City of Ghosts: A Review

cover art for City of Ghosts by Victoria SchwabIt’s been a while since Cassidy Blake’s life has been anything close to normal. That’s what happens when your best friend is a ghost. Also when you die (briefly) and come back able to see ghosts in general.

Cass doesn’t mind. Jacob is a good friend even if he is a little too obsessed with superhero comics. And sure, passing through the Veil that separates the living from the dead can be scary. But it’s also an inescapable pull for Cass now–it has been since she died.

All of Cass’s summer plans are upended when her parents receive an offer they can’t refuse: a chance to host a TV show about the world’s most haunted places. Cassidy thought she had her ability under control but she is totally unprepared for the level of haunted she encounters in Edinburgh, Scotland.

When Cassidy attracts the attention of a dangerous spirit, she’ll have to embrace her ability and trust in new friends and old if she wants to make it out of Edinburgh in one piece in City of Ghosts (2018) by Victoria Schwab.

City of Ghosts is the first book in Schwab’s middle grade series. Cassidy’s story will continue in Tunnel of Bones.

Cassidy’s approachable first person narration immediately draws readers into her story and her world. Evocative descriptions bring the streets of Edinburgh to life and contrast well with genuinely scary moments with sinister ghosts on the other side of the Veil.

Schwab strikes the perfect balance between horror and adventure in this ghostly tale of unlikely friends and reluctant heroes. City of Ghosts is a delightful start to a series that is as entertaining as it is spooky. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Jumbies by Tracy Baptiste, Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Save the Date: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“These memories, I was now realizing, had never been mine. They’d never been real, just ink and paper that I’d somehow folded into my real life, a revisionist history that I’d bought without a second thought.”

cover art for Save the Date by Morgan MatsonCharlie has always been proud to be a Grant. Not everyone gets to say their family inspired a beloved comic strip like her mother’s, Grant Central Station.

Charlie has been looking forward to the weekend of her big sister’s wedding for months. Finally, she’ll get to hang out with her siblings all at once without any distractions before the wedding and before her parents sell the family home.

But even before the big day, things start to go wrong. The wedding planner is on the run. The house alarm won’t stop going off. A shelter dropped off a dog for when Good Morning America talks with Charlie’s mom about ending her comic strip after twenty-five years. Then Mike, who has been estranged from the family for the last eighteen months, suddenly decides he does want to come home for the wedding. And that’s all before the guests start to arrive and the groom’s suit goes missing. Not to mention the wedding cake disaster.

Charlie is already having a hard time processing the sale of the house and starting college in the fall. She isn’t sure how to cope with all of these other problems. Pining after her longtime crush and helping Bill, the new wedding planner’s cute nephew, problem solve are both good distractions. But after she gets through the wedding, Charlie still has to decide how she’s going to get through the rest of her life when it feels like nothing stays the same in Save the Date (2018) by Morgan Matson.

Matson’s latest standalone contemporary is an absolute delight. The novel starts with a cast of characters and also features fun chapter titles and key comic strips from Grant Central Station. Despite its length the madcap shenanigans and pacing of this story–set over one short weekend–make Save the Date a quick and utterly entertaining read. (It might also be my favorite Matson novel to date!)

Save the Date features a true ensemble cast filled with characters who are as memorable as they are lovable. I would happily read a book any and all of the other Grant siblings (or long suffering paper girl Sarah Stephens). Matson makes this large cast shine in scenes filled with snappy dialog and witty banter while making sure every character is worthy of their own story.

Charlie’s family home, the site of numerous wedding mishaps and much drama, also feels like another character as evocative descriptions help readers understand Charlie’s grief over losing this key part of her youth.

While Save the Date is ostensibly a story about a wedding where everything that can go wrong does, Charlie’s character arc is about a lot more as she comes to terms with growing up and realizes that her longtime crush and even her family memories have realities that don’t quite match up with her idealized memories and hopes.

Save the Date is a fast-paced, hilarious novel filled with big personalities and memorable moments. A sold story about accepting change, embracing imperfections, and making peace with life’s complexities. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Once and For All by Sarah Dessen, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date With Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

A Very Large Expanse of Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh MafiShirin is used to moving and being targeted by idiots because of her headscarf–especially now, a year after 9/11. She has no expectations for her new school to be any better.

Except things start to feel different when her older brother tells her they’re going to start a breakdancing crew. Then there’s her lab partner, Ocean, a boy who keeps surprising her—in good ways not the usual disappointing ways.

Even with the promise of something great, Shirin is wary. Even if she and Ocean are ready to take a chance on each other, Shirin isn’t sure her new school is ready for it. After being angry for so long, Shirin has to decide if she’s ready to let anyone in or start caring again in A Very Large Expanse of Sea (2018) by Tahereh Mafi.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is Mafi’s first foray into realistic fiction and hopefully won’t be her last. The novel is narrated Shirin and inspired heavily by Mafi’s own experiences as a teen (including the breakdancing!).

Shirin is a sharp character. Her narration is filled with wry observations and her edges are cutting after years of having to learn to protect herself from people who never want to take the time to see her as anything but other. Lyrical prose and a sweet romance work well to offset Shirin’s bitterness at the world in response to the hate and racism that has become part of her everyday life.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a thoughtful and ultimately hopeful story. Recommended for readers looking for quirky characters, breakdancing, and for anyone who has ever had to choose between holding onto bitterness and grabbing for something sweeter.

Possible Pairings: Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed; Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali; Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi; Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke; 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario; Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi

Devils Unto Dust: A Review

“Life doesn’t care how hard you’re trying, doesn’t care how much you’ve already lost, it will still break in and crush you and leave you bruised and bloody. And still expect you to keep going, because what else can you do?”

Devils Unto Dust by Emma BerquistTen years ago, the sickness started spreading across West Texas. It had a name back then. Now, it doesn’t need one; it’s everywhere. No one survives the infection. It’s only a matter of time before the infected become shakes, mindless creatures intent on attacking the living and nothing else.

Daisy “Willie” Wilcox is used to scraping by in Glory. Ever since their mother died, it’s been Willie making sure food gets on the table and taking care of her younger brother, Micah, and the twins. It’s never been easy, and Willie knows it’s unlikely to get easier, but she keeps going.

When her good-for-nothing drunk father disappears with four hundred dollars, it’s Willie who is expected to repay the debt. Seeing no other options, she hires the Garrett brothers to help her cross the desert and track her father down. They’re young for hunters, inexperienced, but that also means they still have something to prove. It means they don’t worry too hard about proof that she can pay her entire way.

The desert is an unforgiving place. With no towns, no shelter, and shakes everywhere even the smallest misstep can leave you dead–or worse. Chasing her father’s trail Willie learns how far she is willing to go for her family and who she can trust. But she’ll need even more than that to survive in Devils Unto Dust (2018) by Emma Berquist.

Devils Unto Dust is Berquist’s debut novel. (Be sure to also check out the audiobook as read by Devon Sorvari who brings Willie’s narration to life.)

Willie is razor sharp and, when she has to be, incredibly calculating. Determined to save herself and her family at any cost, she pushes herself well past her limits with consequences that will change her life–and her world–forever.

Berquist contrasts a bleak landscape and Willie’s stark narration with a suspenseful plot and high action. Willie’s life is very small in Glory–a reality that she resents even as she resigns herself to it. Like the desert unfolding at the start of her journey, Willie’s world also starts to expand as she realizes there might be more to life than just surviving in a world ravaged by the zombie-like shakes.

Devils Unto Dust blends a dystopian world and a western sensibility to great effect. The novel’s gritty setting and violent shake attacks are countered by a surprising sweetness as Willie allows herself to begin to trust both in a future for herself and in new allies. Devils Unto Dust is a searing story about choices, survival, and learning who you are. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Generation Dead by Dan Waters

Sadie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Sadie by Courtney SummersThe only thing that has ever really mattered to Sadie is her little sister, Mattie. Sadie pins all of her hopes and dreams onto Mattie. She gives her the care and affection their mother can’t usually manage. Mattie is better and more and she deserves everything Sadie never thinks to want for herself.

But then Mattie is murdered.

The trail is cold and the police don’t care. After all, she’s just another dead girl.

But Sadie knows who did it. And she knows she is the only one who can make them pay–even if it means losing herself in the process.

Weeks later West McCray hears about Sadie while he’s recording a radio segment on small, forgotten towns in America. The police might not care, most of the town might not care, but West finds that he does. What starts as a podcast soon becomes a much larger project as West delves into Sadie’s past and tries to follow her trail before it’s too late in Sadie (2018) by Courtney Summers.

Summers’ latest standalone alternates between Sadie’s first person narration and West’s podcast segments as he follows her trail.

Sadie is a brutal story about the disasters left in the aftermath of loss and poverty. Despite the violence surrounding Mattie’s murder and Sadie’s own revenge quest, the prose never sensationalizes it. Through West, Summers makes a deliberate choice to never make Mattie into a plot point and never to appeal to the lowest common denominator by glamorizing violence.

Sadie is a calculating and singular narrator. Her shrewd narration contrasts sharply with dialog as she navigates the world with a severe stutter (a speech impediment that could have been fixed when Sadie was a child if her mother had bothered to pursue treatment). That contrast in particular highlights the way that Sadie explores poverty and privilege–particularly as West begins to unpack his own privilege in being able to initially dismiss Sadie’s disappearance as too common and not interesting enough for a podcast.

Nothing here is neat or simple–including Sadie herself. While the ending leaves readers with a lot of questions it also places the decision of how her story will unfold, back in her own hands–a freedom that was impossible to imagine at the beginning of the novel. Sadie is an incisive story about agency and feminism as well as an utterly engrossing thriller. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson, The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Girls of Paper and Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha NganEvery year eight girls are chosen to serve the king. His Paper Girls are the most beautiful, the most charming and demure. Once they are taken to the palace the Paper Girls live in luxury. But they are always slaves to the whims of the king and, especially, to his cruelty.

Once you become a Paper Girl, you can never go home again.

Lei never thought she would be chosen as a Paper Girl. Her family already paid the ultimate price when Lei’s mother was taken a decade ago. But rumors spread quickly about Lei–a human girl from the paper caste with golden eyes like the demons of the higher castes.

Taken against her will, trapped in a life she never imagined, Lei is determined to fight back. But even as she finds forbidden love and a plot that will change her world forever, Lei has to decide how far she’s willing to go for escape and for revenge in Girls of Paper and Fire (2018) by Natasha Ngan.

Girls of Paper and Fire is Ngan’s debut novel and the start of a new trilogy.

Lei’s first person narration is guileless but also razor sharp as she fights against her captivity as a Paper Girl at every turn. Her rage and frustration are palpable when she is kidnapped in the first pages of the novel and works from their to find a way not just to survive but to escape.

The brutality and horror of Lei’s new circumstances are contrasted with tender moments as she forms a dangerous and forbidden relationship with one of the other Paper Girls–a love that could lead to revolution and change throughout the country.

Ngan’s writing is lush and fast-paced. Readers are immediately drawn into Lei’s complex and often frightening world. Girls of Paper and Fire is a high action, feminist story that is as exciting as it is empowering.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Eve by Anna Carey, The Cerulean by Amy Ewing, Everless by Sara Holland, The Glittering Court by Richelle Meade, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, Ash Princess by Laura K. Sebastian, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Black Wings Beating: A Review

cover art for Black Wings Beating by Alex LondonNothing in Uztar is more sacred than birds of prey. No one is more respected than the falconers who capture and train them.

Brysen wants nothing so much as he wants to be a great falconer. He dreams of proving to his abusive father, and himself, that he can contribute to the family legacy as falconers.

Kylee, Brysen’s twin sister, wants nothing to do with the family trade or the ancient gifts that should make her one of the most gifted falconers ever. She dreams of leaving their home in the Six Villages forever even as war threatens to make that impossible.

When the boy Brysen loves makes a terrible mistake, Brysen is determined to save him–and maybe find the glory that keeps eluding him–by trapping a Ghost Eagle. Understanding the dangers better than her brother, Kylee follows him hoping to help and perhaps make up for her own past. Whoever controls the Ghost Eagle can control the fate of Uztari. But first Brysen and Kylee will have to decide if they control their own fates in Black Wings Beating (2018) by Alex London.

Black Wings Beating is the first book in London’s Skybound trilogy. The book alternates close third person chapters between Brysen and Kylee.

London presents a fully-realized world complete with its own mythology and a little understood magic system tied to the art of falconry. Brysen and Kylee are complex, often flawed characters. They act rashly, they make mistakes, but they always look out for each other (even when they’d prefer not to!).

Black Wings Beating is high fantasy at its best. Recommended for readers with an interest in killer birds, killer writing, and killer twists.

Possible Pairings: Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor, Updraft by Fran Wilde

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*