Carry On: A Review

cover art for Carry On by Rainbow RowellSimon Snow is not the chosen one anyone expected. He might not even be the chosen one we deserve. But he’s the only one we have.

Simon is supposed to be the most powerful wizard alive. But most of the time his wand doesn’t work properly, he can’t remember spells when he needs them, or he starts massive fires. All told, Simon would much rather spend his time eating sour cherry scones than trying to fight the Mysterious Humdrum–the magic eating monster that’s been tormenting Simon, and the rest of the magical world, since Simon arrived at Watford School of Magicks when he was eleven.

On top of that Simon’s girlfriend just dumped him and his roommate is missing. Baz being out of the picture might actually be a plus. Except Baz is from one of the most notoriously evil magic families out there. Also he’s a vampire so he could be causing all sorts of trouble while he’s away.

Simon doesn’t know what to expect from his last year at Watford but he certainly didn’t realized he’d be spending so much of it worried about Baz–or at least worried about Baz hurting people–in Carry On (2015) by Rainbow Rowell.

Carry On is partially inspired by Rowell’s earlier novel Fangirl–a book which included slash fiction written by one character about a Harry Potter-esque series. Rowell takes those elements and reworks them in this story. I will say up front that this book was a lot more fun and a lot smarter than I expected it to be given the story’s origins.

Carry On is witty, sexy, and just familiar enough to catch the in-jokes. It also offers a fascinating commentary on what it means to have a chosen path only to realize it might not be the path you want—aside from being completely wrong–as Simon struggles to figure out what his future will look like outside of Watford.

The novel alternates narration between Simon and Baz (who is tragically absent for the novel’s first act) which works well to showcase the dynamic between these characters while also amping up the tension as they shift somewhat reluctantly–and much to their own dismay–from sworn enemies to boyfriend and boyfriend. While the romance is fun, the subversion of the usual nemesis tropes are also well done as both Simon and Baz are forced to admit that the person they thought they hated above all others might also be the only one who might understand them.

I will say I still have trepidation about whether this romance between two boys is a story that a straight woman should be telling. But at the same time, Baz is a vampire and Simon is a wizard so there are a lot of reasons this book is positioned differently than if it were a truly contemporary story.

Carry On is a fun, campy boarding school fantasy with two precious idiots doing the best they can. Recommended for readers who have read Harry Potter a zillion times and are looking for something different but still familiar.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, Fence by C. S. Pacat, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, Timekeeper by Tara Sim, Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Saint Anything: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Saint Anything by Sarah DessenSydney has always lived in her charismatic older brother Peyton’s shadow. But it’s hard to hide after Peyton’s DUI and its horrible aftermath pushes Sydney and her family into the public eye. Sydney’s parents seem intent on ignoring Peyton’s role in the car accident and the damage he caused. Meanwhile Sydney is haunted and infuriated by it.

Hoping for a fresh start Sydney switches schools and looks for a new normal in the midst of her family turmoil. She finds it in the unlikely form of Seaside Pizza and the Chathams—the boisterous family owners. Layla draws Sydney into her family’s world as if they’ve always been friends while her brother Mac makes Sydney feel safe for the first time in a long while. Finally Sydney feels like she’s the one being seen and with that certainty she might be able to see herself and what she wants too in Saint Anything (2015) by Sarah Dessen.

I’ve been following Sarah Dessen’s publications for a few years. She is a touchstone name in YA and I am constantly order replacement copies of her books for my library as the old ones wear out. But I have never felt like any of her books really clicked for me. As soon as I heard about Saint Anything it felt like this book would be it: the make it or break it Sarah Dessen book for me. I’d either love it unequivocally or it would confirm that not every author can work for every reader. But it turns out, much like Sydney’s story, my feelings about the book weren’t so clear cut.

Saint Anything is filled with a quirky cast of characters including Mac Chatham, the quiet and stoic boy Sydney meets at Seaside Pizza who quickly becomes a steady and constant source of support for her. Mac, like the rest of the Chathams, is a great character. But what give me pause and what continues to frustrate me about this book is Mac’s backstory. When Sydney meets him she is immediately taken aback by how attractive Mac is and baffled at his utter lack of awareness of his own good looks and their inherent power (two things Peyton routinely used to get his own way before he was arrested). During the story we learn that Mac used to be fat until he made drastic diet changes and started seriously hiking. It’s a very personal response but everything about Mac’s storyline and his weight irritated me. I didn’t like how it was portrayed and didn’t like that it was part of the story at all in the way that it connotes finding a way to be true to yourself with also being thin. Mac’s backstory became a sour note in this otherwise sweet story.

As sometimes happens in longer novels Saint Anything also starts to lose momentum as it builds to the final act. Of course there is an unexpected romance but that added with a friend’s ill advised relationship and the rest of the plot made the final third of the novel feel bloated and, because there was so much to do, the ending itself seemed rushed.

Sydney’s relationship with her family at the beginning of Saint Anything is heartbreaking and it’s so clear that the Chathams are the jolt that Sydney needs to start making changes–not just in asking for more of her parents’ attention but in realizing that she deserves more. I love that aspect of the story. Sydney’s growth as she works through her own grief and regret for Peyton’s drunk driving accident are incredibly powerful. Watching Sydney try to ignore and ultimately confront the unwanted attentions of Peyton’s older friend is tense and utterly relatable.

If this book sounds at all appealing (or you’ve already read it) I also urge you to check out the essay Dessen wrote near Saint Anything‘s release for Seventeen: “I Thought Dating An Older Guy Was Cool — Until I Sensed That Something Was Very Wrong

Possible Pairings: The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett,, Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake, Between Us and the Moon by Rebecca Maizel, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, Notes from the Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonneblick

The Orphan Queen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ten years ago the Indigo Kingdom invaded Aecor, assassinated the king and queen, and claimed Aecor as its own territory during the One-Night War. Princess Wilhemina and the other orphaned noble children were taken to the capital city of Skyvale but managed to escape a life of captivity within the walls of an orphanage.

Now seventeen Wil and the other orphans, the Ospreys, are experts at stealth and theft after years of training and preparation. They are all ready to do everything they can to help Wil reclaim her throne. Even if it means Will has to assume the identity of a dead girl to infiltrate the palace.

That isn’t Wil’s only secret or her only obstacle. Magic has been outlawed for a century in a failing effort to push back the Wraith–a toxic by-product of magic that threatens to overtake the Indigo Kingdom sooner than anyone could have imagined. Wil’s own magic might be able to help her reclaim her throne and stop the Wraith. But only if she is able to keep her secrets–something that becomes increasingly unlikely when she attracts the attention of the notorious vigilante Black Knife. Nothing is as it seems in Skyvale and time is running out. Wil is poised to become a queen, but first she’ll have to prove she has what it takes to lead in The Orphan Queen (2015) by Jodi Meadows.

The Orphan Queen is the first book in a duology. Wil’s story concludes in The Mirror King.

The Orphan Queen is a plot-driven fantasy novel filled with action and intrigue. Narrated by Wil the novel follows her efforts to infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom and do whatever it takes to reclaim her throne. Slinking through the kingdom at night searching out materials for her forgery efforts Wil also has to avoid Black Knife–a vigilante known throughout the Indigo Kingdom for his work hunting down illegal magic users and arresting them for the crown.

These efforts play out against the larger backdrop of a world that is slowly be ravaged by Wraith–a substance that twists and ruins everything it touches as it gains strength from magic use. The more I read about the Wraith in The Orphan Queen the more it struck me as the perfect analogy for climate change and our current struggles with global warming.

While a lot of information about the Wraith is withheld from readers (we are, after all, limited to what Wil knows and she’s been in hiding since she was seven) this bit of world building felt ingenious and added a fair level of complexity to a world that otherwise might have been very black and white. The ethics surrounding magic use both as a kingdom and as an individual are things Wil struggles with throughout the novel as she contemplates her role in dealing with the Wraith should she manage to reclaim her throne.

My main issue with The Orphan Queen is that all of the characters are too young. This is something that happens a lot in young adult novels because there’s an idea that you can’t be a “young” adult without being an actual teen. Because of that the Ospreys are somehow trained, mentored, and led by Wil’s closest ally Patrick who takes on these responsibilities at the tender age of eleven. In addition to pushing willing suspension of disbelief to its limit, this also raises questions about how much Wil can actually remember of her childhood home or the One-Night War itself. Unfortunately, these questions remain not just unanswered but largely unasked in a moment of wasted potential for an otherwise strong novel.

Wil’s first person narration is engaging and entertaining as she moves seamlessly between identities as a princess, a rebel, a forger, and a fighter. Wil is calculating and clever but she is also compassionate and desperate to reclaim her kingdom and stop the Wraith with as little bloodshed as possible–something that becomes increasingly difficult as Wil’s various identities begin to overlap and she becomes torn between new alliances and old loyalties.

The Orphan Queen is a strong start to a fast-paced and delightfully exciting duology. Recommended for readers looking for a fantasy novel with high stakes action, intrigue, and just a touch of romance. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

Infinite In Between: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Not necessarily the beginning and not really the end, either. It was the infinite in between, all those minuscule and major moments when they’d dipped in and out of each other’s lives. That had been their journey and somehow, even though they hadn’t realized it, they’d been on it together.”

The five of them meet at high school orientation.

Gregor plays cello and he loves his family. His world feels far too small to be starting high school where older kids like his sister seem so much more together. He is hopelessly in love with Whitney but he has no idea how to tell her especially when his grand gestures manage to go awry. Getting Whitney to notice him is Gregor’s biggest problem  until a sudden tragedy changes everything.

Everyone saw the viral video of Zoe’s actress mother screaming at her in a dressing room. She knows everyone sees her as a spoiled brat who is just like her mom. But that isn’t the whole story. It isn’t even close.

Jake knows he’s gay. He knows it the same we he knows he’s an artist and the same way he knows he can’t play football anymore after what happened on the bus. The harder part is dealing with his crush on his best friend, Ted.

Whitney is pretty and popular. She seems to have it all. Except things at home are starting to unravel and there’s a constant push and pull to balance expectations people have of who Whitney should be like–her white mother or her black father.

Even at orientation, Mia is an outsider. She doesn’t have many friends or much of a family with her parents more interested in work than her. Mia is an observer and an expert at blending in. But before high school ends she’ll have to figure out where she fits and how to speak up before it’s too late.

Five teens. Four years. One journey that changes everything in Infinite in Between (2015) by Carolyn Mackler.

Find it on Bookshop.

Infinite in Between is written in close third person perspective which shifts between Gregor, Zoe, Jake, Whitney, and Mia. The novel starts with their orientation the day before high school and follows all of them through four years to graduation day.

Despite the broad scope and large cast, Infinite in Between is fast-paced and populated with well-developed characters. While each character has their own journey–often without much overlap–all five of their stories intersect in interesting ways throughout the novel often in ways only apparent to the reader.

Infinite in Between is an inventive novel ideal for readers making their own way through the labyrinthine passages of high school as well as readers who appreciate overlapping narratives and stories reminiscent of Six Degrees of Separation. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Take Me With You by Tara Altebrando, In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen, The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

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

Kissing in America: A Review

Kissing in America by Margo RabbEva Roth’s father died two years ago. She tells everyone it was the result of a heart attack because the real answer–that he died in a plane crash–is too sensational and messy. No one asks more questions about a heart attack.

Eva’s father was always the one who understood her, the one she’d sit with and write. In his absence Eva feels more friction than anything else when it comes to her women’s studies professor mother–something her mother suspects is at the root of Eva’s love of romance novels.

When Eva meets Will Freeman it seems like she might have found someone who really understands. Someone who can possibly help her to move past her grief. Until he moves away.

Afraid of losing Will and everything he promises, Eva and her best friend Annie Kim make a plan to travel across the country to find Will again. Along the way Eva and Annie will see unexpected pieces of the country and learn some surprising things about love in Kissing in America (2015) by Margo Rabb.

Kissing in America is Rabb’s followup to her YA debut Cures for Heartbreak. This novel treads similar territory as Eva tries to find her way through grief and her teen years. Although it is often touted as a light romance and a summery read, this story is filled with melancholy and very much mired in Eva’s grief.

Rabb’s writing remains superlative and evocative. Eva’s love of poetry also plays out in the novel with references to and poems from Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Nikki Giovanni, Marie Howe, and other authors add another layer to this story. While this book is marketed as a romance, it is really Eva’s relationship with her best friend and with her mother that makes Kissing in America shine.

Eva’s mother in an interesting character who is a vocal feminist and a women’s studies professor. She terms Eva’s love of romance novels as a rebellion which never quite rings true as the romance genre is one where women are able to dominate the market and a genre that is often referenced for its feminist elements and even promoting female equality. That this never comes up in the story remains a frustrating omission.

Kissing in America is a thoughtful and witty road trip story about best friends, family, grieving and, of course, love. Recommended for readers looking for a smart read that will have them smiling through the tears.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Black and White by Paul Volponi, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

The Storyspinner: A Review

The Storyspinner by Becky WallaceThe Keepers have been searching for the long-missing princess for years. They have used their magic and more traditional skills but the princess, long rumored dead, has proven elusive leaving room for rival dukes to compete and connive as they struggle to claim her throne for themselves.

Johanna–a Performer left without a troupe after her father’s grisly demise–thinks such matters are far above her station in life. Until murdered girls begin turning up across the kingdom bearing a striking resemblance to Johanna.

Desperate to support her family and a victim of circumstance Johanna is soon forced to work with Lord Rafael DeSilva. Unfortunately for her, Rafi is boorish and insufferable. Not to mention he shares an equally low opinion of Johanna.

When her path aligns with the hunt for the princess, Johanna finds herself at the center of a dangerous web of secrets that could cost Johanna her life in The Storyspinner (2015) by Becky Wallace.

The Storyspinner is Wallace’s debut novel and part of a duology that concludes in The Skylighter.

This novel is written in close third person and alternates between seven points of view including Johanna and Rafi. This multitude of main characters allows Wallace to balance two narrative threads that eventually converge and maintain some surprise although transitions between chapters and characters are often abrupt. Making so many characters into “main” characters leaves little room to develop any of them. Instead of a multi-faceted ensemble cast, The Storyspinner feels like it is populated by one note characters including from the sage wielder of magic, the resentful sister trying to prove herself, and more.

Wallace situates her fantasy in a fictional world that borrows heavily from Portuguese culture with language, food, and more. While this adds flair to the story, it seems out of place with an explanation for where these elements come from.

The Storyspinner starts strong with an intriguing premise that fails to get very far before it is mired in an overly large cast of characters. Recommended for readers looking for a plot driven story that is light on the world building and heavy on the action.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

Six Impossible Things: A Review

1. Kiss Estelle.
2. Get a job.
3. Cheer my mother up.
4. Try not to be a complete nerd/loser.
5. Talk to my father when he calls.
6. Figure out how to be good.

Six Impossible Things by Fiona WoodFourteen-year-old Dan Cereill (pronounced “surreal”) is reeling from moving and changing schools when the family’s fortune, such as it was, is completely gone. On top of that Dan’s father has announced that he is gay leaving Dan to wonder if his father ever wanted to be a father.

Inheriting a house should be a godsend. And in some ways it is because Dan and his mother have nowhere else to go. But the house is old, drafty, and filled with strange museum-quality possessions that cannot be sold for some much-needed cash. His mother sets up a wedding cake business in the kitchen but that seems to repel more clients than it retains.

Dan has enough problems without an impossible crush on the girl next door. But he knows he’s a goner for Estelle from the moment he sees her–especially once he realizes how much they have in common (although he doesn’t want to talk about exactly how he knows that).

Dan narrows all of his problems to six impossible things–with a penchant for making lists and following through, Dan is optimistic about fixing at least some of them in Six Impossible Things (2015) by Fiona Wood.

Six Impossible Things is Wood’s first novel. It is a companion set in the same world as  Wildlife and Cloudwish although it does function as a standalone and can be read without knowledge of the other titles.

There is something very soothing about Fiona Wood’s writing. Her blend of humor and pathos as Dan struggles with the changes in his life make a winning combination. Dan’s narration is authentic and understandably sardonic as he adjusts and tries to make sense of his new home, new school, and new life.

Dan’s relationship with his mom is refreshingly two-sided as they both try to pull themselves together. Their challenges are realistic while also still feeling manageable in a narrative that is overwhelmingly hopeful.

Dan starts Six Impossible Things with no one. His support system is fractured and his everyday life is unrecognizable. Over the course of a rocky few months in a new house and a new school, readers watch Dan rebuild and regroup only to come out stronger than before. The slowly developing friendships with Estelle and other characters are wonderful additions to this charming story. No one captures whimsy and moments of everyday magic quite like Wood. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi; Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo; Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton; I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo; Tweet Cute by Emma Lord; When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon; I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson; Kissing in America by Margo Rabb; 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario; The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider; The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle; Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes; Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner; Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Giant Days, Volume 1: A Comic (Chick Lit Wednesday) Review

Giant Days, Volume 1 by John Allison, Lissa Tremain, and Whitney CogarDaisy Wooton has been homeschooled for her entire life. Her worldview as she starts college verges on painfully naive and dangerously sweet.

Ester De Groot is a statuesque consumptive who continues to conjure unprecedented levels of drama at university thanks to her personal drama bubble.

Susan Ptolemy is a no-nonsense young woman at college to learn and move on to better things. If she happens to save Daisy and Esther from themselves (several times) along the way, so be it.

Susan, Esther, and Daisy are unlikely friends but somehow work remarkably well together as roommates during their first term as college freshman. All three are hoping for a fresh start at university where Daisy is eager to finally find herself (whoever that may be), Esther is looking for love (in all of the wrong places–as usual), and Susan is hoping to leave her past behind (especially McGraw who, unfortunately, shows up on campus soon after the start of term.

With drama, friendship, romance, and pesky classes vying for their attention, Susan, Esther and Daisy are sure to have an exciting first semester in Giant Days, Volume 1 (2015) by John Allison, Lissa Treiman (illustrator), Whitney Cogar (colors).

Volume 1 is a bind-up of the first four issues of the popular comic Giant Days.

Susan’s pragmatic attitude and tough-talking feminism temper the near-absurdity in various points of the plot particularly in relation to Esther. Readers who have survived college will find a lot of familiar moments here from overwhelming classes to freshman plague. And even some familiar faces (two of my closest college friends could be Susan and Esther).

Readers looking forward to that experience will find a thoughtful, humorous, and highly entertaining preview of things to come.

Giant Days is funny, smart, and delightfully entertaining. Highly recommended.

Pretending to Be Erica: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle PainchaudErica Silverman was kidnapped when she was five years old and she hasn’t been seen since. Two other girls came to Las Vegas to pretend to be Erica and try to steal her life. They were both caught. But they didn’t have Violet’s father Sal backing them.

Sal knows that Erica is gone and he has something none of the previous con artists did: Erica’s DNA. He also has been training Violet to con the Silvermans since she was five years old. Violet shares Erica’s blood type and has undergone plastic surgery to make sure her face matches the age projections of Erica. She isn’t going to make the same mistake the other Ericas made. Violet isn’t there to stay; she doesn’t need to become Erica forever.

All Violet has to do is keep up the charade long enough to steal the coveted Silverman Painting. It should be easy. Except the longer she spends as Erica, the more Violet wants the stability and comforts of Erica’s life for herself. Violet knows why she is living with the Silvermans, she knows exactly how to sell the lie, she knows the endgame. The only thing Violet doesn’t know is what to do when she wants to believe the con herself in Pretending to Be Erica (2015) by Michelle Painchaud.

Pretending to Be Erica is Painchaud’s debut novel. Violet narrates her time impersonating Erica in the first person while flashbacks to her childhood as Violet are related in third person.

While the writing is sleek and sharp, this novel really shines with its protagonist. Violet has no idea what a real family or a true friend looks like before she arrives at the Silverman home. Affection and basic comforts are alien concepts to her and even the friends she begins to make when Erica returns to high school feel strange and dangerous. Against the backdrop of her con, Violet begins to understand that she’s allowed to want more than a precarious life built on lies and tricks.

Pretending to Be Erica has all the earmarks of a traditional thriller or heist mystery. Tension is high as the stakes increase and Violet’s carefully drawn lines between her real life as Violet and her fake life as Erica begin to blur. Suspense and the numerous moving parts of the con come together for a high action conclusion.

Pretending to Be Erica is the perfect choice for readers who like their heroines to be as intense and unexpected as their mysteries. A fast-paced yet introspective story about a con, a heist, and a girl doing the best she can to save herself when it start to feel like she could lose everything.

Possible Pairings: Like Never and Always by Ann Aguirre, The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, Emmy and Oliver by Robin Benway, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes, Thieving Weasels by Billy Taylor, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

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Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud was one of my favorite reads of 2016. Raised by a conman who is the only father she's ever known, Violet has been preparing to become Erica for almost as long as she can remember. Now the time has come. Plastic surgery has smoothed out the differences in their appearance, years of practice and preparation do the rest. Becoming a dead girl is surprising easy once Violet is returned to Erica's family. All Violet has to do now is keep the lie going long enough to steal the Silverman Painting that every Vegas criminal has dreamt of scoring themselves. Violet thought she was ready to become Erica. But it turns out pretending to be someone else is much harder when you want the lie to be the truth. Pretending to Be Erica is an engrossing thriller and a sleek heist story. But it's also a story that's all about a girl learning to be kind to herself and forgive herself. You can also see the beautiful card here that @thatsostelle made for me this year (including an appropriate pep talk to cut myself more flask!). I've framed the card and the book is on my shelves already, but I love seeing them together here. Definitely add this backlist title to your to read list if you're a mystery fan. #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #bookaddict

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To Hold the Bridge: A Review

To Hold the Bridge by Garth NixTo Hold the Bridge (2015) by Garth Nix is a collection of some of Nix’s previously published science fiction and fantasy short stories as well as a new Old Kingdom novella. Although To Hold the Bridge collects previously published stories, many of them were new to me and will likely be new to other readers as well. I was especially pleased that some of the stories included were ones not easily found in US editions.

Like most short story collections, this one had its strengths and its weaknesses. Instead of trying to review the entire collection in a few sentences, I decided to give smaller reviews of each story:

To Hold the Bridge: An Old Kingdom Story–Morghan has few prospects when he arrives at The Worshipful Company of the Greenwash Field and Market Bridge. His training as a new cadet is quickly tested when he has to hold the bridge against a necromancer’s Free Magic attack. I’m not sure if this story is circa Clariel, Sabriel, or Abhorsen but I hope we eventually see more of the Bridge and Morghan in a future book.

Vampire Weather–Amos lives in a secluded community that does not hold with modern technology or vaccinations. When Amos meets an alluring girl near the mailbox in the thick fog of vampire weather his life is irrevocably changed. An odd little story. A bit like the movie The Village.

Strange Fishing in the Western Highlands–A strange story about Malcolm MacAndrew’s first encounter with Hellboy (yes, that Hellboy). I love how Dark Horse does such weird things with their properties and it was kind of fun reading a prose story about a character usually seen in comics. I would like to see the anthology where this was originally published just for curiosity’s sake.

Old Friends–This story skewed on the older end (adult character, adult themes as it were) and was excellent. An alien is making a home on the coast of a small town when he realizes his enemies are coming for him. Fantastic narrative voice.

The Quiet Knight–Tony embrace his LARPing character’s heroism to find his voice in the real world. Few things amuse me as much as stories about Live Action Role Playing. This story was a bit short but entertaining.

The Highest Justice–Princess Jess summons Elibet, a unicorn to dispense high justice after her mother the Queen is murdered. Previously seen in Zombies vs. Unicorns. This is a short, dark story.

A Handful of Ashes–Mari and Francesca are students at a private boarding school for witches. Unlike most of the rich students, Mari and Francesca work in the kitchens to afford their tuition. When an old bylaw is established that threatens their position at the school–and the very safety of the school grounds–Mari and Francesca will have to take matters in their own hands to save the day. A delightful story about never accepting your lot and doing your part to make the world better. Possibly my favorite story in the collection. More of these two please!

The Big Question–Full circle story about a young man named Avel who leaves his village seeking wisdom and answers from a wise woman only to realize he doesn’t need to seek answers from someone else. This one was interesting but because the story covers such a large scope of time (most of Avel’s life), it is a bit hard to connect with the characters.

Stop!–Creepy and suspenseful story. When a mysterious figure shows up an atomic bomb test site in the desert he leaves a trail of destruction in his wake. There are hints here that the figure in question is an alien or even a dragon. It’s just really creepy. Trust.

Infestation–Wow. Judas as an alien and first ever vampire hunter. At least that’s my interpretation. I loved this story. It was incredibly cinematic and richly detailed. I would love to see this picked up for television.

The Heart of the City–A rather tedious story set in seventeenth century (or thereabouts) France where agents of the king work to corral and harness a dangerous angel’s power. It doesn’t go according to plan, of course.

Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West–Ambrose is recovering from a wartime (World War I) injury in the English countryside and hoping his days as an agent are far behind him. When supernatural creatures and old colleagues come knocking, Ambrose realizes leaving his past behind may not be an option anymore. It may never have been an option. This story is spooky and excellent. I hope Ambrose survives whatever comes next and I’d love to see more of him.

Holly and Iron–A story that borrows elements from the plot of Robin Hood and King Arthur blended with a world where natural magic and iron magic oppose each other. The world building here is very detailed but the characters felt under-developed in comparison.

The Curious Case of the Moon Dawn Daffodil Murder–A messy, madcap story about Sherlock Holmes’ brother. Not Mycroft. The other one.

An Unwelcome Guest–What happens when a girl runs away from home and decides to move in with the local witch? Nothing good for the witch, that’s for sure. This was a fine reinterpretation of Rapunzel and a well-done fractured fairy tale in the fine tradition of Vivian Vande Velde.

A Sidekick of Mars–Everyone knows about John Carter’s adventures on Mars but now Lam Jones is here to tell you how it really went. He should know having been with John a good eighteen percent of the time. This was a funny story but I didn’t get as much out of it as I would have if I actually knew anything about John Carter.

You Won’t Feel a Thing–Blaaaaaah. This story is set in the world of Shade’s Children but ten years before the events of that book. Shade’s Children is the only book by Garth Nix that I have read that was so horrendously upsetting I couldn’t finish it. This story was about the same.

Peace in Our Time--A very grim and unsatisfying steampunk story. I tend to think of steampunk as a sci-fi subgenre with a generally lighter tone which was not at all true for this story.

Master Haddad’s Holiday–When Haddad is sent on a mission to earn his Master Assassin status, he knows his chances of success are slim. Still, he endeavors to succeed where others would likely fail. This story is set in the same universe as A Confusion of Princes and it is as delightfully high-action as that book.

To Hold the Bridge is a solid anthology although it is not quite as consistent as Nix’s earlier collection Across the Wall.

My favorite stories were definitely “A Handful of Ashes,” “Infestation,” “Ambrose and the Ancient Spirits of East and West,” and “Master Haddad’s Holiday.” I could read about those characters all day.

Nix became a favorite author of mine because of his fantasy and the fantasy stories are the strongest ones here. Although not all of the stories were stellar, this collection demonstrates Nix’s range as an author. Recommended for fans of the author, readers who enjoy short stories, and fans of speculative fiction.