The Invention of Sophie Carter: A Review

“None of us are the same, and we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. Our comparisons are invariably false when we compare their strengths to our weaknesses.”

The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha HastingsEngland, 1851: Orphaned and grudgingly cared for by their reluctant guardian, identical twins Sophie and Mariah Carter don’t think they need anyone else when they have each other.

What the sisters need, desperately, is a chance at lives filled with more than the drudgery they’ve known for the last ten years. Sophie dreams of using her clockmaking skills to become a renowned inventor while, with the right instruction, Mariah’s artistic talents could make her a leading painter.

Sophie’s plan to get them both to London for the summer to see the Queen’s Great Exhibition (for Sophie) and London’s finest art (for Mariah) almost works. The problem? Their aunt will only accommodate one sister. To avoid separation the girls travel to London together agreeing to take turns being “Sophie.”

At first, the plan is simple enough since no one can tell the twins apart. But as Sophie forges an unlikely friendship with businessman Ethan and Mariah warms to their aunt’s prickly ward Charles both girls will have to contend with their own feelings and ambitions as well as the two young men who each think they’re falling in love with the real Sophie in The Invention of Sophie Carter (2020) by Samantha Hastings.

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The Invention of Sophie Carter is Hastings’ second novel. Chapters alternate between close third person following each sister during their adventures around London and in their aunt’s house.

Breezy narration, a pitch perfect historical setting, and just the right amount of romance make this story a delight. Themes of sisterhood and individuality elevate this romance adding dimension to both sisters as their horizons expand with the opportunities they are able to seize in London. Ethan and Charles are also excellent foils to both sisters.

The Invention of Sophie Carter is a delightful read and just what I needed right now. Readers are sure to be as smitten with the Carter sisters as their suitors are by the end of this utterly charming novel. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my interview with Samantha about the book here on the blog!

Possible Pairings: Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Antsey, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee

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

Girl, Serpent, Thorn: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa BashardoustSoraya knows all about stories. She knows about princesses and monsters. Most of all, she knows which role she plays in her own story.

She is a princess, yes. But the princesses in stories don’t have to be hidden away as a secret. The princesses in stories are not cursed with a poisonous touch.

Soraya has always known she is dangerous both in truth because of the poison running in her veins but also as an idea. How can anyone trust her twin brother to rule as the shah of Atashar if they find out about Soraya and what she can do?

When her search for answers and a way to break the curse lead Soraya to a guard who claims he can see her for more than her poison and a prisoner in the dungeons who may have the answers Soraya needs, she will have to decide if she will be a princess or a monster in Girl, Serpent, Thorn (2020) by Melissa Bashardoust.

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Bashardoust’s sophomore novel is steeped in Persian culture and folklore drawing inspiration from “The Shahnameh” as well as traditional European fairy tales and Zoroastrianism.

At the start of Girl, Serpent, Thorn Soraya’s world is claustrophobic. She has spent years in isolation and is starved for affection and human contact–things that she fears are impossible for her to ever receive because of her curse.

Soraya’s desperation to break her curse lead her to difficult choices that threaten both herself and her family’s legacy. Although these twists are heavily broadcast the emotional resonance is strong as Soraya deals with the consequences of her actions and strives to do better both for herself and those she cares about.

The book’s love triangle often feels suspect as all characters involved lie and manipulate to get what they want. This dynamic does little to diminish the chemistry between Soraya and Parvaneh and further underscores the hard won respect and trust that becomes a foundation of their relationship.

Girl, Serpent, Thorn is an evocative, tantalizing tale. Recommended for anyone who has ever wondered what really separates a hero (or a princess) from a monster.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

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

Chosen Ones: A Review

Chosen Ones by Veronica RothTen years ago a prophecy predicted that one of five teenagers would become the Chosen One–the only person capable of defeating the Dark One and ending his reign of death and destruction.

Sloane was one of the five and together with Matt, Albie, Ines, and Esther they defeated the Dark One near Chicago.

Now everyone is supposed to move on and mourn and watch life return to normal.

Sloane can’t do that.

Haunted by memories and traumas from fighting the Dark One, Sloane feels adrift even with her friends to anchor her. When one of them turns up dead the day before the Ten Years Celebration of Peace, Sloane begins to realize she may not be the only one who hasn’t moved on in Chosen Ones (2020) by Veronica Roth.

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Chosen Ones is Roth’s adult debut and the start of a new duology.

While marketed as a story about young adults trying to move past their teenaged destinies, Chosen Ones is actually familiar dystopian fare for a slightly older audience. The scene is set for a story of acceptance and moving on only to shift rather abruptly to a new fight with a villain where the Earth’s fate is at stake.

Readers keen on high action and drama will appreciate this shift while others may be left wanting a book with a bit more focus on characters and a little less in the way of fantasy elements.

Chosen Ones is familiar fare aged up with sexier writing and edgier villainy. Recommended for readers looking to branch out beyond the familiar YA suspects in the genre, but not too far.

Possible Pairings: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemison, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

Loveboat, Taipei: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing WenThe last thing Ever Wong wants to do is spend her summer in an educational program in Taiwan learning Chinese and preparing to start at Northwestern’s pre-med program in the fall.

But Ever is used to not having a say in her own life and isn’t surprised when her parents ship her off and ruin her plans to spend one last summer dancing before she gives up (like always) and does what her parents want (like always).

But the program isn’t what ever expects. Instead of rigorous study with Chien Tan Ever finds herself in a program with minimal supervision and her exuberant roommate Sophie Ha egging her on, Ever is ready to break every one of her parents rules–especially when it comes to no dating.

With its reputation as a party program to meet up (and hook up), there’s no shortage of cute guys–most notably including Xavier Yeh the sexy heir to a fortune who’s already caught Sophie’s eye and has a secret he’s reluctant to admit. Then there’s Rick Woo who, as the bane of Ever’s existence and object lesson of how she’ll never be good enough for her parents, is totally not dating material. No matter how much he gets under Ever’s skin.

But the more time Ever spends doing all of the things her parents would hate, the less sure she is what she wants for herself in Loveboat, Taipei (2020) by Abigail Hing Wen.

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Loveboat, Taipei is Wen’s debut novel. Although Ever’s narration sometimes skews towards hyperbolic metaphors (“But why did you let me dance when I was little? I want to cry. Why give me honey when you knew my future was diabetic?”) her struggle to reconcile her own desires with honoring the sacrifices her parents have made to give Ever so many opportunities.

Ever is a complex, fully realized heroine with her own strengths and flaws. What starts as a summer of rebellion becomes a chance for her to learn how to articulate and pursue her dream to become a dancer and choreographer instead of the doctor her parents always wanted her to become.

Loveboat, Taipei shines when the focus is on ever and her own journey. The other characters, in comparison, often feel one-dimensional. A tertiary character’s struggle with depression becomes a plot device in the final act and does not receive as thorough a treatment as it should have. In contrast another character’s dyslexia is addressed much more conscientiously.

Over the course of the summer, Ever travels through Taipei’s glittering nightlife and tourist destinations while negotiating her identity as an American visitor in Taiwan compared to her life as the only Asian American in her small Ohio town. With clubbing, loads of drama, and a messy love triangle, Ever’s summer is more than she bargained for and forces her to confront her best and worst qualities before she can figure out what comes next.

Loveboat, Taipei is as thoughtful as it is sensational. Recommended for readers looking for a splashy romance with soul searching in equal measure.

Possible Pairings: Practically Ever After by Isabel Bandeira, Our Wayward Fate by Gloria Chao, The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert, Anna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Gossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar

Havenfall: A Review

Havenfall by Sara HollandHavenfall is a world unto itself–an inn situated at the gateways between worlds offering neutral ground for the Last Remaining Adjacent Realms. It’s also the one place where people believe Maddie Marrow when she tells them what really happened to her brother all those years ago.

Maddie knows that this summer is her last chance to prove herself to her uncle Marcus and earn her spot as his successor running the inn. She’s up to the challenge. But when Maddie gets to Havenfall she realizes that things have started changing. Her best friend Brekken is a Fiordenkill soldier, Marcus is keeping secrets, and then there’s the new girl–Taya–who is supposed to be temporary help for the summer but draws Maddie’s attention more than she cares to admit.

When a body is found on the grounds and Marcus is attacked, Maddie is left to pick up the pieces and figure out the truth before Havenfall and the tenuous peace it represents is ruines in Havenfall (2020) by Sara Holland.

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As the start of a new series, Havenfall lays a lot of groundwork introducing readers to Maddie’s world at the inn and the adjacent realms Fiordenkill and Byrn as well as Solaria, a rogue realm whose portal was sealed off years ago. While the premise is interesting and offers a unique spin on traditional portal fantasies, the world building is one of the bigger problems with this book.

One of the tenets of the story is that that the porous nature of the portals between realms is part of why we have myths with magic even though Earth does not have magic of its own. Solarians–the main villain for a significant part of Havenfall–come from a world that is associated with mythology including djinn, vampires, demons, and soulstealers. This choice is problematic because djinn are also the only non-white/non-western mythology named in the entire story. It’s also the only mythos associated with a specific religion/culture which, again, here is being coded as villainous.

I won’t get into spoilers explaining Maddie’s history with Solaria but suffice to say that her hatred of the entire Solarian race informs a lot of her character. Does Maddie eventually see the error or her ways? Yes. Are reparations being made? Kind of. Did we need to spend an entire book vilifying an entire race (which although presented as white in the novel is the only group in the book associated with a nonwhite culture)? Absolutely not. What’s worst, the only notable person of color in the entire cast of characters is Marcus’s husband who is from one of the other “good” worlds.

Holland’s ambitious world building never gels enough to transcend this messy foundation. Similarly, the plot never quite comes together despite ample time spent setting up the story with an incredibly slow beginning. Maddie is bisexual–a fact that is refreshingly a nonissue for her family and friends but which also hints at a love triangle that frustratingly never leads anywhere interesting.

Havenfall is a mystery wrapped in a portal fantasy setting that centers an ambitious if often naive heroine. Recommended for readers who prefer slow building suspense to quick action and are willing to overlook messy world building entirely.

Possible Pairings: Caraval by Stephanie Garber, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, Mister Monday by Garth Nix, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, The Archived by Victoria Schwab

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

We’ll Always Have Summer: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny HanBelly has loved two boys in her life: Conrad and Jeremiah Fisher. Conrad was her first love and the first boy to break her heart. Jeremiah was the one who was there to pick up the pieces.

In the two years since, Jeremiah has been the perfect boyfriend. He’s fun, he’s dependable, and he has always loved Belly. But is that enough to build an entire future on?

Conrad knows he made a mistake when he pushed Belly away. He knew it even as he pushed harder. When Belly and Jeremiah announce their engagement, Conrad realizes that time is running out if he wants to try to win Belly back.

The Fisher boys have been part of Belly’s life forever. She never imagined that in choosing one of them she might have to break the other’s heart in We’ll Always Have Summer (2011) by Jenny Han.

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We’ll Always Have Summer is the final book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins with The Summer I Turned Pretty and continues in It’s Not Summer Without You.

This book is narrated by Belly with a few chapters from Conrad. My only complaint is I wish we had more from him because it was so fascinating to finally see things from his point of view.

After Jeremiah won me over in book two, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the end of the trilogy. That I couldn’t decide how I wanted this love triangle to shake out speaks volumes to Jenny Han’s strengths as an author and how well-developed all of these characters become by the end of the series.

I always know I’m enjoying a series when it becomes impossible to choose a favorite book. I loved meeting these characters in book one, and I loved the way book two flipped everything I thought I knew upside down. But it might be this final book that has become my favorite as I think about the way things finally come together for Belly.

We’ll Always Have Summer is the perfect conclusion to what’s become a surprise favorite series. Come for the swoony romance and suspenseful love triangle, stay for the sweet ode to summer and growing up. A highly recommended series.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

It’s Not Summer Without You: A Review

cover art for It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny HanBeing with Conrad was supposed to make everything better, but instead it’s one more thing that’s fallen apart in the aftermath of Susannah getting sick again.

Belly doesn’t know who she is without summers at Cousins Beach. She doesn’t know what to make of Conrad’s apathy or the distance that’s grown between them since last summer.

In a year where so many things have changed, Belly isn’t sure if she can keep pining for Conrad. All she really knows is that when Jeremiah calls to tell her that Conrad has disappeared, she has to help find him in It’s Not Summer Without You (2010) by Jenny Han.

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It’s Not Summer Without You is the second book in Han’s Summer trilogy which begins in The Summer I Turned Pretty.

Belly narrates most of this book with a few chapters interspersed from Jeremiah’s point of view. Belly spends so much of this series focused on Conrad that it was interesting to see more of Jeremiah’s perspective.

With the addition of Jeremiah’s chapters and the story shifting away from Cousins, all of the characters are more developed here. The tension between Belly and both Fisher boys is palpable as all three try to reconcile themselves to the loss of the summer cocoon that used to bind them together.

It’s Not Summer Without You is a melancholy installment but the series is stronger because of it as another layer of depth is added to the story. Han takes the familiar elements from The Summer I Turned Pretty and inverts them to make this an entirely new reading experience.

It’s Not Summer Without You is, of course, a must-read for fans of the series and as much of a page-turner as you’re likely to find in a breezy contemporary–let’s just say I gasped more than once as I made my way to the end of this book!

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

The Summer I Turned Pretty: A Review

cover art for The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny HanBelly’s life has always been measured in summers. Of course she and her brother have school the rest of the year, she has friends, she has an entire life. But summer has always been the important thing because summer means it’s time to return to Cousins Beach and the house her family shares with the Fishers.

Belly’s mom and Susannah Fisher have been friends for decades and Belly can’t think of anything more natural than spending every summer in Cousins with Susannah and her sons, Conrad and Jeremiah.

As the youngest, Belly is used to being left out or made fun of by the boys. But that’s never made her love her summers, or Conrad, any less. Almost as soon as they arrive, Belly knows that this summer is going to be different. She can feel it in the air, see it in way Conrad and Jeremiah look at her like she’s someone totally new. But every summer, even what promises to be a perfect one, has to end in The Summer I Turned Pretty (2009) by Jenny Han.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is the first book in Han’s Summer trilogy which continues with It’s Not Summer Without You and We’ll Always Have Summer.

Han’s prose is as gentle and comforting as a warm summer breeze as Belly narrates this story and shares flashbacks from some of her favorite summer memories.

The Summer I Turned Pretty is an emotional roller coaster as readers join Belly on all of the ups and downs in what becomes a pivotal summer. This book does double duty laying the groundwork for the rest of the trilogy while also offering a contained story as Belly tries to make sense of growing up, her ever-present (painfully obvious) feelings for Conrad, and the fact that summers may not stay the same for her family or the Fishers for much longer.

The Summer I Turned Pretty should be required reading for anyone who is a fan of contemporary fiction, romance, and summertime. If, like me, you first discovered Jenny because of her Lara Jean books (which begin with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before), be sure to loop back to this series because it is just as sweet, just as romantic, and maybe even more epic with one of my favorite love triangles of all time. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, Nantucket Blue by Leila Howland, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon,Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg

When We Caught Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for When We Caught Fire by Anna GodbersenChicago, 1871: Emmeline Carter is about to blast her way into Chicago’s high society, helping her father make good on his rise to wealth with her engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor.

Living in luxury and the envy of so many society debutantes should be enough for Emmeline. It isn’t. Instead, as her engagement looms, Emmeline can’t stop thinking about her carefree days she used to share with her best friend Fiona Byrne and her sweetheart Anders Magnuson. Now Fiona is Emmeline’s maid and Anders a distant memory.

Fiona hopes that Emmeline’s engagement will bring her friend everything she wants–and allow Fiona to pursue Ander’s herself without guilt. Then Emmeline surprises everyone by risking everything she has gained to see Anders one last time.

As friendships are tested and bonds are broken, even the smallest spark might change everything for these three friends and the city they all call home in When We Caught Fire (2018) by Anna Godbersen.

This standalone novel plays out over the course of the summer as Emmeline, Fiona, and Anders move toward the cataclysmic Great Fire. The novel alternates between chapters following Emmeline and Fiona’s points of view.

Godbersen once again brings the past to life with evocative descriptions of the city (and, of course, the fashions) of the time. While the main focus is on the Great Fire, When We Caught Fire also explores the inequality and corruption that ran rampant through the Gilded Age.

At its core, When We Caught Fire is a story about a friendship and a love triangle. The relationships between the three characters remain the driving force of the story even as the events of the fire play out in the novel’s explosive final act.

An open ending and nuanced characters allow readers to draw their own conclusions while fleshing out the story. When We Caught Fire is frothy, slightly sensational, and utterly entertaining. Recommended for readers who want their historical fiction filled with all the gory details and juicy parts.

Possible Pairings: A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper, Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Ash Princess: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Ash Princess by Laura SebastianTen years ago invaders killed Theodosia’s mother, the Fire Queen of Astrea, enslaved her people, and stole her name.

Over many long years, Theo has learned how to play the game. Don’t anger the Kaiser and stay alive. She plays along with his manipulations, silently accepts his punishments, and hides behind the persona of Thora–the meek girl the Kaiser thinks she has become.

But when Theo is forced to do the unthinkable she reaches a breaking point.

Survival is no longer enough. After years of hiding, it’s time for Theo to fight and reclaim everything that has been stolen in Ash Princess (2018) by Laura Sebastian.

Ash Princess is Sebastian’s debut novel and the start of a trilogy.

Sebastian’s richly described world, complex elemental magic, and fraught politics add new twists to this familiar story. Unfortunately one element that remains the same is that the enslaved Astreans are “tawny skinned” and dark haired while the invading Kalovoxians are pale and blonde–a common trope that is played out and could do with more unpacking in this and other similar titles.

Theo is a survivor who has learned how to hide in plain sight. Because of her small world and her captivity her first person narration often feels claustrophobic as she struggles to plot her way out of the Kaiser’s clutches.

Ash Princess’s promising in contrived plot is marred by an erratic timeline that brings Theo’s interactions with the Kaiser’s son Prinz Søren from calculated seduction as part of an assassination attempt to actual love in the blink of an eye. Theo’s shift from trying to keep herself alive while waiting for a rescue that never comes shifts equally fast to Theo placing herself in the center of a rebellion plot as a spy.

Theo’s perilous situation and the high stakes of the story are not enough to distract from a second half that drags while characters dither over who to trust, who to love, and (perhaps most relevantly) who to kill. While Theo is an interesting and strong heroine, she is not always sympathetic with unclear motivations for her numerous poor decisions throughout the book.

Ash Princess is an entertaining, plot-driven fantasy. Recommended for readers who like their fantasy angsty and their characters morally ambiguous at best.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green, Everless by Sara Holland, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene