The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette: A Review

Giselle Aubry hopes that her position as undertirewomen to Marie Antoinette will help her achieve her dream of designing opulent dresses. The tedium of the day-to-day work of dressing the queen and maintaining her wardrobe is mitigated by living in Versailles while she works and being so close to the grandness and beauty of the palace.

Within the palace the nobles are aware of the growing unrest among France’s poor. But unlike the queen, most of them lack even the most basic sympathy or even understanding of the political unrest.

Ambitions aside, Giselle is eager for more adventure so she jumps at her uncle’s suggestion that she begin reporting on the queen’s movements. Working for her uncle, a retired spy from Louis XV’s secret du roi, Giselle thinks she has found a grand game. But she soon realizes that the stakes are higher than she could have imagined.

Torn between her growing affection and loyalty for the queen and her undeniable attraction to a young revolutionary, Giselle will have to make difficult choices to protect her heart . . . and maybe even her head in The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette (2017) by Meghan Masterson.

The Wardrobe Mistress is Masteron’s debut novel.

Through Giselle’s first person narration Masterson creates an evocative vision of revolutionary era France. Despite demonstrably thorough research to set the scene, The Wardrobe Mistress fails to fully immerse readers into the setting thanks to dialogue that, while stilted, fails to feel authentic.

With her position above the working class but beneath the nobility Giselle has the chance to have a uniquely nuanced view of the revolution as it unfolds. Unfortunately Giselle’s guileless narration still manages to frame many aspects of the story as a strict binary between good and bad. The story’s focus on Giselle also limits the scope of the plot and relegates many key moments (notably the Flight to Varennes) are related to readers in lengthy recounts between characters.

The Wardrobe Mistress is an entertaining introduction to this turbulent moment in history. Recommended for readers eager to try historical fiction for the first time or those interested in the time period who enjoy their history with a healthy dose of romance on the side.

Possible Pairings: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, A Place of Great Safety by Hilary Mantel, Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran, The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

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

Tell the Wind and Fire: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Tell the Wind and Fire by Sarah Rees BrennanLucie Manette was born in the Dark City, where Dark magicians or those with families connected to Dark magic are kept close to the Light but not too close. She grew up in the Dark until her father was arrested. But that was two years ago. She’s out now.

Using cunning and strategy, Lucie saved her father when he was condemned. She brought them both into the luxury and relative safety of the Light.

Now, Lucie tries to put her time in the Dark behind her. She can offer no help to the people she loved and left behind when the city is ruled by the power and might of the magicians and politicians on the Light Council. It’s easier to keep a low profile and protect her father and spend time with her boyfriend, Ethan.

Lucie’s precarious world comes crashing down when a weekend trip goes horribly wrong and Ethan is accused of treason. Carwyn, a mysterious boy from Ethan’s past, can deflect suspicion but he, too, is hiding a secret that could ruin Ethan and his family.

Unrest is growing in both the Light and the Dark. When revolution comes, Lucie will have to decide which secrets to keep and which truths to tell. As she struggles to protect herself and those she cares about, Lucie will stop at nothing to save both Ethan and Carwyn. With luck and determination she can save one of them, but only one in Tell the Wind and Fire (2016) by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Tell the Wind and Fire is a stand alone novel inspired by (and loosely retelling) A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Rees Brennan sticks to the structure of the original story while also adding her own spin to mark this book as the well-developed urban fantasy that fans of the author have come to expect. The contrast between Light and Dark magic as well as a richly detailed version of New York City come to life with vivid descriptions and carefully executed world building.

This novel brings a decidedly feminist slant to this familiar story. Instead of focusing on any of the male characters, Tell the Wind and Fire focuses its narrator, Lucie Manette. Throughout the novel, Rees Brennan gives Lucie (and her father) significantly more agency than they ever got from Dickens.

Lucie is a shrewd and calculating heroine. She is a survivor and she admits the high cost of that survival in a world where the stakes can literally be life and death. Lucie manipulates her femininity and her perception in the public eye to do what she must to keep herself and those who matter safe as both sides of the revolution vie to use her as a symbol for their cause.

Tell the Wind and Fire is everything you want in a retelling of a beloved classic. This novel will make you miss and want to re-read Dickens’ sweeping novel while also asserting itself as a strong novel in its own right. Highly recommended.

Possibly Pairings: The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, Legend by Marie Lu, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, Code Name Verity by Elizbeth Wein

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

email review to childrens_publicity@hmhco.com

Blood Red Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Lugh got born first. On Midwinter Day when the sun hangs low in the sky. Then me. Two hours later.

“That pretty much says it all.

“Lugh goes first, always first, an I follow on behind.

“An that’s fine.

“That’s right.

“That’s how it’s meant to be.”

Blood Red Road by Moira YoungAll Saba ever needs is to know that her twin brother Lugh is by her side. With him near, Saba can handle the annoyances of her younger sister Emmi; the loss of her mother, who died birthing Emmi; and even the madness that is slowing pulling their father under.

When Lugh is abducted by four horsemen, he tells Saba to keep Emmi safe. But they both know she won’t. Not when Saba promises to follow him–to find him–no matter what.

She’ll follow Lugh into the lawless, wild world beyond her family homestead. In hunting for Lugh she will begin to understand some hard  truths about herself and her sister. She’ll find a gang of warriors and a daredevil who makes her heart flutter. In searching for her twin brother, Saba might even find a way to change her world forever in Blood Red Road (2011) by Moira Young.

Blood Red Road is Young’s debut novel and the start of her Dust Lands trilogy which continues with Rebel Heart and Raging Star.

Blood Red Road is an interesting novel set at the end of the world. Saba’s first person narration clearly brings her stark world to life with hints like ruined skyscrapers and useless books that suggest the world that might have come before.

Books are obsolete in this novel and, perhaps as a direct result, the spoken word and Saba’s narration have a very distinct cadence to them. The entire novel is written in Saba’s dialect as if she were telling the story directly to the reader. Words often have phonetic spelling and Saba’s speech sounds like nothing so much as a character in a twang-filled western. The prose is sparse and often reads like a verse novel with dialogue interspersed throughout without quotation marks or other punctuation to pull them out of the text. While this formatting is jarring at first, it eventually becomes a seamless part of the story and makes Blood Red Road a very fast read.

Saba is an interesting heroine in that she is resilient and inspiring while also being ruthless and often deeply flawed. For a lot of the novel, Saba wants nothing to do with her sister Emmi (to the point of putting the younger girl in very real danger) as she keeps a singular focus on her efforts to rescue Lugh. Young handles Saba’s growth as she learns more about the world (and herself, and her family) throughout the novel expertly to create a character transformation that is authentic and inspiring.

While some aspects of the world building remain murky–particularly in relation to the overarching villain that Saba will be dealing with for the rest of the novel–Blood Red Road is a solid dystopian and a very unique addition to the genre. Recommended for readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic tales with a survivalist slant.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, The Color of Rain by Cori McCarthy, Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

This Shattered World: A Review

This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan SpoonerJubilee Chase and Flynn Cormac never should have met–not when they stand on opposite sides of the decades long war on Avon.

Terraforming corporations promised to make Avon livable for the countless colonists who paid for land on the fledgling planet. But that was years ago and the planet is still no closer to being more than a murky swamp.

Captain Lee Chase is part of the military force sent to Avon to tamp down rebellious colonists. No one has ever lasted on the inhospitable planet as long as Lee–no one has even tried.

Flynn has been part of the rebellion since before he can remember–before he had a choice in the matter.

After a mission to infiltrate the military base goes horribly awry, Flynn holds Lee’s life literally in his hands.

Lee is as drawn to Flynn as she is repulsed by everything he stands for. But she also knows the stalemate of the rebellion can only last so long before something has to give.

When Flynn makes a shocking choice to help Lee escape, both soldier and rebel find themselves drawn into a web of secrets and lies surrounding Avon’s origins–not to mention in the center of a conflict that could destroy everything they hold dear in This Shattered World (2014) by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner.

This Shattered World is the second book in Kaufman and Spooner’s Starbound trilogy which begins with These Broken Stars. Although this book is chronologically a sequel it functions largely as a companion novel and stands on its own without having read book one.

Once again Kaufman and Spooner deliver a story with chapters that alternate between our two narrators while also offering a little something extra in the between chapter transitions.

This Shattered World is a thrilling story filled with action and suspense as Flynn and Jubilee work together to unravel the conspiracy surrounding Avon. Readers are able to see the war from both sides as they get to know Flynn and the other members of the rebellion–a movement with strong ties to the Irish folklore of their ancestors–and the military as seen by Jubilee.

Jubilee is a tough heroine who refuses to take any nonsense from anyone. Although headstrong she is also compassionate, particularly as she learns more about the nuances of the rebellion on Avon. Like Flynn, Jubilee also has strong ties to her past–on her side in the form of a Chinese mother and black father.

Flynn is definitely the softer of the two as he struggles to find a way to end the war without violence. He is also a charming and often cocky character who is keen to be defined by more than his past.

Together Flynn and Jubilee are an unlikely pair who somehow make perfect sense together. Like the best literary relationships, Flynn and Jubilee complement each other and prove that they are stronger together. That isn’t to say This Shattered World doesn’t have it’s fair share of arguing and banter, it does.

While This Shattered World is the second book in a trilogy, it does have a very contained storyline and offers some degree of closure for all of the characters by the final page. Kaufman and Spooner deliver another sleek sci-fi story in This Shattered World which promises to build to an explosive conclusion to the Starbound trilogy in book three.

Possible Pairings: Avalon by Mindee Arnett, The Shadows by Megan Chance, Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, Alienated by Melissa Landers, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi, The Ghosts of Heaven by Marcus Sedgwick, A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher at a preview event*

Red Queen: A Review

Red Queen by Victoria AveyardLife as a Red in Norta is not easy. Reds are normal in every way–forced into poverty and manual labor while Silvers, the silver-blooded elite with nearly inconceivable abilities, rule the land. Mare Barrow doesn’t like anything about the Silvers but she understands that they are unstoppable; impossible to fight.

But Mare is also almost eighteen and with no job prospects beyond petty theft in her future, she knows that she will be drafted into the military soon to fight in the decades long war against the Lakelanders. The same thing happened to all of her brothers before her.

Mare is resigned to her fate until one false step reveals that Mare, like the Silvers, has a shocking ability never before seen in a Red. Suddenly Mare is drawn into the middle of Norta’s class warfare disguised as a long-lost Silver princess. While rebellion brews and the Silver king tries to keep the unhappy masses in check, Mare will have to balance the dazzling luxury of the Silver world with everything she holds dear and everything she is willing to sacrifice for freedom for herself and her people in Red Queen (2015) by Victoria Aveyard.

Red Queen is Aveyard’s debut novel. It is also the first book in her Red Queen trilogy.

Red Queen is being marketed as Graceling meets The Selection which in many ways is very true as this book includes special abilities and romance at court. It is, however, much darker in tone than The Selection with a much stronger focus on rebellion and revolution. For that reason The Hunger Games is a comparison that makes a bit more sense.

Obviously, Red Queen has quite a few similarities to other fantasy titles. It also, however, has a very unique world as conceived by Aveyard. The dichotomy between Reds and Silvers is explained well and takes the story in interesting directions as Mare walks the line between Red and Silver throughout the story. Unfortunately the division between Reds and Silvers remains very one dimensional for most of the novel as Silvers are generally seen as ruthless and calculating while Reds are oppressed and exploited. Both are true but it felt heavy-handed to say that every Silver would follow these same ideals and ways of thinking despite class divisions among the elite.

Mare is a frank narrator but she is also often reckless to the point of harming herself and those she cares about. Her motivations throughout the story–when she chooses to join the Red rebellion or during her rather fuzzy love triangle–are murky at best. Readers learn early on why Mare wants to fight the Silvers, why she is drawn to the person who holds her affections, but it never feels quite sincere enough or believable enough to justify the risks Mare takes.

The pacing in Red Queen is not perfect either. Scenes of lavish court balls and machinations alternate with high action fights or training sequences that make the middle part of the novel choppy. The narrative loses all sense of urgency as Mare moves between learning basics of Silver protocol and planning acts of rebellion in an often aimless manner.

Red Queen is a strong debut both for Aveyard and for this trilogy. While not ideal for readers who like their fantasies to have a lot of nuance, Red Queen is ideal for anyone seeking the next big action-packed series that is sure to have everyone talking.

Possible Pairings: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken, Frostblood by Elly Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Selection by Kiera Cass, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Legend by Marie Lu, Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

Faces of the Dead: A Review

Faces of the Dead by Suzanne WeynMarie-Therese Charlotte is the Child of France despite never setting foot outside the palace. As the daughter of Louis the XVI and Marie Antoinette, Marie-Therese lives a life of luxury and isolation save for her dear friend Ernestine.

When the two girls realize they are strikingly similar in appearance, Marie-Therese hatches a plan to see the real Paris once and for all. But what Marie-Therese sees outside the palace is a shock. People are hungry and angry at the royal family. There is talk of revolution everywhere. After befriending a boy she meets in Paris, Marie-Therese is no longer sure who is right or even what to believe.

But as revolution rages and the Terror cuts a bloody path through Paris, Marie-Therese will be forced into hiding while Ernestine holds the princess’ place as a captive. Taking refuge with Henri at a well-known wax exhibit, Marie-Therese will learn that she is not the only one in Paris with a secret. Even the wax figures themeselves may be hiding something in Faces of the Dead (2014) by Suzanne Weyn.

Weyn delivers a powerhouse novel with high appeal and lots of action in a slim and easy to read volume. Although Marie-Therese often comes across as immature and naive, it generally makes sense in the context of the story and her origins.

A supernatural twist with wax figures and historical characters add a fun layer to this story as Weyn draws out real details to fantastical conclusions. Although the romantic element here is not always the most convincing, Faces of the Dead remains a solid story that serves as a fine introduction to both voodoo and the French Revolution.

An author’s note at the end of the story separates fact from fiction and highlights the real figures from history who feature in the story for further reading options.

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

The One: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review (and a series sendoff!)

The One by Kiera CassThirty-five girls entered the Selection where they would have a chance to win the prince’s heart and one day rule Illea beside him as queen. Of those original girls, six became the Elite–their lives forever altered as they joined a higher caste and came even closer to the end of the Selection.

When America Singer arrived at the palace she never thought she would make it so far. She never realized she would want so badly to be the one Maxon chooses. Now, with the Selection nearing its end, America knows exactly what she wants. She hopes that Maxon feels the same. With pressure mounting for him to make a decision, America is still unsure if Maxon’s affections run as deep as her own.

Meanwhile attacks to the palace are growing in frequency with more and more threat of bloodshed as the rebels threaten to the Illean monarchy apart.

It is only now, with everything she wants so tantalizingly close, that America truly realizes how much she has to lose and how hard she will fight to earn it in The One (2014) by Kiera Cass.

The One is the final book in Cass’ Selection trilogy. It is preceded by The Selection and The Elite. It is also very much a third book–don’t bother starting the series here. Read from the beginning.

All of the entanglements from the earlier novels in the series are neatly dispatched as the story progresses to its natural conclusion. Although this series has never quite qualified as a pure dystopia, Cass delivers more world building here to create a better picture of Illea. Even knowing how the main characters feel, the tension is still high making for a page-turning novel that is both exciting and romantic.

While much of the story felt rushed in places (particularly the last fifty pages) Cass manages to maintain the unusual balance of romance and action that has become a signature of this series. The focus remains where it should for this story: squarely on America and Maxon’s relationship. Readers also learn more about both characters as they negotiate what it means–and what it might cost–to want to spend their lives together.

That the premise works, and holds up, throughout this entire trilogy proves Cass’ expertise. The memorable, self-aware characters in this series are ones that will stay with readers. The One is a splendid conclusion to a much loved series that hints at even better things to come from Cass’ future writing endeavors.

Possible Pairings: Crewel by Gennifer Albin, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, Legend by Marie Lu, Cinder by Marissa Meyer, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Bachelor

Exclusive Bonus Content: I also have to say I love, love, love the covers. This series is just so well packaged. The covers are consistent while giving very different vibes. I also like the nod to America’s name as it were with the red, white and blue of the books. Also the crowns embossed on the covers. So well done. I’m going to miss this series.