Estranged: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Estranged by Ethan M. AldridgeWhen he was born, two fairies left their baby to be raised by humans while taking a human child down below–not to raise as their own but to show off at court.

Now, Edmund struggles to hide his changeling status in the World Above especially from his parents and his older sister Alexis. But that’s not easy with fae magic that he hasn’t learned to control. The Childe lives in the World Below where he will never quite belong; his only friend is a wax golem called Whick.

When a sorceress named Hawthorne stages a coup to claim the throne down below, Childe knows that there is only one person who can help: the rightful heir who has been living in the human world.

Childe longs to turn his back on the fae world but he can’t. Edmund wishes he could be a normal human but that’s impossible. These unlikely allies will have to work together to try and reclaim the throne before Hawthorne’s bid for power threatens both of their worlds in Estranged (2018) by Ethan M. Aldridge.

Estranged is Aldridge’s debut graphic novel.

This full-color graphic novel is visually stunning with finely detailed illustrations and a singular vision of the fairy world. While some of the art is static with little movement in the panels, the story itself is dynamic enough to balance that out as the action shifts between the fairy and human worlds. (The gutters between panels are cleverly changed to black when the scenes are down below while traditional white gutters are used in the human world.)

While Childe and Edmund’s story will continue in The Changeling King, this installment has a lot of closure as both boys find their place in the world and learn how to make peace with it.

Estranged is filled with action and adventure as Childe and Edmund reluctantly team up to stop Hawthorne. A powerful story about family–both found and otherwise–and the complicated ties that bind people to each other. Recommended for readers looking for a story with swashbuckling and heart in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerrlizzi,  Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G., Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson

Sightwitch: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“History might easily be rewritten, but someone somewhere always remembers what truly happened.”

cover art for Sightwitch by Susan DennardRyber Fortiza is a Sightwitch Sister living in a convent hidden within a mountain. Ryber waits for the day she’ll be summoned into the mountain’s depths to receive the Sight from her goddess like all the other Sisters before her.

But Ryber is never called.

Years pass. Soon, more and more Sisters are called into the mountain leaving Ryber behind until she is the only Sister left.

Uncertain of what she will find, Ryber ventures deeper into the mountain to find her Sisters before it’s too late. With no one to turn to except for an odd bird called The Rook and a stranger with no memory of his past or how he arrived inside the convent, Ryber will have to learn to trust herself and her own gifts if she wants to save the other Sisters in Sightwitch (2018) by Susan Dennard.

Sightwitch is a companion novella in Dennard’s popular fantasy series which begins with Truthwitch and Windwitch. The novella is meant to be read between Windwitch and Bloodwitch and provides crucial set up for Bloodwitch so plan your reading accordingly.

Unlike the other books in this series Sightwitch is an epistolary novel written as Ryber’s journal about her time as a Sightwitch including illustrations and other marginalia. Readers familiar with the series will recognize Ryber and her amnesiac stranger Kullen from their crucial roles in Truthwitch and appreciate this prequel that offers more of their respective histories.

Sightwitch does a lot of the heavy lifting for this series by setting up the world and explaining the backstory both for Ryber and the overarching plot of the series. Basic tenets of how magic works in the Witchlands can also be found here from Ryber’s observations when she first becomes a Sightwitch Sister.

The depth and intricacy of this story goes a long way to make up for the messiness of relying on a companion novella to explain key details that should have been present much earlier in the series. It also helps ease the blow of not having Ryber as a point of view character in any of the other novels (so far).

Ryber is an entertaining heroine in a suspenseful story with a palpable sense of urgency. It’s easy to appreciate her tenacity and determination as she tries to save her Sisters despite lacking the Sight to navigate the mountain’s deepest chambers. Although this is a contained story it contains several surprising twists that will leave readers eager for the next installment. A must-read for Witchlanders everywhere.

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

Snow in Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Snow in Love by Melissa de la Crus, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, Kasie WestSnow in Love (2018) collects four holiday stories for the first time:

“Snow and Mistletoe” by Kasie West: Stranded at the airport without a car, Amalie finds unlikely help from a former classmate, Sawyer, who offers Amalie a ride when she needs it most. Can one detour filled road trip, numerous pit stops, a secret crush, and special gifts lead from a snowy mess to new beginnings? You’ll have to read more to find out but I’ll tell you that this story was a banter filled delight.

“Working in a Winter Wonderland” by Aimee Friedman: If Maxine can save up for the perfect party dress, she knows that everything else will fall into place–including finally catching the eye of her crush. There’s only one problem: The only job Maxine can find on short notice is working as an elf in a department store’s holiday department. This story was a lot of fun. Maxine is Jewish and completely overwhelmed by the way Christmas everything seems to take over once December rolls around. After years of being a wallflower, Maxine is ready to make some changes and I love that while she gets everything she wants, none of it is quite what she expects.

“The Magi’s Gifts” by Melissa de la Cruz: Kelsey and Brenden are still figuring out what it means to be in a relationship over the holidays. As both of them try to find the perfect holiday gift they realize that showing someone how much you love them sometimes means sacrificing what you love most. This retelling of O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is one of the shortest stories in the collection. It’s an interesting spin on a familiar tale but some of the details never quite come together.

“Grounded” by Nic Stone: Leigh is more than ready to spend the holidays on a beach with her family. The problem? She’s stranded at the airport during a snowstorm. And so is her childhood friend Harper. Leigh fell hard for Harper when she was fourteen but not knowing if Harper would reciprocate (or if Harper even liked girls), Leigh tried to shut that down. Now as she leads Harper on a scavenger hunt through the airport before they reconnect, Leigh has to decide if now is the time to take a leap or play it safe. Nic Stone is one of the best contemporary voices around right now. This story is snappy, sweet, and a really smart examination of intersectionality (Leigh and Harper are both black and Leigh is also Jewish) and being true to yourself. And did I mention it was also a sweet romance?

Snow in Love is a effervescent collection of stories sure to leave you smiling–a perfect choice to get you in the holiday spirit at any time of year.

Possible Pairings: Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love edited by Elsie Chapman; Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; Let it Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins

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

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; The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake; 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