Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne ParkSunny Song has big plans for the summer before her senior year in high school. She’s ready to maximize time with her best friend Maya and maybe finally get out of the friend zone with her forever crush Rafael Kim. Sunny also has big plans for her social media platform with new ideas and content that will get her to 100k followers.

Summer has barely started when all of Sunny’s plans go out the window. First, she’s called into the principal’s office on the last of school because of concerns about the amount she posts during the day (it’s called pre-scheduling) and the lack of anonymity when she mentions other students (is it really her fault that a vanity plate like “on fiyah” is so unique?).

Arguing with her parents about her social media platforms is nothing new. But even Sunny is surprised when her latest live cooking video accidentally turns PG-13 and goes viral as #BrownieGate and, worse, #BrowniePorn. Which is the last straw for her parents who immediately derail Sunny’s summer with a one month digital detox at the Sunshine Heritage Farms camp in Iowa.

Coming from California, Sunny is unprepared for the humidity, the farm animals, the absence of fast food, and the utter lack of WiFi or access to her devices. If Sunny wants to keep up the #BrownieGate momentum, she knows she has to find a way back online this summer even as she tries to disconnect. As Sunny discover new friendships, a boy named Theo who is as annoyingly fond of farm puns as he is cute, and some other new connections, she’ll learn that sometimes you have to go offline to really grow in Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous (2021) by Suzanne Park.

Find it on Bookshop.

Park’s latest YA contemporary is a laugh-out-loud funny story grounded in real tips and tricks for digital detox from experts like Cal Newport and Catherine Price. Although the Sunny’s camp experience pulls advice from real resources, Sunny doesn’t get the benefit of those texts adding to the humor and drama as she works through the process with help from camp counselors.

Sunny is Korean-American. Maya, her best friend in California, and Sunny’s new camp friend Delina are both Black. While the focus of the story is squarely on Sunny’s digital detox and ensuing shenanigans, Park also includes some smart moments throughout the story as Sunny deals with micro-aggressions at camp and a conversation with Delina (who grew up in Korea and filmed mukbang videos where she would eat local cuisine) highlights the kinds of harassment some content creators, especially people of color, can experience.

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous is a book about social media and content creation that actually understands both while still focusing on timeless themes as Sunny tries to figure out who she wants to be (aside from a famous content creator). Park presents a realistically handled detox journey for Sunny throughout the story. At the same time, she also points out the excitement and connection that can be found through technology offering a refreshingly nuanced perspective. Come for the humor, the friendship, and the romance. Stay for the commentary on social media.

Flawless pacing combined with Sunny’s brutally honest and witty narration make Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous a must read. Highly recommended.

You can also check out my interview with Suzanne here on the blog.

Possible Pairings: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, You Have a Match by Emma Lord, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport, How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price, If You Don’t Have Anything Nice to Say by Leila Sales, Follow Your Arrow by Jess Verdi, Sunkissed by Kasie West, The Social Dilemma (Netflix documentary)

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

Lightbringer: A Review

Lightbringer by Claire LegrandAfter years spent trying to deny her powers and her dark urges to push them to their limits, Queen Rielle is done pretending. Rejected by the man she loves, feared by the country she swore to protect, Rielle instead turns to Corien–the dark fallen angel who has always promised her glory and destruction in the same breath.

A thousand years in the future Eliana is still trying to understand how her plan to stop Rielle before she breaks the world went so very wrong. Separated from her brother, betrayed by the man she thought she could love, Eliana arrives at the Empire’s capital broken. But that doesn’t stop Corien from trying to break her more and unearth the secrets of how he can use Eliana to reunite with Rielle in the past.

The world has always been quick to tell Rielle and Eliana what kind of woman they should be. With the fate of the world balancing on a knife’s edge, both Rielle and Eliana will have to take their fates–and the fate of all of Avitas–into their own hands in Lightbringer (2020) by Claire Legrand.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lightbringer is the final book in Legrand’s Empirium trilogy which begins with Furyborn and Kingsbane. Legrand has said before that this is the series of her heart, the reason she began writing, and a massive undertaking. Seeing the end of it, particularly this ending, is bittersweet to say the least.

Lightbringer picks up shortly after the conclusion of Kingsbane although most of the plot relies on world building and plot previously established in the first book in the trilogy.

Epigraphs, shifting points of view, and the story’s two timelines play out on an epic scale as this novel builds to conclusion that feels both explosive and inevitable.

Like the other books in this series, Lightbringer is a long one (nearly 600 pages as a hardcover). Unfortunately in this volume many of the editorial choices shift focus away from characterization and plot in favor of repeated scenes of torture. Corien employs mental and physical violence against Eliana to understand how she could travel to the past. Meanwhile Rielle’s storyline is steeped in blood and gore as Rielle learns more about Corien’s experiments to build monsters to fight his war and vessels for incorporeal angels.

While this book has all of the pieces for a powerful conclusion, they never quite gel as well as they need to relative to the build up. Corien’s motivations are never entirely clear, Ludivine’s purpose in the story remains murky. Worse than all that, a lot of character viewpoints are relegated to epigraphs in favor of cutting down the book length. This choice highlights how badly Ilmaire needed to be a main character in this trilogy while I am still wondering why I had to read though countless chapters from Navi, Tal, or Jessamyn–all of whom feel largely tangential to the entire series.

Both the torture and violence throughout Lightbringer became repetitive enough that as a reader I began to feel inured to it. Instead of furthering the story, the torture took page time away from allowing the overarching narrative to unfold leaving much of that to happen in the final 150 pages of the book.

Lightbringer is a natural if not always satisfying conclusion to a truly distinct series. This installment redeemed a lot of the flaws in Kingsbane or at least made them understandable, particularly in regards to Rielle’s motivations. While the conclusion here feels inevitable, it remains bittersweet and leaves many of the characters and the entire world of Avitas forever changed. It’s clear that there are more stories to be told in Avitas and I hope Legrand will eventually be able to share them with readers.

Lightbringer ends strong remaining inclusive, sexy, and very smart making it a good read-a-like and antidote for Game of Thrones or other problematic fantasies written by white men for white men.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Wicked As You Wish: A Review

Wicked As You Wish by Rin ChupecoThere are a hundred names for magic in the Tagalog language but no matter what you call it, Makilings can negate it. This long line of Filipina warriors can render spells and modern spelltech useless. At least, that’s the idea. Tala Warnock is still getting the hang of it.

Even as a novice, Tala’s unique ability will come in handy when her best friend Alex has to  journey to Avalon–one of the Royal States of America’s neighboring kingdoms–to reclaim his throne. The only problem? For the past twelve years Avalon has been encased in ice and largely impenetrable with its residents trapped in an enchanted slumber.

Guided by the firebird–a creature thought to have shifted from reality to myth–Tala and a ragtag group of misfits from the Order of the Bandersnatch will have to work together to get Alex safely into Avalon and back on his throne in Wicked As You Wish (2020) by Rin Chupeco.

Find it on Bookshop.

Wicked As You Wish is the start of Chupeco’s A Hundred Names For Magic duology. Close third person narration keeps the focus primarily on Tala. The breakneck pacing of the opening chapters does not let up as Tala is thrown headfirst into her world’s political conflicts and her own parents’ murky roles in the recent war.

Chupeco’s world building draws on varied fairy tales and myths (both western and non-western) to create a dynamic alternate reality filled with magic and mayhem along with a somewhat on-the-nose nod to the current USA president in the form of King Muddles. A large ensemble cast, snappy dialog, and the general madcap pacing keep the story moving while also keeping Tala in the dark about a lot of the larger plots at play.

Wicked As You Wish is a frenetic, zany series starter with an inclusive and distinct cast of characters. Recommended for readers who like their fantasies fast, funny, and full of adventure.

Possible Pairings: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Dorothy Must Die by Danielle Paige, The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde

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

Kingsbane: A Review

*Kingsbane is the second book in Legrand’s Empirium trilogy and picks up shortly after the events of the first book. To avoid spoilers and confusion, start at the beginning with Furyborn (and check out my review here).*

“I am like no one but myself.”

Kingsbane by Claire LegrandRielle Dardenne thought being anointed Sun Queen would be the end of her problems and the start of a bright future. Instead, with the Gate meant to keep angels out of Avitas failing, Rielle has to use her new command of the Empirium to repair it. But even her powers are limited and time is short to allow her to collect the castings of the saints to help focus her efforts.

Hemmed in by her responsibilities and authority figures who fear her, Rielle finds she is not immune to the angel Corien’s alluring talk of freedom and unbound power. Rielle chose to tie herself to Audric and Celdaria but she is no longer sure love is enough to determine her path.

Centuries later, Eliana Ferracora has been named Sun Queen but lacks the power to back up her new title. Unsure how to channel or control the Empirium, pressure is mounting for Eliana to demonstrate her strength and fulfill the prophecy saving humanity from the oppressive angels.

Haunted by her mother’s legacy, desperate to save the people she cares about, Eliana will have to embrace her strengths and her weaknesses to become the queen Avitas needs.

Two prophesied saviors, two sides in a brutal battle for humanity, two women forced to choose how far they are willing to go for power and protection in Kingsbane (2019) by Claire Legrand.

Find it on Bookshop.

Kingsbane is the second book in Legrand’s Empirium trilogy and picks up shortly after the events of the first book. To avoid spoilers and confusion, start at the beginning with Furyborn (and check out my review here).

If the first book in this trilogy was all about identity, Kingsbane is about choice as both Rielle and Eliana have to determine their loyalties in their coming battles and fully commit to them.

Legrand takes all of the intrigue, drama, and action from the beginning of this trilogy and multiplies it tenfold with bigger risks, more dangerous consequences, and more adventure for all of the characters. Readers also see more of the world of Avitas in both ages as Rielle and Eliana travel beyond their respective realms to learn more of what it means (and what it requires) to be Sun Queen.

Multiple narrators expand the story and its numerous subplots although the focus remains squarely on Rielle and Eliana as both women continue to operate in moral grey areas while trying to understand what it means to be a savior and a hero in worlds that seem more comfortable fearing and subjugating them.

Kingsbane is a sexier, darker, and even more intricately plotted installment building toward inevitable betrayals and challenges for both Rielle and Eliana. A must read for fans of the trilogy.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Now a Major Motion Picture: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Now a Major Motion Picture by Cori McCarthyIris Thorne is dreading the movie adaptation of her grandmother’s Elementia books. Hailed as a feminist response to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings the Elementia books are seen as classic fantasy and have the diehard fans to prove it. The fandom even has a name: Thornians.

The movie adaptation is only going to make that worse. Iris and her family already had to deal with a crazy fan trying to abduct her younger brother, Ryder. She can’t imagine what will happen with a bigger fan base. Nothing good, that much is obvious.

Iris hopes that spending the summer in Ireland observing the production with Ryder will give her the perfect chance to sabotage the production. After all, if the movie never gets made no one will be able to watch it.

When Iris’s sabotage schemes are thwarted by dreamy leading actor Eamon and the crew’s infectious enthusiasm she starts to wonder if the one thing she has been dreading might also be the one thing she desperately needs in Now a Major Motion Picture (2018) by Cori McCarthy.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cori McCarthy’s latest standalone novel is a charming contemporary romance. Iris’s narration is razor sharp as she tries very hard to remain an outsider on the set even while the cast and crew do their best to befriend her.

Iris remembers the trauma her family has suffered because of the Elementia books and she is weary to let herself embrace that legacy even as she starts to learn more about its feminist themes and the director’s efforts to stay true to that in the adaptation. Iris is very much a fish out of water among the cast and crew and this is a charming story about how she starts to find her place there–and maybe even in her own family.

Now a Major Motion Picture has humor, a snarky narrator, and a swoony romance all set in a picturesque locale–in other words, all the makings of a perfect summer read.

Possible Pairings: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest, Royals by Rachel Hawkins, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Eric Hicks, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Truly Madly Royally by Debbie Rigaud, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle, Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Bruja Born: A Review

*Bruja Born is the second book in Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Labyrinth Lost.*

cover art for Bruja Born by Zoraida CórdovaLula Mortiz has always been the healer, the beautiful one. That was before her younger sister Alex accidentally trapped Lula and all of her family in the underworld of Los Lagos, before maloscuros attacked Lula leaving her with scars across her cheek.

Sisterly bonds and everything Lula thought she knew about magic are tested as she struggles to move on the way the rest of her family has. When Lula is involved in a fatal bus crash she’s determined bring back her boyfriend, Maks, who has been the one stable thing in her life. But every bruja knows it’s impossible to beat Death–even with powerful magic on your side in Bruja Born (2018) by Zoraida Córdova.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bruja Born is the second book in Córdova’s Brooklyn Brujas trilogy. To avoid spoilers start at the beginning with the first book Labyrinth Lost.

This fantasy sequel picks up shortly after the events of Labyrinth Lost where readers meet the Mortiz family as Alex first tries to magic away her powers and then has to rescue her family from Los Lagos with her best friend (and now girlfriend) Rishi. This time around the story is narrated by Lula as she tries to cope with the aftermath of Los Lagos including the attack that has left her face scarred and the sudden return of her long-missing father.

Córdova blows the world of the Brooklyn Brujas series wide open as readers learn more about the Mortiz family and the Deos. Brooklyn Bruja also introduces the Knights of Lavant and the leaders of the Thorne Hill Alliance who manage all magical beings within the city. (The Thorne Hill Alliance made their first appearance in the author’s debut series The Vicious Deep.)

Excessive zombies and hunts for answers bring Lula and her sisters across Brooklyn in this plot-driven novel. Lula’s introspective narration shifts neatly to high action as the zombie outbreak heats up and Lula works to restore the balance between life and death.

A cliffhanger of an epilogue and questions surrounding youngest sister Rose and the family’s sometimes ally Nova will leave fans eager for the next volume. Bruja Born is a fast-paced story sure to appeal to fans of the first novel in particular and urban fantasy in general.

Possible Pairings: Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black, Conjured by Sarah Beth Durst, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno, Nocturna by Maya Motayne, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Star Daughter by Shveta Thakrar, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Charmed (TV series)

*A more condensed version of this review was published in the May 2018 issue of School Library Journal as a Starred Review*

As You Wish: A Review

cover art for As You Wish by Chelsea SedotiWhat if you can make one wish and know that it will come true?

That’s the question Eldon has to answer as his eighteenth birthday approaches. Eldon’s small town, Madison, is unremarkable except for one thing: every person in town gets one wish on their eighteenth birthday and that wish always comes true.

But Eldon has seen enough wishes go wrong to know that wishing for something to make you happy isn’t the same as being happy. As his birthday approaches Eldon will have to decide if one wish can secure his future happiness. Or, if he’s smart enough and makes the right wish, maybe it can fix all the broken wishes that came before in As You Wish (2018) by Chelsea Sedoti.

Find it on Bookshop.

Sedoti delivers a haunting story with fantasy elements in her sophomore novel.

With his birthday approaching, Eldon grapples with his own desires for a wish (getting his girlfriend back) and pressures from his mother to wish for enough money to pay his sister’s medical bills and maybe help the entire family. Eldon’s first person narration is interspersed with stories from the town of other wishes. These anecdotes include Eldon’s mother who wished, against all advice and reason, for her high school crush to love her forever–even when she falls out of love with him, and other wishes with disastrous results.

As You Wish is a bleak, claustrophobic novel. Eldon, like a lot of people in town, feels trapped. Unlike others Eldon isn’t so sure a wish can help. His struggle with that moves the novels forward and has the potential to change the entire town’s future. Despite the high stakes, the bleak backdrop and meandering tone make this a slow read. Eldon’s anger and distance as a narrator further remove readers from the immediacy of the story.

Possible Pairings: Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman, When We Collided by Emery Lord, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

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

Furyborn: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You’re just my kind of dangerous.”

cover art for Furyborn by Claire LegrandOnly two people are meant to have power over all seven kinds of elemental magic–a prophesied pair of queens. The Sun Queen will bring light and salvation. The Blood Queen will summon an age of ruin and destruction.

Rielle Dardenne should not be able to wield all of the elements. Her uncontrolled magic has already cost Rielle dearly. She isn’t eager to lose more. Terrified she may be marked as the Blood Queen, she hides her power from everyone.

When her best friend Audric, the crown prince, is attacked by assassins Rielle has no choice but to intervene. The kingdom believes Rielle to be one of the queens in the prophecy. But which one? To prove her loyalty and that she is the Sun Queen, Rielle agrees to demonstrate her control and her power by completing seven trials where failure will mean death.

One thousand years later, Queen Rielle is remembered as little more than a legend–a story from when magic and angels were thought to be real. Eliana Ferracora doesn’t have time for stories. Not when it takes all of her energy to keep herself and her family alive.

Eliana isn’t proud to be a collaborator with the invading forces of the Undying Empire. But she doesn’t have time for pride or regret or pity. Not when her work as a bounty hunter is the only thing keeping her mother and her brother Remy safe. Until her mother disappears.

To save her, Eliana will have to form a tenuous alliance with a mysterious man called the Wolf and embark on a dangerous mission traveling across her country to distant shores and the center of a conspiracy closer to Eliana than she can imagine.

Two queens with the power to save their world or destroy it. Two young women pushed to desperate lengths for what they love. One war that has spanned millennia and demands that both Rielle and Eliana choose a side in Furyborn (2018) by Claire Legrand.

Find it on Bookshop.

Furyborn is the dynamic start to Legrand’s Empirium trilogy. This high fantasy novel alternates chapters between Rielle and Eliana bringing both characters closer to dangerous realizations about their world and their own roles in it. Legrand expertly manages both story lines maintaining tension throughout even in the midst of a surfeit of fight scenes.

High action and lush writing create an evocative and sensuous setting with intricate world building. The dual narrative structure makes for a fascinating setup as readers are positioned with more knowledge than almost all of the characters except, perhaps, for Eliana’s perceptive younger brother Remy and my precious Simon.

Legrand’s characters are fully realized, complex, and often flawed. Rielle’s calculated self-preservation and Eliana’s ruthless protection of her family prove that there are no easy choices for these characters who exist in a world where good and evil often walk hand in hand.

Furyborn is a taut, dramatic story filled with action, adventure, and some hints of romance. This masterful series starter is utterly engrossing and sure to leave readers eager for the installment. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi, The Never Tilting World by Rin Chupeco, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, Realm of Ruins by Hannah West, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Be sure to check back tomorrow to read my exclusive interview with Claire about Furyborn too!

The Bone Witch: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We have come a long way only to fall apart.”

cover art for The Bone Witch by Rin ChupecoTea never meant to raise her brother Fox from the dead or expected to become a dark asha—a bone witch to those who fear and revile them—but that is exactly what happens setting Tea’s life on a dramatically different course when she is thirteen and comes into her powers.

Asha training is rigorous and takes Tea and her brother far from home. Life in the asha-ka is both less exciting and more dangerous than Tea ever could have imagined making it hard for her to ever feel completely comfortable in her new role as an asha-in-training.

But that doesn’t explain what happened four years later to leave Tea banished to the Sea of Skulls where she tells her story to an exiled bard while raising fearsome daeva (demons) to use for dark purposes.

The nobility in the Eight Kingdoms and even the asha elders have always viewed dark asha as expendable–meant to serve their purpose slaying daeva and not much else. Raising the daeva is one step in Tea’s plan to save dark asha lives. The next steps will change the shape of the world forever or break apart the Eight Kingdoms in the process in The Bone Witch (2017) by Rin Chupeco.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Bone Witch is the first book in Chupeco’s trilogy by the same name. The story continues in The Heart Forger.

Most of this novel is narrated by Tea in the first person as she looks back on her initiation into the world of the asha and her subsequent training. Tea relates these memories to an exiled bard with the jaded detachment brought on by the distance of four years and her own banishment.

The Bone Witch is a tightly wound story filled with intrigue and tension. The story lines of Tea’s past at the asha-ka and her present on the Isle of Skulls build simultaneously to a shocking crescendo as secrets are revealed and loyalties tested. Careful plotting and deliberate reveals will leave readers questioning everything and breathless for the sequel.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao, A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, A Dark and Starless Forest by Sarah Hollowell, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, Sabriel by Garth Nix