Sunsetting Chick Lit Wednesday

I’ve been doing Chick Lit Wednesday reviews on the blog since it’s first year (way back in 2007).  Over the years the purpose and vision of this weekly feature has changed and, as I enter my fifteenth year as a blogger, I’ve decided to sunset this weekly feature. As time has passed I have realized Chick Lit Wednesday has, in many ways, runs its course and singling out those Wednesday reviews is misleading as the vast majority of reviews on this blog highlight books with strong feminist themes and characters–something I originally hoped to highlight with Chick Lit Wednesday.

What does that mean for the blog? Not much is going to change! I will still follow a Monday/Wednesday (and sometimes Friday) post schedule. Books will still be reviewed through a feminist lens.

The main difference is reviews will no longer be labeled “Chick Lit Wednesday.” I’m leaving the tag Chick Lit Wednesday active on the blog if anyone wants to browse older posts and won’t change titles for previously published content.

The Ballad of Never After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie GarberSince coming to the Magnificent North, Evangeline Fox has married a prince and become part of a prophecy to open the infamous Valory Arch and the dangers–or wonders–it holds. All thanks to Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, and his machinations to manipulate said prophecy in his favor ensuring that Jacks and Jacks alone will receive the supposed boon the arch holds.

Evangeline has learned her lesson, repeatedly, about what happens when she trusts Jacks. But with no resources and few allies, Evangeline realizes that working with Jacks might be the fastest way to get her own story back on track. As the two search for the magic stones to open the arch, Evangeline can feel herself becoming part of the stories that are told throughout the North–history still being formed. But everyone knows stories in the North are cursed, the true endings–happy or tragic–impossible to know.

Finding the stones brings Evangeline closer to her hopefully happy ending while hinting at Jacks’ mysterious history in the North before he became a magical and ruthless Fate. But nothing with Jacks is ever as it seems and Evangeline knows she’ll have to keep her wits about her to stay one step ahead of Jacks. Even if her heart has other plans.

Happy endings can be caught, but they’re not easy to hold; they need to be constantly chased or they will get away. The closer Evangeline gets to opening the Valory Arch, the farther away her own happy ending seems in The Ballad of Never After (2022) by Stephanie Garber.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Ballad of Never After is the second book in Garber’s series which begins with Once Upon a Broken Heart. Set in the same world as Garber’s Caraval trilogy, this series can be read on its own but does include minor spoilers for the Caraval trilogy. Evangeline and Jacks are white, there is diversity among other characters.

While Evangeline’s unfailing optimism remains intact in this second installment, she is much more aware of her limitations–and vulnerabilities–while navigating tricky bargains with those keen to use her for their own ends. Whether that optimism will be her greatest strength or her greatest weakness remains to be seen for much of the story.

After coming to the Magnificent North filled with wonder and a desire to connect to her own past, Evangeline spends more time exploring her new surroundings and trying to understand her place in them. Garber seamlessly expands the world as readers and Evangeline are introduced to more of the Magnificent North and its history including tantalizing hints about the truth behind Evangeline’s favorite northern fairytale The Ballad of the Archer and the Fox as well as the strange history of the North’s lost royal family, the Valors. In a story that plays with the concept of lost history (thanks to the Magnificent North’s story curse) and a new history being formed, the urgency is obvious even with a more character-driven plot.

Frothy descriptions, chaotic adventure, and surprisingly poignant moments of introspection come together to make The Ballad of Never After a delightful story about both literal magic and the magic of belief–in oneself and otherwise.

The Ballad of Never After is a dramatic story where nothing is as it seems and sometimes even an ending can be a new beginning. An excellent addition to a highly recommended series.

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*

Sugar Town Queens: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sugar town queens never back down from a fight.”

Sugar Town Queens by Malla NunnAmandla Zenzile Harden is familiar with her mother’s strange visions and her difficult days. But even she is taken aback when, on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, her mother Annalisa tells Amandla that she has to wear a blue sheet as a dress to bring her father home. It’s been only Amandla and her mother for as long as Amandla can remember. She has never met her father. Wearing an ugly sheet isn’t going to change that.

Life in Sugar Town isn’t what anyone would call easy. Everyone has their struggles and their problems in the township near Durban, South Africa. Although their shack is shabby by some standards, it’s home and it’s always tidy thanks to Annalisa’s meticulous cleaning. But even in the township, Amandla and her mother stand out not just for Annalisa’s strange behavior and uneven memory but because Annalisa is white and Amandla is brown.

After years of trying to piece together the scraps of her mother’s fractured memories into something resembling a family history, Amandla is ready for answers. When she finds more cash than she’s ever seen in her mother’s purse along with an address, Amandla decides it’s a sign to find answers.

With help from her best friend Lil Bit and newer friend Goodness, Amandla follows the clues to the truth about herself, her mother, and old family secrets that will change Amandla’s understanding of family forever in Sugar Town Queens (2021) by Malla Nunn.

Find it on Bookshop.

Sugar Town Queens is Nunn’s first novel for young adults. Amandla is biracial (her mother is white and her father is described as Zulu in the narrative–one of the few things Amandla knows about him), Amandla’s friends and other township residents are Black.

Amandla’s first person narration is direct and to the point in the way of young people who have to grow up quickly because of hard circumstances. Amandla is well aware of the poverty she and her mom live with but, over the course of the novel, she also finds moments of lightness with Lil Bit and Goodness and even starts a romance with Goodness’s earnest brother. Although the romance is entirely age appropriate and sweet, I admit that I would be very happy to never hear another character describe someone’s lips as “juicy” ever again.

While friendship (and first love) are key parts of the story, the main focus here is family as Amandla literally stumbles upon her maternal grandmother after following the clues she has found. Learning more about her grandparents, Amandla realizes that a family reunion will not mend everything that has broken in her mother nor will it erase her grandfather’s racist opinions of his poor, biracial granddaughter. With new family and new relationships, however, Amandla does begin to understand that forgiveness can have its place as much as justice when more of Annalisa’s past is revealed.

With her grandmother’s declining health and Annalisa’s limited mental stability, the urgency is real to find answers before it’s too late making Sugar Town Queens a page turner as the novel builds to a striking finish. The contrast between the affluent Harden family and Amandla’s own upbringing in Sugar Town further highlights the inequalities that still exist in South Africa long after the end of Apartheid thanks to Nunn’s carefully detailed descriptions of both Sugar Town and Durban.

Sugar Town Queens is a fast-paced story about family, grief, and the power to be found in asking for–and accepting–help where themes of family and female friendship emphasize the importance of community and support systems.

Possible Pairings: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Truth About White Lies by Olivia A. Cole, All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney, Tiffany Sly Lives Here by Dana L. Davis, Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, The Means That Make Us Strangers by Christine Kindberg, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Belladonna: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Do not change the parts of yourself that you like to make others comfortable. Do not try to mold yourself to fit the standards someone else has set for us.”

Belladonna by Adalyn GraceSigna Farrow has spent her entire life moving from house to house as each of her numerous guardians meets an untimely end. With caretakers increasingly more interested in her wealth than her happiness, Signa’s loneliness is palpable. She craves the day she will come into her inheritance and can set up her own household filled with laughter and company–never solitude and especially not Death. The one constant in Signa’s life aside from her precarious living arrangements has been the ability to see and, regrettably, interact with Death himself–a shadowy figure of a man who is as mystified by their connection as Signa.

At the age of nineteen, there is only one year left until Signa enters society. One she needs to use well if she hopes to banish the dismal reputation her numerous deceased guardians have built for her. After years of begging–and even demanding–that Death leave her alone, Signa is more suspicious than grateful when he promises to improve her current situation. Nonetheless, she is cautiously excited to find she has some living relatives in the Hawthorne family.

Thorn Grove is a stately manor with far more luxury than Signa is used to, but it is also a house in crisis with patriarch Elijah Hawthorne lost in grief and intent on running the family business–and reputation–into the ground while eldest son Percy watches helplessly. With mourning not yet over for Elijah’s beloved wife, it seems his daughter Blythe is suffering from the same mysterious illness. With no obvious cure and her condition worsening, Death warns that it won’t be much longer before he has to claim the ailing girl as one of his own.

Experiencing stability and family for the first time is a heady mixture for Signa, reminding her of how much Thorn Grove still has to lose. Signa knows that society would frown upon a young woman experimenting with folk remedies and digging into the Hawthorne’s secrets. But she also knows that she will do anything to keep Blythe and Thorn Grove safe–even if it means risking her reputation by working with Death to search for answers in Belladonna (2022) by Adalyn Grace.

Find it on Bookshop.

Belladonna is the first book in a projected duology that will continue with Foxglove. Signa and most main characters are cued as white with more varied skin tones among the supporting cast including one of Signa’s childhood friends, Charlotte, who is described as having brown skin.

Belladonna is a gothic mystery with just the right amount of magic in the form of death personified and Signa’s own strange powers that allow her not just to speak with Death but take on some of his abilities including a resistance to poison. Sumptuous descriptions of Signa’s new surroundings set the mood as Signa familiarizes herself with Thorn Grove and its occupants while highlighting the privation of her previous homes.

Armed with nothing but an old etiquette book and her wits, Signa thinks she is prepared for what society will expect of her as a young woman. But the longer she spends at Thorn Grove and the more she embraces her own powers, the clearer it is that the societal standards Signa has clung to are skewed against her and may not be worth striving for after all. Signa’s inheritance adds another layer to this conversation as she begins to understand her privilege and realizes other women are not so fortunate when it comes to future marriages and life choices.

Haunted by spirits all her life, Signa’s innate need to investigate the happenings at Thorn Grove only increases as she is haunted by–and begins to communicate with–the ghosts of the stately manor. This novel is filled with a well-rounded cast of both the living and dead who add dimension to this rich story as the complexities of relationships among the Hawthorne family and its staff begin to unfold. At the center of this is Signa’s complicated dynamic with Death who starts the story as her greatest frustration only to become a foil, a confidante, and perhaps much more. The tension between these two characters moves the story along as much as the mystery with its own twists and surprises.

Belladonna is a thoughtful story where Signa spends as much time investigating her own wants and needs as a young woman entering society as she does trying to uncover Thorn Grove’s secrets. Belladonna capitalizes on a well-developed magic system and atmospheric prose to deliver both a satisfying mystery and romance.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Ferryman by Claire McFall, A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson, Gallant by V. E. Schwab

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

The Drowned Woods: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-JonesEighteen-year-old Mererid “Mer” is the last living water diviner in Wales. Taken from her parents when she is was eight-years-old by Prince Garanhir, she is one of the most powerful tools in the royal arsenal. Until the prince goes too far.

Unwilling to become a weapon used against innocents ever again, Mer has been on the run for the last four years. Trained by the king’s own spymaster, Renfrew, Mer is well-equipped to hide but even she doesn’t have the resources to disappear–especially not from her own mentor.

After years of acting on the prince’s behalf, Renfrew’s loyalties have shifted. And, as every spy knows, a person with a knife and a cause can topple kingdoms. Which is exactly what Renfrew has in mind. If Mer uses her powers one last time to help destroy the magical well that protects Garanhir’s lands–and his power–the prince’s reign will be over and Mer will finally be free.

It won’t be an easy mission. But anything is achievable with the proper resources.

Fane, a fighter with prodigious strength to kill anyone who strikes him, has his own reasons for joining Renfrew’s cause. After his years as an iron fetch, Fane is left with few illusions about his own place in the world or the grief-stricken bargain he trapped himself in years ago. Accompanied by Trefor, a Corgi who may or may not be a spy for the fae, Fane is used to keeping his own counsel and wary when it becomes clear that both his loyalties and his pacifism will be tested on this journey.

With help from the rest of Renfrew’s crew including Ifanna, the Princess of Thieves and a figure from Mer’s past, they should have everything they need. More importantly, Mer should be positioned to get everything she wants as long as she remembers the most important rule a spy ever learns: always plan two escape routes–especially when magic is involved in The Drowned Woods (2022) by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Drowned Woods is set in the same world as Lloyd-Jones’ previous novel The Bone Houses. Although the stories tie together, both can be read on their own. Characters are assumed white; Mer is bisexual. The narrative shifts viewpoints–primarily focusing on Mer and Fane while flashbacks highlight key aspects of Mer and Fane’s character and reveal key details about other characters, especially the mysterious Ifanna.

With a daring heist, spies, and thieves, it’s no surprise that The Drowned Woods is filled with numerous twists and turns as the story shifts and shifts again in satisfyingly unexpected ways. As more of Mer’s backstory is revealed the complicated relationships between the crew add dimension to the plot and depth to the characters.

Lyrical prose emphasizes the fairy tale elements of Lloyd-Jones’ world building while deliberate plot management ensures quick pacing, lots of action, and plenty of humor from Trefor. Mer–a seasoned spy born with magic and trained to be ruthless–and Fane–a seasoned fighter who bargained for magic and learned his own limits the hard way–are interesting foils and allies throughout the story. Their obvious chemistry comes across in subtle interactions and well-drawn dialog as their loyalties are tested throughout the novel.

The Drowned Woods combines the best pieces of fantasy and adventure to create a gripping story filled with magic and an ensemble cast you won’t soon forget.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Want to know more? Be sure to check out my exclusive interview with Emily!

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

Finding Audrey: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Finding Audrey by Sophie KinsellaAudrey hasn’t left the house in mouths. How can she when she can’t even take off her dark glasses in the house? After everything that happened during her last brief moments in an actual high school, it’s all too much. Audrey doesn’t want to think about what the other girls did or the breakdown that came after. It’s hard enough to think about the anxiety she’s stuck with as a result.

Audrey knows it hasn’t been a picnic for her parents or her siblings either. She’s just not sure how to get from where she is–in her house, mostly alone, in dark glasses–to actually going out again.

Enter Linus, her brother’s friend and Audrey’s unlikely support as she tries to venture out into the world, or at least to Starbucks in Finding Audrey (2015) by Sophie Kinsella.

Find it on Bookshop.

Finding Audrey is Kinsella’s first YA novel. The audiobook is primarily narrated by Gemma Whelan but features full cast moments when Audrey is filming scenes of a documentary about her family as part of her therapy (which appear as film transcripts in print copies). All characters are assumed white.

This is a small story about big issues as Audrey tries to deal with the aftermath of intense bullying that led to a mental breakdown and ensuing mental health problems that primarily manifest as extreme anxiety. Nothing about this is sugarcoated and Audrey’s recovery (and pitfalls when she tries to stop her medication) feels earned through processing her trauma and work with her therapist.

Laugh out loud moments with her absurd parents and long suffering siblings add levity to what could have become an overly heavy and maudlin plot. The slice-of-lice nature of this story offers a brief glimpse into Audrey’s life as she learns how to cope with her anxiety and other challenging things like flirting with cute Linus.

Finding Audrey is an authentic story of recovery with genuinely funny moments throughout.

Possible Pairings: Off the Record by Camryn Garrett, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Vespertine: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes, if you want to save other people, you need to remember to save yourself first.”

Vespertine by Margaret RogersonThe dead of Loraille do not rest. Luckily, the dead do not bother Artemesia. Very little does in the convent where she trains to become a Gray Sister. Positions of more prestige wait in the city for those with a knack for manipulating the demonic spirits bound to Loraille’s holy relics but Artemesia has never craved status. She has the scarred hands to prove that she has had more than enough of demons after the dark years of her childhood. Instead Artemesia is content to tending to the dead so that their spirits will not return to torment the living.

Artemesia’s quiet life is changed forever when an army of the dead invade, forcing her to bind herself to a demonic spirit to protect the convent from attack.

Now Artemesia’s very self is tied to a revenant–a malevolent spirit bound to a high relic no one left alive knows how to control. If Artemesia can harness the revenant’s power like the vespertine saints of old it could help her turn the tides of an incursion threatening all of Loraille. If she fails, the revenant will possess Artemesia and add to the chaos pushing into the country from all sides.

Isolated and trapped within its relic for centuries on end, the revenant is willing to work with Artemesia if it means a chance to move freely. But bonding with the revenant means challenging everything Artemesia has ever learned about the demons, their relics, and the legendary saints who first bound them. With dangerous dark magic creeping ever closer, one surly nun and a petulant demon will be the only things standing between Loraille and utter ruin in Vespertine (2021) by Margaret Rogerson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Vespertine is the first book in a projected duology. Artemesia is white; other characters she meets throughout Loraille are described with a variety of skin tones. Fans of audiobooks will appreciate the excellent audio production narrated by Caitlin Davies.

High action and drama contrast well with the mystery surrounding both Artemesia and the revenant’s pasts particularly as Artemesia unpacks her trauma from a childhood demonic possession and the long-lasting impact it has had on her life since.

Rogerson explores feminism through a long history of female warriors and authority figures in Loraille as well as themes of community as Artemisia learns to trust her own power–and newfound celebrity–when Loraille embraces her as a saintly warrior. Artemisia’s role in her convent and her complex relationship with the revenant also work to present and expand themes of equality while Artemisia interrogates her country’s history of harnessing demons bound to holy relics. Humor and friendship add levity to this story as Artemisia learns the necessity of self-care with reluctant help from both the revenant and fellow novitiate Marguerite.

Vespertine is a richly developed fantasy infused with action and mystery as Artemesia slowly begins to find a place for herself with the revenant, in her newfound support system, and in Loraille itself.

Possible Pairings: Lore by Alexandra Bracken, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Kingdom of the Wicked by Kerri Maniscalo, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal, Sherwood by Meagan Spooner, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Small Favors: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Small Favors by Erin A. CraigAmity Falls is isolated. Bordered on one side by the Blackspire Mountain range and dense forest on the other, visitors are rare but dangers from the encroaching forest are not. The earliest townsfolk fought to claim the land from literal monsters–the kind that are still, to this day, whispered about after dark. Everyone knows that safety comes from simple things like following the rules of the community and avoiding the forest except for annual supply runs.

Until the last supply run fails.

With no survivors and no provisions, everyone in Amity Falls is facing a long winter.

Even with this coming scarcity, Ellerie Downing’s life remains safe and predictable. Perhaps too predictable as she chafes under the restrictions placed on her as a girl while her feckless brother is expected to take on responsibilities he seems incapable of managing for both the family and the bees that are their livelihood.

As the seasons change, strange things come to the town. Animals born with horrific defects. Inexplicable occurrences in the fields. Visitors claiming to be trappers including a handsome stranger Ellerie can tell is keeping at least one secret.

When the winter proves harder than usual, monstrous creatures come out of the shadows offering to grant wishes–to provide help–so long as they receive small favors in return. The requests seem harmless at first. Until it becomes clear that denying them will have dire consequences in Small Favors (2021) by Erin A. Craig.

Find it on Bookshop.

Small Favors combines supernatural and horror elements in this page turner narrated by Ellerie. Most principle characters are assumed white. The growing tensions among the insulated community of Amity Falls contrast well with the bees kept by Ellerie’s family with beekeeping playing a major role in the story.

Within the confines of Amity Falls, Ellerie is frustrated by the expectations she faces as a young woman to be passive and docile while her twin brother is largely able to do as he likes–often with unfavorable results for Ellerie and the rest of her family and minimal repercussions for himself.  As the story progresses and Ellerie sees more and more cracks in the tenets of the community, she begins to push back against the strict confines of her role in Amity Falls while also discovering her own agency leading to a well-managed treatment of feminist themes and provocative commentary on the importance  to balance individual needs with the greater good.

Craig expertly builds suspense and a growing sense of urgency as Faustian bargains slowly erode everything Ellerie has taken for granted about her home and her family. Small Favors combines the eerie seclusion of The Village, the escalating ferocity of Needful Things, and a unique magic system to create a distinctly unsettling atmosphere where nothing is as it seems. Small Favors is a quiet blend of horror and fantasy sure to keep you up all night reading.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Five Midnights by Ana Davila Cardinal, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, Ferryman by Claire McFall, Red Wolf by Rachel Vincent, Needful Things, The Village

Sherwood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Who are you to say that being a lady, in itself, is not its own kind of war?”

Sherwood by Meagan SpoonerWhen Robin of Locksley dies fighting in the Crusades for his king, it leaves Marian’s entire future uncertain. For years, Marian knew she would marry Robin and stand beside him when he became Lord of Locksley. They would make a life together, the way they had always planned, and they would protect Locksley town and its residents from the Sheriff of Nottingham. Together.

Now Marian is painfully aware of her uncertain future. Guy of Gisborne serves as the sheriff’s right hand. He hopes to cement his place as a gentleman first by laying claim to Locksley land and then by claiming Marian herself.

With her options dwindling and time running short, Marian is driven to a desperate decision to don Robin’s green cloak and act as a protector when he no longer can. What began as one impulsive act quickly gains a life of its own as news of Robin’s return spreads and brings hope to people with in desperate need of it.

Marian never meant to hide behind a hood, she never meant to become Robin. With Guy getting closer to her secret, with the sheriff enraged, Marian knows she has to stop. But with so many people counting on her–on Robin Hood–she isn’t sure how she can in Sherwood (2019) by Meagan Spooner.

Find it on Bookshop.

Spooner continues her series of standalone retellings of classic tales with Sherwood. All characters are assumed white.

Sherwood reinterprets familiar source material with new twists and imbues the story with strong feminist themes. Marian has always been aware of her vulnerabilities and limitations as a woman in medieval society where the paths available to her include marriage or life in a convent and much in between. These restraints gain new urgency when Marian’s planned future is stripped away with Robin’s unexpected death–leaving her to grieve her lost future as much as her childhood best friend.

This impressive take on Robin Hood features familiar characters and plot points retold with clever changes that make Sherwood into something new. Marian’s precarious role as a noblewoman is portrayed well as societal pressures call for her to stop mourning Robin and choose a new suitor. At the same time, as she works with Sherwood’s most notable outlaws, Marian’s privilege is checked by her new (and sometimes reluctant) allies who keep her grounded in the realities of living in poverty or on the run from the law.

Without revealing too much about the plot, I will say Spooner’s treatment of Guy of Gisborne is one of my favorite character reinterpretations of all time. This story reimagines Guy as a more nuanced character than the usual dour enforcer and positions him to serve as a foil and counterpoint to Marian throughout.

Sherwood stays true to the source material and the spirit of the characters while also being entirely unique and adding new layers to a familiar tale. Sherwood is a richly layered and deeply feminist story filled with adventure and surprises; perfect for fans familiar with Robin Hood and new readers alike.

Possible Pairings: No Good Deed by Kara Connolly, The Forest Queen by Betsey Cornwell, Hood by Jenny Moke Elder, Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater, The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Siren Queen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Siren Queen by Nghi VoShe falls in love with the movies first. Wanting to be a star comes later.

Even though it’s hard to see herself–a Chinese American girl from Hungarian Hill–in any of the pre-code films that immediately captivate her, it’s easy to picture herself on the big screen one day. The impossible part is imagining any other life for herself.

So she makes her way through productions as an extra alongside the changelings with more experience and less to lose. She courts attention from the studios gambling that she’ll one day have a place of her own in the skies above Hollywood. She learns how to bargain for her own chance at success without anyone trying to ride her coattails. She starts to speak for herself before any man decides to put words in her mouth.

She steals her own sister’s name and remakes herself into Luli Wei.

But getting in with the studio–choosing a new name–is only part of the journey. There’s also the training. Navigating the fires. Hiding the realest parts of yourself so the studio can make you whoever it needs you to be.

For a Chinese American girl like Luli, there’s also avoiding all the easy shortcuts the studio wants her to take. To be a maid. To talk funny. To play a fainting flower. To do any of the obvious things Luli refuses to attach to her new name.

The studios all run on ancient magic–blood bargains that would just as soon chew Luli up as bring her to the top. She has always known the risks. Every hopeful starlet does. They all think they’ll be the one to beat the odds.

Luli does too. She also knows something the other starlets don’t. She knows that bargaining with monsters sometimes makes you into one. That’s a chance she’s willing to take if it means getting everything she’s ever wanted in Siren Queen (2022) by Nghi Vo.

Find it on Bookshop.

Siren Queen gives Hollywood’s golden age the fantasy treatment, reinventing the studio system that dominated Hollywood film production into the 1950s as a dangerous playing field populated by fairies, spirits, and dangerous bargains.

This deceptively straightforward story about chasing fame also offers a thoughtful commentary on navigating identity in the public and private spheres as Luli falls in love (and lust) for the first time and begins to learn that being a queer woman in the 1940s will have consequences for her career and her ambitions. This theme is followed to different conclusions with the main plot, with Luli’s first love interest (another actress who spends most of her career passing), and through the character arc of one of Luli’s first friends and mentors–an actor who has unmistakable allusions to Cary Grant. The siren films–which become defining aspects of Luli’s career–also offer nods to the now cult classic films from producers like Val Lewton and special effects forerunners like Ray Harryhausen.

Vo plays well with structure giving Luli’s story the three acts common to most movies and also playing with the narrative voice (second person for most of the story) leading to tantalizing questions of what will come next for Luli.

Siren Queen is a love letter to old Hollywood and an allegory on the rewards and possible perils of choosing your own path. Luli Wei’s quest for fame and immortality is one readers won’t soon forget.

Possible Pairings: A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott, I Kissed a Girl by Jennet Alexander, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Only the Dead Know Burbank by Bradford Tatum, Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner, The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

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