Sugar Town Queens: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sugar town queens never back down from a fight.”

Sugar Town Queens by Malla NunnAmandla Zenzile Harden is familiar with her mother’s strange visions and her difficult days. But even she is taken aback when, on the morning of her fifteenth birthday, her mother Annalisa tells Amandla that she has to wear a blue sheet as a dress to bring her father home. It’s been only Amandla and her mother for as long as Amandla can remember. She has never met her father. Wearing an ugly sheet isn’t going to change that.

Life in Sugar Town isn’t what anyone would call easy. Everyone has their struggles and their problems in the township near Durban, South Africa. Although their shack is shabby by some standards, it’s home and it’s always tidy thanks to Annalisa’s meticulous cleaning. But even in the township, Amandla and her mother stand out not just for Annalisa’s strange behavior and uneven memory but because Annalisa is white and Amandla is brown.

After years of trying to piece together the scraps of her mother’s fractured memories into something resembling a family history, Amandla is ready for answers. When she finds more cash than she’s ever seen in her mother’s purse along with an address, Amandla decides it’s a sign to find answers.

With help from her best friend Lil Bit and newer friend Goodness, Amandla follows the clues to the truth about herself, her mother, and old family secrets that will change Amandla’s understanding of family forever in Sugar Town Queens (2021) by Malla Nunn.

Find it on Bookshop.

Sugar Town Queens is Nunn’s first novel for young adults. Amandla is biracial (her mother is white and her father is described as Zulu in the narrative–one of the few things Amandla knows about him), Amandla’s friends and other township residents are Black.

Amandla’s first person narration is direct and to the point in the way of young people who have to grow up quickly because of hard circumstances. Amandla is well aware of the poverty she and her mom live with but, over the course of the novel, she also finds moments of lightness with Lil Bit and Goodness and even starts a romance with Goodness’s earnest brother. Although the romance is entirely age appropriate and sweet, I admit that I would be very happy to never hear another character describe someone’s lips as “juicy” ever again.

While friendship (and first love) are key parts of the story, the main focus here is family as Amandla literally stumbles upon her maternal grandmother after following the clues she has found. Learning more about her grandparents, Amandla realizes that a family reunion will not mend everything that has broken in her mother nor will it erase her grandfather’s racist opinions of his poor, biracial granddaughter. With new family and new relationships, however, Amandla does begin to understand that forgiveness can have its place as much as justice when more of Annalisa’s past is revealed.

With her grandmother’s declining health and Annalisa’s limited mental stability, the urgency is real to find answers before it’s too late making Sugar Town Queens a page turner as the novel builds to a striking finish. The contrast between the affluent Harden family and Amandla’s own upbringing in Sugar Town further highlights the inequalities that still exist in South Africa long after the end of Apartheid thanks to Nunn’s carefully detailed descriptions of both Sugar Town and Durban.

Sugar Town Queens is a fast-paced story about family, grief, and the power to be found in asking for–and accepting–help where themes of family and female friendship emphasize the importance of community and support systems.

Possible Pairings: Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, The Truth About White Lies by Olivia A. Cole, All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney, Tiffany Sly Lives Here by Dana L. Davis, Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, The Means That Make Us Strangers by Christine Kindberg, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Belladonna: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Do not change the parts of yourself that you like to make others comfortable. Do not try to mold yourself to fit the standards someone else has set for us.”

Belladonna by Adalyn GraceSigna Farrow has spent her entire life moving from house to house as each of her numerous guardians meets an untimely end. With caretakers increasingly more interested in her wealth than her happiness, Signa’s loneliness is palpable. She craves the day she will come into her inheritance and can set up her own household filled with laughter and company–never solitude and especially not Death. The one constant in Signa’s life aside from her precarious living arrangements has been the ability to see and, regrettably, interact with Death himself–a shadowy figure of a man who is as mystified by their connection as Signa.

At the age of nineteen, there is only one year left until Signa enters society. One she needs to use well if she hopes to banish the dismal reputation her numerous deceased guardians have built for her. After years of begging–and even demanding–that Death leave her alone, Signa is more suspicious than grateful when he promises to improve her current situation. Nonetheless, she is cautiously excited to find she has some living relatives in the Hawthorne family.

Thorn Grove is a stately manor with far more luxury than Signa is used to, but it is also a house in crisis with patriarch Elijah Hawthorne lost in grief and intent on running the family business–and reputation–into the ground while eldest son Percy watches helplessly. With mourning not yet over for Elijah’s beloved wife, it seems his daughter Blythe is suffering from the same mysterious illness. With no obvious cure and her condition worsening, Death warns that it won’t be much longer before he has to claim the ailing girl as one of his own.

Experiencing stability and family for the first time is a heady mixture for Signa, reminding her of how much Thorn Grove still has to lose. Signa knows that society would frown upon a young woman experimenting with folk remedies and digging into the Hawthorne’s secrets. But she also knows that she will do anything to keep Blythe and Thorn Grove safe–even if it means risking her reputation by working with Death to search for answers in Belladonna (2022) by Adalyn Grace.

Find it on Bookshop.

Belladonna is the first book in a projected duology that will continue with Foxglove. Signa and most main characters are cued as white with more varied skin tones among the supporting cast including one of Signa’s childhood friends, Charlotte, who is described as having brown skin.

Belladonna is a gothic mystery with just the right amount of magic in the form of death personified and Signa’s own strange powers that allow her not just to speak with Death but take on some of his abilities including a resistance to poison. Sumptuous descriptions of Signa’s new surroundings set the mood as Signa familiarizes herself with Thorn Grove and its occupants while highlighting the privation of her previous homes.

Armed with nothing but an old etiquette book and her wits, Signa thinks she is prepared for what society will expect of her as a young woman. But the longer she spends at Thorn Grove and the more she embraces her own powers, the clearer it is that the societal standards Signa has clung to are skewed against her and may not be worth striving for after all. Signa’s inheritance adds another layer to this conversation as she begins to understand her privilege and realizes other women are not so fortunate when it comes to future marriages and life choices.

Haunted by spirits all her life, Signa’s innate need to investigate the happenings at Thorn Grove only increases as she is haunted by–and begins to communicate with–the ghosts of the stately manor. This novel is filled with a well-rounded cast of both the living and dead who add dimension to this rich story as the complexities of relationships among the Hawthorne family and its staff begin to unfold. At the center of this is Signa’s complicated dynamic with Death who starts the story as her greatest frustration only to become a foil, a confidante, and perhaps much more. The tension between these two characters moves the story along as much as the mystery with its own twists and surprises.

Belladonna is a thoughtful story where Signa spends as much time investigating her own wants and needs as a young woman entering society as she does trying to uncover Thorn Grove’s secrets. Belladonna capitalizes on a well-developed magic system and atmospheric prose to deliver both a satisfying mystery and romance.

Possible Pairings: Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Ferryman by Claire McFall, A Forgery of Roses by Jessica S. Olson, Gallant by V. E. Schwab

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

The Book Eaters: A Review

“We can only live by the light we’re given. And some of us are given no light at all. What else can we do but learn to see in the dark?”

The Book Eaters by Sunyi DeanDevon grows up surrounded living in a manor house on the Yorkshire Moors with her family; they are always focused on tradition, on appearances, on the Family above all.

Being part of her family comes with its own responsibilities. Boys will grow up to be patriarchs or leaders, they’ll train to become the Knights who carefully manage marriages between book eaters to prevent inbreeding. Girls are a rarer commodity among the book eaters, precious. With only six girls between the Families, every one is expected to do her duty producing two children from two different husbands to help propagate the species.

Raised as a princess, eating fairytales and cautionary tales like every female book eater, Devon knows her role from a young age as clearly as she knows she craves different stories to eat. It isn’t the life she wants but, for a book eater girl, it’s the only life there is.

Prepared to do her part until her childbearing years end with the early menopause endemic to their species, Devon plans to stay detached and bide her time until she’s free. But nothing goes according to plan once she holds her first child.

Book eaters have never been known for their creativity but when her son is born not as a book eater but as a much more dangerous–and much more expendable–mind eater, Devon is determined to do everything she can to imagine a new ending for both of them in The Book Eaters (2022) by Sunyi Dean.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Book Eaters is Dean’s debut novel. The audiobook, as narrated by Katie Erich, brings Devon’s Yorkshire tyke to life.

Devon’s Family is of Romanian descent, most characters are assumed white. Devon’s sexuality as a lesbian–and another character’s asexuality–becomes central to the plot as Devon questions her narrowly defined role within the constraints of book eater society.

With its focus on bodily autonomy and personal freedom, The Book Eaters is surprisingly prescient. Dean does not shy away from scenes of assault on the night of Devon’s first “wedding” nor from disconcerting depictions of what exactly happens when a mind eater feeds making for a timely but often unpleasant narrative.

In a society of creatures who are stronger and more dangerous than humans, Devon and other characters are forced into difficult choices for their survival. This focus leads to a fast paced story interspersed with ethical quandaries of who can qualify as a hero or a villain and, more relevantly, who is worth saving.

The Book Eaters is a grim adventure with abundantly original world building; a story about the lengths we’ll go to protect family–found and otherwise.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Half Bad by Sally Green, The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins, Only a Monster by Vanessa Len, This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab

*An advance copy of this title and an ALC of this title from Libro.fm was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Sherwood: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Who are you to say that being a lady, in itself, is not its own kind of war?”

Sherwood by Meagan SpoonerWhen Robin of Locksley dies fighting in the Crusades for his king, it leaves Marian’s entire future uncertain. For years, Marian knew she would marry Robin and stand beside him when he became Lord of Locksley. They would make a life together, the way they had always planned, and they would protect Locksley town and its residents from the Sheriff of Nottingham. Together.

Now Marian is painfully aware of her uncertain future. Guy of Gisborne serves as the sheriff’s right hand. He hopes to cement his place as a gentleman first by laying claim to Locksley land and then by claiming Marian herself.

With her options dwindling and time running short, Marian is driven to a desperate decision to don Robin’s green cloak and act as a protector when he no longer can. What began as one impulsive act quickly gains a life of its own as news of Robin’s return spreads and brings hope to people with in desperate need of it.

Marian never meant to hide behind a hood, she never meant to become Robin. With Guy getting closer to her secret, with the sheriff enraged, Marian knows she has to stop. But with so many people counting on her–on Robin Hood–she isn’t sure how she can in Sherwood (2019) by Meagan Spooner.

Find it on Bookshop.

Spooner continues her series of standalone retellings of classic tales with Sherwood. All characters are assumed white.

Sherwood reinterprets familiar source material with new twists and imbues the story with strong feminist themes. Marian has always been aware of her vulnerabilities and limitations as a woman in medieval society where the paths available to her include marriage or life in a convent and much in between. These restraints gain new urgency when Marian’s planned future is stripped away with Robin’s unexpected death–leaving her to grieve her lost future as much as her childhood best friend.

This impressive take on Robin Hood features familiar characters and plot points retold with clever changes that make Sherwood into something new. Marian’s precarious role as a noblewoman is portrayed well as societal pressures call for her to stop mourning Robin and choose a new suitor. At the same time, as she works with Sherwood’s most notable outlaws, Marian’s privilege is checked by her new (and sometimes reluctant) allies who keep her grounded in the realities of living in poverty or on the run from the law.

Without revealing too much about the plot, I will say Spooner’s treatment of Guy of Gisborne is one of my favorite character reinterpretations of all time. This story reimagines Guy as a more nuanced character than the usual dour enforcer and positions him to serve as a foil and counterpoint to Marian throughout.

Sherwood stays true to the source material and the spirit of the characters while also being entirely unique and adding new layers to a familiar tale. Sherwood is a richly layered and deeply feminist story filled with adventure and surprises; perfect for fans familiar with Robin Hood and new readers alike.

Possible Pairings: No Good Deed by Kara Connolly, The Forest Queen by Betsey Cornwell, Hood by Jenny Moke Elder, Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Vespertine by Margaret Rogerson, Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater, The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

The Bone Orchard: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I won’t be ashamed of remaking myself. And I won’t turn my back on myself.

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. MuellerCharm is a survivor. After the fall of Inshil, Charm is brought to Borenguard. She is confined to a life running Orchard House, a brothel and gambling den, and tending the adjacent bone trees–the last trace of her necromantic skills. Again and again she has used the trees to regrow her bone ghosts, her children really, Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.

Each ghost has her own role to play, her own part, to keep Orchard House together. Charm oversees it all, madam and mistress both, as everyone from Borenguard’s elite to the Fire Drinkers–the empire’s psychically gifted police force–frequents Orchard House and buys time with the ghosts.

Except on Tuesdays. When the house is closed for all but the Emperor who comes for Charm herself.

Until one Tuesday when everything changes. Instead of coming to the house, Charm is summoned to the palace where the Emperor lay dying with one last charge for his mistress.  The Emperor knows one of his cruel sons is responsible for his murder. If Charm can determine which one, and thereby also choose which son is best fit to rule, Charm will finally be free.

But serving the emperor with this one last task will put everything–and each of the ghosts–Charm has built at risk. With her own fate and the fate of her bone ghosts uncertain, Charm will have to decide if she can serve the Emperor’s last wishes while also finally serving her own interests in The Bone Orchard (2022) by Sara A. Mueller

Find it on Bookshop.

Please be aware of the content warnings for this book which includes instances of domestic abuse, rape, incest, torture, pedophilia, and other acts of violence.

Mueller’s standalone fantasy is a nuanced and richly plotted story set in a world populated by people with varied skin tones and sexual orientations including one central character who is cued as nonbinary/genderqueer. The bone ghosts are described as “colorless” and lacking in pigmentation. Shifting viewpoints move between Charm and several of the bone ghosts as the story slowly spins out and gains momentum.

The setting of Orchard House acts as a key character itself giving space to unpack the unequal power dynamics at play between many of the characters because of gender and glass–and between Charm and each of the bone ghosts who carry their own burdens and traumas. The house also highlights the ways in which history is written (or rewritten) by the victors as more of its provenance is revealed.

Be warned, this story is often gruesome and unsavory as Mueller throws open the closed doors of the brothel and also explores exactly why each of the Emperor’s sons are so deeply damaged and awful. Nonetheless, The Bone Orchard is a satisfying mystery and meditative political fantasy that begs to be savored. As the many layers of both Charm and Borenguard’s pasts are peeled back the novel builds to a complex denouement where Charm–and others–transcend the restrictions placed upon them as they learn to embrace and respect what they have done in order to survive.

Through shifting lenses and an intricate plot including mystery, political machinations, and more The Bone Orchard explores what it means to inhabit the world alternately as a captive, a potential victim, and as a survivor; grim but ultimately empowering.

Possible Pairings: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

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

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.”

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine ArdenAt the edge of the wilderness in northern Rus’, winter might as well last forever. Huddled near the stove, stealing warmth from the embers of the fire, Vasya and her siblings listen to their nurse Dunya’s tales. The old woman weaves stories of dutiful domovoi, vengeful nymphs, and thrilling tales of Morozko–the blue-eyed demon who brings snow in his wake and claims souls who cross his path. Those who are wise do well to honor and care for the house spirits who guard their territory from Morozko and other, darker, creatures.

But things are changing throughout Rus’. Only one god is worshipped in Moscow, not a god who has room or time for house spirits and the old ways.

When Vasya’s widowed father remarries, her devout step-mother tries to bring the new ways to their home in the wild forest. Others are quick to bend to the beautiful, sophisticated mistress of the household. But Vasya sees things that others do not. She watches the spirits wasting away to mist without their regular offerings. She sees something dangerous lurking in the shadows as old rituals are neglected.

Trapped between threats of a forced marriage or confinement in a convent, Vasya is more certain than ever that her place is in the forest protecting her home and her loved ones. But as misfortune circles her family and her home, Vasya will have to challenge everything she has ever known and forge a new path for herself if she wants to face a threat straight from her childhood nightmares in The Bear and the Nightingale (2017) by Katherine Arden.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Bear and the Nightingale is Arden’s debut novel and the start of her Winternight trilogy which continues with The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch. This historical fantasy is set in the 14th century in the territory that was eventually united as Russia. All characters are presumed white. Arden includes a historical note at the end of the book detailing her inspiration, real historical events, and her own divergences from history within the novel.

The Bear and the Nightingale brings together historical events with fairytale creatures to create a richly layered story. Covering a wide span of time and adhering to traditional Russian name conventions, the beginning can feel dense as there are many characters and names to track. But, like any good story, Arden soon draws readers in as new viewpoints are explored and new elements of the plot are teased out as the story also touches on moments of horror and Vasya’s character arc as she comes of age and dares to forge her own path.

In a world where the safe paths for a woman are marriage or life in a convent, Vasya chafes as she grows older and her freedom dwindles. Vasya’s story is intensely feminist as she struggles throughout the novel to fit in the strict confines placed upon her as a woman in society–something which becomes a central theme of the trilogy–while also clinging to her agency even when it means she is literally targeted as a witch.

A slow build and deliberate pacing add tension to the story as the plot builds toward a final confrontation between Vasya and those who oppose the old ways. The Bear and the Nightingale is a story of opposites that explores the liminal spaces between blind faith and genuine belief, between feigned duty and true loyalty; a tale about familial ties and devotion to both the people and places that feel like home.

Possible Pairings: The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza Azad, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingslover, The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Lawless Spaces: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

It is
too much and
I get a zap
of when we were in quarantine
and I missed both the life I had been living
and the future one that felt impossible
and the ones I’d never lived but should have. I had so
much time
for
missing

Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann HayduThe Dovewick women have always had complicated relationships with their pasts. Maybe that’s why the tradition of the notebooks started. No one knows anymore. It’s expected, though.

As Mimi struggles to find a way to connect with her mother–always withdrawn, always a little cold–she wonders if being a Dovewick daughter is another name for being a disappointment. No wonder she prefers to be @MimiDove. She can curate who she is online. She can show people the best pieces. The ones that don’t make anyone ask her why she’s so short, why she wore that top; online Mimi can share the pieces that won’t ever show how she turned sixteen alone, how her mother’s boyfriend barely tolerates her presence.

Mimi has always known about the notebooks kept by every woman in her family. She’s seen them all lined up on the mantle. All the girls in all the pictures that bleed together as background noise.

Writing in her own notebook is daunting. But it’s also a place where, finally, Mimi can present an unvarnished version of herself. One that is allowed to be scared and hurt, one that is allowed to miss all of the things she never really had.

Mimi doesn’t like to think about the past. She doesn’t like to think about what happened before or what her mother said after. She tries to ignore the sexual assault case that’s all over the news, tries to make it more background noise. Until her mother comes forward as an accuser.

Suddenly, Mimi feels like she doesn’t recognize her mother or her own life. As she digs through the old notebooks she finds her mother’s story, her grandmother’s, her great-grandmother’s. So many Dovewick women. All navigating the same confusing space between girl and woman, absorbing the same hurts as daughters, hoping they’ll learn how to be better mothers.

Looking to the past gives Mimi strength to understand a lot of truths about her own life and her relationship with her mother. But before she can look ahead, she’ll have to decide who she wants to be and how she wants to navigate this confusing world in Lawless Spaces (2022) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lawless Spaces is a standalone novel in verse. The primary story follows Mimi in 2022. Readers also encounter Mimi’s ancestors as Mimi unearths stories from Betty (1954) and Tiffany (1999), among others. Mimi and her family are white. Despite tackling so many voices and time periods, each girl’s voice remains as distinct as her story–even as common themes like loneliness begin to come through.

Through Mimi and her family, Haydu’s sophisticated verse addresses the damaging legacy of the male gaze while looking through a smaller lens focused on the fractured relationship between a daughter and her mother. It’s a story about what happens when you realize you have to save yourself because the grownups who were supposed to keep you safe can’t even protect themselves.

Lawless Spaces is a timely, forward-facing story that tackles the isolation and loss of the pandemic while also telling an entirely different story about what it means to carry generational trauma. Powerful, ultimately healing, and very highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Vinyl Moon by Mahogany L. Browne, One Great Lie by Deb Caletti, Unbecoming by Jenny Downham, You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories by Janet Gurtler, An Emotion of Great Delight by Tahereh Mafi, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, 13 Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma, Seton Girls by Charlene Thomas, In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

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

You can also check out my interview with Corey about this book.

Gods of Jade and Shadow: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Words are seeds, Casiopea. With words you embroider narratives, and the narratives breed myths, and there’s power in the myth. Yes, the things you name have power.”

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno GarciaCasiopea Tun’s quiet life in a small Mexican town is very far from the Jazz Age’s action and splendor. Her father taught her to love the stars. Sometimes, even without him, the stars are enough of a distraction from the drudgery of life in her grandfather’s house where she is more likely to be found cleaning than listening to jazz. Like her mother, she is used to suffering the petty digs of her family in silence. Their complaints that she is too dark, that she is a girl, can’t touch her. Not when she dreams of more.

Even her cousin Martín’s abuses are bearable because Casiopea refuses to believe this house will be her life forever. It can’t be in a world where there are stars and movies and automobiles.

Everything changes, as it sometimes does, in the blink of an eye when Casiopea opens a strange wooden box in her grandfather’s room. Instead of treasures or secrets, she finds bones and accidentally releases the spirit of Hun-Kamé, Lord of Xibalba, the Mayan god of death.

His kingdom has been stolen by his traitorous brother who left Hun-Kamé trapped in the box for years. Missing his one ear, one eye, one index finger, and the jade necklace that represents his power, Hun-Kamé cannot face his brother alone. With Casiopea’s help he can make himself whole and recover what was stolen from him. Tying herself to Hun-Kamé could be fatal for Casiopea if they fail. But success could bring her everything she has ever dreamed of.

Helping a god will bring Casiopea from the jungles of Yucatán to glittering Mexico City and beyond. Traveling with Hun-Kamé will also bring Casiopea closer to her truest self and to feelings she dare not name because the things you name always grow in power in Gods of Jade and Shadow (2019) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is a quiet, character driven story with a close focus on Casiopea through the lens of an omniscient third person narrator. This degree of separation lends a timeless, inevitable quality to the book as it moves toward the final confrontation between Hun-Kamé and his brother.

Fantastical world building and subtle characterization breathe new life into the Mayan mythology that scaffolds this story of a girl striving for more and, finally, having a chance to grasp it. Subtle conversations and nonverbal interactions between Casiopea and Hun-Kamé underscore the changing relationship (and chemistry) between these singular characters.

Gods of Jade and Shadow is, in my humble opinion, a perfect book. Come for the adventure and engrossing plot, stay for the well-realized characters and bittersweet ending that will linger long after the story is finished.

Possible Pairings: Lovely War by Julie Berry, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Bravely by Maggie Stiefvater, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

Across the Green Grass Fields: A Review

Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuireRegan was seven years old when she learned that the most dangerous thing a girl can be is different. It’s the reason her former best friend, Heather, is a social pariah on the playground. It’s the reason Regan knows to stay on her other best friend Laurel’s good side even if it means keeping herself in a very specific box.

As Regan gets older it becomes more and more obvious that she won’t fit inside that box for much longer. Her love of horses is only barely acceptable to other girls as their interests start to shift to boys. While all of the other girls seem to be maturing, Regan wants everything to stay the same. When her parents tell Regan that she is intersex a lot of things start to make sense. Her friendship with Laurel is not one of those things as she rejects Regan in the cruelest way possible.

Distraught and desperate to get away, Regan runs to the woods and keeps running until she passes through a magical door into the Hooflands. In a world populated by centaurs and other horse-like creatures, every human is unique and no one thinks Regan is too different. Instead, for the first time, Regan feels at home.

But a human in the Hooflands only means one thing. The land needs a hero. Whether Regan is ready to be one or not in Across the Green Grass Fields (2021) by Seanan McGuire.

Find it on Bookshop.

Across the Green Grass Fields is the sixth installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway.

While Regan’s story is similar in tone and style to the other novellas in this series, her story is largely divorced from the rest of the series and functions entirely as a standalone. Regan and the Hooflands are odes to Horse Girls everywhere. Although Regan’s first encounters in the Hooflands are with the centaurs who accept her as part of their herd and the unicorns they tend, the Hooflands have many more horse-adjacent creatures including kelpies, perytons, and kirins like the current Hooflands queen Kagami.

Despite her awe and immediate love for the Hooflands, Regan knows she isn’t truly safe or home. Her centaur friends are quick to warn her that humans only come to the Hooflands when there is a great need bringing about changes that, while mythic in nature, are poorly documented beyond the fact that most humans are never seen again after embaring on their life-changing quest.

Regan’s story walks a fine line between menace and enchantment as readers come to love the Hooflands and her friends as much as Regan does. Even while waiting for the foreshadowed dangers to arrive.  Across the Green Grass Fields is a razor sharp commentary on the dangers of embracing the status quo and a perfect entry point for this long running series which promises more adventures to come.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Scwhab, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

They Wish They Were Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Why did the boys have the power? Why did they make the rules while we dealt with the consequences?”

Everything on Gold Coast, Long Island has a shine; a glimmer from expensive, well-made things and the people who can acquire those things so effortlessly.

Watching her parent’s struggle to keep up with their affluent neighbors and to pay her brother’s hefty tuition at Gold Coast Prep, Jill Newman has always known she doesn’t belong among the Gold Coast elite. The pressure she feels to maintain her scholarship and make good on all of her parents’ hard work is constant.

Being a Player is supposed to make it all easier. After a hellish year of hazing from the older members of the Gold Coast Prep secret society, Jill is in. With the Players’ impressive alumni network and not-so-secret app Jill has access to the answers to every test she might encounter at school and contacts to open any doors she wants for college and beyond. Once you get a seat with the Players, you’ll do anything to keep it.

Jill’s best friend Shaila Arnold never made it that far. Three years ago she was killed by her boyfriend, Graham, during the final night of initiation–the night Jill can barely think about. Graham confessed. The case has been closed for years. It’s over and Jill and her other friends have moved on.

Until Graham’s sister tells Jill that his confession was coerced. But if Graham didn’t kill Shaila, who did? As Jill delves deeper into the events leading up to Shaila’s death she’ll unearth old secrets about the Players on her way to the truth. But when you set yourself against a group that can get everything they want, they also have everything to lose in They Wish They Were Us (2020) by Jessica Goodman.

Find it on Bookshop.

They Wish They Were Us is Goodman’s debut novel. A TV adaptation called ‘The Players Table” is in development at HBO Max.

Jill is Jewish and most characters are presumed white aside from Jill’s other best friend Nikki whose family are Hong Kong emigres. Jill’s first person narration is tense as she reluctantly digs into Shaila’s murder while also reluctantly unpacking unpleasant memories from her own initiation into the players.

This plot-drive story tackles a lot while Jill deals with the pressures of her elite school and her complicated feelings about the Players and their hazing. Privilege, wealth, and self-presentation are also big topics as Jill begins to realize she isn’t the only one struggling to keep up appearances at Gold Coast Prep. Toxic masculinity and feminism also play big roles in the story although Goodman’s treatment of both can feel heavy-handed in its service to moving the story along.

Obvious red herrings, salacious twists, and the backdrop of luxe Gold Coast locales make They Wish They Were Us a frothy page turner.

Possible Pairings: Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Iyimide, Admission by Julie Buxbaum, Killing Time by Brenna Ehrlich, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, These Vengeful Hearts by Katherine Laurin, One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao