A Conjuring of Light: A Review

*A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.*

“Life isn’t made of choices. It’s made of trades. Some are good, some are bad, but they all have a cost.”

“We don’t choose what we are, but we choose what we do.”

Once there were four Londons. Black London was consumed by magic a long time ago. White London will die without more magic. Grey London never had any magic. Then there’s Red London, the jewel of the Maresh Empire and a shining beacon of magic across its world. That magic is what makes Red London so beautiful; it’s what is threatening to destroy it as well.

An interloper from Black London is tearing its way through Red London leaving destruction and death in its wake. Kell is used to being alone and to thinking of himself as isolated thanks to his Antari blood but all of that changes when the only home he’s ever had and the only family that matters is threatened. But Kell can’t fight this battle alone. Not if he wants to win.

Lila has thrived in Red London leaving behind her life as a thief to pursue her dream of becoming a pirate. She made it through the magical competition of the Essen Tasch but not she has to learn to control her magic before it begins to control her.

Kell and Lila will have to use every spell and trick they know to face a new threat from Black London. Along the way they’ll rely on old friends like Kell’s brother Prince Rhy and uneasy allies like the mysterious Captain Alucard Emery. Even old enemies may become allies before the battle is over. To survive, to win, will take everything the Antari have to give and maybe even more in A Conjuring of Light (2017) by V. E. Schwab.

A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.

A Conjuring of Light picks up shortly after book two. Everyone is in peril and trouble is brewing. The tension does not let up from there. At more than six hundred pages you would thing this book would feel bloated of slow. It doesn’t. Schwab’s story is perfectly paced to give this series the conclusion it deserves.

Written in third person this novel alternates perspective to follow all of the major characters that readers have come to know and love over the course of this series. Rhy is still struggling with what it means to be a prince without magic while also processing the way his life is now tied to Kell’s. Alucard is haunted by his past and not sure he can ever be free of it. Lila still has so much to learn about being an Antari and letting people love her instead of running away. Kell, similarly, is still struggling to define what family means for a man with no memory of his past. Does a past he can’t remember mean anything compared to the family he has known for most of his life?

Then, of course, there’s Holland. Before A Conjuring of Light it’s easy to say Holland is the villain of this story and stop there. Schwab’s deliberate and complex characterization, however, slowly reveals that there is much more to this oldest and most experienced Antari. This story is also peppered with flashbacks for all of the characters though most notably for Holland.

It’s a rare epic fantasy that can be grim and tense and also make you laugh out loud. Schwab makes it look effortless here. A Conjuring Light is a perfect conclusion to a truly original series filled with memorable characters, adventure, and one of the most stunning redemption ever.

A Conjuring of Light is a story of uneasy alliances, fierce bonds, and at its center three powerful magicians whose lives are inextricably linked–whether or not they want to be. This series is a must read for all fantasy enthusiasts. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

Frostblood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ruby’s life is destroyed when her Fireblood powers are discovered. Betrayed by her village, Ruby is helpless when her mother is killed in front of her.

Arrested by the king’s Frostblood soldiers Ruby is sent to prison. Between the abuses of the guards and fear of her Fireblood powers, Ruby knows she won’t survive long in prison. When she is offered the chance to escape, Ruby has no choice but to except. The promise of revenge against the king is an added bonus and enough to make Ruby reluctantly agree to her rescuers terms.

After her escape Ruby will have to recover her health and learn to control her powers all under the scornful eye of Arcus–an infuriating rebel who Ruby is slow to trust despite her immediate attraction to him.

Before Ruby can do more than begin to learn to control her powers, everything changes again. Separated from the rebels and thrust into a dangerous new world, Ruby will have to rely on the fire that rages inside if she hopes to survive in Frostblood (2017) by Elly Blake.

Frostblood is Blake’s debut novel and the first book in her Frostblood Saga. Blake begins this series with an promising if sometimes familiar conceit and underwhelming world building.

Ruby is a gifted but undisciplined Fireblood (basically fire magician) in a kingdom ruled by Frostbloods (ice magicians, if you will). Ruby is inexperienced when it comes to wielding and controlling her power after hiding it for years to avoid arrest or execution. Like many heroines, Ruby seems to be ninety percent bravado and ten percent skill–a flaw she acknowledges while recklessly trying to exercise control she does not yet possess. In addition to being impetuous, Ruby demonstrates a stunning lack of perception and awareness as predictable plot twists and revelations repeatedly leave her shocked.

Nevertheless, Frostblood begins with Ruby practicing in secret–a necessary way to start the plot but one with unclear motivations as Ruby is discouraged by her mother who fears detection. After that the plot moves quickly with Ruby’s escape from prison and her subsequent recovery and training. There is also ample banter between Ruby and Arcus–a bright spot throughout the novel. Uneven pacing including and an especially abrupt break between the first and second halves of the book make Frostblood feel disjointed with a story that develops in starts and stops.

Frostblood joins the recent trend of fast-paced, high action fantasies featuring a powerful girl in the lead. Readers seeking a book in that vein will enjoy this one and be eager to see what comes next for Ruby and Arcus. Readers who prefer slower pacing and stronger world building may see the potential while seeking a weightier read.

Possible Pairings: Bound by Blood and Sand by Becky Allen, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Valiant by Lesley Livingston, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

I started Frostblood today on my morning commute. It seems appropriate with the way the weather is vacillating between warm and cold this month. 🔮 Ruby's life is destroyed when she is outed as a Fireblood and arrested by Frostblood soldiers working for the king. When Ruby is offered the chance to escape and the promise of revenge against the king, she jumps at the chance. But before Ruby can do more than try to learn to control her powers, everything changes again. Will the fire that rages inside Ruby be enough to help her survive? 🔮 I wasn't sure about this one when I started but Ruby is a fun heroine and I'm curious to see what happens next. Frostblood is sure to appeal to fans of Snow Like Ashes or Red Queen. 🔮 Have you read this one yet? Are you planning to? What are you up to this Tuesday? 🔮 #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #book

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Wires and Nerve: A Graphic Novel Review

To preserve the unstable alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko decides to hunt down  rogue wolf-hybrids who have been attacking both planets. As an android Iko is uniquely suited to the task. She’s also determined to do anything to help her friends Cinder and Kai heal the rift between their two planets.

Iko’s hunt takes far from Luna as she tracks the wolf packs across earth with help from other friends including Cress and Thorne. Unfortunately Iko is also saddled with an unwanted sidekick in the form of Kinney, a royal guard who has little use for Iko and androids in general.

As they come closer to the rogue wolf’s Iko will unearth a conspiracy that threatens everyone she cares about–a threat so big she might even welcome Kinney’s help this once in Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 (2017) by Marissa Meyer, illustrated by Douglas Holgate.

Wires and Nerve is a new graphic novel series. It picks up shortly after the conclusion of Winter, the final book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. The graphic novel series focuses on Iko, a character who never got her own book in the prose novels. While readers might appreciate a basic knowledge of the novels, this graphic novel series can be read on its own. (I read Cinder when it first came out and later read recaps of the other books in the series. That combined with Iko’s narrative flashbacks was enough for me.)

Iko’s graphic novel story is surprisingly delightful. In the midst of a cross-planetary hunt for rogue wolves Iko has to grapple with what it means to be an android and how she is treated because of it. She has been erased from the Lunar Chronicle adventures largely because she is “just” an android and even some of her allies (like Kinney) question Iko’s ability to care about anything or anyone when she’s not human.

Holgate’s illustrations are in a blue and white palette that is used to great effect and compliments Meyer’s world. The writing is fast-paced with snappy narration from Iko. This volume also uses the graphic novel format effectively with panels that are well designed to create a cinematic feel to the story (check out the spread on page 197 to see what I mean). Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 is some of the best of what graphic novels have to offer. A great choice for fans of the Lunar Chronicles series as well as readers looking for a new sci-fi comic to enjoy.

Possible Pairings: Dove Arising by Karon Bao, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

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

I Believe in a Thing Called Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Unexpected things happen,” I said into the microphone. “But it’s how we react to them, how we learn and evolve from these things that shapes us into who we are.”

Desi Lee is known for a lot of things. Like being Student Government President and getting straight As and being solidly on track with her plan to go to Stanford. That’s not even counting her knowledge of engines thanks to her car mechanic dad or her large and varied list of extracurriculars (Arbor Day Society anyone?).

There’s one other thing Desi is known for, at least with her best friends Fiona Mendoza and Wes Mansour. Desi has never had a boyfriend. In fact, thanks to her spectacularly disastrous attempts at flirting (Flailures. Get it?) she’s never even come close.

When Luka Drakos (AKA the hottest guy she has seen in her entire life) breezes into Desi’s high school she knows she’s a goner. But she’s also motivated. And, thanks to the Korean Dramas her father loves, Desi has a plan.

All she needs to do is follow her “K Drama Rules for True Love” to convince artsy Luka that they’re perfect for each other. Desi’s path to true love is filled with disasters (both manufactured and otherwise) and the kind of charming mayhem that might be impossible to resist in I Believe in a Thing Called Love (2017) by Maurene Goo.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is Goo’s sophomore novel.

Desi narrates this standalone contemporary in her singular voice. Inspired by actual K Dramas (featured in a list at the end of the novel) Desi’s story takes on the structure of her “K Drama Rules for True Love” with each chapter following one step as she tries to use them to win Luka over.

Desi dreams of becoming a doctor. She is athletic, driven, and she doesn’t have an artsy bone in her body–something that becomes all too clear as she tries to bond with Luka over his art. Luka, meanwhile, is a sensational artist without much interest in school or sports. While the pairing seems unlikely at first, these two complement each other well throughout I Believe in a Thing Called Love while effortlessly flipping some traditional gender roles seen in romantic comedies.

Desi’s story is an unapologetic love story–just like the K Dramas she comes to love. But this isn’t just a story about a girl pursuing the boy of her dreams. It’s also the story of a girl trying to do the absolute best she can for a father she adores and the story of that father adjusting to life in a new country–especially after his wife’s sudden death. It’s a story about dreaming and also realizing that sometimes dreams change. And that’s okay.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love is filled with madcap adventures, romance, and an abiding admiration and respect for all of the forms love can take. Don’t miss this striking story. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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

Saint Death: A Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samurai Rising: A Non-Fiction Review

“Few warriors are as famous as the Japanese samurai. We remember those beautiful swords and those fearsome helmets. We recall, with both horror and fascination, how some chose to end their own lives. But no one can understand the samurai without knowing Minamoto Yoshitsune.”

Samurai Rising by Pamela S. Turner, illustrated by Gareth HindsSamurai warriors occupy an unusual space between actual history and the stuff of legend. Immortalized in countless books and films, these warriors are sensationalized and idealized but rarely studied as historical figures.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune (2016) by Pamela S. Turner, illustrated by Gareth Hinds works to correct that with this biography of one of history’s most famous samurai.

Yoshitsune’s story begins in 1160 when his father tries to kidnap the Japanese Emperor and take more prestige and wealth for the Minamoto samurai by force. He fails thus forfeiting his life and placing his rival, the leader of the Taira samurai, in an influential position as the emperor’s right hand. Yoshitsune avoids execution thanks to his mother’s pleas and is instead exiled as a child at a monastery to become a monk.

As he grows older and learns more about his family’s heritage Yoshitsune rejects that path, runs away from the monastery, learns the ways of the samurai, and sets out help his family reclaim their supposed birthright.

This story begins in 1160 when the Minamoto abduction of the emperor fails. Turner bridges the more than 850 years between Yoshitsune and readers with thorough research and a healthy dose of supposition.

Samurai Rising opens with a listing of key figures in the story along with name pronunciations and a short description of their relationship to Yoshitsune. Detailed maps show readers Japan as a whole as well as key battle site and strongholds that will turn up in the story. The text is further enhanced with illustrations from Gareth Hinds that appear at the beginning of each chapter showcasing samurai in action or detailed images of their various equipment. Turner finishes this book with copious footnotes about her research and the details she has chosen to include and interpret in this story.

This book can appeal to a wide range of ages. It’s been discussed as a contender for both children’s and young adult awards and was named a finalist for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA’s) Non-Fiction Awards.

Samurai Rising reads very young. The narrative voice feels decidedly middle grade as does the snappy tone and the witty asides peppered throughout the text. Turner’s writing is filled with pat language and anachronistic analogies to better situated samurai life and culture in modern terms. (Example: Saying the “cool kids” of the Japanese ruling class saw the samurai as “dumb jocks” or comparing Yoshitsune showing up at the Hiraizumi estate asking for samurai training to a boy who has never been to Little League showing up for spring training with the Yankees.) This information will work for some readers. I was not one of them.

Aside from pulling me out of the story–because really, even as a historical biography this book is essentially a story–these comparisons often highlighted very specific assumptions Turner makes about who will be reading this book (sports enthusiasts, people with the cultural knowledge to know the Yankees, readers familiar with the stereotypical social hierarchy of high school . . .). Seeing these assumptions at play is intensely irritating as it creates the effect of talking down to readers and, for me, placing me as firmly not within the target audience (which is okay, that happens when adults read YA but it could easily happen for kids and teens outside of the target area as well).

Writing issues aside, Samurai Rising is also a book that glorifies violence and war and doesn’t look to closely at the implications of writing a history about the “winning” side of this samurai battle. Why are the Minamoto the heroes? Why is violence and death acceptable within the ceremony of samurai culture? Turner never really says. I don’t have the background in Japanese history to say much of anything but I will point you to Leonard Kim’s review which raises a lot of these questions and points out some of the inherent flaws in this viewpoint.

The scope of Samurai Rising and the subject matter is especially impressive given the relative dearth of textual evidence from the time. Turner takes on a lot here and she successfully breathes life into Yoshitsune’s story making it engaging and approachable for readers. Whether or not that is a good thing is a matter open to interpretation and discussion.

If you want to hear more thoughts about Samurai Rising be sure to check out Sarah Couri’s review on Someday My Printz Will Come and the discussion in the comments on Heavy Medal as well. Leonard Kim’s review should also be required reading about this book.

Possible Pairings: The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, The Samurai’s Tale by Erik Christian Haugaard, The Notorious Benedict Arnold by Steve Sheinkin, Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki

The Stone Heart: A Graphic Novel Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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