Tag Archives: Publisher: Bloomsbury

Reign the Earth: A Review

Shalia loves the desert and her place there with her family. But she also knows that her people are desperate for piece and it’s in her power to give them that. Shalia is willing to give up her freedom and leave the desert if it means her family will be safe.

Marrying a stranger and becoming Queen of the Bonelands is a terrifying prospect but no more so than watching more of her family die as the Bonelands try to track down the resistance movement that’s been plaguing them.

Shalia’s hopes of finding love in her arranged marriage are soon dashed when she realizes that her husband, Calix, cares more for power than he ever will for her. Calix is determined to destroy the few remaining Elementae–people who can control mysterious elemental magic–like Shalia’s best friend and, disturbingly, like Shalia herself. 

Struggling to hide her growing powers from Calix and make sense of the dangerous murmurs of rebellion Shalia will soon have to choose decide if she is willing to give up her own future in a bid for peace in Reign the Earth (2018) by A. C. Gaughen.

Reign the Earth is the first book in Gaughen’s Elementae series.

This fast-paced adventure is set in a world where magic has been forced into hiding and dangers lurk everywhere. While Shalia struggles to resign herself to the future she chose for herself she also longs for more as she begins to realize she can no longer live with only the well-being of her family in mind.

A dense beginning filled with clunky world building bog down the start to this otherwise sweeping story. While brown skinned Shalia is a daring and sympathetic heroine, her first person narration is often narrow in focus making the pacing slow and adding misplaced naivete to an otherwise often dark story of magic, abuse, resilience, and strength.

Recommended for fans of high fantasy, fierce heroines, and readers who enjoy novels with an evocative setting.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Roar by Cora Carmack, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Glass Spare by Lauren DeStefano, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

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

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Song of the Current: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You told me we’re all calling out to the world and magic is the world calling back.”

Caroline Oresteia’s family has guided wherries across the Riverlands for generations–all of them called by the river god. Caro knows that her home is on the river, but she has never heard the river god call her in the language of small things. Now seventeen, she’s starting to wonder if he ever will.

After her father is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious crate, Caro volunteers to deliver the cargo for her father’s release. Being no stranger to the Riverlands, it’s an easy assignment save for the pirates who want the same cargo. But traveling with the mysterious cargo soon draws Caro into a dangerous web of political intrigue and secrets forcing her to choose between the life she always dreamed of and a much grander future–if she’s brave enough to claim it in Song of the Current (2017) by Sarah Tolcser.

Song of the Current is Tolcser’s debut novel and the start of a new series.

Caro’s first person narration is immediately enthralling. Her voice has a cadence and rhythm all its own that easily draws readers into her story. Caro is capable and self-sufficient from growing up on her father’s wherry but she soon learns that sometimes even the strongest people need to accept help now and then.

Tolcser expertly blends authentic nautical details with an original fantasy world where magic manifests and the gods still speak. Although Caro spends most of the novel aboard ship (or wherry) the world of Song of the Current looms large from the map in front of the book to the details that help bring the story to life from frogmen to the vocabulary of the wherrymen.

As with most boxes that are not meant to be open, the story really starts when Caro gets a good look at the cargo she is carrying and begins to understand the ramifications of delivering it as planned. What follows is a high stakes chase across the Riverlands as Caro and her allies try to stay one step ahead of their pursuers.

Song of the Current is a fascinating nautical fantasy sure to appeal to readers looking for a new story filled with pirates and adventure. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, Black Hearts by Nicole Castroman, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy: A Review

Whether it’s secretly cheering them on or not-so-secretly waiting for them to meet a bad end, readers love villains. Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy capitalizes on that fascination while failing to explore the reasoning behind it in this unwieldy collection edited by Youtube sensation Ameriie.

Each author’s short story is inspired by a Booktuber-provided prompt ranging from vague like “A young Moriarty” for Susan Dennard’s “Shirley and Jim” which presents a modern (and female) Holmes meeting Moriarty for the first time at boarding school to bizarrely specific. Renée Ahdieh’s sci-fi story “The Blood of Imuriv” is inspired by the prompt “The grandson of an evil, matriarchal dictator who tried to rule over the universe wants to follow in her footsteps and accidentally loses his temper, killing his sibling in a game of chess.”

This wide range of prompts leads to stories of varying quality and makes this cross-genre collection less than cohesive. BookTuber contributions range from personality quizzes and literary criticism about the stories to personal essays related to the prompts.

Standout stories include Soman Chainani’s “Gwen and Art and Lance” (“A modern-day mash-up of the King Arthur legend and Persephone-Hades myth”) which is written entirely in texts and emails between the titular characters as Gwen tries to manipulate Art into taking her to prom amidst unwanted overtures from Lance and “Death Knell” by Victoria Schwab (“Hades wakes up after being unconscious at the bottom of a well in Ireland”) which offers a nuanced meditation on what it means to be Death–and what it means to try to run from it.

There are no redeeming qualities for most of the villains here and, for the most part, a lot of superficiality. One notable exception is Cindy Pon’s poignant story “Beautiful Venom” (prompt: “Medusa, go!”) which makes the Greek myth relevant to modern readers as they watch Mei Feng become Mei Du in Pon’s tragic retelling with a Chinese setting. Because You Love to Hate Me is a marketable if not entirely serviceable collection that will appeal to fans of the contributing authors.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in the July 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Stealing Snow: A Review

Stealing Snow by Danielle PaigeSnow has spent most of her like behind the walls of the Whittaker Institute. The high security asylum is meant to help rehabilitate troubled patients, like Snow, let go of their delusions.

But Snow doesn’t think she’s crazy. Not really.

Being near Bale makes like at the Institute bearable. At least until Bale claims he can see what Snow really is when they kiss. And breaks her hand in two places.

When mysterious hands grab Bale and pull him through a mirror, Snow knows that she has to follow. A voice in her dreams tells Snow exactly what to do in order to escape. Following the voices directions, Snow makes it outside and finds herself in the wintry world of Algid.

Snow soon learns that Algid is her true home and her father is determined to do everything he can to hold onto the throne–and keep Snow far away from it. As magic, mayhem, and trickery collide, Snow will have to decide who she can trust if she wants to rescue Bale and make it out of Algid alive in Stealing Snow (2016) by Danielle Paige.

Stealing Snow is the start of Paige’s new series which is a dark retelling of The Snow Queen.

Paige goes for a darker tone right from the start with Snow residing in an asylum that seems to come straight from the pages of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While this setting offers a gripping backdrop for the opening of the story, it also often defies logic as readers realize Snow has been at the Institute since she was a child (and is, in fact, still only seventeen suggesting there should have been at least some type of schoolwork or high school equivalency studies).

The story picks up considerably when Snow actually arrives in Algid and more of the novel’s characters are introduced. Snow finds a veritable band of misfits as she makes her way through Algid trying to find her father, the Snow King, and rescue her love Bale.

Along the way Snow encounters numerous love interests, her own snow magic, and vast conspiracies that stretch between Algid and our world. While this series opener raises many questions about Snow, her family, and Algid, readers will have to wait for future installments for most of the answers.

Stealing Snow is a fast-paced adventure with a sharp-tongued narrator who isn’t afraid to be ruthless. Paige takes some of the familiar elements of The Snow Queen and shakes them up with an inventive reimagining of the this fairy tale and the frighteningly evocative world of Algid. Recommended for readers looking for a new fairytale retelling that is extra dark.

Possible Pairings: Splintered by A. G. Howard, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Ruined by Amy Tintera

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

The Leaving: A Review

The Leaving by Tara AltebrandoEleven years ago six kindergartners were taken from their school and disappeared without a trace. There have been movies and conspiracy theories but nothing close to the truth; no kind of resolution for the parents and siblings left behind.

Until now.

When five of the missing children come back they’re sixteen years old and healthy. They have no memory of what happened or where they’ve been held. They barely remember the lives they’re returning to. None of them remember the sixth victim, Max.

Scarlett returns to a mother she hardly knows and a life that doesn’t quite fit while Lucas finds a family that has moved on without him and threatens to shatter with his return. Avery remembers both Scarlett and Lucas as well as she remembers the day Max never came home. Now, eleven years later, she waits again for a brother who doesn’t return.

Everyone wants to know what happened. Scarlett, Lucas, and the others are desperate to fill in the gaps in their memories while Avery is grasping for some trace of her still-missing brother. All five of the returned children begin to find strange clues that seem to be leading them somewhere. But only Lucas and Scarlett–with Avery’s prodding–are willing to follow the clues wherever they may lead in The Leaving (2016) by Tara Altebrando.

Altebrando juggles three narrators and numerous plot lines over the course of this novel. The story alternates first person narrated chapters between Scarlett (whose narration includes unconventional formatting and patterned text), Lucas (whose barely-there memories surface as blocky black text), and Avery (who has the most conventional narration). All three of the narrators are white but from a variety of economic backgrounds which adds another dimension to their connected stories.

There is something inherently cruel about this premise which Altebrando explores with frightening detail. The prose here is sparse leaving details to the imagination that make the experiences of the kidnapped children all the more horrifying to imagine. There are no easy answers here and no clean resolution–something that gives The Leaving a lasting impact.

The Leaving is, ostensibly, a thriller. The novel is packed with suspense and razor-sharp tension in short chapters that build to a chilling conclusion. At the same time, this story is also a thoughtful character study. Who are we without our memories? Who can we become? Is a blank slate of a childhood that different from the gradual forgetting that comes as we grow older? Are the monsters we fear any less frightening if we don’t remember them?

The Leaving is an ambitious work of suspense that is atmospheric, eerie, and incredibly successful. A must read.

Possible Pairings: The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Breaker by Kat Ellis, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, False Memory by Dan Krokos,  We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Soulprint by Megan Miranda, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten

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

Break Me Like a Promise: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Break Me Like a Promise is the second book in Schmidt’s Once Upon a Crime Family series which begins with Hold Me Like a Breath. This review features spoilers for book one*

Break Me Like a Promise by Tiffany SchmidtMagnolia Vickers has spent years convincing her father and the other Family men that she is much more than a decorative young woman destined to spend her life on the periphery of their Business in illegal organ trafficking.

After a staggering loss, the future Maggie has been planning as her father’s successor is precarious at best. Worse, Maggie’s recent behavior has ruined her carefully constructed reputation with almost everyone in the Family–not to mention her parents.

Maggie is forced to set her grief and loneliness aside when a computer virus brings trouble to the Family. When Alex, the computer expert hired to fix the virus, brings his demands for a new kidney to the Family he quickly becomes Maggie’s problem.

As she learns more about Alex and the changing legislation, Maggie realizes that Alex can be more to her than a source of constant frustration–a lot more. But first Maggie will have to use everything she’s learned about the Family Business to help them move forward in a world with legalized organs and make sure Alex survives long enough to get his new kidney in Break Me Like a Promise (2016) by Tiffany Schmidt.

Break Me Like a Promise is the second book in Schmidt’s Once Upon a Crime Family series which begins with Hold Me Like a Breath. This novel features a different narrator and is set months after the events of book one. Although it contains spoilers for the first book in the series, it largely functions as a contained story. In this unconventional retelling, Schmidt incorporates elements from “The Frog Prince” into her unique world where organ transplants are illegal.

Given the premise (fairy tale retellings with organized crime!), I always knew this series was going to become one of my favorites. I wasn’t surprised when I enjoyed reading about Penny in Hold Me Like a Breath and I wasn’t surprised when I realized Break Me Like a Promise was easily one of my most highly anticipated 2016 titles.

Some reading experiences are more personal than others and such was the case here. Schmidt completely surpassed my expectations with her careful plotting and thoughtful writing. Every single piece of Break Me Like a Promise matters and every piece works to make the whole even more powerful.

The thing that really shines in this novel are the characters–especially Maggie. I identified a lot with Maggie and was deeply affected by her journey in this novel. That (along with the stellar plot and writing) is what made Break Me Like a Promise a standout novel for me.

I’ve talked before about hitting a rough patch a couple of years ago. I wrote a guest post about that overwhelming feeling of being in over my head and feeling lost. I even talked about seeing some of that struggle mirrored in a different book. I’ve started thinking of that time as triage because I was just going day-to-day and trying to get through because it was too hard and too scary to try and think further ahead.

Things are better now. Things are actually good. But while I was reading Break Me Like a Promise and watching Maggie work through the initial shock and grief of Carter’s death, I realized that I had been holding onto a lot of my stress and anxiety and mindsets from those bad years. I’m often too hard on myself and don’t treat myself very well as a result. I keep asking myself, “What else can go wrong? What if something happens?” It’s easy to think that once a traumatic event is over, that’s the end. It’s time to move on. But recovery–even for the person who was physically fine throughout, like me–doesn’t work that way. I have realized that I don’t remember who I was before my rough patch. I don’t know who I could be moving forward. I lost track of that somewhere.
My situation isn’t at all like Maggie’s but I identified so much with her throughout Break Me Like a Promise. It’s incredibly moving and powerful to watch Maggie’s growth during her story arc and to see her make sense of herself without Carter and as she makes her way in the world.
I recommend this series to fans of fairy tale retellings as well as sleek mysteries like White Cat or Heist Society.
Break Me Like a Promise is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and it’s also one I needed badly. I don’t think words can ever truly convey how much this book means to me but I hope the words in this review might convince you to check out Break Me Like a Promise for yourself. This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt broken and wondered how to be anything else; for the people who have moved on and for the people who are still trying to find their way. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, Strings Attached by Judy Blundell, Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Vicious by V. E. Schwab, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Be sure to check out my interview with Tiffany about the book starting tomorrow!

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

Mousequerade Ball: A Counting Tale: A Picture Book Review

Mousequerade Ball by Lori Mortensen and Betsy LewinIn a castle on a hill, in a great big hall, mice are getting ready for the Mousequerade Ball. They dress in their finest, they light up the hall. The mice come to feast and to dance and to have a grand time.

When an unexpected guest–a cat no less!–arrives at the hall, most of the mice are thrown into a frenzy. Just when the ball seems ruined, one brave mouse steps forward and sets the party back on course in Mousequerade Ball: A Counting Tale by Lori Mortensen, illustrated by Betsy Lewin.

Rhyming text lends a nice rhythm to this counting tell that starts with one great hall and builds as preparations are made and guests arrive for the Mousequerade Ball. When a cat comes to the party, the story begins counting down as the guests panic and consider running away. That is, at least, until one lone mouse declares that she has invited the cat to the ball to come and dance (which he does!).

This is a whimsical story that will charm readers of all ages. The counting text and rhymes make it appealing to even the youngest readers. Lewin’s illustrations add a nice dimension to the story with additional details and a touch of whimsy depicting the mice in their finery and frippery.

Mousequerade Ball: A Counting Tale is a great choice for storytime or one-on-one reading. The counting elements, rhymed text, and detailed illustrations guarantee it will stand up well to multiple readings.