Serious Moonlight: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“You have the chance to make different choices.”

Serious Moonlight by Jenn BennettBirdie Lindberg’s previously small life is in flux after her strict grandmother’s death. In a bid to gain some independence after finishing homeschooling and earning her high school equivalency, not to mention getting some work experience before college, Birdie convinces her grandfather to let her job hunt on the mainland.

Working the graveyard shift at a historic Seattle hotel won’t be interesting, but it should be easy. Plus, there’s the added bonus of giving Birdie plenty of opportunities to hone her observation skills as an aspiring detective.

At least until Birdie realizes that she’ll be working with Daniel Aoki–amateur magician, graveyard shift van driver, and the other half of an awkward one-afternoon fling that Birdie thought she could safely pretend never happened.

Ignoring Daniel to preserve what’s left of her dignity proves impossible when he asks for her help investigating a reclusive writer holding secret meetings at the hotel. Faced with Daniel’s smoking hotness, his genuine need, and her own curiosity, Birdie knows she has to help.

As Birdie and Daniel work on this real-life mystery together, she soon realizes that the bigger mystery might be what to do about her own feelings for Daniel in Serious Moonlight (2019) by Jenn Bennett.

Find it on Bookshop.

Bennett’s latest standalone novel is filled with all of my favorite things including tons of references to classic detective stories. Birdie is a capable, smart heroine still learning how to come into her own with support from her grandfather and her nonconformist artist aunt, Mona. Daniel is charismatic, funny, and everything Birdie (and readers) could want in a male lead.

The hotel mystery and Birdie’s approach to life as she works to pursue her dream of becoming a private investigator add a lot of intrigue and fun to this contemporary romance.

On a personal level, it also felt like this book was written just for me. I identified so much with Birdie throughout the story as she struggles to come out of her shell and give herself the space and permission she needs to grow and thrive. This book is also the first time I have ever seen a story truly capture the weird blend of abject panic and genuine desire inherent to actually wanting to interact with someone.

Serious Moonlight is fantastic, filled with just enough tension to make the mystery aspect interesting while keeping the main focus on Birdie and her relationships. Birdie and Daniel are delightful lead characters complimented by an eccentric and entertaining cast of supporting characters. A new favorite for me, and maybe for you too. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore; Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert; The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson; Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus; Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke; The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe; Past Perfect by Leila Sales; Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Sorcery of Thorns: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Knowledge always has the potential to be dangerous. It is a more powerful weapon than any sword or spell.”

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret RogersonBooks are always dangerous things, but especially so in Austermeer’s Great Libraries where magical grimoires whisper beneath iron chains that prevent them from ensorcelling any who stray too near. Releasing a grimoire could lead to disaster if it has time to run unchecked and transform into a monstrous creature of ink and leather.

Elisabeth grew up among these creatures and more as a foundling in one of the Great Libraries. Her dreams of remaining there and earning her status as a librarian are dashed when a grimoire is unleashed and she is blamed.

Desperate to clear her name and discover the true culprit, Elisabeth forms a risky alliance with the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn. Together they uncover a far-reaching conspiracy to destroy the Great Libraries and possibly the rest of the world.

Elisabeth has always known that sorcerers are evil. Who else would be able to use magical grimoires to summon demons and perform magic? But as Elisabeth realizes Nathaniel might be the only person she can trust, she will have to question everything she thought she knew about sorcerers, demons, and herself if she hopes to save all that she holds dear in Sorcery of Thorns (2019) by Margaret Rogerson.

Find it on Bookshop.

Rogerson’s sophomore novel is a delightful standalone fantasy filled with all of my favorite things. While the story is often plot driven as Eilsabeth tries to discover the culprit behind attacks on the Great Libraries and clear her name, this story really shines when focusing on the characters.

Elisabeth’s world is very small at the start of this novel. The Great Library is all she has ever known and, for the most part, all she thinks she needs. It is only as she begins to work with Nathaniel that she realizes some of her deepest held beliefs might be fundamentally flawed. This kind of character development could feel heavy-handed or leave readers with a small-minded protagonist in the hands of a lesser author but Rogerson pulls it off expertly.

Nathaniel is the sarcastic, brooding, bisexual male lead of your dreams complete with his undying loyalty to servant Silas who is one of the best friends found in fantasy literature (and also canonically asexual).

Throughout the course of the novel, all three main characters struggle to transcend what is expected of them and their chosen identities to become something better and, in doing so, try to save each other and their world. Sorcery of Thorns is a charming adventure with a carefully managed plot filled with twists and turns as well as thoroughly enjoyable world building and powerful friendships. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Lirael by Garth Nix, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, A Treason of Thorns by Laura E. Weymouth, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

The Light Between Worlds: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. WeymouthSix years ago Evelyn and Phillipa Hapwell and their brother Jamie went outside to the family bomb shelter. Years of drills trained them well to get to the shelter and not wait for anyone, not even their parents.

Instead of walking into a shelter, the siblings find themselves transported to the Woodlands, a forest kingdom preparing for a war of its own. Philippa and Jamie always knew any stay in the Woodlands would be temporary–how could it be anything else?

But even now, all these years later, Ev is still sneaking into the woods and trying to find her way back. Cervus, their guide in the Woodlands, always told Ev that Woodlander’s heart always finds its way home. But can that still be true after so long?

Philippa is happy to be home, happy to leave everything that happened in the Woodlands behind, and try to move on. When Ev disappears, Philippa has to confront everything that happened in the Woodlands–including her own betrayals along the way–if she wants to find out what happened to her sister in The Light Between Worlds (2018) by Laura E. Weymouth.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Light Between Worlds is a standalone portal fantasy and Weymouth’s debut novel. The first half of the story, set in 1949, is told in Ev’s first person narration. The second half, in 1950, is narrated by Philippa. (The audiobook uses different voice actresses for each narrator and is an excellent production.)

As you might have guessed, this was a heavy read filled with melancholy for what all of the siblings have lost and, especially for Ev, genuine despair. In other words, it was not a good choice to read when the Covid-19 related quarantine started in March. Be warned, the novel does depict Evie’s self-harm as a coping mechanism after she returns to London.

Readers familiar with portal fantasies will find the story they expect here while readers new to the sub-genre might feel more tension around the question of what happened to Ev. Both Evie and Philippa’s parts include flashbacks both to their time in the Woodlands and the weeks immediately after their return. While the Woodlands chapters are evocative and provide a story within the story, they never do much to explain the appeal of the Woodlands even to Evie who feels more at home there than in London.

The Light Between Worlds is filled with beautiful, visceral, evocative writing and offers a thoughtful exploration of both post traumatic stress and trauma. An acquired tasted but one that marks Weymouth as an author to watch.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Midnight at the Electric by Jodi Lynn Anderson, Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry, Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth, All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Romanov: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Romanov by Nadine BrandesAnastasia “Nastya” Romanov expects her family to be exiled in the wake of the revolution that dethroned her father Tsar Nicholas. Instead, Nastya and her family are soon imprisoned in Ekaterinburg and the family’s hopes to live their days out in quiet obscurity are dashed.

The Bolsheviks are reluctant to let the Romanovs go–especially with growing political unrest and threats of their rescue by the royalist White Russians.

On her way to Ekaterinburg Nastya has one task: smuggle a mysterious magical spell back to her family. The spell’s secrets have been lost to time, but Nastya’s father is still sure it is the secret to saving their family.

Imprisoned and isolated, the family tries to find small joys–and small kindnesses–where they can. As Nastya grows closer to Zash, a Bolshevik soldier with his own secrets, Nastya will have to decide what will pose a bigger danger to her family: the cost of using the spell or trying to befriend the enemy in Romanov (2019) by Nadine Brandes.

Find it on Bookshop.

Brandes’ standalone novel infuses the history of the doomed Romanov family with magic and a bit of hope as it leans into the long-held legend that Anastasia and Alexei survived their family’s execution.

Romanov is well-researched and immediately evocative of both the dangerous unrest in Russia after the revolution and also the claustrophobic isolation Nastya and her family must have felt during their imprisonment in Ekaterinburg. The depiction of Nikolai’s hemophilia is done especially well.

While Brandes brings these characters to life with convincing detail, it’s an idealized picture that fails to explore the damage done by Tzar Nicholas’ reign including the rampant poverty and the widely held theory that his lack of training to become Tsar led to incompetence and bad decisions. Nastya, understandably perhaps, keeps her father on a pedestal and does not interrogate these problems in her first person narration.

The magic Brandes tries to incorporate into the story is always clumsy and never integrates well into what is otherwise a very straightforward work of historical fiction. Instead of adding to the story it often feels tangential at best despite building suspense over when (and how) to use the mysterious spell.

Romanov is an original if bittersweet alternate history. Recommended for readers who don’t mind to read their historical fiction through rose colored glasses.

Possible Pairings: The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston, Dreaming of Anastasia by Joy Preble, The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandraby Helen Rappaport , The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

The Bone Houses: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-JonesRyn has spent most of her life surrounded by the dead in the village of Colbren. She watched her father at his work as a gravedigger and now, after his disappearance, it is Ryn who puts the village’s dead to rest. It is Ryn who makes sure the dead stay at rest–especially those buried too close to the woods.

The restless dead are always called “bone houses” in the stories. Legend talks often of the curse that makes some dead walk. So often, in fact, that most people believe it really is only a fable. Ryn has always known better but especially now when more and more bone houses are making their way to Colbren.

Ellis has spent most of his life hiding first on the outskirts of court and more recently behind the maps he makes. Coming to Colbren could make Ellis’ name and earn him a fortune provided he can find a guide to lead him through the woods to make the first map of the area–especially the mountain ranges beyond the forest.

When the bone houses surface with new prevalence and more violent attacks, Ryn has her own reasons for agreeing to act as Ellis’ guide. Secrets lie in the mountains and, deeper still, answers both Ryn and Ellis never thought they’d find provided they can survive that long in The Bone Houses (2019) by Emily Lloyd-Jones.

Find it on Bookshop.

Lloyd-Jone’s standalone novel is an eerie blend of fantasy and light horror set against an historic Welsh setting. Chapters alternate between Ryn and Ellis’ close third person perspectives.

While Ryn is comfortable with her physicality and fears losing her work as gravedigger more than most bone houses, Ellis is more cerebral and struggles to mange chronic pain from childhood injuries that never properly healed.

Lyrical prose and lush descriptions immediately bring Colbren and the surrounding woods to life. Suspense is carefully managed as Ryn and Ellis are drawn further into the mystery surrounding the bone houses’ origins in their search for a way to stop them. A gently presented romance adds much needed sweetness to what could otherwise be a grim and tense story.

The Bone Houses is a thoughtful exploration of the intersection of fable and reality and a comforting interpretation of both death and grief. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton, Hunted by Meagan Spooner, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, The Boneless Mercies by April Genevieve Tucholke

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.

(Find it on BookShop.)

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

Past Perfect: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Past Perfect by Leila SalesThere are only three types of kids who get summer jobs at Colonial Essex Village as historical reenactors living their best 1700s lives instead of working at the mall like everyone else:

There are the history nerds. You may recognize them by how hotly they debate the virtues of bayonets over pistols, their pale skin, and their generally unappealing personalities.

There are the drama kids. While they couldn’t care less about historical accuracy, drama kids are all about dressing up and staging cool scenes where they get fake shot and fall down fake dead while the history nerds gripe about how that isn’t how it really happened blah blah blah.

The third type of teenager working at Colonial Essex Village is, arguably, the rarest type: The kids whose parents already work there.

Chelsea’s father is the Essex Village silversmith and her mother is the silversmith’s wife, which means that Chelsea has been spending every summer as the silversmith’s daughter for basically forever.

Now that she’s sixteen Chelsea is looking forward to working at the mall with her best friend, Fiona, where they can hone their skills as ice cream connoisseurs and Chelsea can finally get over Ezra, the boy who broke her heart.

Except Fiona is very much a drama kid and very much looking forward to working at Colonial Essex. So obviously Chelsea has to work there too. Even if Ezra is also working there. Even if it means Chelsea gets sucked into being second-in-command in the annual war all of the teen staffers at West Essex stage every year against the Civil Warriors from the Civil War reenactment site across the street and, worst of all, even if Chelsea’s new crush is one of those very same Civil Warriors in Past Perfect (2011) by Leila Sales.

Chelsea is a very specific type of protagonist who will not work for everyone. She is often self-centered to the point of being low key unreliable and she’s incredibly snarky. I, for one, think she is a riot and appreciate the conversational tone Sales manages to evoke in Chelsea’s first person narration.

While Chelsea is a reluctant historical reenactor, she is nothing if not loyal to Essex and its legacy as the superior historical site in town compared to the subpar Civil Warriors. (Don’t even get her started on the Ren Fairies from the renaissance faire.) This loyalty leads to some difficult choices when Chelsea has to decide how far she’s willing to go to help her side win–not to mention if there’s such a thing as too far when it comes to war.

There is definitely some romance and some flirting, but the real love story here is between Chelsea and her best friend Fiona. As they are pulled in different directions by their jobs at Colonial Essex (and the war), their friendship experiences growing pains for the first time as both girls are forced to evaluate their priorities.

This book explores themes of friendship and ethics while asking interesting questions about history and the past–especially if anything can ever truly be in the past. Past Perfect is a funny, clever story about friendship, ethics, history and the unexpected moments where they intersect. Recommended for readers who like their stories of summer employment with a lot of history and snark.

Possible Pairings: All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Lucky Caller by Emma Mills, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Pilgrim’s Don’t Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm, My Faire Lady by Laura Wettersten