Grace and Fury: A Review

cover art for Grace and Fury by Tracy BanghartIn Viridia, all women wear masks.

Hiding the fear and frustration is the only way to stay safe in a world where women have no rights.

Serina has focused all of her energy into training to become a Grace. If she is chosen by the Superior or his Heir, Malachi, Serina will live in luxury as an embodiment of the ideal woman. Being a Grace will ensure that her family will never want for anything. Her younger sister, Nomi, can even stay at her side as a Handmaiden.

Nomi doesn’t want to leave behind everything she’s ever known, especially not her twin brother Renzo. She knows that rebellion is dangerous. But she still can’t bring herself to be more complacent–not even now. Not even for her sister. Instead, she is furious. Nomi knows that Serina has willingly made this choice. She just isn’t sure that she’s prepared to follow her.

One brash conversation and one reckless act ruins all of Serina and Nomi’s careful plans. While Nomi is trapped in a life she never wanted, Serina is falsely imprisoned on an island where she will have fight to the death to survive. Separated and ill-prepared for the challenges they’ll have to face alone, both Serina and Nomi will have to push themselves further than they ever imagined to try and find each other in Grace and Fury (2018) by Tracy Banghart.

Serina and Nomi are interesting counterpoints. Their characters arcs mirror each other but how each heroine handles her new challenges is telling. While Serina begins the novel willfully ignorant of the inequalities within Viridia she soon (surprisingly quickly to be clear) finds herself at the center of a potential revolution.

Nomi, meanwhile, has always been painfully aware of the freedoms she and other women in Viridia lacks. Yet she routinely puts the small freedoms she has earned at risk and willfully ignores numerous (heavily broadcasted) red flags as her own plans for revolution and escape begin to crumple around her.

The main problem with Grace and Fury is that none of the relationships feel authentic. Changing dynamics and growing chemistry don’t erase the woefully unequal power dynamics both Serina and Nomi have with several of the male characters. Similarly, it’s hard to pretend the Heir better than he initially seems when his selfish and thoughtless actions set the entire plot in motion.

Grace and Fury will be a familiar story to fantasy readers. Predictable plot points and derivative characters dilute some of the story’s impact however Banghart artfully flips several tropes as the cast expands and readers learn more about Viridia.

The narrative is tightly controlled and uses the dual narration to full advantage. Grace and Fury alternates between chapters following Serina and Nomi in close third person with a tightly controlled narrative arc. Banghart uses this dual narrative structure to full advantage highlighting the ways in which the sisters’ stories both mirror each other and diverge. The restrained, unadorned prose works well to increase the tension and highlight the stark world both girls find themselves in as the story progresses.

A cliffhanger ending with questions about who will live to see book two will leave fans eager for the next installment.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, For A Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Everless by Sara Holland, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Ash Princess by Laura K. Sebastian

The Darkest Legacy: A Review

“In darkness, you only needed to see just as far as your headlights extended. As long as you kept going, it was enough.”


“We’ve inherited the darkest legacy, but they don’t know that we’ve learned how to thrive in shadows and create our own light.”

Five years ago Suzume “Zu” Kimura and her friends helped end President Gray’s corrupt administration and the camp system that imprisoned the child survivors of IANN while claiming to rehabilitate them and “cure” their psychic abilities. Back then it had been easy to believe that change was possible.

But now Zu is seventeen and after watching Chubs and Vida try to work within a governmental system that fears them, she isn’t sure if true change–or true freedom–is possible. As a spokesperson, Zu tries to convince the public that the government is helping even as new legislation continues to restrict Psi rights.

When she is framed for committing a terrorist attack, Zu has to clear her name before her supposed guilt becomes an excuse to punish other Psi. Zu forms an uneasy alliance with Roman and Priyanka–two Psi who say they want to help her but might just as easily betray her. As they grow closer Zu realizes that Roman and Priyanka’s secrets are key to understanding the darkness that’s been allowed to fester while the interim government works to restore order.

With no one left to trust, Zu has to depend on herself and her voice as she tries to save the friends who once rescued her and effect real change in The Darkest Legacy (2018) by Alexandra Bracken.

The Darkest Legacy is a tense, frenetic return to the world of Bracken’s Darkest Minds trilogy (soon to be a motion picture staring Amandla Stenberg). Zu’s story is self-contained and largely independent from Ruby’s arc in the original trilogy. Familiarity with the previous books will give readers a larger appreciation for this standalone installment. The novel starts with Zu’s found family fractured over whether they should work within or outside of the government–a moral issue Zu struggles with both in the present story and in flashback chapters.

Zu’s Japanese-American heritage is thoughtfully portrayed and informs her lingering anger and post-traumatic stress from being in a Psi camp. The rest of the cast is equally inclusive including non-American characters who bring a different perspective to the Psi situation in the United States.

Zu has grown a lot since her time in the camp and with the Black Betty gang. She is desperate to convince her friends, and herself, that she is fine–that she’s not the girl who stopped talking for a year anymore. But it’s only when she acknowledges past traumas and hurts–both her own and those of other Psi–that she begins to understand her own strength as a survivor.

As Zu learns more about the government’s misdeeds and her own role in advocating for them, she realizes she has to question everything she believes about the government and herself as she tries to find her own way–and her own moral code–to make a place for Psi in a society that doesn’t always want to acknowledge or accept them.

The Darkest Legacy is an empowering story of independence, resilience, and one girl’s decision to act even in the face of impossible odds and indifference. A must-read for fans of the series and a nail-biting introduction for readers discovering it for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*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 School Library Journal*

All the Wind in the World: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for All the Wind in the World by Samantha MabrySarah Jacqueline Crow and James Holt are used to long, hot days working the maguey fields of the Southwest. The work is brutal but they have a plan. Keep their heads down, do the work, save enough money to head back east where everything isn’t so dry and they can start a ranch of their own. They do one other thing to make sure they can survive and stay together: they keep their love a secret at all costs. It’s safer, they’ve learned, to pose as cousins instead.

Forced to run again after an accident, Sarah Jac and James follow the trains to the Real Marvelous–a ranch known for its steady work and possible curse. The work is the same and their plan should stay the same too. But as strange things begin to happen on the ranch Sarah Jac realizes that their old tricks won’t be enough to keep them safe–they may not even be enough to keep Sarah Jac and James together in All the Wind in the World (2017) by Samantha Mabry.

All the Wind in the World is Mabry’s sophomore novel. It was also selected as a longlist title for the 2017 National Book Award.

All the Wind in the World is intensely character driven with a tight focus on Sarah Jac and James as they struggle to stay true to each other while keeping their relationship a secret. Sarah Jac’s first person narration makes it immediately obvious that something isn’t right at the Real Marvelous but, like readers, Sarah kept guessing as to what menace is befalling the ranch and its workers for much of the story. Mabry’s writing is tense and sexy as the story builds to its shocking conclusion.

This is the kind of novel that is immediately gripping in the moment–a true page turner despite the methodical pacing and relatively straightforward plot. However upon further inspection holes do start to show in the world building. While the dry, near dessert landscape of the Southwest is evocative and beautifully described the characters offer little explanation for how things got to this point. The payoff for the curse of the Real Marvelous (or the lack thereof) remains equally vague and open-ended.

Any shortcomings in the world or the plot are more than balanced out by the lush prose and singular characters. Sarah Jac and James are not easy characters. They are both flawed and grasping as they struggle to get past their day-to-day existence and strive for something more. How far should either of them be willing to go to get there? That’s a hard question to answer both for them and the reader.

All the Wind in the World is a striking, tightly wound novel. Readers will immediately be swept up in Sarah Jac and James’ story of longing, love, and darker impulses. A must-read for fans of magic realism. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

The Empress: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Empress is the second book in Kincaid’s Diabolic trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. Start at the beginning with The Diabolic*

Previously seen as less than a person, Nemesis is now poised to become Tyrus’ wife and rule the Empire at his side. Together they hope to bring massive changes to the Empire by restoring the sciences, sharing information, and lessening the gap between the ruling Grandiloquy and their human Excess subjects.

But it turns out gaining power isn’t the same keeping it. Nemesis and Tyrus have to face outright challenges to Tyrus’ claim to the throne from the Gradiloquy and questions of whether a Diabolic–a creature that was never human–has any right to rule alongside the Emperor.

Nemesis’ old tricks are no longer enough to help or protect Tyrus. Nemesis has to use more than brute force and base cunning. She needs to be more than a Diabolic. Now, she’ll have to be an Empress and prove her humanity. But even Nemesis has to wonder how far she can go–how many terrible deeds she can condone–if she ever truly wants to embrace her humanity in The Empress (2017) by S. J. Kincaid.

The Empress is the second book in Kincaid’s Diabolic trilogy which began with The Diabolic. Originally, The Diabolic sold and was published as a standalone novel before its breakout success prompted the publisher to sign a deal for two more novels about Nemesis and her world.

Kincaid dramatically expands the world of the Empire in the novel as Nemesis and Tyrus move beyond the insular confines of the Chrysanthemum into the far reaches of the galaxy. Along the way readers learn more about the galaxy’s society and religious system. Although this novel remains in Nemesis’s clinical first person narration, the story is carefully blocked to offer a wider view sometimes with Nemesis literally eavesdropping when she isn’t involved in key conversations.

Throughout The Empress Nemesis struggles with her newfound humanity and accompanying conscience as she contemplates how far she is willing to go and how far she should go to protect Tyrus and herself. Nemesis and Tyrus continue to mirror each other but this time around the contrasts and changes are especially heartbreaking as both characters are pushed far beyond their breaking points.

The Empress spends a lot of time asking characters and readers how far they are willing to go to get what they want and, perhaps more tellingly, how far is too far. And what happens when even going too far isn’t enough to save yourself?

By the end of the novel, which of course I won’t spoil here, readers are also left to wonder what can possibly come next. Can there be such a thing as redemption for these characters who seem so determined to watch the world burn? Only time (and book three) will tell.

If The Diabolic was already at eleven, then this book turned the dial up to fifty. It is no exaggeration when I say that my jaw was on the floor for most of the time I was reading. I love this series and have to say that The Empress in particular is easily one of my favorite books that I read this year. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, Proxy by Alex London, Legend by Marie Lu, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Birthmarked by Caragh M.O’Brien, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, And I Darken by Kiersten White, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

All Rights Reserved: A Review

Speth Jime is about to turn fifteen. She is equipped with the requisite band and implants so the moment her birthday arrives she will be charged for every movement or word that falls under copyright. Every nod or scream will cost her 0.99/sec. Saying “sorry” is ten dollars and a legal admission of guilt.

Even with the most minimal words and gestures, Speth is never getting out of debt. Not with her family being sued for an illegal music download dating back five generations. All Speth can really hope for is to avoid being taken away by Debt Services the way her parents were to pollinate crops with a brush and eyedropper in Carolina until their debts are paid.

One thing that might help is Speth’s Last Day speech which she can use to win over sponsors who might offer product discounts or other lucrative perks that could lead to employment. Speth is ready to make that speech when she watches her friend Beecher jump off a bridge rather than work to pay off his family’s crippling debt.

She can’t imagine ignoring Beecher’s suicide to make a speech. But she also can’t imagine how to break her contract without also putting her family into even more debt. That is until Speth finds a loophole: she only has to recite her speech if she actually speaks. Instead Speth takes a vow of silence even avoiding copyrighted gestures.

What Speth doesn’t know is that when she stops speaking she’ll help start a revolution in All Rights Reserved (2017) by Gregory Scott Katsoulis.

All Rights Reserved is Katsoulis’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Speth’s first person narration brings her world to terrifying life from the extremely litigious culture and the power of copyright (Speth’s haircut is in the public domain, but only if it stays messy enough to be different from a pixie cut) to the 3D printed housing units that didn’t print quite right in the poorer sections of town.

Because of Speth’s decision to stop speaking, a lot of the book takes place in her head as she keeps herself at a remove from family and strangers trying to understand why she refuses to speak. As Speth’s actions gain momentum she also finds herself at the center of an unlikely rebellion as others begin to support her and even follow her lead. This one decision sets Speth on a course to learn dangerous truths about the rot at the center of her world and maybe even figure out how to stop it.

All Rights Reserved is a fast-paced story with action on every page and incredibly intricate world building. A worthy read-a-like for fans of dystopian classics like Uglies and The Hunger Games.

I love the world building here. It’s very absurd and will appeal to fans of the hunger games and uglies. But it’s also almost entirely focused on debt (much like one segment of where futures end) and it just stressed me the hell out.

Possible Pairings: Landscape With Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Proxy by Alex London, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Decelerate Blue: A Graphic Novel Review

In the future the world is obsessed with efficiency. Adjectives are a waste of time. Reading needs to be streamlined. Even conversation is utilitarian with “goes” at the end of every sentence.

Angela’s parents are on board with everything the Guarantee Committee is selling. Why would they do anything to jeopardize their guarantee and its promise of a better life?

Angela isn’t so sure. She wants a chance to slow down. To think. To feel.

After reading a book called Kick the Boot Angela realizes she isn’t alone. Soon she finds herself at the center of a radical movement determined to slow society down in Decelerate Blue (2017) by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro.

This standalone graphic novel offers a startling view of a bleak dystopian future where human interaction and contemplation are secondary to speed and efficiency.

Rapp’s fascinating and disturbingly possible premise is dampened by a simplistic plot and world building that falls short of developing many of the story’s most interesting points. Who are the Guarantee Committee? What exactly is a Guarantee? Decelerate Blue is short on answers.

Cavalarro creates some interesting spreads but the impact is often diminished by the comic largely being in black and white. (Blue is a key color to the story–a fact which is often lost given the black and white palette.) Although the comic does some clever things with full color panels contrasted with black and white it isn’t enough to make the artwork cohesive. A blue and white palette might have been more effective.

Angela has a romance with another girl during her (brief) time with the underground resistance. But instead of creating an empowering queer relationship readers instead get yet another tragic lesbian death.

Decelerate Blue takes on a lot of things to create an interesting sci-fi dystopian comic but it doesn’t always negotiate the form well leading to questions of how the story might have functioned with different artistic choices or even as a novel with a bit more development.

Readers looking for an intriguing piece of flash fiction or a superficial treatment of dystopian themes might find what they’re looking for in Decelerate Blue.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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

The Diabolic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Being a good Diabolic meant being a hideous person.”

The Diabolic by S. J. KincaidDiabolics have only one purpose: protect the person they have been bonded to at all costs.

Nemesis barely remembers the time before she was bonded to Sidonia. Anything that came before is irrelevant. Now Nemesis will do whatever is necessary to ensure that Sidonia survives and flourishes. As long as Sidonia is safe and secure everything else, including Nemesis’s own well-being, becomes irrelevant.

When news of her senator father’s heresy reaches the seat of the Empire, Sidonia is summoned to the Imperial Court as a hostage. There is no way for Nemesis to strike against the Emperor. No way for her to shelter Sidonia when she is summoned. This time the only way Nemesis can protect Sidonia is to become her.

At the Imperial Court, Nemesis has to hide her superior strength, cunning intellect, and her ruthless lack of humanity. Greedy senators, calculating heirs, and the Emperor’s mad nephew Tyrus are all keen to use Nemesis for their own ends. But she has little interest in the politics at Court or the rebellion that is beginning to foment.

Nemesis knows that she is not human. She knows the matters of the Imperial Court are not her concern. But she also soon realizes that saving Sidonia may involve saving not just herself but the entire Empire in The Diabolic (2016) by S. J. Kincaid.

The Diabolic was written as a standalone sci-fi novel. After its release Kincaid signed a book deal for two additional novels making The Diabolic the start of a trilogy.

Kincaid has built a unique world layered with complex alliances and difficult questions about what it means to be human which play out against a galactic power struggle. Nemesis’s performative identity as Sidonia contrasts well against the Emperor’s son, Tyrus, a Hamlet-like figure who may or may not be putting on an act of his own in a bid for the throne. Nemesis’s character growth as she learns to choose herself beyond any loyalty she feels to Sidonia or others is fascinating and thoughtfully done.

The Diabolic is a sprawling space opera that brings Nemesis and other characters across the galaxy in a story filled with double crosses, twists, and intrigue so thick you could cut it with a knife. Nemesis narrates the novel with a tone that is as pragmatic as it is chilling–unsurprising for a character who has been told constantly throughout her life that she will never be human. Whether Nemesis will prove her detractors correct or exceed her supposed Diabolic limitations remains to be seen.

The combination of ambiguous morality, lavish settings, and a cast of provocative characters make The Diabolic an utterly satisfying sci-fi adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, Proxy by Alex London, Legend by Marie Lu, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Birthmarked by Caragh M.O’Brien, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, And I Darken by Kiersten White, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*