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.

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, 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, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix,  Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, 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, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix,  Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Traitor’s Game: A Review

cover art for The Traitor's Game by Jennifer A. NielsenNo one knows where Kestra Dallisor has spent the last three years. It’s better that way. The longer she can hide, the longer she can avoid becoming a pawn in her father’s political machinations to strengthen his ties to the cruel Lord Endrick. But the time for hiding has ended and Kestra has been called home.

When Kestra is kidnapped en route she faces an impossible bargain: find the Olden Blade to spare the lives of her captive servants and herself.

Simon, one of her kidnappers, doesn’t know what to make of Kestra. She is not at all like the girl he expects, certainly nothing not the girl he remembers from his childhood. But she’s also the only hope he and his people have of finding the Olden Blade and reclaiming their freedom.

There are no winners in the traitor’s game. But that won’t stop Kestra or Simon playing for all they’re worth in The Traitor’s Game (2018) by Jennifer A. Nielsen.

The Traitor’s Game is the first book in Nielsen’s new YA series. The book alternates between Kestra and Simon’s first person narrations.

Nielsen delivers high action, political machinations and the intrigue readers of her middle grade novels have come to expect. Despite some unique flourishes in the world building, this is a fairly familiar story as a lost heir tries to reclaim that which was taken by the conquerors.

Kestra and Simon are interesting foils but lack the chemistry needed for their tension and changing dynamic to sustain an entire book. Their voices in alternating chapters are often indistinguishable. The prose often feels sanitized as violence and danger is pushed off the page for readers to imagine instead of being vividly described–this choice means that the novel can work well for younger readers but also creates a stark contrast between the descriptions of the world and the actual reading experience.

The Traitor’s Game is a familiar addition to the fantasy genres. Sparse world building and under developed characters feel like missed opportunities in what could have been a far richer story. Recommended for fans of the author and readers seeking a strictly plot driven fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, Everless by Sarah Holland, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

Not If I Save You First: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Not If I Save You First by Ally CarterAfter six year living in an isolated cabin in the Alaskan wilderness with her Secret Service agent father, Maddie is used to being on her own. She has definitely given up on hearing from her former best friend Logan, the president’s son.

Maddie thought that she and Logan would always be best friends but it turns out a friendship is hard to sustain when only one of you ever writes letters without ever getting a response. Turns out getting used to having no best friend is a lot harder than adjusting to not having a phone, Internet, or any privacy.

When Logan does show up–six years too late–Maddie is ready to kill him. But a mysterious assailant forces Maddie to put that plan on hold when he pushes her off a cliff and drags Logan away at gunpoint.

Now Maddie has to save Logan. But once she finishes that she’s definitely going to kill him in Not If I Save You First (2018) by Ally Carter.

In her latest standalone novel Carter brings together her signature combination of girl power adventure with the unforgiving Alaskan landscape. Maddie already knows that everything in Alaska wants to kill you from the weather to the wildlife so she’s ready when actual Russian gunmen are thrown into the mix. Maddie is a tough-talking heroine who uses bravado to hide her vulnerability and sparkles to hide her abilities. After all, no one ever over-estimates a flighty teenage girl, right?

In contrast to Maddie’s muscle and might, Logan is the one who needs rescuing. He is a quick thinker with a photographic memory. But it turns out that can only take him so far against a loaded gun and everything else Alaska has to throw at him.

Not If I Save You First is filled with action, chases, flirting, and just a little kissing. An unusual setting, some of my favorite characters, and a fast-paced story make this a must read. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a new adventure and an obvious choice for fans of the author.

Possible Pairings: All-American Girl by Meg Cabot, Right Where You Left Me by Calla Devlin, You Don’t Know My Name by Kristen Orlando, Liberty: The Spy Who (Kind of) Liked Me by Andrea Portes,  I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White

All the Crooked Saints: A Review

Here is a thing that draws everyone to Bicho Raro: The promise of a miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears after their first miracle: What they’ll need to do to complete their second miracle.

The strange magic of miracles has been a part of the Soria family for generations–long before the family left Mexico for the desert of Bicho Raro, Colorado.

Now, in 1962, three cousins are at a turning point where magic and action intersect.

Joaquin wants many things. He wants his family to understand him, he wants to spend time with his cousins, most of all he wants someone to hear him DJing as Diablo Diablo on the pirate radio station he is running with Beatriz from inside a box truck.

Daniel is the current Saint of Bicho Raro. He performs the miracles and he sets the pilgrims on their paths to help themselves. Despite his saintliness he is incapable of performing the miracle he needs for himself.

Her family calls Beatriz the girl without feelings, objectively she can’t argue the point. But when unexpected misfortune befalls Bicho Raro, Beatriz will have to reconcile her feelings (or lack thereof) with the logical fact of what she has to do next.

Everyone wants a miracle but when miracles go horribly wrong the residents of Bicho Raro might have to settle for forgiveness instead in All the Crooked Saints (2017) by Maggie Stiefvater.

Set in 1962 when radio waves could be stolen and miracles weren’t quite so shocking, Stiefvater’s latest standalone novel is a story of miracles and magic but also family and forgiveness. An omniscient third person narrator tells the story as Beatriz, Joaquin, and Daniel are drawn into the center of the Soria family’s tumultuous relationship to the miracles and pilgrims who shape so much of the Soria identity.

Pilgrims come to Bicho Raro hoping a miracle can change their life, or maybe their fate. The Soria family changed years ago on a lonely night when a miracle went horribly wrong. The Soria cousins–Beatriz, Joaquin, and Daniel–might be the ones to help right the wrongs of that night. But only if they’re willing to risk changing Bicho Raro and themselves forever.

All the Crooked Saints is an evocative and marvelously told story. Wry humor, unique fantasy elements, friendship, and the fierce power of hope come together here to create an unforgettable story. Not to be missed. Will hold special appeal for readers who enjoy character driven fantasy.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry, The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher at BookExpo 2017*

Lucky in Love: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Maddie doesn’t believe in luck. She believes in working hard and being realistic. She’d love to dream big like her Stanford-bound best friend but dreams like that have no place in Maddie’s reality.

When her eighteenth birthday turns into a total bust, Maddie decides to indulge in a little self-pity and a lot of whimsy when she buys a lottery ticket. Much to her dismay, the ticket wins big.

Before her win Maddie’s family is struggling with debt and barely managing with her overworked mother and unemployed father constantly fighting about money while Maddie’s older brother has taken time off from college to pay some of the loans he has already accrued. Maddie’s lottery money and her natural caregiver tendencies should solve all of their problems but, as Maddie learns, money can’t fix everything–especially people who may not want to be fixed.

Maddie also learns the hard way that money has the potential to change everyone she’s ever met as acquaintances and even strangers start asking for loans, friends question her behavior, and rumors start flying about her in the tabloids. Maddie’s one refuge is the zoo where her coworker Seth Nguyen seems to have no idea that Maddie is now a multi-millionaire.

Seth is charming, funny, and perfect the way he is now–when he doesn’t know Maddie’s secret. As they grow closer Maddie knows she has to tell Seth the truth. Soon. The only problem is that being honest with him might also mean losing Seth before he and Maddie have a chance to get closer in Lucky in Love (2017) by Kasie West.

West’s latest standalone contemporary novel is narrated by Maddie as she navigates her sudden change of circumstance along with all of the other uncharted moments that come with being a senior in high school. Her love of animals and work at the local zoo add a fun dimension to Maddie’s character and the plot.

Thanks to the lottery, Maddie learns to put herself first and also accept things she can’t control or change. In the midst of the lottery chaos Maddie also develops a sweet relationship with Seth–her Vietnamese-American coworker at the zoo. He gives her some much-needed perspective with his focus on film making and going with the flow even in the face of disheartening micro-aggressions and more overt discrimination. He remains easygoing and fun even when it feels like Maddie’s life is in chaos. Seth is a sweet and mellow counterpoint to hyper-focused overachiever Maddie.

Lucky in Love strikes the perfect balance between reality and wish fulfillment with a charming story sure to leave readers smiling. Lucky in Love is a winning ticket for any readers looking for a frothy and ultimately cheerful story about growing up and chasing your dreams–with or without a lottery win to back you up. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz, I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma, Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman, Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes

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