The Luminaries: A Review

The Luminaries by Susan DennardWinnie Wednesday used to dream of becoming a Luminary hunter. But now, several years into her family’s shunning after her father’s outing as a traitorous witch, the most Winnie can hope for is helping with Corpse Duty after Wednesday hunting shifts in the forest.

It isn’t enough. It will never be enough.

Everyone in Hemlock Falls can try to complete the Luminary hunter trials on their sixteenth birthday. Most prepare with rigorous training and study to survive the forest and fight its literal nightmares. Winnie no longer has access to any of that thanks to her father’s crimes and her family’s subsequent disgrace. But even years deep into a decade-long punishment, Winnie can still compete in the trials. She can, she hopes, still succeed and restore her family’s status in the Wednesday clan.

Grit got Winnie to compete but it won’t make up for the years of missed training or the horrifying reality of facing a nightmare in the flesh. What she needs is help from an actual hunter. Like her oldest friend and the one who was quickest to stop talking to her: Jay Friday.

The more time Winnie spends in the forest, with Jay, the more she knows it’s exactly where she’s meant to be. But dangers are lurking outside Hemlock Falls–including a new monster that only Winnie has seen. After years of being ignored and dismissed, Winnie hopes that becoming a hunter will be enough to be heard. But first she has to survive all three trials in The Luminaries (2022) by Susan Dennard.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Luminaries is the first book in a new series. Winnie and her family are white but there is diversity among the cast thanks to the international nature of the Luminary clans. This book started as an interactive story that Dennard launched on Twitter (more on that in her acknowledgements at the end of the book) but readers don’t need to have any familiarity with its origins to enjoy this iteration. Caitlin Davies provides an excellently narrated audiobook version.

Dennard once again delivers an action-packed plot and carefully developed world building in this series starter. Winnie knows that entering the hunter trials with her limited training is a risk that could have deadly consequences. She also knows it’s the only way to redeem her family and bring her mother, older brother, and herself back into the Wednesday fold–a hypocrisy that is not lost on Winnie as the Luminaries quickly change face after her first trial. Although Winnie’s doubts and insecurities loom large throughout the novel, her actions display Winnie’s abilities and commitment as she perseveres and works to prove herself both to the Luminary families and to herself.

The Luminaries is very much an introduction exploring the world of Hemlock Falls and the Luminary clans before a jaw-dropping conclusion that will leave readers eager to see what happens next. Starting The Luminaries is like stepping into another world; one filled with magical nightmares, dangerous witches, and a heroine trying to distinguish herself in a clan that has already dismissed her. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Lightlark by Alex Aster, A Season of Sinister Dreams by Tracy Banghart, The Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron, Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah, The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima, Small Favors by Erin A. Craig, Court of Fives by Kate Elliott, Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh, All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

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

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick by Diana PeterfreundJust when everyone thought things couldn’t get worse at the formerly prestigious Blackbrook Academy, an accident strikes bringing another tragedy to the school’s door and into the lives of the infamous Murder Crew.

Orchid has survived her toxic former career and a deadly encounter with her stalker. But she isn’t sure how to survive losing Vaughn when they were just getting started.

Beth is still recovering from her injuries in the car crash that killed Vaughn. Tennis is a wash. But maybe that will give her a chance to focus on something else.

After losing her status as part of Blackbrook’s best platonic power couple, Scarlett’s confidence in choosing the right people is shaken. She can support Orchid and help her launch Vaughn to posthumous super-stardom. But it’s just not the same as plotting and dominating with Finn.

Finn is desperate to get back in Scarlett’s good graces for help protecting his invention as much as for their friendship. But he isn’t sure what to do if winning Scarlett’s friendship means risking whatever it is he has with Mustard.

Mustard doesn’t know what to do about his growing feelings for Finn or the deteriorating state of his new school. Things get even worse when Mustard’s roommate turns up dead and Mustard is the prime suspect.

With Blackbrook crumbling around them, the Murder Crew will have to rally together one more time to save one of their own, finally unearth the last of Blackbrook’s secrets, and throw a prom that no one is going to forget in In the Ballroom With the Candlestick (2021) by Diana Peterfreund.

Find it on Bookshop.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick is the final book in Peterfreund’s trilogy based on the board game Clue (find it on Amazon). Start at the beginning with In the Hall With the Knife to avoid spoilers. Like its predecessor, this novel is broken up into alternating chapters between the six main characters. Scarlet is Indian American, Mustard is Latinx, the rest of the cast is presumed white.

This final installment picks ups soon after the dramatic conclusion of book two with the entire Murder Crew still picking up the pieces as they sort through the school’s remaining secrets–most notably Vaughn’s past and his history with the school.

Readers who have been with the series from the beginning will appreciate the growth of all of the characters as they work together to solve one final round of mysteries at everyone’s least favorite boarding school. Finn and Mustard in particular have a lot of development as they try to navigate their fledgling relationship. Unfortunately, the primary focus of this series remains squarely on Orchid and Vaughn despite them arguably being some of the least interesting characters among the Murder Crew.

In the Ballroom With the Candlestick stay true to the board game (and the now classic 1985 film!) that inspired this series delivering murder, mayhem, and multiple endings that guarantee that this finale will have something for everyone.

Possible Pairings: S.T.A.G.S. by M. A. Bennett, Heist Society by Ally Carter, I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick, They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson, Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson, Killing November by Adriana Mather, The Cousins by Karen M. McManus, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

The King Will Kill You: A Review

The King Will Kill You by Sarah HenningPrincess Amarande is finally poised to have everything she wants. After a brutal trek across the Torrent and back she is reunited with her love Luca, a lost prince himself raised in hiding as a stable boy. Having fended off invaders, rivals, and her own mother Amarande is about to become queen in her own right–no need to marry except if she chooses–while Luca works to gather his own allies and begin rebuilding Torrance.

Flush with hope and dreams of new beginnings, Amarande and Luca and their allies are eager for the opportunity to rebuild the kingdoms of the Sand and Sky into something new as the continent puts the recent regicides and threat of war behind them.

But even as one queen and king hope to rebuild, there are others just as eager to burn everything to the ground if it means holding onto their own power.

No woman has ever ruled outright in the thousand year history of the Sand and Sky. If the patriarchal establishment has its way, no woman ever will. As obstacles old and new stand in Amarande’s way, she will have to rally all of her forces to stand against her enemies once again in The King Will Kill You (2022) by Sarah Henning.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Kill Will Kill You is the final book in Henning’s Kingdoms of Sand and Sky trilogy. Start at the beginning with The Princess Will Save You and The Queen Will Betray You to avoid spoilers and get the most out of the series. Amarande is cued as white but there is a variety of skintones among the kingdoms of the continent and among the cast in this novel. A close third person perspective primarily follows Amarande but does shift to other key characters including Luca.

Every book in this series builds upon the last expanding both the world and the feminist themes that underpin the entire plot. Having laid the groundwork for this strong cast in book one and set up the political landscape in book two, The King WIll Kill You is positioned as both the best and the strongest book in this series.

Throughout this series Amarande, and readers, have seen characters strive for various goals–most notably power for the various monarchs–only to have the sweetness of success turn to ash upon achieving their goals. Henning reworks that conceit here one more time as Amarande’s supposed happy ending is torn away leaving her and Luca once again scrambling to find safety.

Shifting viewpoints give a wide view of this story that spans multiple kingdoms and a well-utilized ensemble cast. After dispatching many of their enemies both Amarande and Luca hope to be able to work within the system to reform the Sand and Sky into something better not just for the kingdoms and their ruling class but for every person on the continent–something that other rulers attempt to thwart at every turn. After the intense action of previous installments, this shift to political maneuvering offers an interesting but no less engrossing change of pace as the action and intrigue of this series moves to a different stage. (Don’t worry there are still quite a few sweeping battles and sword fights to be had here.)

While Amarande still faces some very real enemies and brutal gaslighting while trying to claim her power once and for all, the real enemy in The King Will Kill You turns out to be the establishment that has worked so long to help those in power and no one else. Faced with trying to operate within a system that was never meant to help anyone like her–despite her own father’s successes as king–Amarande has to confront the fact that sometimes the best way to rebuild is to tear down everything that came before.

The King Will Kill You is an ambitious and ultimately satisfying conclusion to a fundamentally feminist series where action and adventure are tempered well with political intrigue and moral questions. After all, what can be more feminist than a book that literally tears down the patriarchy?

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Violet Made of Thorns by Gina Chen, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross

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

The Ballad of Never After: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Ballad of Never After by Stephanie GarberSince coming to the Magnificent North, Evangeline Fox has married a prince and become part of a prophecy to open the infamous Valory Arch and the dangers–or wonders–it holds. All thanks to Jacks, the Prince of Hearts, and his machinations to manipulate said prophecy in his favor ensuring that Jacks and Jacks alone will receive the supposed boon the arch holds.

Evangeline has learned her lesson, repeatedly, about what happens when she trusts Jacks. But with no resources and few allies, Evangeline realizes that working with Jacks might be the fastest way to get her own story back on track. As the two search for the magic stones to open the arch, Evangeline can feel herself becoming part of the stories that are told throughout the North–history still being formed. But everyone knows stories in the North are cursed, the true endings–happy or tragic–impossible to know.

Finding the stones brings Evangeline closer to her hopefully happy ending while hinting at Jacks’ mysterious history in the North before he became a magical and ruthless Fate. But nothing with Jacks is ever as it seems and Evangeline knows she’ll have to keep her wits about her to stay one step ahead of Jacks. Even if her heart has other plans.

Happy endings can be caught, but they’re not easy to hold; they need to be constantly chased or they will get away. The closer Evangeline gets to opening the Valory Arch, the farther away her own happy ending seems in The Ballad of Never After (2022) by Stephanie Garber.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Ballad of Never After is the second book in Garber’s series which begins with Once Upon a Broken Heart. Set in the same world as Garber’s Caraval trilogy, this series can be read on its own but does include minor spoilers for the Caraval trilogy. Evangeline and Jacks are white, there is diversity among other characters.

While Evangeline’s unfailing optimism remains intact in this second installment, she is much more aware of her limitations–and vulnerabilities–while navigating tricky bargains with those keen to use her for their own ends. Whether that optimism will be her greatest strength or her greatest weakness remains to be seen for much of the story.

After coming to the Magnificent North filled with wonder and a desire to connect to her own past, Evangeline spends more time exploring her new surroundings and trying to understand her place in them. Garber seamlessly expands the world as readers and Evangeline are introduced to more of the Magnificent North and its history including tantalizing hints about the truth behind Evangeline’s favorite northern fairytale The Ballad of the Archer and the Fox as well as the strange history of the North’s lost royal family, the Valors. In a story that plays with the concept of lost history (thanks to the Magnificent North’s story curse) and a new history being formed, the urgency is obvious even with a more character-driven plot.

Frothy descriptions, chaotic adventure, and surprisingly poignant moments of introspection come together to make The Ballad of Never After a delightful story about both literal magic and the magic of belief–in oneself and otherwise.

The Ballad of Never After is a dramatic story where nothing is as it seems and sometimes even an ending can be a new beginning. An excellent addition to a highly recommended series.

Possible Pairings: Where Dreams Descend by Janella Angeles, The Selection by Kiera Cass, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Havenfall by Sara Holland, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim, The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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

Reckless Girls: A Review

Reckless Girls by Rachel HawkinsLux and her boyfriend, Nico, have a plan: they’re going to fix up Nico’s boat the Susannah and travel around the world. Every day will be an adventure. But boats, especially boats that need fixing, are expensive. And so far the only adventure Lux has had is seeing if she can survive another boring shift as a housekeeper at a Hawaiian hotel.

When college friends Brittany and Amma charter Nico’s boat to sail to a remote South Pacific island, it feels like the adventure Lux has been hoping for is finally starting. The boat is fixed, things are finally moving. Even Brittany and Amma feel like the perfect passengers–feel like they might become friends.

Meroe Island is secluded, picturesque, and a bit like paradise.

It’s a dream come true. At first.

But the island also has a dark past with a history filled with shipwrecks, rumors of cannibalism, and even suspected murder. It’s easy to imagine trouble lurking in the shadows, especially when they realize The Susannah isn’t alone.

First it’s Jake and Eliza–a wealthy couple as sleek as their expensive catamaran. Then it’s another stranger.

As the atmosphere of the island shifts, so too do the new relationships between the small group.

There’s nowhere to go on an island as small as Meroe. And when the trouble starts, there’s no one to stop it in Reckless Girls (2022) by Rachel Hawkins.

Find it on Bookshop.

Reckless Girls is a standalone thriller. All characters are assumed white. Check out the audiobook narrated by Barrie Kreinik for an immersive read.

Detailed descriptions of both the island and the boats quickly immerse readers in the story and distract from a slow build as Lux and the rest of her foursome acclimate to Meroe Island. This quiet start is broken up with flashback chapters that slowly reveal the backstories (and secrets) the main characters are keeping close. The initial lack of action works in stark contrast to the twist-filled final act where the pacing realy picks up.

Fans of thrillers will appreciate the suspense and claustrophobic isolation of the setting, but mystery fans might find the payoff and reveals fall short of jaw-dropping.

Reckless Girls is an atmospheric thriller; a perfect addition to your beach reading list.

Possible Pairings: How to Kill Your Best Friend by Lexie Elliott, Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney, The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley, The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell, The Club by Ellery Lloyd, The Wild Girls by Phoebe Morgan, The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse, Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman, The Woman in Cabin Ten by Ruth Ware

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm*

Rock Paper Scissors: A Review

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice FeeneyBehind closed doors something has been wrong with Mr. and Mrs. Wright for a long while. First it’s the things they don’t talk about it, then there’s the time they spend apart.

Adam has always been a workaholic, happy to toil away adapting best-selling novels into screenplays while neglecting his own creative projects. Amelia has built her whole world around Adam but she knows their marriage is becoming more and more fragile. Most people can see the writing on the wall even if they can’t read it.

Amelia also knows that the right move can set them back on course, so when she wins a trip to Scotland it feels like fate.

Except someone is lying. And someone else never planned for both of them to come back from this trip in one piece in Rock Paper Scissors (2021) by Alice Feeney.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rock Paper Scissors is a standalone thriller. Most chapters alternates point of view between Adam and Amelia. Letters for each wedding anniversary are interspersed throughout offering a glimpse into the past with letters thematically tied to traditional wedding gifts (starting with paper) as well as so-called words of the year (including rock). I can’t say much more about the book’s structure without giving away some of the key twists but if you want an atmospherically creepy reading experience, do check out the audiobook narrated by Richard Armitage and Stephanie Racine.

Feeney presents a satisfying and troubling story that is part thriller and part marriage post-mortem. Amelia’s mysterious past and Adam being face blind (unable to recognize anyone–even loved ones–and unable to read facial expressions accurately) add elements of unreliability and even more suspense to an already taut story.

Rock Paper Scissors is a fast-paced, surprising story about two toxic people who may or may not get the exact ending they both deserve. Come into this one knowing as little as possible for the biggest impact.

Possible Pairings: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, All the Broken People by Leah Konen, Best Day Ever by Kaira Sturdivant Rouda, Tell Me My Name by Erin Ruddy

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration through Libro.fm*

The Last Legacy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Last Legacy by Adrienne YoungThe Roths are well-known in Bastian as thieves and cheats. There are rumors they’ve done worse. But no one is stupid enough to say that to a Roth’s face.

Bryn knows her uncle Henrik has plans for her. She knows she has a place with the fiercely loyal family if she can only be ruthless enough to claim it.

But after years spent trying to cram herself into the narrow role the Roths have carved out for her, Bryn also knows that sometimes opportunity is just another word for a stacked deck and being accepted by her family will come with a steeper cost than Bryn ever imagined.

When business trumps everything, there’s always a bargain to be made but in a family where there are rules and consequences, making your own fate could be a costly mistake in The Last Legacy (2021) by Adrienne Young.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Last Legacy is set in the same world as Young’s Fable series. It is set after the events of Fable and Namesake and can be read on its own. Main characters are assumed white. The audiobook features an excellent narration by Suzy Jackson.

Bryn brings a singular focus to her narration as she struggles to understand the complex dynamics of the Roth family and her role among them. Bryn is well aware of her strengths and what she brings to the table as the Roths try to scrub their less-than-glowing reputation in Bastian and earn a coveted spot as merchants. It’s only as she learns more about the Roths–and the lengths Henrik is willing to take to secure lasting stability for them–that Bryn begins to understand her own naivete about her family and, more importantly, the cost of trying to forge her own path among them.

With schemes and violence at every turn, Bryn finds an unlikely ally in Ezra–the family’s prodigiously talented silversmith. Young does an excellent job building their fractious relationship from grudging respect into a slow burn romance that will have lasting consequences for the entire Roth family. As Bryn’s options for working with her family and within Bastian’s cutthroat guild system dwindle the narrative becomes claustrophobic, conveying Bryn’s desperation as the story escalates and builds to its dramatic finish.

While lacking the nautical flavor of the Fable books, this book is a satisfying expansion of that world. The Last Legacy is a complex, fast-paced adventure with a slow burn romance and a heroine charting her own course.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Namesake: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“There are some things that can’t be carved from a person, no matter how far from home they’ve sailed.”

Namesake by Adrienne YoungAfter years of plotting and scheming, Fable has finally made her way off Jeval, the island of thieves where her father abandoned her. After casting her lot with West and his crew on the Marigold, things should finally be easier. Fable should be free.

But nothing is easy in the Narrows. And nothing is ever free.

Now instead of starting a new life, Fable is caught up in an infamous criminal’s scheme and forced to confront her family’s legacy in the richer waters across the Unnamed Sea in the city of Bastian. As Fable learns more about the scheming and conniving throughout the city, she also comes closer to her mother’s legacy and the secrets she left behind.

Things work differently in Bastian but debts still have to be paid; loyalties still matter. And Fable will be the first to warn anyone that it will be a long time before any slick city merchant can best someone formed in the dangerous waters of the Narrows in Namesake (2021) by Adrienne Young.

Find it on Bookshop.

Namesake is the conclusion to Young’s Fable duology which begins with Fable. There are also companion novels set in the same world that can be read on their own. Fable and West are cued as white while the crew of the Marigold includes characters who are darker skinned and LGBT.

Namesake picks up shortly after the explosive conclusion of Fable with Fable kidnapped by Zola and forced to act as a pawn in his plan to gain a foothold in Bastian and leverage over Fable’s father, Saint. Fable spends a good portion of the novel isolated and separated from the people she cares about as she learns more about her mother’s past in Bastian. Young deftly keeps other characters–notably West and Saint–present in the story as they remain on Fable’s mind and her loyalty to both (and her lingering anger at Saint) inform her choices during her captivity.

This installment expands the world of the Unnamed Sea and Bastian. As Fable explores the limits and strengths of her loyalties, she also unpacks pride and a fierce protectiveness for her home and her family no matter how brutal or monstrous they both might be. Through Fable and those close to her Young interrogates how far a person is willing to go to protect who and what they hold close.

Namesake is satisfying conclusion to a dynamic series with everything readers loved about Fable turned up a notch. Fans of the series will appreciate the way plots tie together and the return of familiar characters from book one including one of my personal favorites, Koy. The evolution of Fable’s complicated relationship with her father adds heart and surprising tenderness to this sometimes grim tale.

Namesake is a story about found family and fierce love; about embracing who you are and coming home. An excellent conclusion to a dynamic and exciting duology. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

The Ivory Key: A Review

The Ivory Key by Akshaya RamanAshoka has always been known for its magic–a prized resource mined from the quarry beneath the kingdom’s palace.

But the magic is running out.

Newly named maharani after her mother’s sudden death, Vira won’t let losing the kingdom’s magic be her legacy. Not when following a trail of ancient riddles and clues to find the mythical Ivory Key could unlock more magic quarries.

Ronak, Vira’s twin brother, is more interested in studying the past like their Papa than in preparing for his future. With royal expectations closing in around him, Ronak will do anything to get away. Even promising to secure the Ivory Key for a dangerous mercenary.

Kaleb never felt like a half-brother to any of the royal siblings. But his Lyrian birth mother is enough evidence to imprison him for the previous maharani’s assassination. Helping Vira find the Ivory Key could clear Kaleb’s name. But that still might not be enough to reclaim his old life.

Riya has been happy in the two years since she left the palace behind. Now, drawn into the hunt for the key with her siblings, Riya will have to choose between her obligations to her family and her loyalties to the Ravens–the group of rebels that took her in when she had nothing and no one.

Four siblings, one magical artifact, centuries of secrets in The Ivory Key (2022) by Akshaya Raman.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Ivory Key is Raman’s first novel and the start of an India-inspired duology. The main characters are all brown skinned and Ashokan (a name commonly associated with ancient India) while the neighboring Lyrians are described as fairer skinned. The story alternates between close third person perspectives following the four siblings.

Raman takes her time building out the world of The Ivory Key dropping hints about each character’s backstory alongside details of the political landscape that threatens Ashoka’s future. A well-developed and unique magic system underscore the urgency of Vira’s search for the Ivory Key although that part of the plot is slow to start.

Balancing four points of view is challenging and something that makes the first half of The Ivory Key drag as characters are introduced and tensions build. Once the four royal siblings reluctantly begin working together to find the key, the story starts to pick up and feels more like the adventure promised in the synopsis.

Hints of romance add dimension to the story and drama to one of the book’s biggest reveals although most of the story is squarely focused on the fractious relationships between Vira, Ronak, Kaleb, and Riya. A rushed final act introduces new twists and obstacles for all of the siblings as their paths once again diverge leaving each primed for an exciting conclusion to this duology in the next installment.

The Ivory Key is a sweeping, politically charged adventure where action and the search for magic are balanced by court intrigue and maneuvering; a dramatic story that isn’t afraid to take its time to draw readers in.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faisal, Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, Sisters of the Snake by Sarena Nanua and Sasha Nanua, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool

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

Admission: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“An important part of growing up is letting yourself see the world as it truly is, even if you don’t like what you see or your own complicity in it.”

Admission by Julie BuxbaumChloe Wynn Berringer has always known she’d have a bright future. It’s one of the perks of being Chloe Wynn Berringer.

She’s been accepted to her dream college. She’s going to prom with the boy she’s had a crush on since middle school. She has the perfect best friend, Shola. Even her mom, a longtime B-list celebrity might be getting a long overdue comeback.

Then the FBI knocks on her front door with guns drawn and Chloe realizes that her carefully curated world isn’t as picture-perfect as she thought.

Now Chloe’s mom is under arrest as part of a huge college admissions bribery scandal. One that Chloe didn’t know about even if it apparently helped guarantee her college spot.

Facing possible charges herself, abandoned by her best friend and her boyfriend, Chloe is the face of a crime she barely understands. Chloe knew that her parents were being weird about her college application process. Of course she did. but does that means she knew what they were doing? Does it mean that she needed them to cheat for her? Or that she wanted them to do it?

After years of taking so much for granted, Chloe isn’t sure who she’ll be when all of the easy pieces of her life are stripped away but she’s going to find out. Whether she wants to or not in Admission (2020) by Julie Buxbaum.

Find it on Bookshop.

If the plot of Buxbaum’s latest standalone contemporary sounds familiar, that’s because it’s inspired by the actual college admissions scandal involving real life celebrities including Lori Loughlin, Felicity Huffman, and William H. Macy among others that broke in 2019. The story alternates between Chloe’s present–starting with her mom’s arrest–and flashbacks to the year leading up to the explosive fallout from the scandal. Chloe and her family are white and the story is set in the same world as Buxbaum’s other contemporary YAs.

Throughout Admission Chloe explores both her complicity in the events as well as the embarrassment she carries that her parents felt they needed to go to such lengths to get her into college. As Chloe learns, there are no easy answers–particularly once she begins to understand the harm her parents’ actions (and her own inaction) can have for students unable to bribe their way into a school. This aspect of privilege is carefully explored through the deterioration of Chloe’s relationship with Shola–her Black best friend waiting for scholarship and financial aid results before choosing a school. (Shola is waitlisted at the school where Chloe is “accepted” thanks to her bogus application.)

Admission delves beyond the salacious details and, often, absurdity of the actual college admissions scandal to offer a story with more nuance and complexity as the scandal is explored from the inside out. By the end of the novel, Chloe’s easy life is torn apart but it leaves room for something to grow in even stronger as she learns more about what it means to stand on her own merit for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Off the Record by Camryn Garrett, Kind of a Big Deal by Shannon Hale, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Charming As a Verb by Ben Philippe