A Disaster in Three Acts: A Review

A Disaster in Three Acts by Kelsey RodkeyEighteen-year-old Saine Sinclair prides herself on her ability to shape a narrative on film. Her eye for storytelling is why she knows her friendship with Holden Michaels has been over for some time now. As if him publicly rejecting her during a middle school game of spin-the-bottle wasn’t enough, Holden has also dated and broken up with Saine’s current best friend Corinne. In other words, both loyalty and pride dictate that Saine never speak to Holden again.

Which is what makes it so awkward when Saine needs Holden’s help to complete her documentary for a prestigious filmmaking program at Temple University after her original subject drops out. Her preliminary application has already been submitted and approved which means that Saine has to stick to her original topic–following a contestant through a series of live action gaming competitions to win a prototype virtual reality headset–which is where Holden comes in.

Following her ex-best-friend around to film everything he does while thinking she’s telling a familiar tale about a white boy getting what he wants is hard. Doing that while worrying if her current best friend is jealous is even harder.

Saine’s fixation on the success of her film makes it easy to put her growing feelings for Holden and crumbling relationships on hold while she tries to figure out how to shape real life to make sure her documentary wins a spot at Temple by inventing financial problems as motivation and even resorting to sabotage. As her lies and manipulations grow, Saine faces a reality check when she realizes that sometimes narrative growth hurts–especially when it comes to facing the consequences her actions in A Disaster in Three Acts (2022) by Kelsey Rodkey.

Find it on Bookshop.

Saine and Holden, like most main characters, are white with some secondary characters cued as BIPOC based on names/skin tones including Saine’s other best friend Kelsey and Holden’s best friend Taj. The cast also includes characters across the LGBTQ+ spectrum and a cute side plot romance between two girls in Saine’s friend group. Saine is self-described as fat and she and her mother are lower income both of which play into the plot.

While A Disaster in Three Acts has a well-rounded and nuanced cast of supporting characters, Saine remains deeply flawed throughout the story. Her fixation on the documentary seems to be excused by her grief over her grandmother’s sudden death and the confusing process of moving on alongside her divorced mother as they process the loss and try to move on. Unfortunately that’s a poor excuse for Saine’s choices to make up numerous plots for her documentary (notably manipulating footage and interviews to imply that Holden’s family is struggling financially and that he wants to win the competition to sell the prize), interview subjects without their consent while pretending her camera is turned off, and even outright sabotage when Holden needs her help during a competition.

As the story progresses Saine does have to contend with the consequences of her manipulative, self-centered behavior and her multiple lies to all of her friends. Unfortunately her contrition–even at the end of the book–seems to stem more from being caught behaving badly than from her actual bad behavior.

Saine spends a lot of the documentary lamenting that if Holden wins the competition his success in her documentary will not feel “earned” because he’s just another white boy succeeding. The irony of this is that, by the end of the novel, Saine’s own redemption arc feels similarly unearned and–compared to her egregious behavior–unjustified.

A Disaster in Three Acts is a fast paced story that is often humorous albeit with a main character whose singular focus often works against her character development.

Possible Pairings: A Show For Two by Tashie Bhuiyan, Jasmine Zumideh Needs a Win by Susan Azim Boyer, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Late to the Party by Kelly Quindlen, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura

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

Accidentally Engaged: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Accidentally Engaged by Farah HeronReena Manji’s finance career bores her, her parents are constantly setting her up with eligible Muslim bachelors, her relationship with her sister still hasn’t recovered after her sister blew up Reena’s food blog (in a very bad way). But there is one thing Reena has always had under control: baking bread.

With a complement of sourdough starters, recipes galore, and a fair bit of know-how in the kitchen from her food blogger days, Reena is a whiz at baking bread which, luckily, is the one thing that still lets Reena escape the rest of her problems.

Reena is fully prepared to add new neighbor Nadim Remtulla to that list of problems when she finds out that he’s in Toronto as part of a business deal between their fathers. Except . . . he’s a lot more fun–and hot–than Reena expects a cog in her father’s real estate business to be. Best of all, Nadim seems to love eating her bread as much as Reena loves baking it. Reena has no intention of marrying anyone her parents pick for her, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be friends with bread benefits, right?

When Reena’s career hits yet another roadblock, it seems like the perfect time to enter a TV cooking competition where Reena can prove her chops and win a free ride to the artisan bread course of her dreams. There’s only one catch: the show is for couples who cook together. When a drunken quest for homemade snacks leads to a surprisingly cute audition tape, faking an engagement with Nadim seems harmless. It’s not like her parents or her sister will ever watch the show.

But faking feelings for Nadim in front of the camera, leads to a lot of feelings behind the scenes. As they grow closer, Reena knows her fake fiancé is keeping secrets of his own. She isn’t worried because a fake engagement can’t lead to anything real. Except secrets getting out is almost as inevitable as sourdough starter growing, and feelings–even half-baked ones–make for a recipe that’s hard to ignore in Accidentally Engaged (2021) by Farah Heron.

Find it on Bookshop.

This standalone romance is set in Toronto, Canada. Reena and Nadim are both Muslim. Reena and her family are Indian. Nadim grew up in Dar es Salaam and attended an English boarding school before landing in Toronto which adds layers to his character and his feelings as a twice immigrant. Readers who enjoy Reena’s support system of friends should also check out her previous novel The Chai Factor, which focuses on Reena’s best friend Amira. Accidentally Engaged is a lot of fun on audio as narrated by Soneela Nankani who nails Nadim’s British accent and immediately draws listeners into Reena’s world.

After years trying to maintain distance between herself and her family, Reena is forced to confront how many of her life choices were inspired by wanting to go against her parents and how many might have let her get off track. With Nadim’s unflagging support throughout the competition Reena is able to fully embrace her passion (and talent!) as a chef while finding her way back to her favorite activity. Their new friendship and (spoiler) romantic relationship also help Reena re-evaluate other areas in her life as she reconnects with her family and her heritage. Along the way, Reena also finding healthier coping mechanisms for life’s inevitable curveballs which would previously have her running to the nearest bar.

Heron perfectly balances weightier topics like Nadim’s fraught relationship with his father and the complicated history Reena has with her sister with humor. Accidentally Engaged is upbeat and fast-paced. When I read it last year this book was exactly what I needed to get through a very hard time as I followed Reena dealing with her own challenges (and competitions). Snappy dialog and obvious chemistry between Reena and Nadim make Accidentally Engaged delectable. Be sure to read Accidentally Engaged with a snack (or two) nearby because Heron’s descriptions of Reena’s culinary creations are guaranteed to make your mouth water.

Possible Pairings: Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake, The Dating Plan by Sara Desai, People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry, Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho, Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel, The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa

Be Dazzled: A Review

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

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

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

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

Find it on Bookshop.

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

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

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

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

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves: A Review

“Nothing taken, nothing given.”

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg LongEvery species on the frozen planet of Tundar is predatory. When everything has sharp teeth and sharper claws, the people have to be hard too. Including seventeen-year-old Sena Korhosen.

Sena never loved Tundar–it’s not a planet that engenders love–but she loved her mothers and the home they made for her on the planet between Tundar’s infamous sled race seasons.

They both died in the last race. Sena has been struggling to pay her way off the planet and away from its painful memories ever since.

After angering a local gangster, Sena is out of time to earn her way off the planet. Instead she has to accept a dangerous bargain leading a team of scientists through Tundar’s sled race while trying to protect Iska, the prize fighting wolf she never wanted to let herself care about.

Haunted by memories and grief, predators, and her enemies, Sena will have to use all of her wits and her strength to survive the race and make it off Tundar with Iska in Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves (2022) by Meg Long.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves is Long’s debut novel.

Long blends fantasy with survivalist adventure in this action packed novel. Long takes her time building up the world with rich details and a varied cast of characters. Sena’s first person story starts slow, carefully building out Tundar’s harsh realities before drawing readers into the novel’s plot.

Sena’s slow work to process her grief over her mothers’ deaths and reluctantly form new connections with both people and her wolf Iska play out against the Tundar sled race where the stakes for Sena and Iska are literally life or death. Readers should also be wary of casual violence throughout the story and frostbite induced injuries in the final act.

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves is an engrossing adventure which hints at many more stories to be told in this world.

Possible Pairings: Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, All Systems Red by Martha Wells, Fable by Adrienne Young

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

All of Us Villains: A Review

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn HermanEvery twenty years in the small city of Ilvernath the Blood Veil descends marking the start of a new tournament between Ilvernath’s seven founding families. During the course of the tournament, six champions will be killed leaving the lone victor to win control of the region’s high magick–a coveted resource worldwide–until the next tournament.

In previous generations, no one knew about the tournament except the seven families and the spell-and-cursemakers who supply the champions with their arsenals; no one knew that the families were trapped in a seemingly unbreakable curse.

This time things are different thanks to the anonymous publication of “A Tradition of Tragedy: The True Story of the Town that Sends Its Children to Die”–a book that shares all of Ilvernath’s dirty secrets about both the tournament and its participating families.

Now, with the tournament about to start again, the town is filled with paparazzi and spellchasers eager to witness the carnage. All of the champions will face more than they bargained for as the tournament begins to change around them leaving the fate of the champions–and high magick–in question in All of Us Villains (2021) by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman.

Find it on Bookshop.

All of Us Villains is the first book in a duology and Foody and Herman’s first writing collaboration. While the characters have diverse sexual identities, most characters (including all POV characters) are white.

The book alternates close third person point of view between self-declared villain Alistair Lowe, reluctant tournament favorite Isobel Macaslan, underdog Gavin Grieve whose family has never won the tournament, and Briony Thorburn whose self-declared chosen one status is threatened by government involvement in this year’s tournament.

An intricate magic system anchors this modern world where common magick exists alongside modern technology allowing people to buy spells for anything from flashlight alternatives to beauty boosts. The carefully developed magic system underscores how much readers don’t know about Ilvernath’s place in the larger world–something that may be explored further in book two.

All of Us Villains is a fast-paced, morally grey story of ambition and survival with a true cliffhanger ending that will leave fans eager for the sequel.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst, An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

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

If the Shoe Fits: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

If the Shoe Fits by Julie MurphyCindy barely made it through her senior year in design school. She filled her portfolio with old shoe designs while all of the pent-up grief from her father’s death just before college finally caught up to her. Even now, as a fresh college graduate, Cindy is completely uninspired. No wonder she has no industry job prospects.

Leaving her chosen home in New York City to return to California to nanny her much-younger triplet siblings could be a much-needed chance to refocus. The plan starts to sound even better after Cindy has a meet-cute on the plane with dreamy Henry who could easily pass for Prince Charming.

Adrift and not sure how to restart her creativity, Cindy makes a surprising choice when she volunteers to appear as a contestant on her step-mother’s popular reality dating show. Sure, it’s unexpected. But it will give Cindy a chance to showcase her work and get some exposure. Plus she’ll be appearing with her other step-sisters so it’s not like Cindy will be on her own. She knows she won’t win the Suitor. But maybe she’ll land a job.

When the producers decide it would make more sense if Cindy has no connections on the show, she’s worried. When the show’s suitor turns out to be a certain charmer that Cindy got to know on a plane, she’s concerned–what are the rules for dating someone you already know while on national television?

Just when Cindy is ready to go home, she finds out that the show’s viewers have embraced her as the first plus-size contestant pushing body positivity one group date at a time. She has to stay for her new fans. As the sparks fly between her and Henry and her inspiration slowly returns, Cindy might have to stay for herself too in If the Shoe Fits (2021) by Julie Murphy.

Find it on Bookshop.

If the Shoe Fits is Murphy’s first novel written for adults. The book is also the start of Disney’s Meant to Be series of romances which will retell different Disney classics. Being a Disney property, this novel is high on the swoons while being light on the steam.

Fans of Murphy’s previous novels will appreciate Cindy’s no-nonsense first person narration as well as her comfort in her own skin as a fat woman who isn’t afraid of being called fat. That doesn’t mean Cindy doesn’t have to confront fatphobia throughout the novel as the show’s stylists refuse to stock clothing in her size and, during one group date, Cindy is forced to cobble together an outfit out of designer clothes from a label that doesn’t make anything in her size. Rather than becoming pain points for Cindy or readers, these moments showcase Cindy’s ingenuity as a designer and underscore the book’s continued message of inclusivity.

Cindy and Henry are white. There is diversity among the show contestants, staff, and designers met along the way including one of my favorite secondary characters, Jay, who is a non-binary style icon.

While comparing If the Shoe Fits to the original Cinderella is a stretch in some respects, fans of the original will recognize key details from the original including Cinderella’s squad of helpful mice, beautiful shoes, and even a reimagining of the Disney princess’s iconic outfit. Obvious chemistry between Cindy and Henry along with their smile-inducing banter move the story along even when it gets bogged down in the conventions of the dating competition–a show that fans of The Bachelor will immediately recognize.

If the Shoe Fits is a Cinderella retelling replete with positivity in a story that centers romance and magical moments without any of the toxic feminity inherent to the original as Murphy reinterprets Cindy’s relationships with both her step-mother and her step-sisters. A must-read for Disney fans and romance readers alike.

Possible Pairings: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert, Natalie Tan’s Books of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim, Charlie Glass’s Slippers by Holly McQueen

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

Don’t Hate the Player: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Don't Hate the Player by Alexis NeddEmilia Romero is the star of her high school field hockey team, a straight A student, and a world class secret keeper. It’s the only way she’s found to keep her double life as a player on a competitive esports team in Guardians League Online (GLO) on the down low. Emilia isn’t ashamed of her gaming–she knows she’s great at it. But she also knows that the gaming community is very white and very male and not a great place for a Puerto Rican teen girl to be honest about who she is.

When her team qualifies for a local eSports tournament, Emilia knows she can’t miss this opportunity. Keeping her gaming life separate from her real life, gets a lot more complicated when Emilia recognizes one of the competitors.

Jake has had a crush on Emilia since they met as kids at an arcade birthday party. His underdog team qualifying for the tournament is exciting enough. Seeing Emilia and being thrown back into her orbit? That’s a whole other level.

Competing in the tournament should be as simple as letting the best player win. But when the stakes rise Emilia and Jake both realize they have a lot to gain–and potentially lose–depending on the tournament’s outcome. Growing closer as gamers is great but it will take more than the perfect hidden combo to make sure they can stay close in real life too in Don’t Hate the Player (2021) by Alexis Nedd.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t Hate the Player is Nedd’s debut novel. Most of the story is narrated by Emilia with some chapters in third person following Jake.

Nedd knows her stuff and delivers a story entrenched in online gaming that remains approachable to non-gamer readers. The high stakes of the tournament contrast well with the tension as, with Jake’s help, Emilia tries to keep her identity a secret to avoid harassment from the gaming community. Jake has been a gamer all of his life and is aware of the harassment faced by non-male/non-white players from the experiences of his own GLO teammates who include BIPOC players who are queer and trans.

Emilia’s efforts to balance her parents’ expectations with her own desires adds a lot of dimension to the story. Both Jake and Emilia’s friends offer a strong support system as the competition at the tournament amps up and add a lot of humor to the story.

Don’t Hate the Player is a funny, romantic story that shines a light on the joys (and hazards) of the gaming community while proving that sometimes a little competition can bring people together. Recommended for gamers, romantics, and readers looking for books with a healthy dose of humor.

Possible Pairings: Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, It All Comes Back to You by Farah Naz Rishi, Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith, Follow Your Arrow by Jessica Verdi

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

An Unkindness of Magicians: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat HowardFortune’s Wheel has begun its Turning. When it ceases rotation, all will be made new.

So begins every Turning in the Unseen World. Letters, emails, and other missives are sent to every House throughout New York City–a warning to prepare.

Some like Laurent Beauchamps–an outsider as a Black man and a new initiate to magic–hope to establish their own Houses. Others like Laurent’s best friend Grey Prospero–a legacy to magic despite being disinherited–see this Turning as a chance to prove themselves and reclaim what should rightfully be theirs no matter the cost.

The Turning is also a chance for established Houses like the Merlins to maintain their position at the top ruling over the Unseen World. While leaders of larger Houses like Miranda Prospero hope to grasp at this chance to shake things up.

Houses can represent themselves in the Turning or hire out help. Miranda doesn’t know what to make of Ian Merlin choosing to represent her House instead of his own father’s but she knows she can’t afford to turn down Ian’s offer if she wants to finally wrest power away from Miles Merlin.

What no one at the Turning counted on was Sydney: the mysterious champion Laurent hires. An outsider herself, Sydney knows how magic works and she knows it is breaking. If she has her way, the entire magic system underpinning the Unseen World will be destroyed before she’s finished.

Fortune’s Wheel is turning. Some will rise, some will fall. But at the end of this one, everything will change and it will be time for the world to be remade in An Unkindness of Magicians (2017) by Kat Howard.

Find it on Bookshop.

An Unkindness of Magicians is a standalone urban fantasy with a shifting close third person narration. The story unfolds in different directions as the narratives shifts between Sydney, Miranda, Ian and other key players in both the Unseen World and the Turning itself.

Against the backdrop of the Turning and its magical competitions Howard builds out the Unseen World, its archaic hierarchies, and the iniquities at the center of how magic is used and distributed in a sharp examination of privilege and legacy. Unsolved murders throughout the Unseen World add another dimension to this already rich story.

An Unkindness of Magicians is a nuanced and intricate novel with a slow build as plots and characters begin to intersect in advance of a sensational conclusion. Howard populates this story with a group of fiercely determined and clever characters–especially women–looking for justice and victory in a world that would willingly to cast them aside. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Book of Night by Holly Black, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly, Middlegame by Seanan McGuire, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth

The Night Circus: A Review

The Night Circus by Erin MorgensternThe circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

Long before its inception, the circus was destined to be something special. Visitors are charmed by the magical performances and the wondrous exhibits found in each black and white tent. Behind the scenes the circus is the site of a fierce competition between two magicians.

Celia and Marco have been trained for this competition from a young age as their instructors pit them against each other determined to see which magician (and which trainer) is superior. Both are warned to avoid the other, to keep their identity secret, but soon enough Celia and Marco crash into each other and into a dangerous love that threatens the contest.

All things must end and if this competition doesn’t have a clear victor it could have devastating consequences for Celia, Marco, and everyone who has come to call the circus home in The Night Circus (2011) by Erin Morgenstern.

Find it on Bookshop.

Morgenstern’s debut novel hardly needs any introduction. I came late to this one after attempting (and, quite honestly, failing) to enjoy the author’s second novel The Starless Sea.

The Night Circus is a nonlinear story told across decades as our protagonists first begin their training through to the explosive conclusion of their competition. The sprawling story jumps back and forth in time while following multiple characters in close third person and spanning the globe as Le Cirque des Rêves travels to different locations.

Compared to such an elaborate setting and complex world, some of the characters fail to become fully realized. The story very clearly centers Celia and Marco while introducing others who become integral either to the circus or the contest–or both in some cases–although some feel closer to a deus ex machina than true characters in the story. The book also falls short of giving every character their due when it comes to a true ending.

It’s also worth mentioning that the only characters who are not white fall dangerously close to stereotypes with Tsukiko the inscrutable and enigmatic Japanese contortionist and Chandresh the eccentric and boisterous circus founder who is half Indian.

Morgenstern’s background as a visual artist is obvious in her prose which is extremely evocative and immediately draws readers into the circus as well as each and every one of Celia and Marco’s elaborate illusions. Intervals throughout the novel also pull readers into the story with sections told in second person that position the reader as a vital participant in the circus.

Much like the timeless Le Cirque des Rêves itself, The Night Circus is visually stunning, immediately clever, and often bittersweet. Recommended for readers looking for a fantasy with a setting in which they can luxuriate.

Possible Pairings: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Race the Sands: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Life isn’t just about who you were—it’s about who you choose to be.”

Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst“Call it what it is: monster racing. Forget that and you die.”

Tamra tells every one of her students that. She cautions them, every time, to stay focused on the race, the moment, and never forget that they are riding on the back of a monster. Not every rider remembers those lessons in the heat of the races.

The Becaran races are a chance for wealth and glory for the riders. The racers, the kehoks, get something else: a chance to be reborn as something less monstrous–a chance to try to redeem their damaged souls.

Tamra used to be a winner, a champion. Now she is a damaged trainer unsure how to overcome a bad reputation and mentor another champion. She only knows winning this season is her last chance to keep her daughter.

Raia is an untested rider. She has never raced, never even seen a kehok up close. Now she has to convince a trainer to take her on if she wants a chance to use the races to win her freedom and escape her domineering parents and fiance.

Together with a strange new kehok, Tamra and Raia have the potential to change the races and all of Becar forever. But only if they stay focused and remember: Only the race. Only the moment. Only the finish line in Race the Sands (2020) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Find it on Bookshop.

Durst’s latest standalone fantasy introduces readers to the beautiful and often brutal world of Becar–a desert country where every action can stain or elevate your soul with immediate consequences for your next incarnation. This raises, for all of the characters, thoughtful questions of how to live a moral life while also doing what needs to be done throughout the novel.

In a kingdom in flux waiting for the new emperor to be crowned, Tamra and Raia face their own mounting stakes as both women are forced to take chances on themselves and each other to try and win.

The story unfolds with a close third person narration following Tamra, Raia, and other key players in the story to create a strong ensemble cast notably including Tamra’s daughter, Yorbel–an augur with his own interest in kehoks, and Tamra’s patron Lady Evara who is the obvious successor to my favorite inscrutable fashion plate Effie Trinket.

Race the Sands is a fantasy that explores many things but at its core this is a story of mindfulness and focus as both Tamra and Raia answer what they truly want to accomplish and how far they are willing to go for those goals. The story also considers what makes a family–found or otherwise–as well as what happens when the people trusted to maintain order in society betray that trust.

Race the Sands is a fast-paced story filled with intrigue, action, and, of course, competition. A twisty, perfectly paced adventure ideal for readers who want their high fantasy with a healthy dose of mystery.

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Sarah!

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, Hunted By the Sky by Tanaz Bhathena, The Hunter Games by Suzanne Collins, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater