Last Things: A Review

Last Things by Jacqueline WestEveryone in town has heard of Anders Thorson and his band, Last Things. The metal group has made a place for themselves on the local scene and as their–especially Anders’–reputation grows there’s no reason to doubt that the band is going to be big way beyond the town and even beyond Minnesota. With comparisons to Opeth and talent scouts circling, it’s clear that Anders is prodigiously talented.

But Anders isn’t sure if he wants to pay the price for all that fame. Especially when everyone is increasingly interested in Anders and only Anders. The band started as a project between friends. Leaving them behind isn’t an option. Is it?

Thea Malcom has been keeping an eye on Anders for a while now. They haven’t spoken, he may not even know her, but Thea is there at the back of every show. She’s always watching. She says she’s trying to protect Anders. But is she really? Or could she be the reason both his cat and his sort-of girlfriend have disappeared?

Things are changing. Anders will have to decide if he wants to let them and if he can trust Thea and her promises to keep him safe in Last Things (2019) by Jacqueline West.

Find it on Bookshop.

Last Things is a supsenseful and atmospheric story with all characters assumed white. Vivid descriptions of the woods surround town and Anders’ musical endeavors pull readers into this page-turner. Chapters alternate between Anders and Thea which works well to increase the tension in the plot as it becomes clear that Thea (and readers) know more about the strange occurences at work around Anders than the guitar prodigy himself.

Thea’s mystery past and Anders’ own reluctance to remember exactly what he promised away to get to this point raise further questions that move the narrative along to its dramatic finish. With Faustian bargains and palpable menace Last Things is an ideal choice for both fantasy and horror/suspense.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Rock Paper Scissors: A Review

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice FeeneyBehind closed doors something has been wrong with Mr. and Mrs. Wright for a long while. First it’s the things they don’t talk about it, then there’s the time they spend apart.

Adam has always been a workaholic, happy to toil away adapting best-selling novels into screenplays while neglecting his own creative projects. Amelia has built her whole world around Adam but she knows their marriage is becoming more and more fragile. Most people can see the writing on the wall even if they can’t read it.

Amelia also knows that the right move can set them back on course, so when she wins a trip to Scotland it feels like fate.

Except someone is lying. And someone else never planned for both of them to come back from this trip in one piece in Rock Paper Scissors (2021) by Alice Feeney.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rock Paper Scissors is a standalone thriller. Most chapters alternates point of view between Adam and Amelia. Letters for each wedding anniversary are interspersed throughout offering a glimpse into the past with letters thematically tied to traditional wedding gifts (starting with paper) as well as so-called words of the year (including rock). I can’t say much more about the book’s structure without giving away some of the key twists but if you want an atmospherically creepy reading experience, do check out the audiobook narrated by Richard Armitage and Stephanie Racine.

Feeney presents a satisfying and troubling story that is part thriller and part marriage post-mortem. Amelia’s mysterious past and Adam being face blind (unable to recognize anyone–even loved ones–and unable to read facial expressions accurately) add elements of unreliability and even more suspense to an already taut story.

Rock Paper Scissors is a fast-paced, surprising story about two toxic people who may or may not get the exact ending they both deserve. Come into this one knowing as little as possible for the biggest impact.

Possible Pairings: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, All the Broken People by Leah Konen, Best Day Ever by Kaira Sturdivant Rouda, Tell Me My Name by Erin Ruddy

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

Vinyl Moon: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. BrowneFive weeks ago Angel was dating Darius. Five weeks ago she still believed he loved her. Five weeks ago, after one terrible night, all of that changed.

Now Angel is across the country in Brooklyn. She’s getting used to living with her uncle Spence and exploring the Flatbush neighborhood that’s now home. She’s trying to figure out who she is when she doesn’t have Darius telling her everything she’s doing right–or wrong–and who she is when she doesn’t have her younger brother Amir or the triplets to take care of.

After that horrible night and the argument that changed everything, Angel know she needs to heal. She just isn’t sure if she deserves to yet.

As she makes new friends and discovers books and music that feel like they were made for her, Angel starts to realize her world could be bigger than her family, bigger than Darius. For the first time in years, Angel has space to be anything she wants to be–once she figures out who that is in Vinyl Moon (2022) by Mahogany L. Browne.

Find it on Bookshop.

Set over the course of a school year, Vinyl Moon is a deceptively short novel with quick vignette-like chapters narrated by Angel as she gets situated and begins to feel at home in Brooklyn. Free verse poems are interspersed with the prose highlighting different elements of the story and adding a lyrical quality to this unique reading experience. The audiobook is narrated by Bahni Turpin (quickly becoming one of my favorite voice actors) who does a fantastic job bringing Angel’s world–and her voice–to life.

Angel and most characters are Black. Angel’s classmates include characters across the LGBTQ+ spectrum with a variety of lived experiences including a single mother finishing high school, secret poets and DJs, and alternatives to college with potential love interest Sterling who is in the ROTC. The story is also deeply and authentically grounded in its New York City setting and specifically Brooklyn as Angel explores many neighborhood instituations that local readers will readily recognize.

The novel features flashbacks that slowly unpack exactly what happened to get Angel to Brooklyn and her complicated past with her family. As she gains distance from everything that happened with Darius, Angel begins to understand what happened and her agency in making sure it does not happen again. New friendships, her uncle, and support from teachers at her new school also help Angel view her fraught relationship with her mother in a new light and realize some relationships are worth saving.

My favorite part of Vinyl Moon is Angel’s journey to understand her own past while discovering a love for books, poetry, and music–Browne presents this plot thread with joy and passion as Angel’s world starts to expand. As Angel observes, “It’s not that I don’t like reading. I’ve just never had room to do anything for myself.”–a sentiment that applies to so many people making their way back to (or discovering) things they love.

Vinyl Moon is empowering, hopeful, and not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh, An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds, Push by Sapphire, Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

You Sexy Thing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

You Sexy Thing by Cat RamboCaptain Nicolette “Niko” Larson knows better than most that leaving the service of the Holy Hive Mind is no small thing. It’s easy enough to join the ranks with promises of vast earnings to come. But once you’re in, it’s funny how the debt keeps mounting and  those payments never come.

For a moment, Niko thought she could work within the system but now, known throughout the system as the “Ten Hour Admiral,” Niko knows better.

Luckily for Niko and her crew, the only thing the Hive Mind values more than conquest is art. Including culinary art.

After proving their artistic prowess with food, Niko and her crew have settled at TwiceFar station where they try to make a go of their restaurant, The Last Chance. With a reservation book for a prestigious food critic empowered to award a coveted Nikkelin Orb to worthy restaurants, it seems like things might finally be looking up.

Until the station blows up, of course.

With their past reduced to a smoldering pile of space rubble, Niko and her crew escape onto a sentient ship called You Sexy Thing. Unfortunately, the bioship thinks it’s stolen and steers them towards a prison planet. And that isn’t even the worst of Niko’s problems as the crew tries to fend off sadistic space pirates, deliver an intergalactic heir safely to the seat of the empire, and keep Niko’s other plans alive all while still chasing that elusive Nikkelin Orb in You Sexy Thing (2021) by Cat Rambo.

Find it on Bookshop.

You Sexy Thing is a standalone space opera that hints at more to come. The story is told in omniscient third person following Niko and her motley crew. The cast of characters includes humans, humanoid aliens, and other alien characters with a range of skin tones, presentations, and gender identities. Vivienne Leheny narrates the audiobook and ably navigates the large cast during shifting perspectives and dialog.

Pragmatic strategist Neko is complimented well by the ensemble cast here including my personal favorite characters Dabrey, Niko’s four-armed former-sergeant responsible for the restaurant’s culinary achievements, and Lassite–a lizard-like priest who joined the crew to follow Niko on her journey along the spiral of destiny. Although the plot focuses squarely on Niko and her own plans, no character is given short shrift as the entire crew has moments to shine. The madcap journey of the first half of the story shifts to something darker and grittier (including moments of mental and physical torture that while not explicitly described are unpalatable–particularly in audio) before the novel’s denouement.

You Sexy Thing skillfully combines moments of sci-fi absurdity with action and high emotion as Niko and her crew face numerous obstacles after escaping TwiceFar station. Rambo delivers a story filled with adventure, found family, and ultimately with hope for the future to come.

Possible Pairings: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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

Be Dazzled: A Review

Be Dazzled by Ryan La SalaRaffy loves designing and creating costumes–even if he has to keep it a secret from his big-deal-art-gallery-running mom. Raffy knows that cosplay is art but try telling his mom that when she’s busy finding the next big talent.

But that’s okay because Raffy has a plan. If he can win this year’s biggest cosplay competition, he’ll win enough prize money to be able to do whatever he wants. Including going to art school for costume design.

The only problem is that Raffy had planned to compete with his boyfriend Luca. And now they’re broken up. And Luca is competing with Raffy’s nemesis.

Raffy knows all of the tricks to mend a costume gone wrong. But when the cosplay competition keeps throwing them together, Raffy isn’t sure if he’ll be able to mend his broken heart in Be Dazzled (2021) by Ryan La Sala.

Find it on Bookshop.

Be Dazzled is La Sala’s hilarious ode to all things fandom and cosplay complete with glitter, anime characters, and more hot glue than you can shake a stick at. Gay Raffy and bisexual Luca are presumed white with an inclusive supporting cast.

Raffy’s first person narration alternates between the present as Raffy embarks on his biggest cosplay competition ever and the past from Raffy and Luca’s meet cute at the craft store sponsoring the convention to their painful breakup. While Raffy does a grim postmortem of their relationship and everything that went wrong, he’ll have to decide if he’s willing to stop chasing perfection if it means having love.

Snappy prose and a fast-paced story make Be Dazzled totally engrossing. Come for the high stakes cosplay drama, stay for the will-they-or-won’t-they tension between Raffy and Luca.

Possible Pairings: Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castelucci, Perfect On Paper by Sophie Gonsales, Tahira in Bloom by Farah Heron, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Love Curse of Melody McIntrye by Robin Talley, Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

The Girls I’ve Been: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“What didn’t kill me made me a victim. I made me stronger.”

The Girls I've Been by Tess SharpeIt was only supposed to be twenty minutes. Twenty awkward minutes. But then it would be over. They’d meet in the bank parking lot, go in, make the deposit of the money from the fundraiser, and twenty awkward minutes later it would be over. Nora O’Malley (not her real name, by the way) has survived a lot worse than spending twenty minutes with her new girlfriend Iris and her ex-boyfriend (always best friend) Wes.

Except Nora also wants to smooth out last night’s “makeout-interruptus” when Wes found out about Nora and Iris by walking in on them. So she gets donuts. With bacon. And sprinkles. Because everyone loves donuts. Then she has to get coffee. So then she’s late and Wes and Iris are both waiting on her and there are two people ahead of them in line at the bank. Which usually wouldn’t be a problem except the two people ahead of them are also robbing the bank. And they decide to keep everyone hostage.

Nora’s survived a lot worse than some amateur hour bank robbery and she’s had plenty of therapy to unpack all of it. But she’s never had to survive anything with two of the three people she cares about more than anything, not to mention a lot of other innocent bystanders.

As the daughter of a con-artist, Nora has been a lot of girls. She’s seen a lot of things. She’s done worse. But she made it out. She’s a different girl now. A smarter, stronger one.

Now, Nora is going to need every one of those girls she used to be to thwart this robbery, keep Wes and Iris and everyone else safe, and maybe also make it out alive herself in The Girls I’ve Been (2021) by Tess Sharpe.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Girls I’ve Been is a fast-paced, standalone novel; the audiobook is read by the author. All major characters are presumed white. Nora’s bisexuality and Iris’s endometriosis add intersectionality to the cast and serve as key elements of the plot.

The Girls I’ve Been is a tense thriller narrated by Nora. Time stamped chapters during the robbery and a running list of assets Nora has to work with in the bank underscore the urgency of the situation and maintain momentum as the hostage situation escalates. Nora’s narration is pragmatic and laser focused as she works to keep the other hostages safe and tries to communicate with her older half-sister Lee (also not her real name) who is working with law enforcement on the outside. These chapters are interspersed with flashbacks of the other girls Nora has been under her manipulative mother’s grooming and training highlighting the skills (and trauma) Nora has picked up along the way that will factor in during the bank robbery. Memories of her friendships with Wes and Iris add tenderness to the story although all three have scars (some literal, some psychological) from parental abuse.

Despite the tense situation, The Girls I’ve Been is a really fun, fast-paced story. Sharpe includes all of the best elements of a good heist or con story while also offering a well-drawn look at the steep cost of being immersed in that life–a cost Nora is still paying. Although the sense of menace and danger for Nora and the other hostages is palpable, the novel never becomes graphic or viscerally violent always focusing on the characters’ survival rather than their trauma.

The Girls I’ve Been is a completely immersive, suspenseful novel that centers a bisexual protagonist and queer themes. The story is also refreshingly free of a love triangle or romantic tensions as Nora, Iris, and Wes all work to rebuild the trust between them and strengthen their friendship–while surviving a bank robbery.

Possible Pairings: A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhatena, This is Not the Jess Show by Anna Carey, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Tell Me My Name by Amy Reed, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons

The Heartbreak Bakery: A (WIRoB) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Independent Review of Books:

The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. CapettaSeventeen-year-old baker Syd is an “agender cupcake” who still has a lot to figure out about love and the literal magic of baking.

Syd (no pronouns, please) has been with the same girlfriend since coming out as queer in middle school. Four years later it turns out the relationship Syd thought was perfect has more cracks than a badly set cheesecake, leading to a drawn-out breakup with W over one painful weekend. As Syd notes, “I think she’s great, and she thinks I like having a girlfriend too much to notice that sometimes she isn’t.”

Still smarting from the breakup and feeling blindsided, Syd does the obvious thing for a teen holding down a job as a baker while finishing high school: try to bake it out with an easy recipe for brownies which “require three things: a single bowl, a sturdy spoon, and a dedication to dark chocolate.”

Syd’s baking catharsis takes a turn when the post-breakup brownies turn out to be magical Breakup Brownies with all of Syd’s anger, frustration, and hurt baked in. Instead of letting Syd process all of those pent-up feelings, Syd has accidentally fed several bakery customers brownies that precipitate their own breakups–whether the breakups are warranted or not. Obviously, Syd feels awful and wants to erase the “special tang of guilt that comes with subtracting so much queer love from the world.”

Things get even worse when Syd witnesses bakery owners–and husbands–Vin and Alec eat the brownies and start fighting too. Every baker knows you have to clean up your own kitchen but now that the Breakup Brownies have drawn the Proud Muffin into their vortex, Syd is even more frantic to correct this magical mistake before it inadvertently causes the best queer bakery in Austin to shut down.

Proud Muffin’s cute bike delivery person, Harley (he or they–it’s always on the pronoun pin, check it first) is surprisingly receptive to Syd’s magical baking confession and, even better, ready to help mend broken hearts across the city. As Syd works through an impressive baking repertoire ranging from Very Sorry Cake to Shiny New Scones, Syd is able to bond with Harley and process the breakup with W while trying to fix all the relationship collateral damage. The only problem is that as Syd’s feelings grow for Harley, it’s unclear if their chemistry will lead to a recipe for romance or more heartbreak in The Heartbreak Bakery (2021) by A. R. Capetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Heartbreak Bakery is an ode to the city of Austin, queer communities everywhere, and baked goods in all of their wonderfully varied forms. Fictional locations like the Proud Muffin complement actual Austin locations like Barton Springs and 24 Diner. Syd and Harley are white with a supporting cast that is diverse and inclusive with characters from across BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities showcasing the intersectionality of many identities.

Even as a member of the Proud Muffin’s enthusiastic and supportive queer community, Syd struggles to articulate to friends and family what it feels like to be agender when “every single time [Syd] stared at the mirror and what [Syd] saw screamed back girl.” Now Syd is “pretty sure that no particular body would make sense to [Syd] all of the time” but also isn’t always sure how to explain that to anyone as easily as others share their pronouns.

Each chapter ends with a recipe, sometimes for actual baked goods readers can make themselves like the peach, strawberry, and basil Honest Pie and sometimes for abstract concepts like Today’s Gender or Baby’s First Polyam Brunch. All of the recipes are written in Syd’s distinct, wry narration with witty asides like “Realize you probably should have added the zest earlier, but you’ve been distracted by the presence of a cute baking partner. Realize that everything is going to turn out delicious either way.”

Part romantic comedy and part bildungsroman, The Heartbreak Bakery beautifully follows Syd through the madcap quest to undo the damage of the Breakup Brownies while also unpacking Syd’s fledgling relationship with Harley and Syd’s journey to fully vocalize their identity as agender (with help from freshly baked Agender Cupcakes, of course) and find their people–agender, magical baker, and otherwise.

Possible Pairings: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, Simply Irresistible (1999)

An Emotion of Great Delight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh MafiShadi means full of joy in Persian but Shadi’s life is filled with personal sorrows. Her brother Mehdi is dead–killed in a car accident. Her father is probably dying in the hospital after his second heart attack; Shadi privately thinks he is getting exactly what he deserves while her mother and older sister Shayda do everything they can to take care of him.

Shadi used to find refuge with her best friend, Zahra. But Zahra has dropped her. The way everyone seems to now.

Shadi knows there are bigger problems in the world. It’s 2003. Neighbors look at her askance because of her hijab. The United States has officially declared war on Iraq. The Muslim community is reeling from news of undercover FBI agents infiltrating local mosques.

But Shadi’s brother is still dead. Her best friend still hates her. She still misses the life she had before.

When it seems like nothing can ever get better, Shadi wonders if she’s found the way her story ends. Until Zahra’s older brother, Ali, makes an overture to renew their friendship. And maybe start a tentative romance.

Trapped in a morass of grief and isolation, Shadi will have to reclaim her right to happiness and peace if she wants to move forward in An Emotion of Great Delight (2021) by Tahereh Mafi.

Find it on Bookshop.

Mafi’s latest novel reads like a time capsule cracked open, immediately drawing readers into Shadi’s life. This quiet story offers an introspective look at Shadi’s experiences as an Iranian American teen in 2003 where her personal dramas play out against the larger backdrop of world events impacting the Muslim community.

Flashbacks to life before Mehdi’s death cast Shadi’s present isolation in stark relief as she hits bottom and slowly begins to realize she has to let go of her anger and grief before it eats her alive.

An Emotion of Great Delight is a sparse story filled with lyrical prose, pathos, and ultimately optimism; a visceral read that cements Mafi’s place in the YA canon.

Possible Pairings: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne, Ask Me No Questions by Marina Tamar Budhos, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Yolk by Mary HK Choi, All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney, Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, My Heart Underwater by Laurel Flores Fantauzzo, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu, The Love and Lies of Rukshana Ali by Sabina Khan, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

It All Comes Back to You: A Review

It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz RishiKiran Noorani has life after high school all mapped out. She’ll stay close to home in Philadelphia for college so she can be near her dad. Being a premed freshman at UPenn will be challenging, of course, but Kiran she and her sister Amira will be able to make up for lost time when they move into an apartment together near campus. It won’t be perfect because Kiran’s mother will still be dead. But it will be close.

Except Amira has been dating someone for months without telling Kiran. Someone she might want to move all the way to California with even though she barely knows him. Kiran wants the best for her sister and she’s already certain this mystery man is not it.

Deen Malik couldn’t be happier when he hears that his older brother, Faisal, has a great girlfriend. It’s no less than Faisal deserves–especially after everything he’s given up for Deen.

Deen is less enthusiastic when he realizes that Amira’s sister is Deen’s secret ex. No one knew when Deen and Kiran dated three years ago. Which is fine. It’s long over between them. But Deen is determined to make sure Faisal’s own romance doesn’t meet the same fate.

While Kiran does everything she can to sabotage this relationship, Deen is just as determined to keep the romance on course. With the two of them so busy obsessing over their siblings’ relationship, will they miss their own chance at closure and maybe something more in It All Comes Back to You (2021) by Farah Naz Rishi.

Find it on Bookshop.

It All Comes Back to You alternates between Kiran and Deen’s first person narrations in the weeks leading up to Amira and Faisal’s wedding. Chats from the MMORPG that Kiran and Deen both play and text messages help flesh out the backstory that broke up their secret relationship three years ago. Kiran and Deen (and their relatives) are Pakistani American and Muslim.

Rishi packs a lot into this story that centers around the whirlwind wedding preparations. Kiran is still grieving her mother’s death the year before while trying to reconcile her premed plans with her love for dance Deen, meanwhile, is struggling to care about his freshman coursework and determined to self-destruct before anyone can expect better of him.

Although the two couldn’t be farther apart in real life, anonymous chats in their MMORPG game Cambria are a touchstone for both protagonists as they pursue their singular goals. Kiran and Deen both mean well and want the best for their siblings. They also both make some really terrible decisions to accomplish what they think is best. Kiran, in particular, is hard to cheer on while she works so hard to sabotage the wedding, expose secrets that aren’t hers to tell, and otherwise make sure Amira stays on the path that Kiran wants her to follow.

It All Comes Back to You is a fast-paced contemporary romance that is as focused on family as it is on second chances. Recommended for readers looking for a new hate-to-love romance and two main characters who have a lot of room to grow throughout the story.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Don’t Hate the Player by Alexis Nedd, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey

*An advance 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*