly infected and with no other options, Tana starts heading to the Coldtown in Springfield. This walled city is supposed to keep the monsters from running loose in the rest of the world. It’s supposed to contain the vampires and leave them to rule a decadent city filled with fresh blood and ruin.

Entering Coldtown is a terrible risk. But it’s also the only option Tana can think of that might actually save all three of them. With time running out and no good choices, Tana will have to embrace the monsters in Coldtown if she wants to avoid becoming one in The Coldest Girl in Coldtown (2013) by Holly Black.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is an unflinching story of vampires and a meditation of what it really means to fear the monsters in the shadows–especially when you might become one of those same monsters.

A slow beginning (in the first hundred pages) is easily forgiven as the story gains momentum within the walls of Coldtown. Flashbacks and vignettes from other characters help to evoke a well-realized world for both the human and vampire characters. Epigraphs at the start of each chapter from famous writers’ musings on death add a suitably eerie tone to the book.

Tana is a pragmatic, sympathetic heroine who tries to make the right choices even when she is forced to admit that sometimes there are no good choices. Her progression throughout the story is completely logical and marks her as an appealing and utterly real character complete with flaws and poorly made plans.

Black’s vampires are a terrifying blend of charm and sharp teeth in a story that understands the unique blend of terror and fascination commonly associated with vampires (or any monsters really). This story is gory, violent, and sometimes even disgusting. Yet, like the vampires themselves, it is still so delightfully compelling.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, Generation Dead by Daniel Waters, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2013*