Pride: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Pride by Ibi ZoboiZuri Benitez loves her family and her block in Bushwick in equal measure. She is proud to be Afro-Latinx and she is proud to have a part of the fabric of Bushwick long before the neighborhood started to gentrify.

Which is why Zuri wants nothing to do with the Darcy family when they move in across the street even if the brothers are cute. While her older sister Janae falls hard for Ainsley, Zuri cannot stand Darius.

In Zuri’s eyes Darius represents everything that’s going wrong in Bushwick as new rich families buy up houses and push out poorer families like Zuri’s, changing the neighborhood forever. Worse, he is a total snob with absolutely no redeeming qualities.

When Zuri and Darius are repeatedly thrown together, their mutual dislike starts to shift to a hesitant understanding and maybe even something else. With college looming and so many changes in her future, Zuri has to decide if her pride and her prejudices might be stopping her from embracing a wonderful opportunity in Pride (2018) by Ibi Zoboi.

Pride is Zoboi’s sophomore novel and a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice.

Pride is a sweet story imbued with Zuri’s love for her family, her neighborhood, and her words as Zuri often journals her thoughts as spoken word poems. Zuri is a decidedly modern narrator but in trying to capture teen authenticity this story leans heavily on nicknames (which don’t always make sense) and slang that has the potential to date this story very quickly.

In addition to Zuri’s evolving relationship with Darius, a lot of this story explores gentrification both as a way to bring classism into the story and also as it relates to Zuri’s beloved Bushwick neighborhood. This aspect is the weakest of the story as Zuri’s opinions and idealism of the past feel much more authentic for a much older character with a very different life experience. The message and discussion are important but never quite make sense coming from a teenager who would have limited memories at best of the Bushwick of her so-called youth.

Pride is a short novel that stands nicely on its own as a contemporary romance despite limited space to develop the large cast of characters. Readers already familiar with the source material (or one of its numerous adaptations) will catch more of this novel’s nuance and shorthand nods to elements from the original

Possible Pairings: The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Finding Yvonne by Brandy Colbert, Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg, Bookish Boyfriends: A Date with Darcy by Tiffany Schmidt

The Queen of Sorrow: A Review

*The Queen of Sorrow is the final book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen*

cover art for The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth DurstDaleina has always wanted to protect her homeland Aratay and the people who call the forests home even when it leaves her as the unlikely queen of the kingdom.

Naelin never wanted to be a queen despite her enormous power but willingly takes up the mantle when it means she’s be able to keep her children safe.

Now Aratay and its vicious spirits are torn between two queens with vastly different priorities.

Merecot has always known she was destined to be queen. When her candidacy as an Heir of Aratay is blocked she schemes to become queen of the mountainous kingdom of Semo instead. But Semo has too little land for its many spirits–something even a queen of Merecot’s caliber can’t control forever.

When Naelin’s children are kidnapped she knows that Merecot is to blame and is willing to go to any lengths to retrieve her children even if it means defying her co-queen Daleina and plunging both kingdoms into a costly war.

As Naelin searches for her children, Daleina struggles to hold the kingdom together, and Merecot draws all three queens toward a confrontation that could save both kingdoms. Or destroy them in The Queen of Sorrow (2018) by Sarah Beth Durst.

The Queen of Sorrow is the final book in Durst’s Queens of Renthia trilogy. If you’re new to the series, start at the beginning with The Queen of Blood and The Reluctant Queen.

The Queen of Sorrow widely expands the world of Renthia as readers learn more about Merecot and Semo as well as the other neighboring kingdoms. This story shifts close third person perspective between characters across Renthia as they are drawn into a conflict that will forever change their world.

Durst expertly manages a large cast, numerous plot threads, and her complex world building to close out this high fantasy trilogy. With action, intrigue, and even some romance The Queen of Sorrow is the perfect conclusion to a powerful, must-read series that strikes the perfect balance between closure and hints of more to come. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Roar by Cora Carmack, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman, A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix, Uprooted by Naomi Novik, The Shadow Queen by C. J. Redwine

Be sure to check out my interview with Sarah about this book!

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

Analee in Real Life: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Analee in Real Life by Janelle MilanesAnalee Echevarria knows she doesn’t come across that great in real life. Her mom died three years ago and it feels like it’s never going to stop hurting. Her father is marrying a yogi who drives Analee crazy–don’t even get her started on her soon-to-be stepsister. Then there’s Analee’s best friend who isn’t her best friend, or really any friend at all, anymore.

All in all, Analee is much happier spending her time playing her favorite online game where she can be Kiri–the night elf hunter who never struggles to say or do the right thing. It doesn’t hurt that her in-game sidekick Xolxar (played by a boy named Harris) has quickly become her best friend even though Analee and Harris have never met in person.

High school is just something to get through, and Analee knows she can do that if she just keeps her head down and stays out of the way of the popular kids. The only problem is that Seb Matias–undisputed school heartthrob and jerk–wants Analee to pose as his girlfriend while he tries to make is ex jealous.

Much to his surprise, and Analee’s, she agrees hoping the fake relationship can help her practice real connections and work up the nerve to finally meet Harris. But as their fake relationship threatens to turn into a real friendship, Analee has to wonder if she’s ready to connect with anyone in the real world–especially herself in Analee in Real Life (2018) by Janelle Milanes.

Analee in Real Life is equal parts thoughtful and funny as Analee navigates grief, friend breakups, and her future step-mother’s nightmare diet schemes (kale chips, anyone?).

Analee is a no-nonsense narrator. She knows she has work to do and she knows she is one hundred percent terrified of putting in that work when it means doing scary things. As much as this novel explores romance and friendship, it’s really a story about Analee learning how to start to like herself and understand her place in a family that has irrevocably changed.

Analee in Real Life is an empowering and sometimes painfully realistic story about a girl who realizes that the most challenging role she has to play is herself. Recommended for readers who like their characters sharp, their humor sardonic, and their romances to toe the line between reality and hoax.

Possible Pairings: Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, 500 Words or Less by Juleah del Rosario., To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, Fly on the Wall by E. Lockhart, In Real Life by Jessica Love, From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon, Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills, Bright Before Sunrise by Tiffany Schmidt

You Are the Everything: A (WIRoB) Review

Here’s a teaser from the start of my review of You Are the Everything (2018) by Karen Rivers (originally reviewed for Washington Independent Review of Books):

cover art for You Are the Everything by Karen RiversSixteen-year-old Elyse Schmidt is eager to get home to California. Anywhere is acceptable, as long as it’s away from the damp Parisian air that irritates her Junior Idiopathic Arthritis (or “Junky Idiotic Arthritis,” as she calls it) and all of the things that didn’t happen on her trip: romance, kissing, and, most disappointing of all, bonding with her longtime crush, Josh Harris.

Elyse and her school band had been “in Paris to play in a band festival, which turned out to be no different from every band festival in America,” except this time, Elyse was hungover and played badly, and her band placed third. On the plane home, she wishes she could “undo everything, especially the stupid fight” she’s in with her best friend, Kath.

But she can’t, which becomes painfully clear as the plane continues its progress home. …

You can read my full review of You Are the Everything (2018) by Karen River here: http://www.washingtonindependentreviewofbooks.com/index.php/bookreview/you-are-the-everything

Possible Pairings: But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, A Room Away From the Wolves by Nova Ren Suma

Mirage: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“On a small moon orbiting a large planet, in a small farmhouse in a small village, there was a box, and in this box was a feather.”

cover art for Mirage by Somaiya DaudThe feather is an heirloom, a reminder of when Amani’s grandfather saw a tesleet–a bird sent by the old god Dihya to point his followers toward a sacred calling.

There are no tesleet birds left on the moon called Cadiz or on Amani’s home planet, Andala. The old ways are only memories.

It’s still possible, sometimes, to find small moments of joy even amidst the fear and the bloodshed of the Vathek regime. One such moment comes when Amani receives her daan during a celebration of all the Andalan women turning eighteen. But after her daan is applied, things go horribly wrong.

Amani is whisked away from her friends, her family, and her planet. Taken to the royal palace in secret Amani soon discovers she shares a dangerous connection with the half-Vathek princess and heir to empire Maram: they have the same face. When her family is threatened, Amani has no choice but to agree to act as the princess’s body double–a decoy to appear in public when the princess is most likely to be harmed.

It’s impossible to ignore the luxury and beauty of the palace, or the charm of Maram’s fiance. But beneath that shine there is still violence and danger. Amani will have to navigate both sides of life in the palace if she ever wants to see her family again in Mirage (2018) by Somaiya Daud.

Mirage is Daud’s debut novel and the start of a trilogy.

Daud introduces readers to a rich and brutal world inspired by her own Moroccan heritage. Amani’s affection for her home is infectious and immediately obvious with evocative, deliberate descriptions that bring Cadiz to life. The abrupt contrast and tonal shift as Amani is forced into her new life in the palace is jarring and brutal in comparison.

Amani’s first person narration is empowering and heartening as she refuses to be broken down or diminished even as she is held captive. With no one to trust and only herself to rely on, Amani is determined to rescue herself and her family–all while trying to save her people.

Mirage is the nail-biting start to a trilogy that promises even more twists and surprises to come. Recommended for readers looking for a truly unique sci-fi adventure with a fiery heroine who just might change her world.

Possible Pairings: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline, For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Impostors by Scott Westerfeld

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

Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Sometimes small and unspectacular things can be a universe.”

cover art for Rayne and Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff ZentnerFor most of high school best friends Delia and and Josie have spent every Friday night transforming themselves into Delilah Darkwood and Rayne Ravenscroft, hosts of Midnite Matinee their public access show on TV Six where they show a campy B (or C) horror movie with their own shorts in between.

The movies are never good and Delia and Josie’s segments aren’t much better, but it’s their show that they built up from scratch which counts for a lot. Even if it isn’t enough to ensure the show will continue now that high school is ending.

Josie is eager to pursue her lifelong dream of being on television when she goes to college but isn’t sure what to do when her dreams might be leading her away from her hometown and her best friend.

Delia, meanwhile, is desperate to find a way to help Midnite Matinee grow beyond its current syndication so that Josie can pursue her dream without leaving Delia behind the way her father did.

With one last summer to make it big or call it quits, Delia and Josie’s friendship and their show will be tested as they confront old hurts, embrace new dreams, and take one epic road trip to a horror convention with the potential to change everything in Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee (2019) by Jeff Zentner.

Zentner’s latest standalone contemporary is a funny, strange story that explores all of the things that brought Josie and Delia together and all of the things that are starting to pull them in different directions.

Josie and Delia alternate first person narration in this story and by the end of the novel both girls completely won me over. Although Delia and Josie are facing some big decisions, they do it all with levity and obvious affection for each other as well as the other important people in their lives.

Zentner has filled this book with Easter eggs from his earlier novels as well as some amazing jokes–I can’t reveal too much but let’s just say I’m still cracking up about the baby Basset Hounds.

Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee is a story about big dreams, big chances, and the mediocre results we sometimes end up with as a result. Josie and Delia are hilarious, endearing, and some of my favorite characters to date. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta, Famous in a Small Town by Emma Mills, Nice Try, Jane Sinner by Lianne Oelke, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

You can also check out my exclusive interview with Jeff about this book!

Four Dead Queens: A Review

cover art for Four Dead Queens by Astrid ScholteFour queens rule Quadara. Together, yet apart just like the country’s four quadrants: Archia, Eonia, Ludia, and Toria.

Keralie is one of the best thieves in all of Toria stealing missives, technology, and  contraband from other quadrants that her employer Mackiel can sell in his black market auctions. It isn’t the life Keralie’s parents’ ever imagined for her, but it is the one she’s been groomed for since she was ten.

Even Keralie’s skills prove insufficient when her latest target–a messenger from Eonia–discovers her theft. If he can’t make his delivery, Varin’s life could be forfeit leaving him with little choice but to follow Keralie to retrieve his stolen goods.

What starts as a simple exchange soon escalates when Keralie and Varin discover a plot to assassinate all of Quadara’s queens. With no one else to trust, Keralie and Varin have to set aside their mutual distrust to form a reluctant alliance if they want to escape Mackiel and capture the assassin in Four Dead Queens (2019) by Astrid Scholte.

Four Dead Queen‘s is a standalone adventure that’s part mystery, part thriller, and part speculative fiction.

Quadara and the individual quadrants have the potential to be fascinating backdrops for this story. Unfortunately Quadara is never situated in a larger world making the tension between the quadrants and outside threats feel forced if not entirely contrived. The politics of succession and Queenly Law (the rules that dictate how the quadrants are divided and ruled) also make very little sense and further underscore the poor development of this world.

Keralie’s first-person narration gives depth to both herself and Varin who is simultaneously her foil and her love interest. Sadly both protagonists stumble through the story without anything resembling agency as they are repeatedly driven from one reactive position to the next. The rest of the characters are exceedingly flat–a problem that is especially obvious with Mackiel the supposedly charming criminal mastermind who never once manages to come across as anything but slimy and manipulative.

Four Dead Queens is suspenseful and well-paced with high action and a deep sense of urgency as Keralie and Varin hunt the assassin. In contrast, the mystery’s resolution is a bitter disappointment as much of the actual intrigue comes more from the author’s deliberate manipulation of the story’s timeline and perspective rather than true plot twists.

It’s no surprise that this story has a body count but it’s both disappointing and problematic that two of the only queer characters characters and two of the only dark-skinned characters (including one raised in secret in two small rooms) are among the first victims. Varin’s position as an Eonian with a premature death date is also troubling and surprising as he comes from a quadrant known for its medical advancements and life-prolonging technologies.

Four Dead Queens is an interesting if sometimes frustrating mystery but the fantasy world framework of Quadara is shoddily built at best. A high-concept story that fails to capitalize on a unique world and instead remains painfully predictable and opaque.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Rule by Ellen Goodlett, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, Divergent by Veronica Roth