Fire & Heist: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fire & Heist by Sarah Beth DurstFor the Hawkins family, successfully pulling off your first heist is a major accomplishment. It’s an introduction into society, a rite of passage, and of course the best way for a were-dragon to start building their first hoard of gold.

The technical term is actually wyvern, but Sky has always thought calling herself and her family were-dragons really gets to the point even if no wyvern has been able to take on their true dragon form since they lost their connection with Home generations ago.

With Sky’s first heist coming up fast, Sky has to start picking her crew and figure out how to get over her ex-boyfriend Ryan once and for all. But with her mother missing and an ancient jewel in the mix that could change everything for the wyvern community, Sky’s first heist is going to be anything but routine in Fire & Heist (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

This standalone fantasy is part adventure and part heist as Sky tries to uncover the truth about her mother’s work and the jewel she was tracking before her disappearance. High stakes heist scenes contrast well with high fantasy elements as Sky learns more about her dragon past.

Snark, light romance, and real mystery make Fire & Heist a page-turning adventure with distinct characters in a truly unique world. Recommended for readers looking for a new spin on both dragons and heist tropes.

Possible Pairings: Heist Society by Ally Carter, Wicked Fox by Kat Cho, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, The Story of Owen by E. K. Johnston, The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

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*

Damsel: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“For so it had been throughout his people’s memory, that a dragon and a damsel made a king.”

cover art for Damsel by Elana K. ArnoldWhen Ama awakens she has no clothes, no memories. She is wrapped in a blanket, being carried by a man she doesn’t recognize. Even her name will come later—a gift from the man who saved her.

Emory is quick to tell Ama about his bravery and cunning when he conquered the dragon. He is eager to describe her beauty and the way their destinies are now tied together. He cannot, or will not, help Ama understand her life before the dragon and her rescue.

Coming to the kingdom of Harding is supposed to be the end of the story. But as Ama begins to explore this new kingdom and poke at the old legends of the damsels and the dragons, she begins to realize that her rescue is only the beginning of this tale in Damsel (2018) by Elana K. Arnold.

Arnold’s latest standalone novel is part fantasy and part feminist manifesto. Most of the story plays out in the kingdom of Harding–a grim little world filled with casual violence and brutality including graphic hunting scenes as well as a rape scene that leaves nothing to the imagination. The sense of danger is only further amplified by Arnold’s carefully restrained prose.

Damsel‘s plot is not always subtle as Ama tries to understand her past as well as her future. Her agency is systematically stripped away throughout the novel until it feels to readers, and to Ama herself, as if there is nothing left to lose.

Ama’s limited point of view and flat world building reminiscent of a fairy tale create a stark backdrop for this exploration of female agency and toxic masculinity. Damsel is a sparse, character-driven story with a very firm focus on its heroine. Arnold’s prose is deliberate as the novel works toward a logical if abrupt conclusion.

Damsel is not for the faint of heart. Recommended for readers who sympathize more with the dragon than the knight.

Possible Pairings: The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli, Spindle and Dagger by J. Anderson Coats, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson

Mighty Jack: A Review and Our Favorite Fairy Tales Blog Tour Post

Mighty Jack is my first time reading a Ben Hatke comic (although I’m already a big fan of his picture books) and it won’t be the last as I’m eager to see what Jack, Maddy, and Lily get up to next. As a long-time fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Mighty Jack.

Now that I’ve told you how much I enjoyed this fairy tale retelling, I’m also sharing my favorite fairy tale adaption. For me the answer is immediate and obvious: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

My mom got me my copy of Ella Enchanted (a loose retelling of Cinderella) when she was doing freelance data entry at HarperCollins a year or so after the book had received its Newbery honor. I devoured the story and, unlike a lot of childhood favorites, wound up keeping my copy safely on my shelves. Years later I wrote an entire scholarly paper about why Ella Enchanted is such an effective feminist text (and why the movie is not). Being the type of person I am, I told all of this to Gail Carson Levine when I met her a few years ago and had her sign my beloved copy.

Onto the review!
Mighty Jack by Ben HatkeJack is not excited about the summer vacation. While other kid’s are goofing off and hanging out with their friends, Jack has to watch his autistic sister while his mother struggles to make ends meet with extra hours at her two jobs.

Watching Maddy is a lot of responsibility and not always easy since Maddy never talks. When Jack and Maddy accompany their mom to a flea market, Maddy unexpectedly tells Jack to trade the family van for a box of strange seeds.

Jack’s mom is understandably disappointed and upset. But Jack and Maddy go forward with planting the seeds. The plants look normal. At first. But then Jack, Maddy, and Lily (the girl next door) start to notice strange things in the garden like onion babies and seeds that can turn a person blue.

The more Jack learns about the garden, the more he wonders about the seeds and their purpose. With dangers looming behind every leaf, Jack will have to decide how far he is willing to go for adventure–and how much he’s willing to risk to keep his family safe in Mighty Jack (2016) by Ben Hatke.

This retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” blends familiar elements with Hatke’s unique interpretation. The graphic novel remains faithful to the original text with Jack’s dubious trade and the magical seeds growing. This story focuses more on the early parts of the tale as Hatke sets the stage for future installments.

Jack’s responsibilities at home and his complicated relationship with his mother and sister all come through in the text and expressive illustrations. (It’s worth noting that Maddy is never identified as autistic in the story itself only in the jacket copy.) While Jack sometimes resents the pressures of having to watch out for his sister and act responsibly for his mother, the family’s affection and unconditional love is obvious which is refreshing in a story that plays with fairy tale tropes.

Like many comics, Mighty Jack is a fast read. With so much excitement and adventure, readers will be eager to get to the last page (and even more eager for another book to see what happens next). The illustrations feature Hatke’s signature artwork as well as full color illustrations. The text and dialogue throughout is a decent size and can be read comfortably. Recommended for fans of the author, comic readers looking for a new adventure, and readers who devour fairytale retellings.

Possible Pairings: Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter; Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde, Audrey’s Magic Nine by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy Bailey

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour:

Uprooted: A Review

Uprooted by Naomi NovikAgnieszka has always known her best friend Kasia would be taken by the Dragon on the next choosing day. Everyone in their valley knows that the Dragon will choose beautiful, smart, kind Kasia to serve him for the next ten years.

The Dragon won’t eat Kasia–wizard’s don’t do that–and he won’t hurt her. People whisper about what the Dragon must do to the girls–what any man would do with a girl locked away for ten years–despite every girl’s denials. Either way, she’ll be ruined. When her service ends, she’ll never call the valley home again.

Except that isn’t what happens at the choosing. Instead, Agnieszka finds herself whisked away to the Dragon’s tower. In exchange for her service the Dragon will continue to protect the valley from the enchanted Wood that plagues them with strange creatures and the threat of encroachment.

But the Wood is changing; the creatures are growing bolder. With secrets and strange revelations at every turn it will take everything Agnieszka and the Dragon have together to fight what’s coming for them in Uprooted (2015) by Naomi Novik.

Uprooted is a standalone fantasy novel. This review includes a lot of critical analysis and it will have spoilers from here on out.

Continue reading

Shadow Scale: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The world is seldom so simple that it hinges on us alone.”

Shadow Scale by Rachel HartmanThe kingdom of Goredd has had an uneasy peace with the dragons found in the neighboring Tanamoot for the past forty years–a time in which the arts have flourished while Goredd’s dragon-fighting tools have languished.

When mounting tensions between humans and dragons threatens to draw Goredd into the middle of another treacherous war, Seraphina reluctantly finds herself as the center of the conflict. Goredd has few tools left to fight dragons save for rumors of a magical weapon used during the Age of Saints. A weapon Seraphina might be able to recreate with help from other half-dragons like herself.

After spending years hiding her true self, Seraphina sets out across kingdoms to seek out the other half-dragons–beings she’s only ever previously encountered in her own mind–before war breaks out.

As Seraphina gathers her motley band of allies, she soon realizes that war is not the only threat to the half-dragons, her kingdom, or even herself. With so many trying to stop her, Seraphina will have to embrace her true identity, and the ramifications it will have for herself and the other half-dragons, if she has any hope of stopping this senseless war in Shadow Scale (2015) by Rachel Hartman.

Shadow Scale is the highly anticipated sequel to Hartman’s debut novel Seraphina. While this book does an excellent job of explaining key events from book one, it’s still crucial to read these in order.

Every aspect of Shadow Scale is handled brilliantly and often surpasses the achievements and charms of Seraphina, which is no small feat. This book is intricate, clever and often unexpected as many given facts from Seraphina are challenged or turned upside down.

Shadow Scale picks up shortly after the conclusion of Seraphina but soon moves the story in a new direction as readers learn more about Seraphina’s connection to the other half-dragons and how she uses her mind garden to interact with them. Where Hartman’s first book is about Seraphina finding herself, Shadow Scale is surely about Seraphina finding her place in the world.

Hartman blows  Seraphina’s world wide open in Shadow Scale as she crosses borders and visits neighboring kingdoms in her search for the other half-dragons. This book is the full package complete with a map and glossary to highlight all of the wonderful details that Hartman has included in this much-expanded world.

The way different plot threads and pieces of this world knit together is fascinating and wondrous to behold as this story asks (and sometimes answers) questions about ethics, friendship, love and even what being family can really mean. I can’t wait to see what Hartman does next.

Shadow Scale is a satisfying and often surprising conclusion to a story where nothing is ever truly neat or perfect but everything does have the potential to be beautiful. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine, Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, The Girl King by Mimi Yu, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

A Creature of Moonlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca HahnThe villagers have been talking of the woods all summer. More than usual. Farther from the woods than usual.

It’s one thing, now and then, for a stray bit of the woods to encroach. A well lost here, a path obstructed. Such things are to be expected.

This summer is different. The entirety of the woods seems to be moving in leaps and bounds, creeping closer than they have in years.

Marni knows the woods are dangerous place–a place of magic and wonder that often draws girls to it only to swallow them whole. Still, time and again, she finds herself sneaking there–away from Gramps, away from the prying eyes of the villagers who buy their flowers, away from the life that was snatched from her the day her mother was killed.

Marni has always walked a narrow path between the life the was stolen and the life she has with her Gramps. But now, with the woods moving closer and promises being made, Marni will have to decide where she will stand in A Creature of Moonlight (2014) by Rebecca Hahn.

A Creature of Moonlight is Hahn’s first novel.

Hahn masterfully weaves a world here where magic is as beautiful as it is dangerous–a world populated with calculating lords and kings as well as dragons and Phoenixes. Marni is a fascinating narrator, one who views both the humans and the woods with a healthy sense of skepticism. She is a strong heroine with a strong sense of self and an even stronger desire to secure her freedom.

She also has a very strange twang to her entire narration that is more reminiscent of a novel set in the Depression Era west (or just the West) than it is to this bit of higher fantasy. Marni reckons about many things and is none too afraid to say so neither. Her voice is often extremely jarring as readers are drawn repeatedly out of the story to ponder the choice of words on the page.

The story is typical coming of age fare as Marni learns more about both sides of her “family” such as they are and, over the course of the novel, comes into her own in various ways.

A Creature of Moonlight is decidedly short on peripheral characters, making the time spent in Marni’s head often claustrophobic as so much of the story centers on her inner conflicts. While her observations of the woods and at court are often entertaining and razor sharp, Marni’s motivations are never as clear as they should be.

While it is refreshing and modern to see Marni repeatedly turn down marriage proposals, the logic behind her deep conviction to not marry is murky at best–particularly given the specific set of obligations that will come with a life at court (which Marni adopts at one point in the plot).

Though often unsatisfying, A Creature of Moonlight remains a solid debut from an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Ice by Sarah Beth Durst, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel