American Royals: A Review

American Royals by Katharine McGeeEveryone knows the story of the American Revolution and the birth of the American monarchy. How could anyone forget Colonel Lewis Nicola’s plea after the Battle of Yorktown asking George Washington to become the country’s first king?

Two and a half centuries later, the country is still ruled by Washingtons and Princess Beatrice is poised to become America’s first queen regnant. Beatrice has spent her entire life preparing for this role. But no matter how much she knows about diplomacy and protocol, she is unprepared when her parents start urging her to start looking at potential suitors to become the first king consort and rule beside her.

Twins Samantha and Jefferson are used to being overlooked as younger siblings to the beloved heir. While Jefferson enjoys all the adoration and privilege of being the only boy, Samantha has spent years leaning in to her reputation as a thoughtless party girl. At least until one boy might finally see the version of herself that Samantha has spent so long hiding. Too bad he’s totally off-limits.

Nina has been Princess Samantha’s best friend for six years. But that doesn’t make it any easier to get over Jeff or forget what happened on their graduation night last year. In fact, it makes it all harder when Samantha draws Nina back into the royal family’s orbit.

Everyone wants to get close to the royal family. But Beatrice, Samantha, and Jeff will all have to figure out the difference between those seeking political favor and those trying to win their hearts in American Royals (2019) by Katharine McGee.

Find it on Bookshop.

McGee’s latest splashy contemporary is filled with romance and intrigue which plays out against the luxurious backdrop of a re-imagined America and its uninterrupted monarchy. Chapters alternate between closed third person perspectives following Beatrice, Samantha, Nina, and Jeff’s ex-girlfriend Daphne.

The deceptively simple premise–what if America had a royal family?–opens the door for interesting world building. Unfortunately, most of that alternate history is ignored to instead focus on the romantic entanglements of the royal children leaving readers to wonder how this country’s history–especially its bloodier moments like the Civil War or Manifest Destiny–may have changed with a ruling monarchy at the helm.

Detailed settings and well-drawn characters leave ample space for secret plots and star-crossed love to play out with reveals that will be satisfying if predictable to habitual romance readers. While Nina is Latinx and has two moms, most of the cast is white and conversations about succession with the royal family remain largely heteronormative.

American Royals is a frothy, often elegant diversion if you are willing to go along with the conceit of an American royal family. Recommended for readers looking for a story filled with forbidden romance, salacious gossip, and lots of drama.

Possible Pairings: The Heir and the Spare by Emily Albright, The Selection by Kiera Cass, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm, Lucky in Love by Kasie West

Truly Madly Royally: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Zora Emerson knows exactly who she is and she knows that she has everything she needs to make big changes in her part of the world. But even with all of her confidence, no one is more shocked than Zora by her immediate connection with Owen–the actual prince of an island off the coast of England.

Attending a prestigious summer program should give Zora all the skills she needs to grow her after school helper program to reach even more of her neighbors. But it’s hard to focus on her courses when thinking about Owen is taking up so much of her attention.

When Owen invites Zora to be his date at his older brother’s wedding, it’s a dream come true. But it also sets Zora up for more scrutiny (and criticism) from strangers than she ever imagined. Soon Zora has to decide if dating Owen is worth the media attention–and if she can still stay true to herself while dating an actual prince in Truly Madly Royally (2019) by Debbie Rigaud.

Find it on Bookshop.

Truly Madly Royally is a standalone contemporary perfect for anyone who can’t get enough royal romances.

Zora is a no-nonsense heroine. She is a practical, passionate Black girl and she is more than ready to speak her mind when the situation calls for it. She has immense pride in her hometown in New Jersey and a lot of affection for her family–even when it looks like her brother and her best friend might be making some questionable dating decisions.

Owen has a lot more whimsy and is the perfect counterpoint for Zora as the story focuses on their courtship and builds up to the big royal wedding (which is a clear and beautiful homage to Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s nuptials in 2018). Themes of civic engagement and initiating change when and where you see a need in your community are solid undercurrents throughout this frothy romance.

Truly Madly Royally is a funny, effervescent story sure to leave a smile on your face. Recommended for readers who like their romances filled with witty banter, strong friendships, and plenty of empowerment for the heroine.

Possible Pairings: Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Prince Charming by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthy, American Royals by Katharine McGee, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Prince in Disguise by Stephanie Kate Strohm, Pride by Ibi Zoboi

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

Stain: A Review

In the wake of a war that literally separated night from day, Lyra is born once upon a nightmare in the kingdom of Eldoria where it is perpetually day filled with beauty, warmth, and light. Night still reigns in Nerezeth, an underground kingdom filled with darkness, cold, and creatures drawn to both.

Painfully pale and too sensitive to light to ever step outside, Lyra is able to soothe or entrance with her voice although she is unable to form words. When her aunt, who is as ruthless as she is ambitious, moves to steal the throne a witch saves Lyra and secretly raises her disguised as a boy called Stain.

To save her kingdom and the prince of night, Lyra will have to reclaim her identity and make herself known without her voice in Stain (2019) by A. G. Howard.

Find it on Bookshop.

In this standalone version of “The Princess and the Pea” instead of being too delicate to sleep on a pea under a tower of mattresses, Lyra must prove herself equal to the violence and brutality that the prince of night routinely faces.

Within the framework of “The Princess and the Pea” Howard adds myriad fairy tale elements including the aforementioned wicked aunt, evil cousins (Lustacia, Wrathalyne, and Avaricette), a stolen voice and impersonation plot reminiscent of “The Little Mermaid,” and more making for a unique if crowded cast of characters and a sometimes convoluted plot. Vivid writing and vibrant descriptions bring Lyra’s world, particularly Nerezeth, to life in all of its monstrous glory.

Stain is a sensuous retelling set in a distinctly gothic world perfect for fans of the author and readers seeking darker retellings.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Poisoned by Jennifer Donnelly, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Beyond the Black Door by A. M. Strickland, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West

*A more condensed version of this review was published in the Winter 2018 issue of School Library Journal*

The Swan Riders: A Review

*The Swan Riders is the sequel/companion to The Scorpion Rules. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one.*

The Swan Riders by Erin BowGreta Gustafson Stuart, former princess of the Pan Polar Confederation, is a newly minted Artificial Intelligence. In agreeing to become an AI, Greta has saved herself and fellow hostage Elián Palnik while avoiding the wrath of Talis–the all-powerful AI who rules the world with the judicious use of satellite weaponry, carefully chosen hostages, and his Swan Riders who act as part army and part cult for Talis and the other AIs.

Greta is the first new AI in more than a century. Haunted by memories of her time as a hostage growing up at Precepture Four–including torture, friendship, and Xie, the future queen and the lover Greta had to leave behind–Greta struggles to cling to what is left of her humanity while learning her capabilities as an AI. With the future of the world hanging in the balance, Greta will have to use everything she knows about being AI and human to bring her two dramatically different worlds together in The Swan Riders (2016) by Erin Bow.

Find it on Bookshop.

This sequel picks up shortly after the conclusion of The Scorpion Rules. Quick recaps and Greta’s own memories bring readers up to speed in this fast-paced sci-fi novel although knowledge of the first book is ideal.

Bow dramatically expands the world here by introducing more of the landscape as Talis, Greta, and two Swan Riders travel across Saskatchewan toward the AI home base near Montana. Interludes from Talis’ point of view–both in his present form as an all-powerful AI and in flashbacks to his time as the idealistic Michael Talis who wanted to save the world–add another dimension to this disturbingly likable character who is both hero and villain.The Swan Riders themselves also play a significant role in this story that is as much about what it means to be human as it is about what it means to rule, and maybe save, the world.

Weighty subject matter and heavy questions about what is best versus what is right are tempered with humor and Greta’s wry first-person narration. Complex characters further enhance the introspective nature of this story as Greta tries to figure out who she is when so much of her past is now irrelevant to her future. Like its predecessor The Swan Riders again has a thoughtfully diverse cast of characters with familiar faces and newer additions including Francis Xavier, a stoic dark-skinned Swan Rider born with one hand.

The Swan Riders is a fascinating follow-up and stunning story from an author at the top of her game. A must-read for fans of The Scorpion Rules.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson,  Fire by Kristin Cashore, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Winterspell by Claire LeGrand, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, Skyhunter by Marie Lu, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, Clariel by Garth Nix, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in School Library Journal’s August 2016 Issue as a Starred Review from which it can be seen on various sites online*

The Kiss of Deception: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. PearsonLia, First Daughter of the House of Morrighan, is seventeen years old. She is Morrighan’s princess and a key part of her father’s plans to forge an alliance with the neighboring kingdom of Dalbrek. The only problem is that Lia has no intention of marrying to further her kingdom’s political standing–certainly not to a prince she has never met.

When Lia flees on her wedding day she sets a series of disastrous events in motion that leave chaos and danger in her wake.

Her hopes to start a new life as a commoner alongside her faithful maid, Pauline, are threatened when two handsome strangers arrive at her new home. One is the prince Lia refused to marry, the other is an assassin sent to kill her.

Surrounded by secrets and lies, Lia’s entire world could unravel when the truth is revealed in The Kiss of Deception (2014) by Mary E. Pearson.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Kiss of Deception is the first book in Pearson’s The Remnant Chronicles which continues with The Heart of Betrayal and The Beauty of Darkness.

The Kiss of Deception is a thoughtful blend of fantasy and suspense layered across a dystopian world. Tantalizing hints throughout the novel suggest that Morrighan shares a common past with the modern world, but no concrete answers are given leaving  readers to draw their own conclusions.

Lia is an interesting heroine and narrates most of the novel. She is often naive and reckless but she is also kind and selfless. What originally appears as thoughtless privilege soon morphs into a strong moral compass and royal demeanor. Lia’s growth throughout the novel is empowering and well handled but her character remains the most developed for most of the novel.

By all rights, The Kiss of Deception should be a fast-paced adventure beginning with Lia’s flight on her wedding day. Lia’s narrative is even interspersed with chapters from the Prince and the Assassin lending another level of mystery to the story. Unfortunately, these pieces take a bit too long to come together which makes the first half of the novel drag. Uneven pacing and predictable plot twists further weaken the story.

The Kiss of Deception introduces a rich world and a large cast of characters. Readers willing to forgive unanswered questions about world building and readers who don’t mind characters who withhold key information will get the most out of this novel. Recommended for readers looking for a new high fantasy with a lot of romance, strong female characters, and meandering action.

Possible Pairings: The Traitor’s Kiss by Erin Beaty, Romanov by Nadine Brandes, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, The Reader by Traci Chee, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Skyhunter by Marie Lu, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld, And I Darken by Kiersten White, Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Princeless Book One: Save Yourself: A Graphic Novel Review

Princeless by Jeremy Whitley and M. GoodwinAdrienne Ashe doesn’t want to be a princess. It’s boring and, to be brutally honest, she doesn’t understand why princesses always need to wait for a prince to do the rescuing anyway.

That doesn’t stop Adrienne’s parents from locking her in a tower on her sixteenth birthday. It also doesn’t stop Adrienne from bitterly complaining out the injustice and pointing out how she doesn’t even look like a stupid traditional princess with her brown skin and dark, curly hair (not to mention her prowess with a sword!).

Instead of pining for some handsome prince, Adrienne spends her time in the tower befriending the dragon guarding the tower. When Adrienne finds a sword hidden in the tower, she decides she has waited to be rescued long enough.

With a sword in her hand and a dragon by her side, Adrienne sets out to escape the tower and rescue her other sisters in Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself (2012) by Jeremy Whitley and illustrated by M. Goodwin.

Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself collects the first 4 issues of Princeless. It is the first of four bindups. There is also a spinoff series.

Whitley delivers a frank and self-aware story that is refreshingly and unapologetically feminist. Adrienne is a no-nonsense heroine who isn’t afraid to do what she thinks is right and point out hypocrisy and double standards when she sees them. This plays out to especially good effect when she meets up with a girl who makes armor for warriors and discovers the vast inequity between standard armor for men and women.

Goodwin’s illustrations bring this story to life with wry humor and charming artwork that beautifully compliments the story. The facial expressions for characters throughout are especially priceless.

Princeless Book 1: Save Yourself is a great set up for this series. Whitley and Goodwin introduce many of the key players and the basic premise of the series while also delivering a lot of fun arcs along the way. This series is a delightful addition to the typical princess and anti-princess fare. Highly recommended for readers of comics, fans of fairy tales and retellings, as well as anyone looking for a new kickass heroine to cheer on.

Possible Pairings: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

The Scorpion Rules: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Scorpion Rules by Erin BowTalis’s first rule of stopping wars is to make it personal.

Charged with saving humanity from itself, the powerful artificial intelligence swiftly establishes a series of rules and initiatives to keep humanity at peace. Oh, and he also takes over the world.

Four hundred years later, Talis’s every word is recorded in the Utterances and some cultures believe he is a god. They might be right.

To ensure that the world’s leaders know the exact cost of any declaration of war, Talis takes hostages. The Children of Peace are the heirs to thrones and ruling positions around the world. They are hostages living under the constant threat of execution.

If war is declared the lives of both nation’s hostages are immediately forfeit.

Greta Gustafson Stuart, Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederation, is a seventh generation hostage at Precepture Four in Saskatchewan where she has lived most of her life. She embodies the ideals of the Children of Peace and knows to follow the rules even with her country on the brink of war.

Elián Palnik is a new hostage who arrives at Precepture Four with none of the dignity ingrained in the other hostages. Instead he refuses to accept any of the tenets of the Children of Peace, forcing Greta to question everything she believes as she struggles to save Elián from Talis, the Precepture and even himself in The Scorpion Rules (2015) by Erin Bow.

Find it on Bookshop.

I’m hesitant to say I enjoyed The Scorpion Rules, or even that it’s a favorite, simply because parts of it are so harrowing and so difficult to process. But I can say this: Bow delivers a knock-out dystopian that I devoured with my heart in my mouth.

Greta is a pragmatic and analytical narrator with a wry sense of humor even in the worst situations. Goats also help bring levity to the otherwise weighty narrative in countless ways.

Masterful, electric prose and wit make even the hardest moments bearable as Greta and her friends endure countless hardships with grace and aplomb befitting the world’s future leaders in this powerful story.

The Scorpion Rules is further strengthened by a diverse, memorable cast of characters with realistically complicated relationships (both romantic and platonic), brilliant plotting and shocking twists.The minute readers get a handle on the story, Bow turns everything upside down and moves the novel in a new direction.

A gripping story about rebirth, transformation and choice. The Scorpion Rules weaves together science, ethics and humor in this story that delves deep into the human condition and questions the nature of choice and what must be sacrificed for the sake of the greater good.

Guaranteed to have high appeal on many levels. Highly Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson,  Fire by Kristin Cashore, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Winterspell by Claire LeGrand, Soundless by Richelle Mead, Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 by Marissa Meyer and Douglas Holgate, The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones, Skyhunter by Marie Lu, Clariel by Garth Nix, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Amber & Dusk by Lyra Selene, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

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

Linktastic! Disney Princess Edition

Since I reviewed a princess-y book this week for Chick Lit Wednesday it seemed like high time to share the Disney Princess links I’ve been hoarding.

This installment of Linktastic! is brought to you by my undying love of Disney (yes even with the weird stuff they do sometimes) and my conviction that Phillip is the best Disney Prince ever. (I can’t give a definitive princess answer because while Belle has my heart, I apparently spent my toddler-hood watching Sleeping Beauty Every. Single. Day. So I’m obviously fond of Aurora as well.

Onto the links!

Then thanks to Leila at Bookshelves of Doom I have some sad posts about everyone’s favorite archer: Merida from Brave. Merida is being inducted as Disney’s 11th princess. Which is awesome. Less awesome is her makeover for the induction ceremony where Merida has become curvier, lost her bow and arrows, and gotten a lot of makeup.

Lest you lose all faith in humanity here are some Disney links that are just for fun: