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Fire and Hemlock: A (ReRead) Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Polly Whittacker is nineteen and preparing to return to college after visiting her grandmother over break. She has a flatmate, a boyfriend, and all of the other things she would expect as a college student. It’s ordinary but it feels like enough.

That is until Polly stares at the picture that’s hung above her bed for as long as she can remember. Here, now, of course, Polly knows that “Fire and Hemlock” is just a photograph of some hay bails burning with a hemlock plant in the foreground. But when she was younger didn’t the picture used to have figures dancing and racing around the fire?

The more Polly remembers about the painting, the more she realizes that her memories of the past ten years aren’t quite right either. She has the ordinary set, the ones she always thought were true. But if she thinks back far enough and hard enough, Polly starts to remember another set of memories from a very different, very not ordinary life.

It all started nine years ago when Polly accidentally crashed a funeral and met an odd cellist named Thomas Lynn. Her friendship with Mr. Lynn took the form of fantastical letters, exchanged books, and one very odd visit to his flat in London. Those memories are easy to hold onto once they start to come back.

But something else happened the last time they met. Something worse. And now, here, Polly knows that she and Tom are inextricably tied together–maybe as friends and maybe as more. But Polly won’t have the chance to figure any of that out unless she can gather her memories and figure out not just how to get back to Tom but how to save him in Fire and Hemlock (1985) by Diana Wynne Jones.

I originally reviewed Fire and Hemlock in 2007 just a few months after I started blogging when I first read the novel. Even a decade later I still think about Polly and Tom all the time and almost since the moment I finished it, this book has held a place as one of my most favorite books of all time.

I read this book again in 2017 and was thrilled to see that it absolutely stands up to closer readings. If you can, get your hands on the edition I like to above–it has one of the best covers this book has ever gotten, includes an introduction from Garth Nix, and features an essay Jones wrote about writing this novel–something she rarely talked about in interviews.

Fire and Hemlock is a retelling of Tam Lin, a meditation on what it means to be a hero, a sweeping romance, and one of the best fantasies you’ll ever read. I still haven’t read all of Jones’ novels, the thought of running out is a bit too depressing so I try to keep a few in my figurative back pocket. But if you have to pick just one to read, consider starting here.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Entwined by Heather Dixon, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, , The Glass Casket by Templeman McCormick, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

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Top Ten: 2017

This is my annual list of favorite books that I read and reviewed this year.

This year was filled with marvelous bookish surprises. I didn’t know what to expect from so many of these books and they almost universally left me dazzled and delighted.

Jane, Unlimited and Where Futures End pushed and pulled at the limits of how a story can be told.

In a Perfect World, I Believe in a Thing Called Love, Lucky in Love and The Keeper of the Mist were unapologetic love stories filled with optimism.

Words in Deep Blue, Speak Easy, Speak Love, and The Fashion Committee inspired and moved me while surprising me with inventive twists.

Caraval, The Diabolic and All the Crooked Saints introduced me to new worlds while Wayfarer, The Reluctant Queen, Thick as Thieves, and Always and Forever, Lara Jean gave me the chance to revisit familiar characters and places.

Not a day has gone by that I haven’t been thinking about Vincent and Theo: The Van Go Brothers or The Careful Undressing of Love.

You couldn’t find two books that were more different than Moxie and Places No One Knows. And yet if I had to pick two defining books for 2017, these would be my choices. Moxie is everything I want to see happen on a large scale–empowered young women, solidarity, and positive change–while Places No One Knows is a quiet reminder to speak up for what matters and to take care of yourself.

You can click the cover photos to read my reviews.

Top Ten:

(Actually top twelve but I do what I want.)

  • Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
  • Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley
  • In a Perfect World by Trish Doller

  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  • Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George
  • I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo

  • The Careful Undress of Love by Corey Ann Haydu
  • Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman
  • The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby

  • Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu
  • All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Honorable Mentions: Books Published in 2016

  • The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier
  • Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse
  • Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

Honorable Mentions: Sequels

I don’t like listing sequels in my top ten because usually you have to read the preceding books first. These are no exception but they are still fantastic and were definitely favorites of the year.

  • Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken
  • The  Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst
  • Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han
  • The Empress by S. J. Kincaid (I haven’t reviewed this one yet so I am sneakily directing you to my review of the first book)
  • Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Always and Forever, Lara Jean: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the sequel to To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and  P. S. I Still Love You. As such there are major spoilers for both preceding books in this review.*

“There’s so much to be excited about, if you let yourself be.”

It feels like everything is changing for Lara Jean the spring of her senior year in high school. She and Peter K. are still together but she is waiting for those much-anticipated college acceptance letters. Margot seems farther away than ever in Scotland especially as their father announces his plans to remarry. Kitty, the youngest Song girl, is ecstatic about the wedding and seems to be growing up all too quickly.

Lara Jean knows exactly how she wants the rest of her senior year and college to go. But even with all of her careful planning it seems like Lara Jean will still have to face some unexpected decisions and opportunities in Always and Forever, Lara Jean (2017) by Jenny Han.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the unexpected third book in Han’s Lara Jean trilogy which began with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and  P. S. I Still Love You. Han wrote this book in secret as a surprise for her readers who are fans of this series and these characters.

This final installment starts near Easter as Lara Jean is anxiously waiting to hear back from colleges and trying to plan what will come next for her own future as well as her future with Peter. Surprise college decisions and other changes prove that even the best laid plans can be changed and, more importantly, your future is your own to shape.

Lara Jean remains a sweet and thoughtful narrator here facing some universal dilemmas particularly when she realizes her dreams about college are not going to resemble her reality. Lara Jean has always had an excellent support system with her family, friends, and Peter but it’s especially nice to see Lara Jean making her own decisions here even if sometimes they are scary choices. Throughout this quiet novel Lara Jean demonstrates her signature blend of resilience and optimism.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean is the perfect conclusion for this series and these characters. A memorable and satisfying send off for fans of this much loved series.

Possible Pairings: Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Nothing But the Truth (And a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Year My Sister Got Lucky by Aimee Friedman, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Key to the Golden Firebird by Maureen Johnson, Undercover by Beth Kephart, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle

Don’t forget to check out all of my buttons inspired by To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before & P. S. I Still Love You

Thick As Thieves: A Review

Kamet is a slave but he is also poised to become one of the most powerful men in the Mede Empire thanks to his master Nahuseresh’s close relationship with the Emperor. While he knows the limitations of his life as a secretary and slave, Kamet is ambitious and eager for the chance to help shape the Empire and wield his influence–a future that is almost certainly within reach until one whispered conversation changes everything.

No longer safe in his position, or even in his city, Kamet embarks on a journey that will take him farther than he once thought possible. Traveling across the country and away from the seat of the Mede Empire, Kamet finds an unlikely ally in an Attolian soldier far from home and discovers that sometimes choice and freedom can be much more important than power or influence in Thick as Thieves (2017) by Megan Whalen Turner.

To call this book my most anticipated 2017 release would be a gross understatement. When I found out I was reviewing this book for School Library Journal (and thus getting to read it early as an ARC) I screamed and scared one of my coworkers. This series has gotten under my skin and been part of my life for almost two decades (the first book in the series, The Thief, just had its twentieth anniversary). I am so happy this series still has the love it deserves and that the series is not only in print but reissued this year (with new covers!) so that new people can discover it and love it as much as I do.

Turner returns to the world of Eugenides and her Queen’s Thief series in this fifth installment which moves beyond the familiar borders of the countries of Eddis, Attolia, and Sounis. Thick as Thieves is filled with characters readers will learn to love and want to return to again and again including several from earlier books in the series.

Kamet is analytical and pragmatic–traits which come across completely in his first person narration. He brings a fresh perspective to familiar places and people while expanding the world of this series with his knowledge of Mede culture and mythology including the wayward gods, Immakuk and Ennikar.

Turner expertly negotiates Kamet’s complicated feelings about his enslavement. Intellectually Kamet knows he lacks freedom. He knows his position as a slave is vulnerable in an empire that has a singular fear of its slave population. At the same time, Kamet allows himself to be blinded by his own ambitions and his narrow view of the world. Kamet’s journey from a circumspect and scholarly secretary to a man in control of his own fate is immensely satisfying as is the way Kamet’s story intertwines with other pieces of the series and helps smaller plot points come into focus.

This whip-smart book works equally well as an introduction for readers just discovering Turner’s characters and as a way to move the series forward to what promises to be a stirring conclusion for long-time fans. Thick as Thieves is a dazzling adventure and a truly charming story of unlikely friends. A must for fantasy readers seeking titles rich with intrigue and politics. Cannot recommend this book or this series highly enough.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the April 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

A Conspiracy of Kings: A (Reread) Review

Sophos has always known that he is too soft and too scholarly to be a proper heir to his uncle the king of Sounis. When he is exiled to the island of Letnos after parting ways with the magus and a thief who proved too clever for his own good, Sophos is free to spend his days reading poetry and contemplating philosophy even if it is in the company of an odious tutor.

All of that changes the moment Letnos is attacked and Sophos is abducted. Hidden away and rendered unrecognizable, Sophos has a chance to turn away from his responsibilities as Sounis’ heir.

It is not easy to become a king. But it turns out it’s even harder to forsake your own country. Navigating the murky waters of friendship and sovereignty, Sophos will have to decide if old friends can become new allies and whether or not honor, or freedom for that matter, have anything to do with ruling a country in A Conspiracy of Kings (2010) by Megan Whalen Turner.

A Conspiracy of Kings is the fourth book in Turner’s Queen’s Thief series and continues Sophos’ story–a character first introduced as one of Gen’s travel companions back in The Thief. Sophos narrates this novel in the first person. Throughout most of the novel he is talking to someone as he relates the story of what brought him all the way to Attolia after a dangerous journey across Sounis. The second person is a hard tense to negotiate but it works well here and realizing who Sophos is talking to is a revelation in itself.

Perception always plays a role in Turner’s books and A Conspiracy of Kings is no exception. The manipulations here are even more subtle as Sophos tries to fit the present Eugenides as king of Attolia with his memories of Gen the thief. In addition to that, Sophos’ own self-perception also comes into play with a fascinating character study through his narration.

Sophos is a guileless character and he is very aware of his limitations throughout the story. He is sensitive, he blushes at the drop of a hat, he is not an experienced swordsman, the list goes on. Because of this, Sophos’ narration is refreshingly forthright and direct. Sophos is quick to explain his internal struggles and even some of his shortcomings as he tries to come to terms with the shocking reality that he is responsible for the fate of an entire country. Of course, that only tells part of the story as Sophos fails to notice the ways in which he himself has changed and grown on his journey to becoming a king in his own right.

Much of this series focuses on Eugenides’ journey from boy to man and by extension from his path from man to king. A Conspiracy of Kings is a slightly different story as Sophos acknowledges not only that he is a king but also that he might have been meant to be king all along.

This book has my favorite ending of the entire series. I love the dialogue that concludes this story and I especially enjoy tracing the path of Sophos and Gen’s friendship as they begin to meet each other on equal footing. A Conspiracy of Kings is another arresting story filled with evocative prose and characters that are guaranteed to resonate.

If you enjoy A Conspiracy of Kings, you can read more about Eugenides (and Eddis, Sounis, and Attolia) in The Thief, The Queen of AttoliaThe King of Attolia and Thick as Thieves.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers,Soundless by Richelle Mead, Sabriel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Top Ten: 2016

This is my annual list of favorite books that I read and reviewed this year.

Break Me Like a Promise and This Raging Light were the two books that were most impactful to me and the two I most desperately needed to read this year. I haven’t stopped thinking about The Star-Touched Queen and In Some Other World, Maybe since I finished them. Passenger has become a defining book of key moments of this year and last (which is why I have three copies of it). Bookishly Ever After, Iron Cast, Tell Me Three Things, Three Dark Crowns, My Lady Jane, and The Museum of Heartbreak were all delightful surprises this year. Hands down, The Anatomy of Curiosity is one of the most inspiring books I have read. Ever.

You can click the cover photos to read my reviews. Since it’s 2016, I’m giving myself ten slots plus up to six honorable mentions. Alphabetical by author because picking favorites any more specifically is too hard.

Top Ten:

Bookishly Ever After by Isabel BandeiraPassenger by Alexandra BrackenTell Me Three Things by Julie BuxbaumThe Star-Touched Queen by Roshani ChokshiIn Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen

  • Bookishly Ever After by Isabel Bandeira
  • Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
  • Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
  • The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
  • In Some Other World, Maybe by Shari Goldhagen

This Raging Light by Estelle LaureThe Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter HapgoodBreak Me Like a Promise by Tiffany SchmidtIron Cast by Destiny SoriaThe Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff

  • This Raging Light by Estelle Laure
  • The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
  • Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany Schmidt
  • Iron Cast by Destiny Soria
  • The Anatomy of Curiosity by Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, Brenna Yovanoff

Honorable Mentions:

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoThree Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeMy Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

  • Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
  • Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  • My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi HeiligThe Museum of Heartbreak by Meg LederThis Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

  • The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
  • The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder
  • This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

 

This list is also a Pinterest board.

Quintana of Charyn: A Review

“We could look at the side of wonder.”

Quintana of Charyn by Melina MarcherraFroi was left for dead on the mountaintops of Charyn, taken to his uncle–a gifted physician. He has lost Quintana. He has lost Gargarin and Lirah.

Quintana of Charyn is alone and in hiding. She might be the curse breaker, but first she will have to survive long enough to give birth to the new heir.

In Lumatere, the Charyn threat is growing. Lucian of the Monts is uncertain of how to deal with his unwanted neighbors across the valley. Isaboe wants to erase the royal line responsible for the days of the unspeakable and the murders of her family. Finnikin wants to find Froi before it’s too late. But in their months apart, both young men have changed.

Two countries torn apart by grief and rage will have to find common ground if either of them hopes to heal in Quintana of Charyn (2013) by Melina Marchetta.

Quintana of Charyn is the final book in Melina Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finninkin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles.

Quintana of Charyn picks up soon after the brutal events of Froi of the Exiles. Everything is still a mess. The characters are all separated. The outlook is bleak.

It’s difficult to talk about too much of the plot but suffice to say that Quintana of Charyn gives these characters the space and the ending that they deserve. Through careful writing and artful plotting, Marchetta subtly shifts her characters and tone. After the harrowing experiences of book two, this conclusion to her epic fantasy trilogy reads like a soothing balm.

It’s a testament to the strength of the writing and the intricacy of this series that absolutely everything comes together here. Marchetta uses the fantasy setting to explore larger issues of forgiveness and love as well as grieving and rebirth in this powerful novel.

Quintana of Charyn is a must read for fans of the first two books in the series. Readers looking for their next sweeping fantasy series should definitely start this series at the beginning. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner