Sugar Town Queens: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sugar town queens never back down from a fight.”

Sugar Town Queens by Malla NunnAmandla Zenzile Harden is familiar with her mother’s strange visions and her difficult days. But even she is taken aback when, on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, her mother Annalisa tells Amandla that she has to wear a blue sheet as a dress to bring her father home. It’s been only Amandla and her mother for as long as Amandla can remember. She has never met her father. Wearing an ugly sheet isn’t going to change that.

Life in Sugar Town isn’t what anyone would call easy. Everyone has their struggles and their problems in the township near Durban, South Africa. Although their shack is shabby by some standards, it’s home and it’s always tidy thanks to Annalisa’s meticulous cleaning. But even in the township, Amandla and her mother stand out not just for Annalisa’s strange behavior and uneven memory but because Annalisa is white and Amandla is brown.

After years of trying to piece together the scraps of her mother’s fractured memories into something resembling a family history, Amandla is ready for answers. When she finds more cash than she’s ever seen in her mother’s purse along with an address, Amandla decides it’s a sign to find answers.

With help from her best friend Lil Bit and newer friend Goodness, Amandla follows the clues to the truth about herself, her mother, and old family secrets that will change Amandla’s understanding of family forever in Sugar Town Queens (2021) by Malla Nunn.

Find it on Bookshop.

Sugar Town Queens is Nunn’s first novel for young adults. Amandla is biracial (her mother is white and her father is described as Zulu in the narrative–one of the few things Amandla knows about him), Amandla’s friends and other township residents are Black.

Amandla’s first person narration is direct and to the point in the way of young people who have to grow up quickly because of hard circumstances. Amandla is well aware of the poverty she and her mom live with but, over the course of the novel, she also finds moments of lightness with Lil Bit and Goodness and even starts a romance with Goodness’s earnest brother. Although the romance is entirely age appropriate and sweet, I admit that I would be very happy to never hear another character describe someone’s lips as “juicy” ever again.

While friendship (and first love) are key parts of the story, the main focus here is family as Amandla literally stumbles upon her maternal grandmother after following the clues she has found. Learning more about her grandparents, Amandla realizes that a family reunion will not mend everything that has broken in her mother nor will it erase her grandfather’s racist opinions of his poor, biracial granddaughter. With new family and new relationships, however, Amandla does begin to understand that forgiveness can have its place as much as justice when more of Annalisa’s past is revealed.

With her grandmother’s declining health and Annalisa’s limited mental stability, the urgency is real to find answers before it’s too late making Sugar Town Queens a page turner as the novel builds to a striking finish. The contrast between the affluent Harden family and Amandla’s own upbringing in Sugar Town further highlights the inequalities that still exist in South Africa long after the end of Apartheid thanks to Nunn’s carefully detailed descriptions of both Sugar Town and Durban.

Sugar Town Queens is a fast-paced story about family, grief, and the power to be found in asking for–and accepting–help where themes of family and female friendship emphasize the importance of community and support systems.

Possible Pairings: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Truth About White Lies by Olivia A. Cole, All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney, Tiffany Sly Lives Here by Dana L. Davis, Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds, The Means That Make Us Strangers by Christine Kindberg, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

August 2022 Reading Recap

Miss Print's Reading Recap

Read:

  1. Gaia: Goddess of Earth by Imogen and Isabel Greenberg
  2. You Truly Assumed by Laila Sabreen
  3. The Color of the Sky is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil
  4. Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win by Susan Azim Boyer
  5. The Stars Between Us by Cristin Terrill
  6. The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao
  7. Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan
  8. A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
  9. Shirley and Jamilah’s Big Fall by Gillian Goerz
  10. Sisters of the Mist by Marlyn Spaaij
  11. Esme’s Birthday Conga Line by Lourdes Heuer
  12. Mimi and the Cutie Catastrophe by Shauna J. Grant
  13. Edgewood by Kristen Ciccarelli
  14. Amazona by Canizales
  15. Rabbit Chase by Elizabeth LaPensée, KC Oster, Aarin Dokum
  16. The Greatest Thing by Sarah Winifred Searle
  17. Unretouchable by Sofia Szamosi
  18. The Lost Dreamer by Lizz Huerta
  19. Rave by Jessica Campbell
  20. Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton
  21. The Darkening by Sunya Mara
  22. Fine: A Comic About Gender by Rhea Ewing
  23. I Am Margaret Moore by Hannah Capin
  24. My Contrary Mary by Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand
  25. Girls That Never Die by Safie Elhillo
  26. Seton Girls by Charlene Thomas
  27. Frizzy by Claribel A. Ortega and Rose Bousamra
  28. This Vicious Grace by Emily Thiede

You can also see what I read last month.

Dreams Lie Beneath: A Review

Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca RossAt every new moon, the realm of Azenor is overrun by tangible nightmares that stalk the streets wreaking havoc in their wake.

In this world where your worst dreams can, and do, come to life magicians are uniquely positioned to protect innocent dreamers from these monsters of their own making.

Clementine Madigan has grown up watching her father work as a warden and, more recently, assisting him to catalog and destroy the dream creatures that hunt each new moon. Clem’s hopes of inheriting her father’s title are dashed when two upstart magicians–brothers Lennox and Phelan Vesper–challenge him for his title. And win.

Enraged by the loss of everything she’s ever known, Clem is determined to get her revenge–even if it comes at a great personal cost.

But the harder Clem works to expose the Vespers’ misdeeds, the closer she grows to Phelan and the dangerous secrets that bind their families to each other and to the curse that has plagued Azenor for centuries in Dreams Lie Beneath (2021) by Rebecca Ross.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dreams Lie Beneath is a standalone fantasy narrated by Clem. Main characters are white with some diversity among the supporting cast.

Dreams Lie Beneath starts strong with a promising magic system and a heroine who if not entirely sympathetic is singular in pursuit of her goals. Unfortunately these pieces fail to gel into a cohesive story before a plot twist midway shifts the entire story into new territory. This plot change essentially renders everything that came before moot as both the stakes and the rewards for Clem and other main characters abruptly change. Clem’s behavior changes almost as abruptly as the plot with jumps to conclusions and shifting loyalties that have little support within the framework of the novel.

Paper thin motivations and fantasy elements that don’t move far beyond aesthetic value start as promising pieces but, again, never result in a fully realized and well-developed story.

Dreams Lie Beneath is a fun and fast-paced story with a lot of style. Readers looking for more complexity to characters and world building would be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Caraval by Stephanie Garber Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Week in Review: August 27

Blog Posts:

My Week:

I’m just having a hard time. As I continue tweaking and overhauling things on the blog I’m wondering if anyone reads these recaps or if it’s really just a time drain at this point. What do you think? *taps mic* Is this thing on?

Belladonna: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Do not change the parts of yourself that you like to make others comfortable. Do not try to mold yourself to fit the standards someone else has set for us.”

Belladonna by Adalyn GraceSigna Farrow has spent her entire life moving from house to house as each of her numerous guardians meets an untimely end. With caretakers increasingly more interested in her wealth than her happiness, Signa’s loneliness is palpable. She craves the day she will come into her inheritance and can set up her own household filled with laughter and company–never solitude and especially not Death. The one constant in Signa’s life aside from her precarious living arrangements has been the ability to see and, regrettably, interact with Death himself–a shadowy figure of a man who is as mystified by their connection as Signa.

At the age of nineteen, there is only one year left until Signa enters society. One she needs to use well if she hopes to banish the dismal reputation her numerous deceased guardians have built for her. After years of begging–and even demanding–that Death leave her alone, Signa is more suspicious than grateful when he promises to improve her current situation. Nonetheless, she is cautiously excited to find she has some living relatives in the Hawthorne family.

Thorn Grove is a stately manor with far more luxury than Signa is used to, but it is also a house in crisis with patriarch Elijah Hawthorne lost in grief and intent on running the family business–and reputation–into the ground while eldest son Percy watches helplessly. With mourning not yet over for Elijah’s beloved wife, it seems his daughter Blythe is suffering from the same mysterious illness. With no obvious cure and her condition worsening, Death warns that it won’t be much longer before he has to claim the ailing girl as one of his own.

Experiencing stability and family for the first time is a heady mixture for Signa, reminding her of how much Thorn Grove still has to lose. Signa knows that society would frown upon a young woman experimenting with folk remedies and digging into the Hawthorne’s secrets. But she also knows that she will do anything to keep Blythe and Thorn Grove safe–even if it means risking her reputation by working with Death to search for answers in Belladonna (2022) by Adalyn Grace.

Find it on Bookshop.

Belladonna is the first book in a projected duology that will continue with Foxglove. Signa and most main characters are cued as white with more varied skin tones among the supporting cast including one of Signa’s childhood friends, Charlotte, who is described as having brown skin.

Belladonna is a gothic mystery with just the right amount of magic in the form of death personified and Signa’s own strange powers that allow her not just to speak with Death but take on some of his abilities including a resistance to poison. Sumptuous descriptions of Signa’s new surroundings set the mood as Signa familiarizes herself with Thorn Grove and its occupants while highlighting the privation of her previous homes.

Armed with nothing but an old etiquette book and her wits, Signa thinks she is prepared for what society will expect of her as a young woman. But the longer she spends at Thorn Grove and the more she embraces her own powers, the clearer it is that the societal standards Signa has clung to are skewed against her and may not be worth striving for after all. Signa’s inheritance adds another layer to this conversation as she begins to understand her privilege and realizes other women are not so fortunate when it comes to future marriages and life choices.

Haunted by spirits all her life, Signa’s innate need to investigate the happenings at Thorn Grove only increases as she is haunted by–and begins to communicate with–the ghosts of the stately manor. This novel is filled with a well-rounded cast of both the living and dead who add dimension to this rich story as the complexities of relationships among the Hawthorne family and its staff begin to unfold. At the center of this is Signa’s complicated dynamic with Death who starts the story as her greatest frustration only to become a foil, a confidante, and perhaps much more. The tension between these two characters moves the story along as much as the mystery with its own twists and surprises.

Belladonna is a thoughtful story where Signa spends as much time investigating her own wants and needs as a young woman entering society as she does trying to uncover Thorn Grove’s secrets. Belladonna capitalizes on a well-developed magic system and atmospheric prose to deliver both a satisfying mystery and romance.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Ferryman by Claire McFall, A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson, Gallant by V. E. Schwab

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

The Immortalists: A Review

The Immortalists by Chloe BenjaminNew York City, 1969: The Gold siblings are looking at another monotonous summer together on New York City’s Lower East Side. But even as they anticipate the days blend together, they know that things are about to change. This is the last summer they’ll all be together like this before summer jobs and school and so many other things get in the way.

It seems like the perfect time to do something drastic like visit the mystical psychic Daniel has heard about in whispers all around the neighborhood, leading them to the cluttered apartment on Hester Street. They say the woman can tell you exactly when you’ll die. But none of them understand what that means when they still have so much life left. At least, they think they do.

As time passes, they’ll all be shaped by that hot summer day and the dates the fortuneteller told them. Simon–the youngest, the golden boy–will never stop running; throwing himself into anything and everything as he tries to find love and, if he’s lucky, his truest self as he runs away to San Francisco in the 1980s.

In the 1990s Klara lands in Las Vegas. After years of trying to make a go of her show as an illusionist, her act might finally be taking off. But after years performing as a mentalist, Klara is no longer sure where reality ends and the magic begins–a blurred line that could lead to her greatest performance ever. Or have disastrous consequences.

Daniel, the eldest, has spent his life as a doctor. It isn’t always glamorous but he’s happy, isn’t he? When one unexpected Thanksgiving shows Daniel everything he could have had–and everything he never will–he becomes obsessed with understanding the truth of the mystical woman all those years ago.

Varya never had much use for people–or for the prediction she received on Hester Street–but as she finds herself more and more entrenched in her work on longevity research, even practical Varya begins to wonder if things would have–could have–been different if they’d all made different choices on that long ago summer day in The Immortalists (2018) by Chloe Benjamin.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Gold family is white and Jewish with varying levels of faith with more diversity among the secondary cast. The story is broken into four parts–one following each sibling–over the course of twenty some odd years.

Benjamin’s sweeping generational family saga tackles big questions of fate vs agency without offering many answers one way or another. Crossing the country and spanning decades, The Immortalists captures the zeitgeist of the times starting with the frenzied energy of San Francisco in the 1980s and the ensuing panic and grief of the growing AIDS crisis. Simon’s section starts when Simon is only sixteen leading to a lot of instances of reading about Simon’s underage sexual encounters with much older men. While not unrealistic for the time it still felt uncomfortable to read about in relation to a character who is still essentially a child.

The omniscient third person narrator also clings closely to the female gaze–particularly with Simon but also even in the opening page with Varya–focusing needlessly on objectification particularly with instances when Simon wants the “challenge” of another “hard” body like his own. There could be arguments that this adds nuance to literary fiction but, for me, it only served to constantly draw me out of the story.

Ultimately The Immortalists raises some interesting questions by putting a family through an increasingly unpleasant series of events across a generation. Readers interested in philosophical questions about life choices will find a lot to appreciate here while readers hoping to lean more into the fantastical elements will be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo, An Extraordinary Destiny by S. N. Paleja, One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle

Week in Review: August 20

Blog Posts:

My Week:

Not going to lie, this week was pretty miserable. I spent most of the weekend laying around at home recovering.

Author Interview: Emily Lloyd-Jones on The Drowned Woods

Emily Lloyd-Jones author photoEmily Lloyd-Jones writes a range of fantasy novels–both YA and Middle Grade–including one of my favorites The Bone HousesWhen I heard that her latest YA was set in the same world, I was delighted. The Drowned Woods combines some of my favorite things–heists, spies, dogs, and a subtle romance–in all of the best ways to create a story worth obsessing over. I’m very excited to have Emily on the blog today answering some questions about her latest novel.

Miss Print: Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: I feel like my journey has been pretty typical for a lot of writers. I grew up with stories, became really invested in the Prydain Chronicles when I was a kid, never lost my fascination for Welsh legends, and then when I was older decided to pursue publication more seriously. I finished my first real story when I was sixteen. It was terrible, like most first attempts at anything. I wrote more things. I wrote a lot of things. And finally, I felt like I’d written something that I thought was decent—which turned into my debut novel. It was published almost ten years after I finished that first story.

Miss Print: What was the inspiration for The Drowned WoodsDid you always know you’d return to the world of your previous novel The Bone Houses?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: I always knew that The Bone Houses was a standalone book. Ryn and Ellis had their adventure—and it was done. And that was good! But I spent years fine-tuning that world, doing research, traveling to Wales, and even crawling around in an old copper mine. So I while I was fine letting go of the characters, I had a harder time letting go of the world.

It helped that when I was doing my research, one of the myths I ran was that of Cantre’r Gwaelod. It was the legend of a kingdom that once existed where Cardigan Bay is now—and the myth was having a bit of a resurgence as they discovered some fossilized trees beneath the surface of the water. I did my research, found many variations of the myth, and in several of them was reference to a maiden who was in charge of a magical well. That lady, Mererid, bore the blame for the kingdom sinking. So I decided that I would tell the story from her perspective.

Miss Print: One of the things I loved about The Drowned Woods is that you really capitalize on the power of a strong ensemble cast. While Mer remains the main protagonist of the story, we also learn more about other members of the crew she joins including Fane and Ifanna. How did you go about integrating all of these backstories into the plot? Were there any details you had to cut while editing?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: At its core, The Drowned Woods is structured as a heist story. And since heists function as ensemble pieces, it made sense to create a cast of characters with different strengths and roles. With a heist crew of six, this book could easily have been way too long—and I didn’t want to bog down the pacing, so I decided to focus only the backstories of the three core characters: Mer, Fane, and Ifanna. I did have backstories written up for every single character—Emrick, Gryf, and Renfrew all have histories—and writing those backstories helped inform their characters throughout the narrative. But I never included those details within the book because it would have made the plot far too unwieldy.

Miss Print: Working off the last question: Who was the hardest character to write? Who was the easiest?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: The easiest character was Ifanna! I have a deep love of snarky side characters, the ones who steal nearly every scene they’re in and then saunter off-page. But one thing I loved writing about her was that even though she is funny and light-hearted, at her core she is a leader. She’s carrying a lot of responsibility and the weight of many people’s lives—so she deals with that by pretending to take nothing seriously.

As for the hardest, Mer was occasionally stubborn at times! I love her character and her journey, but she also had a lot of history and backstory—so while her character came very easily to me, sometimes it was a struggle to balance her past with her present. It was a fun little writing challenge.

Miss Print: Being a spy novel and a heist novel, it’s not a spoiler to say that The Drowned Woods has quite a few twists and turns along the way as secrets are revealed and loyalties shift. How did you manage these plot elements–and how best to reveal them–while drafting?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: Well, I’m very much an outliner so I knew ahead of time which major plot twists were going to happen. However, as much as I detail the plot, I do tend to let the characters find themselves throughout the process of drafting. In particular, one character’s motivation for joining the heist (if you’ve read the book, you probably know who I’m talking about) was very heartbreaking and I didn’t figure out the details until I was actually in the scene. I like to let the characters develop organically as I work on the book, let their relationships grow, and see where it takes me.

Miss Print: We’re living in a strange time with the pandemic as we all continue to wear masks, practice social distancing, and work together to stop the spread of Covid-19. How would your characters be handling the pandemic?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: This is a great question. (It also feels particularly relevant, as I just put in my next bulk order of KN95s.) I feel like Fane would be that guy who is delivering groceries to all of his elderly and immune-compromised neighbors while Mer deals with the isolation by adopting many, many dogs. Ifanna would steal a shipment of toilet paper and create her own little black market. Emrick is a natural hermit, so he’d be off with his books and paying for all of his stuff to be delivered to him. Gryf would probably be the guy who went about his business as usual. And Renfrew would be hoping all of his enemies get sick.

Miss Print: Your books often feature amazing animal companions. Fans of The Bone Houses will always have a soft spot for the goat Ryn and Ellis meet on their journey. In The Drowned Woods readers are introduced to Trefor–a Corgi who travels with Fane and may or may not be a spy in his own right. What inspired you to include Trefor in this story? Did you draw on any real-life animals to make him authentic?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: I grew up very rural. We’re talking ‘our neighbors are a mile away and you can hear coyotes at night’ rural. So I spent a lot of time with farm animals. From chickens to sheep, to dogs, and rabbits—I’ve experienced them all. Each of them had very different personalities, wants, and needs. I think that influenced my desire to have animals in my books. They’re always fun!

With both of these books set in Welsh-inspired worlds, I wanted animal companions that would fit culturally. I admit, I did consider using a sheep in The Bone Houses, but… well, I’ll just say it. Sheep are not the smartest animals. And I didn’t think a zombie sheep would be intelligent enough to survive the story. Instead, I made her a goat. Goats are surprisingly intelligent, stubborn, and very loyal.

As for The Drowned Woods, I knew I needed an animal that was closer to the fairy folk and magic of Welsh legends. And in many of those stories, corgis are steeds and messengers for the folk. It just made sense that if Fane worked for them, he would have a corgi companion.

Miss Print: What does a typical writing day look like for you? Has this changed in light of the pandemic?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: One of the things I love most about being an author is that no day is truly typical. Some days I’m having phone calls with amazing people, other days I’ll be digging in my manuscript for hours only to change a single word. But usually my work days begin with coffee and playing with my two cats, then writing in the morning. I tend to do my best drafting in the mornings and evenings. Afternoons I reserve for administrative work like social media, running errands, and emails. My routine hasn’t changed much during the pandemic, except on my errands I always wear a mask.

Miss Print: Can you tell me anything about what you’re currently working on?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: I just finished up the last touches on my second middle grade book, Unspoken Magic! It’s a sequel to Unseen Magic, which came out in February. Both books also feature magical forests, although this one is a redwood forest in Northern California and it’s about a small town with strange happenings. (Vanishing teashops! Creepy deer shadows! Doors that don’t go where you want!) I love working in the middle grade world because I allow myself to be a little more whimsical.

Miss Print: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

Emily Lloyd-Jones: Make friends with other authors. Be patient. Learn to love the process. Decide what parts of your life you want to keep private and what you want to share with readers. Celebrate the small victories. Save your receipts. Treat your work as a business because that’s what it is. And never devalue yourself.


Thank you to Emily for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find out more about Emily and her books on her website.

You can read my review of The Drowned Woods here on the blog.

The Drowned Woods: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-JonesEighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is the last living water diviner in Wales. Taken from her parents when she is was eight-years-old by Prince Garanhir, she is one of the most powerful tools in the royal arsenal. Until the prince goes too far.

Unwilling to become a weapon used against innocents ever again, Mer has been on the run for the last four years. Trained by the king’s own spymaster, Renfrew, Mer is well-equipped to hide but even she doesn’t have the resources to disappear–especially not from her own mentor.

After years of acting on the prince’s behalf, Renfrew’s loyalties have shifted. And, as every spy knows, a person with a knife and a cause can topple kingdoms. Which is exactly what Renfrew has in mind. If Mer uses her powers one last time to help destroy the magical well that protects Garanhir’s lands–and his power–the prince’s reign will be over and Mer will finally be free.

It won’t be an easy mission. But anything is achievable with the proper resources.

Fane, a fighter with prodigious strength to kill anyone who strikes him, has his own reasons for joining Renfrew’s cause. After his years as an iron fetch, Fane is left with few illusions about his own place in the world or the grief-stricken bargain he trapped himself in years ago. Accompanied by Trefor, a Corgi who may or may not be a spy for the fae, Fane is used to keeping his own counsel and wary when it becomes clear that both his loyalties and his pacifism will be tested on this journey.

With help from the rest of Renfrew’s crew including Ifanna, the Princess of Thieves and a figure from Mer’s past, they should have everything they need. More importantly, Mer should be positioned to get everything she wants as long as she remembers the most important rule a spy ever learns: always plan two escape routes–especially when magic is involved in The Drowned Woods (2022) by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Drowned Woods is set in the same world as Lloyd-Jones’ previous novel The Bone Houses. Although the stories tie together, both can be read on their own. Characters are assumed white; Mer is bisexual. The narrative shifts viewpoints–primarily focusing on Mer and Fane while flashbacks highlight key aspects of Mer and Fane’s character and reveal key details about other characters, especially the mysterious Ifanna.

With a daring heist, spies, and thieves, it’s no surprise that The Drowned Woods is filled with numerous twists and turns as the story shifts and shifts again in satisfyingly unexpected ways. As more of Mer’s backstory is revealed the complicated relationships between the crew add dimension to the plot and depth to the characters.

Lyrical prose emphasizes the fairy tale elements of Lloyd-Jones’ world building while deliberate plot management ensures quick pacing, lots of action, and plenty of humor from Trefor. Mer–a seasoned spy born with magic and trained to be ruthless–and Fane–a seasoned fighter who bargained for magic and learned his own limits the hard way–are interesting foils and allies throughout the story. Their obvious chemistry comes across in subtle interactions and well-drawn dialog as their loyalties are tested throughout the novel.

The Drowned Woods combines the best pieces of fantasy and adventure to create a gripping story filled with magic and an ensemble cast you won’t soon forget.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Want to know more? Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Emily!

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm for review consideration*

The Perfect Escape: A Review

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne ParkNate Jae-Woo Kim is a young entrepreneur with his eye on the prize. By which he means money. With college ahead, a much younger sister, and parents already stretched thin Nate’s main goal is to make lots of money so his family can stop struggling.

Which is why it’s so tempting when one of his entitled classmares offers Nate an obscene amount of money to help him cheat and manipulate the grading curve. The money on offer would be life changing. But so would the legal ramifications if Nate participates in this level of fraud.

Sometimes Kate Anderson feels like all she has is money. After her mother’s death Kate certainly doesn’t have her father’s attention. Or his support.

Which is why Kate’s new job at a zombie-themed escape room has to remain secret. Playing a zombie is exactly what Kate needs to stretch her makeup skills and keep a hand in when it comes to acting until she earns enough money to move out and try her luck in New York’s theater scene.

Surprisingly, a zombie-themed survivalist competition could help both Nate and Kate get exactly what they need. Together. Teaming up to win the zombie run would mean a big cash prize–even if it’s split. What neither of them counted on is the fact that secrets–and growing feelings–could be just as dangerous as zombies in The Perfect Escape (2020) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Perfect Escape alternates first person narration between Nate–who is Korean American–and Kate–who is white. The audiobook narrators–Raymond J. Lee and Kate Rudd–do an excellent job of bringing these characters to life.

Park’s background as a stand-up comedian is on full display in this laugh-out-loud funny story where all’s fair between love and zombies. Although Nate and Kate start with a lot of secrets between them their obvious chemistry comes across in banter filled dialog and their adventure filled trek through the zombie run.

Nate is a no-nonsense character very focused on his future (by which he still means money) and I knew he was my favorite as soon as he detailed his deep admiration of Scrooge McDuck (described by Nate: “Scrooge McDuck was rich, focused, and no-nonsense.”). Kate’s troubled home life and her own aspirations further flesh out this dynamic duo. Fast-paced action and a race that will test both wits and loyalty serve as the perfect backdrop for Nate and Kate’s blossoming relationship as both characters wonder if sticking together might be more important than sticking to their plans.

The Perfect Escape is a quirky, often hilarious story where getting what you want might mean incapacitating a few zombies along the way.

Possible Pairings: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, The Knockout by Sajni Patel, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, Geek Girl by Holly Smale, Love Decoded by Jennifer Yen, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon