The Diabolic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Being a good Diabolic meant being a hideous person.”

The Diabolic by S. J. KincaidDiabolics have only one purpose: protect the person they have been bonded to at all costs.

Nemesis barely remembers the time before she was bonded to Sidonia. Anything that came before is irrelevant. Now Nemesis will do whatever is necessary to ensure that Sidonia survives and flourishes. As long as Sidonia is safe and secure everything else, including Nemesis’s own well-being, becomes irrelevant.

When news of her senator father’s heresy reaches the seat of the Empire, Sidonia is summoned to the Imperial Court as a hostage. There is no way for Nemesis to strike against the Emperor. No way for her to shelter Sidonia when she is summoned. This time the only way Nemesis can protect Sidonia is to become her.

At the Imperial Court, Nemesis has to hide her superior strength, cunning intellect, and her ruthless lack of humanity. Greedy senators, calculating heirs, and the Emperor’s mad nephew Tyrus are all keen to use Nemesis for their own ends. But she has little interest in the politics at Court or the rebellion that is beginning to foment.

Nemesis knows that she is not human. She knows the matters of the Imperial Court are not her concern. But she also soon realizes that saving Sidonia may involve saving not just herself but the entire Empire in The Diabolic (2016) by S. J. Kincaid.

The Diabolic was written as a standalone sci-fi novel. After its release Kincaid signed a book deal for two additional novels making The Diabolic the start of a trilogy.

Kincaid has built a unique world layered with complex alliances and difficult questions about what it means to be human which play out against a galactic power struggle. Nemesis’s performative identity as Sidonia contrasts well against the Emperor’s son, Tyrus, a Hamlet-like figure who may or may not be putting on an act of his own in a bid for the throne. Nemesis’s character growth as she learns to choose herself beyond any loyalty she feels to Sidonia or others is fascinating and thoughtfully done.

The Diabolic is a sprawling space opera that brings Nemesis and other characters across the galaxy in a story filled with double crosses, twists, and intrigue so thick you could cut it with a knife. Nemesis narrates the novel with a tone that is as pragmatic as it is chilling–unsurprising for a character who has been told constantly throughout her life that she will never be human. Whether Nemesis will prove her detractors correct or exceed her supposed Diabolic limitations remains to be seen.

The combination of ambiguous morality, lavish settings, and a cast of provocative characters make The Diabolic an utterly satisfying sci-fi adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Proxy by Alex London, Legend by Marie Lu, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Birthmarked by Caragh M.O’Brien, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, And I Darken by Kiersten White

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

The Careful Undressing of Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“I’ve been waiting for one thing, but love can be anything.”

“When there’s nothing left to salvage, we have to save ourselves.”

The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann HayduEveryone knows that Devonairre Street in Brooklyn is cursed. Being loved by a Devonairre Street girl ends in tragedy. Just look at the number of war widows on the street or the concentration of Affected families left without husbands and fathers after the Times Square Bombing in 2001.

Lorna Ryder and her mother have never put much stock in the curse even though they pretend to play along. Lorna celebrates a shared birthday along with Cruz, his sister Isla, Charlotte, and Delilah. She keeps her hair long and wears a key around her neck. She does everything she is supposed to just the way Angelika has advised since Lorna was a child.

But none of it seems to be enough when Delilah’s boyfriend Jack is killed in the wake of the grief and confusion surrounding another terrorist attack across the country. Lorna and her friends are shocked by Jack’s sudden death. Grieving and shaken, Lorna has to decide what this new loss means about the veracity of the curse and her own future as a part of Devonairre Street and away from it in The Careful Undressing of Love (2017) by Corey Ann Haydu.

The Careful Undressing of Love is Haydu’s latest standalone YA novel. Lorna narrates this novel with a breezy nonchalance that soon turns to fear and doubt as everything she previously believed about love and the curse on Devonairre Street is thrown into question. The style and tone work well with Haydu’s world building to create an alternate history that is simultaneously timeless and strikingly immediate.

Haydu’s characters are realistically inclusive and diverse. An argument could be made that it’s problematic that Delilah and Isla (the Devonairre Street girls who are not white) are the ones who suffer more over the course of this novel filled with loss and snap judgements by an insensitive public. But the same argument could be made that privilege makes this outcome sadly inevitable–a contradiction that Lorna notes herself when she begins to unpack her own privileges of being white contrasted with the burdens she has under the weight of the supposed curse and living as one of the Affected.

This story is complicated and filled with philosophical questions about grief and fear as well as love and feminism. While there is room for a bit more closure, the fate of Devonairre Street and its residents ultimately becomes irrelevant compared with Lorna’s need to break away to protect herself and her own future.

A quiet, wrenching story about the bonds of love and friendship and the ways in which they can break; a commentary on the stresses and pressures of being a girl in the modern world; and a story about self-preservation first. The Careful Undressing of Love is smart and strange, frank and raw, and devastating. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also read my interview with the author about this book!

Caraval: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett and her younger sister Tella grew up hearing their grandmother reminisce about visiting Caraval as a young woman. Scarlett writes to Legend every year hoping against hope that he might bring Caraval back to the small island of Trisda in the Conquered Isles.

When tickets to Caraval finally arrive, Scarlett knows she won’t be able to go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tell and herself from their abusive father, is far more pressing. Except impetuous Tella has other plans and recruits a disreputable sailor to help bring Scarlett to the magical show.

Caraval is meant to be a game and a decadent diversion for both players and spectators. But Tella’s disappearance is very real and, Scarlett soon realizes, central to this year’s game.

As Scarlett tries desperately to follow the clues to her sister, the dangers of the supposed show become very real. If she fails to find Tella and win the game, Scarlett risks losing her sister forever in Caraval (2017) by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval is Garber’s debut novel and the first book in a series. The book is written in close third person following Scarlett’s perspective. Although the epilogue promises  twists and adventures in future installments, this novel functions for the most part as a standalone.

Garber’s vibrant descriptions bring the whimsical and dangerous elements of Caraval to life as Scarlett begins to discover the wonders to be found in a place where secrets can become currency and time can be bought and sold.

Scarlett is a cautious and timid heroine for much of Caraval. She has spent years trying to shelter her sister from their father’s calculated abuse and manipulations. Scarlett’s primary concerns are safety and distance from her father. Love, adventure, and all of the things Tella craves feel secondary if not entirely superfluous in comparison.

Caraval features a varied array of characters and some romance but this novel remains surprisingly introspective in its focus on Scarlett’s own journey toward autonomy and agency. A few predictable twists and some unexpected turns serve as a strong backdrop for Scarlett’s growth as she realizes she is the victim of her father’s abuse, not the cause. As Scarlett moves deeper into the machinations of Caraval she begins to correct her earlier mistakes both in the game and in her own life while learning to trust her instincts.

Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure. Intricate world building and the circus-like atmosphere of Caraval lend this novel an extra bit of flair that even Legend would admire.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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

The Reader: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sefia has been hiding and evading capture for most of her life. It started with the house  built on a hill filled with secret rooms and hidden passages meant to guard a dangerous secret. When her father is murdered, Sefia does what she has been trained to do. She hides. She grabs the thing that her parents spent their lives protecting. She goes to her aunt Nin and together they run away.

After Nin is kidnapped, Sefia vows to find her. Sefia turns to the strange rectangular object her father died to protect. As she examines the thing, Sefia slowly realizes it is a book.

The Book may hold secrets about Nin’s abduction and Sefia’s own parents if only she can master the symbols within and learn to read the words. In Sefia’s world, books are their own kind of magic–a dangerous power in the wrong hands. Sefia will need that power if she wants to rescue Nin and stop hiding in The Reader (2016) by Traci Chee.

The Reader is Chee’s first novel and the beginning of her Sea of Ink and Gold series. This book is a layered narrative filled with hidden messages and clues within the text (be sure to look at the page numbers for one of them). The depth and layers within The Reader are impressive and staggering to contemplate. However the hidden clues, messages, and intricate physical design of this novel are distracting at times. Readers willing to give this story time and a proper chance will enjoy the intricate layers and the unexpected ways Chee’s multiple narratives come together.

In the fantasy world Chee has created the written word doesn’t exist. While they have identifying symbols to label things like herbs and other items, this world relies more heavily on an oral tradition for their stories and history. Books and reading are magic in a very literal sense and so both things are closely guarded by mysterious powers and largely unknown to citizens like Sefia.

If you spend too much time scrutinizing the main conceit of this plot (reading doesn’t exist), it starts to crumble. How does electricity work in this otherwise non-industrial society? How do characters leave messages for each other without written words? Are glyphs used? Oral recordings? No one knows or at least no one shares.

Vocabulary that would be taken for granted in any other story also needs further clarification in a book like The Reader. How do characters know about pens or reading lamps? Why do they exist if, as the novel states, reading doesn’t exist? Furthermore, although Chee’s writing is rich and heady, there isn’t a particularly good way to show a character learning to read when that character doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe a book, letters, or words. It makes for plodding passages and very slow progress for the rest of the story.

Readers willing to ignore these niggling questions may find themselves drawn into Sefia’s story. The premise, the larger message about the written word, and particularly Sefia’s own growth is empowering. Chee’s descriptions are vivid and bring Sefia’s multi-faceted world to life.

The Reader is a slow-paced adventure story. Sefia embarks on a journey with unlikely allies and surprising foes. She discovers magic and her own inner strength. She also, strangely enough, learns to read. How you feel about that last one will largely influence how you feel about this story as a whole. Recommended for readers seeking an introspective fantasy with a slow payoff. (Go into this one willing to commit to the series as many of the big reveals come in final chapters.)

Possible Pairings: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Like a River Glorious: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Like a River Glorious is the second book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger*

“I thought my magic would save us all. But it turns out, all the magic in the world is rubbish compared to good people who take care of their own.”

Like a River Glorious by Rae CarsonOctober 1849: Leah “Lee” Westfall has made it to California along with her new family of misfits, outcasts, and unlikely friends that she met along the trail. But even with her best friend Jefferson and her family by her side, the path to gold and prosperity is not easy–even for a witchy girl like Lee who can sense gold.

Hiram, Lee’s uncle, is still desperate to use her powers for her own gain. Lee was helpless to stop Hiram from killing her parents, she’s determined that he won’t hurt anyone else she cares about.

Lee’s plan to best Hiram backfire leaving Lee vulnerable as her uncle’s captive. Separated from her friends, Lee will need every ounce of her witchy powers, her resilience, and the help of new allies if she wants to free herself from Hiram’s grasp once and for all in Like a River Glorious (2016) by Rae Carson.

Like a River Glorious is the second book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger.

Like a River Glorious picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one (which ends right when Lee and her group arrive in California). Lee has found them a gold-rich area to claim and their settlement is well on its way to becoming a town called Glory. Then Uncle Hiram shows up, takes Lee captive, and everything goes to hell.

In order to read this book, it’s important to acknowledge that westerns are inherently problematic. As a genre the western often centers the experience of white characters while ignoring or diminish native experiences. Older westerns (and bad modern ones) romanticize expansion, systemic genocide, and white savior tropes while exoticizing, stereotyping or dehumanizing American Indians. If you want to see critiques of books through a Native lens, definitely check out Debbie Reese’s blog, especially her review of the first book in this series.

Reading Like a River Glorious with the above in mind, there are still some problems inherent to the genre. But in this second installment, Carson does the work on the page to constantly check Leah’s privilege as well as that of the other characters (male privilege for instance). This book also thoughtfully engages with a lot of the racism/biases/stereotypes that Lee encounters.

The scope of this book is much smaller, Lee spends a lot of the story held captive by her uncle. Her world narrows to securing survival and safety for herself and those she cares about. She see the atrocities her uncle is perpetrating in his mad search for gold and she feels helpless in the face of it. Understandably, that makes Like a River Glorious quite bleak but also very important as, through Lee’s first person narration, the novel the problems of westward expansion along with the wonder that pioneers felt as they sought opportunities at the expense of the indigenous populations.

Carson uses this shift in tone to create a more character driven story focused particularly on Lee and Jefferson as the two friends try to reconcile their lifelong friendship with what comes next when Jefferson wants more and Lee wants to maintain her autonomy.

Lee grows up a lot in this installment as she realizes she cannot (and should not) always be the hero. Jefferson remains a perfect counterpoint to Lee as male lead and an excellent character in his own right. Like a River Glorious is a well-researched work of historical fiction with a slow burn a slow burn romance and inclusive cast and a touch of fantasy. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

The Apple Throne: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It is by touching gods and godlings, elves and trolls and men and women, by starting a new story for ourselves and our names, that we reach into the future.

“That is how we thrive.”

The Apple Throne by Tessa GrattonAstrid Glynn traded her life as a talented prophet and seethkona to save the person she loves. Soren Bearstar struck a bargain in turn so that he would remember Astrid even as the rest of the world forgot her.

It has been two years since Astrid gave up her name, her prophetic dreams, and her life to become Idun the Young–the not-quite goddess who guards and distributes the apples of immortality. In those two years Soren’s bargain has allowed him to visit her every three months. Until he doesn’t come.

Certain that something terrible is keeping Soren away, Astrid goes against the gods to escape her hidden orchard and search for him. With unexpected help from one of Thor’s bastard sons, Astrid travels across New Asgard to find Soren and save him.

Astrid is no longer the seer she once was nor is she exactly a goddess. She will have to bridge the gap between her old life and new if she wants to save the people she loves and protect the world as they know it in The Apple Throne (2015) by Tessa Gratton.

The Apple Throne is the conclusion to Gratton’s Songs of New Asgard (United States of Asgard) series. It is preceded by The Lost Sun and The Strange Maid. All of the books function very well as stand-alone titles however, because of timeline and character overlap, The Apple Throne does include spoilers for the earlier books. These titles have all been reissued by the author through CreateSpace as paperbacks and eBooks.

The Apple Throne is a fantastic conclusion to one of my favorite fantasy series. This story starts soon after the conclusion of Soren’s story and references the events of Signy’s ascension to her title as Valkryie. Although Astrid’s story is removed from that of the other protagonists in this series, her arc culminates in a finish that neatly ties all three books together.

Astrid accepts her current role as Idun, a quasi-goddess, gladly. But the loss of her identity as young prophet Astrid Glynn and her separation from Soren still sting. More importantly, Astrid isn’t sure who she is without a place in the world and her dream visions to guide her. Throughout the story Astrid has to reconcile who she used to be with who she has become as she tries to correct past mistakes and protect the people she holds dear.

A feminist story literally about a young woman carving a place for herself in the world, The Apple Throne is another thoughtful fantasy filled with the intricate world building that Gratton’s fans will expect. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Curiosities by Tessa Gratton, Maggie Stiefvater and Brenna Yovanoff, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Clariel by Garth Nix, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Be sure to watch for my interview with Tessa about this book tomorrow!

You can also enter my giveaway to win ebooks of this trilogy!

The Sun is Also a Star: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Because everything looks like chaos up close. Daniel thinks it’s a matter of scale. If you pull back far enough and wait for long enough, then order emerges.”

“Maybe their universe is just taking longer to form.”

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola YoonNatasha believes in science and facts. Her life doesn’t have room for fate or destiny. Which is why it’s so hard to hope for a miracle on her last day in New York City. Natasha’s family is going to be deported to Jamaica in twelve hours. Natasha doesn’t believe in long shots but it’s the only shot she has left to try and stay in the city that’s been her home since she was a child. She doesn’t have time to waste meeting a cute boy and maybe falling in love with him. Not when she is so busy trying to balance her practical nature with her hopes for some last-minute magic.

Daniel is used to being a good son. Not the best son because that’s always been his older brother. But solidly second best. Except now his brother screwed up big time and Daniel’s parents are pinning their hopes for having a Successful-Ivy-League-Graduate-Doctor in the family on Daniel. The problem is that Daniel wants to be a poet–something his Korean immigrant parents can’t understand. At. All. Daniel believes in poetry and fate which is why he knows the moment he sees Natasha on the street in Times Square that their lives are about the change forever.

It feels like the universe or fate or something Big is conspiring to bring Natasha and Daniel into each others’ lives. But over the course of a day filled with possibility, neither Natasha nor Daniel is sure if that will be enough to keep them together in The Sun is Also a Star (2016) by Nicola Yoon.

The Sun is Also a Star is Yoon’s second novel. It was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and has received six starred reviews. (UPDATE:) The Sun is Also a Star also received an honor for the 2017 Printz Award.

All of that is impressive on its own but it’s also important to remember that we often hold contemporary romances like this one up to a higher standard when considering them for awards based on literary merit which makes this book stand out even more as both an exemplar of contemporary romance at its best and also as a generally excellent book.

The Sun is Also a Star is set over the course of one day but the plot is more far-reaching with interconnecting narratives and characters related to each other by six (or even fewer) degrees of separation.

The majority of the novel alternates between Natasha and Daniel’s first person narrations with their distinct voices and world views. Other chapters follow characters who are key to bringing Daniel and Natasha together including a depressed security guard, a subway conductor who has found god, and even Natasha and Daniel’s parents–all chronicled as brief histories. This shifting story maintains a consistent and deliberate voice thanks to the omniscient narrator whose sections contrast well with Natasha’s pragmatic nature and Daniel’s classic dreamer outlook in their respective narrations.

This thoughtful story also nicely subverts some of the traditional gender roles found in contemporary romances. Natasha is an unapologetically smart girl who works hard and knows that life isn’t fair. She is jaded and ambitious. Daniel, meanwhile, is a genuinely nice and optimistic boy who believes in the power of fate even while learning how to make his own choices and stand by them.

Everything in The Sun is Also a Star refers back–sometimes subtly and sometimes not–to the idea of love being a driving force in the universe. All of the tangential characters whose actions work to bring Natasha and Daniel together through happenstance or fate are working on some basis of love–the train conductor who has found god and loves life, the security guard who is lonely and mired in her own lack of love both from others and for herself, the attorney and his paralegal. It’s all love in one form or another. Even Natasha’s father and his actions are driven by his conflict between his love for his family and his love of performing.

Yoon does so many things in The Sun is Also a Star and she does them all well, while making it seem effortless with a combination of literary prose and a deceptively sleek plot. This book juggles multiple characters, narratives, and plot threads to create a coherent story about the many factors bringing Natasha and Daniel together as well as those which are conspiring to keep them apart. It evokes an authentic New York City setting not just a shiny tourist one but the dingy parts too. The Sun is Also a Star does all of that while offering an intellectually stimulating story that still manages to be upbeat and romantic. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

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