Beneath the Sugar Sky: A Review

“Elsewhere was a legend and a lie, until I came looking for you.”

cover art for Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuireSumi died years before she could return home to her beloved Candy Corn farmer and start a family. Long before her prophesied daughter Rini would have been born.

But Confection is a nonsense world so Rini is born anyway. The only problem is that with Sumi’s premature death the world of Confection was never saved, the Queen of Candy never beaten.

Now the world itself is fighting to erase Rini and the Queen has returned. With time running out Rini hopes that her mother’s friends can help bring Sumi home in Beneath the Sugar Sky (2018) by Seanan McGuire.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is the third book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway. This novella is a direct sequel to the first.

Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West’s familiar home for wayward children who can no longer find their way back to the other worlds that claimed them. This installment returns to familiar characters including Nancy, Kade, and Christopher.

The bulk of the story is in the close third person perspective of Cora, the newest student at the school. Cora arrived after the events of Every Heart a Doorway and spends a lot of this story trying to reconcile her new circumstances with the story she is clearly joining mid-way and, more confusing for her, the fact that she seems welcome to find her own place in it.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is a thoughtful fantasy and a quest story. This novella is once again imbued with feminist themes. Through Cora, who is overweight but stronger than most people giver her credit for thanks to years of swimming (both in our world and elsewhere), this novella also confronts the damaging stereotypes surrounding body image and beauty.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is an empowering and original story about choosing your own path as Cora and her friends help Rini literally remake the world to save Sumi and herself.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, 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, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

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Down Among the Sticks and Bones: A Review

“Every choice feeds every choice that comes after, whether we want those choices or no.”

cover art for Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuireIdentical twins Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way back home and were immediately sent off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children before they could bring disorder to their parents’ tidy life.

This is the story of what happened before they came back.

Jacqueline and Jillian were a matched set–identical. Perfect for their parents to split up and mold after themselves. Jacqueline wore pretty dresses and was polite and quite–her mother’s perfect daughter. Jillian was smart and loud, a tomboy through and through–not quite the son her father wanted but close.

They were five when they learned that grown ups can’t be trusted and sisters can’t always be close. They were twelve when they walked down an impossible staircase and found a world filled with death and horror where, for the first time, they can choose who they might want to be in Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017) by Seanan McGuire.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second book in McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas which begins with Every Heart a Doorway. This novella is a prequel to the series starter.

It is an interesting exercise in patience to read the followup to an exciting novella only to realize it is a prequel and will offer no hints of what comes after for the characters you’ve already met and started to care about. Despite desperately wanting to see what happens next at the school, Down Among the Sticks and Bones is an excellent addition to the series.

McGuire continues to develop this series with strong world building and thoughtful character development. Because of the prequel nature this story can be read out of order although that will dilute some of the impact of the character development across the series.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones plays with preconceived notions about heroes and villains in a world where, in the absence of a true hero, the lesser villain may unwittingly take on the position. The story is also a scathing commentary on absent and controlling parents. The usually powerful bond between sisters seen in fantasy novels is subverted here as Jack and Jill realize they are only able to come into their own when they are apart.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is another excellent addition to this strange little series of novellas. Perfect for readers of both fantasy and horror. Fans of the series can only hope future installments will offer as much insight into other characters’ stories.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, 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, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Not If I Save You First: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterAfter six year living in an isolated cabin in the Alaskan wilderness with her Secret Service agent father, Maddie is used to being on her own. She has definitely given up on hearing from her former best friend Logan, the president’s son.

Maddie thought that she and Logan would always be best friends but it turns out a friendship is hard to sustain when only one of you ever writes letters without ever getting a response. Turns out getting used to having no best friend is a lot harder than adjusting to not having a phone, Internet, or any privacy.

When Logan does show up–six years too late–Maddie is ready to kill him. But a mysterious assailant forces Maddie to put that plan on hold when he pushes her off a cliff and drags Logan away at gunpoint.

Now Maddie has to save Logan. But once she finishes that she’s definitely going to kill him in Not If I Save You First (2018) by Ally Carter.

In her latest standalone novel Carter brings together her signature combination of girl power adventure with the unforgiving Alaskan landscape. Maddie already knows that everything in Alaska wants to kill you from the weather to the wildlife so she’s ready when actual Russian gunmen are thrown into the mix. Maddie is a tough-talking heroine who uses bravado to hide her vulnerability and sparkles to hide her abilities. After all, no one ever over-estimates a flighty teenage girl, right?

In contrast to Maddie’s muscle and might, Logan is the one who needs rescuing. He is a quick thinker with a photographic memory. But it turns out that can only take him so far against a loaded gun and everything else Alaska has to throw at him.

Not If I Save You First is filled with action, chases, flirting, and just a little kissing. An unusual setting, some of my favorite characters, and a fast-paced story make this a must read. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a new adventure and an obvious choice for fans of the author.

Possible Pairings: All-American Girl by Meg Cabot, Right Where You Left Me by Calla Devlin, You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando, Liberty: The Spy Who (Kind of) Liked Me by Andrea Portes,  I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

Every Heart a Doorway: A Review

“She was a story, not an epilogue.”

cover art for Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuireEleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is the last stop for the girls—because they are overwhelmingly girls—who managed to slip away unnoticed and pass through a magic door into another world.

They never find the same things in their worlds. Some are Nonsense while others thrive on the rules of Logic. Some are Wicked and others are high Virtue. But even with their differences the worlds all have something in common: for the children who find them they feel like home.

And for the Wayward Children the doors have closed to them—maybe forever. So now they have to learn to move on. If they can.

After her time in the Halls of the Dead, Nancy doesn’t think it’s so simple. Now that she’s surrounded by other exiles like herself the only certainty is that they are trapped together until their doors appear again. If they do.

When students at the school become victims of grisly murders Nancy seems the obvious suspect. She knows she isn’t the killer but she doesn’t know how convince anyone else of that—or to find the real culprit—anymore than she knows how to get back home in Every Heart a Doorway (2016) by Seanan McGuire.

Every Heart a Doorway is the start of McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas.

The Wayward Children are an inclusive group including the protagonist of this volume Nancy who is wary of the school partly because it is not her beloved Halls of the Dead and partly because she isn’t sure how the other students will react when she tells them she is asexual.

McGuire’s novella is well-realized and introduces readers to not just one fully-realized world but many, This story is an interesting exercise in form (as a completely contained novella) as well as genre. Within the portal fantasy framework McGuire leads her characters through a mystery, a horror story, and even a traditional coming-of-age story. And that’s just in this first installment.

Every Heart a Doorway is a wild ride and a thoughtful exploration of magic and its cost as well as a wry commentary on the mechanics of fairy tales. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova, 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, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour: Featuring Cucumber Quest!

Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour HeaderI always love finding new graphic novels and comics so I was thrilled when I got the chance to join First:Second’s Girl Power Graphic Novels Blog Tour.

While all of the comics were delightful, a new favorite quickly emerged the moment I opened Cucumber Question: The Doughnut Kingdom (2017) and its sequel Cucumber Quest: The Ripple Kingdom (2018) by Gigi D. G.

In Dreamside in a house in the Doughnut Kingdom a young rabbit named Cucumber is preparing to head to magic school. His plans are dashed when his parents reveal that Cucumber is the latest in a line of Legendary Heroes and it is his destiny to save The Doughnut Kingdom and Dreamside from the Nightmare Knight.

While Cucumber appreciates the predicament, he’d much rather go to magic school and leave saving the world to literally anyone else. Luckily (or perhaps not) Cucumber’s younger sister Almond is all about adventure, swords, and fighting so she is more than ready to drag Cucumber along on this epic quest.

Saving the kingdom won’t be easy when allies include a hapless Dream Oracle and a knight armed with little more than charm and a flimsy spear. The quest will take both young rabbits far from home as they travel across Dreamside to gather the tools they need to save the day.

Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom is a great introduction to D. G.’s vivid and bizarre world (which started life as a webcomic before the volumes were collected by First:Second) as Cucumber and Almond embark on their journey to try and stop the Nightmare Knight. The adventure continues in Cucumber Quest: The Ripple Kingdom when (spoiler) the Nightmare Knight does in fact return and he and his minions need to be stopped–one kingdom at a time.

The first book includes a great map of The Doughnut Kingdom (shown above) and trading card style intros for all of the characters. Volume Two’s bonus material has more character trading cards and a tourist guide to Cucumber and Almond’s next stop: The Ripple Kingdom. D. G. uses a surprisingly color palette that is bright without being jarring. The comic panels are dynamic and filled with amazingly expressive characters.

These comics are zany and incredibly clever. The cast is filled with strong characters including the mysterious thief, Saturday, and the charmingly forgetful Princess Nautilus. Then of course there’s Almond, the girl who would happily save the world if only any of the adults in Dreamside would let her. Cucumber astutely engages with a lot of the obvious flaws in quest stories (How is Cucumber really the best choice for this? Why is it so easy to resurrect the Nightmare Knight anyway? What’s up with his dad in that cell?) while also embodying everything that makes quest stories so fun (reluctant hero! adventure! mayhem!).

I can’t wait to see what happens when Cucumber, Almond, and the rest of their team head to The Ripple Kingdom.

Be sure to check out all of the titles featured on the blog tour too:

  • Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor: A Victorian tale of derring-do and also girls fighting monsters.
  • Cucumber Quest by Gigi D.G: A bunny-filled fantasy adventure of a kingdom in distress and some reluctant (and non-reluctant) heroes.
  • The City on the Other Side by Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson: A historical San Francisco adventure of a girl who accidentally ends up in fairyland.
  • Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence: A girl scout adventure–but in outer space!
  • Monsters Beware! by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado: A fantasy adventure of defying expectations and friendship (and monsters).

You can also check out these blog tour stops:

The Nowhere Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Nowhere Girls by Amy ReedGrace, Rosina, and Erin are used to being outsiders—nobodies. But as they get to know each other they realize they aren’t alone.

Grace is the new girl in town. The quiet daughter of a newly-minted radical liberal pastor who is so focused on building up her new church that she doesn’t have much time for Grace.

Rosina is a queer latina punk rocker. But she doesn’t have a band. And she isn’t out. Because most of her time is spent working in her family’s restaurant, taking care of her cousins, and avoiding her conservative Mexican immigrant relatives.

Erin knows everything there is to know about marine biology and Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both things help her add routine to her life–something Erin needs to cope with her autism. But even routine can’t help Erin forget what happened before or answer the question of whether or not she’s an android.

Grace is outraged by the lack of sympathy and subsequent fallout for Lucy Moynihan–a local girl who accused three popular guys at school of gang rape only to be run out of town. Soon, Grace draws Rosina and Erin into her efforts to get justice for Lucy and for so many other girls.

It starts with just the three of them but soon they are everywhere because they are everygirl. They are The Nowhere Girls (2017) by Amy Reed.

There’s a lot to love in Reed’s latest standalone novel. This ambitious story is a scathing indictment of misogyny and rape culture as well as an empowering introduction to feminism for teen readers. Written in close third person the novel alternates viewpoints between Grace, Rosina, and Erin for most of the novel. The Nowhere Girls also showcases brief chapters (entitled “Us”) following other girls in town as they navigate first-time sex, negotiate physical intimacy with romantic partners, gender identity, and more.

Reed makes a lot of headway toward erasing the separation and exclusion of the primarily white feminism of the 1960s (and 1990s) with these “us” chapters as well as situating Rosina at the center of the start of the Nowhere Girls movement. This step is a really important one, and something I was glad to see. However a coworker pointed out that despite these inroads, a lot of The Nowhere Girls remains focused on white feminism with many of the brown girls in the story only being seen as saying this isn’t feminism meant to include them. That’s a problem and one I wish had more of a conclusion by the end of the novel.

It also points to one of the main problems with The Nowhere Girls which is that there isn’t always a payoff for much of the novel’s potential. The “us” chapters introduce a transgender character who wonders if she would be welcome in the Nowhere Girls with open arms. Unfortunately there is no answer to that in the text anymore than there is for the girls of color besides Rosina. Another girl contends with being labeled a slut by her peers and most of the town but her arc is cut abruptly short and leaves her, sadly and predictably, in mean girl territory instead of reaching for something bigger. I’d like to think these girls all have outcomes where they are able to embrace their own agency and feminism. But because The Nowhere Girls takes on so much there isn’t time to spell everything out on the page.

Then there’s Erin. I’m very happy to see more neuro-atypical characters getting major page time but there are questions as to whether a neurotypical author can (or should) delve into that interiority for a character. I don’t have an answer to that. What I can say is that Erin begins the novel by describing herself as having Asperger’s Syndrome–a term that is no longer used as a standard diagnosis–and generally not accepting her autism in a healthy way. There is growth with this and by the end of the novel Erin is referring to herself as autistic rather than an “Aspy” but it’s not given quite enough time to have a satisfying conclusion.

The Nowhere Girls is an ambitious, gritty novel that pulls no punches as it addresses complicated issues of rape culture and misogyny as well as solidarity and feminism. The Nowhere Girls is a novel full of potential and a powerful conversation starter. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, All the Rage by Courtney Summers

Moxie: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Vivian Carter is sick of the toxic sexism and systemic misogyny at her high in East Rockport, Texas. She’s sick of girls being targeted by the administration’s sexist dress code. She’s sick of the harassment from the football team boys and their cronies who get away with everything. But she isn’t sure what she can do about it when even the thought of making waves is terrifying.

That changes when Viv finds her mom’s box of mementos from her misspent youth. In the 90’s Viv’s mom was part of the Riot Grrrl movement known for their music, their feminist manifesto, and the zines they used to share ideas and find each other. Suddenly Vivian has a plan to help her speak out and Moxie, her own zine, is born.

Viv doesn’t know what to expect when she distributes the first issue of Moxie in secret to her classmates. In the pages of her zine she calls out sexist jokes, harassment, and unfair dress codes and asks girls at the school to join her in protests that quickly gain momentum and help the Moxie movement take on a life of its own. As the stakes rise for what the zine and the Moxie girls are fighting for, Vivian has to decide how far she’s willing to go for what she believes in Moxie (2017) by Jen Mathieu.

Vivian’s no nonsense narration brings East Rockport to life–complete with its small town charm and stifling atmosphere. Mathieu does a great job of showing Viv’s love of her home and family alongside her frustration with the town’s dated, sexist culture as well as her desire to do more and be more than she might ever manage if she stays.

Moxie shows a grassroots movement at its finest as the Moxie girls’ ranks swell and girls in East Rockport learn that they can (and should) speak up for themselves. Frank and nuanced discussions of feminism showcase a variety of perspectives from self-proclaimed feminists like Viv’s new friend Lucy to those more reluctant to label themselves (like Vivian’s best friend Claudia). Mathieu works to make sure Moxie is an inclusive movement with many girls taking the lead while acknowledging the school’s previous stratification along racial and social lines.

The growing sense of community among the Moxie girls and the feel good girl power vibes are balanced with the push and pull between Viv and a sympathetic (but not always understanding) boy. Their romance subplot adds a touch of sweetness to this edgy story while reminding readers that being a feminist doesn’t have to preclude love.

This powerful book proves that the pen can be mightier than the sword and that girls are always stronger when they’re united. Moxie is a must read for everyone but especially young women who have had to apologize on behalf of boys, girls whose ideas only gain validity when a boy shares them, and anyone who’s had the moment of realization that some people will never understand what it’s like to walk down a dark street alone.

In the first issue of Moxie, Vivian asks readers to draw hearts and stars on their hands so likeminded students can find each other at school. After you read and love Moxie (and I’m sure you will) don’t forget to add stars and hearts to your own hands. And always remember: Moxie Girls Fight Back!

Possible Pairings: In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood

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

Vivian is tired of the toxic sexism and systemic misogyny at her Texas high school but she also isn't sure what she can do about. That changes when she finds her mom's old Riot Grrrl zines. Suddenly Vivian has a way to speak out and her own zine, Moxie, is born. ✏️ In the pages of Moxie Vivian calls out sexist jokes, harassment, and unfair dress codes and asks girls at the school to join her in protests. As the zine gains momentum the Moxie movement takes on a life of its own. No one knows who started Moxie and as the stakes rise for what the zine and the Moxie girls are fighting for Vivian has to decide how far she's willing to go for what she believes in. ✏️ This powerful book proves that the pen can be mightier than the sword and that girls are always stronger when they're united. A must read for everyone but especially young women who have had to apologize on behalf of boys, girls whose ideas only gain validity when a boy shares them, and anyone who's has the moment of realization that some people will never understand what it's like to walk down a dark street alone. ✏️ In the first issue of Moxie, Vivian asks readers to draw hearts and stars on their hands so likeminded students can find each other at school. You can watch for Moxie on shelves this September but if you want to find your people and your voice, you can add stars and hearts to your hands right now. And always remember: Moxie Girls Fight Back! ✏️ #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #bookstagramit #yalit #yastandsfor #moxiegirlsfightback #jennifermathieu #uppercasebox #owlcrate #feminism

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