The Kingdom: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Kingdom by Jess RothenbergThe Kingdom™ is more than a theme park. Filled with rides, augmented reality shows, and much more, The Kingdom™ is a completely immersive experience where visitors dreams come true.

Ana is one of seven fantasists. Like the formerly extinct species that roam The Kingdom™’s parks, Ana is genetically engineered–partly biological and part machine. She and the other fantasists reign over the park as imagined princesses greeting visitors, performing, and helping park visitors’ dreams come true.

Fantasists can understand and identify emotions. But they aren’t supposed to experience them. Except Ana is fairly certain she feels something when she befriends Owen Chen, one of the park’s employees.

Ana isn’t the only thing malfunctioning in the park. Engineered animals keep dying, her sisters are scared. Then there are the nightmares. When Ana is accused of murdering Owen, she knows she is innocent. But it’s all too easy for the public to believe the worst.

After spending her whole life catering to the whims of others, Ana will have to learn to speak for herself if she wants to survive in The Kingdom (2019) by Jess Rothenberg.

The Kingdom is a sleek blend of mystery and sci-fi elements in a dystopian world where resources are limited and escapism is worth any price. Ana’s story unfolds in a non-linear narrative including Ana’s first person narration, trial transcripts, and interviews.

While the non-linear narrative lends an element of suspense to this story, it never builds tension instead making for slow pacing and the sense that Ana is deliberately withholding information.

Questions of sentience, humanity, and mercy are interrogated throughout the narrative as Ana and her sisters are dehumanized and subjugated as part of their lives as Fantasists. Gory scenes with animal deaths further emphasize the theme park’s grim inner workings.

The Kingdom is a stark story set in an eerily plausible world. Recommended for readers who like their speculative fiction, and their heroines, to have a little grit.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Stronger, Faster, and More Beautiful by Arwen Elys Dayton, The Similars by Rebecca Hanover, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

Devils Unto Dust: A Review

“Life doesn’t care how hard you’re trying, doesn’t care how much you’ve already lost, it will still break in and crush you and leave you bruised and bloody. And still expect you to keep going, because what else can you do?”

Devils Unto Dust by Emma BerquistTen years ago, the sickness started spreading across West Texas. It had a name back then. Now, it doesn’t need one; it’s everywhere. No one survives the infection. It’s only a matter of time before the infected become shakes, mindless creatures intent on attacking the living and nothing else.

Daisy “Willie” Wilcox is used to scraping by in Glory. Ever since their mother died, it’s been Willie making sure food gets on the table and taking care of her younger brother, Micah, and the twins. It’s never been easy, and Willie knows it’s unlikely to get easier, but she keeps going.

When her good-for-nothing drunk father disappears with four hundred dollars, it’s Willie who is expected to repay the debt. Seeing no other options, she hires the Garrett brothers to help her cross the desert and track her father down. They’re young for hunters, inexperienced, but that also means they still have something to prove. It means they don’t worry too hard about proof that she can pay her entire way.

The desert is an unforgiving place. With no towns, no shelter, and shakes everywhere even the smallest misstep can leave you dead–or worse. Chasing her father’s trail Willie learns how far she is willing to go for her family and who she can trust. But she’ll need even more than that to survive in Devils Unto Dust (2018) by Emma Berquist.

Devils Unto Dust is Berquist’s debut novel. (Be sure to also check out the audiobook as read by Devon Sorvari who brings Willie’s narration to life.)

Willie is razor sharp and, when she has to be, incredibly calculating. Determined to save herself and her family at any cost, she pushes herself well past her limits with consequences that will change her life–and her world–forever.

Berquist contrasts a bleak landscape and Willie’s stark narration with a suspenseful plot and high action. Willie’s life is very small in Glory–a reality that she resents even as she resigns herself to it. Like the desert unfolding at the start of her journey, Willie’s world also starts to expand as she realizes there might be more to life than just surviving in a world ravaged by the zombie-like shakes.

Devils Unto Dust blends a dystopian world and a western sensibility to great effect. The novel’s gritty setting and violent shake attacks are countered by a surprising sweetness as Willie allows herself to begin to trust both in a future for herself and in new allies. Devils Unto Dust is a searing story about choices, survival, and learning who you are. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland, Daughters Unto Devils by Amy Lukavics, Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry, The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers, Generation Dead by Dan Waters

Impostors: A Review

“Freedom has a way of destroying things.”

cover art for Impostors by Scott WesterfeldFrey and Rafi are inseparable. They are sisters. They are a secret.

Raised by her father in the shadows, hidden from everyone, Frey is Rafi’s double–a decoy who stands in whenever her twin sister has to appear in public where she is vulnerable to threats. While Rafi is raised to be charming and poised, Frey is raised to be an assassin, a weapon.

Sent in her sister’s place as collateral for one of her father’s deals, Frey tries her best to inhabit a vapid world that is completely alien to her. Frey has never had to pretend for this long and she knows that Col, the son of her captor, is starting to catch on.

As her assignment drags on and the stakes climb higher, Frey realizes that her place in her family and in the larger world is changing. After living for so long in the shadows, Frey will have to step into the public eye if she wants to save her sister and herself in Impostors (2018) by Scott Westerfeld.

Impostors is the first book in Westerfeld’s new series which is set in the world of his Uglies trilogy.

This series starts twenty-five years after Tally Youngblood changed the world forever but it’s been years since anyone has actually seen her. In the aftermath new leaders have stepped into the power vacuum creating their own mega cities and, in the case of Frey and Rafi’s father, their own dictatorships where advanced tech is used to police the population.

With no other frame of reference, Frey and Rafi can barely articulate the restrictions and horrors of their upbringing–something that becomes clearer to Frey only when she is left untethered with no way to return home to her sister.

Impostors is a high octane adventured filled with cool tech, calculating villains, and a ruthless protagonist prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the only person she’s ever cared about. Frey and Col’s reluctant alliance and evolving relationship remains compelling despite an initial lack of chemistry.

Although Impostors is stronger and faster, it falls short of being better than the original series instead often feeling like a story retold. Recommended for readers who like their science fiction filled with high speed chases and rich world building. Ideal for diehard fans of the series as well as those looking to enter the Ugliesverse for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Mirage by Somaiya Daud, The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

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

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, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, 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: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Mirage by Somaiya Daud, 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, Impostors by Scott Westerfeld, And I Darken by Kiersten White, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf