Wildlife: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The only person you should be is yourself. You can’t control perception. All you can control is how you treat someone else.”

Just before her term at her school’s outdoor education campus, Sibylla unexpectedly winds up on a billboard advertisement near her school. She also kisses her super popular and super cute longtime crush Ben Capaldi.

Lou is the unexpected new girl at school when the new term begins. She isn’t at the school to make friends or to fit in. Mostly she just wants to be left alone and get by without having to think about her old friends, her old school, or the fact that her boyfriend Fred is dead.

Sib thought going through a term of outdoor education at her school would be upheaval enough. But adding the billboard, the kiss, and her often rocky and now definitely changing relationship with her best friend Holly makes everything even more complicated. Lou thought a term in the wilderness would give her a chance to hide and grieve. Instead, she slowly finds herself drawn into the dramas of the girls around her like Sib and finds that she doesn’t want to stay quiet as she sees a betrayal unfolding in Wildlife (2014) by Fiona Wood.

Widlife is Wood’s second novel. It is a companion set in the same world as Six Impossible Things and Cloudwish although it does function as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles. (For the most impact I do recommend reading these in order though.)

Wildlife‘s narration alternates between Sib and Lou. Sib relates her story to readers in conversational prose while Lou’s story is written in journal form–a coping mechanism suggested by her therapist as she transitions to a new school and out of therapy.

While Sib spends a lot of the novel trying to make sense of her confusing relationship with Ben and Lou is mourning Fred, the crux of Wildlife is really the growing friendship between these two girls. Sib and Lou are unlikely friends and both are reluctant to take a chance on adding a new person to their lives. But in the wilderness where most of their coursework is about building strength and stepping outside of their comfort zones, both Sib and Lou realize it might be worth the risk to trust someone new.

Wildlife is a thoughtful story about friendship, first love, and all of the complicated moments in between. Recommended for readers of contemporary novels, fans of humorous narratives with a lot of heart, and anyone who loves the great outdoors.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, Kissing in America by Margo Rabb, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

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Snow Like Ashes: A Review

Snow Like Ashes by Sara RaaschSixteen years ago the kingdom of Spring invaded Winter. The Winterians were captured and enslaved during the invasion and the kingdom was left without a ruler or the locket that serves as a vessel for its magic.

Eight survivors escaped that day. They have spent the years since hiding, training, and following any clue that might bring them closer to reclaiming their lost kingdom. Meira has lived among the refugees for most of her life. Her memories of Winter come from the stories of her older companions, leaving the ruined kingdom feeling more like a concept than a home.

Meira is determined to prove her worth among her band and show that she can and will do whatever it takes to save Winter and to protect Winter’s heir, Mather–the boy Meira loves even though she knows he will need to forge a powerful alliance for Winter with his marriage to someone more influential and powerful.

When the refugees have a solid lead on part of the Winterian locket, Meira impetuously strikes out to steal it back. The mission doesn’t go as planned thrusting Meira and her friends on a dangerous path toward unknown magic, risky alliances, and a destiny Meira never could have imagined in Snow Like Ashes (2016) by Sara Raasch.

Snow Like Ashes is the first book in Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes trilogy. Meira’s story continues in Ice Like Fire and Frost Like Night.

Meira narrates this novel in first person present tense. The close focus on her perspective leave a lot of room in the narrative for unexpected twists and surprises as the story moves forward. Because of her distance from the events of Winter’s past it also leads to a lot of information being passed along in clunky accounts of memories and past lessons.

Winter is part of a world with eight kingdoms, four seasons and four rhythms which move through all four seasons. While the concept is interesting, it’s never fully explained as Meira spends more time focused on fighting with her chakram and proving herself to the leader of the refugees. Meira is headstrong and often reckless but her heart is in the right place and she’s definitely a strong female character.

It’s worth noting that this novel makes nods to diversity but doesn’t quite meet the mark. Characters from other kingdoms have different coloring but the cast here is overwhelming white including the light skinned Spring citizens and Winterians who are winter pale with white hair.

Snow Like Ashes is a breakneck story filled with intense action, carefully described fights, and lots of battles. Raasch dives right into the action at the beginning of the book and doesn’t let up throughout the novel. Recommended for readers looking for plot driven fantasy above intricate characterization.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

The Kiss of Deception: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. PearsonLia, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, is seventeen years old. She is Morrighan’s princess and a key part of her father’s plans to forge an alliance with the neighboring kingdom of Dalbrek. The only problem is that Lia has no intention of marrying to further her kingdom’s political standing–certainly not to a prince she has never met.

When Lia flees on her wedding day she sets a series of disastrous events in motion that leave chaos and danger in her wake.

Her hopes to start a new life as a commoner alongside her faithful maid, Pauline, are threatened when two handsome strangers arrive at her new home. One is the prince Lia refused to marry, the other is an assassin sent to kill her.

Surrounded by secrets and lies, Lia’s entire world could unravel when the truth is revealed in The Kiss of Deception (2014) by Mary E. Pearson.

The Kiss of Deception is the first book in Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles which continues with The Heart of Betrayal and The Beauty of Darkness.

The Kiss of Deception is a thoughtful blend of fantasy and suspense layered across a dystopian world. Tantalizing hints throughout the novel suggest that Morrighan shares a common past with the modern world, but no concrete answers are given leaving  readers to draw their own conclusions.

Lia is an interesting heroine and narrates most of the novel. She is often naive and reckless but she is also kind and selfless. What originally appears as thoughtless privilege soon morphs into a strong moral compass and royal demeanor. Lia’s growth throughout the novel is empowering and well handled but her character remains the most developed for most of the novel.

By all rights, The Kiss of Deception should be a fast-paced adventure beginning with Lia’s flight on her wedding day. Lia’s narrative is even interspersed with chapters from the Prince and the Assassin lending another level of mystery to the story. Unfortunately, these pieces take a bit too long to come together which makes the first half of the novel drag. Uneven pacing and predictable plot twists further weaken the story.

The Kiss of Deception introduces a rich world and a large cast of characters. Readers willing to forgive unanswered questions about world building and readers who don’t mind characters who withhold key information will get the most out of this novel. Recommended for readers looking for a new high fantasy with a lot of romance, strong female characters, and meandering action.

Possible Pairings: The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, The Reader by Traci Chee, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, And I Darken by Kiersten White, Blood Red Road by Moira Young

The Glass Magician: A Review

The Glass Magician by Charlie N. HolmbergThree months ago Ceony Twill returned Magician Emery Thane’s heart to his body and returned to her studies to become a Folder with renewed enthusiasm. After traveling through Emery’s heart, Ceony knows beyond certainty that she loves him. She even suspects he will one day feel the same after a fortuity box promised as much when she read the paper magician’s fortune.

Such relations are strongly discouraged between teacher and apprentice. Despite their growing bond, Ceony has begun to doubt the accuracy of the fortuity box she saw those months ago.

When a magician from Emery’s past surfaces, all of Ceony’s tentative hopes are threatened. The magician thinks Ceony has knowledge that will help further his quest for revenge. And he’s willing to go any lengths necessary to get that knowledge.

Desperate to protect those she cares most about, Ceony will have to take an offensive stance if she hopes to stay alive while keeping her dangerous discovery from ending up in the wrong hands in The Glass Magician (2014) by Charlie N. Holmberg.

The Glass Magician is the second book in Holmberg’s Paper Magician trilogy which began with The Paper Magician.

Holmberg once again brings readers into her unique version of London where all types of magic center on the manipulation of specific materials. Set three months after book one, this story offers an adequate recap of previous events while moving the story forward.

Although The Glass Magician remains interesting and enjoyable, it’s much harder to ignore the lack of world building (why, exactly, does magic work the way it does?) and other flaws. Ceony’s rash behavior is especially glaring throughout.

The story here, largely a remix of the events of the first book, will still have appeal for readers looking for subtle fantasy and a quiet romance. The Glass Magician remains an optimistic and quick diversion. Readers who make it through this installment will likely be eager to read the series to its conclusion in The Master Magician.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Other Teddy Roosevelts by Mike Resnick, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Unmade: A Review

*Unmade is the third book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken and continues in Untold. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

Unmade by Sarah Rees BrennanThe boy Kami loves is gone. She is tied to a different boy. Her town is under siege. And her enemies are only getting stronger.

Kami tries to push her grief for Jared aside because she refuses to imagine a world where Jared might not be okay. But even with a new link between herself and Ash, Kami isn’t sure she will be strong enough to fight Rob Lynburn and save Sorry-in-the-Vale.

Rob is demanding a sacrifice. And Kami isn’t sure her town is strong enough to resist. Kami will have to risk everything in order to save her town and the people she loves in Unmade (2014) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Unmade is the third book in Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy trilogy which begins with Unspoken and continues in Untold. Rees Brennan pulls no punches in this action-packed final book.

The novel picks up a few months after the conclusion of Untold with Kami and her friends still reeling from Jared’s disappearance and Rob’s crushing victory in taking control of Sorry-in-the-Vale.

With time running out and the stakes climbing ever higher, Kami and her friends face impossible choices (and sacrifice in their efforts to save their town). These moments are tempered with Rees Brennan’s signature wit and the banter readers of this series have come to expect. Unmade also happily features Kami’s father, the delightfully irreverent Jon Glass, and Lillian Lynburn in more prominent roles.

Although Unmade is very action-driven, the story also spends time with all of the characters readers have come to love in this series. Readers coming to this series for the romance will not be disappointed as Kami gets to deal with kissing and break ups while fighting evil and performing magic. Watching Lillian’s changing feelings about Ash and Jared is especially touching while Kami’s own changing family dynamic is suitably realistic.

Unmade is a clever ending to a truly unique trilogy. Rees Brennan takes time to give each character the sendoff that they deserve. This series is highly recommended for readers looking for a modern take on the Gothic novel, witty banter, and loads of excitement.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Devil and Winnie Flynn by Micol Ostow and David Ostow, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The Dolls by Kiki Sullivan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Veronica Mars

Lady Thief: A Review

*Lady Thief is the second book in Gaughen’s Scarlet trilogy and picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book Scarlet. As such, this review has major spoilers for the first book.*

Lady Thief by A. C. GaughenScarlet thought she escaped her past when she joined Robin Hood and his band to protect the people of Nottingham. That was before the thief taker Gisbourne arrived to capture Robin and his band. Before Scarlet was forced to marry Gisbourne in a gambit to save everyone she cares about.

Now, Scarlet is irrevocably tied to Gisbourne even as she sits in hiding with Robin, John and Much. Rob’s time in the Nottingham dungeon has left him scarred and broken. The entire band seems on the verge of collapse when Gisbourne returns with a shocking offer for Scarlet that has the potential to change everything.

When Prince John and the royal court arrive in Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, Scarlet is drawn into a game of politics and secrets where losing could be deadly in Lady Thief (2014) by A. C. Gaughen.

Lady Thief is the second book in Gaughen’s Scarlet trilogy and picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book Scarlet.

While Scarlet is an excellent introduction to Nottingham and Gaughen’s version of Robin Hood, Lady Thief moves the series in new directions as the story prepares for the conclusion of the trilogy. Lady Thief brings Scarlet back to the courtly life she abhors and offers quite a few surprises and promises of more to come before the trilogy concludes with Lion Heart.

Lady Thief also introduces an especially frightening villain in Prince John. I won’t get into details here because it’s a spoiler, but some of what Prince John inflicts on Scarlet is so horrifying that I almost didn’t finish this book. (A year ago, I would NOT have finished this book, if we’re being honest.)

It’s fascinating to see more of court life and, horrible person that I am, I am quite fond of Gisbourne so I enjoyed seeing a slightly different side to him here. Lady Thief still has a lot of action as Rob and the band scramble to keep Prince John from appointing another horrible sheriff. Now that Rob and Scarlet have made their feelings about each other clear, readers also get a bit more romance along with the expected action and suspense.

This book focuses more firmly on Scarlet and her character. Instead of just doing what she has to in order to survive, Scarlet is now forced to consider not just what she is willing to sacrifice but also what she is willing to become in order to protect Nottingham and those she loves.

Lady Thief is a thrilling, fast-paced novel with a gut-wrenching ending that will leave readers anxious to get book three in their hands. Recommended for fans of Robin Hood and historical fiction with a twist. Not recommended for squeamish readers who prefer to avoid violence and gore.

Initially, I was going to end my review here. That was when I still had plans to read Lion Heart. Since then, I’ve taken a hard look at things and decided it was best for me to part ways with this series. My reasons are personal and spoilery but here they are: Basically Lady Thief came really close to giving me a breakdown. I did not handle it well when Scarlet’s fingers are cut off. It is never a favorite thing for me to read but it felt particularly visceral here to the point that for hours after reading about it, I had to talk through everything with Kayla. It brought back every bad memory I have of relatives who were sick and relatives who died and, honestly, I felt physically ill while I forced myself to finish the book. Will other people feel that way or have such a violent reaction? Probably not. But the more I thought about Lady Thief the more I felt like the book had betrayed me and the more I realized I could not continue with the series.

Possible Pairings: A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Even in Paradise: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“They were all royalty. They were all gods. They were all broken.”

Even in Paradise by Chelsey PhilpotCharlotte Ryder is pretty certain about the course of her life. She has her group of friends at St. Anne’s. She has her roommate at the boarding school. Charlotte has her memory box, her studio time, and her plans to become an artist.

Charlotte never expects that she will meet the infamous Julia Buchanan when she abruptly transfers to the school at the start of their junior year. Charlotte never expects that she will become Julia’s friend.

It’s hard to ignore Julia Buchanan’s pull. Charlotte is easily absorbed into Julia’s magical world of luxury and decadence; she even finds herself drawn into the great Buchanan family with all of their spectacle and charisma.

As she becomes closer to Julia and the rest of the Buchanans, Charlotte realizes that Julia’s effervescent personality and easy smiles are part of a facade. Julia’s life–like those of her family–has been shaped by a tragedy that still haunts her. In trying to uncover Julia’s secrets, Charlotte hopes to help her friend. Instead, the truth might tear them apart in Even in Paradise (2014) by Chelsey Philpot.

Even in Paradise is Philpot’s first novel. It is a loose retelling of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh with strong undertones reminiscent of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as well. Although Philpot credits both of these classics among her inspirations, Even in Paradise is also very much its own story.

Charlotte is a heroine who starts the novel on the periphery of her own life. So much of who Charlotte is, not to mention what she does, is defined by her friendship with Julia or who she is in Julia’s presence. It’s impossible to ignore the pull of Julia’s dizzying world. But it is only in gaining distance from that world that Charlotte really begins to come into her own with character development that is both fascinating and empowering.

Although this story has some adorably romantic moments (and even the hint at something more) Even in Paradise remains very firmly a story about friendship with a plot ranging from the initial moments that can tie people together right through to the moments with potential to tear them apart.

Despite any perceived pain or loss, Charlotte has no regrets when it comes to her friendship with Julia  and the other events during Even in Paradise. It’s refreshing, and even a bit shocking, to see that kind of conviction in a narrator. It is powerful to see Charlotte’s introspection and acknowledgement at the end of the novel of the many people and moments that have shaped her present self.

Even in Paradise is a subtle, contemplative novel about growing up and growing apart. A story about finding yourself in the midst of feeling lost. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Great by Sara Benincasa, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard, Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills, Damaged by Amy Reed, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Hello, Goodbye and Everything in Between by Jennifer E. Smith, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BEA 2014 for review consideration*

You can also check out my interview with Chelsey!