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Book Review: If We Had No Winter by D.L. Pitchford

Book Review: If We Had No Winter by D.L. Pitchford

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If We Had No Winter by D.L. Pitchford

If We Had No Winter (Billie Dixon Book 1) by [Pitchford, D. L.]


Cover blurb (taken from Amazon): “Can a father who turned his back on a child want her when she’s an adult?

College freshman Billie Dixon has always found solace in calculations and her secret drawings, hiding from the more difficult parts of life—her mother’s alcoholism, her inability to connect, and of course, her estranged father. That is, until she arrives at Bradford College in Vermont, where the Math Department Head is her father.

After a semester of avoiding him, her father insists she join him for the winter holidays to rekindle their relationship, and Billie is at a loss. While she tries to uphold the status quo, her father refuses to be pushed to the sidelines and forgotten. Just as she realizes she doesn’t want to lose him, her meek and shy father kicks her out of his home during an argument. Can Billie swallow her pride and make amends with her father or will she lose him forever?

If We Had No Winter is a gritty coming-of-age tale about loss, love, and learning to try again.”


I received a free copy of ‘If We Had No Winter’ from the author in exchange for an honest review. For more information, please see my review policy page.


What I liked: 

Where do I even start? There were so many things I liked, and so many things I want to talk about.

There’s a deep honesty about this whole book that’s really remarkable. The characters are deeply flawed, and the relationships are realistically complex. Pitchford doesn’t treat her characters gently. There are things to love and hate about nearly everyone. I absolutely loved the relationship between Billie and Jimmy. **Possible spoilers ahead** How often do we get to see a healthy friendship between a straight boy and girl that doesn’t include unrequited love? Jimmy loves Billie the way a best friend should. He accepts her for who she is, and challenges her to be a better version of herself. There’s no implication of a relationship there, just a solid, functional friendship.**

I was very happy and impressed with the way Pitchford wrote her male characters. Most of the supporting characters are college-age boys. There are some stereotypical behaviors (drinking, etc.) but Pitchford makes sure that they aren’t one-dimensional. These are young men who are emotionally intelligent, and good listeners. They aren’t perfect. Like Billie, they are each flawed, but they try.

‘If We Had No Winter’ isn’t a light, fluffy story. It deals with a number of heavy topics, but feels accurate to the age range of the characters. There isn’t a lot of fiction written about college-age characters. There are a ton of teen books set in high school but I don’t see as many books set on a college campus. I think this is getting better, but I can say that when I was a freshman in college, this book would have been invaluable.

What I didn’t like:

I got frustrated with Billie the same way you get frustrated with your friends in real life. You understand their motivations, but that doesn’t mean you always like their decisions. As the book progresses, Billie’s internal monologue doesn’t necessarily match up with her actions. I started to get annoyed with her unwillingness to see things from anyone else’s point of view. Having said that, though, I think Billie is an accurate portrayal of someone her age, with her life experiences.

‘If We Had No Winter’ was a quick read for me, but some of the middle chapters were a little slow.

Would I recommend this book?

100% Yes.

**Sensitive content warning/spoilers** ‘If We Had No Winter’ deals with divorce, sex, abortion, drinking, alcoholism and a possible eating disorder. Pitchford doesn’t necessarily go into great detail, but doesn’t pull punches either.

**The sexual encounters in this book were really, really interesting to me. I  recently wrote a post about annoying book tropes, and dramatic sex was one of the discussion points. In that post, I said that I wished more authors would include realistic sex. ‘If We Had No Winter’ was exactly the kind of book I want to see more of. Billie loses her virginity in the book, and the reader is present for the entire encounter. Billie and her partner have a discussion first, use birth control, and the love interest makes sure that Billie is comfortable and enjoying herself. There is another encounter that goes differently, but I was happy with the way both scenes were written.**

**Super-mega spoilers** An abortion takes place during this book, and Pitchford handles it beautifully. There isn’t any moral shaming, just support, love and understanding.**

Additional thoughts:

I really loved this book. I loved all of the nerdy references, and the accurate portrayal of real-life hardships.

From a diversity standpoint, ‘If We Had No Winter’ doesn’t go into much detail. There are a few mentions of LGBTQ+ issues (trans men in fraternities, for example) but otherwise it isn’t discussed at length. It seemed to me that most of the main characters are white (based on hair color and tan descriptions) but it’s never stated outright. Most of the conflict in this book is internal: Billie trying to deal with herself. Mental health concerns are never directly addressed, but referred to. This novel is labeled ‘Billie Dixon Book 1’ so I’ll be curious to see if these issues are addressed later.

If you are a fan of Laurie Halse Anderson (author of Speak), you’ll like D.L. Pitchford. ‘If We Had No Winter’ is a book I wish had been available to me when I was in college. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author, and more about Billie Dixon.

Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Book Review: Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

“Today she looked menacingly into the mirror and said: ‘I’m Sierra María Santiago. I am what I am. Enough.'”- Older

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Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

Publisher’s blurb: “Sierra Santiago planned to have an easy summer of making art and hanging out with her friends. But then a corpse crashes the first party of the season. Her stroke-ridden grandfather starts apologizing over and over. And when the murals in her neighborhood begin to weep real tears… Well, something more sinister than the usual Brooklyn ruckus is going on.

With the help of a mysterious fellow artist named Robbie, Sierra discovers shadowshaping, a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories. But someone is killing the shadowshapers one by one — and the killer believes Sierra is hiding their greatest secret. Now she must unravel her family’s past, take down the killer in the present, and save the future of shadowshaping for herself and generations to come.

Full of a joyful, defiant spirit and writing as luscious as a Brooklyn summer night, Shadowshaper marks the YA debut of a brilliant new storyteller.” (Arthur A. Levine Books ©2015)

YA Fantasy. Art. A Diverse Cast. Magic. Spirits. YES PLEASE!

I really enjoyed this book. It has everything a teen fantasy adventure should have: a feisty main character, a fun supporting crew, a (not annoying) love interest, magic and a family legend. This is a great addition to the genre for a couple of different reasons.

First, it’s just a good story. The magic/spiritual structure was a little unclear at first, but it all gets explained, and I loved the combination of music, art, and spirituality. It’s set in real-world Brooklyn, and the magic element somehow feels modern and grounded. The character’s opinions about NYC all felt realistic too; they visit new hipster coffee shops and Coney Island, and occasionally discuss the changes to the neighborhood.

Second, I’m so so happy to see a genuinely diverse cast in a YA fantasy novel. The main character is Puerto Rican, with African and Taíno ancestry. The love interest, Robbie, is Haitian and the supporting cast includes people of every race, and a lesbian couple. It felt very true to Brooklyn, and I was extra pleased with the way Older dealt with social issues.

At some points, they have conversations about who gets to study whom in anthropology, what it feels like to internalize racial prejudice, and police discrimination (one of the secondary character’s brothers was killed by police). Race is a part of the story, but it isn’t the driving force. Gender issues are also present: cat-calling, and patriarchal family expectations play a role in Sierra’s journey. Older weaves the details of real life in seamlessly with a traditional “chosen to save the world” narrative.

If you’re bothered by the “chosen one” trope, the main character might annoy you a little bit. I’m not, so I enjoyed watching Sierra come into her powers and discover herself. The family mystery was well done, and I thought I had figured out the twist at the end, and was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Two sequels have been announced, and there’s also a novella which follows one of the supporting characters after the conclusion of the book.

I would recommend ‘Shadowshaper’ to anyone who enjoys fantasy or YA literature. I suspect it’s going to become one of those books that I bring up in every possible conversation (probably to an annoying extent). I want everyone to know, especially publishers, that it’s possible to write a widely-popular fantasy novel and include diversity in a genuine way. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Summary: Read this book. It’s awesome.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

“For the first time in his life, he felt that time was going faster then he wished it to and he could no longer take refuge in his dreams. The wheel of fortune had started to turn, and this time he could not stop it.” -Zafón

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The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Publisher’s blurb: “It’s wartime, and the Carver family decides to leave the capital where they live and move to a small coastal village. But from the minute they cross the threshold of their new home, strange things begin to happen. In that mysterious house still lurks the spirit of Jacob, the previous owners’ son, who died by drowning.

With the help of their new friend Roland, Max and Alicia Carver begin to explore the strange circumstances of that death and discover the existence of a mysterious being called the Prince of Mist–a diabolical character who has returned from the shadows to collect on a debt from the past. Soon the three friends find themselves caught up in an adventure of sunken ships and an enchanted stone garden–an adventure that will change their lives forever.” (Little, Brown and Company ©2010)

I. Loved. This. Book.

I read Zafón’s most famous novel, The Shadow of the Wind, a few years ago and completely fell in love with his writing style. The Prince of Mist is intended to be a YA novel, but it has the same spooky, gothic vibe and it was totally engrossing and entertaining for this adult.

This was a quick, but genuinely scary read. Zafón has a gift for writing haunting, eerie stories that get under your skin. I don’t think I’d classify this as a horror novel, necessarily, but it skirts that line. It’s not graphic or gory in any way, it’s more an unsettling type of fear. It’s atmospheric and plays on a number of different phobias, from ghosts to clowns.

One thing I particularly enjoy about Zafón’s writing is his ability to portray realistic families, combining mundane day-to-day details with poignant observations about life. The relationships feel authentic, as does the narration of 13-year-old Max. I was especially pleased with the maturity of the main character; Max is allowed to be a young teenager (a little reckless) but is also philosophical and complex. I think the nuanced portrayal of a teenage boy is important- he can still be thoughtful and caring while on his Goonies-like adventure. The physical action is well balanced with the psychological and emotional pieces.

I’m trying not to give anything away, but I will say that the antagonist is super creepy and I thought the ending was well done. The plot is fairly simplistic, but still suspenseful.

It’s hard to say anything else without spoiling the mystery of this book, so I’ll just leave it at this: read it.