Last Stop on Market Street: A Picture Book Review

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena and Christian RobinsonEvery Sunday after church, CJ and his grandmother get on the bus and ride it across town. None of CJ’s friends do this. On the ride CJ wonders why they don’t have a car like his friend Colby. Or an iPod like other boys on the bus. CJ wonders why they have to ride the bus all the way to the dirty part of town. Grandma answers each question thoughtfully as she reminds CJ that sometimes a journey is more important than the destination in Last Stop on Market Street (2015) by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson.

Last Stop on Market Street is de la Peña’s first picture book.

Brightly colored illustrations from Robinson make this book pop from the cover through to the last page. Robinson’s bold, blocky style helps pictures pop–even from a distance if reading this to a group–and draws the reader’s eye across each spread.

De la Peña has an ear for dialogue which comes across in CJ’s authentic conversations with his grandmother wondering about all the cool (to CJ) things that they lack. While I was surprised to see CJ’s diction was never corrected when he asked “how come we don’t got a car?” it did feel like a real kid talking throughout the story.

CJ’s grandmother reminds him to be grateful for little things (like an exciting bus, a guitarist on the bus who plays a song, and so on) while the pair rides across town to their final destination–a soup kitchen where CJ and his grandmother volunteer.

Last Stop on Market Street is a fun story with enough text (and surprises) to make it a great choice for older picture book readers. Discussion points and Robinson’s artwork also make it a great choice to read to a group. Hopefully the first of many picture books to come from de la Peña!

The Wrath and the Dawn: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“One hundred lives for the one you took. One life to one dawn. Should you fail but a single morn, I shall take from you your dreams. I shall take from you your city. And I shall take from you these lives, a thousandfold.”

***

“All our lives are forfeit. It it just a matter of when.”

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee AhdiehKhalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night. Every bride is executed with the dawn. The Caliph offers no explanations, making it easy for his people to believe he is a cold-hearted monster.

Shahrzad shocks everyone she cares about when she volunteers to marry the Caliph, rendering her life forfeit. But Shahrzad plans to survive the dawn. In fact she plans to live long enough to exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and so many other girls.

The longer she survives in the palace, the more Shahrzad realizes the boy-king is hiding something behind his cold exterior and his closely guarded secrets. Shahrzad volunteered to marry Khalid out of hatred but as she grows closer to to him, it is soon obvious that love is what keeps her in the palace.

Separately Shahrzad and Khalid are both formidable. United together, they may have the strength to save their country and each other in The Wrath and the Dawn (2015) by Renee Ahdieh.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Wrath and the Dawn is Ahdieh’s first novel. It is also the first book in a series which will continue with The Rose and the Dagger (expected publication 2016).

In this loose retelling of A Thousand and One Nights, Ahdieh transcends her source material to create a story that is both original and captivating. Instead of focusing on the stories told each evening, The Wrath and the Dawn expertly expands the framing story found within A Thousand and One Nights to imagine a world where a king executes countless brides and one girl is bold enough to think she can stop him.

As much as The Wrath and the Dawn is a romance of the slow burn variety, it is also very much a story of equals. Shazi and Khalid are perfectly matched protagonists with obvious magnetism even as they warily question each other’s intentions. They are also both incredibly strong characters, often to the point of being arrogant or foolhardy.

The way Shazi and Khalid interact highlights how the best partnerships, the strongest relationships, stem from mutual respect as well as understanding. The push and pull between these two also serves to underscore how nothing is clear-cut in this story where often there are no “good” choices–only necessary ones.

The Wrath and the Dawn is a debut filled with writing that brings the world of Khorasan vividly to life. Elements of fantasy, romance and historical fiction all come together here to create a lush, expansive story with complex characters to match. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Fire by Kristin Cashore, The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana, The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury, Dreamhunter by Elizabeth Knox, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Conversion: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Conversion by Katherine Howe (2014) find it on Bookshop

Conversion by Katherine HoweThis book had a lot going for it. The cast of characters is diverse. The story is set in both present-day Danvers and the Salem village when the witch panic starts. The narrator is reading The Crucible. (Which the book mentions isn’t really about Salem but the 1950s.) On top of that, I really enjoyed Howe’s debut The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and was incredibly excited to hear she was writing a YA novel.

Sadly, this one wasn’t for me. While it had all the right pieces, none of them came together quite right. Colleen and her friends never quite sounded like authentic teens. The plot never felt quite as urgent and compelling as it should. The writing did not come across as strong as it did in The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Furthermore, this book felt stilted as if you knew the author was new to writing teen voices.

The story is still exciting and interesting but it was, sadly, not a good fit for me. Readers with an interest in the area will enjoy the evocative settings and readers with a fondness for Salem-themed stories will still find a lot to enjoy here.

Possible Pairings: The Fever by Megan Abbott, A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman, The Crucible by Arthur Miller (or the play or the movie), The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

 

Star Cursed: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Star Cursed by Jessica SpotswoodCate Cahill will do anything to keep her sisters, Maura and Tess, safe. In fact she has already done the unthinkable: joining the Sisterhood–the sister organization of the Brotherhood–whom her mother never trusted despite their long history of harboring and protecting witches like Cate and her sisters.

Instead of a quiet, uneventful life with Finn, Cate finds herself at the center of a prophecy that could change everything and bring the Brotherhood to its knees. The problem: the Brotherhood knows about the prophecy and they are looking for Cate and her sisters as well.

The other problem: One of the Cahill sisters is the prophesied witch and one of the Cahill sisters will kill another. Cate can’t believe that of either of her sisters. But she can’t believe she is the powerful witch Oracles have predicted either. She doesn’t want to be that witch.

Isolated with the Sisterhood in New London, Cate is loathe to embrace her supposedly brilliant future. But if she wants any chance of saving her overly ambitious sister Maura from herself, Cate will have to act and quickly. Everything in New England is changing almost as quickly as everything in Cate’s own world. With time running out and stakes climbing higher Cate will have to decide how much more she can sacrifice before she will lose everything that matters in Star Cursed (2013) by Jessica Spotswood.

Star Cursed is the second book in Spotswoods Cahill Witch Chronicles. The story started with Born Wicked.

Set six weeks after the conclusion of Born Wicked, Star Cursed is able to let Cate reminisce about events from book one without bogging down book two. The story moves along evenly with pacing that builds much faster to a dramatic confrontation than the quieter plot of book one.

With Cate’s entrance into the Sisterhood, Star Cursed also has a strikingly changed setting and largely a different mood as Cate is relocated to New London from her small hometown of Chatham. The tone changes to match. This is a bleaker story with more threat and menace lurking in the dark corners of the narrative.

Spotswood keeps the Cahill sisters at the center of the plot once again masterfully illustrating their complicated and often painful dynamics. With tons more suspense and a shocking twist at the end, Star Cursed is very much a second book. While much more is learned about the characters and the world, very little is resolved as the story sets up for a dramatic conclusion in the forthcoming third book Sisters’ Fate.

Star Cursed is a darker story but still a gripping one that will leave readers anxiously waiting to see how this fantastic trilogy will conclude.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, The Selection by Kiera Cass, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Salt & Storm by Kendall Kulper, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Infinityglass by Myra McEntire, The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Price Guide to the Occult by Leslye Walton, Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink