And I Darken: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

And I Darken by Kiersten WhiteLada Dragwlya has always known that being ruthless in a brutal world is the key to survival–especially for a princess whose only perceived worth is in the man she marries. Lada would much prefer to be measured by her own strength and intellect. To that end, she is determined to prove herself stronger and fiercer than any man.

Radu, Lada’s younger brother, is known for his charm and good looks. But those traits do little to counter his naivete and kind nature. As the third, and obviously weakest, son of a prince it seems easier for everyone to ignore Radu. But he knows how much can be heard once people forget he is listening. In a world that values action and might, Radu quickly learns to capitalize on his appearance and his social graces while hiding his own cunning spy-craft.

Lada is livid when she and Radu become hostages of the Ottoman Empire to ensure their father’s loyalty. She rails against the Ottomans and dreams of the day she will be able to escape and return to her beloved Wallachia to restore her homeland to its proper glory and reclaim everything she has been denied.

Radu, meanwhile, welcomes the new beginning these surroundings offer and throws himself into the Ottoman culture including their soothing religion, Islam. He hopes that with time he might finally find the safety and peace he’s craved for most of his young life.

When Lada and Radu meet Mehmed, the sultan’s lonely son, they find an unlikely ally. Radu sees a friend in Mehmed and the promise of being understood for the first time in his life while Lada recognizes her own ambition in Mehmed’s plans for his future and feels a kinship with him that she never thought possible.

In a world where power is a tenuous thing Lada, Radu, and Mehmed will have to weigh their bonds to each other against their desire for control over their own fates in And I Darken (2016) by Kiersten White.

And I Darken is the first book in White’s Conquerors trilogy which presents an alternate history imagining Vlad the Impaler as a girl. IBoth Radu and Mehmed are also based on real historical figures. A map, family trees, and an author’s note help to explain where fact and fiction diverge.

This book begins in 1435 with Lada’s birth and follows the formative years of her childhood and adolescence before it ends in 1451 with Lada poised, in many ways, to become the infamous Vlad the Impaler of legend.

And I Darken alternates close third person point of view between Lada and Radu. Being the kinder and gentler Dragwlya, Radu’s perspective is often a much-needed break from Lada’s vitriol-fueled outlook. Giving them equal prominence in the narrative also helps to highlight how often Lada and Radu’s distinct skills and proclivities compliment each other. This structure also, of course, positions them as obvious foils to one another.

White’s novel is well-researched and evocative–particularly as she brings the Ottoman Empire to life. Through Lada readers can see the violence and fear that the current sultan uses to maintain order. Alternately, Radu’s view of his new home shows the tranquility and comfort that can be found in a new culture and religion (Islam in this case).

Although Lada is often reckless, everything about And I Darken is thoughtful from the plotting to the characterization. The epic scope of this series starter demands a slower pace that will reward patient readers. Lada, Radu, and Mehmed’s story arcs mirror each other as they all strive in various ways (and with varied results) to achieve some level of agency and autonomy in their own lives.

And I Darken is a nuanced story about power, passion, and where the two can intersect. A sweeping and completely captivating start to a promising series. Highly recommended for readers looking for strong historical fiction/historical fantasy with a plot that plays out on a grand stage.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Nemesis by Anna Banks, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Last week I read And I Darken by Kiersten White. It's an alternate history/historical fantasy that reimagines Vlad the Impaler as a girl named Lada. The story starts in 1435 with Lada's birth and continues through 1451. Along the way Lada realizes her precarious position in society as a young woman, she understands that there are things her brother Radu will always have easier as a young man, and she painfully understands that sometimes the only way you can protect someone you love is by hurting them–or yourself. When Lada and Radu become prisoners of the Ottoman sultan, they form an unlikely friendship with the sultan's son, Mehmed. All three have different goals and agendas but ultimately their stories overlap and intersect as they each chase their own chance at gaining some kind of agency and power in a world that denies them at every turn. This book is a fascinating start to a new series that will appeal to fans of The Scorpion Rules, Seraphina, The Thief, and The Wrath and the Dawn. It also reminded me a lot of the Courts and Cosmos exhibit that's at the @metmuseum until July 24, which is why I added my new Turkish ceramic necklace as a prop. The exhibit features art and artifacts from the Seljuq empire which existed roughly two centuries before Lada was even born but covers some of the same geographical territory that became part of the Ottoman Empire. #courtandcosmos #andidarken #booknerdigans #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #bookstagramfeatures #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #owlcrateoctrep

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This Savage Song: A Review

“Nobody gets to stay the same.”

This Savage Song by Victoria SchwabNo one knows what happened in Verity to make monsters appear in the wake of violent acts. The only certainty is that two factions struggle to maintain order in a city where safety has become an illusion.

The Corsai who prey in shadows, and the Malchai with their eerie red eyes and pale skin, listen to Harker and spare those who can afford to pay for his protection. Kate Harker wants to mold herself in her father’s image. After years of training herself to emulate her father and hide her weaknesses (like her deaf ear and the nightmares that sometimes still haunt her), Kate finally feels ready to meet her father on his own terms. She is prepared to be as ruthless as he is and prove that she can one day take on his mantle leading Verity’s monsters.

Flynn, meanwhile, tries to bring together those who can’t afford Harker’s brand of safety and believe that working with monsters can only end one way. Flynn’s secret weapons against Harker are Verity’s Sunai–rare and powerful monsters born from the most horrific acts of violence who feed on sinners to keep themselves alive. If it wasn’t for their coal black eyes, you’d almost think the Sunai are human.

August Flynn desperately wants to be human like his adopted parents, the Flynns. He dreams of being able to play his violin without fear, without feeding. He starves himself, trying to push himself past hunger and beyond his own monstrous Sunai tendencies. He hopes that by helping protect the innocent he can become more human than monster. August jumps at the chance to help his father’s cause by spying on Kate and figuring out what Harker is up to as the city’s uneasy truce threatens to break.

Kate Harker and August Flynn are on opposite sides in a city on the verge of war. When everything in Verity begins to go wrong, they are also the only ones who can keep each other alive in This Savage Song (2016) by Victoria Schwab.

This Savage Song is the first book in Schwab’s new YA series, Monsters of Verity. The book alternates third person close POV between Kate and August throughout.

Schwab presents a world that is eerily plausible in This Savage Song. Some aspects of this world are more developed than others but the key pieces to the story are completely realized. Being the first book in a new series also leaves room for further development in future installments.

Verity is one of several supercities across what was once the United States–a country that disbanded after unrest over the Vietnam War. The supercities were born in the wake of this upheaval and order was restored. Until a few years before the start of the novel when violent crimes began to leave echoes in the form of monsters. Six years ago Harker and Flynn called a truce but with promises broken and more monsters being born, the balance of power may be tipping as the novel starts.

Kate and August are opposites in every sense of the word (although both are described as fair and pale, respectively). Kate is cold and calculating. She struggles to suppress any traits that might be conceived as weaknesses by others–especially her father. August, meanwhile, is desperate to be warm and, well, human. Anything to prove he isn’t entirely a monster and still has some humanity left to save. Throughout the story Kate and August serve as counterpoints and foils for each other with each representing, in various ways, something the other can never hope to achieve.

This Savage Song is a fast-paced urban fantasy that still manages to deliver subtle character studies of monstrous humans and humane monsters. A larger conspiracy unfolding throughout the story adds a bit of mystery to an already taut plot and lays groundwork for events to come in later books.

This Savage Song is a thoughtful and nuanced story about light and dark, about resisting change and accepting it, as well as the fragile nature of what makes us human … or not. In a world filled with monsters, it turns out that there are no easy answers about right and wrong. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The Graces by Laure Eve, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Don’t You Trust Me? by Patrice Kindl, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Legend by Marie Lu, Fracture by Megan Miranda, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, And I Darken by Kiersten White, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at ALAMW 2016 (thanks to Nicole!)*

Lucky Strikes: A Review

Lucky Strikes by Louis BayardFourteen-year-old Amelia has been taking care of things at home for a while by the time her mama passes. She knows all about running the family gas station and she’s fair to middling when it comes to taking care of her younger brother and sister, Earle and Lucey.

The only problem is, Melia isn’t sure that the state will see it that way if anyone finds out they don’t have an adult taking care of them. It’s bad enough that Melia is scraping the bottom of the barrel to keep the gas station afloat while Harley Blevins eyes them with a mind to buy–or run them out of business. Melia certainly has no intention of letting her and her siblings wind up in foster care and split up. No way.

All Melia has to do is keep her family together and keep the gas station running until she comes of age and can adopt Earle and Lucey. No easy feat with no adult in sight. When a hobo literally falls in her path, Melia thinks she might have found exactly what she needs to keep everyone fooled. She just needs everyone to play along for a little while in Lucky Strikes (2016) by Louis Bayard.

Lucky Strikes is Bayard’s first historical novel written for younger readers. This book is pretty solid middle grade fare although because Amelia is fourteen it technically falls under the umbrella of YA.

This book is narrated by Melia in a breezy and conversational style. Throughout the book she is talking to someone (addressed as “you”) although readers don’t learn who exactly that is until the final pages of the story.

Bayard uses his expertise as an author of historical fiction to bring 1934 Walnut Ridge, Virginia to life. Lucky Strikes is filled with vivid imagery and detailed descriptions that will immediately bring readers into the story as well as its unusual settings. This novel makes 1934 and the Great Depression immediately approachable to readers without bogging the story down in extraneous historical facts.

Amelia is a plucky, self-starter of a heroine who doesn’t waste time on sentimentality when there is work to be done. While she often feels a bit too old to be a fourteen-year-old–particularly because of her pragmatism–it is possibly a side-effect of her having sensibilities from a very different time. The story also largely works because Amelia is fourteen which lends urgency to her need to find an adult to act as a stand-in parent.

Lucky Strikes is a madcap story about perseverance, friendship, and how sometimes family can be found in the most unlikely places. Recommended for fans of historical fiction and fast-paced stories.

Possible Pairings: The View From Saturday by E. L. Konigsburg, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt, Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, Signed, Skye Harper by Carol Lynch Williams

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

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, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, 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, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, 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