That Inevitable Victorian Thing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Years from now Victoria-Margaret will be the next Queen and continue the work her ancestor Victoria I started two centuries earlier to strengthen the British Empire for all of its people and promote genetic diversity and inter-Empire politics with an advantageous marriage. First  the crown princess will have a summer of freedom for her debut season in Toronto. Although her brown skin, epicanthal fold, and freckles make her easily recognizable as the current Queen’s daughter, Margaret is able to disguise herself with the help of her natural hair and a non-royal alias.

Helena Marcus is looking forward to a quiet debut in New London and making her unspoken understanding with August Callaghan official. August wants nothing more but hopes to delay their official engagement until he can see himself clear of the American pirates plaguing his Canadian and Hong Kong Chinese family’s lumber and shipping business.

When her mother’s position as a placement geneticist brings Helena to the far more prestigious Toronto debut scene she and Margaret strike up an immediate and easy friendship with a hint of flirtation.

Spending the summer up north at the Marcus cottage near Lake Muskoka allows Margaret to see more of the Empire and to find her own place among the raucous Callaghan family. As Margaret, Helena, and August grow closer and learn more of each others’ secrets they realize they may be poised to help each other get everything they’ve long wanted in That Inevitable Victorian Thing (2017) by E. K. Johnston.

Johnston’s standalone novel blends light science fiction elements in a near-future setting with the tone and style of a Victorian novel. Chapter headers including maps, society gossip pages, and correspondence serve to expand the detailed world building and highlight how deliberately and thoughtfully inclusive the Empire is (despite realistically damaging colonialism in the Empire’s distant past).

That Inevitable Victorian Thing alternates close third person point of view between Margaret, Helena, and August as all of the characters face what it means to be an adult in charge of one’s own responsibilities and, regardless of consequences, also one’s own mistakes. The voice throughout is pitch perfect for an homage to Victorian novels and works exceedingly well with the near-future world these characters inhabit.

While Margaret faces the prospect of an arranged marriage in her future, and August struggles with how best to deal with American pirates demanding protection money, Helena faces her own surprise. At eighteen every member of the Empire is able to log into the -gnet to see their full genetic profile and seek out prospective matches. When she logs in for the first time Helena is shocked by her genetic profile and uncertain what it means for her future.

Fortunately, Helena has nothing but support from her friends and loved ones. Even as this story builds toward conflict and shocks, Johnston’s tight control of the narrative serves to suggest that regardless of the outcome, these three characters will not just make it through but thrive.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a self-aware novel set in a fascinating world that is filled with wit and humor. Helena’s chemistry with both Margaret and Henry crackles despite being couched in Victorian manners and conventions. A perfect introduction to speculative fiction, a sweet romance, and a delight for fans of alternate history That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a must-read for all. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, These Broken Stars by Aimee Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the August 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

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Pashmina: A Graphic Novel Review

Priyanka doesn’t feel like she fits in at her high school where she tells everyone to call her “Pri” to avoid any questions about pronouncing her name. She doesn’t feel confident about her artwork even when her teacher nominates one of her comics for an art contest.

At home Pri’s mother refuses to answer questions about her father. When she finds out that her uncle Jatin and his wife are expecting a new baby, Pri isn’t sure what that will mean for their relationship. Nervous that she is being displaced, Pri prays to Shakti.

Pri is guilt-ridden and terrified that her prayers have been answered in the worst way when baby Shilpa is born premature. She finds unexpected comfort in one of her mother’s old pashmina shawls. Wrapped up in the shawl Pri is transported to a colorful and vibrant vision of India that only furthers her interest in the country and her mother’s past.

When Pri’s mother surprises her with a trip to India she is thrilled to have the chance to visit and meet her mother’s sister. Arriving in India is thrilling and offers so many new experiences but as Pri explores more of the country and learns more about her family, she realizes that the visions from the shawl are far from the truth in Pashmina (2017) by Nidhi Chanani.

Pashmina is Chanani’s debut graphic novel.

Chanani’s artwork is whimsical and carefully detailed. The comic uses color to draw a neat contrast between Pri’s real life which is shown in pale neutrals and her fantastical visions of India that are vibrant in rich colors reminiscent of the cover art.

Although Pri is around sixteen (one plot point involves Uncle Jatin teaching her to drive), she reads much younger as a character–something that is also reflected in the story making this feel more like a middle grade story than one about a girl in high school. Some aspects of the plot remain vague (how Pri can travel to India on such short notice for instance) but these pieces do little to diminish the effect of the whole. The plot stops short of exploring some of the more complicated issues like the sometimes strained relationship of Pri’s aunt and uncle in India, although overall this comic is nuanced and thoughtful.

Pashmina is a clever story brimming with positivity. Chanani blends fantasy elements well with accurate and honest portrayals of Pri’s life as the child of an Indian immigrant as well as the hardships, cultural heritage, and beauty that can be found in India.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2017*

October 2017 Reading Tracker

You can also see what I read in September.

Books Read:

  1. An Enchantment of Ravens by Marg Rogerson
  2. Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman
  3. Forever in Love by Susane Colasanti
  4. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
  5. Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  6. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser
  7. You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
  8. Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore
  9. The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron
  10. Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  11. Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray

Books On Deck:

  1. Berserker by Emmy Laybourne (Oct.)

Books Bought: 0!

ARCs Received:

October 3: Really loved An Enchantment of Ravens. Be sure to request a copy from your local library ASAP!

October 16: Just had a run of a lot of books not being exactly what I expected them to be.

Week in Review: September 30

missprintweekreviewThis week on the blog you can check out:

 

This week was weird. This post is really late. Moving on.

Here’s my latest from Instagram:

Still life of books to read imminently with unicorn. 🦄 Last week I had a big organization victory getting all of my books I have at home that I want to read back onto one bookcase. The catch? The books are all doubt stacked so I can’t read any of the spines. To make things a little easier I pulled out the books I know I want to read starting in October (though looking at this picture I realize I forgot to add Berserker so I need to find that now). 🦄 Have you read anything here? Are any of these on your own to read stack? What should I read first? Shoutout to @thebookbandit for my awesome unicorn—currently accepting name suggestions. 🦄 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabooks #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookblogger #bookphotography #yalit #igreads #instareads #booklover #bookworm #booksofinstagram #booklover #bookgram #bookstack #unicorn

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Current obsessions: folded book sculptures and @unicornwarlord’s Orphan Queen series. 🔮 I’ve been making book sculptures for years and have renewed my interest for them after making demos for a teen craft program. (And maybe some for an online shop but that’s still very in progress.) 🔮 I picked up The Orphan Queen after my friend @edenn85 raved about some of Meadows’ other books. This series is so, so smart and well designed (even covers!). 🔮 The Orphan Queen is set in a world where industrialization was propelled by magic. Until one hundred years ago when the Wraith Alliance made magic of all kinds of magic illegal to try and eradicate wraith, a dangerous product of magic. Aecor refused to sign the Alliance—an action that led to the One-Night War and the execution of all of Aecor’s high nobility. Wilhelmina, Aecor’s princess, escaped their captors with other orphaned nobility. Since then they have hidden within the Emmy Indigo Kingdom plotting to take back the kingdom and return Wil to the throne. 🔮 But as the ten year anniversary of the One-Night War approaches it becomes clear that taking back a kingdom is no small feat. Especially when the wraith problem begins escalating at an alarming rate. 🔮 As Wil learns more about the wraith and the Indigo Kingdom she realizes that reclaiming Aecor won’t be nearly as simple as she once imagined. 🔮 Have you read this series yet? I’m almost done with The Mirror King and I am torn between devouring the rest of book and savoring it. What is the last book you read that you need to tell everyone about?

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If you you want to see how my month in reading is shaking out be sure to check out my September Reading Tracker.

How was your week? What are you reading?

Let’s talk in the comments.

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic: A Review

Leigh Bardugo follows up her popular Grisha trilogy and its companion Six of Crows duology with The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic, a collection of atmospheric short stories which serve as an excellent introduction to the Grishaverse for new readers while expanding the world for seasoned fans.

The six short stories (including three previously published by Tor.com) are inspired by the cultures found in the Grishaverse as well as traditional fairy tales, folk tales, and myths. In her author’s note Bardugo explains her thought process as she examined familiar fairy tales and pulled at the troubling threads found within.

Every story is accompanied by Sarah Kipin‘s border illustrations which grow around the pages as the tales unfolds culminating in a double page illustration at the end of each story. Two color printing enhances the collection and makes this a stunning addition to any bookshelf.

In “Ayama and the Thorn Wood,” a Zemeni tale with nods to Cinderella, The Thousand Nights and Beauty and the Beast, Ayama ventures into the Thorn Wood where she must speak truth while placating a fearsome beast with fanciful stories.

The Ravkan story “The Too-Clever Fox,” follows Koja–an ugly fox–as he learns that sometimes help from a friend outweighs mere cunning when he tries to stop a ruthless hunter.

Bardugo’s answer to Hansel and Gretel, “The Witch of Duva” follows Nadya into the woods where she finds a wondrous witch who can help her discover the truth about her new step-mother–but only for a steep cost.

Beautiful Yeva questions her father’s decision to follow the common fairy tale tradition of setting nearly impossible tasks to choose her future husband in “Little Knife” as Semyon uses his abilities as a Tidemaker to get help from a river to complete them.

The Kerch tale of “The Soldier Prince” explores themes of identity and desire when a demon named Droessen creates a nutcracker soldier who comes to life–but is being alive the same as being real?

The collection finishes with the Fjerdan story “When Water Sang Fire” about a sildroher mermaid named Ulla who dreams of being able to use her singing magic as she chooses, until her attempt to create a fire that will burn underwater ends in betrayal and heartbreak, suggesting a possible origin story for the Little Mermaid’s notorious sea witch.

Themes of feminism and empowerment color each story with heroes and heroines given the chance to choose their own fates and stir the pot, for better or worse. Strong writing, compelling stories, and gorgeous illustrations make this collection a must have for fans of the author and readers eager for new fairy tale retellings to devour.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the October 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Always and Forever, Lara Jean: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and  P. S. I Still Love You. As such there are major spoilers for both preceding books in this review.*

“There’s so much to be excited about, if you let yourself be.”

It feels like everything is changing for Lara Jean the spring of her senior year in high school. She and Peter K. are still together but she is waiting for those much-anticipated college acceptance letters. Margot seems farther away than ever in Scotland especially as their father announces his plans to remarry. Kitty, the youngest Song girl, is ecstatic about the wedding and seems to be growing up all too quickly.

Lara Jean knows exactly how she wants the rest of her senior year and college to go. But even with all of her careful planning it seems like Lara Jean will still have to face some unexpected decisions and opportunities in Always and Forever, Lara Jean (2017) by Jenny Han.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the unexpected third book in Han’s Lara Jean trilogy which began with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and  P. S. I Still Love You. Han wrote this book in secret as a surprise for her readers who are fans of this series and these characters.

This final installment starts near Easter as Lara Jean is anxiously waiting to hear back from colleges and trying to plan what will come next for her own future as well as her future with Peter. Surprise college decisions and other changes prove that even the best laid plans can be changed and, more importantly, your future is your own to shape.

Lara Jean remains a sweet and thoughtful narrator here facing some universal dilemmas particularly when she realizes her dreams about college are not going to resemble her reality. Lara Jean has always had an excellent support system with her family, friends, and Peter but it’s especially nice to see Lara Jean making her own decisions here even if sometimes they are scary choices. Throughout this quiet novel Lara Jean demonstrates her signature blend of resilience and optimism.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the perfect conclusion for this series and these characters. A memorable and satisfying send off for fans of this much loved series.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Don’t forget to check out all of my buttons inspired by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before & P. S. I Still Love You

Hosting a Cookie Swap (with help from Paperless Post e-vites)

A table setting from Tiffany’s miniature holiday windows. Also: table setting goals.

When Paperless Post approached me to write a post about the services they have to offer, I knew it was the perfect time to share some tips for hosting my favorite type of party: a cookie swap. It’s still too warm here to really maximize my baking time but while I wait for the weather to cool, here’s my step-by-step guide to hosting a cookie swap of your own.

  • WHAT: A cookie swap is exactly what it sounds like. Guests come with a large stock of cookies and before the party ends everyone samples cookies and shares what they have brought. Everyone leaves with different kinds of cookies to try and share.
  • WHEN: Any time is a good time for cookies! While I host my cookie swap near the holidays but you can really host a cookie swap any time of year as long as it’s cool enough for baking.
  • WHO: Because there’s so much baking involved, I usually keep the cookie swap invitation list small. If I invite five people that means everyone is making five to six dozen cookies so that there are cookies to taste and for people to take home. I also give wiggle room saying people will leave with as many cookies as they bring. Because everyone has to make time to bake in addition to usual party planning I always try to send invitations out roughly a month in advance. I always send out e-invites because they make it so easy to send and to track RSVPs. Paperless Post has tons of invitation options whether you want to go with an e-invite or send physical invitations. I’ve got my eye on one from Kate Spade or one from Peppermint Patio for this year’s invites. But don’t tell anyone, it’s a surprise!
  • You can check out all of Paperless Post’s invitations here: https://www.paperlesspost.com/cards/section/invitations 

Now that you know what a cookie swap is and have some options for invitations, here’s what I always have on hand to put my party together:

  • Food: While everyone arrives expecting cookies, I serve some light food too. Since I usually have my party start in the early afternoon I like to go with brunch options like bagels or rolls with cream cheese, butter, or jam. Egg salad, tuna salad, and chicken salad are also good options. Just be sure to check if your guests have any allergies or dietary restrictions (if this is the case you should let everyone know ahead of time and be mindful of that with cookies as well).
  • Tableware: I host my party near Christmas so my holiday decorations always serve as part of the decor. I also spruce up the dining table with tablecloth and matching place mats. (I’ve never met a print I didn’t like so you’ll note that these are all red plaid designs.)
  • Utensils: I try to keep this party low key and simple so I go with plastic silverware and paper plates to serve everything. I also have plastic trays and serving utensils that I pull out every year to serve sandwiches and condiments during the party.
  • Storage: I always pre-package my cookies for friends. It makes it easier to keep track of how many I need to bake and it helps keep the cookies fresh if I decide to bake them a few days ahead of time. My favorite packaging method has been cellophane food bags. The standard size is perfect to hold 12-24 cookies and they can be found with cute designs or decorated with curling ribbon to tie them closed. Plastic bowls with lids are also great to store any cookies you receive.

I hope these tips inspire you to host your own cookie swap soon.

To get you started I will also give you one of the simplest and tastiest cookie recipes I’ve found: Easy Oreo Truffles (as seen on AllRecipes.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 (16 ounce) package OREO Chocolate Sandwich Cookies, divided
  • 1 (8 ounce) package PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
  • 2 (8 ounce) packages BAKER’S Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate, melted

Directions

Crush 9 of the cookies to fine crumbs in food processor; reserve for later use. (Cookies can also be finely crushed in a resealable plastic bag using a rolling pin.) Crush remaining 36 cookies to fine crumbs; place in medium bowl. Add cream cheese; mix until well blended. Roll cookie mixture into 42 balls, about 1-inch in diameter.

Dip balls in chocolate; place on wax paper-covered baking sheet. (Any leftover chocolate can be stored at room temperature for another use.) Sprinkle with reserved cookie crumbs.

Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. Store leftover truffles, covered, in refrigerator.

You can also buy a cookie press to make simple but stunning spritz cookies. (This link goes to the model I have–I use the butter cookie recipe on the box, add food coloring, and stamp out the cookies using different dies to up my cookie game.)

heart shaped spritz cookies

If you’re looking for more recipes, be sure to check out my Pinterest boards for more recipes.

*This post was created in cooperation with Paperless Post to review and publicize their services*