Harley in the Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn BowmanHarley never thought she’d have to run away to the circus. Not when her parents already run a successful one in Las Vegas. After years of dreaming of becoming an aerialist and performing on the static trapeze, Harley hopes her parents will finally see how serious she is and let her begin training professionally after high school.

Instead they double down on their demand that Harley focus on college first and then consider the circus–even though Harley knows she is in her prime as a performer right now, something that may not be true after four years in school studying something she has no interest in learning.

After her latest fight with her parents goes too far, Harley feels like she only has one choice: join a rival traveling circus.

Life on the road isn’t what Harley expected. The performers at Maison du Mystère don’t trust her, the trapeze artist who is supposed to mentor Harley actively hates her, and worst of all Harley has to live with the guilt over what she did to her parents so that she could snatch this opportunity. Harley has never felt like she fit into her family–never enough of any one thing to truly share her biracial parents’ and her grandparents’ histories–and now she’s afraid she may not be enough for the circus either.

As she struggles to carve out a place for herself at the Maison du Mystère and prove to herself and her parents that she has what it takes, Harley will have to decide if the sacrifices–and the choices–that she’s made to get to this point are worth it in Harley in the Sky (2020) by Akemi Dawn Bowman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Harley in the Sky tackles a lot but it’s all handled exceptionally well and works to create a well-rounded, character-driven story. While trying to earn a spot in the circus Harley  grapples with her identity as the child of two biracial parents and what that means for her own cultural identity (or her lack thereof when she feels she is not quite enough of any one thing to truly claim it). She also tries to explain the coping mechanisms she has created for herself to deal with depression and mania and the stigma her own parents carry toward discussing mental illness. (Harley remains undiagnosed in the novel because, as she tells other characters, the way she moves through the world is normal to her and not something she needs help handling right now.)

Harley is a smart, passionate narrator. She understands her world through her physicality–something Bowman captures beautifully–and she isn’t afraid to go after what she wants even if she sometimes goes too far chasing those dreams. But she is also constantly learning and growing and, perhaps most importantly, she is always trying to do better–something that can never be undervalued in a novel or in real life.

Harley in the Sky is an ode to the beauty and the work of circus life as seen through the eyes of someone who loves every aspect of it. Come for the circus setting, stay for the sweet romance and thoughtful conversations on friendship, intersectionality, and work. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Akemi Dawn Boman about this book!

Possible Pairings: Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Circus by Olivia Levez, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, American Girls by Alison Umminger

Finale: A Review

*Finale is the final book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval trilogy. This review contains spoilers for books one and two. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Caraval and Legendary.*

cover art for Finale by Stephanie GarberScarlett and Donatella Dragna are no strangers to magic.

Spirited away by a roguish sailor and her sister’s schemes, Scarlett doesn’t just play in Caraval. She wins. During the game she sees time traded as easily as coins and the dead brought back to life; she finds true love and discovers the power of a wish made in earnest. Perhaps even more importantly, in winning Caraval, Scarlett learns how to be strong after years of thinking she could settle for being safe.

Tella has always been brazen, maybe even reckless. She easily barters away kisses, her sister’s stability, and is even willing to risk her own freedom if it means getting what she wants. Weeks later when Tella plays her own game of Caraval even her daring plan to unmask Caraval Master Legend may not be enough to win when the Immortal Fates return to the Meridian Empire.

Long rumored to be myths, the Fates are closer to gods with the magic and the cruelty to prove it. The stakes have never been higher as the Fates try to reclaim the empire they once ruled and two sisters race to stop them. Scarlett will have to do the impossible and Tella will have to risk everything and this time it’s definitely not just a game in Finale (2019) by Stephanie Garber.

Find it on Bookshop.

Finale is the final book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval trilogy. This review contains spoilers for books one and two. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Caraval (which relates Scarlett’s story and in many ways functions as a standalone) and Legendary (Tella’s story and a direct sequel to Finale which begins two months later).

This installment alternates close third person chapters following Tella and Scarlett with the return of several other favorite characters along the way.

Both sisters know that anything is possible with a bit of magic and a lot of determination but even with help from Legend and Julian, it’s unclear how immortal beings can be stopped–especially when the Fates’ only weakness is something completely antithetical to their existence.

In a series that consistently amps up the tension and the stakes, Finale is a high action, nail-biting conclusion as both sisters are forced to make to make perilous choices that will change their lives–and the Meridian Empire itself–forever. Garber’s lush prose, vibrant descriptions, and, of course, swoon worthy romance serve as elegant counterpoints to the dangers that Scarlett and Tella face throughout.

Finale is a satisfying conclusion and an apt farewell to the richly imagined world of Caraval and, of course, to Scarlett and Tella–our heroines who together learn the power of magic, love, and a game well-played.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Havenfall by Sara Holland, 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*

Legendary: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Legendary is the second book in Garber’s Caraval trilogy which begins with Caraval. Start there to avoid spoilers.*

cover art for Legendary by Stephanie GarberTella never doubted that her sister Scarlett would win Caraval and use her wish to bring Tella back to life. Dying was worth any risk if it meant that Tella would be one step closer to mending her broken family and finally, for once, protecting her older sister. Playing Legend’s game was the only chance either of them would have to truly win their freedom–something that is worth far more than any debt Tella may have incurred to get Legend’s attention.

But every debt has to be paid eventually and Tella’s are coming due. Tella has always been quick on her feet, easily dodging any risk and danger. But even Tella isn’t sure that she’ll be able to acquire this last payment: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

 If Tella fails to discover Legend’s identity she could lose everything that matters–including her life. Winning the game will help Tella discover Legend’s identity. But the prize will come at a cost that could destroy Legend and Caraval forever. Tella knows better than to get swept away by the wonders within the game. But as time runs out, Tella starts to wonder if this time the game (and the dangers) might be more than illusion.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval, the grandest show by land or by sea. Inside you may come face to face with Fate or steal bits of destiny. As fantastical as Caraval might feel, the next five nights are very real. Elantine has invited us here to save the Empire from her greatest fear. For centuries the Fates were locked away, but now they wish to come out and play. If they regain their magic the world will never be the same, but you can help stop them by winning the game. Are you ready to play? in Legendary (2018) by Stephanie Garber.

Find it on Bookshop.

Legendary is the second book in Garber’s Caraval trilogy which begins with Caraval. It picks up right after the events of Caraval with a decent recap of key events. Fans of the first book will appreciate many of the familiar characters in this installment.

This novel follows Tella in close third person as she tries to win Caraval while keeping her own secrets–particularly from her sister Scarlett who is sadly sidelined for much of the story as a result. Garber dramatically expands the world of the Meridian Empire and Caraval as well as offering more backstory on Tella and Scarlett’s past.

While Scarlett was a clever heroine who had to learn how to take risks and conquer her fears, Tella is already very shrewd and fearless. She wears her youth and femininity as weapons and is quick to acknowledge almost all of her weaknesses except, perhaps, for her fierce loyalty. Tella’s biggest struggle throughout Legendary isn’t learning to believe in herself. Rather she has to trust herself as she begins to realize that this version of Caraval bears little resemblance to the game Scarlett won.

Much like Caraval itself, Legendary plays with readers expectations as this story moves in surprising and unexpected directions. In many ways Tella’s story arc is as defined as Scarlett’s while leaving many key questions waiting to be answered in book three. Legendary is a must read for fans of the first book and proves that this series has staying power. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Havenfall by Sara Holland, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, 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*

Caraval: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett writes to Master 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 can’t go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tella 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.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval the greatest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you fully enter this world, you must remember it’s all a game. What happens beyond the gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you. They’ll try to convince you it’s real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe. So while they want you to get swept away, be careful of getting swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up. Are you ready to play? in Caraval (2017) by Stephanie Garber.

Find it on Bookshop.

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, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Havenfall by Sara Holland, 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 Weight of Feathers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemoreLace Paloma is the youngest mermaid in her family’s show. Her dreams of swimming in their underwater performances are cut short when disaster strikes and she falls victim to what seems to Corbeau black magic. After all, every Paloma knows that the lightest touch of a Corbeau feather is poison.

Cluck Corbeau has always been an outsider. Especially in his own family. While the other Corbeaus take to the highest trees for their winged feats in each show, Cluck remains on the ground and in the background. An afterthought. He doesn’t believe the stories that Paloma scales are poison but he is certain that Paloma malice ruined his grandfather’s life.

When Cluck saves a girl in the woods, he doesn’t know he’s saving a Paloma or bringing her into his family’s inner circle. Lace and Cluck have every reason to hate each other, every reason to be afraid. But they also understand each other and what it means to be cast out by the people who should hold you the closest.

Twenty years ago something terrible happened in Almendro when the Palomas and the Corbeaus came to town. The sour memories and bitter rivalries still linger when they return each year. As Lace and Cluck learn more about their families, and themselves, they might learn enough to end the feud between their families once and for all in The Weight of Feathers (2016) by Anne-Marie McLemore.

The Weight of Feathers is McLemore’s first novel. Her debut was also a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award.

This novel is written in close third person narration which alternates between Lace and Cluck. It is also very grounded in the cultural identity of each family–Spanish for the Palomas and French (particularly Romani) for the Corbeaus–with proverbs and sayings at the start of each chapter section (Spanish for Lace and French for Cluck). Words and phrases in both Spanish and French are peppered throughout the dialogue and narrative as well (thought it is worth noting that a style decision was made to italicize these words).

The real strength of The Weight of Feathers is in McLemore’s strong characterization and the emotional tension at the heart of this story. While readers do not get a lot of explanation for how the Palomas have scales for birthmarks or what the Corbeaus grow feathers in their hair, it largely doesn’t matter. Lace and Cluck are real enough and authentic enough that the details of their backgrounds pale against the scope of their current story and possible romance.

The Weight of Feathers combines a heady blend of magic realism and romance in this story of mysterious performers, a small town, and a forbidden love reminiscent of Romeo and Juliette. Recommended for fans of magic realism and introspective novels with strong, subtle characters.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff

*A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Blackfin Sky: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can’t be remarkable without being remarked upon.”

blackfinskyThree months ago, on the night of her sixteenth birthday, Skylar Rousseau fell from the pier and drowned in Blackfin.

But she also didn’t.

Three months later, Sky mysteriously returns to Blackfin with no memory of having died. Someone was pulled from the water. Someone was buried. No one, least of all Sky, is sure how that someone is not her.

No one knows exactly what happened to Sky and no one except Sean, her friend and long-time crush, wants to help her find answers. When impossibly real dreams begin to draw Sky to a strange circus in the woods, Sky knows the truth must be lurking there too.

Secrets are buried and waiting to be uncovered in the strange town of Blackin including truths about Sky and her past that could change everything in Blackfin Sky (2014) by Kat Ellis.

Find it on Bookshop.

Blackfin Sky is Ellis’ first novel.

Blackfin is a strange town where the weather vane follows people instead of the breeze and church bells chime every hour even though the town has no church. Strange things are always happening in Blackfin. But a girl has never died and returned. Even in Blackfin.

Blackfin Sky begins with this impossible premise and strings it along into a well-realized fantasy filled with marvelously quirky things and not a fair bit of wonder. Sky’s understanding of her place in Blackfin begins to expand and change after her death when she finally realizes she might be more than a fascinating outsider to Blackfin’s locals.

Ellis populates this novel with a myriad cast of well-realized characters including supportive parents for Sky and an admirable sidekick in Sean. Excellent pacing and an action-packed plot move this story from one revelation to the next as Sky begins to uncover long-hidden secrets and learn more about her mysterious death.

Blackfin Sky offers the perfect blend of mystery and the supernatural (with just a bit of humor and romance) to create a story that is as satisfying as it is entertaining. Readers can only hope that Ellis will return to Sky and Blackfin in future novels.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Eventide by Sarah Goodman, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

You can also read my interview with Kat Ellis about this book starting March 12.

The Farmer and the Clown: A Picture Book Review

The Farmer and the Clown by Marla FrazeeThe Farmer and the Clown by Marla Frazee is a wordless picture book with artwork done in black prismacolor pencil and gouache. The story starts right at the title page as a baby clown falls off a passing circus train only to be picked up by a very surprised farmer.

Varied page designs including full page illustrations, two page spreads and smaller panels draw readers through the story while also highlighting key scenes.

Frazee presents a fully realized narrative with her use of color and light throughout the book. In the beginning we see the Farmer’s world in neutrals with many shadows. Until a pop of color in the form of a young clown appears. From that point on the light and the color in the story shifts as the titular Farmer and Clown get to know each other.

Moving from day to night and back again (always with beautifully drawn changes in light) readers see the Farmer and the Clown get to know each other. Although this story is wordless, the themes of friendship and finding home remain permeable–particularly when the Clown’s makeup is washed off and we see the scared child underneath.

The real beauty here, the thing that makes The Farmer and the Clown so special, is that as a wordless picture book readers are able to bring a lot to the story with their own interpretations. Frazee gives readers all of the pieces they need but it is still up to the reader to get the Farmer and Clown to their happy ending.

The Farmer and the Clown is a truly delightful and often whimsical story. Large pages and bold illustrations make it ideal for group or one-on-one readings alike. I presented it at my library system’s Mock Caldecott (where it received the winning vote) and fully expect it to receive at least an honor at the actual Caldecott in February.

Because of the whimsy (and the clowns) this would pair well with Lester’s Dreadful Sweater’s by K. G. Campbell. The theme of friendship also brings to mind Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato.

Conjured: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Conjured by Sarah Beth DurstEve doesn’t know anything about her past. No family. No home. Even her face has been changed with a series of surgeries.

All Eve knows for sure is that a madman is on the loose–a killer who uses magic to murder his targets. And she might be the key to solving the case. If she ever remembers.

Everyone is keeping secrets from her–maybe even her own mind. Recurring dreams of a carnival with tinny music and a sinister magician haunt her. Sometimes a storyteller is there spinning tales as she tries to sew buttons into Eve’s skin. Eve can change the color of her eyes and make the birds printed on her wallpaper fly around her new room.

Protected by two witness protection agents and befriended by a boy who never lies, Eve will have to make sense of her past if she ever hopes to have a future of her own in Conjured (2013) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Conjured is a tense novel of suspense with bits of magic and character study thrown in. It is nowhere near as coherent as the jacket summary suggests. Readers expecting a linear story here will be disappointed.

Eve remembers nothing of her past and loses time to blackouts several times throughout the story. Her lack of memory is manipulated and exploited. These gaps and Eve’s own confusion are crucial to the plot but they also create a significant distance between readers and Eve’s characters. This gap narrows as the story progresses (and as Durst changes writing tense and person to reflect the changes) but it still makes for a very disorienting–and sometimes slow–beginning.

As her name suggests, Eve is an almost completely blank slate at the beginning of the story. Consequently her character often feels lacking in personality (since Eve doesn’t even know her own personality really). That said Durst does an excellent job creating memorable secondary characters as both friends and foils to Eve. The setting and the premise are also fascinating.

This isn’t a book for everyone but readers who enjoy clever writing and unique plot structures will be rewarded by a completely surprising and original novel as Conjured builds slowly to a shocking revelation and a conclusion that will have readers holding their breath until the dramatic finish.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah starting tomorrow!