A Conjuring of Light: A Review

*A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.*

“Life isn’t made of choices. It’s made of trades. Some are good, some are bad, but they all have a cost.”

“We don’t choose what we are, but we choose what we do.”

Once there were four Londons. Black London was consumed by magic a long time ago. White London will die without more magic. Grey London never had any magic. Then there’s Red London, the jewel of the Maresh Empire and a shining beacon of magic across its world. That magic is what makes Red London so beautiful; it’s what is threatening to destroy it as well.

An interloper from Black London is tearing its way through Red London leaving destruction and death in its wake. Kell is used to being alone and to thinking of himself as isolated thanks to his Antari blood but all of that changes when the only home he’s ever had and the only family that matters is threatened. But Kell can’t fight this battle alone. Not if he wants to win.

Lila has thrived in Red London leaving behind her life as a thief to pursue her dream of becoming a pirate. She made it through the magical competition of the Essen Tasch but not she has to learn to control her magic before it begins to control her.

Kell and Lila will have to use every spell and trick they know to face a new threat from Black London. Along the way they’ll rely on old friends like Kell’s brother Prince Rhy and uneasy allies like the mysterious Captain Alucard Emery. Even old enemies may become allies before the battle is over. To survive, to win, will take everything the Antari have to give and maybe even more in A Conjuring of Light (2017) by V. E. Schwab.

A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.

A Conjuring of Light picks up shortly after book two. Everyone is in peril and trouble is brewing. The tension does not let up from there. At more than six hundred pages you would thing this book would feel bloated of slow. It doesn’t. Schwab’s story is perfectly paced to give this series the conclusion it deserves.

Written in third person this novel alternates perspective to follow all of the major characters that readers have come to know and love over the course of this series. Rhy is still struggling with what it means to be a prince without magic while also processing the way his life is now tied to Kell’s. Alucard is haunted by his past and not sure he can ever be free of it. Lila still has so much to learn about being an Antari and letting people love her instead of running away. Kell, similarly, is still struggling to define what family means for a man with no memory of his past. Does a past he can’t remember mean anything compared to the family he has known for most of his life?

Then, of course, there’s Holland. Before A Conjuring of Light it’s easy to say Holland is the villain of this story and stop there. Schwab’s deliberate and complex characterization, however, slowly reveals that there is much more to this oldest and most experienced Antari. This story is also peppered with flashbacks for all of the characters though most notably for Holland.

It’s a rare epic fantasy that can be grim and tense and also make you laugh out loud. Schwab makes it look effortless here. A Conjuring Light is a perfect conclusion to a truly original series filled with memorable characters, adventure, and one of the most stunning redemption ever.

A Conjuring of Light is a story of uneasy alliances, fierce bonds, and at its center three powerful magicians whose lives are inextricably linked–whether or not they want to be. This series is a must read for all fantasy enthusiasts. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

The Fashion Committee: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Find something that makes your heart sing and your brain expand, and let it carry you past all the ugliness and low spots.”

“Measuring someone is borderline invasive. You have to touch them and record their physical presence in the world. It’s a pretty specific way to understand someone.”

Charlie Dean lives and breathes fashion and she strives for style in all things. John Thomas-Smith is a metal sculptor and he could not care less about clothes. They have one thing in common: they desperately want the chance to attend the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design on full scholarship.

When Green Pastures announces that this year’s scholarship will be awarded to a fashion design student, Charlie thinks the stars have finally aligned to make her dreams come true. John, meanwhile, is disappointed that the scholarship isn’t for metalwork but he also knows that fashion is a joke. How hard can faking his way into the competition really be?

Charlie and John have nothing in common except for art and ambition. They are both determined to win and they won’t let anything stand in their way. Not a soul-killing job at Salad Stop or an unsympathetic girlfriend. Not a dad’s girlfriend’s drug-addicted ex-boyfriend. And definitely not a very minor case of kidnapping.

Two very different artists. One life changing competition. And only one winner in The Fashion Committee (2017) by Susan Juby.

Although set in the same world as The Truth Commission, Juby’s latest novel is a standalone contemporary with an entirely new cast of characters (and illustrations by Soleil Ignacio).

This epistolary novel features alternating chapters from Charlie and John’s fashion journals written over the course of the competition. Charlie’s sections each start with one of her signature bright ideas (“Dress for the life you want!”) while John’s sections finish with quotes from the fashion industry and his own scathing indictments. Although Charlie and John often share physical space, their narratives have little overlap as the plot focuses on their own paths through the competition from developing their concepts and designing their garments to the final fashion show.

Juby introduces two very different characters in The Fashion Committee. Charlie Dean has been curating and shaping her own persona from a very young age. She values fashion above most else and she believes in deliberate sartorial choices to create a facade to present to the world. Charlie uses that facade to offset some of the things she’d prefer to forget like her father’s struggle with drug addiction. John, meanwhile, considers himself a straight shooter with a hard knock upbringing. He is very aware of the privileges of those around him (especially those attending Green Pastures) but turns a blind eye to his own good fortune being raised by two loving and conscientious grandparents. Despite their differing opinions of fashion (and almost everything else), Charlie and John’s journeys mirror each other well with a variety of ups, downs, and even a littler romance for both protagonists.

Charlie and John both have to deal with some stereotypes and preconceptions about themselves and, through meeting the unique group of students competing in the fashion show, they also learn to acknowledge their own biases. Does everything go perfectly in The Fashion Committee? No. Not even with Charlie’s efforts to impose beauty and positivity on the world through sheer force of will or John’s deliberate choice to always expect the worst.

The Fashion Committee is a thoughtful novel about fashion, privilege, and perspective where Charlie and John learn to appreciate what they have and also strive to get what they deserve. A must-read for fashionistas of all levels of expertise and anyone who seeking a book that will leave them laughing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Black Friday: The Collapse of the American Shopping Mall by Seph Lawless, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, Flannery by Lisa Moore, Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection, Volume 1 by Hope Nicholson (editor), Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, D. V. by Diana Vreeland, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

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

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

Windfall: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Alice buys a lottery ticket for her best friend Teddy–the boy she has loved from afar since freshman year–for his eighteenth birthday. It’s a small gift and it’s not likely to finally make Teddy reciprocate Alice’s feelings or even notice them. But it seems like a fitting gift.

Everything changes when Alice’s silly gift wins Teddy a whopping $140 million dollars.

Alice’s life already changed once when her parents died and she moved in with her aunt, uncle, and her cousin Felix. She isn’t sure she wants everything to change again even if the money is exactly what Teddy and his mother need after years struggling to overcome his father’s gambling debts.

Teddy has always been a constant in Alice’s life but in the wake of his luck changing it starts to feel like Teddy is changing too. But as Alice learns more about herself she starts to realize that maybe they’re both changing. And maybe that isn’t always a bad thing in Windfall (2017) by Jennifer E. Smith.

While Windfall is all about a big lottery win, this change of circumstance is often a backdrop in this character driven story. At eighteen, Alice is used to being an orphan and the stigma that sometimes comes from explaining her family history. What she isn’t used to, she realizes as she throws everything she has into her application to Standford, is defining herself without her parents.

Alice has always turned to the memory of her parents and their life in San Francisco as a guide for her own life which she has filled with tutoring and volunteering. But as Alice begins to make decisions about college and what comes next she realizes that modeling herself on her parents offers more questions than answers.

Alice’s confusion about her future and who she wants to be is complicated by Teddy’s lottery win. As questions of how to split, spend, and otherwise share the money come up Alice and Teddy’s previously breezy friendship becomes strained. In the midst of this Alice’s cousin Leo is dealing with the more concrete dilemma of what happens next when his boyfriend is in college in Michigan while Leo is still in Chicago.

Smith’s multifaceted story focuses on Alice and uses her grief and development as a lens for the rest of the story. Alice spends a lot of the novel viewing herself as an island set apart from the rest of her family–something that doesn’t always ring true when the loss of her parents is taken in the larger context of a familial loss affecting multiple people–but the ways she and her family come together by the end of Windfall is sweet and satisfying. Alice’s relationship with Teddy is similarly complex and a driving force of the plot.

Smith tackles questions of fate, privilege, and love in her latest standalone contemporary. Windfall is a smart and compulsively readable story about what happens when the impossible is suddenly not just possible but reality. A great choice for readers seeking a realistic romantic story with a healthy dose of escapism.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

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

Wayfarer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Wayfarer is the conclusion to Bracken’s Passenger duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Passenger*

“All of us have had to come to terms with the fact that our loyalty is to time itself. It’s our inheritance, our nation, our history.”

“We can live in the past, but we cannot dwell there.”

Wayfarer by Alexandra BrackenEtta’s preparations for her debut as a concert violinist feel distant in the wake of revelations that she and her mother are part of a long line of time travelers who have drawn Etta into the center of a dangerous battle for power.

Etta has gone around the world and through time searching for a coveted astrolabe that can control and manipulate the timeline itself. She knows the astrolabe has to be destroyed. But she also knows she will need it herself if she hopes to save her mother.

Orphaned by a disastrous change to the timeline, Etta wakes up alone in another place and time separated from Nicholas, her partner throughout this journey. The future that she knows no longer exists. In this new timeline Etta finds unexpected help from Julian Ironwood–Cyrus’s heir, long presumed dead–and an unlikely ally from Etta’s own past.

Nicholas could do nothing to keep Etta with him when she was Orphaned. Now he and Sophia are following every lead–every passage–that they can to find the astrolabe and Etta. Their uneasy alliance is tested by the pursuers far too close behind and the mercenary who may be trying to help Nicholas and Sophia–or stop them.

Separated by time itself Nicholas and Etta will have to face impossible odds, familiar enemies, and a dangerous new power if they hope to reunite and keep the timeline safe in Wayfarer (2017) by Alexandra Bracken.

Wayfarer is the conclusion to Bracken’s latest duology which begins with Passenger. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning.

Wayfarer picks up shortly after the dramatic conclusion of Passenger. Etta is injured and alone after she is Orphaned while Nicholas is left behind in Nassau where he is forced to rely on Sophia’s knowledge of the passages to hopefully find Etta and the astrolabe before time runs out.

This novel once again alternates close third person narration between Etta and Nicholas (possibly with slightly more time given to Nicholas). Although they are separated at the start of the novel both Etta and Nicholas remain true to each other and confident in each other amidst rampant mistrust and doubts from their allies. The steadfastness of their belief in each other is heartening as almost everything else these characters hold true is thrown into doubt over the course of the story as all of the characters face difficult choices once the full threat of the astrolabe becomes clear.

Bracken expands the world of the travelers in Wayfarer with new characters (be sure to watch out for mercenary Li Min), and new backstory about the origins of the travelers and the four families. Sophia, happily, also plays a bigger role in this story after previously being an antagonist to both Nicholas and Etta. Sophia remains ambitious, angry, and delightfully unapologetic even as she begins to make new choices. The focus of this story also shifts from romance to relationships of a different sort as friendships, partnerships, and other alliances form.

One of the constant themes in this series is trust. In Passenger Etta and Nicholas have to learn how to trust each other and, to some extent, their abilities as travelers (albeit inexperienced ones). Wayfarer, meanwhile, finds both Etta and Nicholas having to form new bonds in order to survive. These changing relationships lend depth and substance to a story that is already rich with historical detail and fully developed characters.

Wayfarer is a brilliant novel about trust, choices, and time travel (of course) filled with romance, action, and more than a few memorable moments. This series is a great introduction to time travel and also ideal for fans of the sub-genre. The perfect conclusion to one of my favorite duologies. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Until We Meet Again by Renee Collins, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West

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

"All of us have had to come to terms with the fact that our loyalty is to time itself. It's our inheritance, our nation, our history." 🔮 "We can live in the past, but we cannot dwell there." 🔮 Thanks to @alexbracken I was lucky enough to read Wayfarer early as an arc. My review will be posting on release day next week but it was too pretty to not take a photo for Instagram. 🔮 Nicholas and Etta have faced impossible odds and the unique problems of time travel before. But now they are separated across time and continents with the hunt for the astrolabe becoming more urgent. As they search for each other both Etta and Nicholas will have to grapple with the implications of destroying the astrolabe–or using it themselves. As the hunt becomes more urgent Etta, Nicholas, their allies, and even their foes will realize that even travelers never seem to have enough time. Wayfarer is a sensational conclusion to an excellent time travel duology. Start with Passenger and watch for Wayfarer next week! 🔮 #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #bookaddict #readwayfarer #wayfarer

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Labyrinth Lost: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida CordovaAlex is the most powerful bruja her family has seen in generations. Her mother and sisters are thrilled when Alex’s powers manifest so powerfully. But Alex knows that magic always has a cost and she’s unwilling to risk her family after already losing her father to wayward magic years ago.

Determined to rid herself of her magic before anyone else gets hurt, Alex turns to the family Book of Cantos for a spell to use on her Death Day–before she accepts the blessings of her family’s dead spirits and truly comes into her powers.

When Alex’s spell to get rid of her magic backfires and her family disappears from their Brooklyn home, she’ll have to travel to the world of Los Lagos to get them back with help from her best friend Rishi and a strange brujo boy with his own agenda in Labyrinth Lost (2016) by Zoraida Córdova.

Labyrinth Lost is the start to Córdova’s new Brooklyn Brujas series.

Córdova borrows from elements of santeria and latinx culture to create her own well-realized magic system in this highly enjoyable urban fantasy. Alex is a kickass heroine whose love for her family leads to near-catastrophe as her magic backfires and sends her relatives (living and dead) to Los Lagos.

Alex remains proactive and wastes no time wallowing as she bargains with a more knowledgeable (though less powerful) brujo named Nova to bring her across to the magical world of Los Lagos where she has to navigate treacherous lands and travel to the Labyrinth to rescue her family from the Devourer. Rishi, Alex’s best friend, comes along offering moral support, strength, and strategy even though she is uninitiated in bruja ways thanks to Alex’s reluctance to talk about her family to outsiders.

In a world where many things are uncertain, the love and support of Alex’s friends and family remain unconditional and rock solid throughout this novel where family plays a huge role. Alex is a fantastic protagonist who is empowered both as a bruja and a girl as she learns to embrace all aspects of her identity.

Córdova’s evocative writing brings Los Lagos and its otherworldly inhabitants vividly to life. Moments or peril contrast well with Alex’s witty first person narration and a sometimes tense romance as Alex tries to make sense of her growing feelings for Rishi while fighting for her life.

Labyrinth Lost is a fast-paced and atmospheric story filled with action and adventure. A must-read for urban fantasy fans and readers looking for a new coven of witches to join. (Just be ready with your best Resting Witch Face.)

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

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

Iron Cast: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Iron Cast by Destiny SoriaIn 1919 Boston Prohibition is on the verge of making alcohol illegal and hemopathy shows are officially against the law. Thanks to a blood condition hemopaths can perform a variety of illusions through poetry, painting, or music. While it is not illegal to be a hemopath, it is deemed dangerous to regular society and highly restricted.

Best friends Corinne Wells and Ada Navarra have called Johnny Dervish’s club, the Cast Iron, home for years blending their respective talents as a wordsmith and a songsmith both on stage and in cons meant to rustle up enough money to keep the club open.

After a routine job goes awry, Ada is imprisoned in Haversham Asylum, a hemopath prison with dark secrets and dangerous implications for its hemopath inmates. Ada’s escape from Haversham sets off a series of events leaving two Cast Iron workers dead and Dervish in the wind.

With only each other and their talents as hemopaths and con-women to rely on, Ada and Corinne will have to confront uncomfortable truths about Johnny, the Cast Iron, and themselves if they want to keep their freedom in Iron Cast (2016) by Destiny Soria.

Iron Cast is Soria’s debut novel.

The narration alternates close third person between Corinne and Ada’s perspectives which highlights and contrasts the girls’ vastly different upbringings. (Corinne comes from a high society family, while Ada’s parents are working class immigrants–her mother is from Mozambique and her father is Portuguese.) Ada and Corinne’s differing perspectives on their work with Johnny Dervish and the use of their hemopath talents add nuance to the story.

An atmospheric combination of alternate history and fantasy complete with vivid descriptions of everything from historic Boston locations to complex hemopath illusions make this fast-paced novel incredibly evocative. A diverse cast of flawed and complex characters striving to do better complement the solid female friendship at the core of this story.

Iron Cast is a simultaneously whimsical and chilling blend of mystery and fantasy. Numerous twists, sweet romance, humor, and strong pathos make Iron Cast even more appealing. Highly recommended.

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

You can also read my interview with Destiny Soria!

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the December 2016 of School Library Journal as a starred review*

The Swan Riders: A Review

*The Swan Riders is the sequel/companion to The Scorpion Rules. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one.*

The Swan Riders by Erin BowGreta Gustafson Stuart, former princess of the Pan Polar Confederation, is a newly minted Artificial Intelligence. In agreeing to become an AI, Greta has saved herself and fellow hostage Elián Palnik while avoiding the wrath of Talis–the all-powerful AI who rules the world with the judicious use of satellite weaponry, carefully chosen hostages, and his Swan Riders who act as part army and part cult for Talis and the other AIs.

Greta is the first new AI in more than a century. Haunted by memories of her time as a hostage growing up at Precepture Four–including torture, friendship, and Xie, the future queen and the lover Greta had to leave behind–Greta struggles to cling to what is left of her humanity while learning her capabilities as an AI. With the future of the world hanging in the balance, Greta will have to use everything she knows about being AI and human to bring her two dramatically different worlds together in The Swan Riders (2016) by Erin Bow.

This sequel picks up shortly after the conclusion of The Scorpion Rules. Quick recaps and Greta’s own memories bring readers up to speed in this fast-paced sci-fi novel although knowledge of the first book is ideal.

Bow dramatically expands the world here by introducing more of the landscape as Talis, Greta, and two Swan Riders travel across Saskatchewan toward the AI home base near Montana. Interludes from Talis’ point of view–both in his present form as an all-powerful AI and in flashbacks to his time as the idealistic Michael Talis who wanted to save the world–add another dimension to this disturbingly likable character who is both hero and villain.The Swan Riders themselves also play a significant role in this story that is as much about what it means to be human as it is about what it means to rule, and maybe save, the world.

Weighty subject matter and heavy questions about what is best versus what is right are tempered with humor and Greta’s wry first-person narration. Complex characters further enhance the introspective nature of this story as Greta tries to figure out who she is when so much of her past is now irrelevant to her future. Like its predecessor The Swan Riders again has a thoughtfully diverse cast of characters with familiar faces and newer additions including Francis Xavier, a stoic dark-skinned Swan Rider born with one hand.

The Swan Riders is a fascinating follow-up and stunning story from an author at the top of her game. A must-read for fans of The Scorpion Rules.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson,  Fire by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Winterspell by Claire LeGrand, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, Clariel 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, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in School Library Journal’s August 2016 Issue as a Starred Review from which it can be seen on various sites online*