In the Afterlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Black is the color of memory.

“It is our color.

“The only one they’ll use to tell our story.”

In the Afterlight by Alexandra BrackenRuby is haunted by memories of her time at Thurmond–the country’s largest rehabilitation camp–and what she has done to survive since her escape. No matter how hard she runs, she can’t get away from the memories of the people she has lost along the way.

But she has to keep moving because there might finally be an end in sight with a potential cure for IAAN–the disease that has killed so many children and left survivors like Ruby with strange and sometimes crippling abilities.

Pressure is mounting to rescue Psi kids from the camps. But time is also running out to stop IAAN. After surviving the government’s attack on Los Angeles, Ruby and the other Psi kids are even more determined to bring about change. Questions arise, however, as they try to decide what to do and who to follow.

Ruby’s loyalties are soon torn between Liam, the boy who has Ruby’s heart and his brother Cole, the only person who understands everything Ruby struggles to control. With both brothers trying to pull their motley team of survivors in different directions, Ruby has to make some painful choices.

After years of hiding, Ruby will have to embrace who she is–and what she can do–to save the people she loves in In the Afterlight (2014) by Alexandra Bracken.

In the Afterlight is the conclusion of Bracken’s Darkest Minds trilogy. It is preceded by The Darkest Minds and Never Fade.

Bracken once again delivers a high action and deeply thoughtful story as she brings her bestselling trilogy to a close.

While the story has its moments of action (and a bit of a road trip) this novel really shines as the focus turns to Ruby and the characters that have been with her from the beginning. Readers have seen Ruby push people away and sacrifice her own well-being for the sake of others. Throughout the series she has also struggled with her ability and what it means in relation to her sense of self. In the Afterlight includes the same struggles but more than ever it is obvious that Ruby is coming into her own as she embraces who she is and everything she can do.

It’s impossible to say too much about the plot without revealing too much, but rest assured that In the Afterlight has everything readers could hope for in this final installment. In the Afterlight is largely the story that these characters, particularly Ruby, deserve and also one that is deeply satisfying. An excellent conclusion to an excellent series.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, White Cat by Holly Black, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, False Memory by Dan Krokos, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Life by Committee: A Review

lifebycommitteeIt isn’t Tabitha’s fault that her breasts are bigger now. It isn’t her fault that she likes wearing makeup as much as she likes reading margin notes in used books. It isn’t her fault that Joe seems to like talking to her more than he likes talking to his crazy-eccentric-special-snowflake girlfriend Sasha Cotton.

But it might be Tabitha’s fault when she kisses Joe. And when she does it again.

Normally, Tabitha would so not be that girl. But with the help of a website called Life by Committee, Tabitha starts doing a lot of things she wouldn’t normally do in the spirit of being more. At first sharing secrets and completing assignments to keep those secrets safe is easy. The assignments are empowering and push her limits.

When Tabby becomes more involved in the site, and the stakes get much higher, she has to decide how far she is willing to go, and who she is willing to hurt, to be more in Life by Committee (2014) by Corey Ann Haydu.

Life by Committee is Haydu’s sophomore novel.

Tabitha is a great heroine. She struggles with a lot of things throughout Life by Committee. Obviously, there is the morality issue with cheating. But Tabitha is also trying to understand her place in a world where the rules are constantly changing not because of anything she has done but simply because of how she looks. (And sometimes not even that in the case of her changing home life.) The way Tabby, through Haydu’s prose, grapples with feminism and slut shaming and loneliness–problems she can’t always articulate, or even give a proper name–is shattering.

Tabitha is incredibly lonely at the start of the novel. She tries to reshape her life without the friends she had assumed were a given but it’s hard. Then Tabitha stumbles upon Life by Committee. LBC is an anonymous online community where users share secrets and complete assignments (more like dares) in the name of being more and leading their best lives. The wisdom in joining such a site is, of course, debatable. But Haydu does such an excellent job of bringing Tabitha and her hurt to life that it makes sense. Readers begin to understand how Tabitha might become this person who is completely consumed by people she has never met.

The great thing about Tabitha is that she knows exactly who she is and who she would like to be. When Tabitha gets involved with LBC, she starts to question a lot of the ideas she has about herself. Sometimes that leads to empowering moments. Unfortunately it also leads to some heart wrenching decisions that are so obviously Bad Ideas they become painful to read.

Those choices, the power and allure of LBC, are hard to understand at times. Unless you remember being that lonely high school (or college) student trying to find your way. Unless you remember the thrill that can come with telling everything that matters to someone who will never meet you, never be able to really judge you. Life by Committee captures that heady mix of connection and anonymity found on the Internet so very well.

Life by Committee also subtly highlights the pitfalls that can come from such a scenario. It’s wonderful to have friends online saying “yes!” to every risk you want to take. But without the context that comes from knowing a person in real life, it’s also difficult to ever adequately understand the consequences and the aftermath of those risks.

At the end of Life by Committee it’s safe to say that Tabitha comes out a little wiser and a lot stronger. Because this book is on the short side (304 pages hardcover) readers don’t get to see all of the payoff after Tabitha realizes she can find her own way, all by herself, but the development is there. The growth and the hint at something more–LBC-inspired or not–is there in the final pages.

Although she has her stumbling blocks, Tabitha remains a smart and capable heroine throughout. While she doesn’t always make the best decisions, she always learns. And that, really, is all anyone can hope for. Life by Committee is a shrewd, clever read that raises all of the right questions for its characters and readers. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anna Heltzel, Undercover by Beth Kephart, The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart, Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel QuinteroThe Unwritten Rule by Elizabeth Scott, Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker

*A review copy of this book was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2014*

The Darkest Part of the Forest: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“But in all the stories, you have a single chance; and if you miss it, then it’s gone. The door isn’t there when you go back to look. There is no second invitation to the ball”

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly BlackHazel has always known that life in Fairfold is different from the glass coffin that houses a sleeping prince to the strange things that are known to happen to tourists. She has always known the the fairies that live around Fairfold can be as lethal as they are charming; that they will just as soon kill a human as they will bargain with one.

Even then, knowing the dangers, Hazel finds herself drawn to the dark things that lurk outside of Fairfold. With a sword and her brother Ben by her side, Hazel hoped once to become a knight and hunt the monsters that lurked in the Fairfold woods. But Ben put a stop to that.

Seven years ago Hazel made a bargain to try and fix things. To get back the life she thought she wanted. But that fell apart as well.

Now Hazel kisses boys with wild abandon and has fun, hoping to shore up enough in reserve for the day it all might be lost to her. But the payment for Hazel’s bargain is coming due and time is running out for regrets or preparation.

That is until the coffin in the woods is broken and the prince, who has been there for as long as anyone can remember, disappears. Until Hazel wakes up in her bed surrounded by dirt and pieces of broken glass with no idea how to fix anything in The Darkest Part of the Forest (2015) by Holly Black.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a fresh-faced fairy story where the fairies are as as entrancing as they are dangerous. Black once again delivers a thoughtful, intricate story of magic and identity in this smartly modern tale.

The Darkest Part of the Forest takes traditional fairy tale tropes (not to mention gender roles) and turns them on their heads as this story infuses familiar lore with new twists and turns. Hazel, in particular, is a stunningly authentic and multi-faceted heroine. She is flawed and impulsive. She is genuine and kind. This story expertly negotiates exactly what agency and identity really mean not just for a girl in a small town but also for a girl with a self-proclaimed charge of saving that town.

There are other relationships in this story that are equally well done. Hazel and Ben come to understand each other as equals and family for perhaps the first time while both also come to terms with a less-than-idyllic upbringing. There is romance for both Hazel and Ben in unlikely places.

This novel also wonderfully examines the nature of family and the ramifications that come when people decide to choose their own–even if it is just for a time. Throughout the quests, the adventures, and the reconciliations, Hazel remains firmly grounded at the center of this plot. Her growth, particularly in the second half of the novel, is phenomenal as the narrative explores what it means to truly know oneself and trust oneself after years of doubt.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is a wonderful fantasy but where it really shines is as the sensational story of a girl who not only finds her place in the world but also finds herself when she chooses to face the darkness in herself as well as in the forest.

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2014*

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Lament by Maggie Stiefvater, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel

Princess of Thorns: A Review

 “Once upon a time there lived a prince and princess with no happy ever after . . . “

Princess of Thorns by Stacey JayIn the kingdom of Norvere, two briar-born children are forced into hiding when their father is murdered and their mother–the Sleeping Beauty–is imprisoned by the ogre queen. Eventually Aurora and Jor escape. Thanks to her mother, Aurora is blessed with enhanced strength, a brave spirit, a merciful mind, and a heart no man she loves will dare defy. It will take Aurora nearly ten years to understand the full weight of that; to understand that fairy blessings can be gifts as easily as they can be curses.

The immortal king of Kanvasola cursed his eleven sons so that no heir might live to challenge his claim to the throne. But the immortal king found a gentle witch who doomed the sons to change into swans on their eighteenth birthday instead of death. As the years passed, ten sons were transformed. The eleventh, Niklaas, hopes to break the spell and change his fate by journeying to Norvere to find and marry the princess Aurora.

When her brother is captured by the ogre queen, Aurora disguises herself as a boy to try to raise an army and reclaim her kingdom before it’s too late. Niklaas agrees to help, thinking it will bring him closer to Aurora and the end of his own curse.

It will take trust and sacrifice from both prince and princess if they hope to save Norvere and rescue Aurora’s brother before all is lost. With so much at stake, Aurora and Niklaas will have to try to survive before they can even consider their happy ending in Princess of Thorns (2014) by Stacey Jay.

Dual narration from Aurora and Niklaas offer a balanced story in this action-packed high fantasy fairy tale that references the stories of “Sleeping Beauty” and “The Swan Princess.” Jay takes both stories in unexpected directions as Aurora and Niklaas embark on a cross-country journey to try and save Aurora’s brother Jor.

In addition to action and humor, Princess of Thorns is a fantasy with feminist elements as Aurora struggles to reconcile who she is (capable, single-minded, strong) with what is typically expected of a princess. Niklaas faces similar moments of doubt and confusion in his narration. While both characters begin the story flawed–Niklaas’ views are often primitive or reductive while Aurora is painfully reckless–their growth is obvious over the course of the narrative. Even knowing more than both narrators, readers will find a few satisfying surprises here–particularly in the final act.

Brief scenes from the ogre queen Ekeeta’s perspective add another layer to this story and make Ekeeta a complex character of her own rather than merely a stock villain. Although there is often a fundamental lack of communication between the two protagonists, it is a plot device that is used well throughout the story in combination with the alternating narration to create a story that is an absolute page-turner.

Working within the confines of both Aurora and Niklaas’s curses, Jay offers a thoughtful story with as much external plot as there is internal character development. With magic, adventure and romance Princess of Thorns is a story that is as enchanting as any fairy tale.

Possible Pairings: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Hero by Alethea Kontis, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Chasing Power: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Chasing Power by Sarah Beth DurstKayla had planned to spend her summer lazing about the beach in Santa Barbara with her best friend Selena and occasionally stealing things here and there to keep her mind sharp. After all, a sharp mind is very important when you can use it to move things.

Her plans for the summer are effectively derailed when a boy named Daniel appears out of nowhere. Literally. Because Daniel has a power of his own–the ability to teleport anywhere instantly. Threatened with blackmail, Kayla agrees to help Daniel steal a set of three ancient artifacts to help Daniel rescue his kidnapped mother.

As Daniel and Kayla travel around the world to collect the artifacts, Kayla soon realizes that the secrets she has been keeping, the kidnapping, and the artifacts may all connect back to each other–and to her own family–in a shocking act of betrayal that could change everything in Chasing Power (2014) by Sarah Beth Durst.

While Kayla is a willful and often impulsive character, she is also an honest one who is willing to own up to her mistakes. Kayla’s own rash behavior is balanced well by best friend Selena who offers a down-to-earth foil to Kayla’s magical powers. Kayla’s mother is another a great addition to this story with her own charms–both magical and otherwise.

Chasing Power is a streamlined blend of magic, romance and page-turning action. This story is part urban fantasy and part treasure hunt in a satisfying blend of adventure and suspense.

Possible Pairings: Loop by Karen Akins, White Cat by Holly Black, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey, The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, Rampant by Diana Peterfreund, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Companions of the Night by Vivian Vande Velde, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

*A copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at BEA 2014*

Clariel: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Clariel by Garth NixClariel is the daughter of one of the most renowned goldsmiths in the Old Kingdom. With ties to both the Abhorsen and the king, she also is part of a powerful family line. Despite the supposed prestige, Clariel wants nothing to do with her mother’s goldsmith work or the city of Belisaere which will apparently further her mother’s ambitions.

While Clariel plots her escape back to the Great Forest near Estwael, she finds herself drawn again and again into political machinations within Belisaere. The more she tries to escape, the more problems (ranging from a Free Magic to a decidedly unwanted marriage proposal) appear to keep Clariel in the city.

Clariel knows her own mind better than most and is determined to choose her own path no matter who or what might try to stop her. But with so many temptations and obstacles, can Clariel ever truly be free? More importantly, how many times can a passion be thwarted before it goes horribly, irreparably astray in Clariel (2014) by Garth Nix?

Clariel is a prequel to Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series. It is set roughly 600 years before the events in Sabriel (the first Old Kingdom book).

Readers of the Old Kingdom books will know that Clariel eventually becomes Chlorr of the Mask–a villain who features in first three Old Kingdom novels. Beyond that fact, Clariel is its own story. Free of spoilers for the rest of this series, this book can serve as an equally good entry point for readers looking to discover the world of the Old Kingdom.

Clariel is a brusque, singular protagonist. For most of the novel she cares little about others or anything beyond her immediate desire to return to the Great Forest. In a lesser narrative these attributes might have made for a self-absorbed heroine and little else. Clariel, however, is much more than that. Even though her agency is undermined again and again, even while she is constantly manipulated, Clariel remains her own woman.

In Clariel, Garth Nix presents a nuanced story about choice and redemption featuring a capable heroine. Even knowing what Clariel eventually becomes, Nix has delivered a story that is as taut as it is heartbreaking. A must-read for fans of high fantasy.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Fire by Kristin Cashore, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

*A copy of this book was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2014 for review consideration*

The Unbound: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The UnboundMackenzie Bishop is a Keeper for the the Archive–a library where the dead rest on shelves like books–where she works to keep violent Histories from escaping their shelves.

Last summer she almost lost her life to one such History.

In the intervening months Mac has tried to get her life back together–as much as it can be when she spends so much time lying to everyone she knows and lurking in shadows. But with nightmares that feel real, a new school, and members of the Archive who would sooner see her removed than recovered, Mackenzie isn’t sure how to get back to normal.

When people in town begin to disappear, Mac’s doubts about herself and her safety grow. The disappearances don’t seem to have anything in common. Except Mackenzie herself. Solving the disappearances could help Mac keep her freedom and reclaim some modicum of safety as she truly puts the past behind her. Failure could mean losing her memories, her place in the Archive and her life in The Unbound (2014) by Victoria Schwab.

The Unbound is the sequel to Schwab’s novel The Archived. This book continues several weeks after the conclusion of The Archived with handy flashbacks and recaps to explain key events from the first book. The Unbound works well as a standalone however it does contain mild spoilers for The Archived.

Flashbacks and dreams lend an otherworldly quality to this eerie novel as Mackenzie tries to make sense of her life in the wake of fighting an escaped History. Despite her strong face, cracks are beginning to show in Mac’s carefully constructed armor; it is becoming harder to keep her life at the Archive separate from the life she pretends to lead.

While readers got a sense of Mac in the first book, they really get to know her in The Unbound. Mac’s unflinching loyalty to the Archive was already shaken but now it is shattered as much of what she knows about the Archive is thrown into question. Mac’s friends, a blend of familiar faces from book one as well as some new characters, add another dimension and levity to the story.

Schwab once again delivers a dazzling blend of mystery and fantasy in an entirely unique world in The Unbound. Vivid characters and breathtaking prose guarantee readers will be clamoring for a third book.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey, House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones, Drawing the Ocean by Carolyn MacCullough, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin