Froi of the Exiles: A Review

Froi of the Exiles by Melina MarchettaIt has been three years since the curse on Lumatere was lifted. Three years since the Lumaterans trapped inside the kingdom for ten long years and those exiled during the siege reclaimed their land and tried to make it whole. But memories are long and recovery is slow as the country come to terms with what was lost during the time of the unspeakable and what has changed forever.

During his years as an exile, Froi never imagined he would find a home in Lumatere much less a position in the Queen’s Guard. He could not have guessed that he would one day count Queen Isaboe and her consort, Finnikin among his dearest friends. Even with so much changed, Froi is haunted by who he was during the exile. He has sworn a bond to the queen, and to Lumatere, that he might make up for his past and never stray again.

That bond is sorely tested when Froi is sent to a neighboring kingdom on a secret mission. In Charyn’s royal court Froi finds a princess who may speak prophecy or madness and twins who can offer two halves of the story behind Charyn’s own curse–and secrets of Froi’s past–if only they can learn to speak to each other again. In a barren kingdom where brutality has become more valuable than compassion for most, Froi will have to decide if he can stay true to his bond to Lumatere while also doing what is right in Froi of the Exiles (2012) by Melina Marchetta.

Froi of the Exiles is the second book in Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finnikin of the Rock.

Froi of the Exiles is a sweeping novel that blows the world of the Chronicles of Lumatere open as Froi and readers are introduced to new countries and cultures. This novel brings the strangely barren land of Charyn to life with stark, vivid descriptions. The dangers found in much of Charyn are expertly contrasted with moments of wondrous beauty and tempered by the sharp wit of these characters.

Marchetta offers a thoughtful meditation on forgiveness and recovery in Froi of the Exiles. Every character here has been broken in some way–sometimes by looming curses and other times by the casual cruelty of other people–that damage and those scars are givens. But it never defines them. Each character, but especially Froi, strives throughout the novel to move past that hurt and to take the damaged pieces and make himself into something stronger and better.

Froi of the Exiles is a masterful and well-executed novel where every word matters and the story will completely enthrall readers. Highly recommended. Part of a must-read series for fans of high fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Passenger: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“The truly remarkable thing about your life is that you’re not bound to live it straight forward like the rest of us.”

Passenger by Alexandra BrackenAfter a devastating loss on the night of her latest violin performance, Etta Spencer finds herself torn away from the people she loves and even from her own time.

Nicholas Carter is centuries away and confident his dream of captaining his own ship is well within reach even with the challenges inherent to his status as a freed slave.

When Etta appears as an unexpected passenger on Nicholas’ ship, the two are thrown together in a hunt for a stolen artifact. Etta hopes it can help her return to her own time. Nicholas, meanwhile, believes giving the artifact to the Ironwoods can sever his remaining ties to the ruthless family while also keeping Etta safe.

Traveling across centuries and around the world, Nicholas and Etta will have to trust each other as they follow clues to the artifact’s long-hidden location. Along the way they will uncover secrets about Etta’s past and a truth that could threaten both of their natural times–and everything in between–in Passenger (2016) by Alexandra Bracken.

Passenger is the first of a two-book series that is partly a homage to Outlander and partly all its own. The story will continue in Wayfarer.

Passenger is a thrilling adventure that spans countries and centuries. Each time period Etta visits is brought to life with vivid and well-researched descriptions ranging from the nuances of eighteenth century clothing to an eerily well-realized depiction of London during the Blitz.

Passenger is a book filled with a diverse group of time travelers who live across and between time–often spending large periods of their lives outside of their normal flow of time and living in a decidedly non-linear fashion.

Because of this fluidity, Passenger is filled with unlikely allies (and enemies) as characters who would never otherwise meet are brought together. Consequently the dynamic between Etta and Nicholas has a complex tension as they work to find common ground despite their shockingly different upbringings and times. Their initial attraction and romance is even more satisfying because these two characters meet as equals and partners.

Although Bracken has moved in a different direction from her popular Darkest Minds trilogy, the writing here remains strong with her usual attention to detail both in terms of an intricate plot and many rich settings. Passenger is a delightful novel sure to appeal to fantasy readers and fans of time travel stories as well as readers of historical fiction. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Until We Meet Again by Renee Collins, 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

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2015*

The Truth Commission: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“When you tell a story, you shape the truth.”

The Truth Commission by Susan JubyAfter years of being fodder (along with her parents) for her sister Kiera’s best-selling graphic novel series, The Diana Chronicles, Normandy Pale is ready to come into her own. She’d like to be known for her own strengths and accomplishments instead of constantly being compared to her hapless counterpart in the Chronicles.

But it turns out it’s hard to stop being a muse. Especially when you never asked to be one.

How can Normandy focus on her projects at the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design when she is terrified of what fresh humiliations her character will be subjected to in Kiera’s highly anticipated new book? How can she embark on a search for truth with the Truth Commission she accidentally started with best friends Dusk and Neil when it feels like secrets are the only things holding her fragile and peculiar family together?

In searching for secrets at Green Pastures, Dusk, Neil and a reluctant Normandy hope to bring some kind of peace and honesty to their school. But when their hunt for truth reveals some uncomfortable secrets and shocking truths about Kiera and her work, Normandy will have to decide how much honesty she wants in her own life in The Truth Commission (2015) by Susan Juby.

The Truth Commission is an ambitious novel presented as a work of narrative non-fiction complete with footnotes and illustrations (by Trevor Cooper). Written as Normandy’s spring project for the Green Pastures Academy of Art and Applied Design, The Truth Commission is a sleek and self-aware novel.

In watching Normandy work through the process of writing her own book (when to add chapter breaks, how to move the plot along, etc.) The Truth Commission also becomes a sort of primer on how to write and write well. The one-sided dialog (in footnotes) between Normandy and her teacher Ms. Fowler also adds another dimension to a novel that is already delightfully complex.

Speaking of Ms. Fowler, it’s also refreshing to see that Normandy has adults in her life who are present and offer support throughout the novel–even if they aren’t always the ones who should be at the forefront in terms of support. This novel is about a lot of other things but seeing Normandy create and nurture her own support system is very powerful.

As the title suggests, The Truth Commission is a story about truth and honesty. It’s also a story about family and what it means when the family you are born into is not always as good or healthy as the family you might choose. It’s a story about art–both making it and engaging with it. It’s a story about the push and pull of friendships. It’s even a bit of a story about love. Most importantly, The Truth Commission is about how people–both creators and not–shape their own worlds and stories in the telling.

The Truth Commission is a thoughtful, smart, and funny story that works on many different planes. What starts as a humorous and promising project for Normandy and her friends becomes much more in Juby’s expert hands in this meditation on subjectivity, consent and how telling the truth (or choosing not to) can change everything. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella, The Romantics by Leah Konen, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, In Real Life by Jessica Love, A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Consent by Nancy Ohlin, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos, We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Susan!

Consent: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Consent by Nancy OhlinBetween all of the lies she tells at school about her non-existent piano teacher and her supposedly okay home life, Beatrice Kim has a lot of secrets even before starting her senior year at Andrew Jackson High School.

Then Bea meets her music history teacher. Mr. Rossi is young, good-looking, and completely believes in Bea’s potential as a professional pianist–something Bea hasn’t ever allowed herself to consider.

When their shared passion for music turns into something else, Bea and Rossi begin a sexual relationship that could ruin them both. Bea thinks she knows what she is doing and what she wants. She thinks Rossi understands her and loves her. But with the threat of discovery looming, Bea will have to confront uncomfortable truths about herself and her relationship with Rossi in Consent (2015) by Nancy Ohlin.

Consent delivers two stories in one slim volume. One, reminiscent of Sara Zarr’s The Lucy Variations, explores how Bea lost her love for the piano and how she can reclaim it; the other is an often uncomfortable examination of a relationship that never should have happened.

Despite the problems Bea hints at in her home life and the lies she tells, everything comes very easily to Bea in Consent. She is at the top of her class despite having no real interest in college. She is a piano prodigy with perfect pitch although she has never had formal lessons. She is also, conveniently, at a recently rebranded  “Campus for Baccalaureate and Performing Arts” despite having a nearly pathological desire to avoid the piano at the beginning of the novel. Readers who can get past these contrivances will be rewarded with a layered and thoughtful contemporary novel.

The push and pull between what is perceived and what is true throughout Consent adds another dimension to Bea’s often unreliable first person narration as readers, and Bea herself, contemplate Rossi’s agenda.  Despite some heavy-handed moments, Ohlin delivers an open-ended novel ripe for discussion as readers follow the plot’s twists and turns.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Graces by Laure Eve, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Teach Me by R. A. Nelson, Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the September 2015 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*

You can also read my review with Nancy Ohlin starting November 12.

Six of Crows: A Review

“A good magician wasn’t much different from a proper thief.”

Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoNothing is sacred except trade to the island nation of Kerch where the city of Ketterdam is a hub of international trade. In a city where anything can be bought or sold, Kaz Brekker has most of the city eating out of the palm of his hand.

When Kaz is offered the chance to take on an impossible heist, he knows the rewards are worth the risk–especially when they will bring him one crucial step closer to revenge.

But even Kaz will need help on this job.

He draws together an unlikely crew: a convict eager for revenge of his own, a sharpshooter who loves the cards more than they love him, a runaway with a secret, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to stay alive in Ketterdam’s slums and, of course, a thief with a talent for impossible escapes.

Six people, but a thousand ways that Kaz’s insane plan could go wrong in Six of Crows (2015) by Leigh Bardugo.

Six of Crows is the first book in a two book series which will continue in Empire of Crows. It is also a companion to Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. This book is shortly after the events of the Grisha trilogy and in the same world although there are new characters. You can absolutely read this novel without reading the Grisha books first. (I did!)

Six of Crows is an impressive undertaking filled with complex heists, jail breaks, bait and switch twists, and high-octane action from page one. The novel is written in third person with alternating close points of view. Most of the chapters follow Kaz or members of his diverse crew.

By alternating viewpoints so often Bardugo is able to deliver a well-rounded and nuanced story with multiple plot threads. The book’s structure also allows for slow reveals of character motivations and backgrounds.

While there are moments of violence in Six of Crows, they are quick and easy to gloss over for squeamish readers. Fans of the Grisha trilogy will, of course, already be familiar with the well-realized and detailed world of the Grisha. That said, Bardugo does a good job of explaining details for readers coming to Six of Crows without the background of her earlier trilogy.

Unsurprisingly, Six of Crows does end with quite a few twists and much left unresolved which is guaranteed to leave readers eager for book two.

Twists, turns, and surprises guarantee that this novel is sure to have high appeal. A solid heist story with minimal fantasy elements make Six of Crows an ideal introduction to fantasy for readers hoping to try the genre.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

A Curse As Dark as Gold: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. BunceWhen their father dies suddenly, Charlotte Miller and her younger sister Rose are left in charge of the family mill. With it comes the large responsibility of seeing to the mill’s numerous employees as well.

The Millers are not known for their good fortune. Some even claim that the family has been cursed though Charlotte is loathe to put any stock in such silly superstitions. Still, the mill’s usual problems seem to multiply dangerously after Charlotte takes charge. Mending broken equipment and painting faded walls can only go so far, however, when Charlotte learns that her father also left behind a shocking debt.

Desperate to save the mill and protect those who work there, Charlotte enters into a dangerous bargain with a man known merely as Jack Spinner. But every bargain comes with a price. As the stakes grow higher, Charlotte begins to realize that saving her mill may jeopardize everyone she holds dear in A Curse as Dark as Gold (2008) by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a loose retelling of the fairytale of Rumpelstiltskin. It is Bunce’s first novel and winner of the 2009 William C. Morris Debut Award.

A Curse as Dark as Gold is a lush and well-researched historical novel with just a hint of fantasy to better accommodate the fairytale retelling aspect. Bunce’s prose is immediately evocative and brings Charlotte’s village and the mill to life.

Fairy tales in general, but especially Rumpelstiltskin, are often very black and white, making it easy to tell exactly who the villain is. A Curse as Dark as Gold complicates things with rich, thoughtful characters who raise interesting questions throughout the narrative. While there are some decidedly bad choices and terrible acts, no one is ever completely bad anymore than they are entirely good.

Despite the vibrant settings and compelling characters, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a slow read. While the pacing allows readers to really know Charlotte and her world, the novel doesn’t get to the actual plot (not to mention the retelling aspect) until the second half of the novel.

It is also impossible to ignore the fact that a significant number of problems for the characters could have been avoided with good communication. At several points throughout the novel, if Charlotte had chosen to talk to anyone about even half of what she had done or suspected, the entire plot could have easily been resolved. Instead Charlotte clings stubbornly to her pride and a foolish belief that, as head of the mill, she is meant to deal with all of the Miller’s problems entirely on her own.

Plot aside, A Curse as Dark as Gold is a beautifully written and very solid historical novel, making it easy to understand why it garnered the Morris win in 2009. Despite its interesting take on Rumpelstiltskin and a charmingly romantic plot thread, this novel remains a slow and often dense read. Recommended for readers who enjoy strong writing and well-rounded characters. A Curse as Dark as Gold will hold particular appeal for readers who can ignore weak plot points in favor of dazzling prose.

Possible Pairings: Chime by Franny Billingsley, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Beauty by Robin McKinley, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Lair of Dreams: A Review

*Lair of Dreams is the second book in Bray’s Diviners series which begins with The Diviners. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

Lair of Dreams by Libba BrayEvie O’Neil’s life changed forever when she came to New York City and helped her uncle Will (curator of “The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies”) catch a supernatural killer.

Months after the Naughty John case was closed, it seems like New York has Diviners fever all thanks to Evie’s public revelation about her ability to read objects.

Evie is clinging to her fifteen minutes of fame with both hands thanks to her radio show as the “Sweetheart Seer” while other Diviners, some friends and some not, decide what to do in this new landscape where it seems everyone wants a Diviner ability–or wants something from someone who has them.

While Evie is having a pos-i-tutely grand time uptown, her friends have other problems. When Will runs off to investigate strange happenings, Jericho and his least favorite person Sam Lloyd are left behind to try and save the museum (again). Memphis and Theta aren’t  sure if they’ll ever find a space to be together while Theta’s best friend Henry walks dreams searching for his lost love, Louis.

In the midst of this turmoil, a strange sleeping sickness is weaving through Chinatown  leaving a trail of victims unable to wake from terrible dreams. Ling has walked dreams for years, but she has never seen anything like this. Ling has never had the patience for friends, much less other Diviners, but to stop the sleeping sickness Ling and the other Diviners will have to work together before it’s too late in Lair of Dreams (2015) by Libba Bray.

Lair of Dreams is the highly anticipated sequel to Bray’s stunning novel The Diviners first book in Bray’s four-book series set in 1927 New York.

Readers eagerly waiting this latest installment will not be disappointed.

Although Bray returns to familiar characters (notably Evie, of course), Lair of Dreams moves the novel in new directions as the main plot with the sleeping sickness focuses instead on Henry Dubois (one of Evie’s friends whom she met through Theta) and Ling (a character who only appeared for the briefest moment in The Diviners). Although readers will be itching to see what’s become of familiar faces, Bray quickly makes Henry and Ling’s stories just as fascinating with her signature blend of wit and storytelling.

Lair of Dreams is another dazzling installment in this sweeping historical fantasy series. Where the first book in the series introduced readers to New York City in the 1920s, this book blows that world wide open as the book moves into new neighborhoods (particularly Chinatown) and new historical details as a large part of the story involves the construction of New York City’s subway system.

Bray strikes a perfect balance between expanding old storylines and building new ones in this second installment.While it references events from The Diviners heavily, the shift in character focus helps this book remain very much its own story. Similarly, while Lair of Dreams hints at things to come in books three and four, it still delivers a contained plot from inception to resolution to make this a satisfying read on its own.

Lair of Dreams is another vibrant and thorough book done only as Libba Bray can. Truly stunning and highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown, The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, Bright Young Things by Anna Godbersen, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga, Sabriel by Garth Nix, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters, The Stand (mini-series)

*This book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2015*