Take Me With You: A Review

Take Me With You by Tara AltebrandoBefore the school messaging app summons them all to an empty classroom after school, they barely know each other.

Eden is struggling with anxiety while she grieves her father. Her mother tries to be there, be present, but Eden still feels alone with all of these fears and even scarier feelings.

Marwan has two priorities: excelling enough in soccer to get a college scholarship and getting out of Queens. His immigrant parents don’t understand either and would prefer Marwan channel his energy into working at the family’s Persian restaurant that he will one day inherit.

Eli loves all things tech and gaming. But it’s hard to focus on either while his grandfather is dying a slow death in a nursing home and Eli feels like even more of an afterthought in his own family.

Ilanka has always prided herself on keeping other people at a distance–the better to plan an exit strategy from her claustrophobic family, the rhythmic gymnastics she isn’t sure she cares about, and ignore the fact that her “best” friend isn’t much of a friend at all.

None of them know why they’re summoned to the classroom. They don’t even notice the device at first.

Until it lights up and starts telling them the rules: Don’t tell anyone about the device. Never leave the device unattended. No one leaves.

Later, there will be other rules, a few mistakes, and a lot of questions but first they’re told to take the device with them. Brought together by a mysterious device Eden, Marwan, Eli, and Ilanka will have to work together to uncover answers or suffer the consequences in Take Me With You (2020) by Tara Altebrando.

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Altebrando’s latest standalone thriller is a dynamo alternating between multiple points of view with tension you can cut with a knife.

This character-driven thriller has an intense plot situated perfectly between suspense and speculative fiction. At the same time, while answering questions about the device motivates all four characters, the story’s ultimate focus is on the unlikely connection formed between themin the most unlikely of circumstances.

Take Me With You is a tense, thoughtful thriller with a perfectly executed denouement; the eerily possible thriller you’ve been waiting for. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie Sue Hitchcock, Infinite in Between by Carolyn Mackler, One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus, All Our Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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

The Ten Thousand Doors of January: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. HarrowJanuary Scaller is used to certain doors being closed to her. Living as the ward of Mr. Locke, a wealthy man who travels in his own bubble of authority and privilege, does much to ease January’s movement through a world that doesn’t always understand her.

But even Mr. Locke’s influence can never change her origins as the daughter of a poor explorer or the color of her copper skin. She is used to never quite fitting in and never quite knowing her place among the empty halls of Locke’s vast mansion. She is used to wondering when her father will return from his numerous expeditions searching out new rarities for Locke’s vast collection. Most of all, January is used to waiting.

Everything changes the moment January finds a door, although it takes her nearly a decade to truly understand its importance. In a world where doors can lead a person much farther than an adjacent room, January will have to rely on a book filled with secrets and regrets and her own wits to determine which doors are meant to be open wide and which should remain under lock and key.

Doors can be many things to many people but more than anything, they are change. For January it may be impossible to walk through a door without changing everything in The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019) by Alix E. Harrow.

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The Ten Thousand Doors of January is Harrow’s debut novel. The story alternates between January’s lyrical first person narration and chapters from the mysterious book she finds among Mr. Locke’s myriad artifacts.

Part portal fantasy, part coming-of-age story, The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a story about a young woman discovering her own power and agency in both a literal and figurative sense as she grows up in a world that has sought to systematically strip her of both.

Harrow builds tension well as the novel moves toward a dramatic climax both in January’s story and in the story-within-a-story of the book she finds. Moments of genuine magic and sweetness are tempered with thoughtful examinations of what it means to be a person of color in a world that too often defaults to white and favors it above all else.

January is clever, plucky heroine learning to find her voice after years of trying to keep quiet and maintain a low profile. Her personal growth is complimented well with the ragtag community she builds as she learns more about Doors and her own connection to them.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January is an ambitious examination of privilege, choice, and connection wrapped up in a distinct magic system and truly singular world building. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt; Passenger by Alexandra Bracken; The Meq by Steve Cash; Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore; Ink, Iron, and Glass by Gwendolyn Clare; The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove; The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig; Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones; A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly; Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire; The Starless Sea by Erin Morgensten; Uprooted by Naomi Novik; Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel; Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson; The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab;The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth; Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Wicked As You Wish: A Review

Wicked As You Wish by Rin ChupecoThere are a hundred names for magic in the Tagalog language but no matter what you call it, Makilings can negate it. This long line of Filipina warriors can render spells and modern spelltech useless. At least, that’s the idea. Tala Warnock is still getting the hang of it.

Even as a novice, Tala’s unique ability will come in handy when her best friend Alex has to  journey to Avalon–one of the Royal States of America’s neighboring kingdoms–to reclaim his throne. The only problem? For the past twelve years Avalon has been encased in ice and largely impenetrable with its residents trapped in an enchanted slumber.

Guided by the firebird–a creature thought to have shifted from reality to myth–Tala and a ragtag group of misfits from the Order of the Bandersnatch will have to work together to get Alex safely into Avalon and back on his throne in Wicked As You Wish (2020) by Rin Chupeco.

Find it on Bookshop.

Wicked As You Wish is the start of Chupeco’s A Hundred Names For Magic duology. Close third person narration keeps the focus primarily on Tala. The breakneck pacing of the opening chapters does not let up as Tala is thrown headfirst into her world’s political conflicts and her own parents’ murky roles in the recent war.

Chupeco’s world building draws on varied fairy tales and myths (both western and non-western) to create a dynamic alternate reality filled with magic and mayhem along with a somewhat on-the-nose nod to the current USA president in the form of King Muddles. A large ensemble cast, snappy dialog, and the general madcap pacing keep the story moving while also keeping Tala in the dark about a lot of the larger plots at play.

Wicked As You Wish is a frenetic, zany series starter with an inclusive and distinct cast of characters. Recommended for readers who like their fantasies fast, funny, and full of adventure.

Possible Pairings: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

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

Foul is Fair: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Foul is Fair by Hannah CapinElle’s glittering life is torn to shreds when she and her friends crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party and the golden boys there choose Elle as their latest target.

Her best friends Mads, Jenny, and Summer get Elle out of there. They help her bandage the cuts, throw out the ruined dress, and most importantly change her appearance.

Because after that night, after what they did to her, Elle is gone.

She’s Jade now and she is going to make every single boy who hurt her pay.

Her parents are going to turn a blind eye. Her coven of best friends are going to help. And a boy named Mack is going to take the blame for all of it in Foul is Fair (2020) by Hannah Capin.

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Capin’s modern retelling of Macbeth is a gory revenge fantasy set against a world of luxury and decadence and LA’s upper echelon. (Readers can find a content warning at the front of the book as well as on the author’s website.)

Jade’s first person narration is sleek, sharp, and almost lyrical enough to call iambic pentameter to mind. While the story does little to develop any character beyond their designated role in this revenge fantasy, Jade’s coven of friends is diverse including bisexual Summer, Jenny who is Korean, and Mads–a trans girl and Jade’s oldest and best friend.

The accelerated timeline and copious murder both require a willing suspension of disbelief as Jade sets her revenge quest in motion–all over the course of one week.

Foul is Fair is as bloody as it is campy. Recommended for readers who prefer their revenge fantasies with justifiably angry girls and a healthy dose of gore.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, Anna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee, The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, The Kingdom by Jessica Rothenberg, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

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

Angel Mage: A Review

“They had been drawn into the affairs of the great and could not easily escape.”

Angel Mage by Garth NixLiliath has spent more than a century hiding, asleep, hoping to regroup after the Fall of Ystara before she tries to reunite with her lover, Ystara’s archangel Palleniel. Rallying Ystara’s descendants around her, Liliath prepares to use her formidable angelic magic to be with Palleniel at long last.

But she will need more than Ystarans who have long been shunned by the angels–unable to benefit from even the most basic angelic magic without fear of being killed by the Ash Blood plague or transformed into beastlings–to complete her plan.

In nearby Sarance, four young people are the last pieces she needs: Simeon’s dreams of becoming a doctor are sidetracked when a scientific procedure goes horribly wrong; Henri, an opportunist to his core, thinks his luck may have changed when he receives a new position; Agnez has earned her way into the musketeers as a cadet; and Dorotea’s hopes to be left alone to study icon-making and angelic magic are dashed when her singular skill draws unwanted attention.

The four are immediately drawn to each other even as happenstance and greater forces conspire to bring them together. Although they start as Liliath’s pawns, these four unlikely friends may also be the only ones who can stop her in Angel Mage (2019) by Garth Nix.

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Nix’s newest standalone fantasy showcases a true ensemble cast with shifting close third person perspective in each chapter following the four friends and, notably, the story’s antagonist Liliath.

Despite the magical additions, Angel Mage is uncannily timely as the characters explore themes of tolerance and discrimination in a world with a refugee crisis of its own. Inventive magic and an inclusive society give this story a setting with refreshingly modern sensibilities. This story is also notably free of all but the barest hints of romance. Instead, the growing friendship and trust between Simeon, Henri, Agnez, and Dorotea takes center stage as the four friends work together to understand the conspiracy into which they have been drawn and how best to use their distinct skills to try to stop it.

Angel Mage is an homage to friendship, magic, and The Three Musketeers–elements which blend surprisingly well in this fast-paced adventure. While Simeon, Henri, Agnez, and Dorotea’s journey reaches a logical and earned conclusion, fans can only hope Nix will return to this world again one day.

Possible Pairings: Rosemarked by Livia Blackburne, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Flamecaster by Cinda Williams Chima, The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Dance of Thieves by Mary E. Pearson, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

The Good Luck Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole DavisEvery welcome house in Arketta has their own group of Good Luck Girls ready and waiting to make sure each and every brag has the best time.

The welcome houses are all different and so are the girls but the girls start the same: sold to  a welcome house as a child by parents desperate enough to imagine it’s a blessing. The girls are branded with markings that grow as they do, blooming into flowers when it’s time to move downstairs and become a Good Luck Girl. That’s when they’re trapped.

Aster knows the truth about being a good luck girl. She knows the despair and the horror and she knows it’s only a matter of time before the same thing happens to her little sister, Clementine.

Except on her first night downstairs Clementine accidentally kills a man setting herself, Aster, and three of the other girls on a path toward escape, justice, and maybe freedom in The Good Luck Girls (2019) by Charlotte Nicole Davis.

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The Good Luck Girls is Davis’ debut novel. The story blends elements of fantasy with a western inspired setting.

High action, a large cast, and dense world building slow down this otherwise fast-paced story. Aster, the driving force behind the girls’ escape, is the most developed character in the novel and goes a long way to make up for an otherwise one dimensional ensemble cast.

Hints of romance complement the girls’ search for agency and true friendship as they struggle to escape lives they never would have chosen for themselves. While Aster and the other girls reach the end of one journey, readers can look forward to more adventures in an upcoming sequel.

The Good Luck Girls is a fast-paced, plot driven story ideal for readers who enjoy books with boisterous casts, reluctant alliances, and girls on the run.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett, Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, Gunslinger Girl by Lindsay Ely, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Grace Year by Kim Liggett, The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

The Deceivers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Careful is a luxury you have when your baseline isn’t chaos.”

The Deceivers by Kristen SimmonsBrynn Hilder is willing to do whatever it takes to get out of her hardscrabble neighborhood in Chicago. Unfortunately, a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks doesn’t have a lot of options when it comes to paying for college.

When her mom’s sleazy boyfriend finds out about Brynn’s low level cons and the money she’s already saved up, he steals all of it and gives Brynn an ultimatum: start running cons for him or start selling his drugs.

Enter Vale Hall, an elite boarding school that seems to be the answer to all of Brynn’s problems. The school promises a free ride to any college of her choice . . . for a price. Instead of earning good grades and building up her extracurriculars, Brynn and the other Vale students are expected to use their conning abilities to help the school with special projects.

Brynn knows she’s up to the task. But as she learns more about her first mark and the lines she’ll have to cross to entrap him, Brynn has to decide how far she’s willing to go to get what she wants in The Deceivers (2019) by Kristen Simmons.

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The Deceivers is the start of Simmons’ Vale Hall trilogy–a con filled story partially inspired by the story of Odin and his Valkyrie.

Brynn is a practical, calculating narrator. She has spent years hardening her heart and telling herself she can do whatever it takes to chase a better life without fully understanding the risks or the costs. After being the poorest person in the room for so long, her time at Vale Hall forces Brynn to confront the fact that she isn’t the only one facing hard choices and limited opportunities.

Used to depending on herself and no one else, Brynn slowly and reluctantly builds up a support system at Vale Hall as she gets to know the other students, especially her potential love interest Henry and his group of friends–part of a supporting cast of characters who are as varied as they are authentic.

The Deceivers is the perfect blend of action and suspense as Brynn delves deeper into Vale Hall’s underworld and the stakes continue to climb for her and the another students. Smart cons, snappy dialog, and pitch perfect pacing set this novel apart. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart, Killing November by Adriana Mather, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carry Ryan, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

The Tea Dragon Festival: A Graphic Novel Review

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'NeillRinn knows all about Tea Dragons–the sometimes nuisances that are all over the village–but it turns out real dragons are a very different thing. When Aedhan wakes up from an eighty year sleep, Rinn quickly befriends him.

Aedhan appreciates Rinn’s welcome and their help in reintroducing Aedhan to the village he was once charged with protecting. But no matter how at home the dragon feels, he can’t forget all of the time he lost.

When Rinn’s uncle Erik and his new partner Hesekiel come to visit, they hope that the two adventurers will be able to help unravel the mystery of Aedhan’s magical slumber. But it will take more than investigating to help the dragon accept his changed circumstances in The Tea Dragon Festival (2019) by Katie O’Neill.

The Tea Dragon Festival is a prequel to O’Neill’s previous graphic novel, The Tea Dragon Society. Both stories are self-contained and can be read on their own. Although set in different times and different locations, the stories both feature Erik and Hesekiel.

O’Neill once again delivers an adorable and thoughtful graphic novel, this time centered on gender fluid Rinn as they try to figure out their place in a village where it feels like everyone else has already found their special role. Rinn’s friend Lesa is deaf–something that is portrayed well in the comic panels with special speech bubbles to represent that sign language is being spoken. The contrast between dragon Aedhan and the tiny Tea Dragons adds another element of humor.

A mostly pastel color palette and the book’s larger trim size make this story as beautiful as it is entertaining. The Tea Dragon Festival builds well on the foundation of O’Neill’s previous world building while giving readers a slightly more complex plot.

The Tea Dragon Festival is a delightful and cheerful graphic novel about finding your place and your people. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Giants, Beware! by Jorge Aguirre,Rafael Rosado, John Novak, Matthew Schenk; Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G.; The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag; Hildafolk by Luke Pearson; The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

This Time Will Be Different: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Be careful about what you share and who you share it with. Own your power, and don’t apologize for demanding respect. Control the narrative.”

“But the trees whisper to me that life is bigger than my fears . . .”

CJ Katsuyama is the mediocre daughter in a family known for its grit.

Instead of a series of accomplishments that would make her family proud, CJ has a lot of failures that her mom likes to refer to as learning opportunities.

How can that compare to her grandfather who worked for years to buy back Heart’s Desire after his father was forced to sell it at a fraction of the cost before he and his family were interned with other Japanese Americans during WWII? How can CJ hope to impress her mom who had CJ on her own while being the first woman of color to earn a top position at her venture capital firm when CJ herself managed to fail out of coding camp?

It’s no wonder CJ feels like she has more in common with her free spirited aunt Hannah, especially now that she’s learning about flower arranging and the language of flowers as Hannah’s apprentice at the family flower store Heart’s Desire.

Just when it feels like she could be good at something, CJ finds out that Heart’s Desire is struggling and might have to be sold. CJ is willing to try anything to save the shop, even scheming with her nerdy fellow shop apprentice Owen Takasugi. With everything she cares about on the line CJ starts to learn more about her family’s history and realizes she might finally be ready see how much she has to offer in This Time Will Be Different (2019) by Misa Sugiura.

Find it on Bookshop.

This Time Will Be Different is Sugiura’s sophomore novel.

First things first: CJ’s voice is so great in this book. Her first person narration is conversational and honest and made it a lot easier to swallow all of the ways this book called me out for not taking risks or being proactive in my own life. I am not sure I have ever felt so called out by a book.

While the crux of the story focuses on CJ’s efforts to save Heart’s Desire and thereby discover some of her own grit, Sugiura also looks head on at the ugly legacy of the Japanese American internment and the racism at its core. The long term effects of that legacy play out on a personal level as CJ sees how both her mother and her aunt try to deal with their family history and the ramifications it has had in CJ’s town where so many public spaces are named after the white man who was at the forefront of advocating for internment.

CJ is also forced to confront her own biases when her best friend Emily starts crushing on Brynn–a white, overachieving student and CJ’s longtime nemesis–a conflict that is resolved with some incredibly thoughtful conversations about what it means to be an ally and one of the best interrogations of the white savior problem that I’ve ever read.

The plot is fleshed out with a lot of humor, one madcap run with a ladder, and CJ’s own confused navigation of romance as she tries to get closer to her crush, gets to know Owen, and deals with quite a few missed connections.

This Time Will Be Different is a smart story about a girl learning that you don’t always have to win to succeed—sometimes you just have to try. Recommended for readers who are ready to be an advocate or an ally and anyone who’s ever needed someone to tell them to start saying yes.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, Harley in the Sky by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, No One Here is Lonely by Sarah Everett, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian; Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager: A Review

“It wasn’t the happy ending he wanted but, then again, there were no such things as happy endings. Happy endings were artificial things manufactured out of less-than-ideal circumstances.”

Norris Kaplan is too smart for his own good, decent at hockey and ice skating by Canadian standards (amazing by American standards), and perfectly fine with burning bridges–it’s so much faster than building them.

Now, thanks to his mother’s quest for a tenure track position, Norris is also Austin, Texas’ newest and unhappiest resident. As a black French Canadian, everything in Texas feels like a personal affront. No one knows cares about hockey. His school assumes he won’t speak English. Not to mention going literally anywhere outside feels exactly like walking on the surface of the sun.

In this fresh hell Norris is expected to attend school, make new friends (as if any of them can replace his best friend back home in Canada), and actually make an effort to fit in. The only problem is that Norris would much rather go it alone and convince everyone (including himself) that he likes it that way.

The real question for Norris is if after spending so long pushing everyone away, is there anyone left in his high school (or the entire city) who is actually willing to accept Norris as he is? in The Field Guide to the North American Teenager (2019) by Ben Philippe.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is Philippe’s debut novel. Philippe’s close third person narration is as snarky as it is on point as Norris shares observations about his new surroundings ranging from caustic to poignant. Each chapter opens with an observation pulled from the field guide Norris begins keeping about his new high school while trying his best to avoid enjoying anything in Texas.

This romantic comedy is the perfect blend of humor and literary prose as Norris tries to make sense of his new surroundings and the ever-confusing world of dating. The story subverts several familiar tropes as Norris tries to connect with the local Manic Pixie Dream Girl and horrifyingly finds himself the captain of a misfit community hockey team.

Snappy dialogue and a winning cast of characters more than make up for a meandering plot and an ending that is widely open to interpretation as readers (and Norris himself) wonder what a happy ending might actually look like for him.

The Field Guide to the North American Teenager is the aged up Diary of a Wimpy Kid/Harriet the Spy mashup that we have always deserved. Recommended for readers who prefer their protagonists to be 85% snark, 10% enthusiasm, and 5% genuine sincerity.

Possible Pairings: Serious Moonlight by Jenn Bennett, The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, American Panda by Gloria Chao, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Sloppy Firsts by Megan McCafferty, Barely Missing Everything by Matt Mendez, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke; Past Perfect by Leila Sales, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Frankly in Love by David Yoon