Instructions for Dancing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola YoonEvie Thomas is done with love.

After watching her parents’ marriage fall apart, she knows firsthand that love is a scam. Real life doesn’t have happy endings. The romance novels she used to adore are all lies.

While her mother tries to move on and her younger sister falls headfirst into every relationship she can, Evie is still angry at her father. And she’s furious that she wasted so much time believing in something that never lasts.

Giving up on love seems like the easiest course of action until Evie’s plan to donate her romance novel collection to a little free library goes horribly wrong. After accepting a mysterious book from a stranger, Evie can suddenly see people fall in love when they kiss. Her new visions trace each relationship from its tender beginning to the inevitable conclusion. It’s more than anyone can take but especially someone who is done with love.

Evie’s hunt for a way to stop whatever is happening leads her to La Brea Dance Studio and the owners’ charming, very cute nephew X. Where Evie is cautious, X is impulsive. If Evie is reserved, X is open–he always says yes. In other words, they are complete opposites and, through a series of events Evie barely understands, they are also suddenly partners in an amateur dance competition.

All Evie wants to do is stop her weird visions. If that means hanging out with X, fine. Falling for him is definitely not part of the plan, no matter how cute X might be. But the more time Evie spends with X, the more obvious it is that falling for him is as inevitable as standing close during the tango.

After witnessing so many heartbreaks firsthand, Evie knows that love always ends. As she gets closer to X, she’ll have to decide if having love at all is enough to risk the inevitable heartbreak in Instructions for Dancing (2021) by Nicola Yoon.

Find it on Bookshop.

In many ways Instructions for Dancing feels like a natural next step (pun intended) to follow up Yoon’s blockbuster sophomore novel The Sun is Also a Star. Through Evie’s visions this story spins out from main character Evie’s first person narration to show a world that is much larger, and more beautiful, that cynical Evie is at first willing to acknowledge. Elements of fabulism (think magic realism but not by latinx authors) add unexpected magic and whimsy to this subtle story. Evie and X are Black and backed up by an inclusive cast with strong friendships and memorable adults notably including X’s grandparents.

Evie’s reluctant immersion in the world of competitive dance adds a lot of humor to a story that tackles weighty topics like love and loss with nuance and care. Evie’s friend group also plays an important role in the novel as all of them prepare for the end of high school and what that will mean for each of them and their friend web.

Instructions for Dancing is the definition of bittersweet with an ending that is sure to garner a few tears from even the coldest of hearts. With a story that carefully balances hope and pragmatism, Instructions for Dancing is affirming and, ultimately, an ode to love in all of its forms.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, The Art of Wishing by Lindsay Ribar, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Love Curse of Melody McIntyre by Robin Talley

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

Light From Uncommon Stars: A Review

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiShizuka Satomi has spent years building up her reputation as the Queen of Hell. It’s a name fitting for someone with her reputation of building up violin prodigies–more fitting than most people realize.

Shizuka made a deal with the devil forty-nine years ago. Now, if she wants to keep her own soul–and her own prodigious success–she has to deliver seven souls. With six delivered and one soul left, Shizuka should feel secure. But she doesn’t. She wants her last soul to belong to someone special. Someone she’s been struggling to find for years already.

Katrina Nguyen is a transgender runaway with no one to turn to. She has her hormones, her laptop, and her violin and she knows no matter how bad things get she can survive if she has those things. When Shizuka offers to help life Katrina lift her up, it seems too good to be true. As Katrina comes closer to Shizuka’s secrets she realizes how true her initial doubts really are.

From a donut shop on a highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Lan Tran is slowly drawn into this Faustian drama. A retired starship captain with four children to support and protect, Lan has her own priorities. She wants to keep a low profile at Starrgate Donuts for herself and her family. Which is why her blossoming crush on Shizuka is so inconvenient–especially when Lan realizes it might be mutual.

As Shizuka, Katrina, and Lan are drawn into each others’ lives, the three women begin to realize that in order to overcome their separate challenges they might just need each other in Light From Uncommon Stars (2021) by Ryka Aoki.

Find it on Bookshop.

Light From Uncommon Stars is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements in a contemporary California setting. The close third person narration shifts between Shizuka, Katrina, Lan, and other pivotal characters.

Aoki expertly blends these seemingly disparate elements into a seamless story filled with heart and hope even as Katrina, particularly, deals with rejection, hate, and sexual assault. Katrina also spends part of the novel as a sex worker while she tries to survive on the streets–an element that is handled thoughtfully but is still, understandably, heavy.

This evocative novel is imbued with a strong love of music and filled with delicious food descriptions. Light From Uncommon Stars is a sprawling story of redemption and connection. Recommended for readers looking for a novel that defies both expectations and genre classifications.

Possible Pairings: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu, Gideon the Ninth by Tamysn Muir, Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

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

If the Shoe Fits: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

If the Shoe Fits by Julie MurphyCindy barely made it through her senior year in design school. She filled her portfolio with old shoe designs while all of the pent-up grief from her father’s death just before college finally caught up to her. Even now, as a fresh college graduate, Cindy is completely uninspired. No wonder she has no industry job prospects.

Leaving her chosen home in New York City to return to California to nanny her much-younger triplet siblings could be a much-needed chance to refocus. The plan starts to sound even better after Cindy has a meet-cute on the plane with dreamy Henry who could easily pass for Prince Charming.

Adrift and not sure how to restart her creativity, Cindy makes a surprising choice when she volunteers to appear as a contestant on her step-mother’s popular reality dating show. Sure, it’s unexpected. But it will give Cindy a chance to showcase her work and get some exposure. Plus she’ll be appearing with her other step-sisters so it’s not like Cindy will be on her own. She knows she won’t win the Suitor. But maybe she’ll land a job.

When the producers decide it would make more sense if Cindy has no connections on the show, she’s worried. When the show’s suitor turns out to be a certain charmer that Cindy got to know on a plane, she’s concerned–what are the rules for dating someone you already know while on national television?

Just when Cindy is ready to go home, she finds out that the show’s viewers have embraced her as the first plus-size contestant pushing body positivity one group date at a time. She has to stay for her new fans. As the sparks fly between her and Henry and her inspiration slowly returns, Cindy might have to stay for herself too in If the Shoe Fits (2021) by Julie Murphy.

Find it on Bookshop.

If the Shoe Fits is Murphy’s first novel written for adults. The book is also the start of Disney’s Meant to Be series of romances which will retell different Disney classics. Being a Disney property, this novel is high on the swoons while being light on the steam.

Fans of Murphy’s previous novels will appreciate Cindy’s no-nonsense first person narration as well as her comfort in her own skin as a fat woman who isn’t afraid of being called fat. That doesn’t mean Cindy doesn’t have to confront fatphobia throughout the novel as the show’s stylists refuse to stock clothing in her size and, during one group date, Cindy is forced to cobble together an outfit out of designer clothes from a label that doesn’t make anything in her size. Rather than becoming pain points for Cindy or readers, these moments showcase Cindy’s ingenuity as a designer and underscore the book’s continued message of inclusivity.

Cindy and Henry are white. There is diversity among the show contestants, staff, and designers met along the way including one of my favorite secondary characters, Jay, who is a non-binary style icon.

While comparing If the Shoe Fits to the original Cinderella is a stretch in some respects, fans of the original will recognize key details from the original including Cinderella’s squad of helpful mice, beautiful shoes, and even a reimagining of the Disney princess’s iconic outfit. Obvious chemistry between Cindy and Henry along with their smile-inducing banter move the story along even when it gets bogged down in the conventions of the dating competition–a show that fans of The Bachelor will immediately recognize.

If the Shoe Fits is a Cinderella retelling replete with positivity in a story that centers romance and magical moments without any of the toxic feminity inherent to the original as Murphy reinterprets Cindy’s relationships with both her step-mother and her step-sisters. A must-read for Disney fans and romance readers alike.

Possible Pairings: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert, Natalie Tan’s Books of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Charlie Glass’s Slippers by Holly McQueen

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

Sunkissed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sunkissed by Kasie WestAvery’s expectations for her summer vacation are low. Her college professor parents always make summer vacations an event but now, the summer before her senior year, Avery’s parents are more determined than ever to have a summer full of family bonding. Unfortunately that means a summer at a hokey family camp. Without WiFi.

While Avery mourns her now inaccessible playlists, she relishes the chance to completely unplug and avoid her best friend–the one who betrayed her right before they left. Watching her younger, extroverted sister struggle without access to all of her social media accounts is an added bonus.

The summer starts to look up when Avery meets Brooks–the aloof frontman for the camp’s band. Who tells Avery that all of the camp’s guests are hopeless snobs before he realizes she is, in fact, one of those guests.

Despite a disastrous first meeting, circumstances keep bringing Avery and Brooks together while giving Avery a chance to step out of her comfort zone. After years of curating the perfect playlist for every occasion, this summer could be Avery’s chance to write her own song–and sing it center stage in Sunkissed (2021) by Kasie West.

Find it on Bookshop.

If the plot of West’s latest standalone contemporary sounds a lot like the film Dirty Dancing, that’s because it is. Sunkissed offers an aged down, somewhat sanitized version of the film where the main characters connect while preparing for a battle of the bands contest instead of a dancing showcase. The family camp here feels a bit less plausible and is, notably, not a destination for Jewish families as was the case in the film.

Avery’s first person narration is breezy and immediately draws readers into her story. She is also an extremely introverted and conflict averse character, making it painfully clear to readers early on that her problems could largely be resolved with some honest conversations–all of which Avery avoids for most of the book.

West brings her ususal skill to writing swoony banter and characters with chemistry even if, at times, the story seems to be shoehorned into the Dirty Dancing style plot. Where this story really shines is in watching Avery and Brooks connect as they ultimately push each other to strive for their goals–things neither was willing to fight for until their fateful meeting.

Sunkissed is a summery romance filled with characters who love music and are learning to dream big.

Possible Pairings: Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park, Love Songs and Lies by Jessica Pennington, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker, Dirty Dancing

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

Steelstriker: A Review

*Steelstriker is the conclusion to Lu’s Skyhunter duology. Start at the beginning with Skyhunter to avoid spoilers.*

Steelstriker by Marie LuSix months after the fall of Mara, the Karensa Federation works mercilessly to absorb the formerly free nation into its sprawling empire. Mara’s artifacts are carted to Federation museums and sculpture gardens, their heritage erased. Prisoners await execution or transformation into Ghosts–the hideous monsters the Federation uses so effectively against both its enemies and its subjects.

Talin Kanami watches helplessly. Once an elite Striker, Talin and her friends tried to stop the Federation’s invasion but they were too late. Now Talin stands at the Premier’s side as a Skyhunter–a human turned war machine with lethal strength and steel wings. Talin is the Premier’s unspoken threat against all who would defy him. She is also his hostage; her good behavior ensuring her captive mother’s continued survival until Talin’s transformation is complete and the Premier controls her completely.

Red escaped the Federation once, his desperate flight bringing him to Mara and to Talin. Her hope made him believe things could change. But now watching another invasion, his wings damaged in battle, the first Skyhunter knows he will need more than rage and regret to help his new friends–especially Talin in Steelstriker (2021) by Marie Lu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Steelstriker is the conclusion to Lu’s Skyhunter duology. Start at the beginning with Skyhunter to avoid spoilers.

Chapters alternate between Talin and Red’s first person narrations as the protagonists try to find their way back to each other and continue fighting the Federation. The strong link they shared in book one is weaker now as Talin struggles to contain her emotions before the Premier can use them against her. Isolated and worried about each other, this leads to repetition in the story as both Talin and Red wonder what has become of the other.

Seeds of rebellion and resistance spark action in this story which expands the sophisticated and nuanced world building from book one. Questions of who is fit to run a nation and how power is bestowed add further depth to the book’s political landscape while references to Talin’s tortuous transformation (which occurred between books) remind readers how very dangerous and cruel the Federation can be. As the Premier tries to harness (presumably nuclear) technology from the Early Ones, it becomes clear that sometimes mistakes are doomed to repeat.

Lu once again delves into the brutality of war and invasion as Talin–whose vocal chords were damaged in the invasion of her birthplace, Basea–and Red–who was recruited by the Federation as a child soldier–both reflect on what has brought them to this point. Steelstriker fast-paced and brutal but ultimately a satisfying conclusion to a strong dystopian duology.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

We Will Find Your Hat!: An Early Reader Review

We Will Find Your Hat! by Candy JamesGet ready for Hat Day, the hattiest day of the year.

Reddie is very excited to have some hat-tastic fun with her friend, Archie. But Archie has a problem. He can’t find his favorite hat!

Archie’s home is filled with a lot of things that could be hats (or drums, or pizza) but where is his favorite hat? in We Will Find Your Hat! (2021) by Candy James.

Find it on Bookshop.

We Will Find Your Hat! is the second book in a new early reader series by the wife-and-husband team of Candy (illustrator) and James (author). The characters are inspired by their daughter’s real life plush toys which saw her through many adventures.

This series straddles the line between early reader and graphic novel. The story includes full-page and double page spreads as well as smaller (comic book style) panels to showcase different scenes and add motion to the illustrations. The page design and a background palette featuring shades of green add interest to the book and give We Will Find Your Hat! a unique feel.

The text in the story is all dialog presented in speech bubbles (white for Archie and orange for Reddie) making the style reminiscent to Willem’s Elephant and Piggie series–this is also an element that stays consistent across books. Fans of the hat-related humor in Jon Klassen’s Hat picture books will find the same energy and wackiness here.

Archie’s unearthing of numerous hat adjacent objects adds humor to the story and is sure to encourage conversation about what items young readers might want to repurpose themselves.

We Will Find Your Hat! is another fun installment that proves two heads (and many hats) are better than one.

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

Once Upon a Broken Heart: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie GarberEvangeline Fox was raised to believe in wishes and fairy tales and things that seem impossible. So, when the boy she loves proposes to her step-sister instead, Evangeline is certain that a curse can be the only explanation.

There’s always a way to break a curse, but that doesn’t help when no one else believes that there is a curse.

Desperate to stop the wedding and running out of time, Evangeline turns to the Fates. Given her heartache, she’s certain that Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, will be sympathetic to her cause. After all, the Fates aren’t evil. The real danger is that the Fates have never known the difference between evil and good, making their help as dangerous as their ire. But Evangeline knows exactly what she wants and she is certain Jacks won’t be able to twist her straightforward wish.

Bargaining with a Fate is simple: Always promise less than you can give, for Fates always take more. Do not make bargains with more than one Fate. And, above all, never fall in love with a Fate. Easy enough until Jacks asks for three kisses in exchange for stopping the wedding. Evangeline knows she’s made a mistake almost as soon as the agreement is struck, but it will be weeks before she fully understands the ramifications of her reckless deal.

It’s always dangerous to attract the attention of a Fate. As Evangeline learns more about Jacks, she realizes that their bargain has higher stakes than three stolen kisses.

Evangeline has always known that every story has the potential for infinite endings. But when she finds herself in the Magnificent North surrounded by tantalizing truths about her past and secrets surrounding her present with Jacks, Evangeline will have to find a way to survive long enough to reach the end of her story if she wants to see which ending will be hers in Once Upon a Broken Heart (2021) by Stephanie Garber.

Find it on Bookshop.

Once Upon a Broken Heart is the start of a new series set in the same world as Garber’s Caraval trilogy. Once Upon a Broken Heart can be read on its own but does include minor spoilers for the Caraval trilogy. Evangeline’s story is written in close third person and begins in Valenda (the setting for much of the Caraval series) before moving to the Magnificent North. Evangeline and Jacks are white but there’s diversity among other characters.

Garber once again delivers a lush fantasy filled with magical details and glittering settings as Evangeline discovers the Magnificent North and explores it through a lens of wonder. This fantasy adventure seamlessly includes elements of mystery and suspense as Evangeline reluctantly works with Jacks to learn more about the circumstances that have brought her north. Even with his self-proclaimed (and, in the Caraval series, demonstrated) status as an anti-hero–if not a villain–Jacks is surprisingly compelling here despite past misdeeds.

Evangeline’s story starts with a bad decision and continues in that vein as our rose-gold-haired heroine’s naivete is put to the test again and again as she collides with Jacks and his mysterious plans for her and the Magnificent North–a territory every bit as magical as Valenda with even more mystery as its history and even its fairytales are carefully guarded and never make their way south intact. Despite a series of bad choices, Evangeline remains an endearing protagonist that readers can’t help but root for as she struggles to find her way free of past mistakes.

Once Upon a Broken Heart is a sparkling story filled with adventure, broken hearts, and magic as one girl learns she’s capable of more than she could have imagined. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, The Selection by Kiera Cass, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Havenfall by Sara Holland, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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

Kaleidoscope: A Review

“Maybe this is what it’s like to be inside the mind of God. The past and the future mean nothing, and the time is always now.”

Kaleidoscope by Brian SelznickIt starts with a ship going to see. Or exploring a wondrous garden. It begins when a boy named James leaves a message for his father with a doll that will be discovered years later, encased in ice.

Always there is searching. There is missing, hoping. There is saying goodbye.

It ends with an invisible key. A spirit machine born out of a dream made reality. With answers found inside inside an apple.

Every spin of the kaleidoscope fragments one story while bringing another into focus. The beginning is always different. The end keeps changing. But always, slowly, there is peace in Kaleidoscope (2021) by Brian Selznick.

Find it on Bookshop.

Selznick’s latest illustrated novel reads as a series of interconnected short stories–mediations on the same themes of loss and separation examined through different lenses. In his author’s note Selznick explains the inspiration he drew directly from the early days of the pandemic when Selznick and his husband were separated for three months–a fracture that inspired more abstraction in his art and eventually led to this story.

Each chapter (or self-contained story depending on your interpretation of the text) begins with a kaleidoscopic image followed by the unabstracted image pulled directly from the story. A namesless narrator tells each story and although the characters change, always there is a nameless character trying to make their way back to James. In some stories like “The Ice” or “The Spirit Machine” the grief is overt while other standout stories (“The Apple” or “In the Dark”) offer more optimism.

Common images and themes throughout each story slowly unfold to bring a larger narrative of connection and loss into focus. While the story lacks any significant female characters, the nameless narrators do serve as a cipher of sorts allowing readers to insert themselves fully into each story.

Kaleidoscope is very much a product of the pandemic. Readers will see that in Selznick’s carefully rendered artwork, the disjointed narratives, the stories that almost but don’t quite but maybe do intersect. Kaleidoscope is a meditative and ultimately hopeful book, ideal for readers seeking a puzzle-like diversion. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales by Chris Van Allsburg et al

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

I Really Dig Pizza!: An Early Reader Review

I Really Dig Pizza! by Candy JamesWhat could be luckier than finding a gift-wrapped pizza in the forest? Archie certainly doesn’t know. Thrilled with his luck, the quick-thinking fox grabs a nearby digger and buries the pizza to keep it safe until dinner.

Unfortunately right when Archie is ready to dig in, Reddie announces that she is solving a mystery. A mystery involving a new pile of dirt and digger tracks.

Reddie is undeterred by Archie’s efforts to derail the investigation. But will following the clues end with a solved mystery and a shared dinner? And who lost the pizza in the first place in I Really Dig Pizza! (2021) by Candy James.

Find it on Bookshop.

I Really Dig Pizza! is the first book in a new early reader series by the wife-and-husband team of Candy (illustrator) and James (author). The characters are inspired by their daughter’s real life plush toys which saw her through many adventures.

This book straddles the line between early reader and graphic novel. The story includes full-page and double page spreads as well as smaller (comic book style) panels to showcase different scenes and add motion to the illustrations. The page design and a color palette featuring orange, yellow , white, and peach add interest to the book and give I Really Dig Pizza! a unique feel. The color scheme is also a fun reference to the fact that both characters are foxes although I admit Archie looks more feline to me.

The text in the story is all dialog presented in speech bubbles (white for Archie and orange for Reddie) making the style reminiscent to Willem’s Elephant and Piggie series. While there is some conflict in the story as Archie tries to distract Reddie from her investigation, all is resolved by the end when (spoiler) readers learn that Reddie had bought the pizza for Archie only to lose it before she could add a gift card.

Panels with Archie asking readers questions and breaking the fourth wall of the story to draw them in add an interactive element to this book as do Archie’s attempted diversions as he explains to Reddie that the digger noises must be a storm, the digger tracks are actually snake tracks, and so on.

I Really Dig Pizza! is a fun early reader with fast friends and plenty of humor (and pizza) that’s sure to garner a few laughs from young readers.

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

A Dark and Starless Forest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah HollowellDerry has been living in a secluded house in the woods with her siblings and their protector, Frank, for years. They don’t have luxuries like cosmetics or snack foods or even new books and DVDs. They’re not spoiled at all. But they’re taken care of. They’re safe.

Which Frank has told them is much more important in a world that fears their magic. It’s the same reason he calls them alchemists instead of that more dangerous word: witches.

White, fat, sixteen-year-old Derry and her siblings dislike Frank and fear him even as Frank reminds them that he took them in when no one–not even their parents–wanted them. Derry and her siblings–eldest Jane (who is Black); Winnie (who is fat and white); Brooke (fat, Deaf, Mexican-American); white twins Elle and Irene (Irene is trans); nonbinary, Mexican-American Violet; and the youngest identical Black twins Olivia and London–have fierce bonds between them. Which makes it so much worse when first Jane and then Winnie disappear.

Frank says the girls must have died in the dense forest surrounding their home. But as Derry explores the forest she wonders if the disappearances might be tied to Frank himself.

As she learns more about Frank and her own magical affinity for growing both real and imagined plants Derry will have to decide how far she is willing to go to keep her loved ones safe in A Dark and Starless Forest (2021) by Sarah Hollowell.

Find it on Bookshop.

Despite each sibling having distinct magical abilities, this element of the story is largely set dressing for the novel’s plot which is a blend of horror and suspense sprinkled with hints about a dark moment in Derry’s past that makes her reluctant to re-enter the forest in her search for Jane (and later Winnie). The novel is also notable for its focus on the bond between Derry and her siblings with a total absence of romance subplots.

Derry’s first-person narration amplifies the siblings’ isolation with a palpable fear of Frank and his punishments, including the dreaded time out room whose horrors are honed to each sibling’s worst nightmares (blaring lights and erratic, staticky noise for Derry). The restricted narrative works to amp up the tension but leaves many questions about how the siblings’ magic works and, more importantly, the implications of said magic in the outside world.

Hollowell is at pains to create an inclusive cast with some elements (Violet being nonbinary, Irene’s trans identity, everyone’s use of ASL–designated by single quotes around signed dialog–to communicate with Brooke) integrated into the narrative better than others. Derry’s quest to find her missing siblings and save all of them from Frank drives the story but leaves little room for character development of the other siblings who are often absent from the action and remain little more than names and attributes.

Derry’s moral ambiguity is unresolved by the end of the novel as she embraces darker choices to save her siblings heedless of the consequences. Questions about world building and what will come next for all of the siblings are also up in the air. A Dark and Starless Forest is a dark, inclusive blend of horror and extremely light fantasy. Ideal for readers looking for a slightly supernatural tale of suspense.

Possible Pairings: Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, Half Bad by Sally Green, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, All Our Hidden Gifts by Caroline O’Donoghue, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Ghost Wood Song by Erica Waters

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*