The Rose and the Dagger: A Review

*The Rose and the Dagger is the sequel to The Wrath and the Dawn. This review has major spoilers for The Wrath and the Dawn.*

“The trying times were the moments that defined a man.”

The Rose and the Dagger by Renee AhdiehWhen Shahrzad  volunteered to marry the Caliph of Khorasan, she never expected to find herself at the center of a power struggle that could destroy her kingdom.

Shahrzad has been separated from her husband as part of a misguided rescue attempt by her first love. Reunited with her family, Shahrzad’s heart remains tied to Khalid as he struggles to restore order within Khorasan.

The curse that has driven Khalid to take a new bride each day still looms over the kingdom while a darker, possibly more dangerous, magic unleashed by Shahrzad’s father threatens to change the power balance throughout the kingdom and beyond.

Separated by distance and circumstance, Shahrzad and Khalid will have to work together to end the curse and save their kingdom in The Rose and the Dagger (2016) by Renee Ahdieh.

The Rose and the Dagger is the sequel to Ahdieh’s debut The Wrath and the Dawn.

This story picks up shortly after the cliffhanger ending of book one. Shahrzad and Khalid are separated. Khorasan is facing threats on all sides. Khalid is still cursed and Shahrzad still doesn’t understand the magic that seems to run through her and her father’s veins.

Fans of The Wrath and the Dawn will find a lot to love in this action-packed followup. The chemistry between Shahrzad and Khalid is still a palpable thing. Ahdieh’s lush prose and vivid descriptions bring the city of Rey to life.

This story expands the world of the book bringing Shahrzad and other characters to neighboring kingdoms and beyond the relatively insular walls of Rey. The book’s cast is also expanded with new characters and more page time for secondary characters found in the first book.

In a different world, Shahrzad and Khalid’s story likely could have been told in one–slightly longer–book. It’s hard to say if that book would have been markedly better but it seems likely the plot would have had more cohesion if nothing else.

Parts of The Rose and the Dagger are wonderful. The characters have many thoughtful meditations on love and strength and what it means to be a person of influence versus an influential person. Unfortunately, these shining moments are tempered with uneven pacing, a slow plot that often meanders, and character interactions that verge on clumsy.

The Rose and the Dagger is a fitting and serviceable conclusion to Shahrzad’s story. Ahdieh is a talent to watch. Fans will be eager to see what she has in story for her next project.

Possible Pairings: Nemesis by Anna Banks, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Clariel by Garth Nix, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

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

Quintana of Charyn: A Review

“We could look at the side of wonder.”

Quintana of Charyn by Melina MarcherraFroi was left for dead on the mountaintops of Charyn, taken to his uncle–a gifted physician. He has lost Quintana. He has lost Gargarin and Lirah.

Quintana of Charyn is alone and in hiding. She might be the curse breaker, but first she will have to survive long enough to give birth to the new heir.

In Lumatere, the Charyn threat is growing. Lucian of the Monts is uncertain of how to deal with his unwanted neighbors across the valley. Isaboe wants to erase the royal line responsible for the days of the unspeakable and the murders of her family. Finnikin wants to find Froi before it’s too late. But in their months apart, both young men have changed.

Two countries torn apart by grief and rage will have to find common ground if either of them hopes to heal in Quintana of Charyn (2013) by Melina Marchetta.

Quintana of Charyn is the final book in Melina Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finninkin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles.

Quintana of Charyn picks up soon after the brutal events of Froi of the Exiles. Everything is still a mess. The characters are all separated. The outlook is bleak.

It’s difficult to talk about too much of the plot but suffice to say that Quintana of Charyn gives these characters the space and the ending that they deserve. Through careful writing and artful plotting, Marchetta subtly shifts her characters and tone. After the harrowing experiences of book two, this conclusion to her epic fantasy trilogy reads like a soothing balm.

It’s a testament to the strength of the writing and the intricacy of this series that absolutely everything comes together here. Marchetta uses the fantasy setting to explore larger issues of forgiveness and love as well as grieving and rebirth in this powerful novel.

Quintana of Charyn is a must read for fans of the first two books in the series. Readers looking for their next sweeping fantasy series should definitely start this series at the beginning. Highly recommended.

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, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, 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

Two Summers: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Two Summers by Aimee FriedmanAn unexpected phone call at the airport forces Summer Everett to make a split second decision. Should she answer the phone? Should she get on the plane?

One decision will lead to two very different outcomes as Summer’s choices play out in parallel worlds.

In one world Summer ignores the phone call and heads to France as planned for what should be a perfect trip. Summer is thrilled with the chance to catch up with her dad and get to see his portrait of her hanging in a fancy gallery–all while enjoying the beautiful French countryside.

In the other world Summer answers the phone and her plans are ruined. No trip to France. No time with Dad. Just three boring months off from school in her same old small town. She has the chance to take a photography class for the first time, but it’s hard to think of that as anything but a consolation prize.

Neither outcome is quite what Summer expects.

In France or her home town Summer will find unexpected surprises and growing pains, along with the promise of first love and self-discovery. Each vacation will also bring Summer closer to a shocking secret whose revelation will have lasting repercussions regardless of Summer’s initial choice. Some decisions might lead Summer to the same outcomes in both worlds, but it’s up to her to decide what shape her life will take from here in Two Summers (2016) by Aimee Friedman.

Two Summers gives readers the best of both worlds in this two-for-one story of one (or perhaps two) pivotal summers. 

Summer is a smart, authentic narrator who learns a lot in each plot whether its how to stand up for herself in France or how to appreciate her own artistic abilities in a photography class at home. Throughout the novel Summer also learns how to be alone and how to step out of her comfort zone. Sweet romances and well-developed characters round out this charming novel that brings the lazy heat and possibility of a long summer vacation to life.

Careful plotting allows readers to watch both timelines play out in “real” time with little nods to the dual narrative which help to bring a cohesive quality to the overall story. The idea of causality and that some outcomes are inevitable is another interesting thread throughout as Two Summers builds toward a satisfying conclusion for both plots. A great summery story and a delightful introduction to time travel and parallel worlds. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Parallel by Lauren Miller, Now That You’re Here by Amy K. Nichols, Just Like Fate by Cat Patrick and Suzanne Young, The Square Root of Summer by Harrier Reuter Hapgood, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone, Pivot Point by Kasie West, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Be sure to enter my Two Summers giveaway too!

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Aimee!

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

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, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, 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, The Infinity of You & Me by J. Q. Coyle, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Hourglass by Myra McEntire, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Into the Dim by Janet B. Taylor, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Pivot Point by Kasie West

*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, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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.