I have been excited about this anthology since I first saw it mentioned on Stephanie Perkins' blog. I love her writing and seeing all the other amazing authors that would be joining her in this endeavor made me yearn to get my hands on a copy. I was super lucky to snag an early edition from the publisher. This is the rare anthology treat - I actually enjoyed all of the stories. Sure, I liked some more than others, but it is rare for me to like every single story. There is a perfect balance between contemporary and fantasy in this one. Anthologies aren't always my cup of tea, but this one is a fun, diverse read that will have you wishing for snowflakes and peppermint hot chocolate.
Due to this being an anthology, I thought the best way to review it was to briefly discuss each story.
Story #1: "Midnights" by Rainbow Rowell (Rating: 5)
This was my first experience with Rowell's writing. I know, I know. I'm way late to the game and should remedy this pronto. It was nice to see a romance based on more than instalove; the characters in this one form a strong friendship before pursuing anything more. I truly need more romance like this in my reading. The kiss in this one is pure magic.
Favorite Quotation: "I need you to be my person," Mags said. "I need to see you. And hear you." (Kindle Location 413)
Story #2: "The Lady and the Fox" by Kelly Link (Rating: 4)
I have only read one other work by Kelly Link, Pretty Monsters, and it didn't appeal to me. I was worried when I started this short story that I would have a repeat experience, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this story did appeal to me on many levels. This story felt like an old Christmas legend just waiting to be discovered. The combination of contemporary and magical realism blended together well. I did find that the love aspect didn't sit well with me, but there is only so much build up that can occur in a short story so I let it slide.
Favorite Quotation: "A crucial component of any relationship is the capacity to surprise the one you love." (Kindle Location 827)
Story #3: "Angels in the Snow" by Matt de la Pena (Rating: 4)
This was another new experience as I have never read this author's work. I was happy to see a diverse character as the main character. Shy is Hispanic and living in New York City during a brutal snowstorm. It's his first Christmas away from home; I found his stress about missing his family and his financial situation to be authentic and relevant. I also enjoyed this one because I have often thought of writing a story about two people trapped together during a snowstorm. There is something magical about this sort of setting. I was impressed with the complexity of these characters. Matt de la Pena deliver some amazing writing in a small package. The commentary on loss and socioeconomic status make this one a must read. I have already added several of his other works to my "To Be Read" list.
Favorite Quotation: "Not sure you're aware of this, but we're kind of snowed in right now, which is the perfect excuse to stream Netflix. I watched an entire season of Downton Abbey yesterday." (Kindle Location 1036)
Story #4: "Polaris is Where You'll Find Me" by Jenny Han (Rating: 3)
Jenny Han is one of my favorite YA authors, but sadly this story fell short for me. It was one of my least favorite in the anthology. I liked her descriptions of elves and the North Pole, but I didn't find myself invested in her characters and their relationships. This story seemed juvenile and silly after following the piece by Matt de la Pena. I found this one to be cute, but unfulfilling.
Favorite Quotation: There are two kinds of children. The kind who believe and the kind who don't. Every year, it seems there are fewer in the world who do. Papa says it's not an easy thing to ask a child to believe in what they can't see; he says it's its own magic. He says that if you have that magic inside of you, you should protect it all your life and never let it go, because once it's gone, it's gone forever. (Kindle Location 1592)
Story #5: "It's a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown" by Stephanie Perkins (Rating: 5)
I've already mentioned this, but I LOVE Stephanie Perkins' writing. After finishing Isla's story a few weeks ago, this was just what I needed to fill the void. Perkins has a way of creating characters that stick with you. I already want more of Marigold and North. This was a perfect Christmas confection sprinkled with Perkins' trademark style of contemporary romance. I also loved that the setting was a city that is near and dear to my heart - Asheville, North Carolina. This was one of my favorites in this anthology.
Favorite Quotation: "I've always felt lucky to live someplace where snow is rare, you know? It's the rareness that makes it so special." (Kindle Location 2243)
Story #6: "Your Temporary Santa" by David Leviathan (Rating: 3.5)
This story was a bit more serious than the others in the anthology. I know the holidays are not a happy time for everyone, but I found that I enjoyed the stories that felt more hopeful. I was impressed with Leviathan's ability to create such complexity in a short space. I still want to know what is going on with Connor's family. I have predictions, but it isn't clear in the story. I did like the emphasis on family in this one and how things can fall apart when one piece of the family is no longer in place. One thing that did make this story stand out in my mind is the main character's sense of humor.
Favorite Quotation: It occurs to me now to wonder where, exactly, this fur is supposed to have come from, if Santa spends so much time at the North Pole. Perhaps it's him, not global warming, that's dooming the polar bears. (Kindle Location 2357)
Story #7: "Krampuslauf" by Holly Black (Rating: 5)
Holly Black's writing always has a darkness swirling about it so I was interested to see how this trend would play out in a Christmas story. She didn't let me down. I got both darkness and Christmas light. The combination of Black's style of writing and the holidays made for delicious reading. I had never heard of Krampus before beginning this story, but I enjoyed learning the lore behind this holiday villain. It also doesn't hurt that Black manages to make him sound yummy. There is also an emphasis on the divide between social classes. This story was tied with the Perkins' piece for my favorite in the anthology.
Favorite Quotation: "That is some Harry Potter sh*t." (Kindle Location 2999)
Story #8: "What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?" by Gayle Forman (Rating: 5)
Gayle Forman's writing has a way of clawing through your mind, leaving traces of itself in every nook and cranny. Years after reading If I Stay, I still tear up just thinking about Mia and Adam. Forman manages to leave her mark yet again with this little gem. It didn't leave me in a state of emotional derailment like If I Stay, but there was a lot of food for thought. I walked away from this one thinking about how deceiving appearances can be and how taking chances in life often leads to the biggest rewards. How often have I missed a chance at something awesome because I was too caught up in my own little existence? How many times have I missed a chance to form a relationship because I was too busy lamenting my circumstances to notice someone? In addition to reminding me of some important life lessons, I loved the two diverse characters that drive this story. I also was happy to see Hanukkah make an appearance in the anthology.
Favorite Quotation: The look they exchanged was like a road map of the history they'd already traversed tonight. (Kindle Location 3402)
Story #9: "Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus" by Myra McEntire (Rating: 4)
This is another appearances are often deceiving story. Myra McEntire sets her story in small town Tennessee. Vaughn, the local troublemaker, has burned down the barn of a local Methodist church right before their big Christmas play. To serve his community service, Vaughn must help get the production up and running again in its new location: The Rebel Yell, a Civil War dinner theater. His crush on the minister's daughter will ramp up the tension a bit. I found this one to be a sweet, country fried tale that made me smile.
Favorite Quotation: Kids in our town spent their childhoods perpetually frustrated by the pink radar line on weather forecasts that never dipped far enough south to bring snow, yet always included us in tornado warnings. (Kindle Location 3783)
Story #10: "Welcome to Christmas, CA" by Kiersten White (Rating: 4)
Kiersten White cooks up a cute magical realism dose of holiday cheer in this one. Christmas is a small mining town in California that has seen better days. Nobody comes to the town on purpose these days until a new cook arrives at the local diner. His food has a way of making people happy and business begins to boom. This is another fun read that featured a diverse main character. In addition, I liked the complexity of Maria's family.
Favorite Quotation: "I think if you can find the right food to connect yourself to a happier time, or a happier version of yourself, it can help you remember. Help you get back to who you were when you were happy. It can change everything." (Kindle Location 4302)
Story #11: "Star of Bethlehem" by Ally Carter (Rating: 2.5)
This was another of my least favorite stories in the anthology. I enjoyed Ethan and his family, but the majority of the story was confusing. I realize it was done this way to keep readers guessing about Lydia, but I just found it difficult to buy into.
Favorite Quotation: I didn't mark any quotations while I was reading this one.
Story #12: "The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer" by Laini Taylor (Rating: 5)
Again, I have to admit that I have never read anything by this author. So many of the Larks love Laini Taylor's writing that you would think that I would have succumb to peer pressure long before now, but alas, I have not. I do plan to remedy that soon because I enjoyed this little tidbit of Taylor's writing so much. It was up there among my favorites in the anthology. The lore and setting lured me in from the opening paragraph. The story was beautiful and provided the perfect ending to this anthology.
Favorite Quotation: She expected rain, because rain was as sure a feature of a December day as hungry foxes. (Kindle Location 5084)
My overall experience with this anthology was a highly favorable one. I loved that each story was set during the winter months and had some connection to the holidays, but they were not your typical Christmas fare. There is enough variety here to appeal to every reader. This is one you'll want to preorder and plan to read when the chill hits the air.
One Last Gripe: I'm still frustrated that I never learned why Ben was in juvie in White's story.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved seeing so many of my favorites in one place and getting to know new writers.
First Sentence: It was cold out on the patio, under the deck.
Favorite Character: North - I always love Perkins' male characters.
Least Favorite Character: Lydia from Carter's story(less)
Nalia is a powerful jinni and the last of her race. In her world, her race controlled the other jinni races and functioned as royalty. A bloody coup leaves everyone but Nalia dead and she has no choice but to hide on Earth. Nalia is sold into the dark caravan forcing her into slavery on Earth.
The story opens in modern day Los Angeles where Nalia is doing the bidding of Malek, her master. Malek makes his money through corruption and secrets; he forces Nalia to grant wishes for his creepy business associates. Her lifestyle under Malek's control made me sad, but I did admire Nalia's fire. She never stops planning ways to get her freedom. She's also not the sort of girl you want to mess with - she can kick some serious butt.
Nalia's life becomes more complicated when she learns that an assassin from her home world knows she is alive; he is coming the globe to find her. Nalia must put her faith in a former enemy in order to have any chance for survival.
I had high hopes for this one. The jinni aspect provided a fresh element to YA fantasy. I'm sure other novels with these beings exist, but I can't think of one that I have read. I wanted this one to sweep me away, but instead I found myself bogged down in the world building and the tedium of the beginning chapters. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information that was pushed out in the opening chapters. It was difficult to keep track of all the jinni races and their forms of magic. There is a handy definition of sorts in the beginning, but it's annoying to go back and forth when reading on the Kindle. I also felt like the information about Nalia's home was more telling and less showing.
I feel like this will be one of those novels that readers struggle with or absolutely love. There was nothing wrong with the writing and the characters were well developed, but this novel just didn't speak to me. I applaud the creativity of Demetrios. I just wish that I had been able to get into this one more. I would still recommend it to those who enjoy fantasy and want to experience an inventive jinni world with diverse characters.
One Last Gripe: I was slightly annoyed by the shift in perspective. The villain's sections distracted me from Nalia's story.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I liked that Demetrios focused on jinni.
"The Fall of the House of Usher" has always been my favorite of Poe's stories. I have been excited to read this one. This was my first experience with Bethany Griffin's writing, but I enjoyed it. It was interesting to see an old favorite unfold in a new way. Finally Madeline Usher has a voice and she drives the story.
Like the original, this story is saturated with gothic horror. There were moments when chills danced up my spine and I reached for a light. This one also will play some wicked tricks on your mind. My dreams were restless while reading this one. I found it to be deliciously creepy. The mood of this novel would have made Poe proud.
While I enjoyed this one, it did take some time to get used to the complexity of the narrative. Each chapter features a scene from Madeline's life, but the timeline bounces between Madeline as a child, Madeline as a pre-teen, and moments in her present. Once I settled into this narration style, I found it to be a creative way to allow the story to unfold. Prepare to battle the confusion in the beginning - the payoff is worth it. The style truly sets this novel apart from other gothic retellings in YA.
One of my biggest complaints was the pace. The scenes did allow me to understand Madeline better, but things felt slow for a majority of the novel. There was a tremendous sense of foreboding that lingered, but it took forever for the real action to begin. I loved trying to unravel the complicated twists and turns Griffin planted.
The Fall is a perfect autumn read. I highly recommend grabbing a pumpkin latte and curling up with this one. You're in for a gothic treat.
One Last Gripe: My only major complaint was mentioned in the review - the slowness of some segments.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I always enjoy seeing characters previously denied a voice who are given their chance to tell their side of things.
First Sentence: The first thing I notice is that my blanket is gone.
Charlotte is a typical high school student thrust into an atypical world. She attends a prestigious all girls boarding school on scholarship. She's observed the daughters of the rich and powerful for years, but she has never truly managed to break into their social circle, but all that changes on the night she meets Julia Buchanan. Julia is the daughter of a political powerhouse and a philanthropist mother. Her entire family seems perfect to the outside view, but once Charlotte and Julia become friends, Charlotte realizes that appearances are often deceiving.
I wasn't sure at the beginning if this was going to be the read for me. I liked Charlotte almost instantly, but as the novel progressed, I did find myself second guessing some of her choices. I also had a difficult time relating to Julia. Her lifestyle and baggage are so vastly different from anything that I have experienced. By the end, I understood Julia a bit better, but she never become a character I loved. Like Charlotte, I had no trouble falling in love with the rest of the Buchanan family. Charlotte states, "The Buchanans' pull was as natural and strong as the moon on the tides, and when I was with them I was happy in the warmth of their reflected light" (Kindle Location 53). This was a perfect way to describe how I felt in the moments with the Buchanans as a reader.
In spite of not connecting with Julia, I did enjoy watching her friendship with Charlotte evolve. I did feel like Julia took more from the frienship than she gave, but I admired Charlotte's resolve. She never faltered in her loyalty to Julie and The Buchanans. I just wish that Charlotte hadn't forsaken her old friends to focus so much attention on Julia. I liked that by the end of the story Charlotte had found more balance.
There were many allusions to The Great Gatsby and this alone could have kept me turning the pages, but I did find myself immersed in Charlotte's life. Charlotte even explains her own connection to Gatsby in English class when she says, "That Gatsby tries so hard for his dream. That he wants to be part of Daisy's world so badly that he'll do anything. He believes in her long after he shouldn't. Hope is beautiful" (Kindle Location 1825). In many ways, Charlotte is a symbol for Gatsby and Julia is a symbol for Daisy. Unlike the original, this is not a love affair, but rather a friendship. There is a romance, but it isn't between the girls.
The last few chapters of this one were brutal. I almost rated this novel a 3 due to the way I felt in the ending chapters. I was emotionally raw. It felt like Philpot had put my heart through a blender. I was angry and heartbroken. I couldn't accept that this was the way Charlotte's story ended. As I lingered on the novel as a whole, I decided it deserved the 4 rating because it did make me feel. If I wasn't emotionally attached to this story and its characters, I would not have had such a visceral reaction.
One Last Gripe: The first section of the novel was a bit slow.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I was swept away by the romance. I also applaud Philpot for making me feel so deeply about her characters.
First Sentence: The Buchanans' pull was as natural and strong as the moon on the tides, and when I was with them I was happy in the warmth of their reflected light.
Favorite Character: Charlotte, but I also loved Sebastian and Cordelia
Least Favorite Character: I didn't have one, but Julia did irk me a lot.(less)
This was my first experience with Jessica Martinez's writing, but I was pleasantly surprised with the way she weaves a story together. Kiss Kill Vanish kept me guessing until the very end.
Valentina Cruz has lived a life of privilege on the sandy beaches of Miami. She's been surrounded by wealth and priceless works of art for as long as she can remember. One night changes everything and Valentina's life begins to unravel into a puddle of lies and deception. After witnessing a murder at the hands of the man who has her heart and the father she has loved so deeply, Valentina flees. She ends up in Montreal penniless. Her only source of income is the mandolin that was given to her by Emilio, her boyfriend who broke her heart with a single shot. Valentina becomes Jane and seeks to outrun the horrors of her past, but she soon learns that the Cruz family has eyes and ears everywhere. Another death forces Valentina into the life of Marcel, the brother of the deceased. The two seemingly have nothing in common, but over time they learn what true friendship looks like.
I liked the friendship between Valentina and Marcel. In the beginning, I thought I was going to despise Marcel, but he soon became my favorite character. The friendship between these two felt realistic and it wasn't forced.
In addition, I enjoyed the internal conflict Valentina suffers through concerning Emilio and her father. This conflict saturates the entire novel and forces Valentina to look at her reality in a different way. I also feel like her struggles help give her a strength that she would not have found otherwise. Valentina is a character to be admired - even though she has many flaws and makes a slew of mistakes.
I wish I could go into more details about what I enjoyed about this novel, but it would spoil the read. I was glued to my Kindle once the Miami scenes started.
I must point out that Valentina's time in Montreal was often tedious for me. Like Valentina, I felt like time was passing slowly. The moments when Marcel was around brightened my mood and kept me reading, but there was so much dullness and monotony in the beginning. I'm worried that many readers won't persevere through this section and will miss out on the true gems this novel contains as a result. I understand that Martinez was placing the reader in the moment with Valentina, but it did derail my reading pace and enjoyment. This novel felt like a ferris wheel ride - there were moments of action, but then it would be halted by something mundane like Valentina watching the clock or worrying instead of doing something. Like a ferris wheel, I love the movement and seeing things from a different perspective, but I hate waiting while a new group is loaded. The hovering makes me uneasy and Valentina's dark days in Montreal conjured up the same feeling for me. Writing the novel in such a way was an interesting choice. It might even border on brilliant; as a reader time passed slowly and I felt Valentina's despair. I could even visualize the growing water stain on her ceiling as she watched the clock drain minutes from her life. In spite of finding the narration choice to be intriguing, it did reduce my rating of the novel because there were moments when I wasn't sure I could get through another chapter.
My other major complaint is that some of the plot didn't feel realistic or authentic. As a reader, I had to suspend my disbelief and go with the flow.
Overall, there were moments I loved and moments that felt boring. I wish the momentum of the Miami portion of the story could have been present for more of Valentina's time in Montreal. I did like this novel, but when I look at everything as a whole, I had to balance my complaints with what I loved.
One Last Gripe: There were moments when Valentina seemed a bit too naive and trusting considering her circumstances.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I liked that Martinez kept me guessing. The last few chapters had some twists I never saw coming.
First Sentence: "Jane, darling, you have to keep still."
I went in expecting this to be another heart wrenching story about integration - and it was - but it is so much more. Robin Talley not only tackles history and race conflict, but she also chooses to have her main characters questioning their sexual orientation. This was a huge undertaking for one book and presented a side of integration that I had never considered.
The story is told from two perspectives. The narration begins with Sarah as she becomes one of the first African American students to integrate an all white high school in small town Virginia. Reading her portions was difficult and heartbreaking. I cannot imagine a time when people were treated so differently based on the color of their skin. Sadly, racism hasn't been eradicated and still thrives in places throughout the world. One only has to turn on the news to see a race or ethnic group being persecuted. One would think that our society would have learned by now that we need to embrace diversity rather than fight against it. The second narrator, Linda, is a white student at the high school and she is a staunch segregationist. She claims that it's part of the Southern culture to abide by separate but equal. These two girls are worlds apart, but they find that they have more in common than they ever imagined when a teacher forces them to work together on a French project.
First and foremost, this is a novel about finding your place in the world. Both girls realize that who they are "supposed" to be isn't who they are. Each of them must work through her issues about race and longing to figure out the next step in the course of their lives. While I do realize that both issues are important and relevant, I did find that the issues driving this novel became overwhelming at times. There are small blips of happy moments, but this is not a happy time period or happy circumstances for Sarah and Linda. As a result, I had to put this one down for breaks frequently. My heart and mind could only handle so much at a time. The issues while important became a heavy burden and reduced my enjoyment of the novel.
Lies We Tell Ourselves is a crucial novel that sheds light on a different aspect of the Civil Rights Movement. I do caution readers to prepare themselves for the realities of the 1950's and 1960's before embarking on this reading journey. Reading this one requires work and effort on the part of the reader - this is not a leisurely read that will give you the warm fuzzies. It will force you to think about diversity and the cruelty of the human spirit. I can only hope this will serve as a beacon to guide people to a better world where discrimination and racism cease to exist.
One Last Gripe: I was frustrated by most of the adults in this novel - on both sides of the issue. They often focused on their own agendas and not their childrens' well being.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I liked getting a different view of a familiar history.
First Sentence: We've all walked past Jefferson a thousand times before, but this will be the first time any of us steps inside.
Favorite Character: Sarah
Least Favorite Character: Each character that had hate in their heart(less)
I love the Chicagoland Vampires series. Waiting for the next installment inspires the same fluttery feeling in my stomach I used to get as I counted down to when Santa would appear. It would be impossible to talk about this novel without spoiling previous novels. If you haven't read the series, know I highly recommend it, stop reading this review, and go grab Some Girls Bite.
Blood Games was good, but it felt a little slow to me after the fast paced plot of Wild Things. A serial killer is stalking the streets of Chicago and leaving his victims in elaborate poses that hint at supernatural origins. The city is finally starting to loosen up on the vampires that walk among them so Merit and Crew are keen to find the killer sooner rather than later. They don't want vampires being blamed again for crimes they did not commit.
While Merit is helping her grandfather and the CPD track down the killer, she's also balancing vampire politics and fighting against Ethan's secretive nature. She knows something is bothering him, but he refuses to let her in. I always get irked when Merit and Ethan are having relationship issues because one of them is being too stubborn. We've been down that road so many times throughout this series that it's starting to feel stale. The big reveal also seemed anti-climatic to me.
I also am over the vampire politics. It's time to move past all of that and get back to what makes this series awesome: Merit, mystery, yummy food, and vampires that kick butt and take names. I want more of the Red Guard. I want more of the Cadogan vampires. The GP ship has sailed for me.
In spite of my lackluster response to the quarrel between Ethan and Merit and all the vampire politics, I did like this novel. It wasn't my favorite in the series but it does move things along. I loved the serial killer plot and the moments when Jonah makes an appearance. It was also nice to see Catcher and Mallory working on their relationship and getting back to their old normal. This novel wasn't as action packed as I would have preferred, but it did provide some crucial information and character development.
One Last Gripe: A novel without Gabriel makes Andrea a cranky reader.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The last half - things really started to pick up and I ended up binge reading the end
First Sentence: He stood beside me as cameras flashed, a man with a long and lean body, deeply green eyes, and golden hair.
Gretchen McNeil is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I love how her stories keep me on the edge of my seat. She truly knows how to get the adrenaline flowing. I also love how her characters are complex and flawed. This story is no exception - their are four lead characters and each one of them is harboring some skeletons in the closet. I also love that McNeil often includes diverse characters in her work. I feel like we need more diversity in YA so it always makes me happy to see that she does include characters of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Get Even revolves around a secret revenge group called DGM. This group was created by Kitty, Olivia, Bree, and Margot when they were forced to work together on a project in their religion class. The girls all come from very different social settings within the school and probably would have never crossed paths if fate hadn't brought them together. They soon realize that they all abhor bullying and decide that DGM (aka Don't Get Mad) must be born. The girls make it their mission to stand up for those who are too weak or scared to stand up for themselves. They target the individuals within their school who prey on the innocent. DGM operates to bring the oppressor's most embarrassing moments to the public eye. The group has caused quite a stir around their high school and now their is a bounty on their heads. The principal wants their antics stopped and their identities revealed. The girls must fight to keep their group underground and their connection to one another a secret.
The murder of a new student puts the entire community on edge and DGM becomes the prime suspect. The girls begin to doubt one another as they scramble to piece together the clues to identify a killer in their midst.
While I really loved this story, I do have to admit I'm frustrated. This one ended with so many unresolved components and the next novel isn't scheduled to be released until May 2015. This huge wait and all these unanswered questions kept me from being able to rate this one as a 5 birdie read.
One Last Gripe: While I loved the four main girls, I did find it frustrating trying to keep up with who was who and which character was driving the section I was reading in the beginning. As the story progressed and I got to know each girl better, this became easier.
Favorite Thing About This Book: McNeil is a master at writing a compelling mystery.
First Sentence: Bree sat back against the chain-link fence, bouncing her tennis racket lightly against the toe of her black Converse.
As a teen, I as mesmerized by the works of Pat Conroy. One of my favorite novels written by Conroy, The Lords of Discipline, follows young cadets at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. I was drawn to Rites of Passage because of the military school setting and how it instantly drew my mind back to an old favorite. While this novel is set at a military high school and The Lords of Discipline focuses on a military college, I did find that some of the experiences were similar. The most striking difference between the two novels is the gender of the main character. Rites of Passage is the story of Samantha (aka Sam) McKenna and her quest to be one of the first female cadets at the Denmark Military Academy in Virginia. Like Conroy, Hensley does an amazing job of painting a portrait of the life of a cadet.
Sam is a military brat who aches to serve her country like her father and older brother, Amos. After Amos' tragic death, Sam decides to follow through on the dare he gave her to attend DMA. Not everyone is happy with her decision. Her mother will barely talk to her or look her in the eye; she's still reeling from Amos' death and she can't understand why Sam would want anything to do with the lifestyle that killed her brother. Her other brother, Jonathan, is also less than thrilled. He has risen through the ranks at DMA and is now the cadet who runs the show. He worries that his sister's presence on campus will steal his thunder and put him in an awkward position. Furthermore, Sam has numerous faceless enemies who believe that female students do not belong at DMA.
Sam finds that life in military school isn't all sunshine and patriotic roses. It's hard work, sweat, and lack of sleep. Sam and the three other female cadets are not cut any slack and in most cases, the older cadets push them harder than the boys. I had to admire Sam's courage and gumption. I certainly would not have been able to stand the workouts and belittling attitudes. I was impressed that she kept her cool and never snapped.
As the story progresses, Sam soon realizes that it's more than hostility that is working against her at DMA. There is a secret organization, The Society, that has been around since the school's formation that doesn't want to see her succeed at the institution. Sam must decide who she can trust before someone removes her from the equation permanently. This aspect of the novel added a bit of mystery. There were moments when I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest because I was so worried about Sam.
In addition to the military aspects and the mystery swirling around The Society, there was also an emphasis on friendship. I liked that Sam's relationships with her friends are her supportive safety net. There are many people who support her and want to see her win over The Society. One of those friends has potential to be something more, but the romance is very chaste. While I understood the ins and outs of the romance in this one, I have to say I was disappointed by some of the decisions made by Sam and the boy who captures her heart. Their situation seems impossible and that makes it all the more bittersweet to read. It was also nice that the romance wasn't the driving force of the story.
Overall, I loved every moment I spent with Rites of Passage. I love seeing a novel with a strong female character who doesn't play the role of the damsel in distress. Sam is strong and brave; she can take care of herself, but she's also smart enough to realize when she needs help. I also loved seeing a female tackle a male dominated institution and illustrate that the gender divide is archaic. We need more girls to tackle gender prejudice.
One Last Gripe: I was frustrated by Dean's decision - even though I understood it.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The Girl Power - this novel oozes with it!
First Sentence: I'm physically incapable of saying no to a dare - I've got the scars and broken bone count to prove it.
There were two main things that drew me to this novel: the cover and the fact that the blurb recommended it to fans of Lauren Oliver, Gayle Forman, and Jay Asher. Aside from the memorable cover, I love all the authors mentioned in the blurb. I was hoping that this book would provide well written prose, emotional turmoil, and some sense of hope. I was pleasantly surprised to find all of these factors in addition to a creative structure and an intriguing choice of narrator. To make this even more alluring, it was written by a high school student. I was in awe of Amy Zhang's writing talent.
The one thing that made this novel the most thought provoking for me is the main character. Liz is the definition of a mean girl. She is a bully and she plots to make other people miserable on a daily basis. Liz cares deeply about her friends, but she even manages to hurt them in unspeakable ways. Liz is not the sort of girl I would befriend; she is everything I despised about high school all wrapped into one pretty, damaged package. In spite of all of this, I did feel sorry for Liz, and that gave me pause. There are so many novels where bullying takes the forefront, but we typically get into the mind of the character experiencing the bullying. In Falling Into Place, we get into the mind of the bully. The timeline of the story bounces around from past to present so one can see the progression of Liz's fall into depression. I cannot in any way condone all the horrible things that Liz has done, but in the end, I could understand why she was so broken.
Liz is cracking under the burden of her guilt so she decides it is time to end things. Her solution is to fake a car accident; she hopes that nobody will realize she did it intentionally and she will die quickly. Things don't go as planned and Liz winds up clinging to the edge of life. As she lays in the hospital bed and the doctors work with indefatigable effort to save her, Liz's life story unfolds. I was confused about who was telling the story, but when the narrator's identity becomes clear I was shocked. I loved this little twist; it was very clever and added another layer of humanity to Liz.
The major thing I took away from this novel was the notion that appearances are deceiving. Everyone thinks Liz is the perfect girl with the perfect life. She's beautiful and popular, but inside she is withering. She feels as if her mother doesn't care enough to stay home. She feels like she is the reason her father is dead. She feels that her best friends' problems are the result of her actions. Liz sees that she spews suffering wherever she goes, but she can't find a way to atone for all that she has done. It makes me wonder how many times I have judged someone based on outward appearances. Many people in pain are amazing actors who never let their guard down in public. I'm also wondering how many students sitting in my classroom are hiding major issues behind a smile or sarcasm.
Novels that hurt your heart and make you think are necessary from time to time. I didn't have the emotional gut wrenching feeling that came with If I Stay by Gayle Forman, but this one certainly made me take notice. Liz isn't a character that I will soon forget. I can only hope that I can learn from her mistakes and become better for having known her story. If you're in the mood for a powerful, emotional read - grab a copy of this one.
One Last Gripe: I didn't truly get a sense of closure concerning some of the characters. Liam, for example, is still on my mind. What is next for him? Does he go back to the way things were before Liz's accident?
Favorite Thing About This Book: You can't read this without considering why people bully. I think if more people noticed the signs - the little cries for help - we could stop bullying before it starts in many cases. I loved that this novel made me think in new ways.
First Sentence: On the day Liz Emerson tries to die, they had reviewed Newton's Laws of Motion in physics class.
I adore southern fiction with a paranormal focus. There are so many areas of that South that just evoke things that go bump in the night. I also love stories set in Louisiana. There is something about this state in particular that makes the impossible seem plausible. I swear there is magic swirling in the bayous, creeping up the cypress trees, and swaying in the breeze with the Spanish moss. The Dolls is packed with southern flair, a creepy town controlled by magic, and dark, hidden secrets. This would be the perfect read to curl up with on a cool autumn night.
Eveny Cheval has grown up in the hustle and bustle of New York City; her life has been utterly ordinary since her aunt moved her North to the big city. Staying in their hometown of Carrefour, Louisiana was just too painful after Eveny's mother committed suicide. But as Eveny nears her 17th birthday, her aunt decides its time they return to their southern roots and face the memories of the past. Eveny is less than thrilled with this decision at first, but once she arrives in Carrefour she realizes she has a whole history that was hidden from her and people that need her. Eveny soon begins to unravel the secrets of Carrefour and finds herself in a century's long war between magic practitioners and those who wish to expunge magic from the world.
I loved learning more about Carrefour and the impact of magic on the community. The structure of the magic was fascinating; I didn't feel like the author was trying to make her magic exactly like voodoo, but rather she was creating something of her own and borrowing from other traditions. I loved this setting and while I wouldn't want to live there, I did have fun during my time with Eveny. I found I enjoyed Eveny far more than the other Dolls. Peregrine was insipid, selfish, and annoying. She is your typical high school mean girl who can't handle anyone taking her spotlight. It also creeped me out that she carried a snake in her purse. Chloe was a more likable character, but I hated that she rarely thought for herself. She just goes along with what Peregrine wants without thinking through the ramifications.
I also had a slight problem with the romance in this one. I don't buy the love at first sight concept. It just happened way too fast and it lacked substance. It was all based on physical attraction.
In addition, I also was frustrated by some of the decisions in this novel. For example, the girls know someone is after them, but they decide to open the protective gates of the town to host a party full of LSU frat boys. Seriously? How does that remotely sound like a good idea? Another example is Eveny knowing she's in danger, but going to graveyard in the middle of the night on her own on multiple occasions. I just shook my head during those moments because she was an intelligent girl who shouldn't be making such stupid mistakes.
I couldn't help comparing The Dolls to The Secret Circle as I read. Aside from the magic and the main character being powerful and needed, there was the new girl factor and Eveny's relationships with the two main dolls, Peregrine and Chloe, were reminiscent of some of the relationships between Cassie and members of her circle. I loved The Secret Circle so the parallels didn't bother me; I saw them more as an enhancement.
The Dolls, while entertaining, was a difficult one for me to rate. There were moments I loved and moments that made me cringe. I went back and forth between giving this one a 3.5 and a 4, but ultimately landed on the 4 because I did enjoy most of the characters, the setting, and a majority of the plot. I do have a lot of unanswered questions and the ending seemed rushed. I know this is the beginning of a series so I can only hope these lingering questions will be answered in the next novel.
One Last Gripe: The last few chapters were really irksome especially because I loved the beginning and most of the middle.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The suspenseful moments - Sullivan knows how to create some beautiful tension
First Sentence: When I open my eyes and blink into the milky morning sunlight, there's no longer snow on the ground outside the car.
Okay, I admit that I may have picked this one up solely based on the cover. I really wanted to know who this girl was and why she looked so sad. I hesitated when I saw this had a dystopian spin to it since I typically am not the Lark who jumps on that genre, but I decided to read outside of my comfort zone. I'm so glad I took a chance on this one. It was entertaining, thought provoking, and creepy.
Violet Lasting lives in a world where choices do not exist unless you belong to the royal class. Her society functions like a caste system with one interesting twist. The royals cannot have children so they must purchase surrogates to carry a baby for them. These surrogates always come from the poorest sector of the society. The girls with the potential to be successful surrogates are identified through blood tests that are administered at the onset of puberty. If a girl is identified as a potential surrogate, she is taken from her family and sent to live in a facility that will educate and train her for her future role. The girls are ranked before the auction and those with the highest rankings fetch millions of dollars. Violet's story begins on the day before she is sent to auction. Once she is purchased, Violet becomes the property of the Duchess of the Lake, one of the most powerful and vindictive women in the Jewel. The Jewel is the most wealthy sector of this society. Violet is in awe of the extravagance, but soon finds that The Jewel hides dark and violent secrets.
There is an underground resistance to the system that readers will experience in brief moments throughout this novel. I expect that future novels will delve into this aspect more deeply. I am looking forward to knowing more about this part of the story. I found it to be intriguing and surprising at times.
In addition to being horrified and intrigued by this society, I was drawn to the romantic aspect. It did develop quickly, but I felt like it was a natural course considering the circumstances of both characters. I loved these two together and am anxiously awaiting the next installment. The romance was one of the first times I saw Violet choose to do something for herself simply because it was what she wanted and not what was expected of her. Her tiny rebellions prior to following her heart seemed insignificant as a result, but this one choice allows her character to grow.
Overall, I enjoyed the mixture of dystopian and fantasy elements in this one. I found the Auguries to be interesting, but I wonder why they only develop in the poorest girls. I hope to find the answer to this lingering musing in future novels. I also like that this novel forced me to think about socioeconomic divisions, gender roles, social justice, and medical experimentation. Ewing also kept me guessing from start to finish; I never saw most of the twists and turns coming. I love the Cinderella Dystopian vibe I got from this one and can't wait to read the next installment.
One Last Gripe: The beginning of this one was tedious as the author built up the characters and this world, but the middle and the ending were well worth the slow start.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The surrogate system, while horrible, makes this an unforgettable read for me.
First Sentence: Today is my last day as Violet Lasting.
I was initially attracted to this novel because Annabel Lee has always been one of my favorite pieces of Poe's work. I thought this was going to be a retelling of the poem. I was looking forward to finding out how Jessica Verday would bring this famous female to life. I was slightly shocked to realize that this novel does have a character named Annabel Lee, but it isn't a true retelling.
Annabel Lee was born in England, but she moved to Siam with her mother when she was six. Her father was never part of her life, but one day she receives a letter inviting her to his home in Philadelphia. When Annabel's mother succumbs to illness, Annabel makes the long journey to meet her father in the United States. Life in her father's home is full of dark secrets.
In addition to Annabel, Edgar Allan Poe is a character. I don't want to provide any spoilers, but I wasn't keen on his character in this one. I felt like he was unnecessary. That role could have been filled by anyone. I know that the author was trying to add an intriguing spin, but it just fell flat for me.
I did enjoy the blend between history and fantasy in this one. There are also several allusions throughout the story. In addition to Poe's work, there are elements of The Island of Dr. Moreau and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think I would have liked this one more if it hadn't reminded me of one of my favorite series - The Madman's Daughter by Megan Shepherd.
One Last Gripe: I didn't enjoy the romance aspect. It feel very instaloveish.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I liked that Verday worked very hard to focus on Philadelphia because many people do not know much about Poe's connection to the city. In fact, that was new to me as well.
I love to read mysteries in the fall when the temperature starts to drop, the rain starts to fall, and the leaves change colors. There is something about reading a murder mystery as nature is transitioning that I find immensely appealing. How to Fall is set in the summer so I decided maybe it was time to see if mysteries have the same allure in a different season. I had high expectations for this one since the author has written numerous works and the summary was intriguing. I also was drawn to the setting. I've always wanted to spend the summer in a seaside village in England; this seemed like the perfect ticket for a mental vacation on the English shore.
Jess Tennant is a teen who is dealing with the after effects of her parents' divorce. Her father is too busy with his new girlfriend to notice that Jess and her mother have vacated the London city limits to holiday in Port Sentinel, a quaint seaside village with gorgeous views, charming shops, and family secrets. Mrs. Tennant is from Port Sentinel but a dark chapter in her past sent her scurrying to find a new life beyond the town's boundaries when she was barely out of her teens. Jess doesn't know why her mother left or why she hasn't seen her family since Jess was born, but now that they are in Port Sentinel, Jess hopes that she will get some answers.
To make matters worse, Jess turns heads every time she walks down the street - and not in a good way. Jess eerily looks almost identical to her cousin, Freya, who died the previous year in a tragic accident. Jess thirsts for knowledge about Freya since so many people think they could be the same person. It soon becomes clear that the girls had little in common (aside from their face). Jess' imagination begins to run wild and she convinces herself that Freya's death was not an accident. She spends the rest of her summer playing Nancy Drew and working at a decrepit donation store in town.
I was caught up in this novel and enjoyed piecing together the clues to Freya's accident. I did find that I didn't have enough evidence to accurately predict the twist. I think this is one of the shortcomings of the novel. It felt like it came out of nowhere. I felt like this novel had a lot of potential and while it was entertaining, I don't think it met my expectations fully. I loved Jess and plan to read the next novel to find out what happens to her next, but it isn't a series that I would drop everything to read right away.
One Last Gripe: The pacing of this one felt a bit off.
Favorite Things About This Book: The relationship between Jess and Will & the setting
I'm not typically a middle grades reader. In fact, I loved the cover of this one so much I snagged it before I realized it was a middle grades novel. I really should take a chance on more of these as they are something I could talk to my students about more than some of the upper YA stuff. The Swap was an excellent way to dive into middle grades and get a feel for this age group. Also, after teaching 7th and 8th graders for so long, I can firmly say that this novel portrays middle schoolers in a realistic and authentic way. Shull has captured the essence of the middle school experience beautifully in all of its bittersweet glory.
The Swap is Mean Girls meets Freaky Friday with a dash of The Mighty Ducks. Seriously, if this novel had existed when I was in middle school, I would have been all about it. No friend of mine would have gotten away with not reading this one. I did find that as an adult, I didn't love this one the way I love YA novels, but I did enjoy it. I love that there is a female main character, Ellie, and a male main character, Jack. It's so hard to find novels to hand to my male students from time to time. I think this novel will appeal to both genders and I love the messages it contains on topics such as bullying, giving your best, and finding true friends.
Ellie is getting ready to enter the 7th grade without her best friend. Sassy, her former BFF, has decided she is too cool for Ellie these days and she never misses an opportunity to let Ellie know exactly how she feels. Sassy is the sort of girl who makes me cringe; she flings insults and chooses to put people down to make herself feel better. I loved that most of the characters in the novel were not fooled by her and even the male characters realized that she was only pretty until she opened her mouth. Ellie, on the other hand, can't stop wishing that Sassy was her friend again - no matter how horrible Sassy treats her. In the beginning of the novel, Ellie is shy and unsure of herself. She doesn't truly see the beautiful and talented individual she is, but rather she sees herself as unworthy and unfriendable. She chooses to hide from her problems rather than tackle them head on.
The other main character, Jack, is going into 8th grade and he's the boy ever girl dreams about at night. He's handsome, smart, nice, and one heck of a hockey player. The girls even refer to Jack as "The Prince", but he's so shy around the opposite sex that he has no idea he is the object of every female's affection. Jack is also struggling at home after the death of his mother. His dad is withdrawn and expects a lot out of Jack and his three older brothers. Even though Jack's dad is always pushing the boys to be the best and his heart is in the right place, I felt bad for Jack. There is so much pressure on him and nothing ever seems good enough.
Things change drastically for Ellie and Jack on the first day of school. Bad decisions land them both in the nurses office where they lament that the other gender has life so much easier. Moments later they realize that they have swapped bodies. Ellie must live Jack's life and he must live hers. Both of them will realize that the grass isn't always greener on the other side. This experience will change them both for the better and help them appreciate their lives and families.
I think this is a valuable novel for middle school kids. While it irked me that Sassy was such a jerk, her behavior is sadly something lots of kids have to deal with during their school career. There are some valuable lessons about how to handle bullying in this one that I think would be beneficial for younger adolescents. I also think the messages about true friendship and loyalty are important. I'll certainly be recommending this one when school starts again in a few weeks.
One Last Gripe: This one seemed a bit long for a middle grades novel.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved the ending - it was exactly how I wanted things to end up.
First Sentence: It's sunny and it's summer and the three of us are sitting on the scratchy cement edge of the Riverside Swim Club pool, dangling our feet into the deep end.
Dating is never easy, but it's even worse when you wake up next to a stranger and then find out you'll be working together. Attraction aside, Mia and Ethan are also competing for the same job. Could things get any more awkward? Boomerang is the perfect summer read with just the right amount of sugar and spice to battle the heat outside.
Mia is the sort of girl I wish I had been in my college years. She's grounded, goal oriented, and tenacious. She doesn't let anything stand in her way, but she still manages to do this in a non-bitchy way. I liked the strength that Mia exudes, but even she can become vulnerable when love is concerned. Mia comes from wealth, but she wishes to forge her own path in the world and not ride her famous mother's coattails.
Ethan is Mia's opposite from a socioeconomic standpoint. He comes from a working class family in Colorado and soccer was his ticket to UCLA. After an injury puts him on the sidelines permanently, Ethan decides that law school is the way to go, but he has to pay bills and put food on his table. He accepts an internship at Boomerang, an online dating site, in the hopes that it will turn into a paying gig that will put him one step closer to law school. Ethan is like a nestle crunch - he's sweet and satisfying, but there are hidden depths to him. Like Mia, he is goal oriented and tenacious. His sense of loyalty was admirable. And, I'll admit, he may be newest book boyfriend.
Sadly, the job at Boomerang keeps Mia and Ethan romantically apart. It's against company policy for co-workers to date. Since both of them want the job when the internship is over, they put aside their attraction and focus on business. That turns out to be harder than it seems. To make matters worse, their boss insists they use the dating site as field research. Mia and Ethan must suffer through watching each other on a series of dates with other people. Will this drive them to their breaking point? Is a job really worth denying what the heart wants?
I loved this novel; it was fun, hilarious, and swoon worthy. The characters - particularly Mia and Ethan - make this one of my favorite 2014 New Adult reads. I wanted to be friends with Mia and who wouldn't want someone like Ethan in their lives? It also doesn't hurt that I have been caught up in soccer fever with the World Cup; Ethan's former days playing and his little league coaching earned him major points in my book.
I also loved the relationships in Boomerang. Aside from Mia and Ethan, I really enjoyed the bonds between family and friends. Mia lives with two amazingly talented girls who always have her back. I love seeing strong female friendships in fiction. One segment really stuck in my brain as Mia thinks about her friends, "For the next hour, I watch my best friends: one of them onstage, transported, in love with what she's able to do, the other here with me, wearing an avid expression that tells me she's dreaming of her own turn in the spotlight. I want to thank them both for the awesome gift they give me every day. The gift of being kickass beautiful girls" (pg. 214). I think we should all be able to think of our friends in such a way.
In addition to the friendships, I was also drawn to the relationship between Mia and her Nana. These two share a special bond that even dementia cannot erase. There were some moments when they were together that I almost cried. The serious moments in this novel were just as important as the romance and the humor.
Overall, I loved my time spent with Ethan and Mia. I'm truly looking forward to the next novel. I can only hope that we'll get more of Mia and Ethan - even though the story isn't focused on them in the next installment. I also am really impressed that one of my favorite authors, Veronica Rossi, cowrote this with Lorin Oberweger. This is definitely different than Rossi's previous work and it was fun to see her step into a completely new genre.
I will leave you with one word of caution - since this is a NA novel, there are some intimate moments. I'm a "leave something to the imagination" sort so I have to admit that I was blushing through several of these encounters. For many readers, this will be no problem, but if you follow my school of thought, I just wanted you to be prepared.
One Last Gripe: I think Ethan overreacted a bit about the date mixup.
Favorite Thing About This Book: The characters
First Sentence: On the single most important day of my life, I wake with the thought: Oh, crap, where are my panties?
Favorite Character: It's a tie between Mia and Ethan.
I love Jenny Han's work. Her novels are like Pringles - I can't have just one. Also, much like the aforementioned snack food, I gobble them down quickly. I wish I could read Han's novels slowly and savor the amazing things she does with her characters, but alas it's just not possible.
To All the Boys I've Loved Before is wonderful for many reasons. First, I loved that there was such a huge emphasis on the relationship between sisters. As the middle child, the main character, Lara Jean, has the unique perspective of trying to emulate her older sister, Margot, while trying to set a good example for her younger sister, Kitty. Being the middle child (so I hear) is not an easy experience, but Lara Jean seems to thrive in her role for the most part. The dynamic between Margot, Lara Jean, and Kitty was something that kept me reading and set this novel apart.
In many ways, the bond between these sisters was reminiscent of the relationships in Little Women, a classical favorite of mine. These girls love each other dearly but that doesn't mean that the course of their lives always runs smoothly. Margot heads off to college in Scotland at the beginning of the novel so the majority of what we know of her is learned from the memories of Lara Jean. Margot, like Meg from Little Women, is the steadfast and organized one. She knows what needs to be done to keep things running smoothly and she plays mother to her younger sisters once their own mother passes away. Lara Jean has a bit of Josephine March lurking in her veins, but she lacks Jo's tomboyish ways and outgoing nature. Lara Jean does share Jo's passion for writing and a strong friendship with the boy next door. Lastly, Kitty is perhaps the one that immediately brought to mind the Little Women parallel as she is Amy incarnate. Like Amy, Kitty is headstrong and passionate. There are moments when Kitty is so annoying that it makes you want to scream and others when she becomes so endearing you wish she was your little sister. I'm not sure if Han intended for their to be allusions to Little Women or if I arrived at this all on my own, but regardless, I loved the novel all the more for the connections my brain created.
In addition to the sisterly relationships, I also enjoyed the plot. Lara Jean is the quiet, introspective one who rarely lets her feelings leave her heart. Rather than telling people how she feels, she writes letters. These letters allow her to get her feelings out in the open so that she can move past them. Lara Jean treasures her letters and stores them in a hatbox given to her by her beloved mother. One day the unthinkable happens and every letter written to a boy in Lara Jean's heart is sent. This sets Lara Jean on a path she never thought possible and opens up doors she would have never entered on her own. I loved watching Lara Jean explore outside of her comfort zone. Her friendship with Peter is not only one of the driving forces in the book, but also serves as a reminder that appearances can be deceiving.
One thing I also expect from a Han novel is watching a girl who is unsure of herself find firm footing in life. I loved watching the evolution of Lara Jean. This girl still has some growing to do, but I know that she will continue to evolve in the next novel, P.S. I Still Love You. That one can't get here soon enough since I found the ending of this one to be unsatisfying and cliffhangerish.
One Last Gripe: Josh's behavior in certain parts of the book really bothered me. He seemed so wishy washy.
Favorite Things About This Book: The banter between Lara Jean and Peter and multi-cultural characters
Dollbaby is one of those novels that sinks its hooks into you and refuses to let go. I love historical fiction, but I was hesitant when the publisher first approached me about reading and reviewing this one. I wanted to read it, but my July review schedule was already packed. I had promised myself that this summer I would be better at balancing what I had to read and what I wanted to read, but I ultimately decided that this one sounded too good to pass up. It was the best decision I could have made. Dollbaby kept me glued to its pages until I had savored every page within twenty four hours. This is the sort of novel you need to make time for sooner rather than later. Laura Lane McNeal's debut novel is one of intrigue, southern hospitality, and the deep bond between females.
As a southerner, I have always found historical fiction rooted in the south to be appealing. While my home region has a vast amount of sorrow lurking in its past, there are also moments of great joy to celebrate. The south is a complicated place with a mixture of ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, and customs. Every pocket of the south has its own distinct flavor, but I can't think of a place more diverse than New Orleans. In New Orleans, one doesn't have to look far to find glimpses of the southern aristocracy, race conflict, socioeconomic conflicts, Creole and Cajun influences, and a strong sense of place. All of these things combine to make New Orleans an amazing location - both for fiction and nonfiction. I was lucky enough to visit The Crescent City a few summers ago and now I can't get enough of fiction set in NOLA. One of my favorite places to visit is The Garden District so I was ecstatic to see that Fannie's house lay within those hallowed streets. The city and the house function like characters in many ways. You can't read this one without being fully immersed in the culture and society of New Orleans.
Furthermore, the time period of this novel also makes for some interesting side stories. It's the 1960's and race conflict throughout the South is in full swing. Integration is sweeping through the region and not everyone is happy to see its arrival. The interaction between the white and African American characters in this novel provided a lot of food for thought. I enjoyed see the dynamic between Fannie and Queenie's family play out. The sense of family between these women transcends their races, but they still were not able to fully embrace one another as equals. In addition to race conflicts, the novel also allows the reader to experience the divide between rich and poor as well as protests against US involvement in Vietnam. Also, I enjoyed seeing the different schools of thought within the African American community concerning integration come to life. Queenie is strongly in the school of Booker T. Washington; she believes nobody should rock the boat and being passive is the way to lasting change. Dollbaby on the other hand is a symbol for the thoughts of W.E.B. DuBois - for change to happen you must make it happen. These differing views caused the mother and daughter to butt heads on multiple occasions, but I felt like it added another layer of authenticity to the story.
I was also intrigued because I couldn't quite identify the main character. There were moments when I was convinced that it was Ibby, Fannie's granddaughter who is dropped on Prytania Street by her flighty mother after her father passes away. Ibby's story at first appears to dominate the narrative; she is a young girl growing up in a tumultuous time of change. She also grew up in Washington State so I enjoyed getting her outsider's perspective on all things New Orleans. While Ibby's coming of age is certainly important, I feel the true main character is Dollbaby, Queenie's daughter. I suppose I should have landed on this based on the title, but the novel is written in such a way that Dollbaby's story doesn't truly take the forefront until the closing chapters. I loved that McNeal chose to weave her story in this way. All the characters provide a thread that when tied together make a beautiful quilt detailing the lives of some amazing women.
All in all, I loved this novel and all of the characters. I enjoyed the way McNeal allowed the story to unravel by seeing things through multiple characters eyes and getting flashbacks into Fannie's secretive past. The pacing was pitch perfect, the prose was addictive and moving, and the characters were so lifelike it felt like they were about to step out of the pages and have a glass of sweet tea with me. The sense of place that McNeal conjures will have you longing for a trip to New Orleans. I highly recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and those who have enjoyed novels such as The Help and The Secret Life of Bees. Dollybaby is reminiscent of the previously mentioned titles due to its southern setting, emphasis on coming of age, and the relationship between different races.
One Last Gripe: Vidrine annoyed me. She certainly will never win mother of the year and I found it hard to understand why Graham loved her in the first place.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved the relationships between Fannie, Queenie, Dollbaby, and Ibby.
First Sentence: There are times you wish you could change things, take things back, pretend they never existed.
Historical fiction is a favorite genre of mine, but I do hesitate slightly before opening the next one. Will the writer's prose mimic a nonfiction style that will bore me to tears or will the writer infuse their characters and setting with rich, historical details that bring a bygone era to life? My uncertainty was unwarranted with this one. Sharon Biggs Waller not only weaves together a beautiful story, but she does so with historical accuracy and memorable characters. A Mad, Wicked Folly is certainly one of my favorite reads of 2014 and it is in the running for my favorite historical fiction of the year. I'm seriously in love with this novel.
As a historian, my mind often wanders to different phases of history. I sometimes consider if I would have enjoyed living in that time frame, but this novel makes me extremely happy to live in the modern era. Women in the early 1900's were second class citizens with little rights. A girl like Victoria Darling, the main character, was beholden to the will of her father until she married and then her husband took over making her decisions. At no point where women allowed to think and thrive. I don't think that I could have handled being in Victoria's shoes in such a social structure. As Victoria does, I would have longed for the freedom to make my own choices and follow my own path. I loved watching Victoria go against the grain and find ways to rebel. She is never truly in step with the aristocratic world she was born into and that makes her an intriguing character. It's always nice to see a character forge their own path through the world - especially a female character.
I found all the history surrounding the suffragette movement in London to be fascinating. I'm not as familiar with the happenings abroad concerning feminism and women's rights (apart from the brief moments it makes an appearance in Mary Poppins) so I was excited to learn something new. I also found it to be interesting that I was reading this while the Supreme Court was making some monumental decisions concerning the rights of women in the US. I know women have made great strides since Victoria's day, but I do not feel that the fight for gender equality is over. I loved drawing comparisons between this time period and my own. I also found it interesting that the novel remarks that so many of Victoria's traits would be praised in a male, but in a female they are nothing more than an embarrassment. This double standard still exists today and irks me to no end.
Furthermore, I also loved learning more about art. I'm far from being an artist - I related more to Will and his writing - but I did enjoy seeing art through Victoria's eyes. She is so passionate and hopes to make art her profession. This is difficult because her social station dictates that she be a wife and mother; there is no time or place for art in that world. Victoria is always slightly out of step with the world she was born into, but she flourishes in the world of art and feminism.
Lastly, I was wrapped up in the relationship between Victoria and Will. I knew it was doomed because of their differences, but I couldn't help wishing that they would find a way to be together. Will is handsome, charming, and loyal. He doesn't care what Victoria's address is or how much money she has in the bank. He only wants to befriend the tenacious and vivacious girl who literally knocks him over the first time they meet. Every woman should be lucky enough to have a friend like Will in her life.
All in all, I adored every moment I spent lost in this novel. My time wandering the streets of London, attending protests with the suffragettes, art sessions with Will, and watching the upper crust of London society were moments that I could see in my mind as vividly as if Victoria had drawn me a picture. Waller is certainly an author I will be watching in the future; she truly brings historical fiction alive.
One Last Gripe: Edmund creeped me out and I couldn't believe that nobody else noticed he was a slime.
Favorite Thing About The Book: I loved everything, but if I must choose my most favorite element was learning more about women's history in London.
First Sentence: I never set out to pose nude.
Favorite Character: It's a tie between Victoria and Will.
New Orleans + a ghost + amazing homes in the Garden District + a quirky heroine + a hot neighbor = my kind of read
Ghouls Rush In is the first installment in H.P. Mallory's newest series about the fiesty and hilarious, Peyton Clark. Peyton is a recent transplant to New Orleans after her marriage crashed and burned. The only thing Peyton has that is all her own is the crumbling down mansion her great aunt left her in the Garden District. She's determined to restore the home to its former glory, but she realizes it's going to take a lot of work and some help with someone who has an eye for historic preservation. Luckily for Peyton, she has a handsome and construction minded neighbor, Ryan Kelly, who agrees to help her with the renovation.
Peyton feels like she was meant to live her life out in New Orleans all along. She can't believe it took so long for her to make her way down south, but everything isn't sunshine and beignets. Peyton's dreams are haunted by a handsome policeman, Drake Montague, who can't seem to let his house go. Peyton fears Drake at first, but soon learns that something much darker lurks in her home. Drake becomes an unlikely ally as the darkness comes for Peyton. Can she escape with her home and sanity in tact?
I loved the setting of this one. New Orleans is the perfect town to host ghosts and Mallory does a beautiful job of bringing Drake to life. I love his sassy attitude and his desire to protect his home and Peyton. Mallory also describes New Orleans well; I felt like I was on vacation as I saw the city through Peyton's eyes. I am seriously longing for another trip back to the Big Easy after reading this one.
In addition to the setting, I enjoyed the characters. Peyton does come across as a little immature in some moments, but I chalked that up to her sheltered days of wedding unbliss. She wasn't truly given a chance to find herself and experience her youth due to her husband's domineering ways. I was able to overlook her silly, flighty moments. I found that Peyton is fiery and loyal; you couldn't ask for a better friend. Likewise, Ryan also exhibits qualities that make him appealing. Not only is he gorgeous (which never hurts), but he is also intelligent, interested in history, and protective. Even when Peyton seems crazy with all of her ghost talk, Ryan supports her. We could all use a friend like Ryan Kelly in our corner. Lastly, I enjoyed Drake as well, but I felt like the summary of the novel was slightly misleading. There isn't a romance between Drake and Peyton - just some playful banter and slight innuendo. I did enjoy the relationship between Peyton and Drake, but I was expecting something far different.
In spite of how much I enjoyed this one, I do have one major complaint. What was up with that ending? There is all this buildup about the dark entity in Peyton's house, but the ending seems anti-climatic. I just don't think things could be wrapped up so easily. I'm hoping that the second book will shed some light on this complaint. Surely, things can't be so simple. In addition to the simplicity, the ending felt rushed after the slower beginning. I hope that the next book balances the action a bit better. I didn't get a strong sense of closure with this one.
One Last Gripe: I felt like this one only scratches the surface of Peyton's family history and Drake's connection to the house. I need more details.
Favorite Things About This Book: The setting and historical connections
First Sentence: It was time for a fresh start.
Favorite Character: Peyton
Least Favorite Character: I didn't have one.(less)
This one was an unrequested gift from the publisher. I don't always have time to work those beauties in quickly, but this one called to me so I did my best to squeeze it in as soon as I possibly could. The Bees was supposed to be "The Handmaid's Tale meets The Hunger Games". While I haven't read The Handmaid's Tale, I love The Hunger Games. I decided something compared to a beloved series with insects as the characters was something I needed to read. I also expect that this one will also conjure memories of Animal Farm for many readers.
The Bees is a deviation from my standard reading fare. I don't often read adult literary fiction. Most of the adult titles I read are historical fiction, but I felt like I needed to push outside of my comfort zone. I did find that I couldn't be lazy with this one. There is so much going on and so many details to remember that you can't just glide pleasurably through this novel. It demands your attention from moment one.
The novel opens with the birth of Flora 717, a bee who is destined to be a sanitation worker. The social structure of the bees brought to mind the caste system of India. Bees are born into specific roles; change is an abnormality that is not allowed to flourish. Interaction between the bees is also determined by the hive's social hierarchy. Flora 717 immediately shows characteristics that set her apart from her kin. She becomes a symbol for change throughout the novel as she breaks all the molds and rules of the hive. I was in awe of her resilience and courage. She chose to stand up for herself and those she loved even when it meant a certain death.
I wasn't sure how I would enjoy a novel in which the main characters were bees, but I found that the author did a beautiful job of pulling me into this world and helping me visualize life in the hive. The beauty of this life is balanced by some gruesome moments and lack of freedom. As I read, I searched for parallels between Flora's world and human society: gender inequality and diversity were elements that continued to crop up for me.
Overall, I found this to be a novel that was both unique and thought provoking. I loved watching Flora adapt and strive to do her best for the hive. It was apparent that Laline Paull had done a vast amount of research and observation to make this novel feel authentic. I doubt I will ever be able to look at a bee without thinking of Flora and her sisters.
One Last Gripe: There were some moments that I wish had moved along a bit faster.
Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved getting to explore the hive and its social structure.
Cinderella has long been one of my favorite fairy tales and the Disney version kept me mesmerized for hours as a child. Who wouldn't want Cinderella's life? But what if the story we always knew about the beautiful, overworked girl and her evil stepsisters wasn't exactly true? What if Cinderella was actually, in many ways, the annoying and obnoxious one? If you've ever wanted to hear a different version of Cinderella told from the perspective of one of the stepsisters - this is the read for you.
I was interested to see how Tracy Barrett would take the timeless tale and put her own spin on it. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't a petulant girl who refused to help with basic chores and couldn't handle being poor. I have always seen Cinderella as a resilient fighter who deserves her happily ever after. It took me awhile to warm up to the fact that this is not the Disney version and Cinderella is a spoiled brat. I spent the majority of the novel rolling my eyes and sighing loudly at her antics, but I did find that around the middle I started to warm up to her. I was also happy to see that by the end of the novel there are glimmers of the traits I loved in the Cinderella of my childhood.
As the title suggests, this isn't really a story about Cinderella, but rather about her stepsisters, Jane and Maude. The novel largely focuses on the perspective of Jane, the older of the sisters. Jane lives in a decrepit manor house in the forest. Her mother cannot let go of the family's glorious past, but the bank accounts have long since dried up. The house is crumbling around the family, but nothing can be done due to the lack of decay and the lack of funds. To make ends meet, Jane and Maude begin doing farm work, making cheese, and gathering berries and mushrooms. The level of poverty this family endures - particularly during the winter - was often difficult to read. I just kept waiting for that moment when the happy ending showed up. I rather enjoyed getting Jane's perspective; it was a new take on an old story that I wasn't expecting. The stepsisters are always portrayed to be the villains, but that wasn't the case in The Stepsister's Tale.
I did find that the beginning was somewhat slow and slightly boring. My mind kept drifting and I kept wondering when things would pick up a bit. I got my answer somewhere in the middle. Once Jane begins to visit the Foresters things picked up for me. I wish the entire novel had read like the middle and ending.
All in all, I really liked this one and would recommend it to those interested in a different perspective on Cinderella. I liked that Barrett forced me to think about how things are not always what they seem: the rich are not always happy, fairy godmothers may or may not exist, and the prince is not always charming. This would make a great read for middle school students as some of the characters are closer to their age and it's a squeaky clean read.
One Last Gripe: I was frustrated that Jane's mother didn't do more to help her girls. She was like an ostrich - she just kept burying her head in the sand and hoping that things would work out on their own.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I like the commentary on social hierarchies and gender roles.
First Sentence: The house - it was too small to be called a palace - sat at the top of a hill, overlooking thick woods and a river.
I'm a history junkie and the Civil War has always been a time frame that has intrigued me. My earliest memories include tours of plantations, getting Civil War books each Christmas, and watching North and South over and over. For these reasons, I was super excited to read Rebel Spirits. Sadly, this turned out to be just an okay read.
For starters, the title is a bit misleading since the ghost is actually a Union soldier. The only mention of the Confederacy in this one is in regards to the battle at Gettysburg. There is one character, Evan, who participates in the reenactment as a Confederate soldier as well, but other than these two minor elements this isn't a story about a rebel. This is a minor pet peeve, I know, but I still found it to be irksome.
I did enjoy the pieces of Gettysburg history that were sprinkled throughout the tale. These were by far my favorite part of this novel and I am now longing to see Gettysburg first hand. I've always wanted to visit the town and see where one of the most famous battles of The War Between the States occurred. I don't think I'd want to visit during the Battle Days celebration though. All those crowds and the sweltering heat would be a bit much for me.
As far as the characters go, I didn't dislike them, but I also didn't really care about them. Lori is a typical teenage girl who resents moving to small town. She struggles through some attitude issues, but begins to mellow the longer she is in Gettysburg. This is largely due to the handsome Union soldier who begins appearing on her first night in her new home. She later learns that he is Nathaniel Pierce and he wants her to solve his murder. He didn't die in the heat of battle, but rather he was shot in the back at the field hospital while recovering from a bayonet wound. His soul cannot rest until he knows who ended his life.
The ghost story and the murder mystery were interesting, but there wasn't anything that wowed me. I was entertained, but there were slow moments and many times that I rolled my eyes. It also never made sense to me that so many people just accepted that Lori was talking to a ghost. Why didn't people question her sanity? In addition, the instalove in this one is ridiculous. After only a few meetings, Lori is madly in love with Nathaniel. Their romance is problematic. How can the living truly be with the dead? It just doesn't make sense. I could understand a crush, but straight up love was a bit hard to buy into. Furthermore, the way Lori and Nathaniel talk about their feelings didn't feel authentic. The romance drives a significant portion of the novel so I did find my mind drifting a bit and it took me longer to finish this one than I would have liked.
In the end, I found this to be a good read, but not one that I would recommend people rush out and buy. I did like that it was something I could easily recommend to my middle school students - it's squeaky clean and they adore ghost stories. I think this one would have appealed to me more when I was younger, but at this point in my life, it just didn't meet my expectations. Rebel Spirits had a lot of potential, but it was buried underneath frustrating moments.
One Last Gripe: I felt like the secondary mystery concerning the presidential treasures was unnecessary and boring.
My Favorite Things About This Book: The setting and historical details
First Sentence: "I cannot believe we're moving into that creaky old bed-and-breakfast," I mutter for about the hundredth time.
Sarah Jio’s writing never ceases to suck me in from the first page. I adore the characters she creates and the way she blends together the past and present. The historical leanings of her writing is what originally drew me to her work, but now I find that I love the contemporary aspects just as much as the historical pieces. She is certainly one of my favorite authors and I always look forward to reading her next novel.
Goodnight June was a bit different than the previous Jio novels. The historical elements happened via letters. I thought this was a perfect way to learn more about the friendship between Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon. Goodnight Moon is one of those stories that has captivated numerous children over the decades since it was written. I loved learning more about Margaret Wise Brown through this fictitious lens. I have to say that I rarely stop to think about the lives of authors, but after reading this one, maybe I should do that more often. I also found it interesting to learn more about female roles during this time period. Both Ruby and Margaret defy the social rules. I love women who challenge archaic gender roles and forge their own path.
Another way that Goodnight June stands out from other Jio works is that I felt like this one was more focused on the contemporary characters. That isn’t a criticism; I enjoyed the novel immensely. I loved June from the opening and found that each new character enhanced the story.
One of my favorite parts of this novel was June’s quest to save Bluebird Books. I found myself daydreaming about owning my own bookstore in Seattle. June is courageous and tenacious in her quest to keep the store open; I have to admire her gumption. I also felt like the bookstore was a special place that I would love to visit. Seattle will always have a special place in my heart and I loved visualizing the characters in familiar locales. The concept of having special places is something I have thought of often. I find that June explains it better than I ever could when she remarks, “Everyone has a happy place, the scene that comes into view when you close your eyes and let your mind transport you to the dot on the globe where life is cozy, safe, warm. For me, that place is the bookstore, with its emerald green walls and the big picture windows that, at night, frame the stars twinkling above. The embers in the fireplace burn the color of a setting orange sun, and I’m wrapped in a quilt, seated in a big wingback chair reading a book” (Kindle Location 173). That sounds like heaven to me. I found the focus on literature in this novel was another element that made Goodnight June.
Lastly, I really enjoyed the commentary on ebooks vs. brick and mortar bookstores. I find that these two can co-exist for me, but many people would be staunchly on one side or the other.
Overall, Goodnight June was an addicting read that I had trouble putting down. Jio is one of those writers that never disappoint me. Her novels have the perfect balance of contemporary, historical fiction, and romance. I love living in her novels and I always try to read them slowly and savor the plot, but that never happens. I highly recommend anything written by Jio.
One Last Gripe: I figured out the big twist pretty early on.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I loved the Seattle setting and the scavenger hunt for letters in the first editions
First Sentence: Everyone has a happy place, the scene that comes into view when you close your eyes and let your mind transport you to the dot on the globe where life is cozy, safe, warm.
Favorite Character: June
Least Favorite Character: I didn't have one.(less)
I love Morgan Matson's writing; Amy & Roger's Epic Detour and Second Chance Summer have special places in my heart and on my shelf. I can't imagine my summer being complete without a new Matson novel to read or a revisit to old friends. I was excited to read this one the moment I heard about it. I love Matson's character-centric plots and summer influences.
Since You've Been Gone is the story of the friendship between Emily and Sloane. Some are lucky enough in life to have an epic friendship and these two girls have it in spades. They make each other better people, they have fun, and they provide a support system for one another. All of that changes when Sloane leaves town without telling Emily where she's going. Emily watches all of her amazing summer plans wither in the sun without Sloane. To make matters worse, Sloane won't answer her cell. Emily finally realizes that she's been abandoned and this might be the worst summer of her life, but all that changes when the list arrives. It's obvious that the list is from Sloane (she has really odd handwriting) and Emily can't help but think maybe this is the key to finding her BFF. The list sparks a summer journey that will help Emily gain confidence, make new friends, and see the world (and the people in it) a little differently.
I love that this novel is about a strong girl friendship. So often in YA novels, there is competition among girl friends or a lot of backstabbing takes place. Yes, that does happen, but I prefer to read about friendships that are more positive and supportive. That doesn't mean that Emily and Sloane don't have their problems, but I found that I enjoyed reading about those more knowing how devoted these two were to their friendship. With that being said, it did take me some time to settle into this one. In the beginning, I found Emily to be a stick in the mud who seemed a little too clingy where her BFF was concerned. I understood her being upset, but she wallowed in her misery a bit too much for my tastes. Emily did grow on me and by the end I was firmly on her side and invested in the story. On the other hand, I found Sloane's actions to be somewhat heartless and selfish. How could she just vanish with virtually no trace without telling Emily where she was going? There is a point where this question is answered, but I did spend a majority of the novel making predictions about this very topic. In addition to Emily and Sloane's friendship, I enjoyed the relationships with Frank, Collins, and Dawn.
I also love that while Matson does include romance in her novels that is not the driving force behind the story. Think of the romance as the sprinkles on the cupcake - it makes things fun and tasty, but the substance underneath is of more vital importance.
Lastly, I was ecstatic to see playlists in this one. That element is reminiscent of A&R and put a smile on my face.
Since You've Been Gone is the perfect summer read; it has just the right amount of angst, friendship, love, self discovery, and hot summer nights. This one reminds me that sometimes you just need to step out of your comfort zone to thrive.
P.S. - I couldn't help hearing the Kelly Clarkson song in my head as I read this. Now it'll be stuck in yours while you read. You're welcome.
One Last Gripe: The beginning was slow and it took some time to warm up to Emily.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I love the list concept.
First Sentence: The list arrived after Sloane had been gone two weeks.
I am a Molly McAdams fangirl. I seriously will read anything she writes. To quote Hazel from The Fault In Our Stars, "I'd read [her] grocery list." I wasn't as excited about this one as her previous works for one major reason: I knew going in that adultery would play a dominant role in the plot. I have a serious problem with cheating; I don't understand it and I don't condone it. I get it if you're unhappy in your relationship, but sever ties and then move on. I decided to suspend my thoughts on the issue and give this one a chance because of my deep love of all things McAdams.
I found that I did enjoy the two main characters, Kamryn and Brody, and their complicated relationship. I didn't agree with a lot of their decisions, but I could understand their predicament. Brody's marriage is anything but happy and his wife, Olivia, is ridiculous. I intensely disliked Olivia; I didn't understand her motivations. In spite of not liking Olivia and loving Kamryn, I felt like Brody should have made more of an effort to dissolve his marriage before forming any sort of relationship with Kamryn. I know that real life is messy, but the back and forth between Brody and Olivia was a bit much. My biggest complaint with the novel was that there was too much repetition: Brody can't stay away from Kamryn, guilt ensues, Olivia calls and begs Brody to come home, Brody tells Olivia he is unhappy, Olivia has a crazy outburst so Brody will stay - rinse and repeat. This progression of events happened multiple times throughout the novel and I just found myself wanting things to move along to something different.
With all of that being said, I did enjoy the last few chapters immensely. I love that McAdams' novels are character centered. You learn the ins and outs of these fictional beings until they seem like they could walk off the page and into your living room. I wasn't a fan of every element of the plot of Sharing You, but I did love most of the characters.
I also have come to expect amazing, strong friendships in a McAdams novel. The friendship between Kinlee and Kamryn might be my favorite out of all the BFFs in McAdams world. These two truly connect; they are an excellent model for how a friendship should operate. In addition, I enjoyed the relationship between Jace and Brody - particularly toward the end. In some ways, these relationships were stronger than the romance aspects in this one.
All in all, I enjoyed Sharing You, but not as much as some of the other McAdam's titles. I would still recommend this one to fans of McAdam's previous work and those looking for a non-traditional romance.
One Last Gripe: I had trouble landing on a rating for this one. I debated between 3.5 and 4, but decided my frustration with the repetitive elements warranted the 3.5. On a side note (this had no bearing on the rating), I loathe this cover.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: I liked watching Kamryn evolve; it was nice to see her stand up for herself and her goals.
First Sentence: The sound of three familiar, masculine laughs stopped my retreat to my room, and I quietly tiptoed back toward the study.
On the Fence was my first experience reading Kasie West's work; I can't believe I waited so long! (I immediately juggled my July review schedule to fit in The Distance Between Us upon finishing this one.) I finished this in less than 24 hours because I couldn't put it down. Every spare moment I had was devoted to burying myself in my Kindle to spend time with Charlie (aka Charlotte), the brothers, and Braden. I am enamored with these characters. If I was still a teenager, this is the house I would want to live in. The relationships (familial, friendship, and romantic) are the driving force behind this novel and one of its biggest strengths.
Charlie hasn't had it easy growing up in a house with only males. Her mother died when she was six and Charlie can barely remember her. All of her memories from her youth feature her Dad and her brothers prominently, but she can't figure out why her mother doesn't stand out in any of them. Charlie believes that she's damaged goods because she doesn't know how to be a "girl". She spends her time playing sports with her brothers and the boy next door, Braden, who she considers to be another member of her family. Everything changes the summer Charlie turns sixteen. After one too many speeding tickets, her father insists that she find a job to pay off her infractions. A chance encounter lands Charlie a job working in a boutique and serving as a canvas for makeup consultants. Charlie can't really understand how she went from soccer cleats and basketball camp to floral designs and mascara, but she learns that maybe she can still hold on to herself and embrace her femininity.
I adored Charlie and saw a bit of my teenage self reflected in her. I was also a tomboy and would much rather spend my time playing/watching sports than shopping or trying out new eyeshadow. It was always easier for me be "just one of the guys" than worry about being one of the polished, perfect girls. However, like Charlie, I always doubted that I could be friends with those sorts of girls because we'd have nothing in common. We share some of the same self doubt issues, but ultimately we end up landing on our feet.
In addition to Charlie, I loved her family and Braden. It's been awhile since I have loved every single character in a novel. I could easily see myself being friends with any of these people. My favorite brother was Gage because he kept me laughing. Jerom and Nathan are also endearing in their own ways. But the guy who really stole the show was Braden. Where were the guys like him when I was in high school? The banter between him and Charlie was one of my favorite parts of the novel. I also enjoyed their more serious moments by the fence.
If you're looking for a summer romance, this is a must read! It has everything I was looking for in a contemporary read this summer: romance, friendship, hot weather, and discussions with the moon. I found this one to be slightly reminiscent of The Hundred Oak Series by Miranda Kenneally - that is a high level of praise coming from me because I am a huge fan of that series. I love seeing girls that are real, down to earth, and into sports. It makes my heart happy. This one has earned a spot of honor on my contemporary favorites shelf alongside Anna and the French Kiss, Catching Jordan, and The Art of Lainey.
One Last Gripe: I don't have one. This is my new book crush.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: The characters
First Sentence: The engine whined against my attempt to go faster.
I have long been an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe's work and I thought I knew a lot about his life. For example, I knew that he married his cousin when she was merely thirteen. As someone who was born in the 1980's, I found this antiquated notion to be archaic and slightly barbaric. How could a thirteen year old make a good wife when she was still learning who she was? In addition, I had heard troublesome rumors of Poe's gambling and addictions. I never stopped to consider that the Poe I thought I knew may not be the man who actually existed. What if there was more to Poe than the horrible pain of his childhood and a penchant for the macabre? This question made me anxious to begin reading Mrs. Poe to find out if there was more to the story.
Mrs. Poe does focus on Edgar and his wife, Virginia, but it also intrudes a woman that I had not heard of previously: Frances Osgood. Frances is also a poet and in the beginning she is rather leery of Poe. She finds his dark musings to be annoying and she refuses to read "The Raven" despite its popularity throughout New York City. After being thrust into the same social settings as Poe on multiple occasions, Frances finds herself attracted to the handsome, peculiar gentleman. This will lead her and Poe down a dark and winding path. Things are not simple for two people in the 1840's who have an affection for someone who is not their spouse.
While I did enjoy learning more about Frances Osgood, I have to admit that thinking of Edgar Allan Poe as a leading man was difficult for me. I have never thought of him as handsome or particularly appealing outside of his writing talents. In fact, I always think of him as a broken man with a shroud of darkness hanging over his creativity. I feel like he was just slightly off kilter from the rest of society. For me, this would be more unnerving than appealing. I did not understand Frances' attraction nor how she was willing to push everything aside to follow her feelings.
The relationship between Frances Osgood and Virginia Poe was one thing that kept me reading. I couldn't quite figure out if these women were truly friends or bitterest enemies. I could certainly have understood why Virginia would have despised Frances. In many ways, their friendship mirrored the themes of Poe's literary works.
In addition, I also enjoyed the commentary on women's rights during this time period. My heart broke for Frances as she waited for Samuel to return and take care of his family. Social decorum dictated that she could not divorce him even when she knew that he was unfaithful. The double standard for men and women in this time period is infuriating. Women were supposed to be meek and subservient. I enjoyed seeing women like Frances seeking to break gender barriers with the written word.
Furthermore, I loved seeing other historical figures pop up from time to time. My favorite appearances were Louisa May Alcott, Walt Whitman, and Samuel Morse. I loved that Lynn Cullen did such a beautiful job weaving together fact and fiction. Cullen's writing is luscious and vivid; she paints a portrait of life in the 1840's that transports the reader back in time.
Lastly, there is a bit of darkness that hovers over this read. I liked that it was a slow burn rather than a roaring fire. When this element finally hits its frantic crescendo, my heart was pounding so loudly I could swear my husband could hear it.
All in all, I really enjoyed this novel. I did have to work really hard to see Poe in a new light in order to enjoy his role in the story. This novel made me want to do more of my own research on this fascinating literary figure. I have also been inspired to learn more about women writers during the 1800's.
One Last Gripe: Adultery always frustrates me.
My Favorite Thing About This Book: Learning more about women's history and Poe's life
First Sentence: When given bad news, most women of my station can afford to slump onto their divans, their china cups slipping from their fingers to the carpet, their hair falling prettily from its pins, their fourteen starched petticoats compacting with a plush crunch.