The Bone Orchard: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

I won’t be ashamed of remaking myself. And I won’t turn my back on myself.

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. MuellerCharm is a survivor. After the fall of Inshil, Charm is brought to Borenguard. She is confined to a life running Orchard House, a brothel and gambling den, and tending the adjacent bone trees–the last trace of her necromantic skills. Again and again she has used the trees to regrow her bone ghosts, her children really, Shame, Justice, Desire, Pride, and Pain.

Each ghost has her own role to play, her own part, to keep Orchard House together. Charm oversees it all, madam and mistress both, as everyone from Borenguard’s elite to the Fire Drinkers–the empire’s psychically gifted police force–frequents Orchard House and buys time with the ghosts.

Except on Tuesdays. When the house is closed for all but the Emperor who comes for Charm herself.

Until one Tuesday when everything changes. Instead of coming to the house, Charm is summoned to the palace where the Emperor lay dying with one last charge for his mistress.  The Emperor knows one of his cruel sons is responsible for his murder. If Charm can determine which one, and thereby also choose which son is best fit to rule, Charm will finally be free.

But serving the emperor with this one last task will put everything–and each of the ghosts–Charm has built at risk. With her own fate and the fate of her bone ghosts uncertain, Charm will have to decide if she can serve the Emperor’s last wishes while also finally serving her own interests in The Bone Orchard (2022) by Sara A. Mueller

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Please be aware of the content warnings for this book which includes instances of domestic abuse, rape, incest, torture, pedophilia, and other acts of violence.

Mueller’s standalone fantasy is a nuanced and richly plotted story set in a world populated by people with varied skin tones and sexual orientations including one central character who is cued as nonbinary/genderqueer. The bone ghosts are described as “colorless” and lacking in pigmentation. Shifting viewpoints move between Charm and several of the bone ghosts as the story slowly spins out and gains momentum.

The setting of Orchard House acts as a key character itself giving space to unpack the unequal power dynamics at play between many of the characters because of gender and glass–and between Charm and each of the bone ghosts who carry their own burdens and traumas. The house also highlights the ways in which history is written (or rewritten) by the victors as more of its provenance is revealed.

Be warned, this story is often gruesome and unsavory as Mueller throws open the closed doors of the brothel and also explores exactly why each of the Emperor’s sons are so deeply damaged and awful. Nonetheless, The Bone Orchard is a satisfying mystery and meditative political fantasy that begs to be savored. As the many layers of both Charm and Borenguard’s pasts are peeled back the novel builds to a complex denouement where Charm–and others–transcend the restrictions placed upon them as they learn to embrace and respect what they have done in order to survive.

Through shifting lenses and an intricate plot including mystery, political machinations, and more The Bone Orchard explores what it means to inhabit the world alternately as a captive, a potential victim, and as a survivor; grim but ultimately empowering.

Possible Pairings: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden, An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab, The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon, All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter, Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

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

Book of Night: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“That’s what good con artists did. They didn’t need to convince you of anything, because you were too busy convincing yourself.”

Book of Night by Holly BlackCharlie Hall remembers the way things were before magic was real. Her life would have taken a different course without shadow magic and the underground market it created for stolen shadows, arcane spells, and–most importantly for Charlie–hidden knowledge. She might have become a different woman if she didn’t move so quickly from small cons to the much bigger cons of stealing long hidden, very dangerous spells.

But some bullets can’t be dodged. You have to take the hit.

Which is why Charlie is more determined than ever to start fresh. No cons. No heists. And definitely no magic. She can’t stop her younger sister Posey from searching online for traces of magic at all hours, can’t stop Posey from splitting her own tongue so she’ll be ready when her shadow wakes up. What Charlie can do is take a boring stable job tending bar, spend time with her boring stable boyfriend Vince, and make sure Posey’s tuition is paid on time. Simple.

Except you don’t get into the spell market without building a reputation, without meeting unsavory characters, without sometimes being the unsavory character. That makes it hard to start fresh.

When the worst parts of her past come back to haunt her, Charlie’s boring stable life is thrown into chaos. Delving deeper into the world she thought she’d left behind, Charlie quickly learns that danger doesn’t just lurk in the shadows–sometimes it’s the shadows themselves in Book of Night (2022) by Holly Black.

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Book of Night is Black’s adult market debut.

Charlie is a pragmatic main character, having survived her share of hard knocks and dealt a few herself along the way. Even in world with magic, Charlie is aware that to be normal means fitting into a very narrow box–one that’s hard to find when you’re poor and have a past like hers. While this tense narrative centers on a job Charlie can’t refuse, at its core Book of Night is a story about growing into yourself and learning to embrace every part of yourself–even the ones you’ve tried so hard to bury.

When magic can be bought and sold or stolen and hoarded, Charlie walks the shadow-thin line between going too far and not going far enough to protect everyone she loves. Book of Night delivers noir elements with world-weary heroine Charlie alongside the fantasy and wonder inherent to a world where magic is real but still new enough to not be fully understood. Book of Night is filled with satisfying twists and gasp-worthy reveals perfect for long-time Holly Black fans and new readers alike.

Possible Pairings: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey, An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Gallant by V. E. Schwab

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

You Sexy Thing: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

You Sexy Thing by Cat RamboCaptain Nicolette “Niko” Larson knows better than most that leaving the service of the Holy Hive Mind is no small thing. It’s easy enough to join the ranks with promises of vast earnings to come. But once you’re in, it’s funny how the debt keeps mounting and  those payments never come.

For a moment, Niko thought she could work within the system but now, known throughout the system as the “Ten Hour Admiral,” Niko knows better.

Luckily for Niko and her crew, the only thing the Hive Mind values more than conquest is art. Including culinary art.

After proving their artistic prowess with food, Niko and her crew have settled at TwiceFar station where they try to make a go of their restaurant, The Last Chance. With a reservation book for a prestigious food critic empowered to award a coveted Nikkelin Orb to worthy restaurants, it seems like things might finally be looking up.

Until the station blows up, of course.

With their past reduced to a smoldering pile of space rubble, Niko and her crew escape onto a sentient ship called You Sexy Thing. Unfortunately, the bioship thinks it’s stolen and steers them towards a prison planet. And that isn’t even the worst of Niko’s problems as the crew tries to fend off sadistic space pirates, deliver an intergalactic heir safely to the seat of the empire, and keep Niko’s other plans alive all while still chasing that elusive Nikkelin Orb in You Sexy Thing (2021) by Cat Rambo.

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You Sexy Thing is a standalone space opera that hints at more to come. The story is told in omniscient third person following Niko and her motley crew. The cast of characters includes humans, humanoid aliens, and other alien characters with a range of skin tones, presentations, and gender identities. Vivienne Leheny narrates the audiobook and ably navigates the large cast during shifting perspectives and dialog.

Pragmatic strategist Neko is complimented well by the ensemble cast here including my personal favorite characters Dabrey, Niko’s four-armed former-sergeant responsible for the restaurant’s culinary achievements, and Lassite–a lizard-like priest who joined the crew to follow Niko on her journey along the spiral of destiny. Although the plot focuses squarely on Niko and her own plans, no character is given short shrift as the entire crew has moments to shine. The madcap journey of the first half of the story shifts to something darker and grittier (including moments of mental and physical torture that while not explicitly described are unpalatable–particularly in audio) before the novel’s denouement.

You Sexy Thing skillfully combines moments of sci-fi absurdity with action and high emotion as Niko and her crew face numerous obstacles after escaping TwiceFar station. Rambo delivers a story filled with adventure, found family, and ultimately with hope for the future to come.

Possible Pairings: Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess, The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente

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

Light From Uncommon Stars: A Review

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka AokiShizuka Satomi has spent years building up her reputation as the Queen of Hell. It’s a name fitting for someone with her reputation of building up violin prodigies–more fitting than most people realize.

Shizuka made a deal with the devil forty-nine years ago. Now, if she wants to keep her own soul–and her own prodigious success–she has to deliver seven souls. With six delivered and one soul left, Shizuka should feel secure. But she doesn’t. She wants her last soul to belong to someone special. Someone she’s been struggling to find for years already.

Katrina Nguyen is a transgender runaway with no one to turn to. She has her hormones, her laptop, and her violin and she knows no matter how bad things get she can survive if she has those things. When Shizuka offers to help life Katrina lift her up, it seems too good to be true. As Katrina comes closer to Shizuka’s secrets she realizes how true her initial doubts really are.

From a donut shop on a highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Lan Tran is slowly drawn into this Faustian drama. A retired starship captain with four children to support and protect, Lan has her own priorities. She wants to keep a low profile at Starrgate Donuts for herself and her family. Which is why her blossoming crush on Shizuka is so inconvenient–especially when Lan realizes it might be mutual.

As Shizuka, Katrina, and Lan are drawn into each others’ lives, the three women begin to realize that in order to overcome their separate challenges they might just need each other in Light From Uncommon Stars (2021) by Ryka Aoki.

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Light From Uncommon Stars is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy elements in a contemporary California setting. The close third person narration shifts between Shizuka, Katrina, Lan, and other pivotal characters.

Aoki expertly blends these seemingly disparate elements into a seamless story filled with heart and hope even as Katrina, particularly, deals with rejection, hate, and sexual assault. Katrina also spends part of the novel as a sex worker while she tries to survive on the streets–an element that is handled thoughtfully but is still, understandably, heavy.

This evocative novel is imbued with a strong love of music and filled with delicious food descriptions. Light From Uncommon Stars is a sprawling story of redemption and connection. Recommended for readers looking for a novel that defies both expectations and genre classifications.

Possible Pairings: A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers, The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, On Such a Full Sea by Chang-Rae Lee, The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu, Gideon the Ninth by Tamysn Muir, Song of Blood and Stone by L. Penelope, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett, You Sexy Thing by Cat Rambo, Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente, The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

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

The Echo Wife: A Review

The Echo Wife by Sarah GaileyEvelyn Caldwell is at the top of her game professionally, at the vanguard of clone research, and the recipient of a prestigious award for her work in clone conditioning.

Which is why it’s even more important that no one know about Evelyn’s personal life falling apart.

Everyone knows about the divorce and her husband’s affair–those are hard to hide. But no one can know that his new wife, Martine, is actually Evelyn’s clone. Made illegally with her award-winning research and technology.

Martine is soft where Evelyn is hard. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never let herself become. Still when Evelyn’s good-for-nothing ex-husband turns up dead, Evelyn and Martine find themselves reluctantly working together to cover up the crime in The Echo Wife (2021) by Sarah Gailey.

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Cloning, in general, can be an unpleasant subject made more so here by Evelyn’s focus area. In an eerily plausible world with more advanced cloning technology, she has made a name for herself in clone research and conditioning–the work of making sure a clone is exactly like its source subject including all relevant blemishes and injuries. Therefore it’s no surprise that Evelyn’s first person narration is clinical and filled with sharp edges.

While Gailey continue to demonstrates their remarkable range as an author, The Echo Wife is often too detached as it veers toward deeply unsettling. Much like Evelyn’s public presentation, every piece of this book is deliberately presented to frame the story in a certain light. Whether than can ever be a favorable light for our protagonist remains to be seen.

The Echo Wife is a fast-paced, often chilling blend of science fiction and suspense. Recommended for readers who prefer their protagonists to be morally ambiguous.

Possible Pairings: My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Our Life in the Forest by Marie Darrieussecq, The Survival of Molly Southborne by Tade Thompson, Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente

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

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: A Review

“The old gods may be great, but they are neither kind nor merciful. They are fickle, unsteady as moonlight on water, or shadows in a storm. If you insist on calling them, take heed: be careful what you ask for, be willing to pay the price. And no matter how desperate or dire, never pray to the gods that answer after dark.”

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab1714, France: Adeline LaRue grows up learning about the old gods. She makes small offerings here and there, hoping for something bigger than the life she can see forming around herself in her small village. As she gets older, she begins to understand that the longer you walk, the fewer chances you have to change your path–something Addie is still desperate to do even as she feels time slipping through her fingers.

After offering everything she values, after praying far too long, one of the old gods finally answers long after dark. A bargain is struck.

A soul seems like a small thing to barter for more time but this deal has a catch. Addie will live forever but she cannot leave anything behind–no physical mark and, even more painful, no memory.

Over the centuries Addie learns the limits and loopholes of her bargain–her curse–ways to leave traces if not marks, inspiration if not memories, and ways to survive in a world that will always forget her. But even after three hundred years Addie is unprepared when she meets Henry–a young man in a secluded bookstore in New York City who remembers her name in The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (2020) by V. E. Schwab.

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Schwab’s latest standalone fantasy may be her best work yet.

Through a multi-faceted narrative, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue explores themes of creativity and the weight of expectation (or lack thereof). This book is filled with well-drawn characters and thoughtful commentary on art and inspiration and what it really means to leave a mark on your piece of the world.

Evocative prose and detailed descriptions bring both the cities of Addie’s past and New York City vividly to life and lend a strong sense of place to this story that spans centuries.

With her aggressive resilience and optimism, Addie is a timeless character readers will always want to cheer on and, especially now, she’s the exact kind of protagonist we all need and deserve. Despite the bargain she has struck, I can guarantee Addie is nothing if not memorable.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is an empowering, perfectly plotted fantasy that subverts and defies expectations. A must read.

Possible Pairing: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, One Great Lie by Deb Caletti, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen by Katherine Howe, The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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

The Angel of the Crows: A Review

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine AddisonAfter suffering an egregious injury on the front in Afghanistan, Dr. J. H. Doyle is forced to return to England in 1888 and none too happy about it. With a bad leg, a foul temper, and a war pension that doesn’t quite go far enough in London, Doyle is unsure what to do upon returning until a friend makes a surprising suggestion.

Everyone knows about the angels–after all Nameless can be found in front of every place of worship or bakery, any habitation large enough hopes to have an angel claim it as their dominion, and–like Doyle–everyone knows the damage that can be wrought by angels who have Fallen.

Then there is Crow the self-described Angel of London. Claiming the entire city as his dominion, Crow works as a consultant with the police and for select clients. His focus is singular, his crow-like wings are massive and prone to toppling furniture when Crow is excited, and he is in need of a flatmate.

Moving into 221B Baker Street, both Crow and Doyle have secrets they would prefer to keep. But they also have work to do as Doyle is drawn into Crow’s investigations of murder scenes with strange words on walls, locked room mysteries, and even the case of the Whitechapel Murderer who has been butchering prostitutes with increasing frequency in The Angel of the Crows (2020) by Katherine Addison.

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The Angel of the Crows started life as Sherlock wingfic (fan fiction which imagines one character with wings) and, in many ways, that is still the story readers have in the finished book.

While Crow and Doyle live in a distinct and well-realized fantasy world filled with elements of steampunk and magic, between their original adventures (notably their hunt for Jack the Ripper) Addison also retells some of the most familiar cases from Sherlock Holmes’ long canon. Readers familiar with “A Study in Scarlet,” “The Sign of the Four,” “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and “The Adventure of Speckled Band” will immediately recognize the stories being retold here.

Addison stays very close to her source material while imbuing each story with the magical elements intrinsic to her version of London. A story element with a double edge as it makes the book both immediately familiar and, in certain cases, nearly too predictable.

The Angel of the Crows is strongest when Crow and Doyle are in their element and exploring new territory–albeit often with fun references to the class mysteries that inspired this novel. Addison also raises interesting questions about gender identity and agency throughout the story from both Doyle and Crow’s experiences. While some of this gave me pause in that it felt very much like a plot device, the execution over the course of the novel as a whole was handled well and raises more questions and avenues of discussion than concerns.

The Angels of the Crows is an incredibly thorough and original retelling. Whether or not they are a fan of Holmes and Watson, readers can only hope to see more of Crow and Doyle.

Possible Pairings: Soulless by Gail Carriger, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley, The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lillith St. Crow

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

Magic for Liars: A Review

Magic For Liars by Sarah GaileyIvy has never been magic. She has gotten used to the bitter ordinariness–especially whenever she is compared to her identical twin sister Tabitha, a magic prodigy.

Ivy never wanted to be magic, really. But she still wonders if it wouldn’t have made some things easier. Tabitha is able to get rid or freckles that plague both of them, her eyes always sparkle a bit more, and everything seems to come much more easily for her. People never stick to Ivy and she wonders sometimes if she had been magic if that might have been different.

Ivy knows exactly who she is: the half-feral detective with the perpetual hangover, covered in ink and smudges, devoid of magic. She knows that isn’t an Ivy anyone would want.

When she is hired to investigate a grisly murder at the Osthorne Academy for Young Mages where Tabitha teaches Theoretical Magic, Ivy thinks it could be her chance to make good as an investigator. It might be her chance to be a different Ivy and, if she does things right, it could change everything.

But being around so much magic and so many what-ifs is intoxicating. As questions arise and the suspect list grows, Ivy will have to keep her head clear if she wants to get to the truth in Magic for Liars (2019) by Sarah Gailey.

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Magic for Liars is a standalone fantasy noir mashup complete with a flawed detective as the protagonist.

Ivy has spent most of her life lonely and starved for attention. Being in her head is hard, but it’s supposed to be as her inner turmoil plays out against the larger backdrop of the murder investigation.

Magic for Liars is a mystery wrapped around a sometimes painful examination of the stories we tell ourselves in an effort to make the world see us the way we wish it would. A tightly paced, largely flawless mystery that delivers on every front. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Burn for Me by Ilona Andrews, Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo, Book of Night by Holly Black, Storm Front by Jim Butcher, The Secret Place by Tana French, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire, The Rook by Daniel O’Malley, Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

All the Birds in the Sky: A Review

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane AndersPatricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead were friends once, a long time ago.

That was before Patricia found out from the Parliament of Birds that she was a witch. Before her education on spells, magic, and how to avoid Aggrandizement began at Eltisley Maze.

It was before Laurence found the blueprints for his first two second time machine and started building an artificial intelligence. Before he found his people and his place with other mad scientists so desperate to save the world that they don’t think too hard about how they’re changing it.

They were friends when they were children. Before Patricia saved Laurence’s life and vanished.

Now they’re grown up, living in San Francisco although they travel in different orbits. After years of circling each other something has brought Patricia and Laurence back together. But neither of them can tell if their reunion is meant to fix all of the things that have started going wrong in the world or break them beyond repair in All the Birds in the Sky (2016) by Charlie Jane Anders.

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Anders’ ambitious blend of sci-fi and fantasy starts when Patricia and Laurence are children, following them through middle school into adulthood. The breakneck pacing contrasts sharply with the way Patricia and Laurence’s carefully drawn characters develop and grow over the years.

All the Birds in the Sky is an exercise in contrasts as Laurence and Patricia find themselves on opposite sides of a struggle to save a rapidly declining plane. This shift is particularly evident in the protagonists’ dramatically different worldviews and all of the ways it becomes clear that there may not be any good choices left for either of them.

Snappy prose, witty dialog, and intricate world building will immediately draw readers into this action-filled plot story. Recommended for readers who like their speculative fiction as timely as it is snarky.

Possible Pairings: Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams, Book of Night by Holly Black, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor, Where Futures End by Parker Peeveyhouse, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick

Vengeful: A Review

“We all have to live with our choices.”

Vengeful by V. E. SchwabFive years ago Victor Vale completed the master stroke of his plan to take down his former best friend turned rival, Eli Ever. But the thing about an enemy who is, for all intents and purposes, immortal is that they’re hard to kill. Sometimes they’re even hard to keep contained–especially when they have nothing but time.

Victor has bigger concerns now as he tries to control a power he no longer understands  thanks to his resurrection. What was once black and white has become dangerously grey as Victor is forced to decide how far he is willing to go to save himself and protect the unlikely people who refuse to let him go.

Sydney thought she had found a new family with Victor and Mitch–or at least better friends and certainly better protectors. But five years is a long time to be protected; to be treated like a child. Especially now that Sydney is old enough to see cracks forming as the life she made for herself starts to fall apart.

Power is always a dangerous thing. But ExtraOrdinary powers are an entirely different kind of dangerous–something that Victor, Eli, and the entire city of Merit finds out when Marcella Riggins arrives. Revenge was never going to be enough for Marcella but as she tries to take power from the men who have only seen her as a pretty face, Marcella’s quest for power might bring the entire city to ruin around her in Vengeful (2018) by V. E. Schwab.

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Vengeful is set five years after Schwab’s earlier novel Vicious. Although both can function as standalone novels, it’s best to start the series at the beginning.

Vengeful uses the same braided narrative structure moving characters toward an inevitable final confrontation while also using flashbacks to explore what brought each character to this point. While readers will be happy to see familiar characters including Victor, Mitch, and Sydney, Schwab also introduces a new group of EOs here who are equally compelling.

Where Vicious provided a sharp contrast between what can make a hero and a villain, Vengeful walks the line between the two and blurs it as both Victor and Eli are pushed into making choices–and alliances–they never would have previously considered. Themes of second chances and found family are also explored especially well as Victor and Sydney’s relationship changes and evolves with Sydney working to exert herself as an equal as well as a friend.

Vengeful is the sequel fans expect but also the continuation readers deserve filled with both familiar characters and unexpected turns hinting at what might come next.

Possible Pairings: Plain Kate by Erin Bow, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, The Brokenhearted by Amelia Kahaney, Proxy by Alex London, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Superhero Handbook by Michael Powell, If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey