Wonder Women: A Non-Fiction Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs, illustrated by Sophia Foster-Dimino (2016)

“So join me on a journey into the history of bad-as-heck babes. Just keep in mind that these are only some of the amazing women in the history of our world. Many more are out there, and many more are to come. In fact, you know what?

“You’re next.”

Wonder Women by Sam MaggsIn Wonder Women Sam Maggs offers quick biographies of twenty-five women in history who achieved great things and made some of humanity’s most significant discoveries. Maggs does a fantastic job with this extremely readable examination of women you may or may not know who have left their mark on history.

The book starts with an introduction (quoted above) from Maggs before moving into the body of the text which is broken into five chapters titled Women of Science, Women of Medicine, Women of Espionage, Women of Innovation, and Women of Adventure. Each chapter showcases five different women organized chronologically with some women dating as far back as 1240 up to modern times.

Each chapter ends with a paragraph-length summaries of some other notable women in each category. Every section starts with an illustration of the woman featured and a quote. Maggs ends each chapter with an interview with a modern woman working in a related field (for the Women of Science chapter she interviews Dr. Lynn Conway, a computer scientist, electrical engineer, and science educator).

Maggs has carefully curated the group of women featured to create an inclusive group of women of all ages from around the world and a variety of backgrounds. Each biography segment offers just enough information to showcase each woman and pique readers’ interest to research further with longer biographies.

Wonder Women includes some familiar suspects like Ada Lovelace, a British mathematician and first computer programmer, and Bessie Coleman, an African American Aviatrix who is roughly contemporary with Amelia Earhart. Maggs also showcases women who will not be as well-known to readers (even feminists who read a lot of biographies and non-fiction!) like Brita Tott (Danish and Swedish spy and forger), Noor Inayat Khan (Indian American Author and Allied spy), or Ynes Mexia (Mexican American botanist and explorer). Backmatter includes a bibliography and index.

Maggs’ candid tone and chatty narrative style makes it easy to breeze through this book in one sitting while clear section breaks and varied material also make it great to read through and savor as a slower pace. Wonder Women is sure to appeal to reluctant readers, non-fiction enthusiasts, and anyone who enjoys a good biography. Highly recommended!

Possible Pairings: Spy on History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring by Enigma Albert and Tony Cliff; Fly High!: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden, Mary Kay Kroeger, Teresa Flavin; Radioactive!: How Irène Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World by Winifred Conkling;  Girl Code: Gaming, Going Viral, and Getting It Done by Andrea Gonzales, Sophie Houser; Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman; I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy; The Borden Murders: Lizzie Borden and the Murder of the Century by Sarah Miller; Ten Days a Madwoman: The Daring Life and Turbulent Times of the Original “Girl” Reporter, Nellie Bly by Deborah Noyes; Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World by Ann Shen; Boss Babes: A Coloring and Activity Book for Grownups by Michelle Volansky

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

The Last Time We Were Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We’re all just trying to be the best version of us, the only way we know how.”

The Last Time We Were Us by Leah KonenLiz used to go by Lizzie and her life used to be simple. But the summer before her senior year is anything but as she sifts through the expectations of her friends and family to figure what she might really want. Thanks to her best friend MacKenzie’s concentrated efforts, she and Liz are on the verge of popularity. Liz is getting invited to the best parties. Everyone is certain that if Liz plays her cards right she’ll have Innis Taylor–the hottest and most popular guy in Bonneville–as her boyfriend.

When her childhood best friend, Jason, comes home unexpectedly from juvie the obvious thing to do is ignore him. Liz doesn’t owe Jason anything. She isn’t even sure she can give him the friendship that he’s asking for. Liz never wanted to believe that Jason was capable of attacking someone but the rest of the town is convinced that he is guilty and still dangerous.

Liz has every reason to avoid Jason and everything to lose if anyone catches them together. But the more Liz remembers about who she and Jason used to be together, the more she finds herself drawn to him and the secrets he keeps alluding to that surround his arrest. Liz will have to learn how to trust Jason again as she remembers his role in her past and decides if he deserves a place in her future in The Last Time We Were Us (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Last Time We Were Us is Konen’s second novel.

This book explores a lot of the themes covered in Matthew Quick’s Every Exquisite Thing. However, the idea of finding yourself and the value to be had in teenage rebellion is handled more effectively here and without the obvious disdain Quick displays for his heroine throughout.

The Last Time We Were Us is a subtle, sexy story about figuring out who you want to be when everyone already seems to know you. Liz remains extremely aware of who she is and of her own values–even if that sometimes means deeply disappointing those closest to her. While this story has action and twists, it remains largely introspective with Liz working through some of her largest conflicts on her own as she tries to choose the kind of person she wants to be moving forward.

This book is one of those formative stories where the writing is so smart and so on point that it often feels like have your own thoughts and ideas spoken back to you. Konen’s evocative descriptions of Bonneville and a varied (though probably all white) cast help to further develop the story. The Last Time We Were Us is a thoughtful exploration of what place nostalgia and memory have in life as you grow older and how, even when you try not to, the past can irretrievably shape your future.

The Last Time We Were Us is a story with a hint of mystery, romance, and a healthy dose of feminism. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrough, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell

You can also check out my interview with Leah Konen about the book.

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 Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, 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

Princeless Book One: Save Yourself: A Graphic Novel Review

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. GoodwinAdrienne Ashe doesn’t want to be a princess. It’s boring and, to be brutally honest, she doesn’t understand why princesses always need to wait for a prince to do the rescuing anyway.

That doesn’t stop Adrienne’s parents from locking her in a tower on her sixteenth birthday. It also doesn’t stop Adrienne from bitterly complaining out the injustice and pointing out how she doesn’t even look like a stupid traditional princess with her brown skin and dark, curly hair (not to mention her prowess with a sword!).

Instead of pining for some handsome prince, Adrienne spends her time in the tower befriending the dragon guarding the tower. When Adrienne finds a sword hidden in the tower, she decides she has waited to be rescued long enough.

With a sword in her hand and a dragon by her side, Adrienne sets out to escape the tower and rescue her other sisters in Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself (2012) by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin.

Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself collects the first 4 issues of Princeless. It is the first of four bindups. There is also a spinoff series.

Whitley delivers a frank and self-aware story that is refreshingly and unapologetically feminist. Adrienne is a no-nonsense heroine who isn’t afraid to do what she thinks is right and point out hypocrisy and double standards when she sees them. This plays out to especially good effect when she meets up with a girl who makes armor for warriors and discovers the vast inequity between standard armor for men and women.

Goodwin’s illustrations bring this story to life with wry humor and charming artwork that beautifully compliments the story. The facial expressions for characters throughout are especially priceless.

Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself is a great set up for this series. Whitley and Goodwin introduce many of the key players and the basic premise of the series while also delivering a lot of fun arcs along the way. This series is a delightful addition to the typical princess and anti-princess fare. Highly recommended for readers of comics, fans of fairy tales and retellings, as well as anyone looking for a new kickass heroine to cheer on.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Tell the Wind and Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees BrennanLucie Manette was born in the Dark City, where Dark magicians or those with families connected to Dark magic are kept close to the Light but not too close. She grew up in the Dark until her father was arrested. But that was two years ago. She’s out now.

Using cunning and strategy, Lucie saved her father when he was condemned. She brought them both into the luxury and relative safety of the Light.

Now, Lucie tries to put her time in the Dark behind her. She can offer no help to the people she loved and left behind when the city is ruled by the power and might of the magicians and politicians on the Light Council. It’s easier to keep a low profile and protect her father and spend time with her boyfriend, Ethan.

Lucie’s precarious world comes crashing down when a weekend trip goes horribly wrong and Ethan is accused of treason. Carwyn, a mysterious boy from Ethan’s past, can deflect suspicion but he, too, is hiding a secret that could ruin Ethan and his family.

Unrest is growing in both the Light and the Dark. When revolution comes, Lucie will have to decide which secrets to keep and which truths to tell. As she struggles to protect herself and those she cares about, Lucie will stop at nothing to save both Ethan and Carwyn. With luck and determination she can save one of them, but only one in Tell the Wind and Fire (2016) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Tell the Wind and Fire is a stand alone novel inspired by (and loosely retelling) A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Rees Brennan sticks to the structure of the original story while also adding her own spin to mark this book as the well-developed urban fantasy that fans of the author have come to expect. The contrast between Light and Dark magic as well as a richly detailed version of New York City come to life with vivid descriptions and carefully executed world building.

This novel brings a decidedly feminist slant to this familiar story. Instead of focusing on any of the male characters, Tell the Wind and Fire focuses its narrator, Lucie Manette. Throughout the novel, Rees Brennan gives Lucie (and her father) significantly more agency than they ever got from Dickens.

Lucie is a shrewd and calculating heroine. She is a survivor and she admits the high cost of that survival in a world where the stakes can literally be life and death. Lucie manipulates her femininity and her perception in the public eye to do what she must to keep herself and those who matter safe as both sides of the revolution vie to use her as a symbol for their cause.

Tell the Wind and Fire is everything you want in a retelling of a beloved classic. This novel will make you miss and want to re-read Dickens’ sweeping novel while also asserting itself as a strong novel in its own right. Highly recommended.

Possibly Pairings: The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Legend by Marie Lu, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Code Name Verity by Elizbeth Wein

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

email review to childrens_publicity@hmhco.com

Froi of the Exiles: A Review

Froi of the Exiles by Melina MarchettaIt has been three years since the curse on Lumatere was lifted. Three years since the Lumaterans trapped inside the kingdom for ten long years and those exiled during the siege reclaimed their land and tried to make it whole. But memories are long and recovery is slow as the country come to terms with what was lost during the time of the unspeakable and what has changed forever.

During his years as an exile, Froi never imagined he would find a home in Lumatere much less a position in the Queen’s Guard. He could not have guessed that he would one day count Queen Isaboe and her consort, Finnikin among his dearest friends. Even with so much changed, Froi is haunted by who he was during the exile. He has sworn a bond to the queen, and to Lumatere, that he might make up for his past and never stray again.

That bond is sorely tested when Froi is sent to a neighboring kingdom on a secret mission. In Charyn’s royal court Froi finds a princess who may speak prophecy or madness and twins who can offer two halves of the story behind Charyn’s own curse–and secrets of Froi’s past–if only they can learn to speak to each other again. In a barren kingdom where brutality has become more valuable than compassion for most, Froi will have to decide if he can stay true to his bond to Lumatere while also doing what is right in Froi of the Exiles (2012) by Melina Marchetta.

Froi of the Exiles is the second book in Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finnikin of the Rock.

Froi of the Exiles is a sweeping novel that blows the world of the Chronicles of Lumatere open as Froi and readers are introduced to new countries and cultures. This novel brings the strangely barren land of Charyn to life with stark, vivid descriptions. The dangers found in much of Charyn are expertly contrasted with moments of wondrous beauty and tempered by the sharp wit of these characters.

Marchetta offers a thoughtful meditation on forgiveness and recovery in Froi of the Exiles. Every character here has been broken in some way–sometimes by looming curses and other times by the casual cruelty of other people–that damage and those scars are givens. But it never defines them. Each character, but especially Froi, strives throughout the novel to move past that hurt and to take the damaged pieces and make himself into something stronger and better.

Froi of the Exiles is a masterful and well-executed novel where every word matters and the story will completely enthrall readers. Highly recommended. Part of a must-read series for fans of high fantasy.

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 Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, 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

A Thousand Nights: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Thousand Nights by E. K. JohnstonLo-Melkhiin has married many times. He has already killed three hundred girls when he arrives at a village in the desert looking for a new wife. One girl knows he will want only the lovliest girl has his new bride. She knows he will want her sister.

To make sure her sister is safe, she ensures that she will be taken in her place. She knows that she will die soon but it will be worthwhile because her sister will live. In their village she will become a smallgod; a legend to whom her relatives and ancestors will send their prayers.

But she doesn’t die her first night in the palace. Nor the next. Instead, she uses her precious, unexpected time to make sense of the dangers and beauties she finds in the palace.

Everyone agrees that Lo-Melkhiin is a good ruler. Many claim he was a good man once. No one knows what went wrong. No one knows how to change it. His newest bride might have the power to  save Lo-Melkhiin and the kingdom. But only if she can stay alive in A Thousand Nights (2015) by E. K. Johnston.

Johnston stays true to the oral tradition of fairy tales in this retelling of “One thousand and One Nights” complete with the subtle changes and omissions that come from many, many tellings. Because of that it is fitting that most of the characters in A Thousand Nights have no names.

This story is also subverts many fairy tale conventions and gender roles by placing a girl not only as the protagonist but also as the hero and driving force of the story–a theme that is further underscored by this girl at the center of the novel having no name of her own.

A Thousand Nights is a quiet, understated book. Although it lacks the flash and fanfare of high action, it more than makes up for that with thoughtfully developed characters and provocative introspection throughout. The novel includes a strong emphasis on craft–the power that comes from making something both with intangible things like words in stories and also with more physical creations including embroidery, weaving, and sculpture.

With subversive themes and a strong feminist thread, Johnston creates a retelling that impressively transcends its source material to become something new. Lyrical writing and evocative descriptions complete the spell that is A Thousand Nights. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2015*

You can also check out my interview with the author about this book!