Tales From the Hinterland: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tales From the Hinterland by Melissa AlbertTales From the Hinterland (2021) by Melissa Albert presents Althea Proserpine’s  notorious collection of dark and twisted short stories that form the backbone of the world building in both The Hazel Wood and its sequel The Night Country. For the first time the stories that protagonists Alice and Ellery encounter in Albert’s previous novels are presented in their entirety.

Readers familiar with Albert’s oeuvre will recognize many of the tales and characters here notably including Alice, Ilsa, and Hansa. Albert aptly channels classic fairy tale sensibilities into eerie and brutal tales that would have the Brothers Grimm reaching for an extra candle at night. Centering female characters in each story Albert explores the facets of girl-and-womanhood in a world dominated and usually shaped by men.

Standouts in the collection include “The House Under the Stairwell,” where sisterhood wins the day as Isobel seeks help from the Wicked Wife before she is trapped in a deadly betrothal; “The Clockwork Bride,” a richly told story where a girl hungry for enchantment carelessly promises her first daughter to a sinister toymaker who, when he tries to claim his prize, instead finds a girl who wishes only to belong to herself; and “Death and the Woodwife,” where a princess uses her wits and her mother’s unusual gifts to outwit Death and his heir.

With stories fueled by feminist rage, the frustration of being underestimated, and the insatiable longing to experience more Tales From the Hinterland is a collection that is both timely and universal.

You can also check out my interview with Melissa to hear more about this book and the companion novels.

Possible Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, Caster by Elsie Chapman, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

Lore: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“It’s not always the truth that survives, but the stories we wish to believe. The legends lie. They smooth over imperfections to tell a good tale, or to instruct us how we should behave, or to assign glory to victors and shame those who falter.”

Lore by Alexandra BrackenEvery seven years Zeus punishes nine Greek gods by forcing them into the Agon. Warrior families have hunted the gods in every Agon for generations hoping to absorb their powers and receive blessings in the intervening years.

Lore always knew she was destined for greatness and glory in the Agon, meant to restore her family house’s honor. That was before Lore’s own disastrous mistake brought about the death of her entire family.

Now, seven years later, Lore thinks she’s finally made it out and started a new life. But the return of her childhood friend Castor and the goddess Athena appearing at Lore’s door prove she never escaped the brutality of the Agon. Not really.

After years of hiding and trying to forget, Lore will have to come out of the shadows and embrace her complicated past if she wants to live long enough to have a future in Lore (2020) by Alexandra Bracken.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lore is a standalone fantasy novel. Although the world building is heavily intertwined with Greeky mythology, the story itself includes enough information to make it approachable to those unfamiliar with the inspiration material. The book also includes a character list broken down by the family houses and lines. Lore and Castor are white although several members of the Agon families (including dark skinned Van and Iro) are from other racial backgrounds.

Lore is a fierce and often reluctant narrator. Most of her past is colored by trauma and regret over events that slowly unfold in flashbacks for readers as the novel builds to its explosive final act. Despite her desire to isolate herself and avoid further losses, Lore is surrounded by a strong group of friends and allies who add drama and levity to this potentially grim story. Lore’s best friend Miles Yoon–an outsider to the world of the Agon–is an especially fun addition to the cast and a steadfast friend to Lore.

Set over the course the week-long Agon this fast-paced story plays out against the backdrop of New York City as Lore and her allies search for a way to end the Agon forever. Lore’s efforts to find a place for herself as a young woman, both away from the Agon and within it, in a world all too quick to dismiss her is both timely and empowering.

Lore seamlessly blends elements from Greek mythology with a modern fantasy setting for a perfectly paced story of survival and fighting for what we deserve.

Possible Pairings: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake, Starling by Lesley Livingston, The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan, Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Into the Heartless Wood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth MeyerEveryone knows the forest is a dangerous place. How can it be anything else when it is filled with tree sirens whose only purpose is to draw people into the forest and to their deaths?

The witch in the forest has fed souls to her trees until they are no longer trees but not human either. Instead, the witch calls these sirens her daughters but Seren knows that isn’t really true–not when the tree-sirens have to do her bidding no matter what.

Owen Merrick has grown up next to the woods and he knows how dangerous they are. He knows how lucky he is when Seren saves his life when she could have killed him. Drawn to each other, Owen and Seren begin meeting in secret. But their growing feelings for each other are threatened when the stars warn of a dangerous curse drawing Seren and Owen into a years long struggle between the witch and the king determined to stop her in Into the Heartless Wood (2021) by Joanna Ruth Meyer.

Find it on Bookshop.

While some elements of the world take a back seat to the romance here, Into the Heartless Wood is an evocative story where the setting feels like a character. The novel alternates between prose chapters from Owen’s point of view and more verse-like passages from Seren. Meyer brings together this unlikely pair in a well-realized world filled with magic and menace that is sure to draw readers in.

Into the Heartless Wood is a deliciously atmospheric, dangerous fantasy. Perfect for readers who like their fantasy with a bit of star-crossed love and mystery.

Possible Pairings: To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

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

Of Curses and Kisses: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Of Curses and Kisses by Sandhya MenonJaya Rao has one mission when she arrives at St. Rosetta’s Academy with her younger sister, Isha, to rehab Isha’s reputation after a media scandal. As Indian royalty there are, of course, appearances to uphold. But Jaya is used to that and it won’t stop her from finding Grey Emerson and breaking his heart.

Grey Emerson is well aware of the animosity between his family and the Raos. It’s the sort of thing that makes sense after years of feuding, a stolen ruby, and a devastating curse. After years of keeping to himself and waiting for the inevitable, Grey knows he’s almost out of time. He never expected the curse to let him live past his eighteenth birthday. He just doesn’t understand why Jaya Rao decided to come and gloat about it.

Drawn together against their better judgement, both Jaya and Grey realize they other is not what they expect. Worse, neither of them may have the full story from their families. When it feels like everything is conspiring to keep them apart, Jaya and Grey will have to work even harder to stay together and find their own happy ending in Of Curses and Kisses (2020) by Sandhya Menon.

Find it on Bookshop.

Of Curses and Kisses is the first book in Menon’s St. Rosetta’s Academy trilogy–a series of modern fairy tale retellings set at an elite international boarding school. If you like listening to books, treat yourself to the audiobook to hear all the accents.

Jaya and Grey’s story takes a new spin on the classic story of Beauty and the Beast. I won’t spoil the ending here, but readers familiar with the source material can certainly imagine. Despite treading familiar ground, Menon brings her own spin to this classic story as Jaya and Grey make their own way in the world.

Despite the overall light tone, some of this book can be quite heavy–particularly when it comes to Grey’s relationship with his father. Grey has suffered through years of verbal and psychological abuse from his father blaming Grey for his mother’s death in childbirth and repeatedly reminding Grey that the Emerson curse will kill him. Reading this, even through Grey’s built up cynicism and detachment is painful although I’m happy to report a big part of the plot is the start of Grey’s healing process.

Jaya and Grey are excellent protagonists acting as perfect counterpoints to each other. They’re joined in this story with a stellar supporting cast including characters readers can expect to see more of in later series installments. While romance remains center stage, the friendships between characters and the sisterhood that binds Jaya and Isha together are equally important and written beautifully.

Of Curses and Kisses is a cozy, romantic story that adds originality and flair to a familiar fairy tale. A must read for contemporary romance fans.

Possible Pairings: Romancing the Throne by Nadine Jolie Courtney, When the Stars Go Blue by Caridad Ferrer, Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Bookish Boyfriends by Tiffany Schmidt, Jackpot by Nic Stone

Killing November: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Killing November by Adriana MatherNovember Adley agrees to leave her quaint small town to stay safe while her father takes care of a family emergency. When November wakes up in a remote building without electricity, completely off the grid, she realizes her father may not have given her the full story.

The Academy covers everything from poisons to the art of the deception, students should never reveal details of their past, and the school adheres to an eye-for-aye punishment.

November is pretty sure she can survive anything for a few weeks while her dad wants her to lay low. But even November isn’t sure what to expect when students start dying and everyone seems to think it has something to do with her in Killing November (2019) by Adriana Mather.

Find it on Bookshop.

Killing November is the high octane start to Mather’s November duology which concludes with Hunting November.

Killing November is a fun, cinematic read. Mather leans heavily on movie conventions notably including flashbacks, but these elements never integrate fully into the story. Honestly, November is often quite annoying as a protagonist. Her constant shock and horror at the Academy’s brutality is understandable at first but begins to grate as it continues for almost the entirety of the novel.

Despite numerous details, the world building for the Academy and the students who attend it are never fully explained instead serving as a backdrop for all of the novel’s action. Where this story really shines is with the secondary characters notably including Layla and Ash who add dimension to a story that otherwise runs the risk of falling flat.

Killing November is a fresh if underdeveloped take on the classic boarding school mystery. Recommended for fans of that sub-genre and spies reminiscent of James Bond and his ilk.

Possible Pairings: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallero, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Running Girl by Simon Mason, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, In the Hall With the Knife by Diana Peterfreund, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons

Star Daughter: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Star Daughter by Shveta ThakrarSheetal Mistry has grown up keeping secrets. Only her father, her aunt, and her closest friend Minal know the truth: that Sheetal’s mother is a star who returned to her celestial court when Sheetal was five years old.

Since then, Sheetal has learned to keep her own celestial song buried deep where it cannot affect humans or give her away. She dyes her starlight silver hair black, she ignores the call from her family in the stars. It has never been easy to deny half of herself but her father’s love, Minal’s support, and her new boyfriend Dev have all helped.

But as her seventeenth birthday approaches, Sheetal finds it harder to ignore the way the night sky calls to her. When her father is injured by starfire, Sheetal will have to answer her star family’s summons to try and save him. But first she will have to help her celestial family secure their place as the next ruling house of the heavens.

After years of hiding and denying her true self Sheetal will have to embrace all of herself, her family, and her own complicated place with them to save her father in Star Daughter (2020) by Shveta Thakrar.

Find it on Bookshop.

Star Daughter is Thakrar’s debut novel.

This standalone fantasy is filled with richly detailed world building bringing both Sheetal’s magical family and her earthbound Gujarati community of friends, cousins, and other family to life. Evocative, carefully drawn magic adds dimension and nuance to this story that, unfortunately, has a several lacking love interest in Dev who remains one dimensional and flat for most of the story.

Sheetal’s friendship with Minal remains much more convincing than any love match here adding a strong element of friendship and girl power to this story with a friendship that literally spans worlds.

Star Daughter is a thoughtful fantasy about friendship, growing up, and family. Recommended for readers who have always wondered what treasures can be found at the Night Market.

Possible Pairings: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee

Courting Darkness: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Courting Darkness by Robin LaFeversAfter working with her sisters of Mortain to help the duchess of Brittany secure both her duchy and her betrothal to the king of France, Sybella thought her work was done. After everything she had risked and sacrificed, after everything she had learned about herself and her god, Sybella had thought at last she would be safe and able to rest.

She is wrong.

Things in Brittany are changing and, as the young duchess prepares to travel to France for her marriage, Sybella realizes she and her sisters are still far from safe. Traveling to foreign territory as a lady in waiting, Sybella is fiercely determined to protect her duchess and her sisters with her beloved Beast at her side. But forces are conspiring to limit the duchess’s new power and ensure that Sybella’s task will be far from easy even with undercover allies waiting to be of aid with in the French court.

Genevieve has been undercover for so many years, that she is no longer sure what she is supposed to be working toward. After years of waiting to be called into service, Gen begins to fear the day that she will be useful may never come.

Feeling the walls of court life closing in, Gen sees no other option but to take matters into her own hands. Manipulating a long-forgotten prisoner into an uneasy bargain will secure both Gen’s escape and his own. But figuring out what to do without guidance from her convent and her god is much harder.

Isolated and alone, Gen will have to do what she thinks is right to save the only home she’s ever known–even if it is a distant memory. But court life is as treacherous as it is decadent and soon both Gen and Sybella will realize they are not the only players with moves to make in Courting Darkness (2019) by Robin LaFevers.

Find it on Bookshop.

Courting Darkness is the first book in a duology. The story is set in the same world as LaFevers His Fair Assassin trilogy including Grave Mercy, Dark Triumph, and Mortal Heart. This book can be read independently of the original trilogy although the world and characters overlap.

This book alternates between Sybella and Gen’s first person narrations in this story set months after the conclusion of LaFevers’ previous trilogy in the year 1489.

Although set in the same world as previous books, much of the mystique of Brittany and the Nine gods who preside there in the guise of neo-Christian saints is lost in this companion novel. While Sybella and Gen contend with consequences of changes to Mortain and the gifts he has bestowed on his daughters, Courting Darkness is much more grounded in political intrigue and the duplicitous French court.

LaFevers once again draws heavily from real historical events to deliver and atmospheric and well-researched story helmed by two singular heroines. Unfortunately, as Sybella realizes how much of a threat her family still poses, much of the confidence and self-assurance she gained in the previous trilogy is erased. Gen, meanwhile, is insufferably arrogant about her own ability to determine the best course of action and reckless in pursuit of her own goals.

That said, a few surprise twists and the promise of our narrators finally meeting in the sequel Igniting Darkness may be enough to salvage this promising but so far underwhelming duology.

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

Today Tonight Tomorrow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn SolomonToday, the last day of school, Rowan Roth is eager to best Neil McNair once and for all. After four years of bitter rivalry in everything from student council to gym class, Rowan wants tangible proof that she is better than Neil by being named valedictorian.

Instead, Neil takes that honor leaving Rowan to wonder who she is without their constant one-upmanship and bickering. If she can’t beat Neil, is she ready to head to Boston for college? Is she ready to admit to her friends and family that she loves romance novels and wants to write them professionally?

Tonight Rowan has one last chance to beat Neil by winning Howl–the school’s annual scavenger hunt that lets seniors say goodbye to their school and their city by racing around Seattle to complete clues and win the grand prize. Beating Neil seems easy until Rowan learns other members of the senior class are plotting to take both of them down leaving Rowan with one option: reluctantly team up with Neil now so she can destroy him later.

As tonight becomes tomorrow, Rowan realizes she and Neil may have more in common than she ever let herself realize. Can four years worth of dislike turn into something very different overnight? Or has Rowan been ignoring something bigger for a lot longer than than that in Today Tonight Tomorrow (2020) by Rachel Lynn Solomon?

Find it on Bookshop.

Rowan is funny and confident with a breezy narration that moves through flirty banter with Neil as easily as it does frank conversations about antisemitism and micro-aggressions both characters experience as some of the only Jewish students in their school. The story also thoughtfully conveys all of the joy to be found in romance novels as well as the stigma the genre still faces as Rowan talks through her passion for the genre with Neil and other characters. As is fitting for any ode to romance novels, this book also includes honest conversations about sex and relationships.

For all of her self-awareness, Rowan is often frustratingly dense when it comes to her changing feelings for Neil (although I laughed–frequently–over her obsession with his freckles and upper arms) as well as her own self-sabotage when it comes to admitting what she loves to her friends and family. Rowan and Neil’s palpable chemistry goes a long way to make up for these shortcomings in an otherwise fast-paced novel.

Today Tonight Tomorrow is a love letter to Seattle and romance novels set over the course of one hectic day. Solidly fun.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Roomies by Tara Altebrando and Sara Zarr, Dramatically Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, I Wanna Be Where You Are by Kristina Forest, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman

Fable: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We weren’t supposed to owe anyone anything, but that was just a lie we told to make ourselves feel safe. Really, we’d never been safe. And we never would be.”

Fable by Adrienne YoungFable’s father, Saint, has five rules for surviving in the Narrows. Only five.

  1. Keep your knife where you can reach it.
  2. Never, ever owe anyone anything.
  3. Nothing is free.
  4. Always construct a lie from a truth.
  5. Never, under any circumstances, reveal what or who matters to you.

The rules are even truer on Jeval, the island of thieves and cutthroats where Fable was abandoned when she was fourteen.

After four long years of constant fear and scrambling for every scrap she can scavenge, Fable is ready to escape Jeval and find her father. Saint said Fable could never survive in the Narrows if she couldn’t get off Jeval on her own. Now, with her departure so close, it is past time for Saint to answer for stranding her and give her everything he promised.

Throwing in her lot with a trade ship whose crew has secrets of their own, Fable may have finally found a way off Jeval but securing passage is only the first of her problems. As her  obligations mount, Fable will have to weigh her loyalties against her debts and decide if creating her own place in the Narrows can replace everything that has been stolen from her in Fable (2020) by Adrienne Young.

Find it on Bookshop.

Fable is the first book in a duology that concludes in Namesake.

Young subtly weaves magical elements into the dangerous and often cruel world of the Narrows–a home that pulls at Fable’s heart as much as she wishes she could deny it. . Fable’s first person narration is both deliberate and lyrical as she struggles to make a place for herself in this world determined to shut her out. Her resilience and persistence are admirable throughout the story and so relatable for readers trying to make it through this trying year

This nautical fantasy brims over with action and suspense as Fable tries to make sense of her father’s promises, her past, and her own place among the crew that has reluctantly given her passage–especially their enigmatic helmsman, West. Fable and West are described as white while other members of the crew are not including two male characters who are romantically involved.

A subtle thread of romance runs through this plot where themes of loyalty and vulnerability go hand in hand. Fable is a riveting adventure sure to appeal to readers looking for a swashbuckling fantasy filled with both well-drawn characters and surprises. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Poisoned: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Poisoned by Jennifer DonnellyYou think you know this tale, but you only know what you’ve been told. You may have heard about the girl named Sophie with lips the color of ripe cherries, skin as soft as new-fallen snow, and hair as dark as midnight. You may have heard about her step-mother and the huntsman.

That doesn’t mean you know the real villain of this tale or anything that happened after the huntsman cut out Sophie’s heart.

In a world where power means safety and, for a young girl destined to rule, there is no greater danger than mercy, Sophie will soon learn that surviving–much like hiding–isn’t enough if she wants to reclaim her kingdom in Poisoned (2020) by Jennifer Donnelly.

Find it on Bookshop.

Poisoned is a feminist retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White that is every bit as bloody and gory as the original version transcribed by the Brothers Grimm. Although the story is stepped in violence from the very first chapter, the narrative itself often reads younger hewing closer to middle grade in tone.

Eerie, fast-paced chapters and an unconventional choice in both narrator and antagonist make this story unexpected even as Donnelly stays true to her source material. Sophie is an admirable heroine struggling to reconcile her ruthless upbringing with the kindness she has managed to nurture in her heart.

Poisoned is an ideal choice for anyone who prefers the classic fairy tales to modern, more sanitized versions–a fast-paced story that is both engaging and fierce.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, Stain by A. G. Howard, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, Everland by Wendy Spinale, Hunted by Meagan Spooner, Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West

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