The Crown’s Game: A Review

The Crown's Game by Evelyn SkyeUsually, only one enchanter is born to continue the line of magicians with a long history of serving the tsar and protecting Russia from its enemies. When two are born, the tsar initiates the Crown’s Game where the rival enchanters can showcase their talents and prove they deserve to be the only true enchanter in Russia.

Vika Andreyeva has been honing her elemental magic with her father since she was a child. She has always assumed becoming the Imperial Enchanter was her birthright, never imagining there were others like her.

Nikolai Karimov’s mechanical magic is unmatched–a useful quality to help him lead the life of a gentleman without the funds to match. His magic brought him to the attention of his mentor and his training gives Nikolai the life he never could have imagined as an orphan on the Russian steppe. He is determined to win the game and claim the life he has been promised.

When they are summoned to compete against each other Vika and Nikolai meet as enemies. At first. But they are also drawn to each other in ways neither can fully grasp. Only one of them can win the game and only one of them can survive. But even winning may not be enough to protect their hearts in The Crown’s Game (2016) by Evelyn Skye.

The Crown’s Game is Skye’s debut novel and the start of a series.

The Crown’s Game is a historical fantasy set in an alternate Russia where magic flourishes and is a key part of Russia’s heritage, not to mention its defenses. Skye grounds this story in well-researched and thoroughly described details of Russian culture and history. The novel is written in close third person with chapters alternating between the points of view of several characters including Vika, Nikolai, the tsar’s son and heir Pasha, Pasha’s sister Yulia, and others. While the variety of characters rounds out the story it also, unfortunately, decreases the chances for character development.

Despite the title and the marketing for this book, The Crown’s Game is not the high stakes battle readers might expect. Instead of a fierce battle, the game proves to be more of a magical showcase where, during its early stages, the stakes and ultimate outcome of the game often seem to lack real consequences.

Skye does an excellent job of bringing her version of Russia to life. By contrast the fantasy elements of this story are weaker. The magic system lacks internal logic to match the urgency suggested by the story. In particular, it feels arbitrary that there can be only one enchanter. While this may be something that will develop in later installments, it serves as little more than a plot hole here.

The Crown’s Game is an ambitious novel is rife with ambience and intrigue as both Vika and Nikolai discover uncomfortable truths about their pasts as they move through the game. Twists, shocks, and surprising relationships further increase the tension. Recommended for readers with a fondness for Russian settings and light fantasy that is heavy on the romance and angst.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrough, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Shadow Society by Marie Rutkoski, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

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American Street: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola’s aunt and cousins and begin their own version of the American dream. Instead her mother is detained by ICE at a New Jersey facility where she faces deportation back to Haiti. Fabiola, born in the United States, has to fly to Detroit on her own.

In Detroit Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home with her relatives at the corner of American Street and Joy Road.

Fabiola clings to her faith and her Vodou iwas for guidance but she isn’t sure that Papa Legba’s riddles or help from other iwas like beautiful Ezili will be enough to protect her family and bring her mother to her. How much will Fabiola have to sacrifice to help her mother and herself grab their own small piece of American joy? How far would you go for the same thing? in American Street (2017) by Ibi Zoboi.

American Street is Zoboi’s debut novel.

This novel is the story of one girl’s efforts to grab onto the American dream for herself and her mother, it’s the story of a family and the secrets they keep to survive, it’s a story about the immigrant experience, it’s a story of first love. All of these stories play out against the larger story of the house at the corner of American Street and Joy Road in Detroit.

Fabiola thinks transitioning to life in the US will be easy. She already speaks English and she attended an American school in Haiti. None of that prepares her for the meanness she finds on some of Detroit’s streets not to mention the slang and fast-paced language. She expects her American relatives will follow Haitian traditions but is surprised to find her aunt barely leaves her bedroom. Fabiola’s cousins are equally mystifying. Chantal studies hard and is working her way through community college. But what about her mysterious phone calls? Princess only answers to Pri and dresses like a boy. Then there’s beautiful Primadonna “Donna” who wears her beauty like armor and fools no one as she tries to hide the extent of her turbulent (and violent) relationship with her boyfriend.

This story is also imbued with an element of magic realism. Fabiola is a faithful and devout practioner of Vodou. She and her mother have spent years praying for their relatives to be well in the US. When she arrives in Detroit, one of the first things Fabiola does is assemble her altar and pray for her reunion with her mother. Throughout American Street Fabiola uses her familiarity with Vodou and her iwas–spirit guides–to make sense of her new life in America. Fabiola’s choice to interpret her strange new world in this way takes on a weightier meaning when she begins to see her iwas in the real life figures around her.

Zoboi demonstrates a considerable ear for voice with dialog as well as short segments between chapters in which various characters relate the stories that brought them to this point. Fabiola’s first person narration in the rest of the novel is beautiful with a measured cadence and a unique perspective that comes from spending her formative years in Haiti.

American Street is a timely and thoughtfully written novel. Fabiola’s introduction to America is authentic and filled with moments of beauty as she also finds new friends and falls in love for the first time. The happenings on the corner of American Street and Joy Road add a mystery to this rich plot and help the story unfold to a heartening but bittersweet conclusion. A must read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This weekend I read American Street by Ibi Zoboi and it should definitely be on your radar. Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola's aunt and cousins. But her mother is detained by ICE at a facility in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone. Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home with family at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. 🔮 Fabiola clings to her faith and her Vodou iwas for guidance but she isn't sure that Papa Legba's riddles or help from other iwas like beautiful Ezili will be enough to protect her family and bring her mother to her side. How much will Fabiola have to sacrifice to help her mother and herself become American and grab their own small piece of joy? How far would you go for the same thing? 🔮 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #americanstreet

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Snow Like Ashes: A Review

Snow Like Ashes by Sara RaaschSixteen years ago the kingdom of Spring invaded Winter. The Winterians were captured and enslaved during the invasion and the kingdom was left without a ruler or the locket that serves as a vessel for its magic.

Eight survivors escaped that day. They have spent the years since hiding, training, and following any clue that might bring them closer to reclaiming their lost kingdom. Meira has lived among the refugees for most of her life. Her memories of Winter come from the stories of her older companions, leaving the ruined kingdom feeling more like a concept than a home.

Meira is determined to prove her worth among her band and show that she can and will do whatever it takes to save Winter and to protect Winter’s heir, Mather–the boy Meira loves even though she knows he will need to forge a powerful alliance for Winter with his marriage to someone more influential and powerful.

When the refugees have a solid lead on part of the Winterian locket, Meira impetuously strikes out to steal it back. The mission doesn’t go as planned thrusting Meira and her friends on a dangerous path toward unknown magic, risky alliances, and a destiny Meira never could have imagined in Snow Like Ashes (2016) by Sara Raasch.

Snow Like Ashes is the first book in Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes trilogy. Meira’s story continues in Ice Like Fire and Frost Like Night.

Meira narrates this novel in first person present tense. The close focus on her perspective leave a lot of room in the narrative for unexpected twists and surprises as the story moves forward. Because of her distance from the events of Winter’s past it also leads to a lot of information being passed along in clunky accounts of memories and past lessons.

Winter is part of a world with eight kingdoms, four seasons and four rhythms which move through all four seasons. While the concept is interesting, it’s never fully explained as Meira spends more time focused on fighting with her chakram and proving herself to the leader of the refugees. Meira is headstrong and often reckless but her heart is in the right place and she’s definitely a strong female character.

It’s worth noting that this novel makes nods to diversity but doesn’t quite meet the mark. Characters from other kingdoms have different coloring but the cast here is overwhelming white including the light skinned Spring citizens and Winterians who are winter pale with white hair.

Snow Like Ashes is a breakneck story filled with intense action, carefully described fights, and lots of battles. Raasch dives right into the action at the beginning of the book and doesn’t let up throughout the novel. Recommended for readers looking for plot driven fantasy above intricate characterization.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

Dumplin’: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dumplin' by Julie MurphyWillowdean Dickson has always been comfortable in her own skin. Even when she knows small-minded people might make unfavorable comparisons between Will and her beautiful best friend, Ellen. But Will knows who she is and she is okay with it. At least, she thinks she is until she takes a summer job working at Harpy’s–a local burger joint–alongside Private School Bo.

Bo is a former jock and totally hot. Of course Will is attracted to him. What gives her pause is that Bo seems to be attracted to her too.

When this unexpected romance makes Will question everything she thought she knew about herself (and her self-esteem), she knows it’s time to take a step back and make a change.

Inspired by all of the things her aunt let herself miss out on because of her weight, Willowdean decides to enter the Miss Clover City beauty pageant to prove to herself and everyone else (and maybe even her mother) that she can.

Entering the pageant might be the worst idea Will has ever had but with help from her friends, inspiration from Dolly Parton, and a lot of humor along the way, Willowdean will take Clover City by storm in Dumplin(2015) by Julie Murphy.

Dumplin’ has a very strong sense of place as Willowdean’s first person narration brings her small Texas town to life complete with its quirks and charms. And a love of Dolly Parton, of course.

Will is a charming and authentic narrator. Like many people, she has moments of doubt and often gets in her own way when it comes to being happy. She is also refreshingly self-aware and can identify these behaviors even if she can’t always stop them. While it’s hard in parts Dumplin’ to watch Willowdean being her own worst enemy, it’s also incredibly empowering to see her get it right and go after what she really wants.

Murphy’s sophomore novel highlights a lot of diverse lifestyles in this story including single parent homes, poor families, and some others that I can’t mention because they’re small spoilers.

Dumplin’ is an effervescent novel with a lot of heart and as much charm is its one-of-a-kind heroine. Recommended for readers looking for a sweet romance, thoughtful characters and an empowering story. Bonus appeal for readers who enjoy stories that feature beauty pageants.

Possible Pairings: The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander, Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, The Romantics by Leah Konen, How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras, In Real Life by Jessica Love, The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills by Joanna Pearson, If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Absolutely Maybe by Lisa Yee

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

Bone Gap: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bone Gap by Laura RubyNo one in Bone Gap is surprised when Roza disappears. People have been leaving the O’Sullivan brothers for years and it only makes sense that the girl who appeared out of nowhere should leave just as suddenly.

Finn O’Sullivan knows that Roza didn’t just leave. And he knows that he didn’t do anything to save her.

Months later most everyone in Bone Gap has given up pretending to believe Finn’s story about the man who took Roza. Even Finn’s brother, Sean, is tired of hearing about the man with the unique stillness and the face Finn can never quite describe.

Finn refuses to stop looking. His search will take him deep into the secrets of Bone Gap to places he couldn’t imagine. In trying to find Roza, Finn will learn that sometimes you have to stop looking before you can truly see in Bone Gap (2015) by Laura Ruby.

Bone Gap is a rich and atmospheric novel. The town of Bone Gap is a strange place filled with secrets and magic that most people have forgotten. In a town populated with strange and vivid characters even Bone Gap itself becomes an indelible part of this novel that is firmly grounded with a strong sense of place.

Some would call Bone Gap magic realism but references to fairy tales and magic bring a purer form of fantasy to mind in this story where beauty can be a curse and being blind is sometimes the best way to see.

Bone Gap masterfully blends myth and magic in a contemporary setting to create a thoughtful story filled with unlikely heroes, surprising twists and a plot that expertly subverts traditional fairytale tropes. Bone Gap is a lovely, unexpected novel that is incredibly smart. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, Blackfin Sky by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Dreamology by Lucy Keating, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, The Boneshaker by Kate Milford, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater, Paper Valentine by Brenna Yovanoff, American Street by Ibi Zoboi

The Dolls: A Review

The Dolls by Kiki SullivanEveny Cheval hasn’t set foot in Carrefour, Louisiana in fourteen years–not since she moved away with her aunt Bea after her mother’s suicide. After years spent in Brooklyn, New York, Bea and her aunt are moving back to Carrefour just before Eveny’s seventeenth birthday.

Upon her return, Eveny is stunned by the stately old houses and the pristine gardens. Even her new classmates are flawlessly beautiful–so much so that most people call them the Dolls. Drawn in by Peregrine Marceau and Chloe St. Pierre, Eveny is soon at the center of the decadence that is the Dolls’ world.

But beneath the wealth and charm, Carrefour is hiding a secret, one that leads to murder and dark truths about Eveny and her past in The Dolls (2014) by Kiki Sullivan.

Atmospheric writing and genuine chills enhance this story that is populated with familiar mean girls, gorgeous boys and a generally clever narrator (however readers like me may wonder why a girl who left town at the age of three has quite so many memories of the town she left behind).

Sullivan capitalizes on the southern setting here to spine-tingling effect as the story moves in a surprising direction involving voodoo magic and sinister forces at work around Carrefour. Spooky moments and incidents of near-peril are tempered with campy fun and a hint of romance with one of the numerous beautiful boys to be found in this narrative. Although Eveny fits in seemlessly with the Dolls she remains equally sharp-witted and sharp-tongued throughout the story, making her easy to cheer for throughout the story.

Sure to be popular with fans of similar books as well as Veronica Mars.

Possible Pairings: Compulsion by Martina Boone, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Pretty Little Liars by Sara Shephard, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the June 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online including an SLJ Spotlight*

Cruel Beauty: A Review

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund HodgeNyx was raised to marry a monster. She has always known she would marry a beast on her seventeenth birthday. She has been betrothed to the Gentle Lord since the disastrous day her father’s bargain blew up in his face–as bargains with demons generally do.

Nyx has been training for just as long to kill the Gentle Lord and free her people from his curse which surrounds their kingdom. It’s unlikely Nyx will survive this mission. Sometimes she isn’t even sure she will succeed. But isn’t it a worthy goal to die saving her people? Isn’t that something a normal girl without hate coursing through her veins would be eager to do?

As she is dressed and dragged through a sham wedding, Nyx is far from eager.

Inside the Gentle Lord’s castle she expects to find a ravening demon and a heap of ruins. Instead Nyx finds luxurious surroundings and Ignifex–a husband who is an charming as he is infuriating. As she learns more about Ignifex and the strange shadow that follows him everywhere, Nyx is torn between her sense of duty and her sense of what is right. The longer she spends in the castle, the more likely it seems that Nyx has had everything very, very wrong in Cruel Beauty (2014) by Rosamund Hodge.

Cruel Beauty is Hodge’s first novel.

Hodge draws on Greek mythology and fantasy elements to create an enchanting world filled with magic and demons; a world where bargains always have a price.

Nyx is a flawed, selfish heroine. And, given her upbringing, understandably so. She is realistic about her own faults as well as the limitations of her surroundings which makes her a very prickly, often angry, narrator. She isn’t always sympathetic but never doubt that she is interesting.

By comparison, Nyx’s new husband Ignifex is decidedly dull. Their romance, such as it is, is never quite as believable as this premise demands.

Ultimately the biggest problem with Cruel Beauty is that the underlying premise feels very seedy. Nyx is meant to seduce Ignifex and then kill him–essentially prostituting herself to save her people. The preoccupation in the first fifty pages with making Nyx look a delectable bride and easy to strip come the wedding night is decidedly uncomfortable.

This story should have a strong heroine and that heroine should be Nyx. She rails against the lot she has been given. She is furious about the societal constraints that have shaped her life. Then she meets her husband and tears open her own dress saying she is desperate for his touch to deflect any consequences from threatening to kill him. It all felt very clumsy and disagreeable.

Aside from the character issues, Hodge works with a lot of source material in Cruel Beauty. There are several references to Greek myths and fairies in this supposed retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Toward the end elements of the legend of Tam Lin also appear. While all of these things are interesting and have the potential to create a wonderful story, together it became a rather jumbled world with a lot of moving parts to follow just to understand the background of the story.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Entwined by Heather Dixon, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Archived by Victoria Schwab, Paranormalcy by Kiersten White