Murder For the Modern Girl: A Review

Murder for the Modern Girl by Kendall KulperChicago, 1927 is a positutely marvelous place to find parties if you’re a flapper like Ruby. It’s also a city rampant with crime, corruption, and murder.

But Ruby can explain every single one of her murders. Honest.

In a time and place where women are always vulnerable, Ruby has found an unlikely niche for herself doling out vigilante justice between parties with a variety of poisons that have left a trail of unsolved crimes in her wake. She isn’t particularly worried about being caught. Not when her father, the state’s attorney, is the only one with a good head on his shoulders in Chicago’s law enforcement.

Which is why it’s not entirely surprising when someone targets Ruby and her father.

Luckily, Ruby isn’t just a pretty face or a vigilante. She’s her father’s protege as much as anything with her own keen eye for the law. One she’s ready to use to find whoever hurt her father. Unluckily, Ruby realizes that her brand of justice isn’t quite as anonymous as she thought after an encounter with a bland morgue technician in an alley.

Guy hasn’t used his real name–or his real face–for a long time. How can he when he’s working so hard to hide from his shameful past? Working in the morgue might be the break Guy needs to understand his strange shapeshifting ability. Until an exuberant flapper upends his careful plans.

Together this unlikely duo will have their hands full trying to fight corruption, find the would-be assassin, and keep themselves out of prison in Murder for the Modern Girl (2022) by Kendall Kulper.

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Murder for the Modern Girl alternates between Ruby and Guy’s first person narrations. All characters are assumed white.

Kulper delivers jazz age vibes and surprising fantasy elements in this story where Ruby uses her ability as a mind reader to deliver justice while Guy struggles to understand his own strange power–elements that are never fully explained or integrated into the story although they are key to the plot. Readers dive right into the fast-paced story with minimal backstory for either protagonist as the action keeps coming. Readers questioning Ruby’s motives may have a hard time getting on board with her status as a vigilante and, essentially, a serial killer but it is an arc that’s fully explored throughout the novel and does end with Ruby turning her back on her life of crime to fight for justice through more conventional means.

Filled with slang, speakeasies, and fabulous dresses, Murder for the Modern Girl is an inventive mystery filled feminist justice and more adventure than you can shake a stick at.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, Born of Illusions by Teri A, Brown, A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson, Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz, Spectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok

The Luminaries: A Review

The Luminaries by Susan DennardWinnie Wednesday used to dream of becoming a Luminary hunter. But now, several years into her family’s shunning after her father’s outing as a traitorous witch, the most Winnie can hope for is helping with Corpse Duty after Wednesday hunting shifts in the forest.

It isn’t enough. It will never be enough.

Everyone in Hemlock Falls can try to complete the Luminary hunter trials on their sixteenth birthday. Most prepare with rigorous training and study to survive the forest and fight its literal nightmares. Winnie no longer has access to any of that thanks to her father’s crimes and her family’s subsequent disgrace. But even years deep into a decade-long punishment, Winnie can still compete in the trials. She can, she hopes, still succeed and restore her family’s status in the Wednesday clan.

Grit got Winnie to compete but it won’t make up for the years of missed training or the horrifying reality of facing a nightmare in the flesh. What she needs is help from an actual hunter. Like her oldest friend and the one who was quickest to stop talking to her: Jay Friday.

The more time Winnie spends in the forest, with Jay, the more she knows it’s exactly where she’s meant to be. But dangers are lurking outside Hemlock Falls–including a new monster that only Winnie has seen. After years of being ignored and dismissed, Winnie hopes that becoming a hunter will be enough to be heard. But first she has to survive all three trials in The Luminaries (2022) by Susan Dennard.

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The Luminaries is the first book in a new series. Winnie and her family are white but there is diversity among the cast thanks to the international nature of the Luminary clans. This book started as an interactive story that Dennard launched on Twitter (more on that in her acknowledgements at the end of the book) but readers don’t need to have any familiarity with its origins to enjoy this iteration. Caitlin Davies provides an excellently narrated audiobook version.

Dennard once again delivers an action-packed plot and carefully developed world building in this series starter. Winnie knows that entering the hunter trials with her limited training is a risk that could have deadly consequences. She also knows it’s the only way to redeem her family and bring her mother, older brother, and herself back into the Wednesday fold–a hypocrisy that is not lost on Winnie as the Luminaries quickly change face after her first trial. Although Winnie’s doubts and insecurities loom large throughout the novel, her actions display Winnie’s abilities and commitment as she perseveres and works to prove herself both to the Luminary families and to herself.

The Luminaries is very much an introduction exploring the world of Hemlock Falls and the Luminary clans before a jaw-dropping conclusion that will leave readers eager to see what happens next. Starting The Luminaries is like stepping into another world; one filled with magical nightmares, dangerous witches, and a heroine trying to distinguish herself in a clan that has already dismissed her. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Lightlark by Alex Aster, A Season of Sinister Dreams by Tracy Banghart, The Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah, The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, Small Favors by Erin A. Craig, Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh, All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

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

Salt Magic: A Graphic Novel Review

Salt Magic by Hope Larson and Rebecca MockVonceil is ecstatic when her older brother, Elber, comes home after serving on the front in the Great War. But the brother who comes back isn’t the one the Vonceil remembers. Wartime has made him serious and responsible–ready, even, to marry the girl he left behind–when Vonceil thought they’d have more time to play and get to know each other again.

Things get stranger when a sophisticated and mysterious woman arrives at their Oklahoma farm dressed all in white. She blames Elber for leaving her behind in France. She wants him to join her now.

When Elber refuses, she curses the family well and turns the entire town’s fresh water supply into saltwater.

To save her town and try to rescue her brother, Vonceil will have to travel far from everything she’s ever known into a world filled with magic, shapeshifting animals, and witches including a fickle Sugar Witch and the lady in white herself–a Salt Witch in Salt Magic (2021) by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock.

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Salt Magic is the latest standalone graphic novel from Larson and Mock. All characters are presented as white.

Vonceil’s adventure blends historical fiction set at the end of World War I with larger than life fairytale magic–a contrast that mirrors Vonceil’s own mixed feelings about getting older and growing up. Mock’s artwork is sophisticated and layered as she captures both the vast emptiness of the midwest and the lush, decadent magical world Vonceil discovers. Detailed and vibrantly colored artwork fully capitalizes on the full color page design and perfectly conveys the lush magic of the story–especially the Sugar Witch’s confections.

A well-paced plot and nuanced characters elevate this story filled with action, adventure, and magic.

Possible Pairings: A House Divided by Haiko Hornig, Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, Pony by R.J. Palacio, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, Oyster War by Ben Towle

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

The Rules of Magic: A Review

“For what you fix, there are a hundred remedies. For what cannot be cured, not even words will do.”

The Rules of Magic by Alice HoffmanIt was always clear that siblings Franny, Jet, and Vincent Owens were different from other children. Raised in New York City, they grow up with no knowledge of their family’s long history in Masscusetts or the curse Maria Owens cast in 1620 that changed the family trajectory forever.

Instead, determined to keep the truth of their family–and themselves–from her children for as long as possible, their mother sets down rules: no walking in the moonlight, no Ouija boards, no candles, no red shoes, no wearing black, no going shoeless, no amulets, no night-blooming flowers, no reading novels about magic, no cats, no crows, no venturing below Fourteenth Street. But even with all these rules, the children were still unusual.

At the start of the 1960s, the New York branch of the Owens family finally returns to the family home. And that changes everything. Meeting Aunt Isabelle for the first time, it starts to feel like Franny, Jet, and Vincent are meeting themselves for the first time. In a world where magic is suddenly everywhere, it seems like anything is possible–especially falling in love. But as they learn more about their family blunt and stubborn Franny, beautiful and dreamy Jet, and charismatic troublemaker Vincent will all realize no one can escape love no matter how much they might want to in The Rules of Magic (2017) by Alice Hoffman.

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The Rules of Magic is a prequel to Hoffman’s now classic novel Practical Magic. This novel focuses on Sally and Gillian’s aunts Franny and Jet when they were young women first discovering their magic and can be read on its own with only minor spoilers for Practical Magic. The story is told by an omniscient third person narrator with a close focus on Franny, Jet, and Vincent. The Owens family and all major characters are assumed white.

Hoffman perfectly captures the heady effervescence of the 1960s when the Owens family–and the country–are on the cusp of big changes. While The Rules of Magic does return to the family home in Massachusetts and even spends some time in France, the bulk of this novel is set in New York City as Franny, Jet, and Vincent come of age and come to terms with their magical abilities and the family curse. Set in Greenwich Village (specifically 44 Greenwich Street!), the novel explores cultural touchstones including the Stonewall riots and the Vietnam draft through the eyes of the Owens siblings.

Readers familiar with Hoffman’s work will recognize the lyrical style and looping narrator that slowly builds to a dramatic conclusion that will have a lasting impact for the entire Owens family. Although all three siblings play a major role in the story, the novel primarily focuses on Franny as she shifts from obstinate eldest daughter to the matriarch of the family. Franny’s role in the family is pivotal but if, like me, you find her (and her love interest Haylin) the least interesting member of the family some of this novel will feel especially slow.

The Rules of Magic perfectly captures the strange alchemy that makes New York City–especially Greenwich Village–so special while also expanding the Owens saga and the larger family story in interesting directions; a must read for fans of the series and an appropriate entry point to those new to the series.

Possible Pairings: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert, Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen, The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop by Roselle Lim, The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, In the Shadow Garden by Liz Parker, Just Kids by Patti Smith, Among Others by Jo Walton

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea: A Review

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie OhDeadly storms have plagued Mina’s village for generations. It wasn’t always like this way. Many year ago the countryside was protected by the great Sea God–both a protector and confidant of the emperor. Everything changed when the emperor died. Now instead of blessing the area with protection, many believe the Sea God curses them with death and destruction.

Every year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to become the Sea God’s bride in an attempt to appease him and break the curse. Eventually villagers hope one girl might be the Sea God’s true bride–able to love him and remind him of his duty to protect the people and stop the storms.

No one is surprised when Shim Cheong is chosen as this year’s bride. She is, by far, the most beautiful girl in their village. But she is also the only girl Mina’s older brother loves. Rather than watch them both suffer, Mina sacrifices herself in Cheong’s place.

Beneath the sea Mina finds another kingdom in chaos filled with lesser gods and magical creatures all waiting for the Sea God to wake from an enchanted sleep. Trapped in the land of spirits with a god unable to break his own curse, Mina will have to take fate into her own hands to break the curse and save both her people and the Sea God himself in The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea (2022) by Axie Oh.

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The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a standalone, feminist take on the Korean folk story “The Tale of Shim Cheong.” Mina’s narration is practical but also open to wonder as she explores the literal magic (and dangers) of the spirit world. Oh introduces many of the elements found in the traditional story, even including one version in the text of the novel, so that readers do not need to have familiarity with the source material before reading.

Throughout the novel female friendship and matriarchal bonds take center stage as Mina again and again makes her own fate. Alone in the spirit world, Mina draws strength from memories of her beloved grandmother and support from the other former sea brides that she finds in beneath the sea. In saving Cheong, Mina claims agency over her fate in a figurative sense but also, later, in a literal sense as her red String of Fate repeatedly tries to steer Mina in directions she refuses to follow in the spirit realm.

Mina is a proactive, clever heroine who is very aware of her strengths as well as her vulnerabilities as a mortal trapped in the spirit world. With support from surprising allies including a trio of ghosts and other mythical creatures, Mina slowly begins to make a place for herself beneath the sea while also making inroads with understanding and ending the Sea God’s curse. But it isn’t until Mina embraces her role as a bride and accepts help from other brides, including Cheong, that Mina is fully able to understand how to break the curse and save everyone she loves.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea is a retelling that is as evocative as it is inventive; a gripping story where a girl has to learn how to save herself in order to save her world. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones, A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Spirited Away

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

The Last Graduate: A Review

“They were saving me, and I was going to save them. It felt more like magic than magic. As though it could make everything all right. As if the whole world had become a different place.”

The Last Graduate by Naomi NovikAt the Scholomance, surviving the schoolyear is only part of the story. The real test, the final hurdle, is surviving the literal gauntlet of graduation. Every student knows the real challenges start senior year with alliances formed, weapons being tested, and the final run from the dorms through a hall filled with all of the worst magic-eating monsters waiting for the annual all-they-can-eat buffet.

This is the way it’s always been at the school. But with two once-in-a-generation talents in this year’s senior class it’s clear that things are about to change.

After spending his entire tenure at the Scholomance saving every student he can, Orion Lake is used to fighting mals and protecting everyone–often to his own detriment. With a tight rein on her own monstrous dark magic Galadriel “El” Higgins has spent the last year trying to protect Orion from himself and everything else the school has to throw at them.

Now, with senior year upon them, El has to build her alliance, prepare for graduation, and figure out if her mom’s advice to stay the hell away from Orion is prescient or just common sense. She’s going to ignore it either way, but it’s good to know when it comes to her mom’s edicts.

With no teachers or staff of any kind, the school’s motivations are always opaque but as graduation nears, it becomes clear the magical building is trying to say something to El specifically. If El listens in time it could change everything at the Scholomance–not just for this graduating class but for every wizard who will come after in The Last Graduate (2021) by Naomi Novik.

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The Last Graduate is the second book in Novik’s Scholomance series and picks up mere moments after the conclusion of book one A Deadly Education–start there to avoid spoilers and get the most out of this story.

There was a lot happening around the release of book one including a passage that had to be removed from the text and criticism of racist world building. My review of A Deadly Education provides links to articles detailing all of that–I decided I wanted to see how Novik built and improved on book one.

I won’t say that The Last Graduate is perfect–as a white reader I’m not the reader who needs to make that call–but I think Novik does take a lot of the potential with the world building that was baked into book one and works to do better here. Other readers may not want to give this series a second chance which is also fair.

After laying out what students–and readers–can expect from the Scholomance, Novik expertly upends all of that multiple times as not only the game but every rule is changed while El and her allies-turned-friends (or is it friends-turned-allies) prepare for graduation. Although still narrated by El, readers get to see and learn more about many characters within El’s widened social circle (most notably Aadhya and Liu).

El’s status as potentially the worst villain the magical world has ever seen is as fundamental to her character as her choice every day to fight against that destiny. This internal battle to choose to be better and do better rather than taking the easy or self-serving option is writ large as El is forced into an unexpected direction by the school itself which becomes a character in its own right in this installment.

The Last Graduate takes the raw potential of this series and makes it even better with thoughtful explorations of love, friendship, and classism within the confines of a magical adventure.

The Last Graduate is a dramatic, laugh-out-loud story where magic has sharp edges and villains can be heroes.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert; The Cruel Prince by Holly Black; All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman; Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey; An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard; Killing November by Adriana Mather; The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix; Deadly Class by Rick Remender, Wes Craig, Lee Loughridge; Carry On by Rainbow Rowell; And I Darken by Kiersten White; Fable by Adrienne Young

The King Will Kill You: A Review

The King Will Kill You by Sarah HenningPrincess Amarande is finally poised to have everything she wants. After a brutal trek across the Torrent and back she is reunited with her love Luca, a lost prince himself raised in hiding as a stable boy. Having fended off invaders, rivals, and her own mother Amarande is about to become queen in her own right–no need to marry except if she chooses–while Luca works to gather his own allies and begin rebuilding Torrance.

Flush with hope and dreams of new beginnings, Amarande and Luca and their allies are eager for the opportunity to rebuild the kingdoms of the Sand and Sky into something new as the continent puts the recent regicides and threat of war behind them.

But even as one queen and king hope to rebuild, there are others just as eager to burn everything to the ground if it means holding onto their own power.

No woman has ever ruled outright in the thousand year history of the Sand and Sky. If the patriarchal establishment has its way, no woman ever will. As obstacles old and new stand in Amarande’s way, she will have to rally all of her forces to stand against her enemies once again in The King Will Kill You (2022) by Sarah Henning.

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The Kill Will Kill You is the final book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy. Start at the beginning with The Princess Will Save You and The Queen Will Betray You to avoid spoilers and get the most out of the series. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

Every book in this series builds upon the last expanding both the world and the feminist themes that underpin the entire plot. Having laid the groundwork for this strong cast in book one and set up the political landscape in book two, The King WIll Kill You is positioned as both the best and the strongest book in this series.

Throughout this series Amarande, and readers, have seen characters strive for various goals–most notably power for the various monarchs–only to have the sweetness of success turn to ash upon achieving their goals. Henning reworks that conceit here one more time as Amarande’s supposed happy ending is torn away leaving her and Luca once again scrambling to find safety.

Shifting viewpoints give a wide view of this story that spans multiple kingdoms and a well-utilized ensemble cast. After dispatching many of their enemies both Amarande and Luca hope to be able to work within the system to reform the Sand and Sky into something better not just for the kingdoms and their ruling class but for every person on the continent–something that other rulers attempt to thwart at every turn. After the intense action of previous installments, this shift to political maneuvering offers an interesting but no less engrossing change of pace as the action and intrigue of this series moves to a different stage. (Don’t worry there are still quite a few sweeping battles and sword fights to be had here.)

While Amarande still faces some very real enemies and brutal gaslighting while trying to claim her power once and for all, the real enemy in The King Will Kill You turns out to be the establishment that has worked so long to help those in power and no one else. Faced with trying to operate within a system that was never meant to help anyone like her–despite her own father’s successes as king–Amarande has to confront the fact that sometimes the best way to rebuild is to tear down everything that came before.

The King Will Kill You is an ambitious and ultimately satisfying conclusion to a fundamentally feminist series where action and adventure are tempered well with political intrigue and moral questions. After all, what can be more feminist than a book that literally tears down the patriarchy?

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

The Queen Will Betray You: A Review

The Queen Will Betray You by Sarah HenningAfter racing through the Torrent to save her love Luca and escaping a forced marriage to the calculating Pyrenee prince Renard, Princess Amarande is one step closer to claiming her throne as the rightful heir to Ardenia and helping Luca restore Torrence to power after the territory’s instability under the brutal Warlord. But there are still forces throughout the Sand and Sky determined to make sure Amarande doesn’t succeed–including some within her own kingdom.

Instead of a triumphant return to Ardenia and her throne, Amarande is greeted in secret and spirited away. Her council and, worse, her wayward mother have their own ideas of what will best serve Ardenia–plans that include crowning Amarande’s long-lost brother Ferdinand in her place. Desperate for stability, the council is willing to hide Amarande away to give truth to their lies about her death leaving her unable to take power or to rally forces to help Luca.

Meanwhile, with the entire continent still reeling after King Sendoa’s death, it seems every kingdom–and every monarch–is vying to expand their power. While Myrcell and Basilica try to strengthen their own kingdoms, the dowager queen of Pyrenee has plans of her own. With Renard dead, Ines has one less threat to her own claim to the crown leaving only her scheming younger son Taillefer to deal with as she consolidates her forces in a daring bid for power that will change the realm forever.

Desperate enemies can often make the best allies as Amarande reluctantly works with Taillefer to escape her kingdom and get back to Luca. But with Amarande and Luca both displaced as heirs they have few people they can trust and fewer resources as they once again work to reclaim everything they have lost in The Queen Will Betray You (2021) by Sarah Henning.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Queen Will Betray You is the second book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy which continues in The King Will Kill You. Start with the first book, The Princess Will Save You, to avoid spoilers and get the most out of the series. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

The Queen Will Betray You sets up an interesting dichotomy between Queen Ines or Pyrenee and Geneva, Amarande’s mother and the former Runaway Queen of Ardenia, on one side with Amarande opposing both. Both Ines and Geneva were raised to strive for power, to be calculating, and to be tools for men with their own goals and ambitions. After years of surviving in this impossible circumstances both women are fierce and ruthless–determined to do whatever it takes to carve a place for themselves in the continent’s cutthroat patriarchy no matter the cost. Amarande, meanwhile, once again refuses to operate within a system that no longer serves her instead trying to find workarounds to avoid bloodshed whenever possible. This contrast sets the groundwork for the conclusion of this series while also raising questions about morality in the face of ambition and the cost of both complicity and passive ignorance.

After introducing Amarande, Luca, and the Sand and Sky in book one, Henning dramatically expands the world in this second installment. With Amarande and Luca both vying to reclaim lost power readers will see more of their allies including Ula and Urtzi as well as new characters like Ferdinand. With the return of Amarande’s mother Geneva more of the secrets of how the kingdom of Torrance was overthrown and became a lawless territory are revealed.

The Queen Will Betray You is twist after twist from the breathless opening chapters to the shocking final page. Henning’s richly imagined fantasy continues to be a must read for both high action and high intrigue.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

The Princess Will Save You: A Review

The Princess Will Save You by Sarah HenningIn the kingdoms of the Sand and Sky every good warrior knows you need to beware or be dead. Unfortunately, even vigilance offers little protection against assassination.

King Sendoa’s sudden death threatens to throw not just the kingdom of Ardenia but the entire continent into chaos as every kingdom scrambles for power. Political alliances are nothing new among royalty but Princess Amarande is horrified to learn that in order to rule she will have to marry first.

Amarande’s attempts to buy time and find a way to keep her crown and her heart are thwarted when Luca, the stable boy she has always loved, is kidnapped. Marrying the right suitor could save Luca but the kidnappers forget that Amarande isn’t just a princess. She’s also the Warrior King’s daughter.

Rather than wait for Luca’s return, Amarande is ready to make the first mark and rescue him–and her kingdom in The Princess Will Save You (2020) by Sarah Henning.

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The Princess Will Save You is the first book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy which continues in The Queen Will Betray You and The King Will Kill You. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

Henning lays the groundwork for a complex world or reluctant allies, rival kingdoms, and sweeping political schemes. This eye for detail can make for a slow start but the story quickly gains momentum as Amarande embarks on her rescue mission. With a heroine who was raised to be a warrior, it will be no surprise that this book is filled with action and numerous battle and chase scenes. Although the specter of violence hangs over this story, the narrative avoids presenting gore for gore’s sake (be aware that there is a seen of torture in the final act of the book but that also avoids explicit or lengthy description).

Amarande is a smart but often reckless character who is tempered by the gentler (and more circumspect) Luca. Together, these two are a formidable team who demonstrate real partnership at every turn–even discussing the unequal power dynamics they have to work within because of Amarande’s royal status. Along the way both protagonists meet additional allies (and enemies) readers can expect to meet in later volumes. While she works to rescue Luca, the threat of the patriarchal status quo looms as the question of whether Amarande will truly be able to rule in her own right remains combined with a cliffhanger ending that will leave readers eager for the next installment.

The Princess Will Save You is a dynamic start to a fantasy series that strikes the perfect balance between political maneuvering and high action. Perfect for fans looking for a feminist story that strikes a balance between the iconic adventure of The Princess Bride and the complex but brutal Game of Thrones.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

The Ballad of Never After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie GarberSince coming to the Magnificent North, Evangeline Fox has married a prince and become part of a prophecy to open the infamous Valory Arch and the dangers–or wonders–it holds. All thanks to Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, and his machinations to manipulate said prophecy in his favor ensuring that Jacks and Jacks alone will receive the supposed boon the arch holds.

Evangeline has learned her lesson, repeatedly, about what happens when she trusts Jacks. But with no resources and few allies, Evangeline realizes that working with Jacks might be the fastest way to get her own story back on track. As the two search for the magic stones to open the arch, Evangeline can feel herself becoming part of the stories that are told throughout the North–history still being formed. But everyone knows stories in the North are cursed, the true endings–happy or tragic–impossible to know.

Finding the stones brings Evangeline closer to her hopefully happy ending while hinting at Jacks’ mysterious history in the North before he became a magical and ruthless Fate. But nothing with Jacks is ever as it seems and Evangeline knows she’ll have to keep her wits about her to stay one step ahead of Jacks. Even if her heart has other plans.

Happy endings can be caught, but they’re not easy to hold; they need to be constantly chased or they will get away. The closer Evangeline gets to opening the Valory Arch, the farther away her own happy ending seems in The Ballad of Never After (2022) by Stephanie Garber.

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The Ballad of Never After is the second book in Garber’s series which begins with Once Upon a Broken Heart. Set in the same world as Garber’s Caraval trilogy, this series can be read on its own but does include minor spoilers for the Caraval trilogy. Evangeline and Jacks are white, there is diversity among other characters.

While Evangeline’s unfailing optimism remains intact in this second installment, she is much more aware of her limitations–and vulnerabilities–while navigating tricky bargains with those keen to use her for their own ends. Whether that optimism will be her greatest strength or her greatest weakness remains to be seen for much of the story.

After coming to the Magnificent North filled with wonder and a desire to connect to her own past, Evangeline spends more time exploring her new surroundings and trying to understand her place in them. Garber seamlessly expands the world as readers and Evangeline are introduced to more of the Magnificent North and its history including tantalizing hints about the truth behind Evangeline’s favorite northern fairytale The Ballad of the Archer and the Fox as well as the strange history of the North’s lost royal family, the Valors. In a story that plays with the concept of lost history (thanks to the Magnificent North’s story curse) and a new history being formed, the urgency is obvious even with a more character-driven plot.

Frothy descriptions, chaotic adventure, and surprisingly poignant moments of introspection come together to make The Ballad of Never After a delightful story about both literal magic and the magic of belief–in oneself and otherwise.

The Ballad of Never After is a dramatic story where nothing is as it seems and sometimes even an ending can be a new beginning. An excellent addition to a highly recommended series.

Possible Pairings: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, The Selection by Kiera Cass, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Havenfall by Sara Holland, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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