Only a Monster: A Review

Only a Monster by Vanessa LenSixteen-year-old Joan Chang-Hunt has a lot to look forward to this summer. She is once again staying with her mother’s eclectic family in London but this year is even better. Not only does she have a dream job at the historic Holland House–she gets to work alongside fellow nerd and crush Nick.

Going on a date with Nick is truly a dream come true. Or at least it should be. Unfortunately, the day of the date does not go as planned.

Instead of the start of a perfect summer, Joan finds herself in a nightmare as she learns more about her family–and their secrets.

Joan comes from a long line of monsters. Actual monsters with horrifying powers. Powers Joan might have herself.

Monsters are the least of Joan’s problems when she realizes that Nick is a hero–a monster hunter from the stuff of legend whose only goal is destroying monsters like Joan. And her family.

Desperate to protect her loved ones, Joan is willing to do anything even if it means working with a snobby stranger who happens to be the equivalent of monster royalty. Aaron Oliver is insufferable but he also knows how to navigate a world of actual monsters and heroes and maybe, just maybe, how to help Joan survive it too.

Joan is a monster. Nick is a hero. Everyone knows how that story ends. But Joan also knows that if she wants to keep her family safe it’s time for a rewrite in Only a Monster (2022) by Vanessa Len.

Find it on Bookshop.

Only a Monster is Len’s debut novel and the start of a trilogy. Joan is biracial (her mother is white and her father Chinese Malaysian) with other main characters assumed white although there is diversity among the monster families and secondary characters.

Distinct world building including a sprawling network of monster families and magical powers ranging from perfect memory to time travel create a rich landscape for Joan’s adventures as she struggles against enemies and even time itself to try to save her family. Ethical questions of what separates so-called heroes and villains inform Joan’s character arc. These moral questions also lend nuance to male leads Aaron and Nick as as their own backgrounds and development factor into the plot.

Readers will appreciate Len’s eye for detail as she brings both present and 1993 London to life while also expanding Joan’s knowledge of the monster world. In a community where everything from clothes to mannerisms carry loaded meaning Joan is doubly aware of her status as a biracial teen and–more dangerously in her current circumstances–as a half-human, half-monster girl in a world that usually sticks to strict binaries.

Only a Monster is a fascinating urban fantasy where nothing is as it seems. Well-drawn characters, action, and numerous surprises make Only a Monster an unforgettable read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: In Every Generation by Kendare Blake, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Dreams Lie Beneath: A Review

Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca RossAt every new moon, the realm of Azenor is overrun by tangible nightmares that stalk the streets wreaking havoc in their wake.

In this world where your worst dreams can, and do, come to life magicians are uniquely positioned to protect innocent dreamers from these monsters of their own making.

Clementine Madigan has grown up watching her father work as a warden and, more recently, assisting him to catalog and destroy the dream creatures that hunt each new moon. Clem’s hopes of inheriting her father’s title are dashed when two upstart magicians–brothers Lennox and Phelan Vesper–challenge him for his title. And win.

Enraged by the loss of everything she’s ever known, Clem is determined to get her revenge–even if it comes at a great personal cost.

But the harder Clem works to expose the Vespers’ misdeeds, the closer she grows to Phelan and the dangerous secrets that bind their families to each other and to the curse that has plagued Azenor for centuries in Dreams Lie Beneath (2021) by Rebecca Ross.

Find it on Bookshop.

Dreams Lie Beneath is a standalone fantasy narrated by Clem. Main characters are white with some diversity among the supporting cast.

Dreams Lie Beneath starts strong with a promising magic system and a heroine who if not entirely sympathetic is singular in pursuit of her goals. Unfortunately these pieces fail to gel into a cohesive story before a plot twist midway shifts the entire story into new territory. This plot change essentially renders everything that came before moot as both the stakes and the rewards for Clem and other main characters abruptly change. Clem’s behavior changes almost as abruptly as the plot with jumps to conclusions and shifting loyalties that have little support within the framework of the novel.

Paper thin motivations and fantasy elements that don’t move far beyond aesthetic value start as promising pieces but, again, never result in a fully realized and well-developed story.

Dreams Lie Beneath is a fun and fast-paced story with a lot of style. Readers looking for more complexity to characters and world building would be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Caraval by Stephanie Garber Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The Drowned Woods: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-JonesEighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is the last living water diviner in Wales. Taken from her parents when she is was eight-years-old by Prince Garanhir, she is one of the most powerful tools in the royal arsenal. Until the prince goes too far.

Unwilling to become a weapon used against innocents ever again, Mer has been on the run for the last four years. Trained by the king’s own spymaster, Renfrew, Mer is well-equipped to hide but even she doesn’t have the resources to disappear–especially not from her own mentor.

After years of acting on the prince’s behalf, Renfrew’s loyalties have shifted. And, as every spy knows, a person with a knife and a cause can topple kingdoms. Which is exactly what Renfrew has in mind. If Mer uses her powers one last time to help destroy the magical well that protects Garanhir’s lands–and his power–the prince’s reign will be over and Mer will finally be free.

It won’t be an easy mission. But anything is achievable with the proper resources.

Fane, a fighter with prodigious strength to kill anyone who strikes him, has his own reasons for joining Renfrew’s cause. After his years as an iron fetch, Fane is left with few illusions about his own place in the world or the grief-stricken bargain he trapped himself in years ago. Accompanied by Trefor, a Corgi who may or may not be a spy for the fae, Fane is used to keeping his own counsel and wary when it becomes clear that both his loyalties and his pacifism will be tested on this journey.

With help from the rest of Renfrew’s crew including Ifanna, the Princess of Thieves and a figure from Mer’s past, they should have everything they need. More importantly, Mer should be positioned to get everything she wants as long as she remembers the most important rule a spy ever learns: always plan two escape routes–especially when magic is involved in The Drowned Woods (2022) by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Drowned Woods is set in the same world as Lloyd-Jones’ previous novel The Bone Houses. Although the stories tie together, both can be read on their own. Characters are assumed white; Mer is bisexual. The narrative shifts viewpoints–primarily focusing on Mer and Fane while flashbacks highlight key aspects of Mer and Fane’s character and reveal key details about other characters, especially the mysterious Ifanna.

With a daring heist, spies, and thieves, it’s no surprise that The Drowned Woods is filled with numerous twists and turns as the story shifts and shifts again in satisfyingly unexpected ways. As more of Mer’s backstory is revealed the complicated relationships between the crew add dimension to the plot and depth to the characters.

Lyrical prose emphasizes the fairy tale elements of Lloyd-Jones’ world building while deliberate plot management ensures quick pacing, lots of action, and plenty of humor from Trefor. Mer–a seasoned spy born with magic and trained to be ruthless–and Fane–a seasoned fighter who bargained for magic and learned his own limits the hard way–are interesting foils and allies throughout the story. Their obvious chemistry comes across in subtle interactions and well-drawn dialog as their loyalties are tested throughout the novel.

The Drowned Woods combines the best pieces of fantasy and adventure to create a gripping story filled with magic and an ensemble cast you won’t soon forget.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Want to know more? Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Emily!

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm for review consideration*

The Perfect Escape: A Review

The Perfect Escape by Suzanne ParkNate Jae-Woo Kim is a young entrepreneur with his eye on the prize. By which he means money. With college ahead, a much younger sister, and parents already stretched thin Nate’s main goal is to make lots of money so his family can stop struggling.

Which is why it’s so tempting when one of his entitled classmares offers Nate an obscene amount of money to help him cheat and manipulate the grading curve. The money on offer would be life changing. But so would the legal ramifications if Nate participates in this level of fraud.

Sometimes Kate Anderson feels like all she has is money. After her mother’s death Kate certainly doesn’t have her father’s attention. Or his support.

Which is why Kate’s new job at a zombie-themed escape room has to remain secret. Playing a zombie is exactly what Kate needs to stretch her makeup skills and keep a hand in when it comes to acting until she earns enough money to move out and try her luck in New York’s theater scene.

Surprisingly, a zombie-themed survivalist competition could help both Nate and Kate get exactly what they need. Together. Teaming up to win the zombie run would mean a big cash prize–even if it’s split. What neither of them counted on is the fact that secrets–and growing feelings–could be just as dangerous as zombies in The Perfect Escape (2020) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Perfect Escape alternates first person narration between Nate–who is Korean American–and Kate–who is white. The audiobook narrators–Raymond J. Lee and Kate Rudd–do an excellent job of bringing these characters to life.

Park’s background as a stand-up comedian is on full display in this laugh-out-loud funny story where all’s fair between love and zombies. Although Nate and Kate start with a lot of secrets between them their obvious chemistry comes across in banter filled dialog and their adventure filled trek through the zombie run.

Nate is a no-nonsense character very focused on his future (by which he still means money) and I knew he was my favorite as soon as he detailed his deep admiration of Scrooge McDuck (described by Nate: “Scrooge McDuck was rich, focused, and no-nonsense.”). Kate’s troubled home life and her own aspirations further flesh out this dynamic duo. Fast-paced action and a race that will test both wits and loyalty serve as the perfect backdrop for Nate and Kate’s blossoming relationship as both characters wonder if sticking together might be more important than sticking to their plans.

The Perfect Escape is a quirky, often hilarious story where getting what you want might mean incapacitating a few zombies along the way.

Possible Pairings: This Will Be Funny Someday by Katie Henry, There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon, The Knockout by Sajni Patel, Drizzle, Dreams, and Lovestruck Things by Maya Prasad, Geek Girl by Holly Smale, Love Decoded by Jennifer Yen, Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Vespertine: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes, if you want to save other people, you need to remember to save yourself first.”

Vespertine by Margaret RogersonThe dead of Loraille do not rest. Luckily, the dead do not bother Artemesia. Very little does in the convent where she trains to become a Gray Sister. Positions of more prestige wait in the city for those with a knack for manipulating the demonic spirits bound to Loraille’s holy relics but Artemesia has never craved status. She has the scarred hands to prove that she has had more than enough of demons after the dark years of her childhood. Instead Artemesia is content to tending to the dead so that their spirits will not return to torment the living.

Artemesia’s quiet life is changed forever when an army of the dead invade, forcing her to bind herself to a demonic spirit to protect the convent from attack.

Now Artemesia’s very self is tied to a revenant–a malevolent spirit bound to a high relic no one left alive knows how to control. If Artemesia can harness the revenant’s power like the vespertine saints of old it could help her turn the tides of an incursion threatening all of Loraille. If she fails, the revenant will possess Artemesia and add to the chaos pushing into the country from all sides.

Isolated and trapped within its relic for centuries on end, the revenant is willing to work with Artemesia if it means a chance to move freely. But bonding with the revenant means challenging everything Artemesia has ever learned about the demons, their relics, and the legendary saints who first bound them. With dangerous dark magic creeping ever closer, one surly nun and a petulant demon will be the only things standing between Loraille and utter ruin in Vespertine (2021) by Margaret Rogerson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Vespertine is the first book in a projected duology. Artemesia is white; other characters she meets throughout Loraille are described with a variety of skin tones. Fans of audiobooks will appreciate the excellent audio production narrated by Caitlin Davies.

High action and drama contrast well with the mystery surrounding both Artemesia and the revenant’s pasts particularly as Artemesia unpacks her trauma from a childhood demonic possession and the long-lasting impact it has had on her life since.

Rogerson explores feminism through a long history of female warriors and authority figures in Loraille as well as themes of community as Artemisia learns to trust her own power–and newfound celebrity–when Loraille embraces her as a saintly warrior. Artemisia’s role in her convent and her complex relationship with the revenant also work to present and expand themes of equality while Artemisia interrogates her country’s history of harnessing demons bound to holy relics. Humor and friendship add levity to this story as Artemisia learns the necessity of self-care with reluctant help from both the revenant and fellow novitiate Marguerite.

Vespertine is a richly developed fantasy infused with action and mystery as Artemesia slowly begins to find a place for herself with the revenant, in her newfound support system, and in Loraille itself.

Possible Pairings: Lore by Alexandra Bracken, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalo, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal, Sherwood by Meagan Spooner, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne: A Review

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne by Jonathan StroudScarlett McCain has been a formidable criminal for years; her reputation as a notorious outlaw growing with every bank robbery.

Far beyond the safety of the city walls after a particularly daring escape, Scarlett finds an abandoned bus. Typically this could mean danger or access to supplies which are always scarce. Or it could mean both.

The bus holds more than Scarlett bargained for when she finds herself stuck with the hapless, lone survivor of the crash. Albert Browne projects harmless naivete with every word out of his annoying mouth. Scarlett is fairly certain she could break him in half without much effort. And she is sorely tempted.

When Scarlett reluctantly agrees to escort Albert across the wilds of England to a rumored safe haven it changes the trajectory of both their lives forever.

Not necessarily for the better.

Even Scarlett is surprised by the dogged pursuit once she and Albert begin traveling together evading the law, trackers, and worse. Scarlett is no stranger to being on the run. But she isn’t sure what it means for herself or her strange new companion when it seems their pursuers aren’t chasing her at all in The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne (2021) by Jonathan Stroud.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is the first book in Stroud’s latest YA series. Scarlett and Albert are white, there is some diversity (as indicated by names and described skintones) among the secondary cast. The story alternates close third person perspective following Scarlett and Albert with a gripping audiobook narrated by Sophie Aldred.

Fans of Stroud’s previous novels, particularly his Lockwood & Co. series, will appreciate the same snark and reluctant bonding between these ragtag protagonists. The action-filled narrative contrasts well with both Scarlett and Albert keeping their pasts close as they learn to trust each other and slowly reveal their secrets.

With a focus on the main characters and their adventures some of the world building feels more like broad strokes than concrete details as Stroud paints a bleak future with England fragmented from societal instability and implied damage from climate change. New world orders and dangerous creatures roaming the wilds add further tension to this fast-paced story and leave plenty of room for expansion in later installments.

The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is a compelling origin story for two outlaws with hearts of gold and hopefully many more stories to tell.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, Dustborn by Erin Bowman, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Flood City by Daniel Jose Older, The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah, Ice Breaker by Lian Tanner, Blood Red Road by Moira Young

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

The Book Eaters: A Review

“We can only live by the light we’re given. And some of us are given no light at all. What else can we do but learn to see in the dark?”

The Book Eaters by Sunyi DeanDevon grows up surrounded living in a manor house on the Yorkshire Moors with her family; they are always focused on tradition, on appearances, on the Family above all.

Being part of her family comes with its own responsibilities. Boys will grow up to be patriarchs or leaders, they’ll train to become the Knights who carefully manage marriages between book eaters to prevent inbreeding. Girls are a rarer commodity among the book eaters, precious. With only six girls between the Families, every one is expected to do her duty producing two children from two different husbands to help propagate the species.

Raised as a princess, eating fairytales and cautionary tales like every female book eater, Devon knows her role from a young age as clearly as she knows she craves different stories to eat. It isn’t the life she wants but, for a book eater girl, it’s the only life there is.

Prepared to do her part until her childbearing years end with the early menopause endemic to their species, Devon plans to stay detached and bide her time until she’s free. But nothing goes according to plan once she holds her first child.

Book eaters have never been known for their creativity but when her son is born not as a book eater but as a much more dangerous–and much more expendable–mind eater, Devon is determined to do everything she can to imagine a new ending for both of them in The Book Eaters (2022) by Sunyi Dean.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Book Eaters is Dean’s debut novel. The audiobook, as narrated by Katie Erich, brings Devon’s Yorkshire tyke to life.

Devon’s Family is of Romanian descent, most characters are assumed white. Devon’s sexuality as a lesbian–and another character’s asexuality–becomes central to the plot as Devon questions her narrowly defined role within the constraints of book eater society.

With its focus on bodily autonomy and personal freedom, The Book Eaters is surprisingly prescient. Dean does not shy away from scenes of assault on the night of Devon’s first “wedding” nor from disconcerting depictions of what exactly happens when a mind eater feeds making for a timely but often unpleasant narrative.

In a society of creatures who are stronger and more dangerous than humans, Devon and other characters are forced into difficult choices for their survival. This focus leads to a fast paced story interspersed with ethical quandaries of who can qualify as a hero or a villain and, more relevantly, who is worth saving.

The Book Eaters is a grim adventure with abundantly original world building; a story about the lengths we’ll go to protect family–found and otherwise.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Half Bad by Sally Green, The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, Only a Monster by Vanessa Len, This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

*An advance copy of this title and an ALC of this title from Libro.fm was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Sherwood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Who are you to say that being a lady, in itself, is not its own kind of war?”

Sherwood by Meagan SpoonerWhen Robin of Locksley dies fighting in the Crusades for his king, it leaves Marian’s entire future uncertain. For years, Marian knew she would marry Robin and stand beside him when he became Lord of Locksley. They would make a life together, the way they had always planned, and they would protect Locksley town and its residents from the Sheriff of Nottingham. Together.

Now Marian is painfully aware of her uncertain future. Guy of Gisborne serves as the sheriff’s right hand. He hopes to cement his place as a gentleman first by laying claim to Locksley land and then by claiming Marian herself.

With her options dwindling and time running short, Marian is driven to a desperate decision to don Robin’s green cloak and act as a protector when he no longer can. What began as one impulsive act quickly gains a life of its own as news of Robin’s return spreads and brings hope to people with in desperate need of it.

Marian never meant to hide behind a hood, she never meant to become Robin. With Guy getting closer to her secret, with the sheriff enraged, Marian knows she has to stop. But with so many people counting on her–on Robin Hood–she isn’t sure how she can in Sherwood (2019) by Meagan Spooner.

Find it on Bookshop.

Spooner continues her series of standalone retellings of classic tales with Sherwood. All characters are assumed white.

Sherwood reinterprets familiar source material with new twists and imbues the story with strong feminist themes. Marian has always been aware of her vulnerabilities and limitations as a woman in medieval society where the paths available to her include marriage or life in a convent and much in between. These restraints gain new urgency when Marian’s planned future is stripped away with Robin’s unexpected death–leaving her to grieve her lost future as much as her childhood best friend.

This impressive take on Robin Hood features familiar characters and plot points retold with clever changes that make Sherwood into something new. Marian’s precarious role as a noblewoman is portrayed well as societal pressures call for her to stop mourning Robin and choose a new suitor. At the same time, as she works with Sherwood’s most notable outlaws, Marian’s privilege is checked by her new (and sometimes reluctant) allies who keep her grounded in the realities of living in poverty or on the run from the law.

Without revealing too much about the plot, I will say Spooner’s treatment of Guy of Gisborne is one of my favorite character reinterpretations of all time. This story reimagines Guy as a more nuanced character than the usual dour enforcer and positions him to serve as a foil and counterpoint to Marian throughout.

Sherwood stays true to the source material and the spirit of the characters while also being entirely unique and adding new layers to a familiar tale. Sherwood is a richly layered and deeply feminist story filled with adventure and surprises; perfect for fans familiar with Robin Hood and new readers alike.

Possible Pairings: No Good Deed by Kara Connolly, The Forest Queen by Betsey Cornwell, Hood by Jenny Moke Elder, Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater, The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

The Bone Orchard: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I won’t be ashamed of remaking myself. And I won’t turn my back on myself.

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. MuellerCharm is a survivor. After the fall of Inshil, Charm is brought to Borenguard. She is confined to a life running Orchard House, a brothel and gambling den, and tending the adjacent bone trees–the last trace of her necromantic skills. Again and again she has used the trees to regrow her bone ghosts, her children really, Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.

Each ghost has her own role to play, her own part, to keep Orchard House together. Charm oversees it all, madam and mistress both, as everyone from Borenguard’s elite to the Fire Drinkers–the empire’s psychically gifted police force–frequents Orchard House and buys time with the ghosts.

Except on Tuesdays. When the house is closed for all but the Emperor who comes for Charm herself.

Until one Tuesday when everything changes. Instead of coming to the house, Charm is summoned to the palace where the Emperor lay dying with one last charge for his mistress.  The Emperor knows one of his cruel sons is responsible for his murder. If Charm can determine which one, and thereby also choose which son is best fit to rule, Charm will finally be free.

But serving the emperor with this one last task will put everything–and each of the ghosts–Charm has built at risk. With her own fate and the fate of her bone ghosts uncertain, Charm will have to decide if she can serve the Emperor’s last wishes while also finally serving her own interests in The Bone Orchard (2022) by Sara A. Mueller

Find it on Bookshop.

Please be aware of the content warnings for this book which includes instances of domestic abuse, rape, incest, torture, pedophilia, and other acts of violence.

Mueller’s standalone fantasy is a nuanced and richly plotted story set in a world populated by people with varied skin tones and sexual orientations including one central character who is cued as nonbinary/genderqueer. The bone ghosts are described as “colorless” and lacking in pigmentation. Shifting viewpoints move between Charm and several of the bone ghosts as the story slowly spins out and gains momentum.

The setting of Orchard House acts as a key character itself giving space to unpack the unequal power dynamics at play between many of the characters because of gender and glass–and between Charm and each of the bone ghosts who carry their own burdens and traumas. The house also highlights the ways in which history is written (or rewritten) by the victors as more of its provenance is revealed.

Be warned, this story is often gruesome and unsavory as Mueller throws open the closed doors of the brothel and also explores exactly why each of the Emperor’s sons are so deeply damaged and awful. Nonetheless, The Bone Orchard is a satisfying mystery and meditative political fantasy that begs to be savored. As the many layers of both Charm and Borenguard’s pasts are peeled back the novel builds to a complex denouement where Charm–and others–transcend the restrictions placed upon them as they learn to embrace and respect what they have done in order to survive.

Through shifting lenses and an intricate plot including mystery, political machinations, and more The Bone Orchard explores what it means to inhabit the world alternately as a captive, a potential victim, and as a survivor; grim but ultimately empowering.

Possible Pairings: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

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

Amari and the Night Brothers: A Review

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. AlstonAmari Peters knows she can never measure up to her older brother Quinton. But with Quinton missing and the police no longer even pretending to look for him, Amari is all their single mother has left. So Amari tries her best even if Quinton left big shoes to fill with an outstanding academic career and a mysterious job that left no way to trace him after the disappearance.

When the latest round of bullying by the rich, white girls at her fancy private school ends with Amari’s suspension, Amari knows she’s in big trouble. She also knows being home alone is a great opportunity to continue her search for Quinton. Instead of finding a clue to where Quinton is, Amari finds an invitation that’s been waiting for her.

Turns out Quinton’s job was a bigger deal than anyone realized and, now that she’s thirteen, Amari has a chance to follow in her brother’s footsteps by joining the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs. Amari is certain that learning the truth about Quinton’s life will help her find him, but being in the Bureau also feels right. Even when Amari’s ceremony to receive her trainee shield goes very wrong. Turns out Amari is a promising trainee–even more promising than her brother, for once. Unfortunately, Amari’s supernatural level talent is also illegal because she’s a magician.

Amari has one chance to make it as a trainee and one chance to try and find her brother–she’ll have to make the most of both as she survives her rigorous trainee schedule, more mean girls, and tries to make new friends all while trying to understand her magic–and find out what really happened to her brother in Amari and the Night Brothers (2021) by B.B. Alston.

Find it on Bookshop.

Amari and the Night Brothers is Alston’s debut novel and the start of a series. Amari and her family are Black. Secondary characters are varied including Amari’s new roommate Elsie who is a dragon (and my favorite). The audiobook is a fun and fast listen as narrated by Imani Parks but you will catch more of Alston’s punny name choices in print.

Amari is a fantastic protagonist. She is street smart and savvy after growing up poor and living in the projects but she is also still open to wonder as she explores more of the supernatural world. Most importantly, she is still hopeful and has unflagging faith that she will find Quinton again and reunite her family. Alston’s writing is top notch as he weaves the supernatural world into a modern urban setting with a similar sensibility to the Men in Black films.

Strong world building, authentic characters, and a really fun magic system make Amari and the Night Brothers a great adventure for readers of all ages; a more enjoyable and more inclusive alternative to Harry Potter.

Possible Pairings: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, Shadow Weaver by MarcyKate Connolly, Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend