Saint Death: A Review

“Each of us dies the death he is looking for.”

“Don’t worry where you’re going, you’ll die where you have to.”

Saint Death by Marcus SedgwickArturo is scraping by living in Anapra on the outskirts of Juarez, Mexico. He can see El Norte from his small shack but America feels distant compared to his reality spent hauling things at the auto shop and trying to avoid the notice of gang members and the cartel who have carved Juarez into their own sections of territory.

Arturo’s childhood friend Faustino reenters his life preparing to use stolen money to send his girlfriend and their son illegally across the border. With his gang boss on the verge of discovering the theft, Faustino is desperate for help to replace the thousand dollars he has taken. Arturo reluctantly agrees to try to win the money playing Calavera but as with most card games, things don’t go according to plan.

Looming over Arturo’s story, and Juarez itself, is Santa Muerte–Saint Death. The folk saint watches impassively as people in the border town struggle in the face of a vicious drug trade, dangerous trafficking, corruption, and income inequality. It’s possible that Santa Muerte might help Arturo if he prays hard enough and proves himself. But it’s also possible she’ll watch as Arturo heads toward his tragic ending. The outcome doesn’t really matter, everyone comes to her in the end in Saint Death (2017) by Marcus Sedgwick.

To call Saint Death ambitious would be a gross understatement. This slim novel complicates a deceptively simple story about one young man and uses it as a lens to examine the world on a much larger scale.

Arturo’s story, as related by an omniscient third person narrator, alternates with commentary from nameless third parties on conditions affecting Mexico and Juarez specifically including The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), climate change, the city’s founding, and even the worship of Saint Death herself.

The formatting and language Saint Death underscore that this is a book about Mexican characters who live their lives in Spanish. There are no italics for Spanish words and dialogue is formatted according to Spanish language conventions with double punctuation for question marks and exclamation points (one at either end of the sentence) and no quotation marks for dialogue which is instead indicated with dashes.

Saint Death is simultaneously an absorbing, heart-wrenching read and a scathing indictment of the conditions that have allowed the drug trade and human trafficking to flourish in Mexico. Eerily timely and prescient this ambitious story is both a masterful piece of literature and a cautionary tale. Add this to your must-read list now. Highly recommended.

If you want to know more about some of what’s mentioned in the book and a bit about Sedgwick’s writing process, be sure to check out his blog posts about the book as well.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough,The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle,The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, American Street by Ibi Zoboi, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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

Journey Across the Hidden Islands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Twins Li-Jin and Seika are the princesses of the Hundred Islands of Himitsu. Li-Jin has been training at the Temple of the Sun to become an imperial guard and be able to protect her sister Seika who remains at the imperial palace studying under their father, the Emperor.

Li-Jin is thrilled when she completes her training and is able to go home so that she and Seika can spend their twelfth birthday together. But when Li-Jin and Alejan, her winged lion companion, arrive there isn’t much time for a reunion.

Instead the girls soon find themselves embarking on the Emperor’s Journey to travel across the islands of Himitsu to pay respect to the kingdom’s dragon guardian and renew their dragon’s bargain to protect the Hundred Islands.

Nothing on the journey goes right as Li-Jin and Seika encounter earthquakes, foreigners, and monstrous creatures during their travels. Despite their inexperience and doubts, both girls know that Himitsu is relying on them. As they get closer to finding the dragon they will have to rely on each other and trust their instincts to keep their people safe in Journey Across the Hidden Islands (2017) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Durst’s latest middle grade novel is a standalone fantasy set in a richly imagined world filled with magical creatures and unexpected dangers.

Li-Jin and Seika are strong heroines who know their potential even if they sometimes fear too much responsibility has been set on their shoulders. The sisters have a rock solid bond and both bring numerous strengths to their adventure in Journey Across the Hidden Islands.

The Hundred Islands of Himitsu are vividly described both from the ground and above thanks to Li-Jin’s travels on the back of Alejan when he is flying. This story is imbued with Japanese-inspired culture along with inventive world building including magical creatures, ancient tales, and dramatic buildings.

Li-Jin and Seika’s relationship as sisters forms the center of this story as the girls work together to protect, and potentially forever change, their kingdom. Journey Across the Hidden Islands is a fast-paced adventure with not one but two engaging and clever heroines. Recommended for fans of girl power fantasies, inventive worlds, and journey stories.

Possible Pairings: The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy, The Keeper Of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

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

You can also check out my interview with Sarah about this book.

But Then I Came Back: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Time served on planet earth is yours to use as you see fit. It keeps spinning, and just because someone’s life ends or pauses doesn’t mean we have to do the same.”

“We do have to rescue ourselves in the end, no matter how much we learn to lean on other people.”

Eden Jones fell in the river and hit her head. She was in a coma for a month. But then she woke up.

That’s when the real recovery begins as Eden has to teach her body how to walk, talk, and even eat again. All easy compared to trying to fit herself back into a life that moved on without her. Eden struggles to reconnect with her twin brother who used to know her better than anyone, her best friend who saved her, and her parents. But maybe she isn’t the person they remember anymore. Maybe she isn’t the person she remembers either.

Eden still feels a pull to wherever she was while she was in a coma–to the In Between place filled with flowers and a girl trying to tell her something that she can’t hear. The flowers follow Eden back into the real world where they start appearing everywhere. It turns out the girl followed Eden back too.

Jaz is in the hospital room next to Eden, comatose and unresponsive except that Eden still feels a pull toward her. As she tries to understand their connection, Eden also forms a surprising friendship with Joe–the boy who is desperate for Jaz to wake up. Eden might be the only person who can get Jaz to come back. Helping Jaz could mean losing a piece of herself. Or it could help Eden find something she’s been missing all along in But Then I Came Back (2017) by Estelle Laure.

But Then I Came Back is a companion to Laure’s debut novel This Raging Light. It begins a few weeks after the end of This Raging Light and tells Eden’s story.

Although she is facing a lot of external change most of Eden’s journey and development is internal as she tries to make sense of her interpersonal relationships–both new and old–and figure out who she is now and who she wants to become. For most of her life, Eden has defined herself as a ballet dancer with big plans. That future is thrown into doubt at the start of But Then I Came Back and Eden’s return to dance is a compelling addition to this story and as satisfying as her blooming relationship with Joe.

Laure channels Eden’s frenetic, energetic personality in a first person narration filled with staccato observations as she wakes up in the hospital and begins the arduous process of returning to her old life.The glaring contrast between Eden’s current reality and the pieces of her time In Between that begin to bleed into the waking world lend an eerie quality and a sense of urgency to this otherwise quiet story.

Eden’s voice and her experiences are completely different from Lucille’s in This Raging Light but themes of connection and perseverance tie these two characters and their stories together. But Then I Came Back is about loss, recovery, self-discovery, and choice. A powerful story about a girl who has to lose a lot before she can find herself again. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Suffer Love by Ashley Herring Blake, Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. Chapman, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Last True Love Story by Brendan Kiely, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Fracture by Megan Miranda, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

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

Be sure to check out my interview with the author about this book!

But Then I Came Back was one of my most anticipated 2017 releases. I couldn't wait to read this companion novel to Laure's electric debut This Raging Light. Stop by my blog today to check out my interview with Estelle Laure about the book and check tomorrow for my review. For now I'll leave you with a teaser of my summary for the book: 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Eden Jones fell in the river and hit her head. She was in a coma for a month. But then she woke up. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 That's when the real recovery begins as Eden has to teach her body how to walk, talk, and even eat again. All easy compared to trying to fit herself back into a life that moved on without her. Eden struggles to reconnect with her twin brother who used to know her better than anyone, her best friend who saved her, and her parents. But maybe she isn't the person they remember anymore. Maybe she isn't the person she remembers either. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Eden still feels a pull to wherever she was while she was in a coma–to the In Between place filled with flowers and a girl trying to tell her something that she can't hear. The flowers follow Eden back into the real world where they start appearing everywhere. It turns out the girl followed Eden back too. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 Jaz is in the hospital room next to Eden, comatose and unresponsive except that Eden still feels a pull toward her. As she tries to understand their connection, Eden also forms a surprising friendship with Joe–the boy who is desperate for Jaz to wake up. Eden might be the only person who can get Jaz to come back. Helping Jaz could mean losing a piece of herself. Or it could help Eden find something she's been missing all along in But Then I Came Back (2017) by Estelle Laure. 🌸🌼🌸🌼🌸 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #butthenicameback #estellelaure #clarendonfilter

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The Stone Heart: A Graphic Novel Review

*The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.*

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin HicksKaidu and Rat are still recovering after stopping the assassination of the General of All Blades. In the wake of the assassination, the Nameless City seems peaceful and there is reason to hope things will stay that way.

The General of All Blades and Kaidu’s father are working to create a council of all the nations that claim the City as their home to stop the constant fighting to claim the City as territory. But not everyone supports the idea of a council and its promise to change the Dao way of life in the city forever.

As conflict begins to fracture the Dao nation from within, Kaidu discovers a formula for a powerful weapon–a secret that has been protected for generations and something Rat might be able to decipher. Sharing the formula with the Dao could mean giving the City’s current conquerors a dangerous edge. Hiding it could make peace even harder to achieve. Kai and Rat already did the unthinkable by becoming friends and saving the General of All Blades. Will they be able to do it again to bring peace to the City before its too late? in The Stone Heart (2016) by Faith Erin Hicks.

The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.

The Stone Heart picks up a few weeks after the conclusion of The Nameless City bringing readers back to the City that Rat calls home and the place Kai is coming to care about.

Hicks uses the relative calm at the beginning of this installment to expand the world of the City as Rat shows Kai more of her world and introduces her to several new characters. This expanded view helps to bring the City into clearer focus and situates the story within the larger context of the world Hicks has created based on thirteenth century China (as mentioned in an author’s note which talks a bit about her research process). Hicks’ full-color artwork is as stunning as ever and once again brings Kai and Rat’s story vividly to life.

When the uneasy truce that Kai and Rat helped bring to fruition falls apart spectacularly,  the story moves in an unexpected direction and new villains emerge. Will Kai and Rat be able to save the City? Will the mysterious formula Kai and Rat found fall into the wrong hands? Readers will have to wait for trilogy’s exciting conclusion to see how everything comes together. Recommended for readers looking for a new comic adventure and those who enjoy their adventure served with a side of strong-but-unlikely friendships.

*An advance copy of this review was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Frogkisser!: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

All Anya wants to do is sit in the castle library reading books and learning new spells (but only small ones because she doesn’t want to become an evil sorcerer like her step-step-father Duke Rikard). Unfortunately the Duke seems intent on becoming a completely evil sorcerer and his previously intermittent transformations and threats to Anya and her older sister Morven begin to escalate. Rikard even transforms Prince Denholm, one of Morven’s many suitors, into a frog.

Anya makes a sister-promise to return Prince Denholm to his human form before realizing it will lead to bigger challenges. Soon Anya has to flee the castle before Rikard can strike against her and forced into a Quest with Royal Dog Ardent at her side.

While she tries to gather ingredients for a magical anti-transmogrification lip balm to fix Denholm and Rikard’s sundry other victims Anya realizes there is far more at stake than one sister-promise as she grapples with her privilege and responsibility as a princess while trying to save her kingdom in Frogkisser! (2017) by Garth Nix.

Frogkisser! is a rollicking adventure filled with magical creatures including talking dogs, giant otters, and an enchanted bright orange newt. Along the way Anya also encounters wizards, good robbers, evil sorcerers and more.

Anya faces danger at every turn often leading to bittersweet successes which help to make Frogkisser! all the more gripping. Anya’s contemplation of the advantages she has–and the protection she owes her people–as a ruling princess is realistically handled and an excellent introduction to the concept of social responsibility.

Nix creates a unique world filled with minor kingdoms, magic, and a fair bit of mayhem in this novel. He also includes several wry nods to familiar fairy tale characters like Snow White and Merlin (who are the same person) as well as traditional tropes including the magic of true love’s kiss.

Frogkisser! is a masterful standalone fantasy novel that once again demonstrates Nix’s talent and range as an author. Anya’s young age and a deliberate lack of romance makes this story a great choice for readers who want a story focused on frienship, adventure, and magic. A must-read for fans of fractured fairy tales and fairy tale retellings. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Princeless Book One: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin, Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Frogs. Royalty. Magic. Humor. 🦄 All Anya wants to do is sit in the castle library and read and learn new spells (but only small ones because she doesn't want to become an evil sorcerer). Unfortunately Anya has to go on a Quest instead. While she tries to gather ingredients for a magical Transmogrification lip balm to transform sundry victims of her step-step-father the duke Anya will grapple with her privilege and responsibility as a princess. This rollicking adventure is filled with magical creatures including talking dogs, wizards, good robbers, evil sorcerers and more. This masterful fantasy is another winner from Nix sure to appeal to fans of fractured fairy tales, adventures like The Princess Bride, and books by Vivian Vande Velde. 🦄 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #frogkisser

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A Crown of Wishes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani ChokshiDespite his intelligence and ambition Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, is destined to become a puppet ruler in Ujijain. Betrayed by her brother, Gauri the “Jewel of Bharata” awaits her execution in a Ujijain prison.

With nothing left to lose and everything to gain, this pair of would-be monarchs forge an uneasy partnership to travel to Alaka, the kingdom of desire, and compete in the Tournament of Wishes. The Tournament happens every hundred years and is hosted by Kubera, the Lord of Treasures with his consort, Lady Kauveri.

Kubera promises a wish to anyone who wins the competition but winning a magical tournament is not always a simple victory. After traveling across dangerous worlds and meeting mythical foes and allies, Gauri and Vikram will have to confront the shapes of their own desires and fears if they hope to survive long enough to win in A Crown of Wishes (2017) by Roshani Chokshi.

Chokshi revisits the world of her debut novel in this standalone novel following Gauri, Maya’s younger sister, after Maya’s departure from Bharata in The Star-Touched Queen. This novel alternates between Gauri’s first person narration and third person narration from Vikram’s point of view. A third character also plays an important part in the narrative but you’ll have to meet her on your own.

Gauri is a lethal and calculating heroine who negotiates her femininity and perceived weaknesses as easily as swords and battle strategies. Although she is haunted by Maya’s absence and fearful of the magic that took her sister, Gauri is determined to move past her fears and doubts in order to survive and make Bharata everything she knows it can become.

Vikram is a perfect contrast to Gauri with measured cunning tempered by his introspection and optimism. Unlike Gauri, Vikram is desperate to find magic in his life as a validation for his ambitions and potential. It’s only in discovering the realities of magic–and the cost–that he begins to realize it will take more than wishes and wonder for him to prove himself.

Lush language and vivid imagery in a fantasy world populated with figures and settings from Hindu mythology work well with the story’s interplay between magic and legend. All of the characters grasp for freedom and autonomy as they grapple with what power and choice really mean.

A Crown of Wishes is a novel about fierce want, unmet potential, magic, forged alliances, and the power of story. Careful plotting, multiple viewpoints, high-stakes action, and a slow burn relationship between Gauri and Vikram make this heady fantasy completely engrossing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, And I Darken by Kiersten White

A Crown of Wishes releases next week but thanks to Alex at Macmillan Audio you can listen to a clip from the audiobook right now at this link: https://soundcloud.com/ macaudio-2/a-crown-of-wishes- by-roshani-chokshi-audiobook- excerpt

You can also check out my interview with the author!

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the February 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

What would you sacrifice to win a wish that could give you everything you've always wanted? 🔮🔮🔮 Despite his intelligence and ambition Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, is destined to become a puppet ruler in Ujijain. Betrayed by her brother, Gauri the "Jewel of Bharata" awaits her execution in a Ujijain prison. With nothing left to lose and everything to gain, this pair of would-be monarchs forge an uneasy partnership to travel to Alaka, the kingdom of desire, and compete in the Tournament of Wishes. The Tournament happens every hundred years and is hosted by Kubera, the Lord of Treasures with his consort, Lady Kauveri. Kubera promises a wish to anyone who wins the competition but winning a magical tournament is not always a simple victory. After traveling across dangerous worlds and meeting mythical foes and allies, Gauri and Vikram will have to confront the shapes of their own desires and fears if they hope to survive long enough to win. 🔮🔮🔮 I'm reviewing A Crown of Wishes today on the blog and sharing a clip from the audio book. You can also check back on my blog (link in bio) tomorrow for my interview with Rosh about the book. 🔮🔮🔮 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #acrownofwishes

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Freya: A Review

In her heyday, Sara Vanadi was Freya, the Norse goddess of love, beauty, war, and death. But it turns out gods get their power from belief and in the twenty-first century there aren’t a lot of true believers left.

Sara Vanadi has spent the last twenty-seven fairly comfortable years living in a mental hospital. Sure the clothing options are limited, and maybe it’s not the most happening place. But it turns out it’s a great option for a former goddess who needs to keep a low profile.

Sara’s twilight years are ruined when a representative from the shady Finemdi corporation tracks her down to make an offer: join the corporation and receive new believers or die. Sara chooses option three and goes on the run with her unwitting accomplice (and first worshiper in decades) Nathan in Freya (2017) by Matthew Laurence.

Freya is Laurence’s debut novel and the first book in a series.

This book is narrated by Sara/Freya who thanks to her unique position as a god offers an interesting perspective on the modern world. She is also unapolgetically curvy and comfortable negotiating traditional feminine roles (she loves fashion and food) while also taking on the role of hero as she fights bad guys. These flipped gender roles are expanded further with Nathan who is comfortable taking on domestic roles and acting as sidekick while he and Freya try to take on the megalithic Finemdi corporation.

Laurence begins this novel with a clever premise that is expanded thoughtfully as the book progresses. Freya explains her own origins and the internal logic of gods from her pantheon and beyond surviving into modern times (this includes fellow Norse gods, Hawaiian goddesses, some figures from Egyptian and Hindu mythology, and Jesus among others).

Despite the presence of larger-than-life gods and the high action beginning, Freya starts slow with Sara and Nathan going on the run and then literally standing still as Sara explains her position as Freya (something she chooses to withhold from both readers and Nathan for the first chapters of the novel despite the title eliminating any chances of a big reveal) and gathering the pieces they will need to go into hiding with new identities. Freya uses her some of her remaining powers as a god to gather the resources she and Nathan will need but even for a goddess things come together a bit too easily.

Freya is a novel that is fun and filled with action. Although the execution is interesting, the story is poorly paced with little time spent on characterization for anyone except the titular narrator. This novel will have the most appeal for readers (especially reluctant ones) who enjoy mythology and action. An obvious stepping stone for fans of Rick Riordan’s novels looking for something new.

Possible Pairings: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake, Temping Fate by Esther Friesner, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Wildefire by Karsten Knight, Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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