One Dark Throne: A Review

One Dark Throne by Kendare BlakeTriplets Katherine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe are in the thick of their Ascension Year, the time when all three have to fight until only one is left alive to claim the title of queen and rule Fennbirn Island.

After the disastrous events of the Quickening, Katherine is stronger than ever–far from the sickly, weak Poisoner everyone expected at the start of the year. But what really happened on top of the Breccia Domain? And will it be enough to help her get both the crown and revenge?

Arsinoe never expected to survive the Ascension Year, not as a Naturalist with no powers to speak of and no familiar. That was before Arsinoe steeped herself in low magic and understood the secret of her true power. But will one secret be enough to change her fate?

Mirabella is arguably still the strongest sister. The temple supports her, her Elemental powers give her control over all elements. She could beat her sisters and claim the crown. But she’s no longer sure that is the future she wants.

Once again it all comes down to three sisters and, most importantly, one crown in One Dark Throne (2017) by Kendare Blake.

One Dark Throne is the second book in Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series which begins with Three Dark Crowns. The book follows sisters Katharine, Mirabella, and Arsinoe in close third person narration with additional chapters focusing on those closest to them.

Blake continues to expand the world of Fennbirn Island as the fight for the crown escalates. The expected in-fighting, betrayals, and suspense make One Dark Throne a page turner despite its length.

The fast pace is an interesting contrast to a closer focus on the sisters’ motivations as they all struggle to make it through the Ascension Year. While Arsinoe and Mirabella are drawn together, reluctant to fight their sisters, Katherine is set further apart after her return from the Breccia Domain. This incident also highlights the pointed difference between the triplets’ upbringing where Arsinoe and Mirabella had the advantage and support of actual friends and family growing up while Katharine had poison.

One Dark Throne is an intense, action-packed installment. Higher stakes, bigger consequences, and more twists make this book a must read for fans of the series.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Dangerous Alliance by Jennieker CohenLady Victoria Aston lives comfortably with her father, helping to manage the family estate and enjoying the relative freedom and security afforded to a young woman whose sister has made a good marriage.

Unfortunately all is not as it appears. When her sister has to flee her abusive husband, Vicky must rise to the challenge of finding a suitable husband by the end of the season before her family is left destitute.

Vicky is certain her favorite Jane Austen novels can provide the guidance she needs in this endeavor despite being surprisingly silent on the subjects of recently returned but still painfully distant best friends and, perhaps more urgently, mysterious accidents that may prevent Vicky from surviving her season long enough to find a suitor in Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance (2019) by Jennieke Cohen.

This debut novel is a well-researched homage to all things Austen complete with chapter epigraphs from Austen’s classic novels. Cohen (a member of The Jane Austen Society of North America) also provides a detailed author’s note demonstrating the care and research that has gone into bringing Vicky’s story and her world to life.

The close third person narration primarily focuses on Vicky with chapters from other characters, notably including Vicky’s estranged best friend Tom Sherborne, helping to further expand the story. Vicky is a plucky heroine who faces numerous challenges with aplomb and a fair bit of good humor when following in the footsteps of her favorite literary heroines proves less successful than she might have hoped.

Dangerous Alliance is part madcap adventure and part romance wrapped up in a mystery surrounding the accidents that plague Vicky from the very first page. While this genre mashup can be disorienting, the story sticks close to the wit and gentle tone readers familiar with Austen would expect–complete with a satisfying resolution. Recommended for fans of romantic comedies, cozy mysteries and, of course, Jane Austen.

Possible Pairings: Love, Lies and Spies by Cindy Antsey; Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger; Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones; A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee; Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix; These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas

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

This Time Will Be Different: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Be careful about what you share and who you share it with. Own your power, and don’t apologize for demanding respect. Control the narrative.”

“But the trees whisper to me that life is bigger than my fears . . .”

CJ Katsuyama is the mediocre daughter in a family known for its grit.

Instead of a series of accomplishments that would make her family proud, CJ has a lot of failures that her mom likes to refer to as learning opportunities.

How can that compare to her grandfather who worked for years to buy back Heart’s Desire after his father was forced to sell it at a fraction of the cost before he and his family were interned with other Japanese Americans during WWII? How can CJ hope to impress her mom who had CJ on her own while being the first woman of color to earn a top position at her venture capital firm when CJ herself managed to fail out of coding camp?

It’s no wonder CJ feels like she has more in common with her free spirited aunt Hannah, especially now that she’s learning about flower arranging and the language of flowers as Hannah’s apprentice at the family flower store Heart’s Desire.

Just when it feels like she could be good at something, CJ finds out that Heart’s Desire is struggling and might have to be sold. CJ is willing to try anything to save the shop, even scheming with her nerdy fellow shop apprentice Owen Takasugi. With everything she cares about on the line CJ starts to learn more about her family’s history and realizes she might finally be ready see how much she has to offer in This Time Will Be Different (2019) by Misa Sugiura.

This Time Will Be Different is Sugiura’s sophomore novel.

First things first: CJ’s voice is so great in this book. Her first person narration is conversational and honest and made it a lot easier to swallow all of the ways this book called me out for not taking risks or being proactive in my own life. I am not sure I have ever felt so called out by a book.

While the crux of the story focuses on CJ’s efforts to save Heart’s Desire and thereby discover some of her own grit, Sugiura also looks head on at the ugly legacy of the Japanese American internment and the racism at its core. The long term effects of that legacy play out on a personal level as CJ sees how both her mother and her aunt try to deal with their family history and the ramifications it has had in CJ’s town where so many public spaces are named after the white man who was at the forefront of advocating for internment.

CJ is also forced to confront her own biases when her best friend Emily starts crushing on Brynn–a white, overachieving student and CJ’s longtime nemesis–a conflict that is resolved with some incredibly thoughtful conversations about what it means to be an ally and one of the best interrogations of the white savior problem that I’ve ever read.

The plot is fleshed out with a lot of humor, one madcap run with a ladder, and CJ’s own confused navigation of romance as she tries to get closer to her crush, gets to know Owen, and deals with quite a few missed connections.

This Time Will Be Different is a smart story about a girl learning that you don’t always have to win to succeed—sometimes you just have to try. Recommended for readers who are ready to be an advocate or an ally and anyone who’s ever needed someone to tell them to start saying yes.

Possible Pairings: Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi, Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

With the Fire on High: A (WIRoB) Review

Here’s a teaser from the start of my review of With the Fire on High (2019) by Elizabeth Acevedo (originally reviewed for Washington Independent Review of Books):

cover art for With the Fire on High by Elizabeth AcevedoEven with help from her grandmother, ‘Buela, at home, Emoni Santiago has a lot more than college plans on her mind at the start of senior year in Philadelphia. While her best friend, Angelia, is looking at the best graphic-arts programs and enjoying her relationship with her new girlfriend, Emoni is trying to decide if college (or a relationship) can have a place in her future alongside the hopes and dreams she wants to make a reality for Babygirl. And she wonders if it’s time to focus on doing rather than “spending four years pretending to do” in college.

When an opportunity to take an immersive culinary-arts class comes up at school, Emoni knows this is one thing she has to do even if she isn’t sure what to expect — or even if she can afford the class’ trip to Spain alongside the day-to-day costs of helping ‘Buela keep their house afloat.

“If you ask her to tell it, ‘Buela starts with the same story” of Emoni hopping up on a stool and seasoning her first meal at age 4. Emoni doesn’t know what to believe, but “ever since then ‘Buela is convinced I have magical hands when it comes to cooking. And I don’t know if I really have something special, or if her telling me I got something special has brainwashed me into believing it, but I do know I’m happier in the kitchen than anywhere else in the world. It’s the one place I let go and only need to focus on the basics: taste, smell, texture, fusion, beauty.”

Unfortunately, her natural affinity for food and years of experimentation in the kitchen don’t go far when it comes to prepping Emoni for the rigors of the culinary class. Chef Ayden wants to prepare them for work in a restaurant, but Emoni chafes under the structure and restrictions that seem designed to impede her creativity.

Emoni already knows a lot about taking care of herself and the people she loves, but over the course of her senior year, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to learn even more about cooking, family, and opening her heart.

You can read my full review of With the Fire on High (2019) by Elizabeth Acevedo here: http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/index.php/bookreview/with-the-fire-on-high

Possible Pairings: A La Carte by Tanita S. Davis, Unclaimed Baggage by Jen Doll, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Your Destination is On the Left by Lauren Spieller, Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith, Stay Sweet by Siobhan Vivian

A Very Large Expanse of Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh MafiShirin is used to moving and being targeted by idiots because of her headscarf–especially now, a year after 9/11. She has no expectations for her new school to be any better.

Except things start to feel different when her older brother tells her they’re going to start a breakdancing crew. Then there’s her lab partner, Ocean, a boy who keeps surprising her—in good ways not the usual disappointing ways.

Even with the promise of something great, Shirin is wary. Even if she and Ocean are ready to take a chance on each other, Shirin isn’t sure her new school is ready for it. After being angry for so long, Shirin has to decide if she’s ready to let anyone in or start caring again in A Very Large Expanse of Sea (2018) by Tahereh Mafi.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is Mafi’s first foray into realistic fiction and hopefully won’t be her last. The novel is narrated Shirin and inspired heavily by Mafi’s own experiences as a teen (including the breakdancing!).

Shirin is a sharp character. Her narration is filled with wry observations and her edges are cutting after years of having to learn to protect herself from people who never want to take the time to see her as anything but other. Lyrical prose and a sweet romance work well to offset Shirin’s bitterness at the world in response to the hate and racism that has become part of her everyday life.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea is a thoughtful and ultimately hopeful story. Recommended for readers looking for quirky characters, breakdancing, and for anyone who has ever had to choose between holding onto bitterness and grabbing for something sweeter.

Possible Pairings: Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed; Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali; Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi; The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake; Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke; 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario; Not the Girls You’re Looking For by Aminah Mae Safi

When We Caught Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for When We Caught Fire by Anna GodbersenChicago, 1871: Emmeline Carter is about to blast her way into Chicago’s high society, helping her father make good on his rise to wealth with her engagement to Chicago’s most eligible bachelor.

Living in luxury and the envy of so many society debutantes should be enough for Emmeline. It isn’t. Instead, as her engagement looms, Emmeline can’t stop thinking about her carefree days she used to share with her best friend Fiona Byrne and her sweetheart Anders Magnuson. Now Fiona is Emmeline’s maid and Anders a distant memory.

Fiona hopes that Emmeline’s engagement will bring her friend everything she wants–and allow Fiona to pursue Ander’s herself without guilt. Then Emmeline surprises everyone by risking everything she has gained to see Anders one last time.

As friendships are tested and bonds are broken, even the smallest spark might change everything for these three friends and the city they all call home in When We Caught Fire (2018) by Anna Godbersen.

This standalone novel plays out over the course of the summer as Emmeline, Fiona, and Anders move toward the cataclysmic Great Fire. The novel alternates between chapters following Emmeline and Fiona’s points of view.

Godbersen once again brings the past to life with evocative descriptions of the city (and, of course, the fashions) of the time. While the main focus is on the Great Fire, When We Caught Fire also explores the inequality and corruption that ran rampant through the Gilded Age.

At its core, When We Caught Fire is a story about a friendship and a love triangle. The relationships between the three characters remain the driving force of the story even as the events of the fire play out in the novel’s explosive final act.

An open ending and nuanced characters allow readers to draw their own conclusions while fleshing out the story. When We Caught Fire is frothy, slightly sensational, and utterly entertaining. Recommended for readers who want their historical fiction filled with all the gory details and juicy parts.

Possible Pairings: A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper, Alex & Eliza by Melissa de la Cruz, Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher, Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl, Vixen by Jillian Larkin, Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2018*

Everything All at Once: A Review

cover art for Everything All at Once by Katrina LenoLottie Reaves doesn’t take risks. She prefers to play it safe. But even her usual caution is no help when her aunt Helen–the one person who always seemed to understand Lottie’s anxiety and panic–dies of cancer. But Lottie and her family aren’t the only ones mourning. After Helen’s death it feels like the whole world is mourning the loss of the beloved author of the Alvin Hatter series about siblings Alvin and Margot and the chaos that follows when they discover an elixir that grants immortality.

After Helen’s death it feels like Lottie is spinning out as her panic about death, life, and so many other things start to feel so much bigger. Grieving and feeling more than a little lost, Lottie receives the most surprising inheritance from Helen’s will: twenty-four letters each filled with a dare designed to help Lottie learn how to embrace change and risk.

Helen promised the letters would lead to some bigger truth, answers to questions Lottie hasn’t even learned enough to ask yet, but as she steps outside of her comfort zone and learns more about her aunt, Lottie also discovers the shocking secret that inspired her aunt to write the Alvin Hatter books–a secret that could change Lottie’s life forever in Everything All at Once (2017) by Katrina Leno.

Leno’s latest standalone is part contemporary coming-of-age story and part fantasy with heavy nods toward Tuck Everlasting and Harry Potter. The narrative is broken up with letters from Aunt Helen and excerpts from the Alvin Hatter books throughout.

Lottie’s first person narration is sometimes claustrophobic as she struggles to work through her panic and anxiety. Leno handle’s this portrayal with honesty and authenticity as Lottie tries to find coping mechanisms that work for her while also trying to overcome her anxiety when it prevents her from doing what she really wants. Everything All at Once is the first time I’ve seen a novel truly capture and explore the fear of mortality that hangs over a grieving person expressed so clearly.

On her journey Lottie has conscientious parents, a supportive younger brother, and a funny and smart best friend willing to follow her on every adventure. There’s also a cute but mysterious boy and one of my favorite romantic exchanges (One character asks “Are you saying we’re not friends?” And the other replies “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” And it’s perfect.) But I can’t tell you much more without revealing too much.

Everything All at Once is strongest as a story about grieving, growing up, and an ode to reading and fandoms. Leno plants seeds early on for more surprises (some of which are heavily broadcast) but it also can feel like one element too many. Recommended for readers looking for an empowering story about growing up and working through loss. Or readers who love Tuck Everlasting but wanted more banter and kissing.

Possible Pairings: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston, 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, It Wasn’t Always Like This by Joy Preble