The Forest of Stolen Girls: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June HurJoseon (Korea), 1426: The year of the crown princess selection when young women like Hwani should be dreaming of entering the palace as a princess. Hwani has never been interested in marriage or the selection process.

Instead, she is crossing the sea to travel to Jeju, a penal island of political convicts. Her childhood home.

Months ago, Hwani’s father made the same journey. He didn’t return.

Detective Min went to the island investigating the disappearance of thirteen girls–disappearances that might be tied to the forest incident–an event so traumatic that Hwani has blocked out all but the barest details.

Coming back to the island will bring Hwani face to face with her estranged younger sister, Maewol, for the first time in years. In their search for the truth, both sisters will have to confront buried memories from their past and the island’s dark secrets in their search for the truth in The Forest of Stolen Girls (2021) by June Hur.

Find it on Bookshop.

Hwani’s efforts to find her missing father and solve his last case contrast well with the smaller story of her own difficulties in deciding how to balance societal conventions with her own dreams and goals. Hwani’s tentative reconnection with her sister–who has been left alone on the island for years to train with the local shaman–adds further depth and tenderness to this thoughtful story.

An author’s note at the end demonstrates Hur’s thoughtful research for this novel while contextualizing the story here into the larger context of Korean history.

The Forest of Stolen Girls is a tense and atmospheric mystery that is both well-plotted and nuanced. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Mirage by Somaiya Daud, Splinters of Scarlet by Emily Bain Murphy, Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic, The Beast is An Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale, The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

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

Gilded: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Blog Tour) Review

Gilded by Marissa MeyerAs a young man Serilda Moller’s father earned favor for his daughter from Wyrdith, the god of stories and fortune. But everyone knows a blessing from a god is not so different from a curse; especially when it comes from a trickster god like Wyrdith, the god of lies themself.

Now Serilda is almost grown and known throughout the village of Märchenfeld. The children adore her for her stories. The adults, quicker to call her a liar, are decidedly less enthusiastic. But Serilda knows every story has two sides and she knows the power in telling the most interesting story possible spinning a tale as rich as gold from seemingly nothing.

Serilda is mostly content with her small life at the mill with her father until one of her tales draws the attention of the Erlking. Whisked away by his wild hunt, Serilda is ordered to make one of her biggest lies come true. He wants her to spin straw into gold.

Desperate to save herself and her father from the Erlking’s ire, Serilda makes a bargain with a mysterious boy who haunts the Erlking’s castle. Not quite a ghost but not quite human, the boy wants to help. But all magic requires payment. And as Serilda’s lies get bigger and her feelings for the boy grow, Serilda is uncertain how much more she can afford to pay.

There are two sides to every story. The hero and the villain. The dark and the light. The blessing and the curse. Fortunes are always changing. And Serilda will soon learn that the turning of fortune’s wheel might be the greatest lie of all in Gilded (2021) by Marissa Meyer.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gilded is the first book in a duology retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Although the story is grounded in Germanic folklore and Serilda is white, Meyer works to create a world that is more inclusive than that of traditional fairytales with secondary characters with brown skin and LGBTQ+ relationships. The gods in the pantheon of this world are non-binary.

Serilda is a sly narrator who is keenly aware of her reputation as a liar–a reputation she does little to deny even to her detriment–although she views her world with clear eyes and honest assessments of her place in it as well as the dangers of drawing the Erlking’s attention.

Fully developed characters and lush settings combine with Meyer’s nuanced world building and intricately presented mythology to create a riveting adventure. Serilda’s travails and her resilience keep the story moving forward despite the high page count (512 pages hardcover).

Meyer returns to her roots with this latest reinterpretation of Rumpelstiltskin. Gilded imbues the source material with gothic horrors, mythical creatures, and dangerous magic to create a dark and thrilling tale.

Possible Pairings: A Curse As Dark As Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow, Stain by A. G. Howard, Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

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

Into the Crooked Place: A Review

When it comes to magic, all that really matters is timing. If you have that right, you can perform wondrous feats or the slickest con and it won’t matter because people will still line up to buy whatever it is you’re selling.

Tavia has made a name for herself as a busker in Creije selling low level dark magic and performing high level cons. After years of staying very close to the line and watching her friend Wesley cross right over it, Tavia wants to leave Creije before she is forced to do something she can’t take back.

Wesley will do whatever it takes to bring order to the chaotic streets of Creije even if he has to fashion himself into a gangster no one wants to look at closely enough to recognize his past as a boy desperate to move beyond a lean life on the streets.

Tavia is content marking time before she can wash her hands of Creije for good until one of her cons goes terribly wrong. Instead of duping a rich mark with fake magic, Tavia’s friend takes some very dark and very lethal magic.

With new magic circulating through Creije for the first time in decades everyone is on edge. As enemies circle and alliances are tested, Tavia and Wesley might be the only ones who can stop the conflict they’ve set in motion. That is, if they can bear to trust each other in Into the Crooked Place (2019) by Alexandra Christo.

Into the Crooked Place is Christo’s sophomore novel and the start of her new gangster fantasy duology.

The story plays out against an atmospheric, noir inspired world filled with political corruption and dark horse protagonists including Wesley and Tavia as well as the novel’s other principal characters Saxony and Karam. Potentially rich world building is diminished by breakneck pacing and action that leaves little room for explanation.

Elements of suspense and adventure come together as Tavia and Wesley approach the mystery of the new magic from opposite sides to try and make sense of this  development that could potentially destroy Creije. Alternating viewpoints and shifting story lines clutter more than they clarify with extraneous details.

Into the Crooked Place is an engrossing if sometimes superficial fantasy. Recommended for readers who can prioritize sleek one liners over a sleek plot.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, Caster by Elsie Chapman, Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Little Thieves by Margaret Owen, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

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

Wires and Nerves, Volume Two: Gone Rogue: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for Wires and Nerve Volume 2: Gone Rogue by Marissa Meyer and Stephen GilpinSteele’s rogue wolf pack continues to wreak havoc on Earth as they demand restitution from the Lunars for their mutations and to be returned to their human form. Steele refuses to believe that reversing the mutations is impossible. To prove that he won’t take no for an answer he’s ready to take hostages and massacre innocent humans.

After tracking the rogue wolves for months, Iko is determined to stop Steele before anyone else gets hurt. With help from old friends and her new ally Kinney, Iko has a plan to stop the rogue wolves in their tracks but only if she can keep trusting herself after learning the truth behind her unique programming in Gone Rogue (2018) by Marissa Meyer and Stephen Gilpin.

Find it on Bookshop.

Gone Rogue is the second and final volume of Wires and Nerve which expands the world of the Lunar Chronicles in this story set shortly after the conclusion of the original four novel series.

Although once again written my Meyer, this volume has a new artist. Gilpin continues to work in the style originated by Holgate in volume 1 down to the same blue and white color palette. Unfortunately Gilpin’s artwork lacks the dynamism that made volume one so enjoyable. The panels here are static and repetitive. With more of the Lunar Chronicles cast reunited, Gone Rogue is very text heavy with panels that are filled with dialog and pages upon pages of talking heads.

Iko remains a great character to follow but with the change in pacing and a looser plot Gone Rogue unfortunately ends on a weaker note than its promising beginning.

Possible Pairings: Dove Arising by Karon Bao, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Partials by Dan Wells

Wires and Nerve: A Graphic Novel Review

To preserve the unstable alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko decides to hunt down  rogue wolf-hybrids who have been attacking both planets. As an android Iko is uniquely suited to the task. She’s also determined to do anything to help her friends Cinder and Kai heal the rift between their two planets.

Iko’s hunt takes far from Luna as she tracks the wolf packs across earth with help from other friends including Cress and Thorne. Unfortunately Iko is also saddled with an unwanted sidekick in the form of Kinney, a royal guard who has little use for Iko and androids in general.

As they come closer to the rogue wolf’s pack Iko will unearth a conspiracy that threatens everyone she cares about–a threat so big she might even welcome Kinney’s help this once in Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 (2017) by Marissa Meyer, illustrated by Douglas Holgate.

Find it on Bookshop.

Wires and Nerve is a new graphic novel series. It picks up shortly after the conclusion of Winter, the final book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. The graphic novel series focuses on Iko, a character who never got her own book in the prose novels. While readers might appreciate a basic knowledge of the novels, this graphic novel series can be read on its own. (I read Cinder when it first came out and later read recaps of the other books in the series. That combined with Iko’s narrative flashbacks was enough for me.)

Iko’s graphic novel story is surprisingly delightful. In the midst of a cross-planetary hunt for rogue wolves Iko has to grapple with what it means to be an android and how she is treated because of it. She has been erased from the Lunar Chronicle adventures largely because she is “just” an android and even some of her allies (like Kinney) question Iko’s ability to care about anything or anyone when she’s not human.

Holgate’s illustrations are in a blue and white palette that is used to great effect and compliments Meyer’s world. The writing is fast-paced with snappy narration from Iko. This volume also uses the graphic novel format effectively with panels that are well designed to create a cinematic feel to the story (check out the spread on page 197 to see what I mean). Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 is some of the best of what graphic novels have to offer. A great choice for fans of the Lunar Chronicles series as well as readers looking for a new sci-fi comic to enjoy.

Possible Pairings: Dove Arising by Karon Bao, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh, Partials by Dan Wells

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

Daughter of the Pirate King: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia LevensellerAlosa is one of the most ruthless pirates sailing with a crew that has as much cunning as it does intelligence. Alosa is also the seventeen-year-old daughter of the feared Pirate King.

When the Pirate King needs to steal an ancient piece of a  treasure map from a rival pirate lord, Alosa knows she is the best candidate for the job. Leaving behind her ship and her talented (mostly female) crew is a trial and allowing herself to be bested and abducted by her targets is humiliating. But Alosa is willing to do whatever it takes to complete her mission and steal the map.

What Alosa doesn’t count on is the ships first mate. Riden is smarter than he lets on and tasked with uncovering all of Alosa’s secrets. Locked in a battle of wits with this formidable foe, Alosa will have to watch her back (and her heart) if she wants to get the map and escape before anyone is the wiser in Daughter of the Pirate King (2017) by Tricia Levenseller.

Find it on Bookshop.

Daughter of the Pirate King is Levenseller’s debut novel.

This book is a lot of fun–something readers can expect from the very first page when the book opens with a quote from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. How you feel about that movie will also quickly determine how you feel about the rest of the book.

Daughter of the Pirate King is a fantasy filled with seemingly anachronistic phrases that begin to appear almost as soon as the novel starts. Most of the action plays out against the small backdrop of the ship where Alosa is being held captive leaving larger details of the world to remain blurry at best.

This novel is narrated by Alosa who while entertaining remains a bit too fastidious (particularly when it comes to cleanliness) to make an entirely convincing pirate. Some narrators are capable and clever, some narrators talk about being capable and clever. Alosa is largely the latter as she tries to convince readers that she is in fact a cunning pirate captain far superior to those around her instead of a reckless one who only barely manages to keep a grasp of her mission.

For all intents and purposes the pirates here are exactly what you would expect from eighteenth century pirates with the added technicolor touches of a good pirate movie including witty repartee, dashing clothes, and high octane sword fights. The pirates in Daughter of the Pirate King are, however, completely divorced from any historical context and left to flounder in an imagined world that feels flimsy by comparison. The addition of true fantasy elements come too late in the story to redeem the lackluster beginning.

Daughter of the Pirate King is an entertaining, swashbuckling adventure. Recommended for readers who enjoy pirate stories but can take or leave historical accuracy. Ideal for anyone looking for a light adventure with romance and banter.

Possible Pairings: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman, The Reader by Traci Chee, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace, Fable by Adrienne Young

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

Nemesis: A Review

Nemesis by Anna BanksPrincess Sepora of Serubel is the last Forger in the Five kingdoms. She is the only person alive who can create spectorium, a powerful element coveted for its energy and powerful properties.

When Sepora’s father weaponizes spectorium, Sepora chooses to leave her kingdom in secret and disappear rather than help him start a war. Across the border in Theoria, Sepora plans to live a quiet and anonymous life while hiding her Forging from prying eyes. Until she is captured and forced into service for Theoria’s king.

Tarik is young to be king and feels unready for the responsibilities that come with the title, especially as he has to deal with a mysterious plague sweeping through Theoria’s people with alarming speed. His efforts to track down a cure are complicated by a distracting new servant.

When Sepora and Tarik meet they form an immediate bond and an unlikely friendship could lead to much more. Sepora’s Forging could save Tarik’s kingdom but if her father finds her, it could also lead to war across the Five Kingdoms in Nemesis (2016) by Anna Banks.

Nemesis is the first book in Banks’ new duology which will conclude with Ally.

Nemesis introduces an interesting world filled with unique cultures that nod to ancient civilizations (Theoria places their dead in giant pyramids waiting for the day their scientists learn to conquer death) and science that comes close to magic. Unfortunately most of these elements are introduced through dense informational passages that make the opening of this novel feel clunky. And even worse, a lot of the world building in this book is just plain problematic.

The novel alternates between Sepora’s first person narration in a stilted style that rarely uses contractions and Tarik’s third person narrative. The transition from first to third person does little to differentiate between Sepora and Tarik’s narrative voices and instead creates a jarring transition between chapters.

Sepora is a thoughtful protagonist. She struggles with the choice to leave her home and what it will mean for her kingdom and beyond as spectorium disappears. Her moral dilemmas are portrayed throughout the book with careful thought and her growth throughout the novel is handled quite well.

Unfortunately some remarks about other kingdoms lack that same forethought. Throughout Nemesis the Wachuk kingdom is described as primitive because the people their have chosen to eschew verbal language because actions, as it were, speak louder. The Wachuks use sign language and some sounds described alternately as clicks, growls and grunts. The commonality for every descriptor is that they are described as primitive. Readers never see what Wachuk life actually looks like. The idea that being non-verbal makes the Wachuk’s primitive is never challenged or even explored in any meaningful way on the page. None of the characters have a teachable moment about it. Lingots, Theorians who are able to discern lies from truths and interpret languages, can understand the Wachuk but again that never leads to any deeper revelations.

This bias where different is equated with primitive/inferior is compounded with the portrayal of the Parani. In Serubel, parents tell their children about the Parani as a cautionary tale to keep them out of the dangerous water nearby. The Parani live underwater and are rumored to be able to kill a person in moments. They have tough skin, webbed fingers, and sharp teeth. Sepora also learns firsthand that they are humanoid in appearance and capable of comprehension, reasoning, and language (in the form of high pitched sounds that again do not resemble “typical” words and therefore must be “primitive”). Everyone else in the five kingdoms views the Parani as animals to be avoided or, if encountered, killed before they can attack. Or eaten. Again meaningful realizations that the Parani are people become sidelined by the Lingots’ magical ability to understand them despite the Parani being crucial to the story.

There is a lot in Nemesis that works well. Sepora is an engaging if sometimes misguided heroine and Tarik is an entertaining foil/love interest. The premise of the story is intriguing if not the most highly developed. Unfortunately the combination of stock secondary characters, poorly integrated world building details, and badly handled misconceptions about “primitive” or “other” characters take this potentially fun story and make it incredibly problematic and often painful.

Readers looking for a story with star-crossed lovers and/or nuanced fantasy would be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, And I Darken by Kiersten White

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