Never-Contented Things: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Never-Contented Things by Sarah PorterKsenia is cold where foster brother Josh is warm; sharp where he is soft. She is almost eighteen and their foster parents are simultaneously planning for Ksenia’s transition to a group home while preparing to adopt sixteen-year-old Josh. Ksenia is a bit of an oddity in their painfully conventional town with her androgynous looks and thrift store style without any of Josh’s charisma to smooth things over.

While Ksenia is resigned to their separation, Josh is desperate to hang on to Ksenia at any cost–even if it means making an impossible bargain with otherworldy creatures they encounter at a party. Entrapped in another world with Josh, Ksenia is determined to protect him despite his betrayal. Josh sees it as a refuge where no one can question his romantic love and infatuation for his foster sister while Ksenia knows it is a prison with no possible escape.

Josh and especially Ksenia are people no one would look for except for their best friend, Lexi, a girl whose life couldn’t be more different and who, if she can find them, might have the key to breaking the spell in Never-Contented Things (2019) by Sarah Porter.

Porter blends horror and urban fantasy in her latest standalone novel of faerie.

Evocative, phantasmagorical prose carries across multiple viewpoints as Ksenia works to save herself and the people she loves in this book filled with messy characters doing the best they can.

Never-Contented Things features gorgeous sentence level writing and vibrant horror which elevate this character driven story about resilience, identity, and learning to save yourself. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

Nocturna: A Review

cover art for Nocturna by Maya MotayneAfter his brother Dez’s murder, Prince Alfehr is poised to become king–something he fears almost as acutely as finding concrete proof that his brother is truly dead. Alfie left Castallan months ago to grieve and, he hopes, to find a way to bring his brother back from the void–even if it means using his bruxo magic to ill ends.

Finn is a faceshifter who can change her appearance at will. It’s a magical ability that serves her well as a thief. When their paths cross Alfie and Finn accidentally unleash a dangerous ancient power that could destroy Castellan and the rest of the world. Together they will have to confront their greatest failures and their greatest fears to contain this dark magic before it’s too late in Nocturna (2019) by Maya Motayne.

Nocturna is Motayne’s debut novel and the start of her A Forgery of Magic trilogy.

Alternating chapters follow Alfie and Finn giving nuance to their motivations and bad decisions. Alfie and Finn’s relationship, which evolves over the course of the novel from a reluctant alliance to obvious respect and affection, helps fill the void left by world building that remains thin even with the added dimension of Castallan trying to assert itself in the wake of generations of Englass colonial rule.

Nocturna is an epic fantasy set in a Latinx inspired world with a unique magic system where moving shadows can reveal a person’s feelings and spells will be immediately recognizable to Spanish speakers. A promising debut with unique magic and two strong protagonists among a varied ensemble cast.

Possible Pairings: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal*

Finale: A Review

*Finale is the final book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval trilogy. This review contains spoilers for books one and two. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Caraval and Legendary.*

cover art for Finale by Stephanie GarberScarlett and Donatella Dragna are no strangers to magic.

Spirited away by a roguish sailor and her sister’s schemes, Scarlett doesn’t just play in Caraval. She wins. During the game she sees time traded as easily as coins and the dead brought back to life; she finds true love and discovers the power of a wish made in earnest. Perhaps even more importantly, in winning Caraval, Scarlett learns how to be strong after years of thinking she could settle for being safe.

Tella has always been brazen, maybe even reckless. She easily barters away kisses, her sister’s stability, and is even willing to risk her own freedom if it means getting what she wants. Weeks later when Tella plays her own game of Caraval even her daring plan to unmask Caraval Master Legend may not be enough to win when the Immortal Fates return to the Meridian Empire.

Long rumored to be myths, the Fates are closer to gods with the magic and the cruelty to prove it. The stakes have never been higher as the Fates try to reclaim the empire they once ruled and two sisters race to stop them. Scarlett will have to do the impossible and Tella will have to risk everything and this time it’s definitely not just a game in Finale (2019) by Stephanie Garber.

Finale is the final book in Stephanie Garber’s Caraval trilogy. This review contains spoilers for books one and two. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Caraval (which relates Scarlett’s story and in many ways functions as a standalone) and Legendary (Tella’s story and a direct sequel to Finale which begins two months later).

This installment alternates close third person chapters following Tella and Scarlett with the return of several other favorite characters along the way.

Both sisters know that anything is possible with a bit of magic and a lot of determination but even with help from Legend and Julian, it’s unclear how immortal beings can be stopped–especially when the Fates’ only weakness is something completely antithetical to their existence.

In a series that consistently amps up the tension and the stakes, Finale is a high action, nail-biting conclusion as both sisters are forced to make to make perilous choices that will change their lives–and the Meridian Empire itself–forever. Garber’s lush prose, vibrant descriptions, and, of course, swoon worthy romance serve as elegant counterpoints to the dangers that Scarlett and Tella face throughout.

Finale is a satisfying conclusion and an apt farewell to the richly imagined world of Caraval and, of course, to Scarlett and Tella–our heroines who together learn the power of magic, love, and a game well-played.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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

Girls of Paper and Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha NganEvery year eight girls are chosen to serve the king. His Paper Girls are the most beautiful, the most charming and demure. Once they are taken to the palace the Paper Girls live in luxury. But they are always slaves to the whims of the king and, especially, to his cruelty.

Once you become a Paper Girl, you can never go home again.

Lei never thought she would be chosen as a Paper Girl. Her family already paid the ultimate price when Lei’s mother was taken a decade ago. But rumors spread quickly about Lei–a human girl from the paper caste with golden eyes like the demons of the higher castes.

Taken against her will, trapped in a life she never imagined, Lei is determined to fight back. But even as she finds forbidden love and a plot that will change her world forever, Lei has to decide how far she’s willing to go for escape and for revenge in Girls of Paper and Fire (2018) by Natasha Ngan.

Girls of Paper and Fire is Ngan’s debut novel and the start of a new trilogy.

Lei’s first person narration is guileless but also razor sharp as she fights against her captivity as a Paper Girl at every turn. Her rage and frustration are palpable when she is kidnapped in the first pages of the novel and works from their to find a way not just to survive but to escape.

The brutality and horror of Lei’s new circumstances are contrasted with tender moments as she forms a dangerous and forbidden relationship with one of the other Paper Girls–a love that could lead to revolution and change throughout the country.

Ngan’s writing is lush and fast-paced. Readers are immediately drawn into Lei’s complex and often frightening world. Girls of Paper and Fire is a high action, feminist story that is as exciting as it is empowering.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Eve by Anna Carey, The Cerulean by Amy Ewing, Everless by Sara Holland, The Glittering Court by Richelle Meade, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, The Kingdom by Jess Rothenberg, Ash Princess by Laura K. Sebastian, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Black Wings Beating: A Review

cover art for Black Wings Beating by Alex LondonNothing in Uztar is more sacred than birds of prey. No one is more respected than the falconers who capture and train them.

Brysen wants nothing so much as he wants to be a great falconer. He dreams of proving to his abusive father, and himself, that he can contribute to the family legacy as falconers.

Kylee, Brysen’s twin sister, wants nothing to do with the family trade or the ancient gifts that should make her one of the most gifted falconers ever. She dreams of leaving their home in the Six Villages forever even as war threatens to make that impossible.

When the boy Brysen loves makes a terrible mistake, Brysen is determined to save him–and maybe find the glory that keeps eluding him–by trapping a Ghost Eagle. Understanding the dangers better than her brother, Kylee follows him hoping to help and perhaps make up for her own past. Whoever controls the Ghost Eagle can control the fate of Uztari. But first Brysen and Kylee will have to decide if they control their own fates in Black Wings Beating (2018) by Alex London.

Black Wings Beating is the first book in London’s Skybound trilogy. The book alternates close third person chapters between Brysen and Kylee.

London presents a fully-realized world complete with its own mythology and a little understood magic system tied to the art of falconry. Brysen and Kylee are complex, often flawed characters. They act rashly, they make mistakes, but they always look out for each other (even when they’d prefer not to!).

Black Wings Beating is high fantasy at its best. Recommended for readers with an interest in killer birds, killer writing, and killer twists.

Possible Pairings: Even the Darkest Stars by Heather Fawcett, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor, Updraft by Fran Wilde

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

The Queen of Sorrow: A Review

*The Queen of Sorrow is the final book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen*

cover art for The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth DurstDaleina has always wanted to protect her homeland Aratay and the people who call the forests home even when it leaves her as the unlikely queen of the kingdom.

Naelin never wanted to be a queen despite her enormous power but willingly takes up the mantle when it means she’s be able to keep her children safe.

Now Aratay and its vicious spirits are torn between two queens with vastly different priorities.

Merecot has always known she was destined to be queen. When her candidacy as an Heir of Aratay is blocked she schemes to become queen of the mountainous kingdom of Semo instead. But Semo has too little land for its many spirits–something even a queen of Merecot’s caliber can’t control forever.

When Naelin’s children are kidnapped she knows that Merecot is to blame and is willing to go to any lengths to retrieve her children even if it means defying her co-queen Daleina and plunging both kingdoms into a costly war.

As Naelin searches for her children, Daleina struggles to hold the kingdom together, and Merecot draws all three queens toward a confrontation that could save both kingdoms. Or destroy them in The Queen of Sorrow (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Queen of Sorrow is the final book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen.

The Queen of Sorrow widely expands the world of Renthia as readers learn more about Merecot and Semo as well as the other neighboring kingdoms. This story shifts close third person perspective between characters across Renthia as they are drawn into a conflict that will forever change their world.

Durst expertly manages a large cast, numerous plot threads, and her complex world building to close out this high fantasy trilogy. With action, intrigue, and even some romance The Queen of Sorrow is the perfect conclusion to a powerful, must-read series that strikes the perfect balance between closure and hints of more to come. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

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

Witchlanders: A Review

cover art for Witchlanders by Lena CoakleyMagic is a powerful thing in the Witchlands. The magic and the lands themselves are protected by witches who are mysterious and dangerous, creatures with little time for villages like Ryder’s.

That is if the witches are even real, which Ryder still doubts. After all, he has seen no evidence of them save the relics from her mother’s time as a witch and her addiction to the flowers that she insists will call the witches to her.

When the witches do finally show up to answer his mother’s call Ryder is forced to reconsider everything he thought he believed about the witches, the Witchlands, and his own role in the prophecies his mother has been seeing in Witchlanders (2011) by Lena Coakley.

Witchlanders is classic high fantasy with a unique magic system and detailed world building. It’s also an excellent standalone in a genre that is often over-saturated with trilogies or longer series.

The story follows two boys on opposite sides of a years-long war as they try to understand their growing magic and the bond that seems to be drawing them inexorably together. Chapters alternate between their points of view as they are drawn across the Witchlands to confronting shocking revelations about their pasts, their futures, and their own connections.

While Coakley’s world is fascinating, her characters often suffer in comparison with a lack of dimension. Witchlanders is decidedly free of romance but remains a solid testament to the power of friendship as its own kind of magic.

Possible Pairings: Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, The Last Namsara by Kristen Ciccarelli, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Black Wings Beating by Alex London, The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier