The Mirror King: A Review

*The Mirror King is the final book in a duology. This review has spoilers for the first book The Orphan Queen.*

cover art for The Mirror King by Jodi MeadowsEverything changed the moment she revealed herself as princess Wilhemina Korte and vowed to reclaim her kingdom of Aecor and the Vermillion Throne. Now Wil is torn between old allies and new friends as she struggles to become the leader her people deserve.

Wil’s closest ally Tobiah has been gravely wounded and struggles with his own reluctance to take his place on the Indigo Throne when he would much prefer to continue his vigilante work as Black Knife.

Both Wil and Tobiah will have to put aside their differences and their decisions as the Wraith continues to grow in power and come closer to their homes. Wil controlled the Wraith once with disastrous consequences. She isn’t sure she can trust herself, or her magic, to try again.

For the last ten years Wil has relied on her anonymity to keep her safe. Now, as alliances crumble and dangers loom she will have to learn to place her trust in others and step into the light if she wants to save her kingdom and everyone she cares about in The Mirror King (2015) by Jodi Meadows.

The Mirror King is the final book in a duology which began with The Orphan Queen. Meadows once again writes this story in Wil’s pragmatic first person narration.

This series–and particularly this book–highlights everything that can be done when a duology is handled well. The Mirror King continues to explore themes of identity and leadership in this novel while also expanding the world and the story as Wil and her friends race to stop the Wraith. Even the cover art nicely ties back to book one with clever design choices.

Wil’s external conflicts with the Wraith and to reclaim Aecor are juxtaposed against her reluctance to become a queen when she feels ill-prepared for the responsibilities or the costs. There are no easy choices for Wil or Tobiah and Wil’s development throughout the series illustrates that as she begins to understand and accept her obligations.

The Mirror King is an excellent conclusion to a fast-paced, truly engaging fantasy series. Highly recommended for fans of high fantasy novels filled with intrigue, adventure, and just a little romance.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

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The Orphan Queen: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ten years ago the Indigo Kingdom invaded Aecor, assassinated the king and queen, and claimed Aecor as its own territory during the One-Night War. Princess Wilhemina and the other orphaned noble children were taken to the capital city of Skyvale but managed to escape a life of captivity within the walls of an orphanage.

Now seventeen Wil and the other orphans, the Ospreys, are experts at stealth and theft after years of training and preparation. They are all ready to do everything they can to help Wil reclaim her throne. Even if it means Will has to assume the identity of a dead girl to infiltrate the palace.

That isn’t Wil’s only secret or her only obstacle. Magic has been outlawed for a century in a failing effort to push back the Wraith–a toxic by-product of magic that threatens to overtake the Indigo Kingdom sooner than anyone could have imagined. Wil’s own magic might be able to help her reclaim her throne and stop the Wraith. But only if she is able to keep her secrets–something that becomes increasingly unlikely when she attracts the attention of the notorious vigilante Black Knife. Nothing is as it seems in Skyvale and time is running out. Wil is poised to become a queen, but first she’ll have to prove she has what it takes to lead in The Orphan Queen (2015) by Jodi Meadows.

The Orphan Queen is the first book in a duology. Wil’s story concludes in The Mirror King.

The Orphan Queen is a plot-driven fantasy novel filled with action and intrigue. Narrated by Wil the novel follows her efforts to infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom and do whatever it takes to reclaim her throne. Slinking through the kingdom at night searching out materials for her forgery efforts Wil also has to avoid Black Knife–a vigilante known throughout the Indigo Kingdom for his work hunting down illegal magic users and arresting them for the crown.

These efforts play out against the larger backdrop of a world that is slowly be ravaged by Wraith–a substance that twists and ruins everything it touches as it gains strength from magic use. The more I read about the Wraith in The Orphan Queen the more it struck me as the perfect analogy for climate change and our current struggles with global warming.

While a lot of information about the Wraith is withheld from readers (we are, after all, limited to what Wil knows and she’s been in hiding since she was seven) this bit of world building felt ingenious and added a fair level of complexity to a world that otherwise might have been very black and white. The ethics surrounding magic use both as a kingdom and as an individual are things Wil struggles with throughout the novel as she contemplates her role in dealing with the Wraith should she manage to reclaim her throne.

My main issue with The Orphan Queen is that all of the characters are too young. This is something that happens a lot in young adult novels because there’s an idea that you can’t be a “young” adult without being an actual teen. Because of that the Ospreys are somehow trained, mentored, and led by Wil’s closest ally Patrick who takes on these responsibilities at the tender age of eleven. In addition to pushing willing suspension of disbelief to its limit, this also raises questions about how much Wil can actually remember of her childhood home or the One-Night War itself. Unfortunately, these questions remain not just unanswered but largely unasked in a moment of wasted potential for an otherwise strong novel.

Wil’s first person narration is engaging and entertaining as she moves seamlessly between identities as a princess, a rebel, a forger, and a fighter. Wil is calculating and clever but she is also compassionate and desperate to reclaim her kingdom and stop the Wraith with as little bloodshed as possible–something that becomes increasingly difficult as Wil’s various identities begin to overlap and she becomes torn between new alliances and old loyalties.

The Orphan Queen is a strong start to a fast-paced and delightfully exciting duology. Recommended for readers looking for a fantasy novel with high stakes action, intrigue, and just a touch of romance. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Traitor’s Game by Jennifer A. Nielsen, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace, Bring Me Their Hearts by Sara Wolf

The Last Time We Were Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We’re all just trying to be the best version of us, the only way we know how.”

The Last Time We Were Us by Leah KonenLiz used to go by Lizzie and her life used to be simple. But the summer before her senior year is anything but as she sifts through the expectations of her friends and family to figure what she might really want. Thanks to her best friend MacKenzie’s concentrated efforts, she and Liz are on the verge of popularity. Liz is getting invited to the best parties. Everyone is certain that if Liz plays her cards right she’ll have Innis Taylor–the hottest and most popular guy in Bonneville–as her boyfriend.

When her childhood best friend, Jason, comes home unexpectedly from juvie the obvious thing to do is ignore him. Liz doesn’t owe Jason anything. She isn’t even sure she can give him the friendship that he’s asking for. Liz never wanted to believe that Jason was capable of attacking someone but the rest of the town is convinced that he is guilty and still dangerous.

Liz has every reason to avoid Jason and everything to lose if anyone catches them together. But the more Liz remembers about who she and Jason used to be together, the more she finds herself drawn to him and the secrets he keeps alluding to that surround his arrest. Liz will have to learn how to trust Jason again as she remembers his role in her past and decides if he deserves a place in her future in The Last Time We Were Us (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Last Time We Were Us is Konen’s second novel.

This book explores a lot of the themes covered in Matthew Quick’s Every Exquisite Thing. However, the idea of finding yourself and the value to be had in teenage rebellion is handled more effectively here and without the obvious disdain Quick displays for his heroine throughout.

The Last Time We Were Us is a subtle, sexy story about figuring out who you want to be when everyone already seems to know you. Liz remains extremely aware of who she is and of her own values–even if that sometimes means deeply disappointing those closest to her. While this story has action and twists, it remains largely introspective with Liz working through some of her largest conflicts on her own as she tries to choose the kind of person she wants to be moving forward.

This book is one of those formative stories where the writing is so smart and so on point that it often feels like have your own thoughts and ideas spoken back to you. Konen’s evocative descriptions of Bonneville and a varied (though probably all white) cast help to further develop the story. The Last Time We Were Us is a thoughtful exploration of what place nostalgia and memory have in life as you grow older and how, even when you try not to, the past can irretrievably shape your future.

The Last Time We Were Us is a story with a hint of mystery, romance, and a healthy dose of feminism. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrough, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also check out my interview with Leah Konen about the book.

Finished The Last Time We Were Us last night. It's one of the smartest books I have read this year. Liz used to go by Lizzie and her life used to be simple. But the summer before senior year is anything but as she has to sift through the expectations and wants of her friends and family to figure what she might really want. When her childhood best friend, Jason, comes home unexpectedly from juvie the obvious thing to do is ignore him. Liz doesn't owe Jason anything and she isn't sure she can give him what he's asking for either. This is a subtle, sexy story about figuring out who you want to be when everyone already seems to know you and an exploration of what place nostalgia and memory have in life as you grow older. A story with a hint of mystery, romance, and a healthy dose of feminism. Cannot recommend it highly enough. #books #bookstagram #igbooks #reading #currentlyreading #ireadya

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Lost in Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Lost in Love is the second book in Colasanti’s City Love trilogy which begins with City Love. This review contains major spoilers for the first book.*

Lost in Love by Susane ColasantiSadie thought Austin was her soulmate and that her summer before college was going to be filled with the epic love she’d always dreamed of. When Sadie finds out that Austin has been lying to her, she isn’t sure how to reconcile her dream guy with the flawed one trying so hard to make amends and win her back.

Darcy planned to spend her first summer in New York City exploring and having lots of drama-free boy adventures. Summer Fun Darcy is just getting the hang of things when Darcy’s ex shows up in New York to win her back. One grand gesture can say a lot. But can one flight really make up for weeks of heartbreak?

Rosanna never expected to find love when she moved to New York for college–especially not with an amazing guy who is wealthy like D. Now that things are getting serious with D, Rosanna has to decide how much she’s willing to reveal about her past before they move forward.

After a month together in the city they all love Sadie, Darcy and Rosanna know they’re lucky to have found each other as roommates and friends. They’ll need each other more than ever as they try to figure out what comes next in Lost in Love (2016) by Susane Colasanti.

Lost in Love is the second book in Colasanti’s City Love trilogy which begins with City Love.

Each girl is at a crossroad in Lost in Love and forced to make some hard decisions about who they want to be (and sometimes who they want to be with) as the series moves forward.

Still reeling from news about Austin’s secret marriage, Sadie has to pull herself together after their breakup and her subsequent depression. Sadie is honest with herself and readers about how hard it is to move forward and she is willing to put in the work to get to her next, best self–no easy feat with Austin badgering her for a second chance.

Darcy thought she had put heartbreak behind her but she doesn’t quite know what it means when her ex-boyfriend flies all the way to New York to try and win her back. This plot thread takes an interesting turn and adds a bit of mystery to the story as Darcy and readers try to figure out if there are ulterior motives at play.

Rosanna, meanwhile, is trying to reconcile her dwindling funds in New York with the lavish lifestyle her boyfriend has to offer. Still haunted by her past in Chicago, Rosanna is suspicious of anyone offering her genuine friendship (or something more) when she still feels so broken. Most of Rosanna’s arc focuses on her struggles with honesty and balancing who she is with who she wants to become in her new home. While the decision again leaves some things uncertain for book three, her final resolution here is empowering.

Colasanti delivers another fast-paced, summery diversion with New York City as a vibrant backdrop in this story that alternates third person point of view between Sadie, Darcy, and Rosanna. With romance, adventure and a lot of self-discovery, Lost in Love is another excellent City Love installment that will leave fans satisfied but eager for the conclusion of this contemporary trilogy.

Possible Pairings:The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Golden by Jessi Kirby, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

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

City Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

City Love by Susane ColasantiSadie has lived in New York City her entire life but when she moves into summer housing before her first semester of college, it feels like she’s discovering a whole new city. She is so ready to meet her soulmate and fall in love. When she finally meets the perfect boy at her summer internship it’s almost too good to be true.

Darcy decides to use her move from California to New York to embrace Summer Fun Darcy while she gets a head start on her classes. With rich parents backing her adventures, Darcy is sure that her summer is going to be unforgettable. The only problem is Summer Fun Darcy might not be prepared when the chance for something real with a new boy comes her way.

Rosanna knows moving from Chicago to New York is going to be hard–especially since her family can’t give her any monetary support. But moving to New York has always been Rosanna’s dream so she is determined to make it work even if that means a less-than-glamorous summer job. No one is more surprised than Rosanna when a handsome, rich guy breezes into her life ready to sweep her off her feet.

Sadie, Darcy and Rosanna are unlikely roommates and friends. But one summer in the city they all love will bring these girls together right when everything starts to change in City Love (2015) by Susane Colasanti.

City Love is the start of Colasanti’s City Love trilogy. The story will continue in Lost in Love due out May 2016.

Colasanti delivers another fresh, fun romance in City Love. The novel alternates chapters with first person narrations from Sadie, Darcy, and Rosanna. At the start of the novel all three girls are at a crossroad waiting for things to happen and their real college lives to begin.

Each girl also has a secret–something they are running away from, coming to terms with, or hiding from–that they withhold from each other and the reader. This trope, which sometimes can only lead to frustration, is handled well in City Love where readers are ultimately rewarded with answers by the end of the novel.

City Love presents a shiny, elegant version of New York filled with fancy restaurants and expensive stores that locals might not often seen. The novel itself is imbued with Colasanti’s abiding love for New York and evocative scenes of popular destinations like the High Line and Union Square.

Set during the course of one tumultuous week for the girls, City Love is an exciting story of romance, new beginnings, and taking chances. This book reads as a contained story with a satisfying conclusion for most plot threads although hints of what’s in store for Sadie, Rosanna and Darcy will leave fans eager for the next installment.

City Love is a great choice for readers looking for a stylized version of college life with all of the freedom finally being an adult affords. An ideal choice for contemporary romance fans as well. Recommended.

Possible Pairings:The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Take a Bow by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Reunited by Hilary Weisman Graham, Making Pretty by Corey Ann Haydu, Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson, What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Golden by Jessi Kirby, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando

Don’t forget to check out my interview with Susane Colasanti!

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

Freddy & Frito and the Clubhouse Rules: A Picture Book Review

Freddy & Frito and the Clubhouse Rules by Alison FriendFreddy the fox and Frito the mouse play together every day. The only problem is that rules always seem to get in the way of fun for these best friends in Freddy & Frito and the Clubhouse Rules (2015) by Alison Friend.

Hoping to find their own place that isn’t too crowded, small, noisy, or dark, the youngsters decide to build a tree house with no rules. While constructing it, they learn about the give-and-take of friendship (not to mention one smelly way to deal with rambunctious guests at their clubhouse-warming party).

Friend’s digitally colored pencil drawings have painterly detail, and the expressive animals have plenty of child appeal. The artwork varies between full spreads and smaller thumbnail vignettes throughout.

Changing layouts (including a vertical page) lend a frenetic quality to the story. Full paragraphs of text make for a lengthy read better suited to older storytime audiences. An enjoyable choice for prompting discussions of cooperation and friendship.

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in an issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen on various sites online*