Strange Grace: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Strange Grace by Tessa GrattonA long time ago a witch fell in love with a devil.

The witch gave the devil her heart and a pact was made in the town of Three Graces. Now, nothing is bad and nothing changes. The crops never fail and no one dies before their time. Everything is good.

Every seven year the town’s best boy is anointed as a saint to run through the forest. On the Slaughter Moon he is sent into the forest from sundown to sunrise with nothing but his wits to protect him. His sacrifice renews the bargain every seven years.

That’s the story Three Graces has always known and always told. But can the story be trusted at all? When the bargain needs to be renewed early, Arthur, Mairwen, and Rhun aren’t so sure.

An angry boy, a witch, and a saint run into the forest together. They’ll need each other if they hope to change the shape of the bargain and Three Graces before the next Slaughter Moon in Strange Grace (2018) by Tessa Gratton.

Gratton’s latest standalone novel is a thoughtful commentary on fear, sacrifice, and toxic masculinity wrapped in a page-turning story set in an eerie world where magic has the power to change everything and the forest has teeth.

As the daughter of the current witch Mairwen’s implicit trust in the bargain, in the devil, and in the forest itself is sorely tested as she realizes all is not as it seems in Three Graces.

Rhun has always known he would be the next saint. There is no denying he is the town’s best boy and he is willing to make the sacrifice. But as he prepares to lose everything, Rhun wonders if anyone in town truly knows him.

Arthur has grown up in the shadow of the Slaughter Moon and his mother’s fear of it. Raised as a girl for his first seven years, Arthur is desperate now to prove himself as strong, as good, and as masculine as the other candidates. But even Arthur knows that he is more angry than anything else.

As they prepare for the premature Slaughter Moon, Mairwen, Arthur, and Rhun are haunted by the decisions that have left their lives hopelessly intertwined. Drawn together as much as they are driven apart, none of them know how they can find an ending together when it it is unlikely they’ll all survive the night of the saint’s run.

Strange Grace is a tense blend of fantasy and suspense. Recommended for readers who enjoy their fantasy tinged with horror and old secrets and anyone seeking a polyamorous romance when the chemistry between the characters is undeniable.

Possible Pairings: Damsel by Elana K. Arnold, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson, Last Things by Jacqueline West

An Enchantment of Ravens: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Why do we desire, above all other things, that which has the greatest power to destroy us?”

cover art for An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret RogersonIn the town of Whimsy Craft is currency. The fair folk value human artistry and creativity above all else–they crave it and collect it in lieu of creating on their own. For the right talent they might even offer humans their most coveted prize: immortality.

Isobel has made a comfortable life for herself and her aunt and sisters in Whimsy thanks to her skills as a portrait painter. But even Isobel’s talent can’t protect her from the whims of the fair folk. Any fairy client is dangerous–even Isobel’s oldest and most likely harmless patron, Gadfly–but royal ones especially so.

Isobel hopes to dazzle Rook, the autumn prince, with her Craft and then never see him again. Instead, her inclusion of human sorrow in Rook’s expression may doom them both in An Enchantment of Ravens (2017) by Margaret Rogerson.

An Enchantment of Ravens is Rogerson’s debut novel.

Isobel’s first person narration is candid and self-aware with prose that is delicately woven on a sentence level and serves well to compliment the story’s masterful world building.. She is keenly aware of the dangers of the fair folk, particularly their promise of immortality from the Green Well. The beauty and charm of the fair folk stands in stark contrast to their terrifying lack of humanity offering a nuanced interpretation of the fae that will appeal to fans of Holly Black’s faerie novels.

Instead of being drawn in by all of this glamour, Isobel is at pains to maintain her agency and control. Throughout An Enchantment of Ravens she remains utterly pragmatic and logical even as she is forced to do wild and unexpected things–with caring about and trusting Rook being the most illogical of all.

Isobel is a singular heroine and Rook an admirable foil and ally. This character-driven novel is further enhanced with a strong group of secondary characters notably including newly immortal Aster and my personal favorite, Gadfly. This standalone novel builds to a surprising and truly satisfying conclusion as pieces fall into place as neatly as the brushstrokes in one of Isobel’s portraits. An Enchantment of Ravens is an inventive and unique fantasy filled with fairies, danger, and romance. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Legendary by Stephanie Garber, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Perilous Gard by Mary Elizabeth Pope, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

The Storyspinner: A Review

The Storyspinner by Becky WallaceThe Keepers have been searching for the long-missing princess for years. They have used their magic and more traditional skills but the princess, long rumored dead, has proven elusive leaving room for rival dukes to compete and connive as they struggle to claim her throne for themselves.

Johanna–a Performer left without a troupe after her father’s grisly demise–thinks such matters are far above her station in life. Until murdered girls begin turning up across the kingdom bearing a striking resemblance to Johanna.

Desperate to support her family and a victim of circumstance Johanna is soon forced to work with Lord Rafael DeSilva. Unfortunately for her, Rafi is boorish and insufferable. Not to mention he shares an equally low opinion of Johanna.

When her path aligns with the hunt for the princess, Johanna finds herself at the center of a dangerous web of secrets that could cost Johanna her life in The Storyspinner (2015) by Becky Wallace.

The Storyspinner is Wallace’s debut novel and part of a duology that concludes in The Skylighter.

This novel is written in close third person and alternates between seven points of view including Johanna and Rafi. This multitude of main characters allows Wallace to balance two narrative threads that eventually converge and maintain some surprise although transitions between chapters and characters are often abrupt. Making so many characters into “main” characters leaves little room to develop any of them. Instead of a multi-faceted ensemble cast, The Storyspinner feels like it is populated by one note characters including from the sage wielder of magic, the resentful sister trying to prove herself, and more.

Wallace situates her fantasy in a fictional world that borrows heavily from Portuguese culture with language, food, and more. While this adds flair to the story, it seems out of place with an explanation for where these elements come from.

The Storyspinner starts strong with an intriguing premise that fails to get very far before it is mired in an overly large cast of characters. Recommended for readers looking for a plot driven story that is light on the world building and heavy on the action.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

The Last True Love Story: A Review

The Last True Love Story by Brendan KielyTeddy Hendrix feels adrift with his grandfather, Gpa, in an assisted living facility slowly dying of Alzheimer’s. His dad is long dead and his mother is more concerned with traveling for her job which leaves Hendrix alone to watch Gpa’s deterioration.

Hoping to appease Gpa and ease his own anxiety about his condition, Hendrix makes a promise he isn’t sure he can keep. He promises to bring Gpa across the country, east, to Ithaca where he first met and married Gma. Hendrix has no idea how his driver’s license-less self is going to do that until everything starts to gel on an unlikely summer night.

Hendrix has been watching Corrina play all summer. Corrina is a talented musician chafing under her adoptive parents’ strict rules. Adopted from Guatemala she feels at a remove from her family and her supposed friends. She wants to get away from town and try to jump start her music career.

Realizing they can help each other, Hendrix and Corrina decide to take a chance on each other. They take a car, grab Hendrix’s dog Old Hump, and pick up Gpa to start heading to the east coast. Of course, nothing else goes exactly to plan in The Last True Love Story (2016) by Brendan Kiely.

The Last True Love Story has been the subject of much buzz and critical acclaim. Which it absolutely deserves. Kiely’s writing is smooth and lyrical while also being straightforward. Hendrix and Corrina are interesting characters who are vibrantly portrayed in Hendrix’s first-person narration.

At the same time, The Last True Love Story is a difficult book. Gpa (why is he called Gpa?) and his struggles with the progression of Alzheimer’s is hard to read. Hendrix’s grief over losing the man who raised him long before he dies is painful. Because of that, this book isn’t going to work for everyone.

Readers who can deal with the inherent melancholy and sadness will be rewarded with a surprisingly optimistic and humorous book. Like all good road trip books The Last True Love Story is filled with excitement, adventure, and introspection. The addition of Kiely’s thoughtful prose and distinctive characters further elevate this novel. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Pirouette by Robyn Bavati, Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, Be Good Be Real Be Crazy by Chelsea Philpot, An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes by Randy Ribay, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider

Ice: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Ice by Sarah Beth DurstAs a girl, Cassie believed the story her grandmother told her. She believed that her mother was the daughter of the North Wind and a failed bargain with the Polar Bear King whisked her to the ends of the earth. For years, Cassie thought that one day she might be able to rescue her mother from the troll castle.

Cassie knows better now. Yes, her mother is gone. But Cassie has her father and their work at the Arctic research station where they live. Focused on her research of the local polar bear population and her ambitions to become a scientist, Cassie doesn’t have time for anything else–especially not fairy tales.

Everything Cassie has learned about the world and her own life is irrevocably changed when a polar bear speaks to her. He tells her that the stories about her mother really is alive and trapped at the end of the world. He tells Cassie that he will rescue her mother if Cassie agrees to marry him.

When Cassie accepts the polar bear’s bargain she will embark on her own journey through unbelievable wonders and countless dangers that will bring her east of the sun and west of the moon as she chases her truest desires for her future in Ice (2009) by Sarah Beth Durst.

Ice is a retelling of the Norwegian fairy tale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon.” (Which itself is reminiscent of the myth of Cupid and Pysche.)

Durst blends pieces from the original fairy tale and blends them with elements from Inuit culture. Ice also expands the source material to add context for the presence of a Polar Bear King with an original mythology where the polar bear (called Bear) is a shape-shifting being called a munaqsri who harvests dying souls and distributes souls to newborns. Durst masterfully brings these varied elements together to create a story that is faithful to the source material while also being utterly unique.

Cassie is a headstrong and decidedly modern heroine. Even when she is thrust into an unfamiliar world where magic is real, Cassie learns to adapt and manipulate situations to her advantage. While her initial decision to marry Bear is a calculated one meant to bring her mother home, Cassie’s feelings evolve as she begins to imagine a previously impossible future for herself beside her new husband.

Ice thoughtfully explores issues of choice as Cassie is forced repeatedly to place a value on her own free will. When she is separated from Bear she faces numerous obstacles while constantly running up against the question of how much she is willing to sacrifice in her efforts to find and rescue him. In addition Ice includes a nuanced treatment of what it means to be part of a family as well as what it means to grow up–two things that are central to Cassie’s character development.

Ice is a clever and evocative fantasy retelling. Sure to appeal to fans of the original fairy tale as well as fantasy fans in general.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, Fire by Kristin Cashore, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas, East by Edith Pattou, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce,  The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman