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, 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

*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, 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, 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

Weave a Circle Round: A Review

cover art for Weave a Circle Round by Kari MaarenFourteen-year-old Freddy just wants to be normal. She wants to blend in at her high school and disappear. But that’s hard when her step-brother Roland is always telling outlandish stories and leaves a trail of chaos in his wake despite his best efforts. Meanwhile her little sister Mel is like an amateur detective.

Freddy’s mother and step-father are so wrapped up in each other they hardly notice. And it’s not like they can force Freddy to like her siblings anymore than they can force her to learn sign language so she can talk more with Roland.

It becomes even harder to pretend everything is normal when new tenants move into the house on Grosvenor Street–hardly a surprise since the house always seems to be in a state of flux.

Cuerva Lachance and Josiah aren’t like any of the people who have previously rented the house on Grosvenor street. In fact, based on the way the house begins to defy the laws of physics, they may not even be people in Weave a Circle Round (2017) Kari Maaren.

Maaren’s debut standalone is an intentionally chaotic and frenetic novel about time travel, family, and the power of story and talismans. Maaren pulls intricate plot threads together to create a story with eclectic characters and detailed world building.

Because of Freddy’s age and the overall tone of the novel, Weave a Circle Round feels much younger than marketing would suggest–something not helped by flat and often one-dimensional characters. I’d put this book much more firmly in the middle grade category than YA were it left to my own devices.

While I’d love to give Weave a Circle Round points for inclusion, I can’t. Every synopsis I found for this novel describes Freddy’s sister Mel as smart and Roland as . . . deaf. That’s it. He gets no other defining attribute despite being one of the more layered characters in the novel not to mention being key to the plot.

Roland’s deafness feels more like a plot device than a key trait and is only ever seen in relation to Freddy. Freddy finds Roland tedious. She doesn’t want to interact with him or learn sign language to talk to him. She has to get over that to move the plot forward. Bizarrely Roland talks throughout the book with only minimal mention of sign language at all. He also falls into the common trap of being a super lip reader carrying entire conversations with multiple people without signing at all.

Weave a Circle Round is likely to appeal to fans of A Wrinkle in Time and books in that vein. Unfortunately this story never quite realizes its potential or does right by its characters–especially Roland.

Possible Pairings: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Alchemy by Margaret Mahy, In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor

Roar: A Review

Aurora Pavan looks the part of a powerful princess from one of the oldest Stormling family lines. Everyone expects Rora to soon take up her mother’s mantle as queen using her abilities to control and dispel dangerous storms that plague all of Caelira to protect their kingdom. It has been this way since the first storms appeared generations ago.

No one knows the dangerous secret Roar and her mother have been keeping. Rora has no storm magic.

An arranged marriage to a ruthless Stormling prince from a neighboring kingdom can help Rora keep her secret and her kingdom safe. But Cassius Locke is dangerous and the more Rora learns about him the more she fears marrying him on any terms.

Legends tell of how the first Stormlings claimed their magic by facing storms and stealing their hearts–something she learns may still be possible from a storm hunter who reveals that he too was born without magic but has it now.

Determined to finally choose her own fate, Rora sets out to face a storm–and her future–on her own terms in Roar (2017) by Cora Carmack.

Roar alternates close third person point of view between key characters including Rora and Cassius among others. Quotes from Caeliran legends and songs help to expand the world. Carmack’s fantasy debut begins with a fascinating premise where storms plague the kingdoms of Caelira and only a select few can control them. Unfortunately the full potential of this premise is never quite realized.

You can see Carmack’s roots in contemporary romance here with Roar’s focus on interpersonal relationships over external details that would help to clarify the setting and magic system. Centering relationships from the beginning of the novel also leads to a slow start as Rora builds up to her storm hunting adventure.

Roar is a sexy, dramatic high fantasy that will appeal to readers who prefer character-driven books. Readers looking for a sweeping romance and adventure will be eagerly waiting for the sequel.

Possible Pairings: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi, Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust, Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst, Reign the Earth by A. C. Gaughen, Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi

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

A Conjuring of Light: A Review

*A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.*

“Life isn’t made of choices. It’s made of trades. Some are good, some are bad, but they all have a cost.”

“We don’t choose what we are, but we choose what we do.”

Once there were four Londons. Black London was consumed by magic a long time ago. White London will die without more magic. Grey London never had any magic. Then there’s Red London, the jewel of the Maresh Empire and a shining beacon of magic across its world. That magic is what makes Red London so beautiful; it’s what is threatening to destroy it as well.

An interloper from Black London is tearing its way through Red London leaving destruction and death in its wake. Kell is used to being alone and to thinking of himself as isolated thanks to his Antari blood but all of that changes when the only home he’s ever had and the only family that matters is threatened. But Kell can’t fight this battle alone. Not if he wants to win.

Lila has thrived in Red London leaving behind her life as a thief to pursue her dream of becoming a pirate. She made it through the magical competition of the Essen Tasch but not she has to learn to control her magic before it begins to control her.

Kell and Lila will have to use every spell and trick they know to face a new threat from Black London. Along the way they’ll rely on old friends like Kell’s brother Prince Rhy and uneasy allies like the mysterious Captain Alucard Emery. Even old enemies may become allies before the battle is over. To survive, to win, will take everything the Antari have to give and maybe even more in A Conjuring of Light (2017) by V. E. Schwab.

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A Conjuring of Light is the final book in Schwab’s Shades of Magic Series which begins with A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one and two.

A Conjuring of Light picks up shortly after book two. Everyone is in peril and trouble is brewing. The tension does not let up from there. At more than six hundred pages you would thing this book would feel bloated of slow. It doesn’t. Schwab’s story is perfectly paced to give this series the conclusion it deserves.

Written in third person this novel alternates perspective to follow all of the major characters that readers have come to know and love over the course of this series. Rhy is still struggling with what it means to be a prince without magic while also processing the way his life is now tied to Kell’s. Alucard is haunted by his past and not sure he can ever be free of it. Lila still has so much to learn about being an Antari and letting people love her instead of running away. Kell, similarly, is still struggling to define what family means for a man with no memory of his past. Does a past he can’t remember mean anything compared to the family he has known for most of his life?

Then, of course, there’s Holland. Before A Conjuring of Light it’s easy to say Holland is the villain of this story and stop there. Schwab’s deliberate and complex characterization, however, slowly reveals that there is much more to this oldest and most experienced Antari. This story is also peppered with flashbacks for all of the characters though most notably for Holland.

It’s a rare epic fantasy that can be grim and tense and also make you laugh out loud. Schwab makes it look effortless here. A Conjuring Light is a perfect conclusion to a truly original series filled with memorable characters, adventure, and one of the most stunning redemption ever.

A Conjuring of Light is a story of uneasy alliances, fierce bonds, and at its center three powerful magicians whose lives are inextricably linked–whether or not they want to be. This series is a must read for all fantasy enthusiasts. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Stardust by Neil Gaiman, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton, The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White