Foul is Fair: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Foul is Fair by Hannah CapinElle’s glittering life is torn to shreds when she and her friends crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party and the golden boys there choose Elle as their latest target.

Her best friends Mads, Jenny, and Summer get Elle out of there. They help her bandage the cuts, throw out the ruined dress, and most importantly change her appearance.

Because after that night, after what they did to her, Elle is gone.

She’s Jade now and she is going to make every single boy who hurt her pay.

Her parents are going to turn a blind eye. Her coven of best friends are going to help. And a boy named Mack is going to take the blame for all of it in Foul is Fair (2020) by Hannah Capin.

Find it on Bookshop.

Capin’s modern retelling of Macbeth is a gory revenge fantasy set against a world of luxury and decadence and LA’s upper echelon. (Readers can find a content warning at the front of the book as well as on the author’s website.)

Jade’s first person narration is sleek, sharp, and almost lyrical enough to call iambic pentameter to mind. While the story does little to develop any character beyond their designated role in this revenge fantasy, Jade’s coven of friends is diverse including bisexual Summer, Jenny who is Korean, and Mads–a trans girl and Jade’s oldest and best friend.

The accelerated timeline and copious murder both require a willing suspension of disbelief as Jade sets her revenge quest in motion–all over the course of one week.

Foul is Fair is as bloody as it is campy. Recommended for readers who prefer their revenge fantasies with justifiably angry girls and a healthy dose of gore.

Possible Pairings: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, Anna K.: A Love Story by Jenny Lee, The Female of the Species by Mindy McGinnis, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, The Kingdom by Jessica Rothenberg, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney, Girls With Sharp Sticks by Suzanne Young

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

Retribution Rails: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Secrets are like bullets.”

cover art for Retribution Rails by Erin BowmanReece Murphy never wanted to become the notorious Rose Kid. But he hardly had a choice

Five years ago Luther Rose rode in and killed the entire family Reece had been working for. Thanks to a mysterious gold coin, Reece has a different fate. If he can identify the man who gave him the gold piece, Reece can walk away. Until then he has to be part of the Rose Rides–something he can hardly escape thanks to his horrible deeds and even worse reputation as the Rose Kid.

Charlotte Vaughn and her mother are still grieving Charlotte’s father when her uncle begins moving to claim their estate and holdings for himself. Charlotte hopes that following a lead on a big story will help jump start her career as a journalist and bring her one step closer toward self-sufficiency and thwarting her uncle.

Both Reece and Charlotte’s plans are derailed when they cross paths on opposite sides of a botched train robbery. Charlotte could be Reece’s chance for freedom while Reece offers Charlotte the story of a lifetime. Charlotte and Reece know better than to trust each other but they both hope that with a little luck and a lot of grit they can use each other to get exactly what they need in Retribution Rails (2017) by Erin Bowman.

Retribution Rails is a companion novel set ten years after the events of Vengeance Road. While this novel works as a standalone it does reference previous events  throughout.

Written in dual first person narration this novel follows both Charlotte and Reece as they chase dreams and futures they are not sure they’ll ever manage to claim. The contrasts between these two helps to play with their changing perceptions of each other while also highlighting their similarities–particularly in terms of how single-mindedly they pursue their goals.

Reece and Charlotte are often difficult characters–Reece with the past he tries to forget and Charlotte with a surprisingly vindictive personality–and sometimes make the wrong choices. But those stumbles only add to their resiliency and growth throughout the novel. Their chemistry–even when they’re fighting–adds another dimension to this gripping story.

Readers familiar with Bowman’s work will find everything they loved about her first western in Retribution Rails along with a tighter plot which acknowledges the privileges and costs inherent to westward expansion and, in particular, the movement towards rail travel. Retribution Rails is a clever and fast-paced novel filled with adventure, redemption, and just a hint of romance. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Crooked Kingdom: A Review

*Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows*

“But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we have crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway.”

—-

“Crows remember human faces. They remember the people who feed them, who are kind to them. And the people who wrong them too.”

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh BardugoIn a city where trade is sacred, Kaz Brekker knows the ins and outs of negotiation better than most. But even Kaz’s knack for staying ten steps ahead of his enemies and rivals can’t help him when he is double-crossed in the wake of what should have been the greatest heist of his nefarious career.

Now Kaz and his crew are scrambling to evade their enemies and regroup before moving against some of the most powerful figures in Ketterdam. Kaz may have lost a member of his crew. He may be branded as a traitor. But Kaz is also one of the only people who understands the true dangers of the drug jurda parem. And Kaz, along with his crew, is the only one who can hope to make things right.

Kaz and his crew are alone in a dangerous game that could change the face of Ketterdam and the rest of the world forever. As the odds turn against him, Kaz will have to use every trick he’s learned to change the game and get justice once and for all in Crooked Kingdom (2016) by Leigh Bardugo.

Crooked Kingdom is the conclusion to Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. It contains major spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with Six of Crows.

As a sequel, Crooked Crows had a lot of promise and high expectations to meet. Like Six of Crows it is written with alternating close third person viewpoints for each member of the crew (Kaz, Inej, Nina, Metthias, Jesper, Wylan) as well as some other key figures. The multiple plot threads and overlapping narratives play against each other and build tension as the novel moves to a conclusion appropriately filled with surprises.

At her launch event for Crooked Kingdom, Bardugo mentioned that this series was inspired by her love of heist movies. Unfortunately, the plot devices in heist films rely heavily on visual cues or sleight of hand, neither of which translates well into a novel. Bardugo makes her inclusion of clues and hints to make the payoff for various cons and twists in this book seem effortless.

Bardugo’s prose is intelligent, deliberate, and thoughtful. Any author can give a character a redemption arc but the truly impressive thing here is that Kaz is exactly what he says he is from the beginning. He is a monster. He is a villain. He is ruthless. And yet by the end of this series he also has depth and nuance and is so much more than even he can fathom. The level of development and growth for the entire cast of characters was fascinating and incredibly satisfying.

This novel is an amazing reference for the mechanics of how a novel comes together and how a series should culminate. Every single thing that is hinted at either in Six of Crows or in the beginning of this book eventually comes together and is resolved. Surprises perfectly balance expected outcomes and characters shock as much as they impress. Crooked Kingdom is an excellent story with a tightly wound plot and characters who are flawed and grasping even as they learn and grow. A perfect conclusion to an exceptional duology.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

Six of Crows: A Review

“A good magician wasn’t much different from a proper thief.”

Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoNothing is sacred except trade to the island nation of Kerch where the city of Ketterdam is a hub of international trade. In a city where anything can be bought or sold, Kaz Brekker has most of the city eating out of the palm of his hand.

When Kaz is offered the chance to take on an impossible heist, he knows the rewards are worth the risk–especially when they will bring him one crucial step closer to revenge.

But even Kaz will need help on this job.

He draws together an unlikely crew: a convict eager for revenge of his own, a sharpshooter who loves the cards more than they love him, a runaway with a secret, a spy known as the Wraith, a Heartrender using her magic to stay alive in Ketterdam’s slums and, of course, a thief with a talent for impossible escapes.

Six people, but a thousand ways that Kaz’s insane plan could go wrong in Six of Crows (2015) by Leigh Bardugo.

Six of Crows is the first book in a two book series which will continue in Empire of Crows. It is also a companion to Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. This book is shortly after the events of the Grisha trilogy and in the same world although there are new characters. You can absolutely read this novel without reading the Grisha books first. (I did!)

Six of Crows is an impressive undertaking filled with complex heists, jail breaks, bait and switch twists, and high-octane action from page one. The novel is written in third person with alternating close points of view. Most of the chapters follow Kaz or members of his diverse crew.

By alternating viewpoints so often Bardugo is able to deliver a well-rounded and nuanced story with multiple plot threads. The book’s structure also allows for slow reveals of character motivations and backgrounds.

While there are moments of violence in Six of Crows, they are quick and easy to gloss over for squeamish readers. Fans of the Grisha trilogy will, of course, already be familiar with the well-realized and detailed world of the Grisha. That said, Bardugo does a good job of explaining details for readers coming to Six of Crows without the background of her earlier trilogy.

Unsurprisingly, Six of Crows does end with quite a few twists and much left unresolved which is guaranteed to leave readers eager for book two.

Twists, turns, and surprises guarantee that this novel is sure to have high appeal. A solid heist story with minimal fantasy elements make Six of Crows an ideal introduction to fantasy for readers hoping to try the genre.

Possible Pairings: White Cat by Holly Black, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, StarCrossed by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Angel Mage by Garth Nix, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Never Never by Brianna Shrum, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

*An advance copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Vengeance Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“If you think you can’t do something, you won’t. If you believe you can, it’s only a matter of time before you will.”

Vengeance Road by Erin BowmanKate Thompson’s father is killed by the treacherous Rose Riders for a journal that reveals the location of a hidden gold mine. Desperate for justice and her own share of revenge, Kate sets out after her father’s murderers.

But the Arizona territory is not hospitable to strangers in 1877, or eighteen-year-old girls, so Kate disguises herself as a boy before following the Rose Riders’ trail. On the road to vengeance she finds deception, betrayal and two brothers she who refuse to let her finish her ride alone.

As Kate gets closer to the Rose Riders and the truth about her father’s murder, she will have to decide if getting her revenge is worth losing herself in Vengeance Road (2015) by Erin Bowman.

Vengeance Road is a fast-paced western adventure that follows Kate as she struggles to get revenge. The novel is written in Kate’s dialect as she narrates the story. Her voice has a twang and verve that immediately brings the old west landscape to life.

Bowman provides evocative descriptions of mining towns, saloons and riding on through the plains to help bring Kate’s journey to vivid life. The addition of real historical figures and an author’s note detailing the inspiration for certain aspects of the story help to flesh out the story even further.

Kate is a tough-talking, no-nonsense heroine. Her singular focus on revenge ensures that Vengeance Road is an action-heavy story with a clear destination. While there is a romance subplot, it is very much secondary to Kate’s quest for justice.

Throughout the novel, Kate spends a lot of time on her. Although she is not the most introspective character, this solitude does give Kate the opportunity to contemplate what getting revenge will entail and what it might cost her in the end.

Unexpected twists and surprising reveals in the final act of this novel make Vengeance Road a page-turning adventure. Kate’s quiet and unique voice make Vengeance Road a novel to ponder and savor.

Possible Pairings: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, No Surrender Solider by Christine Kohler, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Twist of Gold by Michael Morpurgo, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan, Montmorency by Eleanor Updale

UPDATE 11/6/2015: While I enjoyed this book, I do want to point everyone to Debbie Reese’s review of Vengeance Road on her site American Indians in Children’s Literature. Debbie looks at the book from a Native perspective and I think it’s important to be aware of the ways in which the book is problematic (or even inaccurate in terms of American Indian experiences) as well.

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2015*

Daughter of Deep Silence: A Review

Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie RyanThree people survived when the luxury yacht Persephone sank. Two of them are lying.

Frances Mace knows the truth but at just fourteen, with everyone who ever knew her gone, Frances has no way to contradict the lies being told by the other survivors.

Four years after the disaster, everything about Frances is a lie. Everything about her is a tool meant to help her exact revenge. Frances will stop at nothing to get justice for the victims of the Persephone even if it means giving up the boy she loves and sacrificing her own identity in Daughter of Deep Silence (2015) by Carrie Ryan.

Daughter of Deep Silence is a standalone contemporary thriller reminiscent of the TV show Revenge.

Evocative language and vivid descriptions bring the novel’s South Carolina settings and Frances’ horror-stricken memories of the Persephone to life. Ryan pulls no punches in describing the hardships Frances faced when the Persephone sank nor does she shy away from exploring the post-traumatic stress that obviously plagues Frances four years later.

With rich characters and lavish settings, this story is a classic revenge story with added depth for the main character. Frances’ life is complicated and her sacrifices in pursuing revenge are almost too numerous to count.

Although Frances is a vibrant and strong character, her singular focus and strong personality only serve to underscore the fact that the rest of the characters are thinly drawn. (Shepherd in particularly felt like a prop for most of the story meant to act as a placeholder for Frances’ conscience.)

While Frances’ revenge plot is well-planned, the logic behind it (as well as the truth behind the sinking of the Persephone) both are largely anti-climactic after a book’s worth of build up. Readers seeking a story with more substance and stronger characterization will be left wanting more from this novel.

Daughter of Deep Silence will appeal to readers looking for an edgy, fast-paced revenge story that has its smart moments.

Possible Pairings: The Leaving by Tara Altebrando, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, Dial Em for Murder by Marni Bates, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin, All Fall Down by Ally Carter,  With Malice by Eileen Cook, The Devil You Know by Trish Doller, Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Pretending to Be Erica by Michelle Painchaud, Lock & Mori by Heather W. Petty, I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, The Deceivers by Kristen Simmons, Suicide Notes From Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten, Revenge (TV series)

 

Burn for Burn: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan VivianLillia is pretty, rich, and used to getting everything she wants including having boys wrapped around her little finger. Until things go too far over the summer. After that Lillia isn’t sure of anything–especially how to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to her little sister. Ever.

Kat is tired of being an outsider subjected to insults and cruel jokes. She knows her former best friend is to blame. She might even know how to make her pay.

Mary left Jar Island four years ago because of a boy. She’s back now. She’s ready to show him just how different she is. And just how much he has to make up for.

These three very different girls are all after the same thing in Burn for Burn (2012) by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian.

Find it on Bookshop.

Burn for Burn is the first book in a series as well as the first book Han and Vivian have written together.

Revenge stories like this one always run the risk of being one-sided. There is also always the potential that the protagonist will come across as unsympathetic or just plain mean.

Han and Vivian avoid these common pitfalls in Burn for Burn. The authors have created a convincingly idyllic island town with secrets and, for Lillia, Kat, and Mary, many wrongs just begging to be righted.

With chapters alternating between each girl’s narration, the story examines each heroine’s motivations making readers more than willing to follow this trio on their missions of revenge.

The objects of the girls’ wrath are also generally well-developed with both good and bad moments during the narrative. Alex is particularly dimensional. I would have liked to see more of Rennie and Reeve’s good sides, such as they are, but that might come up in the sequel.

While Burn for Burn focuses on all three girls and their plans for revenge the pacing shifts so that most of the story focuses on Lillia and, to a lesser degree, Kat. Mary is important as a device to move the plot forward but doesn’t get as much chance to feature as a character in her own right.* Things progress in a logical fashion until the last quarter of the novel when Han and Vivian start to rush, perhaps in an effort to amp up tension before the shocking finish.

By the end of Burn for Burn, Han and Vivian have managed to turn a lot of preconceived notions about the characters and the story itself upside down. With a cliffhanger ending and a lot of unanswered questions Burn for Burn is sure to leave readers clamoring for the sequel.

*I have a lot of theories about Mary and the ending of Burn for Burn. If you’ve read it, I bet you do too. Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Possible Pairings: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Foul is Fair by Hannah Capin, The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst, Truth or Dare by Jacqueline Green, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Fury by Elizabeth Miles, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson

Exclusive Bonus Content: I really like the idea of the cover with the three girls and the muted colors that suggest a potentially sweet story. I think the depiction of Mary (center) is especially accurate to her character and spot on from her clothing to her jewelry.

Kat (left) looked a bit too refined and clean-cut compared to the Kat we meet in the novel. And, of course, I was thrilled with Lillia (right) being such a well-rounded, central character who is Korean (and on a cover).

But again that comes with a caveat: The jacket art wraps around from the front cover across the spine and to the back of the jacket so we can see all of Kat and Mary. Lillia is on the edge of the cover and, theoretically, her image could have wrapped around under the flap copy (since the image is so muted anyway) but instead it’s abruptly cut off with a white box for the summary text. It’s probably coincidence that the person of color was the one cut off, but it still made me think.

Also, since I’m already dissecting everything else about the cover, I thought it was odd that Mary was in the center. Her arrival sets a lot of things in motion but as I said she is more plot device than character at this point. In terms of page time Lillia is the obvious choice for the center of the cover (with Kat a close second). Yet, both of them are on the periphery of the cover.

I don’t know how long it will be up but if, like me, you were deeply affected by the missing part of the cover Jenny Han’s website currently features the entire image from the Burn for Burn cover.

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012*