Freya: A Review

In her heyday, Sara Vanadi was Freya, the Norse goddess of love, beauty, war, and death. But it turns out gods get their power from belief and in the twenty-first century there aren’t a lot of true believers left.

Sara Vanadi has spent the last twenty-seven fairly comfortable years living in a mental hospital. Sure the clothing options are limited, and maybe it’s not the most happening place. But it turns out it’s a great option for a former goddess who needs to keep a low profile.

Sara’s twilight years are ruined when a representative from the shady Finemdi corporation tracks her down to make an offer: join the corporation and receive new believers or die. Sara chooses option three and goes on the run with her unwitting accomplice (and first worshiper in decades) Nathan in Freya (2017) by Matthew Laurence.

Freya is Laurence’s debut novel and the first book in a series.

This book is narrated by Sara/Freya who thanks to her unique position as a god offers an interesting perspective on the modern world. She is also unapolgetically curvy and comfortable negotiating traditional feminine roles (she loves fashion and food) while also taking on the role of hero as she fights bad guys. These flipped gender roles are expanded further with Nathan who is comfortable taking on domestic roles and acting as sidekick while he and Freya try to take on the megalithic Finemdi corporation.

Laurence begins this novel with a clever premise that is expanded thoughtfully as the book progresses. Freya explains her own origins and the internal logic of gods from her pantheon and beyond surviving into modern times (this includes fellow Norse gods, Hawaiian goddesses, some figures from Egyptian and Hindu mythology, and Jesus among others).

Despite the presence of larger-than-life gods and the high action beginning, Freya starts slow with Sara and Nathan going on the run and then literally standing still as Sara explains her position as Freya (something she chooses to withhold from both readers and Nathan for the first chapters of the novel despite the title eliminating any chances of a big reveal) and gathering the pieces they will need to go into hiding with new identities. Freya uses her some of her remaining powers as a god to gather the resources she and Nathan will need but even for a goddess things come together a bit too easily.

Freya is a novel that is fun and filled with action. Although the execution is interesting, the story is poorly paced with little time spent on characterization for anyone except the titular narrator. This novel will have the most appeal for readers (especially reluctant ones) who enjoy mythology and action. An obvious stepping stone for fans of Rick Riordan’s novels looking for something new.

Possible Pairings: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake, Temping Fate by Esther Friesner, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Wildefire by Karsten Knight, Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

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

Who Killed Christopher Goodman?: A Review

“The finger that tips the first domino is guilty, not the dominos themselves.”

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? by Allan WolfChristopher Goodman wears ridiculous bell bottoms. He plays trombone in the school band. He introduces himself to every person he meets and shakes their hands. No doubt, Christ is a little eccentric, but he’s a genuinely nice guy. Which is why everyone in Goldsburg, Virginia is shocked when Chris is murdered during 1979’s Deadwood Days, a western street festival that draws tourists to the town every summer.

Classmates Doc Chestnut and Squib Kaplan find Chris’ body during a cross country run. The entire school, the entire community, is stunned by the murder.

Doc and Squib along with Hunger McCoy, Hazel Turner, and Mildred Penny carry the burden of knowing they were together on the night of the murder and may have inadvertently played a part in the tragedy. All five of them are haunted by the events of that night and the ways things could have turned out differently as they try to make sense of their grief and guilt in Who Killed Christopher Goodman? (2017) by Allan Wolf.

This mystery is inspired by an actual murder that occurred when Wolf was a teen himself as explained in an author’s note. Although Wolf was not as connected to that murder as his characters in Who Killed Christopher Goodman? he never forgot about the murder and always wondered about that lost chance at friendship.

Who Killed Christopher Goodman? features six narrators including Chris’ killer. While readers might guess who the killer is early on, Wolf does an excellent job of maintaining just enough tension and suspense over the course of the novel to still keep readers wondering.

Scenes with group dialogue are written in a screenplay style which ties well with the way the cast of voices are listed  in the beginning with quick identifiers: David Oscar “Doc” Chestnut, the Sleepwalker; Leonard Pelf, the Runaway; Scott “Squib” Kaplan, the Genius; Hunger McCoy, the Good Ol’ Boy; Hazel Turner, the Farm Girl; and Mildred Penny, the Stamp Collector. Wolf helps to differentiate between the large cast of narrators with distinct dialects including long-winded sentences for Squib who has Tourette’s and verse passages for Leonard.

Wolf uses this unique format to excellent effect to create a gripping mystery as well as a thoughtful character study where each of the six main characters grapple with their actions on the night of the murder and their blame, if any, in Christopher Goodman’s death. Who Killed Christopher Goodman? is a fast-paced novel that will appeal to reluctant readers as well as fans of mystery and suspense. (In fact, I wouldn’t surprised to see this get an Edgar nomination.)

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Diviners by Libba Bray, The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrouch, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Sorcery and Cecelia by Caroline Stevemer and Patricia C. Wrede, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

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

The Diabolic: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Being a good Diabolic meant being a hideous person.”

The Diabolic by S. J. KincaidDiabolics have only one purpose: protect the person they have been bonded to at all costs.

Nemesis barely remembers the time before she was bonded to Sidonia. Anything that came before is irrelevant. Now Nemesis will do whatever is necessary to ensure that Sidonia survives and flourishes. As long as Sidonia is safe and secure everything else, including Nemesis’s own well-being, becomes irrelevant.

When news of her senator father’s heresy reaches the seat of the Empire, Sidonia is summoned to the Imperial Court as a hostage. There is no way for Nemesis to strike against the Emperor. No way for her to shelter Sidonia when she is summoned. This time the only way Nemesis can protect Sidonia is to become her.

At the Imperial Court, Nemesis has to hide her superior strength, cunning intellect, and her ruthless lack of humanity. Greedy senators, calculating heirs, and the Emperor’s mad nephew Tyrus are all keen to use Nemesis for their own ends. But she has little interest in the politics at Court or the rebellion that is beginning to foment.

Nemesis knows that she is not human. She knows the matters of the Imperial Court are not her concern. But she also soon realizes that saving Sidonia may involve saving not just herself but the entire Empire in The Diabolic (2016) by S. J. Kincaid.

The Diabolic was written as a standalone sci-fi novel. After its release Kincaid signed a book deal for two additional novels making The Diabolic the start of a trilogy.

Kincaid has built a unique world layered with complex alliances and difficult questions about what it means to be human which play out against a galactic power struggle. Nemesis’s performative identity as Sidonia contrasts well against the Emperor’s son, Tyrus, a Hamlet-like figure who may or may not be putting on an act of his own in a bid for the throne. Nemesis’s character growth as she learns to choose herself beyond any loyalty she feels to Sidonia or others is fascinating and thoughtfully done.

The Diabolic is a sprawling space opera that brings Nemesis and other characters across the galaxy in a story filled with double crosses, twists, and intrigue so thick you could cut it with a knife. Nemesis narrates the novel with a tone that is as pragmatic as it is chilling–unsurprising for a character who has been told constantly throughout her life that she will never be human. Whether Nemesis will prove her detractors correct or exceed her supposed Diabolic limitations remains to be seen.

The combination of ambiguous morality, lavish settings, and a cast of provocative characters make The Diabolic an utterly satisfying sci-fi adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Proxy by Alex London, Legend by Marie Lu, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Birthmarked by Caragh M.O’Brien, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

Continue reading

Dial Em for Murder: A Review

Dial Em for Murder by Marni BatesSixteen-year-old Emmy Danvers dreams of becoming a published author. Her latest attempt at a romance novel is proving troublesome when an old man latches onto her at Starbucks. The man seems to know Emmy and refuses to leave her alone. He also slips a tablet device into her pocket as he tackles her.

Then he dies. Still sprawled on top of Emmy.

Turns out the whole thing is more than an extremely unlucky moment in an otherwise ordinary day. The tablet, locked with a password Emmy can’t figure out, contains dangerous secrets. Information someone might even kill to get.

Emmy will have to find the father she’s never met, deal with a bad boy who may or may not be an ally, negotiate complicated feelings for her long-time best friend, and avoid the killers who are still hunting her down. At least Emmy will have lots of material for her next novel in Dial Em for Murder (2016) by Marni Bates.

While Emmy comes across as a bit brassier than her sixteen years would suggest, she is a fun heroine who is easily swept along in the myriad conspiracies and spy games that seem to surround her as she tries to make sense of recent events and unlock the mysterious tablet.

Dial Em for Murder is a fast-paced mystery filled with action and adventure. Although it is currently a standalone, the ending (and its lack of closure on several fronts) suggests that readers can expect further installments. Sure to appeal to fans of Ally Carter and other spy-centric adventures.

Possible Pairings: All Fall Down by Ally Carter, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, Pretending to Be Erica by  Michelle Painchaud, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

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

The Sky is Everywhere: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can tell your story any way you damn well please. It’s your solo.”

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy NelsonLennie Walker plays second clarinet, reads avidly, and always acted as a sounding board and companion for her dynamic older sister, Bailey. Lennie had always known that Bailey was the star of their family. She never minded.

When Bailey dies suddenly, Lennie feels like the world has tilted off its axis. Her grandmother and Uncle Big are both hurting too. But none of them seem to know how to talk to each other anymore let alone articulate the full scope of their grief.

Toby, Bailey’s boyfriend, offers Lennie an unlikely source of comfort. Toby is just as wrecked as her and might be the only person who can fully understand the enormity of Bailey’s absence. Lennie knows her sister wouldn’t approve of the physical turn their relationship has taken. But Lennie also doesn’t know how to stop.

Joe, a new boy in town, seems determined to befriend Lennie and lift her out of her sorrow, Lennie finds herself swept along with his exuberant enthusiasm for life. Joe makes Lennie happy and reminds her of the girl she used to be before Bailey died–and maybe even shows her an improved version she can be now. After. But Lennie doesn’t know how she can ever let Joe make her feel so happy and so alive when Bailey is gone.

Lennie knows that Toby and Joe can’t exist in the same world, that they can’t both be part of her life forever. But she also doesn’t know how to choose in The Sky is Everywhere (2010) by Jandy Nelson.

The Sky is Everywhere is frenetic, serendipitous, and sometimes painful–things readers will recognize in Nelson’s subsequent Printz/Stonewall Award winning I’ll Give You the Sun.

This story has the same sense of wonder, the same vibrancy found in I’ll Give You the Sun. Even Lennie’s narrative voice is familiar compared to that of Noah and Jude. Unfortunately, The Sky is Everywhere lacks the tight plotting and pacing. While utterly sympathetic, Lennie’s story often feels meandering and contrived.

This novel is peppered with memorable characters, especially in Lennie’s grandmother and local Lothario Uncle Big. Moments of share grief are contrasted sharply against these quirky and strong personalities.

Lennie’s hurt and grief are palpable as she tries to reconcile the fact that she is still alive and growing up with the reality that Bailey never will. Nelson expertly communicates the suffocating nature of that sadness in Lennie’s first person narration. Each chapter also begins with a poem Lennie has written and left somewhere around town.

Although Lennie spends the novel torn between two boys, The Sky is Everywhere is largely introspective and firmly focused on Lennie. In some ways both Toby and Joe often feel under-developed by comparison as they help Lennie’s development. Romantic elements aside, this book is very much about a character learning to find her voice and articulate her wants and feelings.

The Sky is Everywhere remains a solid debut and a thoughtful meditation on grief, loss, and moving on. Nelson includes a compelling romance with a bit of a love triangle and, of course, an empowering character who only grows stronger and more confident as the novel progresses. Recommended for fans of Nelson’s and readers looking for a story in this vein. (Just don’t expect it to measure up if you read I’ll Give You the Sun first.)

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, This Raging Light by Estelle Laure, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go by Kristin Bartley Lenz, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

Today I finished The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson. I picked this up on a whim at Barnes & Noble because I like the cover on this edition and enjoyed Nelson's sophomore novel I'll Give You the Sun. This is a strange, quirky debut about Lennie who has been leveled by her sister's completely unexpected death. After spending years casting herself as an extra in her sister's center-stage life, Lennie isn't sure who she is without Bailey and she isn't sure how to find out. Although her Gram and Uncle Big both try to reach out, Lennie feels lost and alone in her misery. During her grief she finds herself drawn to Bailey's boyfriend, Toby, and to Joe Fontaine–the new boy at school who seems to have as much joy as Lennie has sorrow. This is a meditative and smart romance as well as a provocative exploration of grief and abandonment. #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #owlcrateoctrep

A post shared by Emma (@missprint_) on

Goldenhand: A Review

*This is the fifth book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series. It contains major spoilers for the rest of the series. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel*

Goldenhand by Garth NixSix months ago, Lirael was instrumental in the binding of Orannis where she lost her hand and was separated her from her truest friend, the Disreputable Dog. Now Lirael has a new hand forged out of metal and Charter Magic. She is no longer a Second Assistant Librarian in the Clayr but the Abhorsen-in-Waiting using her bells to bind and banish both Free Magic creatures and the dead.

When Lirael’s duties as Abhorsen-in-Waiting bring her across the wall to Ancelstierre, she saves Nicholas Sayre from a dangerous Hrule only to realize his injuries are slow to heal because of the Free Magic that riddles his body despite the Charter mark meant to contain it.

As Lirael seeks help for Nick at the Clayr’s Glacier, trouble brews near the northern borders of the Old Kingdom. A girl named Ferin leaves her nomadic clan to travel across dangerous terrain evading pursuers and Free Magic creatures as she makes her way toward the Clayr’s Glacier with a message for Lirael about a threat from the Witch with No Face.

Lirael, Ferin, and others will have to work together to unravel the truth of who the Witch with No Face is and what she is planning. With magic keeping the Witch alive both in Life and Death, it will take everything Lirael and her friends have to stop this new threat in Goldenhand (2016) by Garth Nix.

Goldenhand is the fifth book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, and Clariel. This book is set six months after the events of Abhorsen and picks up immediately after the conclusion of Nix’s novella “Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case” found in his short story collection Across the Wall.

Nix blows the world of the Old Kingdom wide open in this installment as he brings his characters and readers North of the Old Kingdom where even the Great Charter cannot reach.

Written in close third person, Goldenhand alternates chapters following Ferin’s journey to deliver her message and Lirael’s travels to the Glacier with Nick and then beyond the borders of the Old Kingdom.

Ferin is a fine addition to this series with a brusque manner and directness that is refreshing and contrasts particularly well with Lirael’s often tentative interactions as she makes sense of her new status and notoreity.

It’s fantastic to see Lirael’s growth as she processes and reacts to the fact that she is not the person she once was (a Sightless Second Assistant Librarian, that is) and learns to embrace her new position and everything that comes with it. Lirael’s relationship with Nick is guileless and utterly charming as these two characters circle each other and ultimately make each other better as they grow closer.

Goldenhand is an interesting expansion of the world of the Old Kingdom and the conclusion this series needed and deserved when the original trilogy ended. A completely satisfying end to a favorite series. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White