A Crown of Wishes: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

A Crown of Wishes by Roshani ChokshiDespite his intelligence and ambition Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, is destined to become a puppet ruler in Ujijain. Betrayed by her brother, Gauri the “Jewel of Bharata” awaits her execution in a Ujijain prison.

With nothing left to lose and everything to gain, this pair of would-be monarchs forge an uneasy partnership to travel to Alaka, the kingdom of desire, and compete in the Tournament of Wishes. The Tournament happens every hundred years and is hosted by Kubera, the Lord of Treasures with his consort, Lady Kauveri.

Kubera promises a wish to anyone who wins the competition but winning a magical tournament is not always a simple victory. After traveling across dangerous worlds and meeting mythical foes and allies, Gauri and Vikram will have to confront the shapes of their own desires and fears if they hope to survive long enough to win in A Crown of Wishes (2017) by Roshani Chokshi.

Chokshi revisits the world of her debut novel in this standalone novel following Gauri, Maya’s younger sister, after Maya’s departure from Bharata in The Star-Touched Queen. This novel alternates between Gauri’s first person narration and third person narration from Vikram’s point of view. A third character also plays an important part in the narrative but you’ll have to meet her on your own.

Gauri is a lethal and calculating heroine who negotiates her femininity and perceived weaknesses as easily as swords and battle strategies. Although she is haunted by Maya’s absence and fearful of the magic that took her sister, Gauri is determined to move past her fears and doubts in order to survive and make Bharata everything she knows it can become.

Vikram is a perfect contrast to Gauri with measured cunning tempered by his introspection and optimism. Unlike Gauri, Vikram is desperate to find magic in his life as a validation for his ambitions and potential. It’s only in discovering the realities of magic–and the cost–that he begins to realize it will take more than wishes and wonder for him to prove himself.

Lush language and vivid imagery in a fantasy world populated with figures and settings from Hindu mythology work well with the story’s interplay between magic and legend. All of the characters grasp for freedom and autonomy as they grapple with what power and choice really mean.

A Crown of Wishes is a novel about fierce want, unmet potential, magic, forged alliances, and the power of story. Careful plotting, multiple viewpoints, high-stakes action, and a slow burn relationship between Gauri and Vikram make this heady fantasy completely engrossing. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst, Caraval by Stephanie Garber, The Shadow Behind the Stars by Rebecca Hahn, A Thousand Nights by E. K. Johnston, Grave Mercy by R. L. LaFevers, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld, And I Darken by Kiersten White

A Crown of Wishes releases next week but thanks to Alex at Macmillan Audio you can listen to a clip from the audiobook right now at this link: https://soundcloud.com/ macaudio-2/a-crown-of-wishes- by-roshani-chokshi-audiobook- excerpt

You can also check out my interview with the author!

*A more condensed version of this review appeared as a starred review in the February 1, 2017 issue of School Library Journal*

What would you sacrifice to win a wish that could give you everything you've always wanted? 🔮🔮🔮 Despite his intelligence and ambition Vikram, known as the Fox Prince, is destined to become a puppet ruler in Ujijain. Betrayed by her brother, Gauri the "Jewel of Bharata" awaits her execution in a Ujijain prison. With nothing left to lose and everything to gain, this pair of would-be monarchs forge an uneasy partnership to travel to Alaka, the kingdom of desire, and compete in the Tournament of Wishes. The Tournament happens every hundred years and is hosted by Kubera, the Lord of Treasures with his consort, Lady Kauveri. Kubera promises a wish to anyone who wins the competition but winning a magical tournament is not always a simple victory. After traveling across dangerous worlds and meeting mythical foes and allies, Gauri and Vikram will have to confront the shapes of their own desires and fears if they hope to survive long enough to win. 🔮🔮🔮 I'm reviewing A Crown of Wishes today on the blog and sharing a clip from the audio book. You can also check back on my blog (link in bio) tomorrow for my interview with Rosh about the book. 🔮🔮🔮 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #acrownofwishes

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American Street: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola’s aunt and cousins and begin their own version of the American dream. Instead her mother is detained by ICE at a New Jersey facility where she faces deportation back to Haiti. Fabiola, born in the United States, has to fly to Detroit on her own.

In Detroit Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home with her relatives at the corner of American Street and Joy Road.

Fabiola clings to her faith and her Vodou iwas for guidance but she isn’t sure that Papa Legba’s riddles or help from other iwas like beautiful Ezili will be enough to protect her family and bring her mother to her. How much will Fabiola have to sacrifice to help her mother and herself grab their own small piece of American joy? How far would you go for the same thing? in American Street (2017) by Ibi Zoboi.

American Street is Zoboi’s debut novel.

This novel is the story of one girl’s efforts to grab onto the American dream for herself and her mother, it’s the story of a family and the secrets they keep to survive, it’s a story about the immigrant experience, it’s a story of first love. All of these stories play out against the larger story of the house at the corner of American Street and Joy Road in Detroit.

Fabiola thinks transitioning to life in the US will be easy. She already speaks English and she attended an American school in Haiti. None of that prepares her for the meanness she finds on some of Detroit’s streets not to mention the slang and fast-paced language. She expects her American relatives will follow Haitian traditions but is surprised to find her aunt barely leaves her bedroom. Fabiola’s cousins are equally mystifying. Chantal studies hard and is working her way through community college. But what about her mysterious phone calls? Princess only answers to Pri and dresses like a boy. Then there’s beautiful Primadonna “Donna” who wears her beauty like armor and fools no one as she tries to hide the extent of her turbulent (and violent) relationship with her boyfriend.

This story is also imbued with an element of magic realism. Fabiola is a faithful and devout practioner of Vodou. She and her mother have spent years praying for their relatives to be well in the US. When she arrives in Detroit, one of the first things Fabiola does is assemble her altar and pray for her reunion with her mother. Throughout American Street Fabiola uses her familiarity with Vodou and her iwas–spirit guides–to make sense of her new life in America. Fabiola’s choice to interpret her strange new world in this way takes on a weightier meaning when she begins to see her iwas in the real life figures around her.

Zoboi demonstrates a considerable ear for voice with dialog as well as short segments between chapters in which various characters relate the stories that brought them to this point. Fabiola’s first person narration in the rest of the novel is beautiful with a measured cadence and a unique perspective that comes from spending her formative years in Haiti.

American Street is a timely and thoughtfully written novel. Fabiola’s introduction to America is authentic and filled with moments of beauty as she also finds new friends and falls in love for the first time. The happenings on the corner of American Street and Joy Road add a mystery to this rich plot and help the story unfold to a heartening but bittersweet conclusion. A must read. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough, The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, But Then I Came Back by Estelle Laure, Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

This weekend I read American Street by Ibi Zoboi and it should definitely be on your radar. Fabiola Toussaint and her mother arrive in the United States eager to join Fabiola's aunt and cousins. But her mother is detained by ICE at a facility in New Jersey and Fabiola arrives alone. Fabiola finds new friends and first love, but she also learns that nothing in America is what she imagined back home in Haiti–not even her new home with family at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. 🔮 Fabiola clings to her faith and her Vodou iwas for guidance but she isn't sure that Papa Legba's riddles or help from other iwas like beautiful Ezili will be enough to protect her family and bring her mother to her side. How much will Fabiola have to sacrifice to help her mother and herself become American and grab their own small piece of joy? How far would you go for the same thing? 🔮 #bookstagram #goodreads #instabook #instareads #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #booktography #bookblogging #bookblogger #bookphotography #books #americanstreet

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Daughter of the Pirate King: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia LevensellerAlosa is one of the most ruthless pirates sailing with a crew that has as much cunning as it does intelligence. Alosa is also the seventeen-year-old daughter of the feared Pirate King.

When the Pirate King needs to steal an ancient piece of a  treasure map from a rival pirate lord, Alosa knows she is the best candidate for the job. Leaving behind her ship and her talented (mostly female) crew is a trial and allowing herself to be bested and abducted by her targets is humiliating. But Alosa is willing to do whatever it takes to complete her mission and steal the map.

What Alosa doesn’t count on is the ships first mate. Riden is smarter than he lets on and tasked with uncovering all of Alosa’s secrets. Locked in a battle of wits with this formidable foe, Alosa will have to watch her back (and her heart) if she wants to get the map and escape before anyone is the wiser in Daughter of the Pirate King (2017) by Tricia Levenseller.

Daughter of the Pirate King is Levenseller’s debut novel.

This book is a lot of fun–something readers can expect from the very first page when the book opens with a quote from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. How you feel about that movie will also quickly determine how you feel about the rest of the book.

Daughter of the Pirate King is a fantasy filled with seemingly anachronistic phrases that begin to appear almost as soon as the novel starts. Most of the action plays out against the small backdrop of the ship where Alosa is being held captive leaving larger details of the world to remain blurry at best.

This novel is narrated by Alosa who while entertaining remains a bit too fastidious (particularly when it comes to cleanliness) to make an entirely convincing pirate. Some narrators are capable and clever, some narrators talk about being capable and clever. Alosa is largely the latter as she tries to convince readers that she is in fact a cunning pirate captain far superior to those around her instead of a reckless one who only barely manages to keep a grasp of her mission.

For all intents and purposes the pirates here are exactly what you would expect from eighteenth century pirates with the added technicolor touches of a good pirate movie including witty repartee, dashing clothes, and high octane sword fights. The pirates in Daughter of the Pirate King are, however, completely divorced from any historical context and left to flounder in an imagined world that feels flimsy by comparison. The addition of true fantasy elements come too late in the story to redeem the lackluster beginning.

Daughter of the Pirate King is an entertaining, swashbuckling adventure. Recommended for readers who enjoy pirate stories but can take or leave historical accuracy. Ideal for anyone looking for a light adventure with romance and banter.

Possible Pairings: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi, Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman, The Reader by Traci Chee, Truthwitch by Susan Dennard, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell, Bloody Jack by L. A. Meyer, Snow Like Ashes by Sarah Raasch, The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace

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

Teach Me to Forget: A Review

Teach Me to Forget by Erica M. ChapmanEllery is going to kill herself. She has chosen the day and purchased the gun. She even booked a cleaning service to come right after so that her mother won’t have to deal with it. She has given away her possessions and broken away from her all of her friends except for Jackson Gray who remains frustratingly loyal. Ellery is ready to die until the gun breaks when she tries to shoot herself.

Certain that shooting herself is the only viable suicide option she has, Ellery tries to return the faulty gun. Except she brings it to the wrong store. And catches the attention of the security guard, Colter Sawyer who recognizes Ellery from school. Colter sees the warning signs despite Ellery’s best efforts to deflect.

Colter’s brother killed himself and Colter felt powerless to stop him. He refuses to let the same thing happen to Ellery and embarks on a one-man mission to save her. Colter uses the threat of telling someone her plans to get Ellery to promise to try to be present and live until the end of October.

But that’s fine. Ellery can play along for a few weeks. She can ignore the way Colter gets under her skin and makes her feel something for once. Because Ellery has already chosen a new date to kill herself–the night of Halloween in Teach Me to Forget (2016) by Erica M. Chapman.

Teach Me to Forget is Chapman’s debut novel and one that has to be considered in two lights. As a piece of fiction it is well-written and engaging. As a book about a character suffering from mental illness and considering suicide . . . it could do a lot more.

While Chapman does mention resources for help both in the book and on her website, I would have liked them to be a bit more visible within the text.

**Spoilers to follow as I discuss what did and didn’t work in the text.**

Continue reading

Caraval: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Caraval by Stephanie GarberScarlett and her younger sister Tella grew up hearing their grandmother reminisce about visiting Caraval as a young woman. Scarlett writes to Legend every year hoping against hope that he might bring Caraval back to the small island of Trisda in the Conquered Isles.

When tickets to Caraval finally arrive, Scarlett knows she won’t be able to go. Not when being prepared for her upcoming arranged marriage, which can free Tell and herself from their abusive father, is far more pressing. Except impetuous Tella has other plans and recruits a disreputable sailor to help bring Scarlett to the magical show.

Caraval is meant to be a game and a decadent diversion for both players and spectators. But Tella’s disappearance is very real and, Scarlett soon realizes, central to this year’s game.

As Scarlett tries desperately to follow the clues to her sister, the dangers of the supposed show become very real. If she fails to find Tella and win the game, Scarlett risks losing her sister forever in Caraval (2017) by Stephanie Garber.

Caraval is Garber’s debut novel and the first book in a series. The book is written in close third person following Scarlett’s perspective. Although the epilogue promises  twists and adventures in future installments, this novel functions for the most part as a standalone.

Garber’s vibrant descriptions bring the whimsical and dangerous elements of Caraval to life as Scarlett begins to discover the wonders to be found in a place where secrets can become currency and time can be bought and sold.

Scarlett is a cautious and timid heroine for much of Caraval. She has spent years trying to shelter her sister from their father’s calculated abuse and manipulations. Scarlett’s primary concerns are safety and distance from her father. Love, adventure, and all of the things Tella craves feel secondary if not entirely superfluous in comparison.

Caraval features a varied array of characters and some romance but this novel remains surprisingly introspective in its focus on Scarlett’s own journey toward autonomy and agency. A few predictable twists and some unexpected turns serve as a strong backdrop for Scarlett’s growth as she realizes she is the victim of her father’s abuse, not the cause. As Scarlett moves deeper into the machinations of Caraval she begins to correct her earlier mistakes both in the game and in her own life while learning to trust her instincts.

Caraval is a thrilling and evocative fantasy sure to appeal to readers who enjoy stories imbued with magic and adventure. Intricate world building and the circus-like atmosphere of Caraval lend this novel an extra bit of flair that even Legend would admire.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2016*

Two parts of my day here. I finally felt healthy enough to read on my commute and lunch hour at work so I'm diving back into Caraval. Now that I am no longer in the throes of my illness, it's picking up and I'm enjoying it. I like that Scarlett seems to have a form of synesthesia in the way her feelings equate with colors. And I I really like that the colors Garber mentions early on describing Scarlett's arrival in Caraval are referenced in the cover artwork. 🦄 This afternoon I also led a weekly makerspace program for teens. The teens made tangle free headphones while I started this piece of macrame which will either be a bracelet or bookmark depending on how it turns out. It was nice to have a program mellow enough that I had time to make something myself instead of just supervising! 🦄 Who's read Caraval as an ARC? Who's excited for the official publication in a few days? Who does macrame? Let's talk. 🦄 #bookstagram #bookishfeatures #goodreads #instabook #instareads #igreads #booknerd #bibliophile #books #reading #currentlyreading #amreading #bookworm #bookish #bookgram #bookaddict

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Like a River Glorious: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*Like a River Glorious is the second book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger*

“I thought my magic would save us all. But it turns out, all the magic in the world is rubbish compared to good people who take care of their own.”

Like a River Glorious by Rae CarsonOctober 1849: Leah “Lee” Westfall has made it to California along with her new family of misfits, outcasts, and unlikely friends that she met along the trail. But even with her best friend Jefferson and her family by her side, the path to gold and prosperity is not easy–even for a witchy girl like Lee who can sense gold.

Hiram, Lee’s uncle, is still desperate to use her powers for her own gain. Lee was helpless to stop Hiram from killing her parents, she’s determined that he won’t hurt anyone else she cares about.

Lee’s plan to best Hiram backfire leaving Lee vulnerable as her uncle’s captive. Separated from her friends, Lee will need every ounce of her witchy powers, her resilience, and the help of new allies if she wants to free herself from Hiram’s grasp once and for all in Like a River Glorious (2016) by Rae Carson.

Like a River Glorious is the second book in Carson’s Gold Seer trilogy. This review contains spoilers for book one. If you’re new to the series start with book one Walk On Earth a Stranger.

Like a River Glorious picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one (which ends right when Lee and her group arrive in California). Lee has found them a gold-rich area to claim and their settlement is well on its way to becoming a town called Glory. Then Uncle Hiram shows up, takes Lee captive, and everything goes to hell.

In order to read this book, it’s important to acknowledge that westerns are inherently problematic. As a genre the western often centers the experience of white characters while ignoring or diminish native experiences. Older westerns (and bad modern ones) romanticize expansion, systemic genocide, and white savior tropes while exoticizing, stereotyping or dehumanizing American Indians. If you want to see critiques of books through a Native lens, definitely check out Debbie Reese’s blog, especially her review of the first book in this series.

Reading Like a River Glorious with the above in mind, there are still some problems inherent to the genre. But in this second installment, Carson does the work on the page to constantly check Leah’s privilege as well as that of the other characters (male privilege for instance). This book also thoughtfully engages with a lot of the racism/biases/stereotypes that Lee encounters.

The scope of this book is much smaller, Lee spends a lot of the story held captive by her uncle. Her world narrows to securing survival and safety for herself and those she cares about. She see the atrocities her uncle is perpetrating in his mad search for gold and she feels helpless in the face of it. Understandably, that makes Like a River Glorious quite bleak but also very important as, through Lee’s first person narration, the novel the problems of westward expansion along with the wonder that pioneers felt as they sought opportunities at the expense of the indigenous populations.

Carson uses this shift in tone to create a more character driven story focused particularly on Lee and Jefferson as the two friends try to reconcile their lifelong friendship with what comes next when Jefferson wants more and Lee wants to maintain her autonomy.

Lee grows up a lot in this installment as she realizes she cannot (and should not) always be the hero. Jefferson remains a perfect counterpoint to Lee as male lead and an excellent character in his own right. Like a River Glorious is a well-researched work of historical fiction with a slow burn a slow burn romance and inclusive cast and a touch of fantasy. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman, A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund, The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede

Nemesis: A Review

Nemesis by Anna BanksPrincess Sepora of Serubel is the last Forger in the Five kingdoms. She is the only person alive who can create spectorium, a powerful element coveted for its energy and powerful properties.

When Sepora’s father weaponizes spectorium, Sepora chooses to leave her kingdom in secret and disappear rather than help him start a war. Across the border in Theoria, Sepora plans to live a quiet and anonymous life while hiding her Forging from prying eyes. Until she is captured and forced into service for Theoria’s king.

Tarik is young to be king and feels unready for the responsibilities that come with the title, especially as he has to deal with a mysterious plague sweeping through Theoria’s people with alarming speed. His efforts to track down a cure are complicated by a distracting new servant.

When Sepora and Tarik meet they form an immediate bond and an unlikely friendship could lead to much more. Sepora’s Forging could save Tarik’s kingdom but if her father finds her, it could also lead to war across the Five Kingdoms in Nemesis (2016) by Anna Banks.

Nemesis is the first book in Banks’ new duology which will conclude with Ally.

Nemesis introduces an interesting world filled with unique cultures that nod to ancient civilizations (Theoria places their dead in giant pyramids waiting for the day their scientists learn to conquer death) and science that comes close to magic. Unfortunately most of these elements are introduced through dense informational passages that make the opening of this novel feel clunky. And even worse, a lot of the world building in this book is just plain problematic.

The novel alternates between Sepora’s first person narration in a stilted style that rarely uses contractions and Tarik’s third person narrative. The transition from first to third person does little to differentiate between Sepora and Tarik’s narrative voices and instead creates a jarring transition between chapters.

Sepora is a thoughtful protagonist. She struggles with the choice to leave her home and what it will mean for her kingdom and beyond as spectorium disappears. Her moral dilemmas are portrayed throughout the book with careful thought and her growth throughout the novel is handled quite well.

Unfortunately some remarks about other kingdoms lack that same forethought. Throughout Nemesis the Wachuk kingdom is described as primitive because the people their have chosen to eschew verbal language because actions, as it were, speak louder. The Wachuks use sign language and some sounds described alternately as clicks, growls and grunts. The commonality for every descriptor is that they are described as primitive. Readers never see what Wachuk life actually looks like. The idea that being non-verbal makes the Wachuk’s primitive is never challenged or even explored in any meaningful way on the page. None of the characters have a teachable moment about it. Lingots, Theorians who are able to discern lies from truths and interpret languages, can understand the Wachuk but again that never leads to any deeper revelations.

This bias where different is equated with primitive/inferior is compounded with the portrayal of the Parani. In Serubel, parents tell their children about the Parani as a cautionary tale to keep them out of the dangerous water nearby. The Parani live underwater and are rumored to be able to kill a person in moments. They have tough skin, webbed fingers, and sharp teeth. Sepora also learns firsthand that they are humanoid in appearance and capable of comprehension, reasoning, and language (in the form of high pitched sounds that again do not resemble “typical” words and therefore must be “primitive”). Everyone else in the five kingdoms views the Parani as animals to be avoided or, if encountered, killed before they can attack. Or eaten. Again meaningful realizations that the Parani are people become sidelined by the Lingots’ magical ability to understand them despite the Parani being crucial to the story.

There is a lot in Nemesis that works well. Sepora is an engaging if sometimes misguided heroine and Tarik is an entertaining foil/love interest. The premise of the story is intriguing if not the most highly developed. Unfortunately the combination of stock secondary characters, poorly integrated world building details, and badly handled misconceptions about “primitive” or “other” characters take this potentially fun story and make it incredibly problematic and often painful.

Readers looking for a story with star-crossed lovers and/or nuanced fantasy would be better served elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine, Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, And I Darken by Kiersten White

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