Legendary: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Legendary is the second book in Garber’s Caraval trilogy which begins with Caraval. Start there to avoid spoilers.*

cover art for Legendary by Stephanie GarberTella never doubted that her sister Scarlett would win Caraval and use her wish to bring Tella back to life. Dying was worth any risk if it meant that Tella would be one step closer to mending her broken family and finally, for once, protecting her older sister. Playing Legend’s game was the only chance either of them would have to truly win their freedom–something that is worth far more than any debt Tella may have incurred to get Legend’s attention.

But every debt has to be paid eventually and Tella’s are coming due. Tella has always been quick on her feet, easily dodging any risk and danger. But even Tella isn’t sure that she’ll be able to acquire this last payment: Caraval Master Legend’s true name.

 If Tella fails to discover Legend’s identity she could lose everything that matters–including her life. Winning the game will help Tella discover Legend’s identity. But the prize will come at a cost that could destroy Legend and Caraval forever. Tella knows better than to get swept away by the wonders within the game. But as time runs out, Tella starts to wonder if this time the game (and the dangers) might be more than illusion.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval, the grandest show by land or by sea. Inside you may come face to face with Fate or steal bits of destiny. As fantastical as Caraval might feel, the next five nights are very real. Elantine has invited us here to save the Empire from her greatest fear. For centuries the Fates were locked away, but now they wish to come out and play. If they regain their magic the world will never be the same, but you can help stop them by winning the game. Are you ready to play? in Legendary (2018) by Stephanie Garber.

Legendary is the second book in Garber’s Caraval trilogy which begins with Caraval. It picks up right after the events of Caraval with a decent recap of key events. Fans of the first book will appreciate many of the familiar characters in this installment.

This novel follows Tella in close third person as she tries to win Caraval while keeping her own secrets–particularly from her sister Scarlett who is sadly sidelined for much of the story as a result. Garber dramatically expands the world of the Meridian Empire and Caraval as well as offering more backstory on Tella and Scarlett’s past.

While Scarlett was a clever heroine who had to learn how to take risks and conquer her fears, Tella is already very shrewd and fearless. She wears her youth and femininity as weapons and is quick to acknowledge almost all of her weaknesses except, perhaps, for her fierce loyalty. Tella’s biggest struggle throughout Legendary isn’t learning to believe in herself. Rather she has to trust herself as she begins to realize that this version of Caraval bears little resemblance to the game Scarlett won.

Much like Caraval itself, Legendary plays with readers expectations as this story moves in surprising and unexpected directions. In many ways Tella’s story arc is as defined as Scarlett’s while leaving many key questions waiting to be answered in book three. Legendary is a must read for fans of the first book and proves that this series has staying power. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

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

The Hazel Wood: A Review

“You’re a story, but that doesn’t make you any less true.”

Alice Proserpine has always known that her mother, Ella, was raised on fairy tales amidst the cult-like fandom surrounding the release of “Tales from the Hinterland” a collection of grim fairy tales that, in the 1980s, briefly made Alice’s grandmother Althea Proserpine a celebrity. Alice doesn’t grow up like that. Instead of fairy tales, Alice has highways as she and Ella constantly move around hoping to outrun their eerie bad luck for good–something that seems much more likely when they learn that Althea has died alone on her estate, The Hazel Wood.

Unfortunately just like in “Tales from the Hinterland” everything isn’t as it seems and soon after Alice’s mother is kidnapped leaving no clue except to warn Alice to stay away from the Hazel Wood. With no other clear path to finding her mother, Alice reluctantly enlists her classmate and not-so-secret Hinterland fan Ellery Finch, who may or may not have ulterior motives for helping, to share his expertise on the fairy tales. The path to the Hazel Wood leads Alice straight into the story of her family’s mysterious past and the moment when her own story will change forever in The Hazel Wood (2018) by Melissa Albert.

Albert’s standalone fantasy debut has a narration in the vein of a world weary noir detective who happens to be a teenage girl named Alice. Resourceful, whip smart, and incredibly impulsive Alice also struggles with her barely contained rage throughout the novel as circumstances spiral out of her control. Alice’s singular personality largely excuses the lack of context for much of her knowledge and cultural references which hearken more to a jaded adult than a modern teen.

The lilting structure and deliberate tone of The Hazel Wood immediately bring to mind fairy tales both new and retold while also hinting at the teeth this story will bear in the form of murder, mayhem, and violence both in the Hinterland tales and in Alice’s reality. An aggressive lack of romance and characters transcending their plots make this story an empowering read that will be especially popular with fans of fairy tale retellings.

Possible Pairings: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Sender Unknown by Sallie Lowenstein, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the October 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

Girls Made of Snow and Glass: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“If you’re delicate, it means no one has tried to break you.”

Mina is sixteen years old when she comes to Whitespring. Her mother is dead and she sees few options for a future. When Mina learns that her father, a dangerous magician, has replaced her own weak heart with one made of glass she realizes that even the prospect of love is impossible. What Mina does have is beauty. And a secret. She hopes to be able to use both to stay clear of her father and win the king. For if the king and his kingdom fall for her beauty, surely they will be able to love her even if her glass heart makes her incapable of returning the feeling.

Lynet has always looked like her mother–a resemblance that is even more striking now that her sixteenth birthday is approaching–but her personality could not be more different. Lynet does not want to be beautiful or delicate like her dead mother. She wants to be strong and fearless like her stepmother Mina. When Lynet learns the truth, that a magician made her out of snow in her mother’s image, it feels like her destiny will never be hers to control.

When the king names Lynet queen of the southern territories instead of Mina, a rivalry forms between them. As previously unbreakable bonds are tested and friends threaten to become enemies both Mina and Lynet will have to decide if they are capable of transcending their beginnings to forge a new future in Girls Made of Snow and Glass (2017) by Melissa Bashardoust.

In her debut novel Bashardoust offers a feminist retelling of the fairy tale of Snow White with a focus, of course, on the relationship between daughter and step-daughter. The novel alternates between close third person chapters detailing Lynet’s present struggles to claim her own fate as her birthday approaches with Mina’s past and her early days in Whitespring.

Bashardoust’s writing is methodical with a slow start to draw readers into the story and introduce both Lynet and Mina. Instead of relying on familiar tropes and stereotypes, both Lynet and Mina are well-developed characters with complicated motivations and conflicting feelings. Both women are ambitious and see the crown as a way to take control of their own lives. But what does that ambition mean compared to years spent as a family? After all, there can only be one queen.

This fledgling rivalry forms the majority of the plot while explorations of magic, their own strange beginnings, and what it means to love help to flesh out the story. Lynet’s infatuation and eventual relationship with the new palace surgeon–a woman named Nadia–adds another dimension to the story.

While the characters and plot are handled well, the overall world building is lackluster. While readers see much of the palace, the rest of Whitespring is unexplored within the text. The magic system is poorly explained with only vague explanations for how Mina and Lynet can live. The curse that shrouds Whitespring in winter year round is equally vague.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a thoughtful and thoroughly feminist fairy tale. Recommended for fans of retellings and readers who prefer character-driven novels.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Ash by Malinda Lo, The Young Elites by Marie Lu, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Maleficent

Caraval: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett writes to Master Legend every year hoping against hope that he might bring Caraval back to the small island of Trisda in the Conquered Isles.

When tickets to Caraval finally arrive, Scarlett knows she can’t go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tella and herself from their abusive father, is far more pressing. Except impetuous Tella has other plans and recruits a disreputable sailor to help bring Scarlett to the magical show.

Caraval is meant to be a game and a decadent diversion for both players and spectators. But Tella’s disappearance is very real and, Scarlett soon realizes, central to this year’s game.

As Scarlett tries desperately to follow the clues to her sister, the dangers of the supposed show become very real. If she fails to find Tella and win the game, Scarlett risks losing her sister forever.

Welcome, welcome to Caraval the greatest show on land or by sea. Inside you’ll experience more than most people see in a lifetime. You can sip magic from a cup and buy dreams in a bottle. But before you full enter this world, you must remember it’s all a game. What happens beyond the gate may frighten or excite you, but don’t let any of it trick you. They’ll try to convince you it’s real, but all of it is a performance. A world built of make-believe. So while they want you to get swept away, be careful of getting swept too far away. Dreams that come true can be beautiful, but they can also turn into nightmares when people won’t wake up. Are you ready to play? in Caraval (2017) by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval is Garber’s debut novel and the first book in a series. The book is written in close third person following Scarlett’s perspective. Although the epilogue promises  twists and adventures in future installments, this novel functions for the most part as a standalone.

Garber’s vibrant descriptions bring the whimsical and dangerous elements of Caraval to life as Scarlett begins to discover the wonders to be found in a place where secrets can become currency and time can be bought and sold.

Scarlett is a cautious and timid heroine for much of Caraval. She has spent years trying to shelter her sister from their father’s calculated abuse and manipulations. Scarlett’s primary concerns are safety and distance from her father. Love, adventure, and all of the things Tella craves feel secondary if not entirely superfluous in comparison.

Caraval features a varied array of characters and some romance but this novel remains surprisingly introspective in its focus on Scarlett’s own journey toward autonomy and agency. A few predictable twists and some unexpected turns serve as a strong backdrop for Scarlett’s growth as she realizes she is the victim of her father’s abuse, not the cause. As Scarlett moves deeper into the machinations of Caraval she begins to correct her earlier mistakes both in the game and in her own life while learning to trust her instincts.

Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure. Intricate world building and the circus-like atmosphere of Caraval lend this novel an extra bit of flair that even Legend would admire.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

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Two parts of my day here. I finally felt healthy enough to read on my commute and lunch hour at work so I'm diving back into Caraval. Now that I am no longer in the throes of my illness, it's picking up and I'm enjoying it. I like that Scarlett seems to have a form of synesthesia in the way her feelings equate with colors. And I I really like that the colors Garber mentions early on describing Scarlett's arrival in Caraval are referenced in the cover artwork. 🦄 This afternoon I also led a weekly makerspace program for teens. The teens made tangle free headphones while I started this piece of macrame which will either be a bracelet or bookmark depending on how it turns out. It was nice to have a program mellow enough that I had time to make something myself instead of just supervising! 🦄 Who's read Caraval as an ARC? Who's excited for the official publication in a few days? Who does macrame? Let's talk. 🦄 #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #bookaddict

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If I Was Your Girl: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You can have anything once you admit you deserve it.”

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith RussoAmanda Hardy is new to Lambertville, Tennessee and nervous about starting at a new school for her senior year. She isn’t sure what to expect when she moves in with her father who she hasn’t seen in a few years. She isn’t sure if this town will be any kinder to her than the hometown she had to leave. All she wants to do is blend in and avoid getting too close to anyone. She’s used to being an outsider so it should be simple.

Grant Everett sorely tests Amanda’s resolve. He is funny, kind, and no one Amanda ever thought she could be with. Getting closer to Grant makes Amanda feel safe and known. So much so that shea wonders if it might be time to let Grant see all of her–including the secrets from her past.

But she has no idea if Grant will be able to see her as the girl he’s gotten to know when he finds out that Amanda used to be Andrew in If I Was Your Girl (2016) by Meredith Russo.

If I Was Your Girl is Russo’s first novel. It’s also important to mention that she is a transgender woman. An author’s note at the back of the book addresses some of her creative choices and provides further resources and support for trans teens.

This book is a really powerful and important story. Amanda is an empathetic heroine with a narrative voice that is immediately engaging and approachable. More importantly, this is not an issue-driven book. Instead, If I Was Your Girl is a sweet, introspective, and romantic story about a girl who happens to be transgender.

Everyone in If I Was Your Girl has a secret whether it’s something they’re hiding for their own protection or just because they’re embarrassed. These secrets include sexual orientation and a character who is hiding his mother’s health problems and his family’s low income status. The way these secrets unfold and play out in the narrative add another dimension to the story as Amanda and her friends learn about what it means–and what it can cost–to reveal your deepest truths to someone new.

Parts of the plot meander and even drag. Amanda’s adjustment to her new school is contrasted throughout the novel with flashbacks to her distant and recent past including moments when she was bullied, her decision to transition, and a heart-wrenching suicide attempt.

Russo presents Amanda’s story with tenderness and care. In addition to featuring a strong, transgender girl at its heart, this story also surrounds Amanda with support. Her life still isn’t easy–there are obstacles and hateful, scary moments. But throughout the story, Amanda also has her mother cheering her on and begins to rebuild her relationship with her estranged father. She finds friends who trust and accept her and a boy who cares deeply about her. If I Was Your Girl is a hopeful and uplifting story where Amanda works to become the person she’s always wanted to be.

Possible Pairings: Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality by Elizabeth Eulberg, Life by Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, How to Be Brave by E. Katherine Kottaras, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

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Sick day reading on the terrace. If you haven't heard about If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo yet consider this your notice. Sweet romance following Amanda who is at a new school and falling for a really nice guy. The only problem is Amanda has a past. She's already had to move once after being attacked and she isn't sure her new town will be any better if people find out she used to be a boy. This is a thoughtful story, a timely book with an approachable and engaging transgender girl as the narrator. It's also a really interesting story about family and figuring out who you are when it turns out nothing can be taken for granted. #bookstagram #books #currentlyreading #amreading #reading #igbooks

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