Empress of a Thousand Skies: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda BellezaRhiannon Ta’an is the last surviving heir to the Kalusian dynasty. On the eve of her coronation as a puppet monarch, Rhee is ready to get revenge against the man who killed her family and reclaim everything he has tried to steal from her.

But then everything goes wrong.

Aloysha is a Wraetan refugee. He is also one of the stars of a popular reality DroneVision show about his ship’s exploits as soldiers of the fleet. But that deosn’t make people any less suspicious of Aly thanks to anti-Wraetan prejudices. Still, if he can stay on the straight and narrow and keep the show popular, it might be enough.

Except everything goes wrong.

Rhee and Aly are pushed onto the same unavoidable path when Aly is framed for an attack that supposedly leaves Rhee dead. Now Rhee is on the run, with even less hope of reclaiming her throne than she had before while Aly is forced to flee while he tries to clear his name in Empress of a Thousand Skies (2017) by Rhoda Belleza.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is Belleza’s debut novel and the first book in a duology which concludes in Blood of a Thousand Stars. The story alternates between Rhee and Aly’s perspectives.

Belleza’s story is populated with unique characters in a carefully detailed world. Epigraphs accompany each section of the story to help further expand the world and situate Rhee’s bid for the throne within this larger context. Aly’s position as a glorified reality TV star is also a fun twist on the idea of space pirates.

Unfortunately the structure of the novel detracts from what should be a plot filled with action and urgency by splitting the story in half between Rhee and Aly who, although their paths are connected, do not actually meet for most of the novel.

Empress of a Thousand Skies is an exciting read filled with action and intrigue. Recommended for readers in search of another space opera to devour.

Possible Pairings: Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Warcross by Marie Lu, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston

Windwitch: A Review

cover art for Windwitch by Susan DennardTwo weeks ago Safi bartered away her freedom and use of her Truthwitchery to try and bring food to a starving Nubrevna but her sacrifice may be for nothing when the Marstoki Empress Vaness’ ship is attacked. Stranded in a land filled with pirates and enemies, Safi and Vaness will have to forge an uneasy alliance if they want to survive.

When his ship is destroyed, everyone believes that the Nubrevnan Prince Merik Nihar is dead. In a way, they are right because the young man who comes out of the wreckage is someone else entirely. Covered in burns that will take time to heal and fueled by insatiable rage, Merik refashions himself into the vigilante he imagines his city needs modeled on Nubreva’s disfigured demigod who fights for the poor and ailing.

Desperate to reunite Safi, Iseult makes the mercenary Bloodwittch an offer he can’t refuse. She will return his stolen money in exchange for his help finding Safi. As their search brings them across the Witchlands will grudging respect and a tenuous deal be enough to stave off betrayal?

With competing loyalties and lies at every turn, it soon becomes clear to all that revenge is rarely the same as justice. But even that may not be enough to justify sacrifices for the greater good in Windwitch (2017) by Susan Dennard.

Windwitch is the second book in Dennard’s Witchlands series which begins with Truthwitch. Be sure to start at the beginning to make sense of the sprawling series and inter-connected character arcs.

Windwitch capitalizes on the urgency and drama found in the start of this series as each character is forced to make difficult choices while trying to protect everything they hold dear. Isolated and injured, Merik realizes that framing his life in terms of that which he has lost of been denied serves no one, least of all himself, in a powerful redemption arc as he tries to make up for past mistakes.

Dennard delves deeper into Safi and Iseult’s friendship as Iseult especially gets more page time. Safi’s physicality in this volume contrasts sharply against Iseult’s introspection and highlights how they balance each other while underscoring their potential to be the fated Cahr Awen. Because of his close proximity to Iseult, readers also see more of Aeduan who remains a bit of a cipher despite tantalizing new hints about his backstory which are almost as intriguing as the gradual shift in his opinion of Iseult.

Windwitch is filled with complex family relationships, brittle alliances, and ever-expanding world building–all of which position this series as one to watch. Recommended for readers looking for intricate plotting, fierce friendships, and characters willing to lean in to their moral ambiguity.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Reader by Traci Chee, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Witchlanders by Lena Coakley, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Dramatically Ever After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Dramatically Ever After by Isabel BandeiraEm Katsaros’s senior year is not quite what she imagined. Her boyfriend is dreamy and sweet. But he’s also five thousand miles away–and still not the best at English since he spent most of his semester in the US making out with Em instead of studying, which makes emailing and texting a challenge.

Then there’s the fact that Em’s dad just got laid off. With money tight and the future uncertain, Em has to hustle for scholarships if she wants to be able to afford to attend her first choice university and its amazing acting program.

Luckily, Em has the perfect plan. All she has to do is channel her scene-stealing acting skills for a speech competition. Making it to the national round of the US Youth Change Council competition means a week in Boston and the chance to win a national scholarship.There’s only one thing standing in her way: Kris Lambert–senior class president, total jerk, Em’s long-time nemesis, and unbelievably her fellow state representative for New Jersey.

Kris seems different once they get to Boston, but Em isn’t easily fooled. With so much on the line, Em is willing to do whatever it takes to secure her win–even if it means she’ll have to pretend to flirt with Kris to throw him off is his game. But as the final competition gets closer, Em starts to realize her strategy to foil Kris might have spectacularly backfired when Kris starts to give as good as he gets in Dramatically Ever After (2017) by Isabel Bandeira.

Dramatically Ever After is the second book in Bandeira’s Ever After trilogy which begins with Em’s best friend Phoebe in Bookishly Ever After. Each book in the series functions as a standalone so they can be read independently.

As the title suggests, Em is a dramatic narrator who is always ready to add a little drama to her life whether it means pretending to flirt with Kris during their trip to Boston or over romanticizing her long-distance relationship that may have run its course. Em isn’t always the nicest or easiest heroine. She embraces those parts of her personality and has no patience for anyone who is unwilling to accept all of her on her own terms.

Kris and Em are great foils as both are incredibly aware of each other’s strategies to win the speech competition and determined to prove who’s the best once and for all. As a result Dramatically Ever After is filled with witty banter and aggressive flirting on both sides as Em and Kris start to realize they might have met their match in each other (and that it might not be a bad thing).

Dramatically Ever After brings readers back to Lambertfield and all of its wonderful characters while also expanding the world and giving readers a new perspective on everyone’s favorite drama queen. Romantic comedy style plots, writing that gets better with each installment, and swoons galore make this series a winner. Be sure to start it now so you’re ready when book three, Practically Ever After, hits shelves!

Possible Pairings: The Queen of Bright and Shiny Things by Ann Aguirre, Nothing by Annie Barrows, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Crow Mountain by Lucy Inglis, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Between the Notes by Sharon Huss Roate, The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Isabel too!

*A copy of this title was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2017*

The City of Brass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The City of Brass by S. A. ChakrabortyNahri doesn’t believe in magic. She has fooled too many marks with her palm readings, zars, and healings on the streets of 18th century Cairo to put any real stock in the supposed power behind them–especially when she knows the research and tricks she puts in beforehand.

Everything Nahri believes, or doesn’t believe, about magic is thrown into question when one of her rituals works. Well, technically it all goes horribly wrong.

But the magic Nahri is pretending to perform is suddenly, shockingly real and summons a djinn warrior to her. Along with Dara, the fearsome Afhsin warrior, Nahri summons a world of trouble as she attracts the attention of a djinn world she never thought to imagine let alone believe in.

Torn away from everything she’s ever known, Nahri and Dara travel across the desert to find Daevabad, the mythical city of brass that holds answers about Nahri’s past and might be the only place that can offer her safety.

Inside the city Nahri finds unrest among the six djinn tribes and political intrigue on all sides. With no one to trust and nothing familiar, Nahri will have to tread carefully as she tries to find her way in a world where it seems everyone is eager to use her so long as she doesn’t learn any of her new lessons too quickly or too well in The City of Brass (2017) by S. A. Chakraborty.

The City of Brass is the first book in Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy. The story continues in The Kingdom of Copper.

The City of Brass is a wild ride. The high action and breakneck pacing of the opening scenes contrast interestingly with Chakraborty’s prose which is dense and heavy but also unbelievably evocative and steeped in carefully researched and beautifully reimagined djinn lore. The plot slows considerably once Nahri and Dara arrive in Daevabad allowing readers to instead focus on the large and varied cast of characters including Ali Qahtani, the young and often naive prince of the city’s current ruler.

Given the long life of djinn and the rich history of their city, it’s no surprise that The City of Brass is populated by a multi-faceted cast of characters. While Ali is eager to see the world in black and white, he soon realizes as political unrest grows that Daevabad operates in areas of gray. Chakraborty embraces this fact and uses it well to balance characters’ flaws alongside their positives and, in some cases, their charisma. It is a testament to Chakraborty’s characterization that Dara’s past is soaked in blood but he remains my absolute favorite character (aside from Nahri, of course).

The City of Brass is a lush, unforgettable story filled with determined characters who are all certain they’ll be the heroes of this tale even as history proves again and again that someone always has to be framed as the villain. Ideal for readers looking for non-western fantasies, charming con artists, and adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories edited by Mahvesh Marad and Jared Shurin, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala, Enchantée by Gita Trelease, The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

Everything All at Once: A Review

cover art for Everything All at Once by Katrina LenoLottie Reaves doesn’t take risks. She prefers to play it safe. But even her usual caution is no help when her aunt Helen–the one person who always seemed to understand Lottie’s anxiety and panic–dies of cancer. But Lottie and her family aren’t the only ones mourning. After Helen’s death it feels like the whole world is mourning the loss of the beloved author of the Alvin Hatter series about siblings Alvin and Margot and the chaos that follows when they discover an elixir that grants immortality.

After Helen’s death it feels like Lottie is spinning out as her panic about death, life, and so many other things start to feel so much bigger. Grieving and feeling more than a little lost, Lottie receives the most surprising inheritance from Helen’s will: twenty-four letters each filled with a dare designed to help Lottie learn how to embrace change and risk.

Helen promised the letters would lead to some bigger truth, answers to questions Lottie hasn’t even learned enough to ask yet, but as she steps outside of her comfort zone and learns more about her aunt, Lottie also discovers the shocking secret that inspired her aunt to write the Alvin Hatter books–a secret that could change Lottie’s life forever in Everything All at Once (2017) by Katrina Leno.

Leno’s latest standalone is part contemporary coming-of-age story and part fantasy with heavy nods toward Tuck Everlasting and Harry Potter. The narrative is broken up with letters from Aunt Helen and excerpts from the Alvin Hatter books throughout.

Lottie’s first person narration is sometimes claustrophobic as she struggles to work through her panic and anxiety. Leno handle’s this portrayal with honesty and authenticity as Lottie tries to find coping mechanisms that work for her while also trying to overcome her anxiety when it prevents her from doing what she really wants. Everything All at Once is the first time I’ve seen a novel truly capture and explore the fear of mortality that hangs over a grieving person expressed so clearly.

On her journey Lottie has conscientious parents, a supportive younger brother, and a funny and smart best friend willing to follow her on every adventure. There’s also a cute but mysterious boy and one of my favorite romantic exchanges (One character asks “Are you saying we’re not friends?” And the other replies “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” And it’s perfect.) But I can’t tell you much more without revealing too much.

Everything All at Once is strongest as a story about grieving, growing up, and an ode to reading and fandoms. Leno plants seeds early on for more surprises (some of which are heavily broadcast) but it also can feel like one element too many. Recommended for readers looking for an empowering story about growing up and working through loss. Or readers who love Tuck Everlasting but wanted more banter and kissing.

Possible Pairings: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble

The Witch Boy: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for The Witch Boy by Molly Knox OstertagThirteen-year-old Aster leads a secluded life on the compound he and his extended family call home. The family has everything they need and is far away from prying eyes which is important since Aster’s family is magic. For generations this magic has been simple: girls become witches while boys become shapeshifters.

Aster desperately wants to be a witch despite his family telling him again and again (and again) that it’s impossible for a boy to learn witchery. Aster doesn’t care and keeps studying and practicing in secret.

When Aster meets Charlie–a new girl in town who refuses to let anyone else define her–Aster knows he has to keep following his dreams in The Witch Boy (2017) by Molly Knox Ostertag.

The Witch Boy is the start of Ostertag’s middle grade graphic novel series which continues in The Hidden Witch.

Ostertag’s full color illustrations are approachable and vivid. Panels are full of motion and varied design (complete with witchery runes!) that draw readers through the comic. Entertaining characters and strong friendships more than make up for an otherwise slight (and sometimes not subtle) plot.

The Witch Boy is a great graphic novel for readers of all ages with a message of inclusion that is much needed and very welcome.

Possible Pairings: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix,  Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Leaf Reader: A Review

“I did feel like I was pretending, at least at the start. I admit that. But whenever you start on something, it always feels a little like pretending, right? If you let that stop you, you might never try anything new.”

cover art for The Leaf Reader by Emily ArsenaultMarnie is halfway through high school and she’s accepted that she’ll never be popular. And if that’s true, better to give the people what they want and be really eccentric, right?

In the past year Marnie has gotten a reputation for reading tea leaves to tell the fortunes of classmates. Marnie knows it’s just for fun. She assumes her classmates do too.

But then Matt Cottrell comes to Marnie for a reading that seems to reveal more about the disappearance of Matt’s best friend Andrea last year. Marnie has never thought she could really read the future in tea leaves. But as she and Matt start looking into Andrea’s disappearance together, Marnie starts to wonder if she was wrong. It seems like the tea leaves are trying to tell her the Matt is dangerous. And if that’s true, Marnie’s growing attraction could be deadly in The Leaf Reader (2017) by Emily Arsenault.

The Leaf Reader is Arsenault’s first novel written for a young adult audience.

I went into this one with almost no expectations after receiving it very randomly from a neighbor. Marnie’s introspective narration and her fascination with reader tea leaves immediately drew me in. The story includes some basic information on interpreting leaves and their symbols which adds a fun dimension to the story.

Arsenault’s plotting and story are executed well and come to life with vivid descriptions of Marnie’s surroundings. The descriptions of characters are sometimes less vibrant and less charitable in a way that seems to suggest Marnie, or perhaps the author herself, held little fondness for some of the characters.

Marnie is a frank narrator who is immediately honest about her own status as an outsider in her small town. She is less willing to accept that she might not be the only one with secrets–something that becomes increasingly obvious to readers as the tense plot finally reaches a breaking point in the final act.

The Leaf Reader is a unique spin on some familiar mystery tropes. A great choice for fans of suspense.

Possible Pairings: The Opposite of Here by Tara Altebrando, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams