The Charmed List: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Charmed List by Julie AbeEllie Kobata has been looking forward to her road trip with best friend Lia Park for months. Driving from Palo Alto to the California Magical Retailers’ Convention where magical merchants like Ellie’s parents can showcase their wares will be the perfect summer adventure even if traveling with non-magic-aware Lia poses some challenges. Luckily, Ellie is used to keeping magical secrets. Plus she will have Lia’s help knocking items off her Anti-Wallflower List which Ellie hopes will be able to change her quiet girl persona at school into someone more interesting to her classmates and herself.

Ellie’s high hopes for the trip are dashed when item four–getting revenge on her ex-best-friend Jack Yasuda–goes horribly wrong leaving Ellie grounded for the foreseeable future, in a fight with Lia, and worst of all driving to the convention with Jack.

With so many disasters, Ellie’s list is starting to feel like it might be cursed but as Ellie and Jack are forced to spend time together they might also have the chance to rehab their friendship and maybe even check off some other items from Ellie’s list like dancing under the stars and falling in love in The Charmed List (2022) by Julie Abe.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Charmed List is Abe’s YA debut but you might recognize her name from her middle grade series Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch.

Ellie is Japanese American, Jack is half-Italian American, half-Japanese American.

The Charmed List is a delightful standalone filled with romance and magic. Artist Ellie’s initially prickly narration will win readers over as she explains details of her magic-aware world including charms for things like joy or ambition and reveals more of her fraught history with Jack.

With road trip stops including quirky shops, welcoming inns, and magical cottages The Charmed List is as cozy as it is engrossing. Fans of the romance genre will recognize tropes including hate to love, there’s only one bed, and more in this story about second chances and new beginnings.

Possible Pairings: The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, Seoulmates by Susan Lee, Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Wild Beauty by Anna-Marie McLemore, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a review in an issue of School Library Journal*

The Last Legacy: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Last Legacy by Adrienne YoungThe Roths are well-known in Bastian as thieves and cheats. There are rumors they’ve done worse. But no one is stupid enough to say that to a Roth’s face.

Bryn knows her uncle Henrik has plans for her. She knows she has a place with the fiercely loyal family if she can only be ruthless enough to claim it.

But after years spent trying to cram herself into the narrow role the Roths have carved out for her, Bryn also knows that sometimes opportunity is just another word for a stacked deck and being accepted by her family will come with a steeper cost than Bryn ever imagined.

When business trumps everything, there’s always a bargain to be made but in a family where there are rules and consequences, making your own fate could be a costly mistake in The Last Legacy (2021) by Adrienne Young.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Last Legacy is set in the same world as Young’s Fable series. It is set after the events of Fable and Namesake and can be read on its own. Main characters are assumed white. The audiobook features an excellent narration by Suzy Jackson.

Bryn brings a singular focus to her narration as she struggles to understand the complex dynamics of the Roth family and her role among them. Bryn is well aware of her strengths and what she brings to the table as the Roths try to scrub their less-than-glowing reputation in Bastian and earn a coveted spot as merchants. It’s only as she learns more about the Roths–and the lengths Henrik is willing to take to secure lasting stability for them–that Bryn begins to understand her own naivete about her family and, more importantly, the cost of trying to forge her own path among them.

With schemes and violence at every turn, Bryn finds an unlikely ally in Ezra–the family’s prodigiously talented silversmith. Young does an excellent job building their fractious relationship from grudging respect into a slow burn romance that will have lasting consequences for the entire Roth family. As Bryn’s options for working with her family and within Bastian’s cutthroat guild system dwindle the narrative becomes claustrophobic, conveying Bryn’s desperation as the story escalates and builds to its dramatic finish.

While lacking the nautical flavor of the Fable books, this book is a satisfying expansion of that world. The Last Legacy is a complex, fast-paced adventure with a slow burn romance and a heroine charting her own course.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Namesake: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“There are some things that can’t be carved from a person, no matter how far from home they’ve sailed.”

Namesake by Adrienne YoungAfter years of plotting and scheming, Fable has finally made her way off Jeval, the island of thieves where her father abandoned her. After casting her lot with West and his crew on the Marigold, things should finally be easier. Fable should be free.

But nothing is easy in the Narrows. And nothing is ever free.

Now instead of starting a new life, Fable is caught up in an infamous criminal’s scheme and forced to confront her family’s legacy in the richer waters across the Unnamed Sea in the city of Bastian. As Fable learns more about the scheming and conniving throughout the city, she also comes closer to her mother’s legacy and the secrets she left behind.

Things work differently in Bastian but debts still have to be paid; loyalties still matter. And Fable will be the first to warn anyone that it will be a long time before any slick city merchant can best someone formed in the dangerous waters of the Narrows in Namesake (2021) by Adrienne Young.

Find it on Bookshop.

Namesake is the conclusion to Young’s Fable duology which begins with Fable. There are also companion novels set in the same world that can be read on their own. Fable and West are cued as white while the crew of the Marigold includes characters who are darker skinned and LGBT.

Namesake picks up shortly after the explosive conclusion of Fable with Fable kidnapped by Zola and forced to act as a pawn in his plan to gain a foothold in Bastian and leverage over Fable’s father, Saint. Fable spends a good portion of the novel isolated and separated from the people she cares about as she learns more about her mother’s past in Bastian. Young deftly keeps other characters–notably West and Saint–present in the story as they remain on Fable’s mind and her loyalty to both (and her lingering anger at Saint) inform her choices during her captivity.

This installment expands the world of the Unnamed Sea and Bastian. As Fable explores the limits and strengths of her loyalties, she also unpacks pride and a fierce protectiveness for her home and her family no matter how brutal or monstrous they both might be. Through Fable and those close to her Young interrogates how far a person is willing to go to protect who and what they hold close.

Namesake is satisfying conclusion to a dynamic series with everything readers loved about Fable turned up a notch. Fans of the series will appreciate the way plots tie together and the return of familiar characters from book one including one of my personal favorites, Koy. The evolution of Fable’s complicated relationship with her father adds heart and surprising tenderness to this sometimes grim tale.

Namesake is a story about found family and fierce love; about embracing who you are and coming home. An excellent conclusion to a dynamic and exciting duology. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, To Kill a Kingdom by Alexandra Christo, All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace, Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller, Isle of Blood and Stone by Makiia Lucier, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen, Song of the Current by Sarah Tolcser

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy SpringerLondon, 1889: As the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, Enola Holmes is no stranger to deductive reasoning. Enola’s investigative skills served her well while dodging Sherlock’s attempts to find her in the wake of her mother’s disappearance.

Now, at fifteen, Enola lives happily alone at her club in London and is prepared to take on clients of her own. If only anyone would go to a girl for an investigative assistance. Lacking cases of her own, Enola is free to assist Miss Letitia Glover when Sherlock’s melancholia prevents him from doing so.

When Miss Glover receives news of her twin sister Felicity’s death, she knows immediately that something is terribly wrong. Letitia is certain that she would sense–would know–if her sister was dead. She does not. Furthermore, the Earl of Dunhench’s note about his wife’s demise is curt to the point of being suspicious. Then there’s the matter of the death certificate being signed by none other than Dr. John H. Watson–who Enola has on authority has no knowledge of Felicity, alive or dead.

Looking into the the Earl soon reveals that Felicity is not his first dead wife. As Enola learns more about the Earl’s household and a mysterious black barouche, Enola will need all of her wits (and some of Sherlock’s besides) to solve the case and uncover the Earl’s secrets in Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche (2021) by Nancy Springer.

Find it on Bookshop.

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche starts a new cycle for Enola Holmes–a character who recently gained popularity and renewed interest thanks to the 2020 Netflix film starring Millie Bobby Brown as Enola and Henry Cavill as Sherlock. Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is the seventh volume in this series but can also serve as an entry point for new readers. The events of books one through six are succintly explained to readers in a prologue narrated by Sherlock (he returns for an epilogue to wrap the story) before shifting to Enola’s narration. Recurring characters like Viscount Tewkesbury, Marquess of Basilwether who played a major role in previous installments are also introduced with quick recaps. All characters are presumed white.

Fans of audiobooks will be well served by this title, as narrated by Tamaryn Payne and Christopher Bonwell, which brings Enola’s Victorian England vividly to life.

Enola is a sharply intelligent and capable main character who is pleasantly aware of her own capabilities. Enola’s penchant for investigation translates to a fast-paced and richly detailed narrative as Springer describes everything from Enola’s surroundings to the clues key to unraveling the case. Unlike her brother, Enola enjoys the finer things in life and is happy to regale readers with details of her wardrobe and her meals carefully woven into the narrative. These touches lend a unique flavor to Enola’s mysteries even with her similarities to Sherlock (and appearances by the great detective and Dr. Watson).

Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche is a welcome return for a literary sibling now famous in her own right; a must read for fans of Sherlock Holmes retellings and reinterpretations as well as readers of historical mysteries.

Possible Pairings: Sherlock, Lupin and Me: The Dark Lady Book by Irene Adler, Death Cloud by Andrew Lane, The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood

*An advance audio listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm*

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves: A Review

“Nothing taken, nothing given.”

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves by Meg LongEvery species on the frozen planet of Tundar is predatory. When everything has sharp teeth and sharper claws, the people have to be hard too. Including seventeen-year-old Sena Korhosen.

Sena never loved Tundar–it’s not a planet that engenders love–but she loved her mothers and the home they made for her on the planet between Tundar’s infamous sled race seasons.

They both died in the last race. Sena has been struggling to pay her way off the planet and away from its painful memories ever since.

After angering a local gangster, Sena is out of time to earn her way off the planet. Instead she has to accept a dangerous bargain leading a team of scientists through Tundar’s sled race while trying to protect Iska, the prize fighting wolf she never wanted to let herself care about.

Haunted by memories and grief, predators, and her enemies, Sena will have to use all of her wits and her strength to survive the race and make it off Tundar with Iska in Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves (2022) by Meg Long.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves is Long’s debut novel.

Long blends fantasy with survivalist adventure in this action packed novel. Long takes her time building up the world with rich details and a varied cast of characters. Sena’s first person story starts slow, carefully building out Tundar’s harsh realities before drawing readers into the novel’s plot.

Sena’s slow work to process her grief over her mothers’ deaths and reluctantly form new connections with both people and her wolf Iska play out against the Tundar sled race where the stakes for Sena and Iska are literally life or death. Readers should also be wary of casual violence throughout the story and frostbite induced injuries in the final act.

Cold the Night, Fast the Wolves is an engrossing adventure which hints at many more stories to be told in this world.

Possible Pairings: Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, All Systems Red by Martha Wells, Fable by Adrienne Young

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

The Girl the Sea Gave Back: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne YoungTova has never been comfortable among the Svell; the clan may have saved her from the sea but that does not mean they want her. She knows that the clan needs her as a Truthtongue, relying on her gift to cast rune stones and interpret the web of fate. She knows that being indispensbale is as close as she’ll ever get to being safe when the tattoos covering her skin forever mark her as other.

It’s been more than ten years since the Aska and the Riki ended their blood feud and joined together as the Nādhir. Halvard has been chosen to lead them in this era of peace. He knows little of war and less of treachery.

The runes have never lied to Tova. When they show her a startling future where there are no Svell, she knows her tenuous safety is over. After years of waiting, it’s time to act.

With the neighboring Svell trying to press their position, Halvard knows defending the Nādhir’s territory will have devastating consequences for both sides. He knows it’s a fight his clan has to win if they want to survive.

No one can change the will of the gods. But even Tova is uncertain what fate wants from her as the Svell and the Nādhir move inexorably closer to a final confrontation. Tova is used to untangling the knots of fate but as she and Halvard circle ever closer to each other, she isn’t sure if this time the web of fate will be a net to trap her or a rope to pull her from the depths in The Girl the Sea Gave Back (2019) by Adrienne Young.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a sequel to Young’s debut novel Sky in the Deep and expands the Nordic/viking inspired dimensions of that world where all major characters are presumed white. The Girl the Sea Gave Back alternates between Tova and Halvard’s narrations alongside flashbacks throughout the novel. This book is set thirteen years after the events of Sky in the Deep and contains minor spoilers for that novel. I’d recommend reading these books in order to fully understand the political landscape inhabited by the characters although this book more than stands on its own merits.

Tova and Halvard are excellent main characters readers will immediately love, particularly shrewd Tova as she scrambles to stay ahead of fate’s twists and turns.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a complex story that capitalizes on the world and themes Young first introduced in her debut novel. The intricate dual POV structure and flashbacks add further dimension to this story as two characters with little personal understanding of the brutality of war prepare to fight for their home. Young expertly balances new material with just the right amount of callbacks to Sky in the Deep while offering a world that is both more compelling and more magical.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a satisfying adventure perfect for readers who enjoy stories with light fantasy elements, a slow build, and a puzzle-like narrative.

Possible Pairings: Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard, Lore by Alexandra Bracken, Stronger Than a Bronze Dragon by Mary Fan, Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa, Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee, Furyborn by Claire Legrand, Warriors of the Wild by Tricia Levenseller, Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto, The Girl King by Mimi Yu

Cazadora: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Cazadora by Romina GarberManu thought that being a Septima means she finally belonged somewhere. She thought she could stop hiding the star-shaped pupils of her eyes. She thought she could stop hiding as an undocumented immigrant.

Instead, Manu is in more danger than ever. As a female werewolf, a lobizona, Manu’s existence puts the strict gender binaries undperpinning Septimus society into question. With a human mother and a Septima father, Manu shouldn’t even exist.

With so much riding on Manu’s identity, magical law enforcement known as the Cazadores want to control her. While the Coven, an underground resistance group, hope to use Manu as a rallying point.

Manu never wanted to be a symbol for anyone. All she wants is the chance to embrace every part of her identity. Surrounded by friends and hunted by the authorities, Manu will have to determine how much she’s willing to risk for the chance to be exactly herself in Cazadora (2021) by Romina Garber.

Find it on Bookshop.

Cazadora is the second book in Garber’s Wolves of No World series. The story picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first book, Lobizona, which readers will want to have fresh in their memories.

All characters are Latinx or Argentine with a range of skintones. This book also delves more into the LGBTQ+ community as readers are introduced to the Coven and other resistance members who push back against the strict laws that force Septimus into gender binaries.

Cazadora blows the Septimus world open as Garber moves beyond her Argentine folklore inspiration to explore a magical world not dissimilar from our own filled with political unrest, inadequate authority figures, and justice that does more in name than in fact. This fast-paced story delves deep into Septimus folklore and legalities as Manu struggles to make a place for herself in a world that continues to find her inconvenient if not downright dangerous.

With sweeping drama, action, and fierce loyalty between Manu and her friends, Cazadora is an apt conclusion to a powerful and timely duology. Readers can only hope Garber will return to Manu’s world and the other Septimus stories waiting to be told.

Possible Pairings: Labryinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laeken Zea Kemp, Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, Infinity Son by Adam Silvera, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Rachel Gilliland Vasquez

Be sure to check out my interview with Romina Garber on the blog.

Lobizona: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lobizona by Romina GarberManuela “Manu” Azul has always been told that her father is part of an infamous criminal family in Argentina. She has always been told her strange eyes with their star-shaped pupils, could be fixed with a special surgery. She has always been told that hiding is the only way to stay safe.

None of these things are true.

Manu’s small world as an undocumented immigrant is blown apart when her mother is detained by ICE. After years of dodging raids and hiding with her mother in Miami, Manu doesn’t know what would be worse: leaving her mother in ICE detention or being caught herself.

Plagued by debilitating menstrual pains unless she takes medication provided by her mother and terrified that she’ll be separated from her mother forever, Manu knows she has to do something. But she isn’t sure how one girl can stand strong with so many obstacles in her way.

Manu’s quest to find her mother leads to surprising truths about her father, her strange eyes, and Manu’s powerful connection to a world she thought only existed in Argentine folklore in Lobizona (2020) by Romina Garber.

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Lobizona is the first book in Garber’s Wolves of No World series. She has also published the Zodiac series under the name Romina Russell. All characters are Latinx or Argentine with a range of skintones and other identities that are further explored throughout the series.

Garber expertly blends Argentine folklore surrounding witches, werewolves, and the powerful magic of so-called “Septimus” the seventh children of seventh children into a nuanced and enchanting urban fantasy. Complex magic and highly evocative settings draw readers immediately into a story where magical powers are no guarantee of belonging and secrets have power.

As Manu struggles to find a world willing to make space for her, Lobizona offers a scathing commentary on our own world where children are left in cages and the government can callously decide who does and does not belong or qualify as “legal”. Manu thoughtfully interrogates these concepts as she learns more about the world of the Septimos and her own tenuous place in it.

Lobizona is the action-packed start to a sophisticated, high concept series for genre and literary fans alike. Come for the timely look at current events, stay for the inventive folklore inspired fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Labryinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova, Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From by Jennifer De Leon, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laeken Zea Kemp, Sanctuary by Paola Mendoza, Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older, The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag, Infinity Son by Adam Silvera, Sia Martinez and the Moonlit Beginning of Everything by Rachel Gilliland Vasquez

Be sure to check out my interview with Romina Garber on the blog.

Mayhem: A Review

Mayhem by Estelle LaureCalifornia, 1987: Mayhem Brayburn and her mother have never been like everyone else. May can see it in her mother Roxy’s constant pain, her pull to the water, the gaping hole of her father’s absence in the wake of his suicide years ago.

When her step-father goes too far, Roxy and Mayhem make their way back to the beach town–and the family history–that Roxy left behind when May was a baby. Santa Maria is everything May always hoped it would be. She meets her aunt’s foster kids, finds the family she always wanted and, amazingly, discovers her own connection to the Brayburn family’s long line of magic.

But not everything is magical in Santa Maria. Girls are going missing. Soon, Mayhem’s own efforts to find the culprit draw her into a strange world of vigilante justice and revenge as she learns more about the town–and her family’s–darker secrets in Mayhem (2020) by Estelle Laure.

Find it on Bookshop.

If this standalone fantasy sounds a lot like the 1987 film The Lost Boys, that’s because it is. While Laure imbues Mayhem with its own magic and world building, the story stays close to the original plot of the classic vampire film complete with brief appearances by the iconic Frog brothers. Laure also brings more diversity to the cast in her update–the Brayburns are white but May’s farther was Brazilian and Jason and Kidd are biracial (Black and white).

Questions of why this story had to be set in 1987 instead of modernized are also inevitable and not well answered by any authorial choices.

How you feel about this book might depend on your familiarity with the film and your feelings about it. Mayhem includes a lot of nods to the original film but shifts in surprising ways to make space for the Brayburn’s family history as seen in a mysterious diary Mayhem finds upon exploring her new home. Unfortunately these two storylines don’t always mesh well feeling more like two separate stories than one, cohesive plot.

Mayhem is ideal for readers who like their witches fierce and their vampire references vintage.

Possible Pairings: Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Harrow Lake by Kat Ellis, The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman, Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, The Lost Boys

Amelia Unabridged: A Review

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley SchumacherAmelia Griffin and her best friend Jenna met because of N. E. Endsley’s Ornan Chronicles. They’re the books that gave Amelia a refuge after her father left and her family fell apart. They’re the books that gave her Jenna and, through her, a second family.

Seeing N. E. Endsley at an author festival should be the perfect start to their last summer before college. Instead, it all goes horribly wrong when Jenna has a chance encounter with the author and Amelia doesn’t.

Before either of them can back away from their biggest fight ever, Jenna is killed in a car accident.

Without Jenna Amelia isn’t sure who she is, let alone what her future should look like.

When a rare edition of the Ornan Chronicles makes its way to Amelia, she’s certain the book is a last gift–maybe even a last message–from Jenna. Amelia tracks the book’s journey back to a charming bookstore in Michigan where she also finds the reclusive author himself.

Amelia knows the book is a clue, a message. But it’s only as she gets to know N. E. Endsley that Amelia begins to realize the book is just the beginning of what Jenna was trying to share with her in Amelia Unabridged (2021) by Ashley Schumacher.

Find it on Bookshop.

Amelia Unabridged is Schumacher’s debut novel. The story is written in Amelia’s first person narration with some flashbacks to key moments in her friendship with Jenna.

This book holds a special place for me after I had the chance to read an early copy in 2020 to potentially blurb it. Schumacher’s writing is top-notch as she delivers a story that is both wrenching and hopeful.

This ode to books and magic (and books about magic) offers a meditative exploration of grief and healing as Amelia and Nolan (N. E. Endsley) both work through their own tragedies and figure out how to move forward in a world that their losses have rendered unrecognizable.

Amelia Unabridged is a nuanced and poignant story about finding your place and your people when all of the things you’ve learned to take for granted are torn away. Whimsical without being twee, authentic without being brutal; Amelia is a heroine readers won’t soon forget.

Possible Pairings: The Heartbreak Bakery by A. R. Capetta, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, We Are Inevitable by Gayle Forman, Everything All At Once by Katrina Leno, The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

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