You Should See Me in a Crown: A Review

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah JohnsonLiz Lighty has never been one to break from the ensemble to go solo. That has served her quite well during her time at her high school in Campbell County, Indiana where she’s been able to focus on band, getting good grades, and doing everything she needs to in order to attend her mother’s alma mater Pennington College.

Unfortunately, even doing everything right isn’t enough to get Liz the last scholarship she needs to be able to afford tuition at Pennington. If her grandparents find out, they’ll want to sell the house to help Liz. But if they do that Liz and her younger brother will lose the last link they have to their mother who died from Sickle Cell Anemia. Liz isn’t going to be the reason for that. Not a chance.

Instead, Liz realizes her best option is running for prom queen. Liz has never cared about prom–not the way people are supposed to in her town where prom is a full-time obsession–but becoming prom queen comes with a crown and a scholarship.

Now Liz will have to complete community service, dodge spontaneous food fights, and deal with the friend who broke her heart when he he chose popularity instead of their friendship. That’s all while campaigning to climb the ranks running for prom queen and figuring out what to do when new girl Mack turns from enigmatically cute to new crush and maybe even potential girlfriend.

Prom season is always hectic in Campbell and competition is always fierce. Liz knows most people in Campbell don’t see her as prom queen material. The better question is if Liz is ready to step out of the ensemble and use her solo to convince them otherwise in You Should See Me in a Crown (2020) by Leah Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

You Should See Me in a Crown is Johnson’s debut novel. This funny contemporary is set over the course of the six weeks of Liz’s prom campaign culminating in the prom itself. I won’t spoil the prom queen results, but maybe you can guess. Despite the prom focus the main event is watching Liz come out of her shell and embrace all of her personality (and her queer identity) while making space for herself in both her school and her town.

Campaign shenanigans and gossip from the school’s social media app Campbell Confidential add drama and humor to this story. Although she doesn’t tell them everything she’s struggling with, Liz’s grandparents and brother are great supports for her and quite funny in their own rights.

Liz’s friends also try to help with the campaign which leads to questionable decisions from best friend Gabi as she lets winning overshadow being a good friend–an ongoing problem as Gabi begins to understand that being a friend (and an ally) has to more than offering campaign advice.

Then of course, there’s Mack and one of the sweetest romances you’ll find in YA Lit.

You Should See Me in a Crown is a prom-tastic read with a story that is as funny, smart, and endearing as its heroine. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, Tessa Masterson Will Go to Prom by Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin, The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby, The Prom by Saundra Mitchell with Chad Beguelin, Bob Martin, Matthew Sklar, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, Who Put This Song On? by Morgan Parker, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, The Summer of Jordi Perez and the Best Burgers in Los Angeles by Amy Spalding, The Wrong Side of Right by Jenn Marie Thorne, Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian

Tunnel of Bones: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Maybe is a match in the dark.

“Maybe is a rope in a hole, or the key to a door.

“Maybe is how you find the way out.”

Tunnel of Bones by Victoria SchwabCassidy Blake’s best friend Jacob is a ghost. This wasn’t as big of an issue until Cassidy and her parents (and Jacob) traveled to Scotland to film a TV about the world’s most haunted places. There Cassidy learned that she isn’t just a girl who can talk to ghosts. She is a ghost hunter tasked with putting ghosts to rest.

This has, understandably, created some tension between the two friends.

But understanding her role as a ghost hunter will have to wait when the Blakes travel to Paris and Cassidy accidentally awakens a dangerously strong ghost.

As the new ghost and Jacob both grow stronger Cassidy will have to rely on old friends and new to put this new menace to rest before it’s too late in Tunnel of Bones (2019) by Victoria Schwab.

Find it on Bookshop

Tunnel of Bones is the second book in Schwab’s middle grade series following Cassidy Blake. The story starts in City of Ghosts but thanks to sufficient recaps the books can be read independently or even out of order.

I love this series. There is nothing more comforting to me than reading about Cassidy’s growing pains as a friend to Jacob and as a fledgling ghost hunter. Readers can expect to see the usual spooky suspects in Paris including the Catacombs and a poignant visit to Notre Dame before the fire in April 2019 left the historic cathedral in ruins.

New locations and new reveals add dimension to Cassidy’s understanding of her ghost hunting abilities as well as Jacob’s backstory. Schwab expertly balances scares and laughs in this fast-paced read that is sure to entertain readers both young and old. A surprise ending will leave readers especially eager to see what awaits Cassidy and Jacob in the next installment.

Tunnel of Bones is as entertaining as it is evocative. Come for the ghosts and stay for the friendships–just be sure to have a snack on hand because the descriptions of all of the French cuisine Cassidy discovers will leave you hungry.

Possible Pairings: The Jumbies by Tracy Baptiste, Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

The Night of Your Life: A Review

The Night of Your Life by Lydia SharpJJ and Lucy made pact to go to prom together if they both wound up dateless. While JJ’s being single is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point, he’s surprised to find Lucy still dateless and going with him on the day of the prom.

Prom is the perfect chance for JJ to have a last hurrah with all of his friends and he can’t imagine anyone he’d want to spend it with more than Lucy.

Except everything goes wrong.

JJ wants nothing more than to forget that prom ever happened. But when he wakes up, it’s prom day again.

With endless chances to try and fix things, JJ has to figure out if he can chase his perfect prom while holding onto his best friend in The Night of Your Life (2020) by Lydia Sharp.

Find it on Bookshop.

This standalone contemporary takes on a speculative twist as JJ relives his prom over and over again trying to improve events and break the loop. Despite the high concept premise, The Night of Your Life‘s main strength is the LGBTQ+ representation which adds a nice layer to an otherwise flat story.

JJ is an extremely vanilla narrator with few defining traits beyond being excited about prom and an unfortunate predilection for making up words (like “twibble). He is a terrible friend who chooses not just to ditch Lucy when a cute girl’s car breaks down but also never tells her what is actually happening. Why he deserves numerous chances to fix his prom night, let alone why he deserves a friend like Lucy, remains unclear.

Stilted writing in both JJ’s first person narration and the dialog make most of the relationships in the novel feel forced and do nothing to hint at even a little chemistry between JJ and Lucy as the next phase of their friendship (and if they should pursue anything more) becomes the main question of the story.

The Night of Your Life is an uninspired take on a familiar premise. Unless you’re all about that prom setting, skip this one and read A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody for a better executed version of the same conceit.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Shuffle, Repeat by Jen Klein, Parallel by Lauren Miller, Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills

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

The Candle and the Flame: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“She will be all right. Not right now but later, when it hurts a bit less, she will be all right.”

The Candle and the Flame by Nafiza AzadNoor is a city of many peoples and many cultures; a refuge for all who might need one. But it wasn’t always that way. This new city has only been able to flourish in the wake of a tragic attack by the Shaytateen–djinn who crave chaos–where they slaughtered everyone in the city save for three humans.

Fatima was one of those survivors and even now, eight years later, she is still haunted by the attack, what was lost, and what she had to do protect her sister and their adopted grandmother.

The city now exists in a tenuous peace ruled by a new maharajah who shares control of the city with Zulfikar, emir of the Ifrit–djinn who seek to create order and reason to counter the chaotic Shayateen–who protect the city.

When the Ifrit Name Giver is killed, Fatima finds herself transformed. No longer human, not quite djinn, she is now Fatima Ghazala–a young woman drawn into the city’s politics as outside threats and internal unrest threaten everything Noor represents and everything it could become in The Candle and the Flame (2019) by Nafiza Azad.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Candle and the Flame is Azad’s debut novel. This standalone fantasy is also a finalist for YALSA’s Morris Award for Excellence in Debut Fiction.

Vibrant descriptions immediately draw readers into Noor with multiple closer third person perspectives moving the story forward as Azad explores Fatima Ghazala’s transformation as well as the challenges facing both the city and its rulers.

Thoughtful explorations of trauma and consent set this novel apart as Fatima Ghazala works to come to terms with her past and what it means for who she has become. This struggle plays out in small things as Fatima Ghazala asserts her right to be referred to by her newly chosen name and on a grander scale as she carves out a place for herself both in Noor and among the Ifrit.

A gorgeous book with a swoon-worthy romance where the romantic leads meet as partners and allies before anything else; The Candle and the Flame is an evocative fantasy with lush writing and rich world building that explores themes of colonization and feminism. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Hunted by the Sky by Tanaz Bhatena, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The City of Brass by S. K. Chakraborty, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Race the Sands by Sarah Beth Durst, We Hunt the Flame by Hafsah Faizal, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, The Tiger at Midnight by Swati Teerdhala, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

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

Last of Her Name: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“If you control your self, you control your fate.”

Last of Her Name by Jessica KhouryStacia knows all about the rebellion that tore through the Belt of Jewels sixteen years ago leaving the entire royal family dead, but it’s always felt removed from her quiet life on Amethyne with her parents and her best friends, Clio and Pol.

When the Direktor Eminent comes to Amethyne looking for Princess Anya, the youngest member of the murdered royal family, Stacia realizes the dangers of the Union’s authoritative regime have always been closer than she realized. Stacia is loath to believe the claims that she is the lost princess. But doubt doesn’t help when the shooting starts.

Escape comes at a price as Stacia and Pol are forced to leave Clio behind. On the run, forced to question her entire history, Stacia will have to embrace her true identity and claim her birthright if she wants to save her friend or her planet in Last of Her Name (2019) by Jessica Khoury.

Khoury’s latest standalone is a nail-biting story inspired by the lost Russian princess, Anastasia. Stacia’s first person narration and her richly imagined world bring this story, and its complex technology, to life in this new interpretation of a familiar story.

High action and shocking twists come together to make Last of Her Name an unforgettable reading experience. The high stakes of Stacia’s journey to reclaim her birthright contrasts well with quieter moments between Stacia and Pol as they both try to decide what Stacia’s true identity means for their already changing relationship.

Last of Her Name is the lost princess space opera of your dreams. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza, Romanov by Nadine Brandes, Sky Without Stars by Jessica Brody and Joanne Rendell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Havenfall by Sara Holland, Lifel1k3 by Jay Kristoff, Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada, The Pioneer by Bridget Tyler

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

City of Ghosts: A Review

cover art for City of Ghosts by Victoria SchwabIt’s been a while since Cassidy Blake’s life has been anything close to normal. That’s what happens when your best friend is a ghost. Also when you die (briefly) and come back able to see ghosts in general.

Cass doesn’t mind. Jacob is a good friend even if he is a little too obsessed with superhero comics. And sure, passing through the Veil that separates the living from the dead can be scary. But it’s also an inescapable pull for Cass now–it has been since she died.

All of Cass’s summer plans are upended when her parents receive an offer they can’t refuse: a chance to host a TV show about the world’s most haunted places. Cassidy thought she had her ability under control but she is totally unprepared for the level of haunted she encounters in Edinburgh, Scotland.

When Cassidy attracts the attention of a dangerous spirit, she’ll have to embrace her ability and trust in new friends and old if she wants to make it out of Edinburgh in one piece in City of Ghosts (2018) by Victoria Schwab.

Find it on Bookshop.

City of Ghosts is the first book in Schwab’s middle grade series. Cassidy’s story will continue in Tunnel of Bones.

Cassidy’s approachable first person narration immediately draws readers into her story and her world. Evocative descriptions bring the streets of Edinburgh to life and contrast well with genuinely scary moments with sinister ghosts on the other side of the Veil.

Schwab strikes the perfect balance between horror and adventure in this ghostly tale of unlikely friends and reluctant heroes. City of Ghosts is a delightful start to a series that is as entertaining as it is spooky. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Jumbies by Tracy Baptiste, Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken, The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

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

Impostors: A Review

“Freedom has a way of destroying things.”

cover art for Impostors by Scott WesterfeldFrey and Rafi are inseparable. They are sisters. They are a secret.

Raised by her father in the shadows, hidden from everyone, Frey is Rafi’s double–a decoy who stands in whenever her twin sister has to appear in public where she is vulnerable to threats. While Rafi is raised to be charming and poised, Frey is raised to be an assassin, a weapon.

Sent in her sister’s place as collateral for one of her father’s deals, Frey tries her best to inhabit a vapid world that is completely alien to her. Frey has never had to pretend for this long and she knows that Col, the son of her captor, is starting to catch on.

As her assignment drags on and the stakes climb higher, Frey realizes that her place in her family and in the larger world is changing. After living for so long in the shadows, Frey will have to step into the public eye if she wants to save her sister and herself in Impostors (2018) by Scott Westerfeld.

Find it on Bookshop.

Impostors is the first book in Westerfeld’s new series which is set in the world of his Uglies trilogy.

This series starts twenty-five years after Tally Youngblood changed the world forever but it’s been years since anyone has actually seen her. In the aftermath new leaders have stepped into the power vacuum creating their own mega cities and, in the case of Frey and Rafi’s father, their own dictatorships where advanced tech is used to police the population.

With no other frame of reference, Frey and Rafi can barely articulate the restrictions and horrors of their upbringing–something that becomes clearer to Frey only when she is left untethered with no way to return home to her sister.

Impostors is a high octane adventured filled with cool tech, calculating villains, and a ruthless protagonist prepared to do whatever it takes to protect the only person she’s ever cared about. Frey and Col’s reluctant alliance and evolving relationship remains compelling despite an initial lack of chemistry.

Although Impostors is stronger and faster, it falls short of being better than the original series instead often feeling like a story retold. Recommended for readers who like their science fiction filled with high speed chases and rich world building. Ideal for diehard fans of the series as well as those looking to enter the Ugliesverse for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Mirage by Somaiya Daud, The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, This Mortal Coil by Emily Suvada

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

Amber & Dusk: A Review

cover art for Amber & Dusk by Lyra SeleneSylvie has always known that she was destined for greater things. She is certain that her life as an orphan with the Sisters of Scion is only a small blip on her path to greatness. When she comes into her legacy–a magical talent that is believe to only belong to the upper class–Sylvie knows it’s a sign.

Sneaking onto a caravan Sylvie makes her way from the very edges of the Dusklands when the darkness of the Dominion constantly looms into the Amber City’s palais Coeur d’Or at the heart of the Amber Empire. In this city where the sun never sets, Sylvie assumes that her magic to create illusions will be enough to earn her a place in the Empress’ court.

Instead Sylvie finds herself the center of a wager, the butt of a cruel joke, among the palais courtiers. Sponsored by an enigmatic noble called Sunder Sylvie must learn to control her legacy as she navigates the dangerous games within the palais. Under her new name, Mirage, she will have to fight to earn her place at the palais while deciding how much she is willing to lose in Amber & Dusk (2018) by Lyra Selene.

Find it on Bookshop.

Amber & Dusk is Selene’s debut novel.

Luxuriant descriptions underscore the complex world Selene has created where the sun never leaves the sky and the moon never rises. Complex magic and class systems add layers to this story, particularly once Sylvie arrives at a court reminiscent of Versailles.

Sylvie is unapologetic about her ambitions and shrewdly pursues her imagined destiny despite numerous obstacles and warnings from other characters that the palais is not the paradise she might imagine. Reckless and sometimes ruthless, Sylvie throws herself into her new life as Mirage without fully considering the risks or consequences of her choices.

While Sylvie/Mirage is a compelling if sometimes frustrating heroine, the rest of the cast is often one-dimensional by comparison. Mirage’s sponsor Sunder–so named for his legacy’s ability to cause pain–is as mysterious as he is problematic.

Amber & Dusk is a seductive fantasy filled with magic and machinations in equal measure complete with an ending that will leave fans clamoring for a sequel.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton, Stain by A. G. Howard, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, Enchantée by Gita Trelease, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke, And I Darken by Kiersten White

The Hidden Witch: A Graphic Novel Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for The Hidden Witch by Molly Knox OstertagAster’s family is still adjusting to his affinity for witchery–something totally unexpected in a family where boys usually become shapeshifters. Not everyone is thrilled with Aster’s witchcraft but his grandmother is more than happy to teach Aster so long as he in turn helps her try to rehabilitate his great-uncle whose own attempts to avoid shifting led to corrupted magic and all manner of havoc.

Off the compound Charlie, Aster’s non-magical best friend, is starting school and eager to make new friends–especially the mysterious new girl who keeps to herself. That turns out to be extra complicated when a curse tries to attach itself to Charlie.

Aster is able to remove the curse. But he can’t stop it without finding the witch who created it. Aster and Charlie (and even Aster’s cousin Sedge) will have to work together to find the witch before their magic ends up just as corrupted as Charlie’s great uncle’s did years ago in The Hidden Witch (2018) by Molly Knox Ostertag.

The Hidden Witch is the second book in Ostertag’s middle grade graphic novel series which starts with The Witch Boy.

I love the smooth edges and bright colors of Ostertag’s artwork. The panels are once again dynamic and full of fun details. This story spans both day and night with fun design elements like white or black gutters between panels to differentiate.

Ostertag effectively smashes the strict magical binaries of Aster’s family as Aster continues to study witchcraft and one of his male cousins contemplates attending a normal school instead of studying (and shifting) on the family compound.

The primary focus of this story is Aster and Charlie’s friendships both with each other as well as with other. The Hidden Witch is another fun installment that expands the world and fleshes out the magic systems first introduced in The Witch Boy.

Possible Pairings: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill, The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

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

The Witch Boy: A Graphic Novel Review

cover art for The Witch Boy by Molly Knox OstertagThirteen-year-old Aster leads a secluded life on the compound he and his extended family call home. The family has everything they need and is far away from prying eyes which is important since Aster’s family is magic. For generations this magic has been simple: girls become witches while boys become shapeshifters.

Aster desperately wants to be a witch despite his family telling him again and again (and again) that it’s impossible for a boy to learn witchery. Aster doesn’t care and keeps studying and practicing in secret.

When Aster meets Charlie–a new girl in town who refuses to let anyone else define her–Aster knows he has to keep following his dreams in The Witch Boy (2017) by Molly Knox Ostertag.

The Witch Boy is the start of Ostertag’s middle grade graphic novel series which continues in The Hidden Witch.

Ostertag’s full color illustrations are approachable and vivid. Panels are full of motion and varied design (complete with witchery runes!) that draw readers through the comic. Entertaining characters and strong friendships more than make up for an otherwise slight (and sometimes not subtle) plot.

The Witch Boy is a great graphic novel for readers of all ages with a message of inclusion that is much needed and very welcome.

Possible Pairings: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill, The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang