Every Heart a Doorway: A Review

“She was a story, not an epilogue.”

cover art for Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuireEleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is the last stop for the girls—because they are overwhelmingly girls—who managed to slip away unnoticed and pass through a magic door into another world.

They never find the same things in their worlds. Some are Nonsense while others thrive on the rules of Logic. Some are Wicked and others are high Virtue. But even with their differences the worlds all have something in common: for the children who find them they feel like home.

And for the Wayward Children the doors have closed to them—maybe forever. So now they have to learn to move on. If they can.

After her time in the Halls of the Dead, Nancy doesn’t think it’s so simple. Now that she’s surrounded by other exiles like herself the only certainty is that they are trapped together until their doors appear again. If they do.

When students at the school become victims of grisly murders Nancy seems the obvious suspect. She knows she isn’t the killer but she doesn’t know how convince anyone else of that—or to find the real culprit—anymore than she knows how to get back home in Every Heart a Doorway (2016) by Seanan McGuire.

Every Heart a Doorway is the start of McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas.

The Wayward Children are an inclusive group including the protagonist of this volume Nancy who is wary of the school partly because it is not her beloved Halls of the Dead and partly because she isn’t sure how the other students will react when she tells them she is asexual.

McGuire’s novella is well-realized and introduces readers to not just one fully-realized world but many, This story is an interesting exercise in form (as a completely contained novella) as well as genre. Within the portal fantasy framework McGuire leads her characters through a mystery, a horror story, and even a traditional coming-of-age story. And that’s just in this first installment.

Every Heart a Doorway is a wild ride and a thoughtful exploration of magic and its cost as well as a wry commentary on the mechanics of fairy tales. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Mirror King: A Review

*The Mirror King is the final book in a duology. This review has spoilers for the first book The Orphan Queen.*

cover art for The Mirror King by Jodi MeadowsEverything changed the moment she revealed herself as princess Wilhemina Korte and vowed to reclaim her kingdom of Aecor and the Vermillion Throne. Now Wil is torn between old allies and new friends as she struggles to become the leader her people deserve.

Wil’s closest ally Tobiah has been gravely wounded and struggles with his own reluctance to take his place on the Indigo Throne when he would much prefer to continue his vigilante work as Black Knife.

Both Wil and Tobiah will have to put aside their differences and their decisions as the Wraith continues to grow in power and come closer to their homes. Wil controlled the Wraith once with disastrous consequences. She isn’t sure she can trust herself, or her magic, to try again.

For the last ten years Wil has relied on her anonymity to keep her safe. Now, as alliances crumble and dangers loom she will have to learn to place her trust in others and step into the light if she wants to save her kingdom and everyone she cares about in The Mirror King (2015) by Jodi Meadows.

The Mirror King is the final book in a duology which began with The Orphan Queen. Meadows once again writes this story in Wil’s pragmatic first person narration.

This series–and particularly this book–highlights everything that can be done when a duology is handled well. The Mirror King continues to explore themes of identity and leadership in this novel while also expanding the world and the story as Wil and her friends race to stop the Wraith. Even the cover art nicely ties back to book one with clever design choices.

Wil’s external conflicts with the Wraith and to reclaim Aecor are juxtaposed against her reluctance to become a queen when she feels ill-prepared for the responsibilities or the costs. There are no easy choices for Wil or Tobiah and Wil’s development throughout the series illustrates that as she begins to understand and accept her obligations.

The Mirror King is an excellent conclusion to a fast-paced, truly engaging fantasy series. Highly recommended for fans of high fantasy novels filled with intrigue, adventure, and just a little romance.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

Flannery: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Flannery Malone knows the exact moment she fell in love with Tyrone O’Rourke. She also knows that their paths diverged, possibly forever, as they grew up. Now Flannery is sixteen and Tyrone is suddenly back–gorgeous and tall and never in school long enough to leave anything more than an impression. He is also, unbelievably, Flannery’s partner for their entrepreneurship class.

Making love potions for her entrepreneurship project should be easy–even with Tyrone being more of a figurative partner than an actual help. Unfortunately that’s only the beginning of Flannery’s problems. Her free spirit mother, Miranda, is struggling to reconcile her vision as an artist with the family’s very real bills. Her little brother is quickly moving from adorably contrary to complete menace.

Then there’s Amber, Flannery’s best friend. Amber used to care about two things above all others: swimming and her friendship with Flannery. That changes when Amber falls for a new guy who seems determined to make sure Amber cares about him–and nothing else–with dangerous consequences.

When word spreads that Flannery’s love potions might actually work her simple project gets a lot more complicated as the potions, Tyrone, and Amber make Flannery rethink what she thought she knew (and what she thought was true) about love in Flannery (2016) by Lisa Moore.

Moore’s standalone contemporary is a thoughtful commentary on love in its many forms. This deceptively slim novel is a meaty slice-of-life story centered on Flannery and her unconventional family. The love potion project–which spans a significant portion of Flannery’s school year–frames this story and gives a unique lens to the events Flannery observes at home and at her school.

This novel is written in first person with a stream of consciousness feel. Flannery’s narration is sharp of tongue and wit as she neatly parses friends, family and acquaintances in the present and through flashbacks. It’s easy to imagine Flannery telling readers this story over a cup of cocoa in the mall food court.

Flannery has some beautiful moments about love, heartbreak, and family. A clever vignette of a book about the enduring power of love and choosing to be happy.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Piper Perish by Kayla Cagan, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Romantics by Leah Konen, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockheart, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintera, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood

Summer in the Invisible City: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“In some ways, it doesn’t matter what happened next, or in the year and a half since then. That night was perfect and I’ll always have it. I’ll hold on to the memory tight as I want, because it’s mine.”

Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana RomanoSadie Bell knows exactly what she wants to happen during the summer before her senior year of high school. She is going to befriend the popular girls at her school after bonding during their summer photography class. She is going to see her father for the first time in years and it will be better this time because they’ll have art in common and she can finally impress him with her photos. She is definitely going to get over Noah after pining over him and stewing over all of the mistakes she made with him eighteen months ago.

Almost as soon as it starts, Sadie’s summer isn’t what she expects. Her photography class is great. But making new friends comes with new challenges. Her father remains as distant as ever. Noah seems to be popping up everywhere both in Sadie’s memories and in real life. Then there’s Sam–the boy Sadie never expected to meet–who only wants to be friends even as Sadie thinks she might want more.

Life seems simple when it’s seen through a photograph and the details are clear. Real life, it turns out, is much less focused. To understand all of the things she’s had along, Sadie may have to give her entire life a second look in Summer in the Invisible City (2016) by Juliana Romano.

This standalone contemporary novel is set over the course of one summer in New York City (mostly Manhattan). Readers familiar with the city will recognize familiar settings and smart nods to the city (high school friends from Xavier, movies in Union Square with candy smuggled in from Duane Reade) while realizing that Sadie lives in a privileged (largely white) version of New York.

Narrated by Sadie both in the present and in flashbacks of time spent with Noah or her father, Summer in the Invisible City asks a lot of questions about relationships and how much someone should have to give up to maintain them. Sadie is desperate for approval from the people she thinks matter whether it’s popular girls, older guys, or her father. Sadie is so eager to show that she belongs with them that she spends most of the novel alienating the friends and family who have always been supporting her including her single mother and her best friend, Willa. Readers will soon realize that Sadie is sometimes self-destructive but her growth and development during the novel is all the sweeter because of that.

This nuanced story is further complicated by the poorly executed plot surrounding Sadie’s efforts to connect with her father. By the end of the story Sadie’s fraught relationship with her father is explained and reaches an unsatisfying but realistic resolution. What doesn’t make sense at any point in the story, is how things get to that point. Sadie has a loving and supportive mother. She is already eight or nine when she first meets her father and has seen him scant times since. Where does the idolatry come from? Sadie’s mother, unlike a lot of fictional parents, doesn’t sugarcoat his shortcomings anymore than she encourages a false sense of closeness and connection. That all comes from Sadie for reasons that are never clearly articulated in the text. (On a separate note, given the father’s absence for most of Sadie’s life, it’s also unclear why or how he and Sadie share a last name.)

Summer in the Invisible City is partly a summery romance and partly a story about a young artist finding her eye and voice with what she chooses to capture and present in her artwork. Reading about Sadie’s process and vision as she searches out new photography material is inspiring and compelling enough to erase questions debating whether or not print photography is on the verge of obsolescence. Recommended for readers who are fans of novels set in New York City, artists or aspiring artists, and fans of contemporary romances with a healthy dose of introspection.

Possible Pairings: Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff, City Love by Susane Colasanti,  How to Love by Katie Cotugno, My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu, Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This Adventure Ends: A Review

Sloane doesn’t have a lot of expectations when her family moves from New York City to a small Florida town to help her writer father find inspiration. In fact, Sloane doesn’t have many expectations about anything. She’s used to being a loner and focusing her singing and her family. It’s always been fine.

A chance encounter at a party draws Sloane into the vibrant and unexpected world of social media sensation Vera, her twin brother Gabe, and their close-knit group of friends. Sloane never thought she’d fit in so well with anyone. Until she does.

When a treasured painting by the twins’ deceased mother disappears, Sloane wants nothing so much as to help them. On her hunt to track down the painting and get it back, Sloane learns more about her new friends and herself as she discovers that some adventures can end unexpectedly while others are just the beginning in This Adventure Ends (2016) by Emma Mills.

This standalone contemporary focuses on characters with a meandering plot that gives Sloane and her new friends plenty of room to shine–particularly when it comes to Frank Sanger who remains one of the most enigmatic (and sadly minor) characters. Sloane’s first-person narration is relaxed and witty, filled with slick descriptions of her new surroundings and clever barbs about her new social group.

This Adventure Ends branches out from Sloane’s initial quest for the missing painting to explore the nature of creativity, grief, and even ambition. Sloane’s father, a Nicholas Sparks type writer, adds another dimension to this story with his own explorations of fan fiction and authorial intent. Sloane’s mother and younger sister, by contrast, remain woefully one-dimensional and serve as little more than a tantalizing missed opportunity for more complex characterization.

Although this story doesn’t tie everything up neatly, it does suggest that most problems can be solved even if it isn’t always in the way we hope or expect–a comforting thought for teens facing college on the horizon. Quality writing and fascinating characters elevate this promising if familiar story and hint at what Mills will accomplish in future projects. This Adventure Ends is an introspective diversion recommended for readers seeking a smart, summery read.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, Even in Paradise by Chelsea Philpot, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

If I Fix You: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Jill Whitaker knows the exact moment she fell out of love with Sean Addison. It was the same moment she caught him in a compromising position with her mother. It was just before her mother walked out leaving behind nothing but a post-it note by way of explanation.

In the aftermath of that horrible day, Jill is trying to relearn the intricacies of her life. She still works with her father at his garage. (She isn’t about to give up fixing cars when she could turn a wrench before she could tie her shoes.) She runs cross country with her best friend Claire to train for the high school track team. Sean is there too, but Jill isn’t sure how to be around him yet. She isn’t sure if she’ll ever be able to fix everything that has broken between them.

When a new guy moves in next door, Jill finds herself trying to fix him too. But as Jill gets closer to Daniel she realizes that his problems (and his scars) may be bigger than she imagined. There’s also the small matter that despite their obvious chemistry Daniel is twenty-one. Jill used to be able to fix anything but before she can move on, she’s going to have to learn how to fix herself in If I Fix You (2016) by Abigail Johnson.

If I Fix You is Johnson’s excellent debut novel.

Jill is a thoughtful and entertaining heroine. Her first person narration is conversational and breezy filled with evocative descriptions of a hot Arizona summer. Jill’s love for cars and skills as a mechanic are unexpected and add another dimension to this story.

I enjoyed Claire as a best friend and counterpoint for Jill but I do want to say that it was frustrating to see Claire described as overweight before her Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis and her subsequent efforts to get healthy which included becoming more athletic which, it turns out, she really enjoys. The conflation of being overweight with Type 2 Diabetes is a really tired and damaging stereotype. It’s also not at all accurate (going with the little information given by the author Claire should even have her diabetes under control if not reversed with her fitness and food regimen) and was one dark spot in an otherwise excellent story.

Johnson negotiates a complicated love triangle well. Jill’s interactions with both Sean and Daniel are fascinating with chemistry that is tangible. While the romance is a huge part of the story, If I Fix You is really about Jill and her own choices as she tries to decide how to move forward after the painful heartbreak of her mother’s departure.

If I Fix You is a solid and often unexpected contemporary romance. Recommended for readers who enjoy stories about characters pulling themselves back from the brink, books with chipper best friends, and romances that keep you guessing.

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Places No One Knows: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I start, because if I don’t, then everything just stays the same.”

“I thought he made me a different person altogether, but maybe I was always holding those pieces inside me, waiting for a chance to use them.”

Waverly Camdenmar doesn’t sleep. She runs instead going as fast and as far as her legs will allow until she can’t think and the only option is collapse. Then the sun comes up, she pastes on her best face, and pretends everything is normal. It’s easy to hide behind her academic achievements and the popularity her best friend Maribeth so covets.

Marshall Holt is too apathetic to pretend anything is normal in his life or even remotely okay. Neither has been true about his family or his life for quite some time. He doesn’t care because he’s busy trying to lose himself in the oblivion of drinking too much, smoking too much, and making too many bad decisions. It’s been working great so far except for the whole maybe not graduating thing.

Waverly and Marshall are used to watching each other from afar–a little wary and a little hungry–but never anything more. Not until Waverly’s attempt at deep relaxation dreams her into Marshall’s bedroom and everything changes.

Now when the sun comes up Waverly’s carefully ordered world is stifling instead of safe. After years of trying not to feel anything, Marshall is feeling far too much. Waverly and Marshall thought they knew exactly who they were and who they could be. Now neither of them is sure what that means in Places No One Knows (2016) by Brenna Yovanoff.

Yovanoff’s latest standalone novel is a razor sharp blend of contemporary and magic realism alternating between Waverly and Marshall’s first person narration. This character driven novel focuses on the ways their two personalities clash and intersect throughout their strange encounters.

Waverly is analytical and pragmatic. She knows that she is the smartest person in the room and she doesn’t care if that makes her threatening. Her sometime friends describe Waverly as a sociopath or a robot and she feels like she should care about that but it also seems to require too much effort.

Marshall, by contrast, is hyper-sensitive and philosophical and impractical. He doesn’t want to care about the way his family is falling apart or the way everything else in his life is crumbling. But he does care. A lot. And it’s wrecking him.

At its core Places No One Knows is a story about how two people engage with each other and also the greater world. Yovanoff’s writing is flawless with deliberate structure and scathing commentary both as a whole and on a sentence-by-sentence level. This story subverts gender roles and societal norms all in the guise of a slightly unconventional love story.

Places No One Knows is an excellent novel filled with fascinating characters. Although Waverly and Marshall’s relationship is a centerpiece of the story both characters also have their own stories to tell and their own journeys to make, which sometimes mirror each other and sometimes diverge, as they struggle to make the active choice to save themselves.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, American Street by Ibi Zoboi