Every Exquisite Thing: A Review

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew QuickNanette O’Hare has spent most of her life doing exactly what people expect of her. She gets good grades. She is the star of her high school soccer team and essentially guaranteed an athletic scholarship to the college of her choice. She works hard. She doesn’t cause any trouble.

When a favorite teacher gives Nanette a worn copy of a book called The Bubblegum Reaper she isn’t sure what to expect. Within the pages of the out-of-print cult classic, Nanette finds a character who seems to understand all of the frustration and fatigue that she has been trying to articulate for years.

An unlikely friendship with the book’s reclusive author and a turbulent relationship with a young poet and fellow fan leads Nanette to discover her inner rebel. As Nanette tries to become a truer version of herself, she realizes that rebellion rarely comes without a cost in Every Exquisite Thing (2016) by Matthew Quick.

Quick peppers the novel with references to canonical literary works of poetry and novels (all by men, almost exclusively white–this is either a glaring oversight or an intentional reference to the insular world these characters inhabit . . . or possibly both). Every Exquisite Thing is very self-aware and intentionally referential to the book within a book (The Bubblegum Reaper) which is summarized, quoted and otherwise integral to the plot of this novel.

Nanette’s character arc is intrinsically linked to her discovery of The Bubblegum Reaper. As she bonds with the author and another fan (the young poet) she learns how literature can change a person. She also learns that idols inevitably fall short of their pedestals in the real world and that fiction–however true it may seem–doesn’t always translate well into everyday life.

Parts of Every Exquisite Thing are poignant and moving–as is to be expected from a talent like Matthew Quick. Other aspects of the story, particularly in the second half, are impenetrable and mystifying. Sometimes, particularly with the one-sided representation of the majority of female characters (besides Nanette) as routinely over-sexualized and vapid. This is a high-tension, introspective novel that won’t work for everyone. Ideal for readers who don’t necessarily need to like a book to enjoy it and who want a text they can engage with on multiple levels.

Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Decelerate Blue by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro, The Catcher in the Rye by Lee Salinger

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The Anatomy of Curiosity: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna YovanoffIn an old walk up in Brooklyn, a young woman is hired as a reader and companion for a strange older woman. What starts a job quickly turns into something much more important as Petra learns about context, ladylike behavior, and speaking her mind all while finding an unusual kind of friendship in “Ladylike” by Maggie Stiefvater.

In a faraway land a young soldier works to disarm magical bombs left behind by rebels. The hum of the desert lulls him and the mysterious magician on his team enchants him, but sometimes loving something is hard until you know the truth about yourself in “Desert Canticle” by Tessa Gratton.

In a town where water is scarce, drowning is a rarity. There are a lot of ways to tell the you about the boy she found drowned in a half inch of water, but there’s only one right story for Jane and the drowning place in “Drowning Variations” by Brenna Yovanoff.

The Anatomy of Curiosity (2015) is the second anthology from authors (and critique partners) Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stievfater and Brenna Yovanoff. In this followup to The Curiosities the focus is more squarely on the mechanics of writing and how ideas can become stories.

For this collection each author wrote a new novella and details their writing process in a preface and margin comments. Between each story all three authors also discuss how they tackled finding critique partners, revision, and managing doubt.

Each author frames their margin comments and notes in the context of their focus when writing. Stiefvater discusses character (how she builds characters and conveys characterization through different aspects of the story), Gratton focuses on world-building (how worlds shape characters and how world-building choices shape the rest of the story), while Yovanoff talks about ideas (getting from the idea she has to the story she wants to tell with a particular project).

It’s worth noting that The Anatomy of Curiosity can be read, first and foremost, as a set of engaging fantasy novellas. As fans of these authors would expect, each novella is well-written and evocative in its own right. In reading the marginalia and supplemental materials, however, readers are treated to not only excellent fiction but also an insider’s view of the creative process from three incredibly talented writers.

The Anatomy of Curiosity is a must-read for aspiring authors and fantasy fans alike.

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2015*

The Truth Commission: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“When you tell a story, you shape the truth.”

The Truth Commission by Susan JubyAfter years of being fodder (along with her parents) for her sister Kiera’s best-selling graphic novel series, The Diana Chronicles, Normandy Pale is ready to come into her own. She’d like to be known for her own strengths and accomplishments instead of constantly being compared to her hapless counterpart in the Chronicles.

But it turns out it’s hard to stop being a muse. Especially when you never asked to be one.

How can Normandy focus on her projects at the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design when she is terrified of what fresh humiliations her character will be subjected to in Kiera’s highly anticipated new book? How can she embark on a search for truth with the Truth Commission she accidentally started with best friends Dusk and Neil when it feels like secrets are the only things holding her fragile and peculiar family together?

In searching for secrets at Green Pastures, Dusk, Neil, and a reluctant Normandy hope to bring some kind of peace and honesty to their school. But when their hunt for truth reveals some uncomfortable secrets and shocking truths about Kiera and her work, Normandy will have to decide how much honesty she wants in her own life in The Truth Commission (2015) by Susan Juby.

The Truth Commission is an ambitious novel presented as a work of narrative non-fiction complete with footnotes and illustrations (by Trevor Cooper). Written as Normandy’s spring project for the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design, The Truth Commission is a sleek and self-aware novel.

In watching Normandy work through the process of writing her own book (when to add chapter breaks, how to move the plot along, etc.) The Truth Commission also becomes a sort of primer on how to write and write well. The one-sided dialog (in footnotes) between Normandy and her teacher Ms. Fowler also adds another dimension to a novel that is already delightfully complex.

Speaking of Ms. Fowler, it’s also refreshing to see that Normandy has adults in her life who are present and offer support throughout the novel–even if they aren’t always the ones who should be at the forefront in terms of support. This novel is about a lot of other things but seeing Normandy create and nurture her own support system is very powerful.

As the title suggests, The Truth Commission is a story about truth and honesty. It’s also a story about family and what it means when the family you are born into is not always as good or healthy as the family you might choose. It’s a story about art–both making it and engaging with it. It’s a story about the push and pull of friendships. It’s even a bit of a story about love. Most importantly, The Truth Commission is about how people–both creators and not–shape their own worlds and stories in the telling.

The Truth Commission is a thoughtful, smart, and funny story that works on many different planes. What starts as a humorous and promising project for Normandy and her friends becomes much more in Juby’s expert hands in this meditation on subjectivity, consent and how telling the truth (or choosing not to) can change everything. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, In Real Life by Jessica Love, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Susan!

Don’t Ever Change: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“So now when they look at me, they don’t see an old friend who’s trying hard to improve and grow; they see someone who started to leave them a long time ago, has pretty much already left, and maybe didn’t care about being there in the first place.”

Don't Ever Change by M. Beth BloomEva is seventeen and in her last week of high school when a conversation with her English teacher leaves Eva wondering if she might have missed something with her sharp focus on producing literary stories and delivering hard-hitting critiques of her classmates’ work throughout high school.

After years of thinking she knew everything, Eva realizes she is running out of time to learn all of the basic high school things she previously scorned. Eva is determined to live this summer. And to write it all down.

With unlikely friendships, painful realizations, and a few rare moments of clarity, Eva will learn that she has to get to know herself before she can write what she knows in Don’t Ever Change (2015) by M. Beth Bloom.

Don’t Ever Change is Bloom’s second novel.

Eva thinks she has everything figured out at the start of this novel. She has avoided typical high school cliches and eschewed most everything else that can’t lend her an air of profundity. It is only upon finishing high school that she realizes the veneer of intellectuality that she has created is painfully thin.

Hoping to make up for years of missed opportunities, Eva dates a musician she never would have talked to before. She becomes a camp counselor despite a decided lack of experience and zero interest in interacting with children. She even begins to wonder if her rival in high school might have actually been a friend all along.

Although Eva is not always the nicest narrator, or the easiest character to read about, she is always real and she is always learning–even if it might take her longer than it should. Eva is self-aware enough to know that she isn’t always likeable. She knows she doesn’t make great choices and that she might have even made some really bad ones in trying to convey that she is a Serious Writer. Over the course of a seemingly mundane summer she also realizes that she may not know as much as she thought.

Opportunities surround Eva for new experiences and friendships, but for the most part, those realizations come too late to mean anything. No matter how much she missed in high school, no matter how many friends she pushed away, at the end of the summer Eva will be across the country starting college in Boston.

Instead of being a book about seizing missed opportunities, Don’t Ever Change is a thoughtful and often witty admission that important moments can be lost or squandered. But there are always new ones to find.

Don’t Ever Change is as self-aware as the main character and often as mystifying. The story is strange, messy and not always neat but sometimes perfect. Just like real life. Recommended for readers who like their contemporary novels to have a little bite and fans of Alice, I Think who still wish they could see Ms. MacLeod heading off to college.

Possible Pairings: Never, Always, Sometimes by Adi Alsaid, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Alice, I Think by Susan Juby, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

*A copy this book was acquired from the author/publisher for review consideration*

Exquisite Corpse: A (Blog Tour) Review

ExquisiteCorpse BlogTourBanner
Exquisite Corpse by Penelope BagieuZoe isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life except that she doesn’t want it to involve her lousy boyfriend and her totally unsatisfying job as a merchandise exhibitor at trade shows.

Zoe is frustrated by everything and everyone. At least until she meets the eccentric Thomas Rocher. Zoe doesn’t recognize him as a literary genius and (supposedly) deceased author.

Turns out dead authors can still get pretty great book deals–especially Thomas since his ex-wife Agathe is also his agent.

Zoe has a lot to learn about publishing but she also might teach Thomas and Agathe a thing or two in Exquisite Corpse (2015) by Pénélope Bagieu.

Exquisite Corpse was originally published in Bagieu’s native France in 2010. Now it is happily available in English translation.

Bagieu combines humorous scenes and snappy dialog in this laugh-out-loud comic adventure. Although many of Zoe’s problems are decidedly adult (lousy job, a boyfriend who wants sex while Zoe is busy fuming), her lack of direction and uncertainty about her future will feel universal to many readers.

With detailed characters and a plot ripe for follow-up, readers will also wonder Exquisite Corpse might only be the first act for Zoe, Thomas and Agathe.

Exquisite Corpse is filled with brightly colored panels and Bagieu’s clean-lined, sleek artwork that perfectly highlights the interplay between what is written and drawn on each page. Laugh-out-loud twists and a surprise ending make this graphic novel an enjoyable quick read sure to brighten a dull lunch hour or commute.

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

Afterworlds: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Afterworlds by Scott WesterfeldDarcy Patel has put everything on hold to be a writer. A real, published writer. She moves to New York City with a contract to publish her novel “Afterworlds” and its as yet unwritten and untitled sequel, part of her advance, and the dazzling title of soon-to-be debut author.

Darcy does not have plans for college. She does not have an apartment. She does not have any idea what happens next.

But somehow, in the world of writers–both seasoned and new–Darcy finds her people. Over the course of one tumultuous year in the city Darcy will learn about writing, publishing and even love. More than anything, she’ll learn if she has what it takes to really do this thing that she loves so much.

Interspersed with Darcy’s story is the story that brought her to New York in the first place: Afterworlds. After surviving an unthinkable attack, Lizzie realizes she has the ability to slip into the afterworld–somewhere that exists between life and death. With her new ability, Lizzie discovers that ghosts are everywhere as are other, darker things. Everyone seems to want something from Lizzie but even her new gifts might not be enough to keep those she loves safe.

Darcy and Lizzie’s worlds blend together in this story about facing your fears and finding yourself in Afterworlds (2014) by Scott Westerfeld.

The first thing to know about Afterworlds is that it reads like two books. Odd numbered chapters focus on Darcy’s “real world” story of moving to New York and revising Afterworlds. Even numbered chapters detail the “story within the story” of Lizzie and her journey into the afterworld. While this book clocks in at over 600 pages (hardcover) really it’s two stories–two books even–in one both told to excellent effect.

In addition this book features a truly diverse cast in a casual/accepted way. While it’s important to the story, the diversity never becomes the story.

The premise sounds too lofty. It sounds highly un-writerly. A novel about writing a novel? With the full text of that self-same novel? Surely it can’t work. Yet Westerfeld pulls it off beautifully. Although the story is highly self-aware (and often very meta), every detail works here. Darcy’s new experiences feed into her revisions of Afterworlds. Her growth as a young woman and author mirrors Lizzie’s growth. Both girls, in their respective arcs, accomplish great things.

While not for everyone, Afterworlds is astonishingly successful on every level. Sure to have high appeal for all aspiring authors or sci-fi/fantasy fans. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Lost by Sarah Beth Durst, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Afterworlds by Francesca Zappia, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA14*

Fangirl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fangirl by Rainbow RowellCath isn’t exactly ready for college. She isn’t even looking forward to much except the advanced level English class she talked her way into during registration.

College itself is daunting enough. Then Cath’s sister, Wren, announces that she doesn’t want to be roommates on campus. Suddenly the entire prospect has gone from horrible to possibly unbearable.

Cath’s roommate is loud and scary. She’s also kind of mean. And her boyfriend is around All. The. Time.

The dining hall is too horrible to even contemplate.

She’s worried about her dad who is going to be living alone for the first time in years.

And Cath doesn’t know what to expect from her classes.

In the midst of so much unwelcome change, Cath does have one constant: Simon and Baz.

Cath, like most everyone, is a Simon Snow fan. She knows the community. She goes to the release parties. She also writes fan fiction about Simon and his nemesis Baz.

The only problem is that Cath isn’t sure fan fiction alone is going to be enough to get her through a turbulent freshman year in Fangirl (2013) by Rainbow Rowell.

Fangirl is a meandering journey through Cath’s first year of college as she adjusts to dorm life, college classes and even the nuances of dating and friend politics. (Not to mention all of her family drama.)

Epigraphs accompany each chapter with relevant excerpts either from the Simon Snow books or from Cath’s fan fic about the characters. The technique works surprisingly well as readers are drawn into the world of Simon Snow and come to care about him (and Baz) as much as Cath does.

One of the best things about Fangirl is that all of the characters are very well developed. Although the novel focuses on Cath it feels like any of the characters could be the star here–they all have their own stories.

Rowell’s writing is as excellent as fans would expect. She also unpacks complicated topics such as the line between fan fiction and plagiarism. Cath is a strong, neurotic heroine who is far from perfect but also very, very real. Fangirl also summoned all sorts of nostalgia about the college experience and friendships.

Because this book covers a large range of time some matters are addressed more than others; some things are tied up more than others. There are questions at the end of Fangirl but there is also enough room for readers to imagine their own endings.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Take Me There by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Secrets We Keep by Trisha Leaver, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Wild Awake by Hilary T. Smith, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

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