A Curse So Dark and Lonely: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid KemmererPrince Rhen, heir to Emberfall, is cursed to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth birthday until he can find a woman to fall in love with him even as he transforms each season into a monstrous beast. The season resets after every failure–all three hundred and twenty-seven of them.

When Harper intervenes in what looks like an abduction on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s finds herself transported into another world. Instead of worrying about her dying mother or the risks her brother is taking to pay off their absent father’s debts to a loan shark, Harper is trapped in Emberfall at the center of the curse.

Harper is used to being underestimated because of her cerebral palsy, something that she hopes might help her get home to her family. Instead she is shocked to learn that she is Rhen’s last chance to break the curse. But Harper isn’t sure if the fate of a kingdom can be enough to make her fall in love in A Curse So Dark and Lonely (2019) by Brigid Kemmerer.

Kemmerer’s Beauty and the Beast retelling introduces a unique world filled with fantasy and menace.

Rhen is an accomplished if pessimistic strategist while Harper is impulsive to the point of recklessness. Despite their obvious tension and occasional chemistry, Rhen’s evolving friendship with his guard commander Grey is often more compelling than Harper’s interactions with either man.

While Harper and Rhen accomplish much over the course of the novel, A Curse So Dark and Lonely has little in the way of closure. Rich world building, hints of a love triangle, unresolved questions about the curse, and Emberfall’s uncertain future will leave readers anxious to see what happens next.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Stain by A. G. Howard, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt, Kingdom of Ash and Briars by Hannah West, Briar Rose by Jane Yolen

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

*A more condensed version of this review was published in the November 2018 issue of School Library Journal*

Nimona: A Graphic Novel Review

Nimona ny Noelle StevensonBallister Blackheart is a villain. He doesn’t necessarily like it, but there are only so many options available to professionally trained heroes after they lose an arm.

Abrosius Goldenloin has always desperately wanted to be a hero. So much so that he sacrificed his friendship with Blackheart in pursuit of his goal.

Nimona . . . well . . . no one is really sure what Nimona is or what she wants. Sometimes she’s a shark. Sometimes she wants to wreak havoc and mayhem and leave a trail of bodies in her wake. Sometimes she’s lonely and wants a friend.

Blackheart wasn’t looking for a sidekick when Nimona showed up at his hideout. Goldenloin never doubted the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics until his sworn enemy started asking the right questions. Together these unlikely allies and enemies might be able to bring down the Institution once and for all. But only if Nimona can control her powers and doesn’t kill everyone first in Nimona (2015) by Noelle Stevenson.

Nimona is Stevenson’s first graphic novel, originally seen as a webcomic online. Nimona was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

This graphic novel is entertaining and readable although not ultimately groundbreaking in terms of plot. Stevenson includes a fair bit of diversity. Blackheart has a mechanical arm. Nimona is refreshingly curvy. And the background characters come in all shapes and colors. Unlike many graphic novels, Nimona also features a self-contained arc which makes parts of the ending feel a bit rushed.

Although obviously appealing to teens, it’s also interesting to see Nimona published for the YA market when none of the characters are actually teens. (Nimona chooses to present herself as a teenaged girl but, like most of the things Nimona shares about herself, it seems very possible that is just a facade.)

Nimona is a lot of fun. Stevenson’s artwork has a decided cartoon aesthetic that is complimented with snappy dialog and sight gags throughout the story. The one failing here is that the lettering for the dialog is extremely small.

Stevenson blends a medieval setting with modern scientific technology to create a unique setting where she can create her own rules for the fantasy elements of the story. Nimona easily subverts the traditional archetypes for both heroes and villains throughout this story where nothing is ever quite as it seems.

Possible Pairings: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin

Soundless: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Soundless by Richelle MeadFei’s entire village lost its hearing generations ago. Some claim that mythical pixius eliminated sound on the mountaintop so that they could slumber but no one really knows. For Fei and her people it is the way life has always been in their village isolated by mountains on all sides.

Life in the village can be bleak as miners work to extract precious metals from the mountain’s mine in exchange for food rations sent up via zipline from the kingdom of Beiguo far below.

With villagers going blind and food–already a precious commodity–coming in smaller and smaller quantities, the fate of the village is uncertain. Fei can see the growing threats to her people every day as she observes the village to paint her part of the day’s record that are displayed in the village center each morning.

Awoken one night be unsettling dreams and a noise unlike anything she could imagine, Fei realizes that her hearing has been restored. With this strange new sense to help her and steadfast Li Wei by her side, Fei has the power to change her own life and that of her entire village forever in Soundless (2015) by Richelle Mead.

Soundless is a standalone fantasy inspired by Mead’s fascination with and love for Chinese folklore.

Fei is a fantastic heroine fueled by fierce love for her sister. She is strong, capable and confident in her own strengths. Fei brings an artistic eye to her world as she begins to push against the status quo in her village. Surprising twists and shocks make for an surprising final act as Soundless builds to an exciting conclusion.

Although this novel does employ a magical cure for Fei’s deafness, the subject is still handled thoughtfully with cleverly integrated dialog (written in italics as characters sign to each other) and carefully blocked scenes (Mead is always mindful that the characters are looking at each other before they begin signing for instance). Fei’s struggle to make sense of sound after a lifetime without is fascinating and extremely well done. Moments in the narrative also highlight times when not hearing is an advantage as well.

Fei does come to see her restored hearing as an asset and something of value that she hopes her friends and loved ones will also experience one day. However it is important to note that lack of hearing is never portrayed as a limitation for any of the characters.

Soundless is further strengthened with a sweet romance between Fei and Li Wei who are thrown together to save their village. Their evolving relationship throughout the novel is, in a word, adorable.

Diverse characters, unique mythology, and a thoughtful examination of deafness add another dimension to this rich narrative. Soundless is a provocative and original fantasy novel in a rarely seen setting. A must-read and highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Mistwood by Leah Cypress, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Eon by Allison Goodman, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Updraft by Fran Wilde

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Bone Gap: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bone Gap by Laura RubyNo one in Bone Gap is surprised when Roza disappears. People have been leaving the O’Sullivan brothers for years and it only makes sense that the girl who appeared out of nowhere should leave just as suddenly.

Finn O’Sullivan knows that Roza didn’t just leave. And he knows that he didn’t do anything to save her.

Months later most everyone in Bone Gap has given up pretending to believe Finn’s story about the man who took Roza. Even Finn’s brother, Sean, is tired of hearing about the man with the unique stillness and the face Finn can never quite describe.

Finn refuses to stop looking. His search will take him deep into the secrets of Bone Gap to places he couldn’t imagine. In trying to find Roza, Finn will learn that sometimes you have to stop looking before you can truly see in Bone Gap (2015) by Laura Ruby.

Bone Gap is a rich and atmospheric novel. The town of Bone Gap is a strange place filled with secrets and magic that most people have forgotten. In a town populated with strange and vivid characters even Bone Gap itself becomes an indelible part of this novel that is firmly grounded with a strong sense of place.

Some would call Bone Gap magic realism but references to fairy tales and magic bring a purer form of fantasy to mind in this story where beauty can be a curse and being blind is sometimes the best way to see.

Bone Gap masterfully blends myth and magic in a contemporary setting to create a thoughtful story filled with unlikely heroes, surprising twists and a plot that expertly subverts traditional fairytale tropes. Bone Gap is a lovely, unexpected novel that is incredibly smart. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Blind: A Review

Bline by Rachel DeWoskinWhat starts as an ordinary fourth of July watching the fireworks becomes something much worse in an instant when Emma Sasha Silver is blinded by a stray firework at the age of fourteen.

A year after the accident, Emma is still learning how to negotiate her large family, school, and everyday tasks without her vision when one of her classmates in the suburban town of Sauberg is found dead. As she struggles to make sense of this sudden death and her own drastically changed life, Emma wonders if losing her sight means she has also lost her chance at a bright future in Blind (2014) by Rachel DeWoskin.

DeWoskin offers a well-researched and much needed story. Emma is a capable heroine who negotiates her disability with the expected dejection as well as sudden moments of grace. The narrative is well-informed with Emma learning how to organize her life as well as travel with a cane as she begins to accomodate for her lost vision.

While this is a valuable story, DeWoskin’s efforts to describe Emma’s world in the form of sounds and textures can feel excessive. Similarly, side plots involving tested friendships, a large family, several crushes and musings about the death in town make this contemporary story convoluted and detract from Emma’s growth in the final quarter of an otherwise lengthy novel.

Although Emma is fourteen going on fifteen, she often feels and sounds younger giving Blind crossover potential (aside from some kissing and bad language) as a middle grade as well.

Emma remains strong and resilient during the story and gives a face to an often under-represented group in YA stories. Blind is also a positive portrayal of blindess without any negative tropes (such as being “cured” or somehow being “punished” in relation to a disability.)

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the June 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online including an SLJ Spotlight*