Into the Crooked Place: A Review

When it comes to magic, all that really matters is timing. If you have that right, you can perform wondrous feats or the slickest con and it won’t matter because people will still line up to buy whatever it is you’re selling.

Tavia has made a name for herself as a busker in Creije selling low level dark magic and performing high level cons. After years of staying very close to the line and watching her friend Wesley cross right over it, Tavia wants to leave Creije before she is forced to do something she can’t take back.

Wesley will do whatever it takes to bring order to the chaotic streets of Creije even if he has to fashion himself into a gangster no one wants to look at closely enough to recognize his past as a boy desperate to move beyond a lean life on the streets.

Tavia is content marking time before she can wash her hands of Creije for good until one of her cons goes terribly wrong. Instead of duping a rich mark with fake magic, Tavia’s friend takes some very dark and very lethal magic.

With new magic circulating through Creije for the first time in decades everyone is on edge. As enemies circle and alliances are tested, Tavia and Wesley might be the only ones who can stop the conflict they’ve set in motion. That is, if they can bear to trust each other in Into the Crooked Place (2019) by Alexandra Christo.

Into the Crooked Place is Christo’s sophomore novel and the start of her new gangster fantasy duology.

The story plays out against an atmospheric, noir inspired world filled with political corruption and dark horse protagonists including Wesley and Tavia as well as the novel’s other principal characters Saxony and Karam. Potentially rich world building is diminished by breakneck pacing and action that leaves little room for explanation.

Elements of suspense and adventure come together as Tavia and Wesley approach the mystery of the new magic from opposite sides to try and make sense of this  development that could potentially destroy Creije. Alternating viewpoints and shifting story lines clutter more than they clarify with extraneous details.

Into the Crooked Place is an engrossing if sometimes superficial fantasy. Recommended for readers who can prioritize sleek one liners over a sleek plot.

Possible Pairings: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, White Cat by Holly Black, Caster by Elsie Chapman, Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, There Will Come a Darkness by Katy Rose Pool, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, Four Dead Queens by Astrid Scholte

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

Pumpkinheads: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel) Review

Every autumn Deja and Josiah know they’ll be working at the best pumpkin patch in the world, right in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. They know they’ll be making succotash at the Succotash Hut (it’s all about the stirring). And most importantly, they know that their friendship will pick up right where they left off at the end of last year’s pumpkin patch season.

Except this year is different because they’re seniors. While Deja knows they’ll always be able to come back, Josiah isn’t so sure that anything can stay the same once they leave for college.

After a stellar season (and another Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person star for Josiah), Josiah is fully prepared to spend their final shift ever moping. But Deja has bigger plans to help both of them say goodbye to the patch with a proper sendoff while also giving Josiah one last chance to talk to the Fudge Girl he’s spent three years pining after.

With snacks to eat, exes to run into, and hopefully at least one date to make Deja and Josie’s final shift is sure to be an adventure in Pumpkinheads (2019) by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

This story is completely self-contained and as satisfying as the first pumpkin sighting of the season. Hicks’ full color illustrations bring the pumpkin patch to life in all of its zany glory with dynamic artwork filled with fun details and the motion inherent to a frenetic crowd.

Rowell’s dialog contrasts well with Deja and Josiah’s body language and things left unsaid as both friends try to figure out how to say goodbye to the patch and to each other–or if they even have to.

Pumpkinheads is a charming ode to fall filled with puns, pumpkins, and a really sweet romance. Recommended for readers looking for a bubbly, seasonal read and anyone hoping to try a graphic novel for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, and Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon; Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Mooncakes: A Graphic Novel Review

Working at her grandmothers’ bookshop, Nova Huang is used to helping them investigate strange occurrences in their small New England town–it comes with the territory when you’re a witch-in-training.

Following reports of a strange white wolf in the woods leads Nova to an entirely unexpected reunion when she finds Tam Lang–her childhood friend and longtime crush. As a werewolf Tam has been wandering from town to town trying to find a place to land and, more importantly, trying to hunt down a strange horse demon with connections to their own troubled past.

Together Nova and Tam are determined to get to the bottom of the dark forces plaguing town as they try to find their way back to each other in Mooncakes (2019) by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu.

Mooncakes is a full color, standalone graphic novel.

Xu’s artwork is brightly colored and filled with evocative depictions of Nova’s cozy bookshop, ethereal magic, and minute details reminiscent of the care and attention found in Miyazaki films.

Like Xu, Walker imbues this story with obvious affection for these characters and their world as well as deliberate attention to create a world that is as inclusive as it is authentic from Nova’s use of hearing aids to Tam’s request that Nova’s grandmothers refer to them with they/them pronouns.

With a sprawling plot that spans Nova and Tam’s backstory and hints at what their futures might hold Mooncakes is a delectable fantasy graphic novel that is equal parts spooky and sweet. Sure to be a satisfying read at any time of the year but especially when you’re ready to curl up under a blanket and enjoy the leaves turning.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger; Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova; Moonstruck by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth, Kim Reaper by Sarah Graley; Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks; The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag; Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks; The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang; Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson

*An advance copy of this title was provided for review consideration by the publisher at BookExpo 2019*

Alex, Approximately: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Bailey “Mink” Rydell loves few things as much as she loves classic movies. It’s the basis for her entire relationship with Alex, a boy she met in a classic movie fan forum. Alex seems like the perfect guy for Bailey–the only problem is that she doesn’t know anything about him except for his profile name.

When Bailey moves cross country to live with her dad, it should be her opportunity to finally meet Alex in person. Except then she panics and starts to wonder if it wouldn’t be smarter to try and scope Alex out in real life before she makes any grand gesture. After all, what if he’s a total creep? Or a poser?

Her efforts to uncover Alex’s true identity are hampered by making sense of her new home, a new job at the local museum that is as kitschy as it is eccentric, and discovering a new nemesis. Porter Roth is cocky and quick to put her in her place in the most embarrassing ways. He’s also painfully good looking and impossible to ignore.

With two guys vying for her attentions Bailey has the rest of the summer to figure out if she’s willing to risk her heart on a messy reality instead of pining for a fantasy that may not exist offline in Alex, Approximately (2017) by Jenn Bennett.

Alex, Approximately is a gentle standalone contemporary romance. Bennett introduces readers to Bailey’s new hometown with evocative landscapes, quirky shops, and all of Bailey’s awe. Epigraphs of quotes from classic films can be found at the start of each chapter.

Snarky banter, madcap shenanigans, and genuine moments of vulnerability help to develop Bailey and Porter’s relationship in this story about first impressions and connection. A varied and well-rounded cast of secondary characters add another layer to an already richly imagined novel.

Alex, Approximately is a sweet, summery book ideal for fans of stories with mistaken identities, hate to love romance, and fantastic vintage vespas.

Possible Pairings: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum, Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen, The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Analee in Real Life by Janelle Milanes, Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood, The Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail

The Last True Poets of the Sea: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Violet’s life is filled with lost things. Her entire family history is wrapped up in the lost shipwreck of the Lyric. When the ship sank, Violet’s great-great-great-grandmother Fidelia was the only survivor. She swam to shore, fell in love, and founded the town of Lyric, Maine–the place Violet and her twin brother Sam have returned to every summer.

This year, the trip to Lyric comes early and Violet is making it alone in the wake of Sam’s suicide attempt. She’s supposedly going because Sam needs time to recover. But Violet knows she’s really being sent away because she wasn’t there when Sam needed her. At least, that’s how it feels when she remembers the partying she was doing while her brother was trying to take his own life.

Alone and angry, Violet starts to wonder if finding the Lyric might be the key to finding a way to move forward. With help from Liv Stone, an amateur local historian, Violet tries to uncover generations old secrets about Lyric and her family’s place there, fall in love, and most importantly to forgive herself for surviving and her brother for struggling in The Last True Poets of the Sea (2019) by Julia Drake.

The Last True Poets of the Sea is Drake’s debut novel and a retelling of Twelfth Night. Drake’s editor described this book at BookExpo’s YA Editors’ Buzz panel as a story about swimming up when it feels easier to swim down which I think is the perfect descriptor as so much of Violet’s story is about survival–both her ancestor Fidelia’s and her own as she realizes how much she’s missed while partying.

This novel is filled with evocative settings and delectable, deliberate prose. Violet’s guilt over not being able to help Sam and her return to Lyric are tempered with a smart queer romance as Violet and Liv grow closer. Orion, Violet’s new coworker and Liv’s longtime friend, is a perfect counterpoint and anchor in this satisfying love triangle.

The Last True Poets of the Sea is a thoughtful and immediately engrossing story about grief, family, and forgiveness. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han; A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi; This Adventure Ends by Emma Mills; I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson; Birthday by Meredith Russo; Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

Somewhere Only We Know: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Lucky is the biggest K-pop star around and an unprecedented solo act. After wrapping up her solo tour in Hong Kong, Lucky is preparing to make her North American debut on The Tonight Show. After years of hard work, it finally feels like everything is coming together. And that would be everything Lucky could hope for if she wasn’t dying for a cheeseburger and also wondering when her music career stopped feeling like a dream come true and started feeling a lot like a trap.

Jack wants nothing more than to be a photographer–something he’s pretty sure his parents won’t understand when they could barely get on board with his plan to take a gap year between high school and college. To supplement his paltry income and prove he can make it as a photographer Jack freelances as a paparazzo capturing celebrities in compromising positions. It’s not savory work. But it is lucrative. Especially when Jack runs into a girl outside a hotel wearing slippers and hell-bent on finding a cheeseburger.

Lucky and Jack both have secrets and dreams they’re afraid to share. After one unforgettable day together in Hong Kong they’ll both have to decide if chasing what they really want is worth being honest with themselves–and each other in Somewhere Only We Know (2019) by Maurene Goo.

Goo’s latest standalone contemporary is a loose retelling of Roman Holiday with chapters that alternate between Lucky and Jack’s first person narration.

Lucky and Jack both start this story disillusioned, frustrated, and extremely jaded as they are forced to confront all of the limitations that have left them stagnant. Pushed out of their comfort zones for one day away from their typical lives, both teens start to wonder if things can be different while the secrets between them continue to mount.

Somewhere Only We Know is a very character-driven story with most of the focus on Lucky and Jack’s development throughout the novel than on their adventures. Both protagonists have to confront hard questions about identity and achievement as they consider how much they are willing to put on the line to get what they really want–not to mention figuring out if they have been their own biggest obstacles all along.

Somewhere Only We Know is an evocative, fast-paced romance perfect for fans of stories with humor, mayhem, and heart–not to mention vivid descriptions of Hong Kong’s sights, sounds, and foods.

Possible Pairings: Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett; Permanent Record by Mary H. K. Choi; Just One Day by Gayle Forman; 29 Dates by Melissa de la Cruz; Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins; There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon; This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith; Virtually Yours by Sarvenaz Tash; Frankly in Love by David Yoon; The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

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

Frankly in Love: A Review

Frank is a second generation Korean American. He is a senior in high school and what he call a Limbo. Like the other Korean American kids in his community, Frank finds himself caught between his parents’ expectations and his own wants as an American teen in Southern California.

Frank is all too aware of what his parents want him to do–especially when it comes to dating (spoiler: any girl he brings home had better be Korean). The only problem is that expectations are the last thing on Frank’s mind when he falls for Brit Means who is beautiful, popular, and white.

When Frank realizes his fellow Limbo, Joy Song, is facing the same problem it seems like they have found an obvious solution: pretend to date each other. Fake dating gives Frank and Joy freedom to do what they want without disappointing their parents. But as their fake relationship brings them closer together, Frank wonders if he’s ever understood love at all in Frankly in Love (2019) by David Yoon.

Frankly in Love is Yoon’s debut novel. (Yes, before you ask, he and Nicola Yoon are married!)

Frank’s first person narration toes the line between humor and sardonic wit as he shares insights into the push and pull between his life at home with his Korean immigrant parents and his identity outside of their home and community.

While the fake relationship and related chaos add a lot of levity to this story, Frank’s journey throughout the novel is heavier as he tries to figure out who he wants to be (not to mention who he wants to be with) and struggles with how best to interrogate his parents’ racism and prejudices.

Frankly in Love is a contemporary romance with zero toxic masculinity and a charcter asking hard questions about choosing your path and who you love while choosing your battles. Recommended for readers looking for a romance with humor that still skews toward literary.

Possible Pairings: The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhatena, Boys Don’t Knit by T. S. Easton, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe, Cloudwish by Fiona Wood, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*