The Winner’s Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. As such this review contains major spoilers for books one and two!*

“She thought, fleetingly, that this must be what memory was for: to rebuild yourself when you lose the pieces.”

The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiArin and Kestrel should be on opposites sides in the war that is brewing between Valoria and its newly independent colony Herran. Yet, despite all appearances to the contrary they have been on the same side–that is, Kestrel has been on Arin’s side–from the outset.

Arin is certain that Kestrel is getting exactly what she deserves serving at the Emperor’s shoulder while she watches her father prepare to make war with Herran.

He’s wrong.

Instead, one impetuous decision has led Kestrel to the northern tundra as a prisoner. A traitor to her own country desperate to escape.

Arin and Kestrel have always been bound by their decisions–deliberate acts and willful lies that have pulled them away from each other again and again. With the threat of war growing every day, both Kestrel and Arin will have to redefine victory–and trust–if they hope to find their way back to each other or the people they’ve worked so hard to save in The Winner’s Kiss (2016) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime.

This novel starts off soon after the climactic conclusion of book two. Arin prepares for war in Herran while Kestrel is brought to a prison work camp in the Valorian Tundra, both haunted by the decisions that have led them to this point.

Rutkoski manages to strike the perfect balance between character-driven introspection and nail biting tension throughout the novel. Arin and Kestrel are broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes larger, because of their ties to Herran and to each other. Their own attempts to heal and rebuild play out against the grand battle looming over who will control Herran moving forward.

This book is the exact right conclusion for this series and the one that the characters deserve. The Winner’s Kiss delivers everything readers of this trilogy have come to love and expect while expanding Arin and Kestrel’s world even further with still more insights into these two shrewd and talented characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Two Summers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanAn unexpected phone call at the airport forces Summer Everett to make a split second decision. Should she answer the phone? Should she get on the plane?

One decision will lead to two very different outcomes as Summer’s choices play out in parallel worlds.

In one world Summer ignores the phone call and heads to France as planned for what should be a perfect trip. Summer is thrilled with the chance to catch up with her dad and get to see his portrait of her hanging in a fancy gallery–all while enjoying the beautiful French countryside.

In the other world Summer answers the phone and her plans are ruined. No trip to France. No time with Dad. Just three boring months off from school in her same old small town. She has the chance to take a photography class for the first time, but it’s hard to think of that as anything but a consolation prize.

Neither outcome is quite what Summer expects.

In France or her home town Summer will find unexpected surprises and growing pains, along with the promise of first love and self-discovery. Each vacation will also bring Summer closer to a shocking secret whose revelation will have lasting repercussions regardless of Summer’s initial choice. Some decisions might lead Summer to the same outcomes in both worlds, but it’s up to her to decide what shape her life will take from here in Two Summers (2016) by Aimee Friedman.

Two Summers gives readers the best of both worlds in this two-for-one story of one (or perhaps two) pivotal summers. 

Summer is a smart, authentic narrator who learns a lot in each plot whether its how to stand up for herself in France or how to appreciate her own artistic abilities in a photography class at home. Throughout the novel Summer also learns how to be alone and how to step out of her comfort zone. Sweet romances and well-developed characters round out this charming novel that brings the lazy heat and possibility of a long summer vacation to life.

Careful plotting allows readers to watch both timelines play out in “real” time with little nods to the dual narrative which help to bring a cohesive quality to the overall story. The idea of causality and that some outcomes are inevitable is another interesting thread throughout as Two Summers builds toward a satisfying conclusion for both plots. A great summery story and a delightful introduction to time travel and parallel worlds. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Parallel by Lauren Miller, Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols, Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Be sure to enter my Two Summers giveaway too!

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Aimee!

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

The Night Gardener: A Picture Book Review

The Night Gardener by The Fan BrothersWilliam doesn’t know what to think when the tree outside his window is transformed into an owl topiary overnight. Soon after more wonderful topiaries begin appearing in the neighborhood.

Eager to find out the secrets behind these wondrous creations, William sneaks out after dark to discover the night gardener at work. Soon, William begins working with the night gardener to create more beautiful trees and help change his town forever in The Night Gardener (2016) by The Fan Brothers (Eric and Terry Fan).

The Night Gardener makes full use of its large size with big full-page spreads of artwork throughout the book. Soft, washed out colors in the beginning of the book contrast sharply with the vivid greens used for each new topiary. The Fan Brothers even differentiate between day and night with a subtle blue hue overlaying each evening illustration.

The weight of color used throughout The Night Gardener also highlights the effect of each topiary on the town as more and more heavy color is used in each spread until, at the end of the story, the illustrations are full-color.

This is a charming picture book in the tradition of Grandpa Green by Lane Smith and The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. The arc of the story is reminiscent of Daniel Pinkwater’s classic The Big Orange Splot, another book that slowly brings color and individuality to a decidedly beige town.

The Night Gardener is a gorgeous debut. The Fans combine luxuriant, detailed illustrations with a whimsical story to create a picture book that is sure to be a hit with readers of all ages. A likely suspect for many best picture books lists later in the year.

Shadowshaper: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Shadowshaper by Daniel José OlderSierra Santiago’s plans for the summer are quickly derailed when old-timers from around the neighborhood start to disappear. As soon as a strange zombie guy shows up at the first party of the summer, Sierra knows something is up even if her mother and grandfather refuse to admit that anything is remotely wrong.

When one graffiti mural starts crying and others begin to fade, it’s clear that something sinister is at play. Everyone in the neighborhood agrees it’s vitally important for Sierra to finish the mural she started, but no one will say why.

It’s only when she starts hanging out with Robbie that she learns about Shadowshapers and their ability to connect to magic through art. They used to be very powerful. But that was before the Shadowshapers had a falling out years ago. And before they started dying. With only scant clues, limited experience with her newly-discovered Shadowshaping powers, and not nearly enough time, Sierra and her friends will have to think fast to save their neighborhood–and maybe the world–in Shadowshaper (2015) by Daniel José Older.

Shadowshaper is Older’s first novel written for the YA market and a standalone.

Older uses concrete details and real locations to bring Sierra’s Brooklyn to life in Shadowshaper. The story effortlessly evokes New York wandering and handles issues surrounding gentrification and the changing landscape of the city extremely well. Sierra’s voice, and those of her friends, are authentically teen which only adds to the ambiance of this novel. Additionally, a diverse cast including Sierra’s friends, neighborhood regulars, and Sierra’s family create a great story in a sub-genre that is often frustratingly (not to mention unrealistically) white.

While Shadowshaper excels with characters and setting, it unfortunately falls flat as a fantasy. The mythology surrounding Shadowshaping is slight at best with rules and mechanics that are poorly explained when they are explained at all. There is a lot of potential here that might have been better served with a longer novel or even a sequel.

Breakneck action and numerous chase sequences also diminish the story and leave little room for characterization. While Sierra is very well-realized her friends often come across as stock characters with limited personality or purpose within the narrative. While it is incredibly empowering to have a book where the only white person is the villain, it was disappointing to see that villain become little quite one-dimensional by the end of the novel.

Shadowshaper is a fast read. Unfortunately, many parts of the novel feel rushed. The hardcover has some obvious continuity errors with blocking (characters standing on one page and then standing again three pages later without ever having sat down for instance) and many opportunities to complicate the narrative and characters are ignored.

Shadowshaper is a great choice for readers looking for authentic characters and a fun read. Recommended as an introduction to urban fantasy for readers willing to suspend their disbelief with only limited justification. Ideal for reluctant readers and anyone who likes the novels fast-paced and full of action.

Possible Pairings: Tithe by Holly Black, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine, Radiant Days by Elizabeth Hand, Midnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

The Truth Commission: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“When you tell a story, you shape the truth.”

The Truth Commission by Susan JubyAfter years of being fodder (along with her parents) for her sister Kiera’s best-selling graphic novel series, The Diana Chronicles, Normandy Pale is ready to come into her own. She’d like to be known for her own strengths and accomplishments instead of constantly being compared to her hapless counterpart in the Chronicles.

But it turns out it’s hard to stop being a muse. Especially when you never asked to be one.

How can Normandy focus on her projects at the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design when she is terrified of what fresh humiliations her character will be subjected to in Kiera’s highly anticipated new book? How can she embark on a search for truth with the Truth Commission she accidentally started with best friends Dusk and Neil when it feels like secrets are the only things holding her fragile and peculiar family together?

In searching for secrets at Green Pastures, Dusk, Neil and a reluctant Normandy hope to bring some kind of peace and honesty to their school. But when their hunt for truth reveals some uncomfortable secrets and shocking truths about Kiera and her work, Normandy will have to decide how much honesty she wants in her own life in The Truth Commission (2015) by Susan Juby.

The Truth Commission is an ambitious novel presented as a work of narrative non-fiction complete with footnotes and illustrations (by Trevor Cooper). Written as Normandy’s spring project for the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design, The Truth Commission is a sleek and self-aware novel.

In watching Normandy work through the process of writing her own book (when to add chapter breaks, how to move the plot along, etc.) The Truth Commission also becomes a sort of primer on how to write and write well. The one-sided dialog (in footnotes) between Normandy and her teacher Ms. Fowler also adds another dimension to a novel that is already delightfully complex.

Speaking of Ms. Fowler, it’s also refreshing to see that Normandy has adults in her life who are present and offer support throughout the novel–even if they aren’t always the ones who should be at the forefront in terms of support. This novel is about a lot of other things but seeing Normandy create and nurture her own support system is very powerful.

As the title suggests, The Truth Commission is a story about truth and honesty. It’s also a story about family and what it means when the family you are born into is not always as good or healthy as the family you might choose. It’s a story about art–both making it and engaging with it. It’s a story about the push and pull of friendships. It’s even a bit of a story about love. Most importantly, The Truth Commission is about how people–both creators and not–shape their own worlds and stories in the telling.

The Truth Commission is a thoughtful, smart, and funny story that works on many different planes. What starts as a humorous and promising project for Normandy and her friends becomes much more in Juby’s expert hands in this meditation on subjectivity, consent and how telling the truth (or choosing not to) can change everything. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, In Real Life by Jessica Love, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Susan!

How to Be Brave: A Review

How to Be Brave by E. Katherine KottarasReeling from her mother’s death, Georgia knows that things have to change. After years of trying to blend into the background, Georgia is ready to be brave just like her mother told her to be in her last letter.

Armed with a list of brave things to do ranging from “asking him out” to smoking pot to going to trapeze school, Georgia is ready to get out of her own way and do everything; she’s ready to be everything in How to Be Brave (2015) by E. Katherine Kottaras.

How to Be Brave is Kottaras’ first novel. In a red-letter year for body acceptance novels, it’s also being touted as comparable read for Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy.

A lot of my issues with the book are decidedly my own. They also include spoilers to some extent so be wary.

Continue reading

Soundless: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Soundless by Richelle MeadFei’s entire village lost its hearing generations ago. Some claim that mythical pixius eliminated sound on the mountaintop so that they could slumber but no one really knows. For Fei and her people it is the way life has always been in their village isolated by mountains on all sides.

Life in the village can be bleak as miners work to extract precious metals from the mountain’s mine in exchange for food rations sent up via zipline from the kingdom of Beiguo far below.

With villagers going blind and food–already a precious commodity–coming in smaller and smaller quantities, the fate of the village is uncertain. Fei can see the growing threats to her people every day as she observes the village to paint her part of the day’s record that are displayed in the village center each morning.

Awoken one night be unsettling dreams and a noise unlike anything she could imagine, Fei realizes that her hearing has been restored. With this strange new sense to help her and steadfast Li Wei by her side, Fei has the power to change her own life and that of her entire village forever in Soundless (2015) by Richelle Mead.

Soundless is a standalone fantasy inspired by Mead’s fascination with and love for Chinese folklore.

Fei is a fantastic heroine fueled by fierce love for her sister. She is strong, capable and confident in her own strengths. Fei brings an artistic eye to her world as she begins to push against the status quo in her village. Surprising twists and shocks make for an surprising final act as Soundless builds to an exciting conclusion.

Although this novel does employ a magical cure for Fei’s deafness, the subject is still handled thoughtfully with cleverly integrated dialog (written in italics as characters sign to each other) and carefully blocked scenes (Mead is always mindful that the characters are looking at each other before they begin signing for instance). Fei’s struggle to make sense of sound after a lifetime without is fascinating and extremely well done. Moments in the narrative also highlight times when not hearing is an advantage as well.

Fei does come to see her restored hearing as an asset and something of value that she hopes her friends and loved ones will also experience one day. However it is important to note that lack of hearing is never portrayed as a limitation for any of the characters.

Soundless is further strengthened with a sweet romance between Fei and Li Wei who are thrown together to save their village. Their evolving relationship throughout the novel is, in a word, adorable.

Diverse characters, unique mythology, and a thoughtful examination of deafness add another dimension to this rich narrative. Soundless is a provocative and original fantasy novel in a rarely seen setting. A must-read and highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Mistwood by Leah Cypress, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Eon by Allison Goodman, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Updraft by Fran Wilde

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*